Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Payoff for Effort

What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home
in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical
education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.
--Robert Frost, "Education by Poetry"      

I often refer to Robert Frost's comments on metaphor at the beginning of each semester. I feel it only fair to warn my students that I regularly speak in metaphors. I use them to help me convey significant, sometimes difficult ideas. But really, my motivation in deploying them is rather more selfish. I simply like playing with metaphors and seeing how far they will take me. They almost always break down, just as Frost said they would, but the ride is always fun for as long as it lasts.

As I crouched in the garden with my camera today, photographing the first blooms of the Japanese anemones, I felt a metaphor asserting itself in my mind. It is one that I will have to sit with for a while in order to fully understand its import.

I have wanted Japanese anemones from the moment I first saw a white variety growing in the garden of the Historic Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg, Virginia a few years ago. Their seemingly fragile flowering heads, held aloft by  arching stems, swayed on the September breeze. I was hooked. When I found anemones for sale at Mill Pond Gardens this summer, it only seemed appropriate that they should come home with me. They were not in flower, but with a name like 'Lucky Charm,' their color was insignificant. Standing in front of a table full of them, I looked up their general growing requirements. When I saw that they performed best in shade, their future was confirmed. They were destined for the garden I've named for my beloved Wolfie.

As is my habit, I gently placed them in the holes I had dug when I arrived home, enveloped them in lovely cow manure, and gave them a good drink. The plan was to keep them well-watered for the first two weeks and then let them get on with their new lives. After that initial period, however, they showed persistent signs of stress, a condition that only seemed to be alleviated by frequent watering, sometimes as much as two times a day. 

After a month of coping with their demands, I became a little ambivalent about these plants that I had dreamed of incorporating into my garden. They were fussy. They required too much work. I was, as Alan Titchmarsh would say, "running around like a scalded cat" to keep them happy. The emotions associated with this period ran the gamut. First there was concern, then worry, then frustration, the beginning of righteous indignation, and ultimately resignation. But I continued watering them. The question nagging at me for those few months was "Are they really worth all of this effort?"

Then the first bud appeared last week, and suddenly, despair gave way to hope.  

The first, slightly damaged, 'Lucky Charm' flower

One little flower changed everything. To the right of it was another flower-in-waiting. 

The plants still require a lot more attention than I am usually willing to give, so we are at a significant moment in their story here. Their form is the most magnificent I've ever seen in a flower. I can't explain why. But there they are, those perfect flowers, the result of incredible dedication on my part. Only two flowers have appeared on one plant, though I've planted three. Their production is incredibly insignificant, it would seem, but I still marvel at them and find myself confounded by that overwhelming question: What value is there in giving so much input for such a minimal (though breathtakingly beautiful) output?

And that is where I leave the question to you, dear readers. Take the metaphor as you wish.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


The world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
                                               --William Wordsworth

I did something today that I haven't done in far too long. I took a moment for myself.

During the walk with the dogs this morning, I tried something new, an experiment that most people would find a little strange. I closed my eyes. I let the dogs lead me. They proved themselves completely worthy of my trust. Their skills were confirmed when they started pulling me in a diagonal line, guiding me across the road just as I have done for them on countless walks and just at the same point (okay, I peeked to be sure). Leaving the leadership to them afforded me a different perspective. I listened to the frogs and the crickets sing in the still morning, felt the soft, cool breeze. I noted the complete lack of traffic noise. I heard the cadence of my shoes hitting the pavement, the syncopation of the girls' tags jingling softly as they pranced. It was an amazing experience that I wanted to last as long as possible. Of course, I appropriately opened my eyes as soon as we reached the main road again. They may know where they're headed, but they're dogs, after all. I couldn't trust that Tippy would look both ways, and Zoey is distracted by pretty much everything and could drag me to my death.

As our walk neared its conclusion and we reached the head of the driveway, making the turn toward the side steps of the house, I noticed how the morning light made my Artemisia glow. I'm quite awestruck by them. They started life inside the house this spring as seeds in a little planting module, and now they tower over me. One (when not toppling over, as seen in the photo) is over 6 feet tall. They are beautiful in full daylight, but there's something about the low light of dawn or dusk that makes the white panicles shine. All I could think about was getting into the house and grabbing my camera. For once in a great while, I had no thoughts of getting to work on time or the myriad issues that would vie for my attention once I got there. I thought only of the light, the flowers, and my camera.

