Flower Power – Feeling Groovy

A long time ago (in my misspent youth), probably around the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I had a brilliant idea. Looking around at the sparsely decorated white walls of my teenaged bedroom, I thought nothing would do but that I decorate those painted walls with brightly colored, very groovy, mod, abstract flower-power stickers. Think about the decorations of a VW or perhaps a Peter Max poster and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what those stickers looked like. In fact, they are widely available and they bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. The hippie in me will never fade, I guess. Do these look familiar to anyone?

I was particularly attracted to the most vivid, brilliantly colored ones: bright pink petals and an orange center! Chartreuse circular centers surrounded by shocking yellow and, just to tame it a bit, purple and blue stickers were scattered in between those really big, bright, colorful ones. I’m pretty sure I added a peace sign or two but it was the flowers that made it a masterpiece. Did I mention how sticky they were? This was in the day before removable stickers that could be repositioned were sold – once one of these stickers was placed on a wall, there they stayed. I gave absolutely no thought to peeling off the paper backing and sticking them all over my room. I stepped back, looked at my artistic mastery and immediately smiled. It was so happy, so much fun and lively!

My mother thought otherwise and, years later, when it came time to transform my room into one for guests, I think my parents spent hours painstakingly removing them (if I look really closely at the wall, I think I can still see where one had to be chipped out and there’s some spackle and paint as evidence). Now, as an empty nester myself, I understand their displeasure but at the time, all I can recall is the feeling of pure joy. I was feeling groovy.

I think about those days and the joy Flower Power stickers brought me and wonder if some of that exuberance and desire to be surrounded in color hasn’t, in some way, carried over into adulthood. Although I’ve always loved – actually, I crave – color, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that that passion for strong color combinations has been channeled into gardening and the types of plants I am consistently attracted to. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why in these months when it’s harder to get my “color fix” just by wandering around a garden outdoors, it’s even more important to me to continue coaxing bulbs in the colder months. I need the colors growing throughout winter: bulbs, blooming plants and the occasional indulgence of a bright bouquet (there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a bright bunch of tulips in a vase during these cold, winter months). Now, as I look around my house, it’s pretty easy to see hints of the teenager in me:

I’m NOT an orchid person and yet? The sunny, floor to ceiling window in my dining room is filled with blooming plants. It’s actually become somewhat of a joke because, despite my protests, I take withering, half dead orchids from my friend, Kelly, and somehow – despite my lackadaisical approach and complete lack of orchid education – they thrive. The stronger the color, the more delighted I am. The plants with what I consider unusual color combinations (e.g. purple and chartreuse) are personal favorites and when I see buds forming on a plant I had long ago give up for dead, I can’t help but be excited to see what will unfold. Sure, I have a few standards and solid colored orchids and I love them – they are reliable bloomers and bring a sense of calm to the cacophony of color – but when these “Kelly Orphans” were recently revived? As Jimmy Cliff sang, “Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for . . . it’s gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day.”

 

 

 

 

 

Starting in December, it is, for our family, Amaryllis Time. Previously I’ve written about my family’s tradition of selecting a traditional amaryllis to give to family and friends as a holiday gift. It’s a process my mother started years ago and has continued, thanks to my father, despite her passing almost six years ago. I know he carefully reviews the choices, makes sure we’re not repeating varieties and I like to think that he tries to incorporate my mother’s aesthetics into the year’s selection. Last year’s “Caprice” was a stunner and some of us are trying to bring it back to flower this year.

While waiting for the traditional amaryllis to bloom, I enjoy coaxing other bulbs to bring color and life into the house. The waxed amaryllis are lovely not only for their colorful wax but for their reliable, brilliant flowers and ability to grow without any maintenance (though they are controversial as they are “one and done”) and I’ve enjoyed watching their progress. They bring the same vibrancy and exuberance as those stickers did long ago without the permanence and aggravation In addition, when I’ve sent one to a friend, the progress is excitedly chronicled via Facebook and they, too, are embracing nature’s beauty:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites, cut flowers and assembling greens from the yard mixed in with herbs, seasonal vegetables (I especially love using unusually shaped fruits mixed with different colored artichokes) also bring life indoors and I find myself drawn to using whatever plates and dining accessories I have that represent nature when setting a holiday table. Obviously the teenager who once decorated her room in groovy flower power stickers has matured but she’s not gone.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the bulbs I have growing was selected because it’s one of the few that produces a striped flower. Instead of the more predictable, single petal (and quite lovely) red flower, this copper bulb promises to produce at least two stalks of brightly red striped white flowers. Of all the waxed amaryllis I’ve been coaxing this winter, it is this one that has proven to be the most anticipated and the most stubborn. I inquired and was told that yes, the striped variety is slower to start but assuming the bulb stays in tact, the results are well worth it. I’m now in the stages – I’ll admit it – of expecting a magnificent show any minute now. There are three stalks on this amaryllis and now, late in January, they are beginning to put on a show – yes, it’s worth the wait:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amaryllis ‘terra mystica’ (my father’s Annual Amaryllis selection this year) has also been slow to start and I’ve placed these bulbs together in a warm spot by a sunny window in my bedroom. They are one of the last things I see before going to bed and one of the first things I see when I wake in the morning. Watching their growth has been delightful and the color adds so much to the “view” during these cold weather months. The traditional amaryllis began slowly but it’s now beginning to produce blossoms in earnest. This year’s selection did not disappoint and the beautiful earthy color is rich and unique:Now things seem to bloom daily and it’s almost as exciting as my summer ritual of touring the garden to seek growth and change. No doubt about it – I’m feeling pretty groovy with Flower Power.

That Was Then – This Is Now

It is late November and with earlier (often spectacular) sunsets, moderating temperatures and gardens now showing signs of dormancy, there’s a distinctly different feeling in the air. It seems like it only took a few days for the seasons to change and the landscape is quickly following suit. When acorns pelleting our roof become a constant and replace the sounds of chirping birds, I know the backyard’s path will soon be cold and covered with sharp objects. Gone are the days when I could open the backdoor and, barefooted, impulsively run out to investigate something new in the garden. The paths are now covered with fallen limbs, unripened vegetables, debris and those sharp, spiny acorn caps demanding shoes .

