Thursday, May 26, 2016

Growing Hope: The Tale of the Gardener's Son

1995

He stands barefoot in the kitchen and calls to me, "Mom. Mom. Mama!" He is too tall to only be three, his face serious, hair white blonde from the sun. I am alone for four months with an infant and a toddler, my husband thousands of miles away at military flight school. 

"I'm gonna go pull weeds. I need to think." He is intelligent and precise, too small for such big thoughts. 

A small patch of zinnias grows in the back amid grass and dandelions, stems thin and dry. I slide the baby monitor in my pocket and follow him outside. He crouches in the soil, knees to his chest, tiny fingers slipping between the plants to pull what doesn't belong.

"It's okay, Mama", he says softly "I'm gonna feel better." 


My son, age 3

2010


His truck rumbles into the driveway loaded with mulch and the garage door slams. I stop and look up, his eyes meeting mine. The conversation is tense and I'm tired of dealing with him alone. It's the same argument we've been having for years and I'm exhausted. He's bored with my questions and I don't like his answers. He towers over me, 6'5" of muscle with massive hands and arms tight like steel. His response is delivered with machine gun accuracy and his words strike wounds still tender, ripping the flesh to bleed again.

I jump on the nearest kitchen chair and stand with my hands my hips, staring down at him. "I'll stand on a chair to kick your ass if I have to!" I growl. He laughs, a baritone roar that thunders through the house.

"Hey, don't laugh at your mama!" 

He stops, wipes his eyes, and keeps chuckling before his laughter erupts again. "Mom, I'm sorry but seriously, I can't stop laughing. Please get off the chair."

We are the same: expressive, strong, stubborn. My anger, brief and bright like a firecracker, is ebbing and I feel a smile starting, the corners of my mouth inching upward as he waits. He may look like a man, I tell myself, but he's still just a kid.

We sit at the table and talk, debate, and try to understand each other. I take a deep breath and pull him close. 

"Damn, Mom, why do you always have to hug me?" 


Tears of joy! 
My son returned from a nine month deployment to Kuwait and northern Iraq on Tuesday.

May, 2016


The dogs bark and pace in front of the back door as I dump my purse on the table and follow them outside, hungry for sunshine after a day in a windowless classroom. The flash of the answering machine blinks and I stop to play the message, my eyes on the garden.


"Hey, it's me. I'm calling from Kuwait and just wanted to let you know my time is Iraq is over.  Love you."

His deep voice fills the kitchen and my throat tightens. Tears held behind a wall of Keep It Together overflow their banks and cascade down my cheeks. I take a deep breath and let the sobs pour onto the counter, my shoulders shaking as I drop my head onto my arms. Months of waiting for his messages and hoping he's okay are over.

My son is alive and coming home.



Exhausted from 30 hours of travel, my son, now 24 and an Iraqi war veteran, patiently posed for just one more photo.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It Could Be Worse....

'Ville de Lyon' clematis


We've had so much rain lately, my lawn squishes when I walk. 
But I could be in a drought so I'm not complaining.

Looking into the shade garden

I had a fox in my garden last night but it could be worse. 
It could have been a  t-rex.


Beware!

Rain flattened amsonia 'Blue Ice' and 'Autumn Charm' sedum.

I haven't seen the sun in days but it could be worse.
 I could be a judge at a farting contest.



Just focusing on the positive....

Native clematis crispa reminds me of an octopus.

The native grass, carex, is taking over my riverbed
 but at least it's not poison ivy. 



There are swallowtail butterfly caterpillars in my parsley 
so everything is mighty fine, indeed.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Still Missing the Robot

When I was a kid I was lucky enough to live in a low-rent neighborhood near a 50 foot tall robot, complete with red lights for eyes. He was the guardian of a reclusive eccentric who had created a compound of fantastical creatures built from cast off scraps and rusted metal. A massive fence and padlocked gate squashed every adolescent whim of sneaking in for a closer look. When the city finally decided to revitalize the area, he was the first to go.  I deemed any progress made after he left a total failure. After all, nothing spelled out "Damn straight, we're a class act" like a giant robot. 