The world looks different through the camera lens. It forces me to stop and absorb every element of the scene in front of me. I've spent too much time away from the garden, from my writing, from my camera, and ultimately from myself. But today, in the quietness of morning, my garden restored me, plainly and simply, just as it has so many times before, and I don't intend to allow distractions to take that peace away from me again.

Do something that is solely for yourself. Seriously, the world can wait for you.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Accounting for My Time

I've been away for a while. I reassured myself that no one would really miss my dispatches from the garden, and so I stopped sending them for a while. If you have missed them, please do let me know.

In all honesty, I've simply been wallowing in summer. Mornings are spent walking the dogs, meditating, doing yoga, and tending to the veg patch. That last bit often determines what will happen for the rest of each morning, but in the last month it mostly has demanded that I spend time in the kitchen preserving the harvests. My skin should be magnificent by now after all of the inadvertent facials I've received from the hot water bath canner. I worried a few times that I may end up pickled myself. It's been an amazing time of poring over home preservation cookbooks and mixing up all sorts of aromatic elixirs to pour over the fruits of my labor. I think I have quite a lot to show for it.

So without further delay, let me attempt to account for my time away. Hopefully you can forgive me when you've seen what I have been doing.

A nicely mixed harvest

My first successfully grown watermelon (this is Sugar Baby)

Tomato chutney and Honeyed Bread & Butter
cucumber pickles

One of many treats now in the pantry

Tomato sauce to see us through winter

How's that for a panorama?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Flower Arrangement Challenge, June

This one is pretty special, thanks to a combination of Rudbeckia, Echinacea, and for those saavy gardeners or foodies out there, yes, the greenery is parsley. I had to get creative.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Maintaining Balance in the Garden

Whenever someone hears for the first time that I'm a gardener, I almost invariably get asked, "Do you grow vegetables or flowers?" My answer is "yes." Why must it be an either/or proposition? Sometimes, though, the demands of one type of gardening begin to push the other type to the margins.

Nearly everything is putting on dramatic growth in the vegetable garden, which feels a bit like a child demanding attention. "Look at me!" it shouts. The beans are racing over the arches I built for them. The corn is now over my head. When something isn't growing like one of Jack's magical beans, then it's signaling me to lift it. I harvested 64 heads of garlic the other day. I've been communing with vegetables quite a lot lately.

The first substantial harvest

Even though the veg patch is being so rowdy and making me feel like it's patting me on the back a bit, much work still needs to be done in the ornamental areas. They are putting on a little show of their own, but it's a more subdued show, so sometimes they don't get as much attention. Someday I hope that "exuberant" will be an appropriate means of describing my flower beds, but right now, I do love the relative peace they represent. 

'Becky' has arrived!

The much-anticipated first blooms from the Leucanthemum superbum 'Becky' (yep, a daisy with my name) have finally arrived, and now I'm greedy for more. I hope they spread like weeds all over the large border. The Crocosmia 'Lucifer' bulbs that I lifted and brought with me from Orlando are multiplying and filling another bed with their scintillating blooms.

Fiery Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

In the front borders another Orlando transplant, the Canna, is stretching out and getting comfortable in a mix of Rudbeckia and Echinacea. When I compare my borders with photos of my favorite English garden (Great Dixter), I feel mine are so sparse. I think the word they would use is "mingy." I'm tempted to run out and buy a whole bunch of plants to fill in all the gaps, but I must stay my hand (and my wallet) and remind myself that things will look a lot different in a few years. It just requires a little patience and maybe a little balance.

The front beds are slowly filling in

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Building a Garden Fence, Part III - The Big Reveal

When I worked for a large restaurant corporation, one of my colleagues had said that he really wanted to grow vegetables at home, but his wife rejected the idea because she believed vegetable gardens were ugly. I was a little shocked, even a bit wounded by such a remark. I tried to assure him that they could be beautiful spaces and even emailed him photos of my Orlando garden to illustrate the point. His wife was unmoved. That has been in my mind ever since, and it has informed the way I think about vegetable gardens.