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That’s not to say there aren’t incredible sights right now: like many other people, Fall’s landscape is one of my favorite sights. This is a season when, if desired, there’s a lot to explore in addition to enjoying the changing foliage and some of the changes take a little more patience to discover and appreciate. As my warm weather morning ritual of exploring becomes occasional rather than daily, I’m constantly amazed at the discoveries found right outside my door. Some are planned and anticipated, while others can be a delightful, unexpected surprise. The other day, desperate for some color to bring inside the house, I scoured the garden in hopes of gathering a few greens, perhaps some color, to put in a new vase. I was amazed to see the return of the beautiful dahlia that wooed me out of bed after August’s surgery and could not have been more delighted with the asters and toad-lilies dotting the garden’s beds:

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This is a time of the year to appreciate change and remember how things looked during the traditional blooming season. My low growing, late blooming tube clematis c. heracleifolia that was covered with sweet purple blooms only a few weeks ago has been transformed. Gone is the purple and in its place are these spectacular seed pods adding an intriguing shape and almost metallic color to the bed:

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The amsonia’s blooms are one of my early summer favorites and now, as the flowers are a distant memory, I’ve come to appreciate this beauty all the more as the leaves turn into their own wispy, apricot, spectacular sight providing a lovely backdrop for the late season willow leaf sunflowers.

That was then . . . This is now.

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As I made my way around the yard, I passed beautiful bushes, specifically noticing their unique growth patterns, the colors of their bark and the distinct shapes of leaves now changing color that before, I probably didn’t appreciate because I was so busy looking for blooms. This is the time of year to appreciate the “bones” of the landscape and I fall in love with the garden all over again. As I wound my way to check in on the woodland section of the yard, something very bright – VERY pink – caught my eye. It was tiny and took some effort to get down on the ground to meet it at eye level. How delightful to find some cyclamen blooming in a part of the yard where I know they weren’t intentionally planted . . . not by someone with two hands and a trowel, that is. What’s more, I have a lovely pink cyclamen growing out of a rock! Obviously someone with four legs has been helping me garden this year:

 

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In the woodland area, the most nostalgic part of the garden because I’ve tried to plant things to remind me of treasures I discovered while growing up in Cleveland, the only evidence of my efforts was with the bright red seeds (which I hope will scatter and take hold) of the Jack in the Pulpit.

That was then . . . This is now:

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There’s beauty in plants that once bore brilliant flowers: their shape, seeds, pods and changing leaves are intriguing and have a unique aesthetic only found this time of year. The fothergilla that was so delightful in the spring when covered with fluffy white blooms is just as beautiful now as the shrub is ablaze with colorful leaves and the honeysuckle that bloomed wildly over a trellis all summer is now adorned with bright red berries. In the Green Bed, the remaining shape of the once brilliant blue plumbago strikes a particularly lovely sight even without the color as the remaining shape and richly colored leaves resting against a boulder is a gorgeous seasonal sight.

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That Was Then . . . This Is Now

Fall Into . . . Brookside

Labor Day is a distant memory, the kids have been back at school long enough to be in the swing of the academic year, football season has started, the World Series has begun (GO TRIBE!), the sun is setting earlier and yet? So far, autumn still feels a little like summer. Halloween approaches (in fact, some department stores have already leapt ahead with Christmas displays) and cooler weather clothing is now in the closet but still, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s time to think about nature’s transition into another season. This is a time of the year when I still yearn for the summer’s vibrancy and look at my garden and see some color yet it’s hard to ignore the withering plants and wonder where the summer has gone. August was cruel with heat, little rain and oppressive humidity. As the seasons change, NOW is a fabulous time to explore the beautiful public (and private) gardens – no matter where you live – and see the remaining beauty of Summer and the spectacular, unique and unexpected sights of Fall.

In the DC Metro area, we have a number of fabulous gardens to explore: River Farm. Ladew Topiary Gardens, McCrillis Gardens, Meridian Hill Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Green Spring Gardens, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and each holds a unique feeling. Because McCrillis and Locust Grove are close to my home, I visit them often and am very familiar with each path. I know Locust Grove’s Native Garden and have enjoyed watching it evolve over the seasons. Its’ natural beauty and meandering trails are accessible, peaceful and always provide spectacular views. McCrillis, too, is a natural, serene setting and in my opinion, it is beautiful year round but many flock to it in the spring for their tremendous inventory of azaleas. Over this past weekend, my husband and I decided to walk through Brookside Gardens (www.brooksidegardens.org) in Wheaton, Maryland because we haven’t been there since their recent extensive renovations and needed a glimpse of whatever summer color remained and experience those unique senses so specific to this season.

Simply driving into the parking lot – before you even go down any of the trails or explore the multitude of diverse, themed gardens, this is what you are treated to:
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img_3167After going through the Visitor Center and entering the grounds, it’s immediately apparent that Brookside’s attention to detail encompasses just about everything from seating . . .

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. . . to how the gardens are organized. Whether you’re in search of gardens highlighting native plants, intrigued by the Fragrance Garden, Aquatic Garden, Rain Garden, Butterfly Garden, Trial Garden and/or more, Brookside has it. It also has two Conservatories and programs year round. There’s is no “best” time to explore Brookside’s 50 acres – it’s a place with year round interest and unique beauty, events and activities. For those who only go to Brookside during the winter holidays for their amazing Festival of Lights, I encourage you to continue the tradition and add another season to the roster. No matter when you go, you’ll be delighted and there’s so much to explore.

There were a few areas I thought were particularly well done and original, starting with the “outdoor school” garden. Even more exciting? It was filled with excited families exploring the area, aware that through nature, all can be taught (and learned). The area is designated by this sign img_3171

and surrounded by a white picket fence. Inside there are separate “subject” areas, such as math, music and science, using plants and decorative objects to unify the “lesson plan. As we wandered through the area – (we brought the average age UP a few years but we didn’t mind) – we, too, were engrossed in the day’s lessons. The explosions of color and use of a little stage area, quotes on signs and groupings of plants to attract and identify pollinators excite a student of any age:

 

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Exiting the Outside School we entered, appropriately, a vignette garden dedicated to COCKTAILS!!! We were greeted by a succulent covered figure carrying cocktail glasses in her hand:

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The Cocktail Garden is an appealing way to display plants that can easily be grown in your garden and used in your kitchen. The display (pictured below) shows how cleverly plants can be identified and better yet? Recipes are available for visitors. It was fun exploring those beds and seeing not only what kinds of plants can be used for consumption, but just how beautiful they are in a garden setting. In fact, many of them, such as lavender and mint, are things you probably already grow. Brookside includes some more unique ingredients, such as Meyer lemons and jalepenos, and the point was well made: think about how you can use plants in your garden for aesthetic as well as practical purposes. It doesn’t have to be one or the other:  img_3196