As much as I would love to add an enormous robot to my garden for the sheer joy of breaking every landscaping covenants rule my stuffy neighborhood has cooked up, I've resisted. It hasn't been easy. Instead I've added garden art much less spectacular but that's ok. I'll leave the eccentric to his genius and settle for the merely whimsical or sentimental.



Moving 17 times in 34 years taught me to keep only what's important or meaningful. But this bowl, purchased in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, is packed with memories. Even after it broke during my last move, I couldn't bear to toss it. I'm glad I've finally found a spot for it in the garden. It holds up perennial snapdragons self-seeded into a crack on the patio. 



These were like the robot - a wonderful surprise.


When my dogs ran over my gnome in my Gnome B Gone, I quickly replaced it.



Anchored in the soil with sticks stuffed into the body where the feet should be, the broken gnome looks like it's about to be arrested. I probably shouldn't find that funny but I do.



I have over 20 birdhouses but having lived in South Dakota I couldn't resist this one.


My button bird bath hasn't held up to the weather as well as I was hoping but I still love it.


Buttons and birdhouses?  This is a required purchase. 
Buying groceries and paying bills is so overrated. The blue metal rods are support stakes. 


 I have wrens living in the blue house.


Doesn't everyone decorate their succulents with ammonites and petrified wood?


I love anything round or curvy.


I thought the tansy needed some zing....


Apparently, I'm a sucker for stained glass, too,


and who can resist a cool mosaic?


That says it all!

Bradbury's monarda

But the ultimate artist is always Mother Nature.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Gathering


Time is a funny thing
 unevenly assigned

Too much to one 
too little to another



  Its passing does not click like a clock on a wall
but thumps and pounds like a heart
words pouring out 
where blood should flow
to splatter at your feet.


Gather them like flowers
and stuff them back in



Authors Note: As a writer I tend to see the world through a very different lens than most and can be rather cerebral about life and its complexities. The soul of this piece, which popped into my head unbidden yesterday, is that we need to speak from the heart and let our words be as vital as blood for time can be fleeting. Don't wait to say how you feel. Say what needs to be said and keep what fills your heart. Imagine a person speaking but the words are coming from their heart instead of their mouth and falling to the ground. The person opposite them is picking them up and putting them in their heart.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Everything That's Right


1. A week of rain to quench a thirsty garden


I didn't like the original hook I used for the copper birdhouse so I switched to a forged iron lantern hook and added some decorative grass the fill the empty space.

2. Tweaking a project until you get it just right



3. The "I'm going to stick this here because I don't know where else to  put it" plant combos that work out perfectly


4. Linaria beginning to bloom


5. Not killing the lewisia over the winter


6. Discovering a nodding purple columbine I don't remember planting.


Metal sculpture handmade by Frivolous Tendencies.

7. Daily reminders to follow your heart  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gettin' Naked at Shrubs and Suds

In honor of World Naked Gardening Day, I decided to have a little fun. 
Welcome to Shrubs and Suds!



Reginald - customer

We was havin' a party, you see, and none uh youse was s'posed to be there. My buddy Fergus works at this crazy joint called Shrubs and Suds and the new owner was away. The owner, he don't always keep tabs on what's going on and his employees be runnin' amuck when he ain't lookin'. And sometimes, he just ain't lookin'. But Fergus told me it was Garden Naked Day and we was gonna be goin' to a party, a naked party. 


Sweetie Magee - shrub girl

Oh My God... The hairiest man I have ever seen keeps talking to me about a party. I'm going home.



Fergus - Manager

Reginald ruins everything. No one was having a party except me. Shrubs and Suds isn't your typical garden center. When the original owner couldn't decide between opening a brewery or a nursery, he just crammed the two together and decided beer might help business. But the new guy is never around and I'm running the place myself. I like it.  