This garden has long been a dream of mine. I have imagined it for years. I've sketched out plans for it in my graph paper notebook. When we moved to this house, I saw that the garden could become a reality. There have been many preparations made for this space, lots of measuring, plan revising, plowing, building, and so on. Now that it is basically finished, I must admit that I have shed quite a few tears lately. It is one thing to dream about something. It is quite another to actually see it take physical shape. After working on the center fountain and surrounding plantings one morning, I walked into the house with tears in my eyes. My stepson noticed and asked what was wrong. "Oh, nothing," I replied. "It's just so beautiful up there, and I sometimes I can't believe it's actually looking better than I had imagined." I suspect he just added that to the file of "Weird Things Becky Says." Strange or not, as each element has come to completion, I have found myself weeping happily.

And so, what follows is a series of photos that will hopefully capture the joy that we have built here.

After seeing a blue door in a garden featured in Gardens Illustrated, I've always wanted one for my own garden, so that's what I painted all three doors after I built them.

The front door welcomes guests

We have done all the labor ourselves. We set the posts, built all of the sections between the posts, and stretched and attached the chicken wire to the lower portions. Our fingers are sore.

The view from the orchard

The back center does have a glaring gap in the fence. That's where my eventual greenhouse will go.

The view from above

View from the barn side

My mom insisted that I should have a place to sit down in the garden, which gave us another good reason to visit the antique shops. We found this chair in the perfect color of blue.

A place to rest for a moment

The hoops are made from bending electrical conduit. I've stretched bird netting over them and attached the netting with zip ties. The beans love scrambling over them. 

Beans climbing up their arches

The welcome sign on the front door and this beautiful green man were made by MyGardenGoddess and can be found on Etsy. They really are perfect and quite detailed.

Our watchman

It's hard to remember now what the space looked like before, so here's a little reminder.


And a very satisfying after

When night falls, we can see the lights up in the garden casting a soft glow. They are made from Ball jars with dismantled solar lights placed in the mouths. They're attached to the posts with plumbing straps, and they give the garden a nice finish.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Daylilies and Diversions

Turfman and I have no recollection of these plants existing when we moved into the house last year.

A profusion of blooms

Given how full they are, we wonder what was wrong with us then. We must have maintained a razor-sharp focus on unpacking boxes. I am more inclined to believe that there were, for whatever reason, no flowers in this part of the pool area last year. I'm watching them carefully as our first anniversary at the new house approaches. Perhaps they will all inexplicably disappear.

They will certainly need to be divided later. I can't count exactly how many potentially new plants are packed in together, but it's at least 40. As I walk the grounds each morning, I consider where I could relocate the divisions. They should make a sizable contribution to some of the areas requiring a little filling in. Free plants always make me a little giddy.

The daylilies I dug up and transported from Florida are doing quite nicely now, too. Many of them had not yet bloomed for me before we made the move, so I am seeing them for the first time. This one is especially impressive with its strong coral color.

An escapee from Florida

There are other daylily surprises from the previous owners, and we've been enjoying our new inheritance. They certainly add a lot to the garden.

Of course, all this talk of daylilies is more of a diversionary tactic. People have been asking about the vegetable garden and its progress. I've been avoiding showing it in any more unfinished states. Since I have a problem with patience, of course I think the progress has been ridiculously slow. But it has been progressing. I just need to finish building the last door and putting in one cross beam, and then I'll be ready to show it to everyone. That post will come within the week.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Flower Arrangement Challenge, May

This month's flower arrangement is a little too close to the deadline. Must seek out appropriate plants earlier for June's arrangement. Nevertheless, I am pleased with what I could pull together for this bouquet. I'm a fan of all things miniature, so I gathered several of my smaller flowers (even the daisy is a dwarf variety) and placed them in a shot glass. It's quite a sweet little posy, I think.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

First Blueberry Harvest

This is a decidedly brief post, but I felt a celebration was necessary.

A wild storm blew through today, knocking down a 60-foot tree across the front yard. My first concern was for the vegetable garden. Once the lightning stopped, I stepped into my Wellies and slipped on my raincoat to go out and survey the damage. The peppers and potatoes appeared to be a little depressed, their shoulders hunched quite a bit under the weight of the heavy wind and rain. Everything else seemed okay, except for the tomatoes, which showed signs of a fierce battle. A number of branches had snapped, and a few of the supports were leaning precariously. It took a little while to shore up the support structure and truss the broken wings, but I hope they'll recover well enough.

While I was out, I thought I'd just check on the blueberries. This is the first summer I've had blueberry bushes. One bush is ripening now, and the other is laden with fruit still taking on color. Though this first harvest is small, it still fills me up.