 

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Leaving the Cocktail Garden to explore new areas brings the eye to so many exceptional sites: the thistle growing in a bed of brilliant textures and colors (nice of the swallowtail to pose on that thistle, wasn’t it?), beds of blooms with so many colors it looked like an Impressionist painting and areas clearly transitioning to a new season and proudly displaying the beauty of seed pods and changes in the coloring of leaves:

 

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Wandering through Brookside was a beautiful reminder that certain crocuses do bloom in the autumn, that sedum and roses can entwine and coexist beautifully and that containers can be exciting:  img_3185

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Brookside’s displays of unique fountains, paths, a gingko themed canopy can be enjoyed while looking at the plants surrounding a body of water or crossing a bridge over aquatic gardens. Said differently? By wandering through such a beautifully planned and well thought out garden, it’s clear that whether one is planting a garden bed, figuring out what to place in a container or adding elements for visitors to sit for a break, they can co-exist perfectly, reinforce nature’s theme and unique beauty and, in fact, be functional, too.  img_3238

 

 

 

As we walked under the beautiful purple plant covered arches to make our way to the exit, I couldn’t help but find exceptional beauty only found this time of the year – seeing the seed pods and other changes in plants reminded me not only to enjoy the season we’re currently in, but that now is a time with a whole lot of hints about what’s yet to be explored:  img_3225

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Re-Tweeting

The discovery of an active nest is one of those unexpected treasures you can’t possibly script. As observant as one may be, or as familiar as you are with your yard, a nest may appear in the most unexpected places and/or return to some of the predictable locations in your garden. I can’t remember a summer within the past five or so years when I haven’t had at least one nest in the juniper tree and another nestled in the hollies. The nests are strategically located behind a thick tangle of prickly leaves, using a brick wall to provide added support on one side with strong branches from mature trees as the nest’s “cradle.” Every spring I watch the birds in my yard and inevitably, they lead me to where they are building a nest. Especially in the initial days of summer, nests are being discovered all the time (and many birds lay another clutch of eggs in the fall) and the Internet is flooded with magnificent discoveries. Nests can be discovered on the ground, in bird houses, within the cavity of a tree, constructed in almost any discarded object, in chimneys . . . you name it: become aware of the possibilities and soon you, too, will start looking for nests.

Early in the morning, sometimes before we “Spring Forward” and change our clocks in preparation for the summer’s months, I wake to the gentle cooing of the Mourning Doves. Before I begin the summer routine of touring the garden to check in on plants, see what’s growing (or not) and making a “to do” list for cleaning, planting and summer maintenance, I start looking for nests. This year started a little different initially – the first Mourning Dove of the season was spotted in the holly tree, previously the first ones were in the juniper tree and almost all were successful (we had one unfortunate outcome, courtesy of a tenacious predator). In the following months, continuing into “official summer” I continue to find nests. It’s a little unusual to find some nests as summer’s heat begins in earnest but for me, it’s not about the science of ornithology – it’s about the thrill of the Retweet. Finding nests, summer after summer, is a form of gardening for me. As much as I despise the juniper tree – it’s ungainly, prickly (and we all know I’ve got a “thing” about texture) and it’s starting to encroach on the sunny spots in the yard, making it difficult to figure out how to plant in my beloved Green Bed. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay because it has been home to so many nests. Importantly, it was home to the first nest which got me hooked on finding nests in the yard. As I walk past the scratchy, ungainly tree, I mutter to the tree “your only saving grace is being home to the plentiful, magical, amazing nests.” Grr.

And yet? Summer after summer, in 98% of the mourning dove nests built in the garden, I’ve been treated to the following (and I never tire of it – each nest is special, new and unique):

Mourning Dove Nest With Eggs

Mourning Dove Nest With Eggs

Doves Beginning to Hatch

Doves Beginning to Hatch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last summer’s nest in the climbing hydrangea full of sparrows, was an unexpected treat. I found it only because, while sitting in the kitchen, I noticed a lot of sparrows diving in and out of the climbing vines and after a few days, when the activity began to slow down, I casually walked by the climbing hydrangea and glanced into the tangle of leaves. Sure enough, there it was – a sparrow’s nest. Each egg was the size of a marble and I couldn’t imagine how they would hatch, hold the weight of an adult and the hatchlings:

Song Sparrow Nest

Song Sparrow Nest

With Cornell’s NestWatch program, I not only got information about the occupants (notice how one egg is different – a Cowbird dropped an egg in there and was lucky enough to have it nurtured by the sparrow) but I registered the nest so they could get information about bird populations they ordinarily wouldn’t have access to. If you are at all interested in learning more about birds or want to participate in any of their “Citizen Scientist” programs, I strongly encourage you to visit NestWatch.org to learn more about their wonderful programs to become familiar with their Code of Conduct Guide so you can responsibly observe nests. By following their Code of Conduct not only do you enjoy the beauty of nature, you do so responsibly and have the opportunity to be the “eyes and ears” for Cornell’s ornithologists as they keep track of increasing and declining bird populations. They also have incredible programs for educators and offer an array of outreach, educational and fun programs. Learning about how nests are built and why locations are desired for different species, understanding the adult’s behaviors (such as turning the eggs so they develop evenly), following expected incubation times and becoming familiar with what to expect makes the entire experience that much more meaningful.

As I sat in the kitchen with the morning’s coffee, camera nearby, this is what I had a front row seat to (notice the cowbird – it’s the one with the wide, flat beak). I thought it was a nest hog:

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Four sparrows, one cowbird – all healthy, well fed and eventually, they fledged the nest. The nest is there but so far, although I’ve seen a lot of sparrow activity in the area, I haven’t seen another nest but I keep hoping. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as the surprise of a discovered nest – especially when it’s an active nest. That’s right, I’m waiting for a “Retweet.”