I'd closed us down for World Naked Gardening Day and had moved all the biggest evergreens into a circle behind the brew house. I had big plans to strip naked and water my trees. Sometimes a man just has to let everything fly free, ya know? I'd left a little gap between two hollies so I could watch Trudy's sweet round bottom sway as she poured beer. I was buck naked with a beautiful dame in my sights. 

Trudy - barmaid

I hate working Saturday's but couldn't get anyone to cover my shift. Fergus had closed the garden center and was hiding in the hollies. That man, he's a lurker, always lurking around whenever I'm working talking to me about plants. If I wanted a shrub, I'd go buy a damn shrub. Another year in this crazy place and then I'm outta here.



So I'm pouring beer to a bunch of plant nerds when Reginald shows up without a stitch of clothing on. He climbs on a bar stool and slaps the counter and says, "I'll take a beer and a bag of your best compost." I took one look at him and told him to get his hairy butt outta my bar. If I wanted to see a big naked butt, I'd go in the bathroom and look at my own. So he turns and says as sweet as can be, "Make that two bags, please."

So I'm yellin', "Fergus! Put yer damn pants on and get over here!" Fergus had been lurking behind the brewhouse giving Fred and the boys a bit of fresh air and didn't think I knew. Meanwhile, I'm making plans to burn that stool. Fergus finally shows up all red and flustered and tells Reginald to put some clothes on. I turned off all the taps, switched the sign to CLOSED and went home. Gardeners are strange enough when they're dressed but now they're doing it naked. Maybe I should retire early.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Til Death Do Us Part: The Tulip Tragedies

In the garden as in life, some relationships come with an expiration date. This harsh reality rarely comes without signs, those small warnings that tell you your favorite plant is either a spineless wimp unsuited to life outside a greenhouse or simply not the choice find you imagined it to be. Either way, you can always start over.


For the past several years I have successfully killed my tulips. Not the ones in the ground, mind you. Those are just fine. But the poor suckers stuffed in a pot every fall are doomed to a slow mushy death caused by soggy potting soil. Like many relationships, the beginning was glorious. Old, cheap soil was filled with bulbs, they grew and blossomed and all was well. There was no confusion, frustration, or disappointment: just happy bulbs and bright flowers. A huge pot of bright blooms greeted me before work and I felt smug in my success.

But the soil loved by the tulips was loathed by my summer annuals and I spent too many afternoons in the heat and humidity lugging a hose around trying to keep everything moist. It was time for an upgrade to premium, moisture retentive soil. But the soil that kept my annuals happy caused my tulips to rot.


I was really hoping I'd be able to design, build, engineer or at least quote my favorite Martian astronaut by yelling from my patio steps, "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this!" but, alas, the problem  was solved in less than five minutes. Sigh....

Problem: Moisture-retentive potting soil used to help keep summer annuals moist caused the tulips to rot.

Solution: Amend the soil with rocks to improve drainage.

Problem: My soil is now full of rocks

Solution: Create a basket out of cheap, flexible screening that will allow water to flow through the rocks while also allowing me to easily lift and remove the rocks/soil.



I removed about half the soil and lined the pot with super cheapo screening mesh.


I added rocks, soil, and some bulb fertilizer.


I threw in some bargain basement bulbs, covered them with soil, and waited for a pot full of glorious tulips to greet me in the morning before work. 


A few rotted, a few were too lazy to bloom, and a few were just fine. But true to my nature, I refuse to give up. Identify problem - solve problem - move forward. It is simply how I am wired. I'll try again next year with more rocks, less soil, and high quality early blooming bulbs.

Clematis 'Fair Rosamond'

Or maybe I'll just throw in the trowel and say 'To hell with all those damn tulips! Who needs fussy bulbs when there are clematis!'


Or I might not.....