Harvest, minus two, which promptly went from bush to my

Monday, May 25, 2015

Before and After in the Garden

I have mentioned before that the previous owners of our house had a "more is more" approach to decorating the outdoors. I offer this collage of selected items found around the pool as a reminder.

Those are, in all honesty, merely a representative sampling of the "treasures" that could be found everywhere. I can't recall why I may have chosen those particular items to show my readers. Perhaps I didn't want to frighten anyone with the larger pieces of art that were scattered about the property. I must warn everyone that I can no longer hide the truth. When Turfman first came to tour the house (I couldn't make the third house-hunting trip), he found this as he and the realtor came up the driveway.

Note: This is not my photo. It is from the Georgia MLS website,
and I cropped it.

When I look at this photo, I wonder what came first--the tractor or the trough? In my mind it doesn't really matter. What would make a person feel like one was insufficient? A myriad other questions continue to plague me about this tractor-as-lawn-ornament.

Happily, the tractor was gone, but the trough remained when I first surveyed the property. The trough was offensive to me. It was clearly a water feature, but something had gone awry with the electrical wiring, so neither it worked nor any of the outdoor outlets anywhere nearby. It immediately went on the demolition list, but it was low priority. The water sat stagnant all last summer, growing all sorts of bizarre things. I dreaded the thought of dismantling it, which would likely require a hazmat suit.

And a close-up of the monstrosity 

Time has a way of softening us, I think. Sometimes it's best to embrace the less desirable aspects of life and just see if they can be made palatable, which is why (well, that and the hazmat suit) I decided to resurrect the water feature. I dropped two enzymatic tablets into the water (which are basically beneficial bacteria that eat all the junk and keep the critters safe) to start the process of de-greening it. To make the pump itself less offensive, I gave it a faux patina. Then came the scrubbing of the mossy wood and applying a coat of tinted water sealer to help it blend into the landscape a bit more. The final touches were the installation of a new, working pump and some planting. It will take some time for the plants to grow in and hide much of it, but I think this thing may grow on me. 

New life for old eyesore

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Collecting Clematis

I have a thing for Clematis. Browsing Brushwood Nursery's website is a dangerous activity for my bank account because I simply have little restraint once I start clicking through the photos of gorgeous blooms. We have five Clematis vines scrambling up various supports at present and would have so much more if I could just figure out where to put them.

Lately, the desire for more of these magnificent vines has been nearly out of control, and it's not been ignited by a virtual Brushwood shopping trip. The culprit is the vines I planted from Brushwood last year. Don't be too quick to judge me for my weakness, dear reader. I simply ask you to consider how you might feel if, every time you walked out your side door, you were greeted with this.

A very content Clematis 'Giselle'

Such a profusion of flowers makes me feel a bit giddy at first, but then the greed sets in. I want more. I try to calm down, but then out the back door, I'm met with this.

There's Clematis 'Huldine' scrambling up an old ladder
fitted with chicken wire

Sitting behind 'Huldine' yields even more trouble, since it boasts gorgeous bars on the back of the petals. Again, this only makes me want more.

Looking good all around

Visitors to the garden might suggest that I already have more than enough when they catch sight of a little pinkish purple peeking through an ornamental grass. 

That's another tempter, Clematis 'Twilight'

They might be right, but then maybe they don't know that there's a Clematis called 'Rebecca.' Don't I need one of those? I don't know what will happen when 'Josephine' begins to flower. It may trigger a need for 'Galore.' Doesn't the name imply that it could sate my appetite?

I may just order that one to test my theory.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Flower Arrangement Challenge, April

Okay, this one is coming in just under the wire. I fretted about not really having any cutting garden plants in bloom, but then I noticed the wildflowers in the field and the Knock-Out roses. They make a sweet little bouquet with a sprig of Dusty Miller.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Building a Garden Fence, Part II

Today I realized something that struck a little fear in my heart. There is a distinct possibility that the story of the garden fence could ultimately come in something over 12 parts. The process is going so slowly--or so it seems--that I occasionally doubt it will ever be complete. I imagine rabbits running wildly about the countryside spreading the good news that some twit is growing all manner of vegetables and offering them up to the beasts of the field, their assumption fueled by the lack of any deterrent erected on my part. These visions have led me to make some drastic but necessary decisions. The plan for chickens will have to wait until next year. The tasks for completing the garden are too time-consuming to give the chickens the time and attention (not to mention the gorgeous digs) that they deserve. I'm disappointed, but that's tempered by the deep relief I feel from eliminating something monumental from my ridiculously long to-do list.