Just last week, as my early summer routine of touring the garden in the morning began, I was delighted to discover:

Robins Nest

Robins Nest

 

 

 
Sure, I’ve had plenty of robins nests previously and I know exactly what to expect. For now, I’m only checking, thanks to binoculars, on the nest from time to time to see if there’s a little more activity. A few summers ago, just as I was fortunate with the sparrow’s nest, I was able to watch robins hatch. I know it will go something like this:  IMG_0974

 

 

 

 

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But when/if it happens in the coming days, it will be like “Groundhog’s Day” as if I’ve never seen anything so remarkable before in my life. It is new and exhilarating every single time. Each nest, every nestling is a precious gift. I’m just fine with “re-tweeting” and welcome the hatchlings arrival. It’s not too late in the season – next time you are taking a walk, visiting gardens and/or working in your yard, take the time to carefully look at unexpected places to see if there are nests. You would be surprised at their location(s). On the Internet I’ve seen nests built in mailboxes, discarded shoes in the yard, built on the ground, found in the cavity of a tree, nestled in an unused outdoor fireplace and typically, in the eaves on a house. When friends tag me on Facebook to show me their nest (in Cleveland, Debbie’s mourning dove nest was in a hanging basket of flowers she recently purchased at the nursery. So excited, she neglected the flowers to give the doves their space and although the flowers looked pretty spent, Debbie couldn’t have been more delighted to see the mother dove nestling her newborns. Another friend in Texas, Laura, found a nest filled with blue speckled eggs in a ficus tree she placed on her porch) I’m thrilled and share in their excitement.

It’s not just flowers that are blooming this summer – as your garden welcomes pollinators and appreciates their hard, important work, please keep an eye out for the treasure of finding a nest. You’ll be surprised by how attached you become to that precious cargo and how invested you become in the process. Please be a responsible nest watcher by following the guidelines so carefully explained on www.nestwatch.org and enjoy the show!

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Swing Into Spring – Hatchings & Spring Things

 

Spring can be an unpredictable season and these days, it feels like there’s a constant struggle between winter and summer with no clear winner declared (so far). It might seem like it’s hard to get into the Swing of Spring, especially with the temperature’s pendulum going from one extreme to another, but no matter what the weather, there are plenty of ways to Swing Into Spring:

Like thousands of others, I’ve become enchanted by the live cam on the eagle’s nest in the National Arboretum (http://dceaglecam.org). This “bird’s eye view” into the 5 foot wide nest high in a Tulip Poplar is a treat and beautiful sight. In addition, one can participate in (or simply read) the information in the “live chat” forum to learn more about the American Eagle Foundation, specifics about this nest and/or information about other nests (in this area and in other locations, too).

From the first signs of the piping process in the two eggs to watching the tiny grey fluffy eaglets mature and become independent, it’s easy to see why an active bird’s nest helps nature lovers get into the Swing of Spring. Just clicking on the website allows visitors to see lovely sights (day and night), such as the screenshot below of the adult feeding freshly caught fish from the Anacostia to the eaglets:

Eaglets

Eaglets

 

 

 

It’s likely that in your yard and/or neighborhood (perhaps right outside your office window), there are many active nests. Some are obvious, others a little less so. Predictably, the prolific Mourning Doves have returned to my yard, taking up residence in the juniper and holly trees. The first active nest was spotted in the holly tree, nestled carefully behind a thick veil of prickly green leaves and in a sturdy “v” at the top of the tree against a brick wall. Mourning Doves might be common birds and I hope my garden attracts more unusual nests over time but for now, as we’re trying to get into the Swing of Spring, nothing could be as much a hallmark of spring as the sight I was lucky to capture (below): the proud mother dove’s hatchling cuddled up with mom for warmth:

Mourning Dove - Mother & Child

Mourning Dove – Mother & Child

 

 

There are beautiful signs of spring in my garden and I enjoy seeing many of my favorites slowly return this year. For me, spring is like a treasure hunt – I search the garden and surrounding areas for signs of growth. When I spot something coming to life, it’s the same satisfaction as finding buried treasures. Finding spring’s treasures help me move forward with the new season, no matter what the weather. There are days when things seem to change within the course of a few hours but when the temperatures drop, it’s as if the garden stands still for a while – pressed on the “pause button” – waiting for warmer, sunnier days before the blooms really strut their stuff.

I’m a huge fritillary fan and this year, a new variety in the lavender bed has made for a spectacular sight. Watching it grow has been exciting and helped me get into the spirit of spring:

Fritillaria persica - Emerging

Fritillaria persica – Emerging

 

Fritillaria persica - Growing

Fritillaria persica – Growing

Fritillaria persica - Blooming

Fritillaria persica – Blooming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the garden, color is beginning to emerge and although the morning ritual of touring the beds is not yet a lengthy endeavor, it’s hard not to feel excited by the beautiful sights (and smells) of early spring:

Tulipa

Tulipa

 

Tulips

Tulips

Epimedium

Epimedium

 

Narcissus Oderata

Narcissus Oderata

Daffodils

Daffodils

One of the best ways to put both feet into this new season is to visit one of the many spectacular gardens open to the public. My personal favorite is McCrillis Gardens located on Greentree Road, right across from The Woods Academy. From its welcoming gates and lovely stone house at the entrance:

McCrillis' Gates

McCrillis’ Gates

 

McCrillis Stone House

McCrillis Stone House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McCrillis Garden is a beautiful garden no matter what the season. Paths meander through the property and the mature beds are filled with beauty. There are benches scattered along the property and it’s a peaceful, casual and always interesting setting. The camellias, bloodroot, hellebores, azaleas, witch hazel and more definitely help me get a whiff of the season and all the treasures to be discovered:

Corylopsis

Corylopsis

Hamamelis x Int. 'Primavera'

Hamamelis x Int. ‘Primavera’

Camellia

Camellia

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Azaleas

Azaleas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Japanese Skimmia

Japanese Skimmia

 

 

 

 

Whether it’s taking an interest in nesting birds, appreciating your own garden, exploring the nursery for things that might be fun to add to your yard, taking walks through the neighborhood and/or visiting any of the beautiful sights, especially the public gardens, in our area (even with a winter’s sweater on hand just in case the temperatures are a bit chillier than anticipated), these are terrific ways to get into The Swing of Spring.  IMG_1993

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A Dog’s Garden – Alice in Wonderland

On a hot summer day in 2006, my husband, children and I piled into the car to go “look at the dogs” at the shelter in Rockville. Many families raise children with dogs and/or their dogs precede a child but we are “late bloomers.” For reasons that now escape us, we thought it prudent to wait a while before taking on the responsibility of raising a dog AND twins. With years of sleep deprivation, milestones and more than a handful of emergency room visits, we just couldn’t imagine adding another member to our family – especially one with four paws. We were running on fumes and when/if we had a moment to ourselves, we ached for rest – if for nothing else, than to catch our breath. Caring for a dog, taking more walks, exploring another aisle in the grocery store and/or hightailing it to another doctor for a check up or emergency appointment seemed unimaginable. I admit it now, because hindsight really is 20/20, it was very unenlightened reasoning.

Yet, on that summer day it just felt like “taking a look at the dogs” would be OK. No harm in looking, right? The twins were learning to drive, babysitters were a thing of the past, independence was the focus of our family and we had settled into as much of a rhythm as any busy family possibly can. Going to “look at dogs” was a harmless afternoon’s event. But you know how that glance ended, how could it be otherwise?

Who were we fooling? Looking at dogs is the same thing as saying, “I’ll just have a bite” of a delicious dessert. Like Lays Potato Chips, there was no way we could stop at one bite. We returned to visit a certain dog at the shelter that captured our attention (and hearts) because she wasn’t a standout. She was not a beautiful lab, a yummy, small, fluffy dog with a sweet disposition nor was she a malleable puppy. The dog that we all – independently – fell in love with was a scrawny, white, quiet, skittish dog that looked more like a fox than a dog.

The sign on the cage said, “be careful of this dog. Skittish and afraid of people.” What were we thinking? How could we not think of her? After all, weren’t we there to find a dog in need? Malnourished and reluctant to be walked, we took a leash to lead her into the back and play. We filled out some forms, within days we had a home study and as they left, they said “you can come get your dog any time now.” So off we went to get Alice. Alice the malnourished, white, skittish, quiet dog in need of food, love, gentle understanding and acceptance.

Alice, it turns out, is a Jindo – an unusual breed in this part of the world. With a little research we found out the breed, known for their intense loyalty, bravery, intelligence and sweet personality were, in 1962, designated as the 53rd National Treasure in Korea.

In South Korea, the story of Baekgu, a Jindo, is so well known it has been the inspiration for movies, books and cartoons. In 1991, Baekgu was sold and taken almost 200 miles away from home but the dog was so determined to return to his original master, Baekgu traveled for seven months to reach home – appearing close to death but, finally, home to its devoted master.

Bringing Alice home and into our lives changed everything but at the same time, we were determined to continue with “life as usual.” We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. We didn’t realize, at first, that she hated being in a closed room. There’s ample evidence of this in our house: chewed doorframes, deep claw marks in the walls and paint scraped off entranceways. Slowly, we began to learn her likes and dislikes and just like all other dog lovers, Alice became part of our every day activities. She joined me in the garden, we explored the neighborhood, loved taking her for walks along the canal and I often strolled through Locust Grove with her.  

Alice

Alice

 

  

 

 

 

In her first two weeks with us, Alice was quiet. She didn’t like the crate so we let her wander the house. After being so quiet for weeks, we weren’t sure she knew how to bark. One day, the letter carrier came to the house, opened our mailbox to deposit the mail and Alice let out a loud bark. We just happened to be there, heard her lively, healthy bark, looked at each other and said, “she’s a REAL dog!”

 When the twins emptied the house for college I had Alice and her presence to comfort me. She protected me, too. The breed’s loyalty and devotion to their “master” is evident with everyone in our family and in so many ways. Because I have orthopedic issues affecting my movements and gait, Alice observes my movement (and mood) and adapts accordingly. When I returned to the house after having spinal procedures, she sat at the top of the steps guarding me. On gloomy days, Alice would often curl up next to me or sit by my feet. She loves our family’s friends and with them, too, she will sit by their feet as if to keep them company and be part of the “action.” A recognizable face at the door was not a call for alarm – instead, Alice announces their arrival with a wag of her tail and an excited little jump at the window.

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Alice would come outside with me into the garden. Yes, she barked like crazy when people came to work in the yard and yes, it was annoying. But in a dog’s world I guess she was, just like with the stairs, guarding us. She didn’t think other people belonged in my garden and let me know strangers were there. She tried to protect my garden from the rabbits chewing on the greenery and destroying treasured blooms. My twins will happily tell you about the time I was livid with Alice for chasing a rabbit through my gorgeous, lush, red monarda in pursuit of a rabbit. My monarda was trampled, the rabbit escaped but Alice got my wrath. I’m sorry about that, Alice – flowers return, dogs pass away.  

Monarda

Monarda

 

 

 

Today, Alice is sick and dying. We found out a few days ago she has an aggressive, untreatable cancer and we’ve brought her home to spend as much time with her as possible. We need to adjust to the news and surround her with love. This adjustment, unlike the one ten years ago, is excruciating. She’s not trembling like a puppy – she’s lethargic and despondent. We don’t know if we have days, weeks or months but we do know we will not let her suffer.

For me personally, this is a conflicting and unsettling month. It has been five years since my mother passed away in March and nature is pushing us forward to a new season, a change in our clocks and reminding us there’s life emerging from what looked like a bare landscape. It’s a time many people embrace and anticipate with relief. As a gardener, I do, too, but as a daughter and dog lover, I’m reminded of life’s cycles – including inevitable pain. 

Alice won’t see the return of my spring ephemerals this year but in the past, she expressed some curiosity. I can’t attribute appreciation to her because that’s a human trait and I’m not that presumptuous. I will say that much in nature made her sneeze and together, we enjoyed cherry blossom time but paid for it at the end of the day with lots and lots of sneezing and wheezing. 

When I started my morning ritual of exploring the garden in warmer weather months, I would leave the door open for Alice just in case she wanted to join me. Unlike many other dogs, she wasn’t into going into the yard in lieu of a walk. She wanted her walks – that’s not what the yard is for (thank you, Alice). Alice knows the neighborhood and has her preferred places and routes. With her, I began finding out about the neighbors’ gardens. Even in snow, Alice wanted/needed her walks and together, we explored. It took a little prodding as she has an aversion to water but there were more than a few memorable snowstorms with Alice – this year we had to shovel a path (and carry her a little) just to find an area where she could walk.  

Alice in Snowzilla

Alice in Snowzilla

 

 

Thanks to Alice I know where there are lovely bunches of snowdrops – we see them on different routes throughout the neighborhood and over the years, we’ve become so familiar with their location and when they’ll appear that I’ll take Alice out for a walk just to look for them. When it’s close to the time I know they’ll be in bloom (the ones in my yard aren’t always a good predictor), I’ll bring my camera with me and Alice waits impatiently for me to snap some shots. If/when it snows, I want a “Snowdrops in Snow” picture but typically, Alice isn’t terribly cooperative about that trek. After all, it’s wet, cold and requires her to stop yanking on the leash so I can try to focus.  

Neighborhood Snowdrops

Neighborhood Snowdrops

 

 

 

Alice and I know which homeowners have taken a lot of time and thought to plant vignettes in the small patch of land by the path to their front doors. I know who has which hellebores, where the first tulips will appear, what color clematis will climb around a neighbor’s wood gate and we watch people fill containers with annuals when the weather settles into summer. Had it not been for Alice, I would never have found a house behind our development on a dead-end street with a front yard full of fig trees.  