We are slowly building one fence panel at a time and hiking it up to the vegetable garden to set it in place. Once we erect a whole side, I will stain the wood before we devote our time to stretching chicken wire across the bottom section of the fence and attaching it. I built the last panel for the back tonight, which Turfman and I will affix sometime before the weekend. The center section will only receive a temporary piece of chicken wire, as it marks the spot where I will build my greenhouse (likely in the fall).

What, exactly, will this fence deter at present?

Of course, this is also the season for getting vegetables planted out, so when I'm not cutting lumber (or grading essays for my real job), I'm planting seedlings. Today 13 tomato plants moved into their permanent home. More would have moved in, but I ran out of bamboo canes. Put another thing on my shopping list.

'Cherokee Purple' and 'Principe Borghese'
tomatoes in their new bed

The carrot and beet seeds I sowed two weeks ago have now germinated, and the onion sets are sprouting. It will be a while before we enjoy those, but while we wait, we'll be able to feast on all the lettuce that is filling another planting bed. Radishes and peas won't be far behind.

5 varieties of lettuce jostle with sugar snaps
and radishes

I rarely complete projects at the pace I desire, and they often remind me that I have terribly unrealistic expectations. This one is no exception. Just bear with me. Hopefully I'll be able to show everyone a complete garden in under 10 additional posts, fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April Showers and Flowers

Last year I prophesied the end of our pond, just a few months after we had moved in. With no appreciable rain for months, the pond shrank to a little puddle in the middle of a massive field of mucky mud. The UPS driver attempted to reassure me, saying that he had seen times in early spring when the water was covering part of the driveway. I looked at him with my incredulous, slightly annoyed expression that I reserve for people who are clearly trying to fool me. If he made the drive up today, I might have to apologize to him.

The pond is officially full

The rain has slowed our progress in the vegetable garden, so I'd prefer to keep its present status from the public for now. Instead, I thought I would share what's happening with the generally non-edible bits of the garden. Hopefully the photos will hold everyone over until I can show real signs of progress on enclosing the veg patch.

The second Dutch Iris to appear

Clematis 'Bourbon' blooming like mad

A little chap taking a rest on the ornamental plum

Things are springing up all through the front beds

We're working feverishly to get the vegetable garden finished and enclosed, but I'm not ready to share photos of our progress just yet. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Reaping What I've Sown

When we first moved to the new house (still unnamed, I might add), I made the grand proclamation that I would attempt to start a kind of wildflower meadow where our property meets the road. I also made plans to plant daffodil bulbs across the gentle undulations of that space. My goal was rather simple--I wanted people to drive by our property and feel their spirits lifted by the flowers I'd planted. That's the reason Turfman and I spent so many hours on our knees last fall with baskets full of bulbs.

The result is not something especially grand this year, but I didn't expect much. That "meadow" is part of a five-year plan, so it will become a little more substantial with each passing year. The daffodils are visible from the road, but they might not draw attention.

Daffodils merely dot the landscape this year

Someone had noticed, though. Last Saturday, as Turfman was returning from a morning of golf, he saw that two female cyclists had pulled over in our driveway. Worried that they were having trouble with their bikes, he stopped and asked if they needed any help. Imagine how pleased I was when he recounted that they had actually pulled over to admire the daffodils! He must have been pretty happy, too, because he proceeded to tell him that "The Boss" (that's me, apparently) has plans for a wildflower meadow. They assured him that they would return to see the meadow's progress. I felt buoyed by that vote of confidence. It was more than enough to motivate me for the next phase.

Surprisingly, though, I received another vote today. As I neared our driveway on my way home from the college, I noticed something shiny on our mailbox. I pulled into the drive, walked across the road, and found a letter in a bag attached to the top of the mailbox post.

The envelope was in a Ziploc bag

The cyclists had returned sometime today, leaving me a card thanking me for my garden. They even included a thoughtful gift, writing that "maybe you could use our seeds, too" when I sow the meadow seeds. I meant to brighten someone's day with the garden, and apparently I did. I just never expected that the goodwill would return to me in the form of such a lovely surprise. Hopefully their seeds will take hold and have a similar effect on others who pass.

Seeds of goodwill