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood Growth

Neighborhood Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice loves to wander through the wooded area in our neighborhood that will soon be covered with daffodils. When we first moved in, there were a few daffodils scattered in the woods but over the years, as the daffodils spread, it has become a carpet of yellow and new varieties have been added.

Neighborhood Daffodils

Neighborhood Daffodils

With Alice, I watch the change of seasons and notice things I probably wouldn’t bother to investigate on my own. Walking a dog is more than a task, caretaking chore and exercise. It has opened my eyes to the eyes to the beauty I might otherwise walk right by and merely note rather than anticipate and deliberately seek. As Alice sniffs her way through the shrubs I check on the pretty camellias planted decades ago and now are hidden by taller trees. I’ve smelled glorious lilacs in someone’s backyard, not visible from the street but I now know they are there. They’re on one of Alice’s favorite routes – near a school where the children, outside during recess, run over to pet our gentle, soft, loving dog.

Lilacs

Lilacs

 

Camellia

Camellia

      

 

  

 

 

There are many beautiful quotes about dogs and for those who love dogs, they hold meaning. When people ask me why I named her Alice (and the name was my selection – not the twins), all I can think of is two associations: a favorite poem by A.A. Milne “Buckingham Palace” (says Alice) and the story “Through the Looking Glass.” Alice and I explored nature’s Wonderland.

 

This is not a unique story and I know there are millions of other dog lovers who have experienced loss . . . and joy. Maybe my twins will, eventually, have dogs in their own homes but it’s unlikely I will ever have the heart to have another dog. It never occurred to me that a dog would introduce me to gardening from a unique perspective but Alice has done exactly that and I hope to somehow honor her in the garden with a fitting planting. Something white, soft, strong and a little exotic. It will be our family’s treasure. For now, my newly acquired weeping pussy willow seems to fit the bill.  

Weeping Pussy Willow

Weeping Pussy Willow

 Sweet, sweet Alice, we will miss you. Thank you for loving us. We could never have loved a dog more than you.  

Alice - 3/4/16

Alice – 3/4/16

A Garden’s “Welcome Mat” – The Textures of Plants

The other day while strolling through a nursery looking for signs of spring and inspiration, I saw a lot of pussy willow branches, a sure sign of spring’s approach, and chuckled to myself. Always fascinated by the texture of plants (almost as much as color), I’ve consistently been attracted to plants with “people friendly” textures and shunned those less kind to the human touch.

Pussywillows

Pussywillows

 

 

 

As a very young child, the soft, velvety texture of a pussy willow attracted me much in the same way as babies form an attachment to a soft, cuddly “blankie” and it becomes a child’s cherished, comforting object. Intrigued by pussy willows, I would rub the soft, white, fuzzy buds between my fingers, loving the velvety texture and the way it felt to stroke the softness – rub it any direction and it became softer and more soothing. The advent of spring, for me, was the bunch of pussy willow branches my mother would place in a vase and seeing forsythia line the street.

My admiration for forsythia wasn’t terrible strong (still not a favorite of mine) but those pussy willows? Joy. Pure joy. I still love them and look forward to having a few sprigs in the house as a way to transition to spring from winter. As a child, however, my admiration for the pussy willow didn’t stop with a simple touch or a glance at the artfully placed branches in a vase. Stashower Lore will happily tell you that I, obsessed with caressing those pussy willow buds, took it one step further . . . and as I held a single pussy willow bud in my hand, feeling the deliciously soft texture, I just couldn’t help myself and I brought that bud up to my face to feel the velvety texture against my skin. Somehow – I just don’t “remember exactly how” that bud ended up . . . in my nostril. As in LODGED in my nose. Panicked, I ran to my mother who clearly was horrified and knew that any attempt to remove it would probably make the situation worse. So, off we went to the pediatrician who, with a scary looking instrument, extracted it.

That experience has kept me from shoving pussy willows up my nose but it hasn’t diminished my love for soft textures and an appreciation for plants that, in my definition, are “people friendly.” At the same time, I’ve also developed a strong dislike for plants that are sharp, prickly and to my touch, aren’t welcoming, comforting or soothing. Yes, it’s just another thing to add to my persnickety selection of plants: it’s about color, fragrance, growth pattern, interest and . . . texture.

My preference(s) for certain textures and dislike for others always comes into play when planting, selecting stems for bouquets and/or merely enjoying the scenery. I despise plants with sharp edges because if I can’t enjoy touching them or they discourage exploration, they are banished from my yard. The first to fall victim to my less than rational attitude was removing a Pyracantha (AKA “Firethorn” which I feel is particularly apt) near the entrance to our garden. The orange berries were delightful, I loved the way birds were attracted to it and it took up enough real estate in a not yet developed garden to warrant its placement – it really wasn’t doing any harm. But when I got near it and was pierced by the thorns and found it impossible to prune without “gearing up” I knew it had to go. Those lovely orange berries would have been delightful in a vase near the window, particularly against a backdrop of snow, but those sharp thorns and rigid branches were too big a deterrent so, with help, I was perfectly fine removing it from the garden.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

 

 

 

In its place are my beloved Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (no berries but that corkscrew silhouette during winter more than makes up for the lack of color) and an Edgeworthia chrysantha (providing the brilliant color in warmer months).

Corylus avellana

Corylus avellana

 

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

 

 

 

 

 

To be fair, I appreciate the aesthetics of many plants and landscapes that are strictly “hands off” and when, years ago, we enjoyed the unique, spectacular sights of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson (https://www.desertmuseum.org), I developed newfound appreciation for that magnificent landscape. The shape of the saguaro cactus with white flowers in spring and covered with red fruit in summer is magnificent and a hallmark of the Sonoran Desert. I appreciate their history and ability to adapt to a specific climate but all the same, those spines definitely kept me at arm’s length. The incredible variety of cacti were lovely to observe and learn about – I would love to see the desert in bloom and it is a photographer’s dream any time of the year but when texture comes into play, my preference is to admire these plants through a lens and from a distance. I would love to see the desert in bloom but have no desire to try my hand at growing cacti no matter where I live.

Fish Hook Barre - Sonoran Desert

Fish Hook Barre – Sonoran Desert

 

Cactus Garden - Sonoran Desert Museum

Cactus Garden – Sonoran Desert Museum

I wasn’t crazy about learning about ‘the jumping cholla cactus” and discovering how this plant’s common name came to be. While in Albuquerque one summer for a family bar mitzvah, my husband and I spent an afternoon exploring a shopping district, wandering into cafes, looking at the shops and enjoying a quirky neighborhood. The streets, lined with lovely landscapes of native plantings, seemed removed from foot traffic yet I managed to lose my footing, tripped and fell right into a tiny patch of native plantings – including one of those jumping cholla cacti. I think every single thorn jumped off their cactus and landed directly into my sunburned, already sensitive skin. Hours later, after suffering the indignity of it all and painstakingly (literally and figuratively) pulling out those prickers one by one with a tweezers, I once again vowed to steer clear from plants that couldn’t welcome someone’s skin without protection. It might not be an enlightened gardener’s view or very practical – it might limit my inventory – but at least I won’t feel the pain of gardening merely by walking past a plant!

Jumping Cholla Cactus

Jumping Cholla Cactus

In my own yard in Maryland, the previous owners lined the walls defining our yard with hollies. You guessed it – not a favorite. I appreciate the year round color, I like the berries and the birds they attract and yes, they mask the ugly walls I despise in our yard but slowly, I’m trying to replace those hollies with other choices – leaves that don’t get stuck in bare feet and welcome people into the garden. So far I’ve removed quite a few and found suitable replacements but this is going to be a long, expensive process.

Holly in my Garden

Holly in my Garden

If I could fill my yard with plants that encourage touch, I would. Even if touch isn’t the goal, I would be satisfied with plants that, at the very least, don’t discourage people from appreciating their beauty. I’ve added a smokebush because the fluffy “smoke” hovering above the bush is both beautiful and doesn’t repel someone who might brush up against it and many other shrubs add interest, height, texture and color, helping to evolve the landscape. The succulents I’ve added might not be the sort one would spend a long time touching but they’re not going to harm anyone and I enjoy them all the more when they bloom.

I love lamb’s ears, multi-hued, velvety violets, rows of edibles, exuberant sundrops, feathery amsonia and the way many plants sway in the wind. The lush, almost jelly-like filled succulents, stonecrop, fescue, nepeta, scotch broom, sedum, lady’s mantle and spring ephemerals in the Green Bed add color, pattern and yes, acceptable texture. You won’t find any plants with thorns or stiff textures in my landscape if I can help it. Slowly, over time, I hope to be surrounded with color, interesting, varied, welcoming and people friendly plants that encourage exploration with no fear of injury. I’d like my garden to say, “Please, Touch Me!” It’s OK with me to touch the puffy globe of allium and walk through the native bed to gather phlox, cardinal lobelia, bluebells, daisies, lily of the valley, mountain mint, helenium, camass and more. The fothergill, nine bark, hydrangea, viburnum, witch hazel and little gem magnolia have replaced many hollies and I’m trying to figure out what shrubs and/or trees will be added this year. Like everyone else’s garden, mine is a work in progress and there are so many variables as well as seasons of trial and error. But what you won’t find in my garden will be new plantings that intentionally discourage visitors from touching, smelling and experiencing (safely) the landscape.

Lamb's Ear

Lamb’s Ear

Soft Green Bed

Soft Green Bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft Green Path

Soft Green Path

 

Phlox

Phlox

 

 

 

 

 

 

As spring approaches and the beautiful beginning of a new season emerges, I hope to soon begin my morning ritual of exploring the garden and delighting in whatever nature brings. No shoes required.

Colorful & Soft

Colorful & Soft

Unwrapping Gifts After The Holidays

Amaryllis Bouquet

Amaryllis Bouquet

I don’t know about you, but even though many of the traditional winter holidays are over, I’m still opening presents. In fact, it seems like every day I discover new “packages.”

These gifts, enveloped in nature’s wrapping paper, are a treat. Sometimes they’re a surprise and catch me off guard, a few develop over time and others have been anticipated after careful planning. Enjoying these gifts isn’t temporary and the delight can last for a long time. The gifts I’ve been opening won’t be returned to a store: they’ll return to bloom next year (I hope).

Typically, it’s not until the warmer months of spring before I begin my morning ritual of walking through the garden to explore what exciting changes developed while I wasn’t looking but with December’s unusually warm temperatures, assisted with a copious amount of rain, people were flooding (pun sort of intended) the Internet with unusual blooming sights. The saucer magnolias, flowering quince and camellias in full bloom in South Carolina, cherry blossoms in D.C., forsythia in numerous zones and countless observations of the telltale green tips of spring bulbs breaking the earth’s surface are photographed and shared all over social media.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

The last of the winter blooming camellias in our neighborhood are fading but I’ve seen more hellebores than I can recall from previous winters. In my garden, Ivory Prince is a delightful holiday gift – especially admired because they begin as lovely white blossoms and within just a matter of a few days, they begin to develop into a gorgeous, unusual shade of green. I have three lush plants lining the entrance to the garden and it still startles me to walk to our front door and see bright, healthy, colorful blooms outdoors even though it’s cold enough to see my breath in the cold night’s air.

Hellebores

Hellebores

Hellebores - Prince Ivory

Hellebores – Ivory Prince

 

Hellbores - Prince Ivory

Hellbores – Ivory Prince

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t expecting was the number of treasures I discovered in the garden’s beds. I see the daffodils are about an inch above the ground’s surface; the camass, allium, tulips, snowdrops, scillia, anemones and others are not far behind. Little green dots, like tiny gifts tossed out into the garden’s beds, are strewn everywhere . . .

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just seeing the green packages are a gift in and of themselves – when they burst open, revealing their identity and displaying their lovely characteristics, it’s like unwrapping a gift all over again. They are gifts that keep on giving. Yesterday’s garden stroll did not disappoint – it was like being on a treasure hunt and I was intrigued, curious, surprised, excited and simply delighted when I saw signs of change and the beginning of new growth.

One of the most unexpected and exciting gifts was in the Green Bed where I saw violet shaped distinct dark green leaves with white highlights. I’ve had a lot of cyclamen plants indoors, especially at this time of the year and I know asarum splendens/ginger and cyclamen coum were planted in the Green Bed and Native Beds but I wasn’t sure, without a flower, if I could identify the plant. When I looked under those lush, healthy leaves and looked closely, I saw gorgeous bright pink flowers beginning to emerge and knew the cyclamen plants were about to bloom. What an exciting, precious gift!

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Cyclamen Blossoms

Cyclamen Blossoms

Osteospermum are blossoming, pansies are still vivid and the green of plants which typically are gone by now still dot many landscapes. It’s a different view, especially in comparison to last year at this time – instead of seeing the shapes of plants frozen in position from chilly temperatures and a flat, winter dormant landscape, I’m surprised by the pops of color in unexpected places.  

Osteospermum

Osteospermum

 

 

Indoors, things are also fun and I’ve enjoyed “unwrapping nature’s gifts” for weeks – no specific date on the calendar necessary. The paperwhites continue to blossom and scent the air, orchids have returned to bloom, my waxed amaryllis bulbs have produced a dizzying display of brilliant red blooms and my traditional amaryllis, “Caprice” is growing so quickly it seems like it doubles in size daily.

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

 

Amaryllis Caprice

Amaryllis Caprice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until we’re blanketed in white and most of nature’s gifts will be unwrapped indoors, I think I’ll keep exploring the outdoors in hopes of more presents waiting to be discovered . . .  

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

The Gift of Nature – An Annual Amaryllis Tradition

 

It has been over a year since my first post as a Guest Blogger for Behnkes: Grateful and honored for the opportunity to be an honorary member of the Behnkes writing family, I think it only appropriate to return to the same theme from my introductory post – family, traditions and nature.

Guest blogging for a family owned business rich with history is fortuitous because many of my posts reflect my personal history and traditions with nature. Last year I wrote about my family’s annual holiday tradition of sending an amaryllis bulb as a gift (“Sally’s Amaryllis”) . . . and it’s that time again.

In December, when a box arrives at my house marked “Caution. Live Plant Inside” I know it’s officially the holidays. The tradition started so long ago I honestly can not remember those initial years but it has continued – for which we are all grateful – and that bulb is eagerly anticipated.

Many (if not most) have personal and meaningful ways to mark milestones and celebrate holidays – for me, it’s reassuring to know the Annual Amaryllis Tradition continues no matter how geographically scattered we are or how much time passes. The amaryllis’s arrival officially begins our family’s holiday season – it’s not on any calendar, it arrives on the doorstep and continues in a sunny, warm window.

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Bulb

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

Amaryllis Beginning Growth

 

 

 

 

 

There have been too many amaryllis varieties to recall yet all have been unique and treasured. I know the annual selection process is one of careful review, weighing the pro’s and con’s of each variety, before making the final selection. Last year was Sao Paulo, before that it was Lemon Star and I can recall Apple Blossom, Matterhorn, Candy Stripe and Stargazer. But there have been more . . . and best of all? We look forward to continuing the tradition of an Annual Amaryllis far into the future.

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IMG_6364

 

DSCN0755

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IMG_4160  IMG_8873

In truth, it’s not really an amaryllis that makes this a meaningful tradition – it could be anything. But knowing how important it is to see something grow, to bring the beauty of nature indoors during cold weather months, that’s what this is about. My mother used to force paper whites – they sat in the window overlooking mounds of snow, sometimes framed by the icicle daggers forming on the gutters – because she needed the joy of seeing something thrive during the non traditional growing months and it is an easy, often dramatic, way to “garden” in winter.

I purchased paper whites bulbs and placed them in a terracotta bowl on a bed of pebbles (below) – they’ve grown beautifully and the fragrance reminds me of my mother, especially at this time of the year. In the past, I’ve also used bulb vases to bring a single bulb to flower (below on right):

Paper white bulbs

Paper white bulbs

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

Single Paperwhite Bulbs in Forcing Vases

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites in Bloom

Paper whites in Bloom

Gardening doesn’t stop merely because we’re not tending to a garden outdoors during the cooler weather– it might be more challenging, but it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the joy, and reap the rewards, of growing things indoors. The options are limitless – a few herbs grown in a pot in a sunny kitchen window is the winter’s substitute for an herb garden and if you crave some of the delightful colors often found in annuals, just put some seeds in a container and watch them grow. One of my favorite annuals is the zinnia so I decided to put some seeds in a little burlap sack just to see if I could enjoy the beauty of zinnias in winter.

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

Zinnia Seeds in Burlap Sack

 

 

My mother, Sally, passed away in March 2011 and my father has carried on the tradition of sending the Annual Amaryllis to loved ones. Likely, he made the amaryllis selections every year with my mother but I have to believe it was my mother’s insistence for evidence of life – through nature’s growth – during dreary Cleveland winters that started the tradition. As my father enjoys continuing the process, we also know it brings up memories so it’s a nostalgic time, too. As the winter holidays approach and my family begins to celebrate Hanukah, we’re excited to see what my father’s selection is for this year’s Annual Amaryllis and will enjoy the process of seeing it grow – likely, a subsequent Guest Blog will have some pictures of this year’s lovely blooms.

Under my first Guest Blog, “Sally’s Amaryllis” was a comment from a reader named Lucy. After reading the blog and seeing the photographs chronicling the amaryllis’s growth, she said, “ Your efforts to plant Amaryllis and the way you care for the plant’s growth and maintenance is really appreciable. I am very lazy in growing flower bulbs or any other plant, but after reading your blog I am thinking to grow some beautiful bulbs of probably Amaryllis. I too want to experience the joy of seeing lovely plants grow. Will share my experience with you for sure.” Was another tradition established? We hope to hear from Lucy and perhaps she, too, has started a tradition. We hope we DO hear from readers about ways in which nature plays a role in your family’s traditions.

Thank you, Behnkes, for welcoming me into your family as a Guest Blogger and thank you to my parents for instilling the love of traditions and nature in our family.

My Parents

My Parents

A Gardener’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the First Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree 

Partridge in Pear Tree

Partridge in Pear Tree

On the Second Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Two Mourning Doves

Two Mourning Doves

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Third Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Three Bird-Seed Wreaths

Three Bird Seed Wreaths

Three Bird Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me

Four Nesting Birds

Four Nesting Birds

Four Nesting Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Five Waxed Amaryllis Bulbs

Five Waxed Amaryllis Bulbs

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Six Twinkling Trees

Six Twinkling Trees

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Eighth day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Nine Nature Books

Nine Nature Books

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Ten Tiny Nests

Ten Tiny Nests

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

Eleven Spotted Toadstools 

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

 

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Mother Nature Brought to Me:

12 Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Twelve Blooming Bulbs

Eleven Spotted Toadstools

Ten Tiny Nests

Nine Nature Books

Eight Gleaming Glass Gourds

Seven Blooming Tea Balls

Six Twinkling Trees

Five Waxed Amaryllis

Four “Nesting” Birds

Three Seed Wreaths

Two Mourning Doves

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree