gravel road girl

Archive for the category “Gardening”

(Not) A Poem a Day: The Clematis

THE CLEMATIS

The poor thing,

she needed to be moved.

In my absence

she was transplanted–

efficiently enough–

to a wind-buffeted southwest corner.

Staked and sturdied and twined,

barely blossomed,

tiny tendrils grasped for anything.

And so I found her

and loosened what held her upright.

She fell forward–

so oddly yet almost instinctively

like a child upon my shoulder.

My response,

“Oh, sweet plant!

I’m here to help you.”

And she rested there

and I thought I heard

a sigh.

(Not) A Poem a Day: A Pleasant Surprise

Photo credit: Greg Rosenke

A Pleasant Surprise

It is always a pleasant surprise–

like finding money in your pocket

or

nabbing the last popsicle

in the box–

that you uncover a nest

of ladybugs

red, polka dotted and

tumbling out into the

spring garden.

They are as surprised

as I.

A Million Little Things

A million little things.

That’s what I did today. Because I couldn’t decide on one big thing–a thing that would really matter–I did a million little things.

Little things, that in the scope of my life, probably won’t matter or even be remembered. But for today, little things were all I could tackle.

I picked tomatoes and pawed through the pole beans that weren’t supposed to be pole beans. I know how to garden. I planted bush beans, but alas, I have pole beans. Pole beans planted in rows don’t work very well.

I picked some beans.

I stopped to pet, hold, and talk to all three of my ‘barn cats’–Marty, Libby, and Theo. I don’t have a barn, but ‘garage cats’ just doesn’t sound as quaint.

Libby, the ‘barn cat’

I sprayed my black Aussie/border collie dog, Bonnie, with the hose because she likes it, and it’s Iowa-August hot outside. I was supposed to be putting the sprinkler on the garden.

I put the sprinkler on the garden.

Did I mention I’m doing all of this in my pajamas? It’s o.k. I live on 3.5 acres surrounded by derecho-flattened cornfields. It is sad, and I will miss the dry rustle of harvest-ready corn across the Iowa countryside this fall.

I gave my potted fern a trim. She had a lot of brown, poor thing, and reminded me of me when I need a root touch up. It was tedious, but I felt sorry for her.

That’s the thing about a million little things: they’re often tedious. That’s why we don’t do them.

They don’t really matter, and they’re tedious. But after I trimmed Fern, I felt just a little better. She sits on my front porch. Who wants a scraggly fern as their first hello?

I washed my soap dish.

I know, you’re thinking that’s a bit extreme, maybe OCD. Who knew a soap dish needed washing, right? They do. They get soap-grunge. Trust me.

As I washed my grungy soap dish, I pondered the practicality of said soap dish. Everybody uses liquid soap and hand sanitizer now, right?

Do I really NEED a soap dish?

I do. Because this soap dish was given to me by a friend who I don’t see nearly enough these days. And it’s special because she knew me well enough to know that I  would like it. Not every simple gift is so well thought over.

I put my clean soap dish back on my freshly cleaned sink.

I put my flower frogs back in their scattered places.

Yes, these are flower frogs. All 15 were borrowed by my niece to display table numbers at her wedding. . . on Aug. 1. I’m not sure why it’s been such a chore to disperse them back onto shelves and window ledges and coffee tables where they hold postcards and shells and feathers. It just was.

I wandered about and placed them. And I felt better for doing another little thing.

I hung white laundry on the line.

Even as I hung it, I looked at some grey clouds that tempted rain–maybe. “Are you lying?” I thought thoughts at the clouds. Clouds often lie in August. Oh well, I guess if it rains my whites will smell like sun and wind AND rain. There are much worse things.

I took my clothespin bag inside, hung it up, and petted Marmalade, the ‘house’ cat.

Marmalade is old and fat and sleeps wherever the fancy strikes her. Again, there are much worse things.

I took luggage to the attic.

We had only just used it this past weekend, so there was a sense of victory at the minimal-procrastination factor. It was tempered, though, by the fact that I quickly stuffed it into the dark, oven-like attic and raised the steps–no “putting things in their proper places” today.

Today was a day of little things, not attic cleaning.

I wrote a birthday card to friend who is miles and states and hills and valleys of memories away. Writing a card is a BIG little thing. We are all out of the practice of writing. . . with a pen. . . legibly. We are out of the practice of thinking purposeful, gracious thoughts and pondering sweet memories worth telling.

This was my biggest “little” thing today. I’m pretty sure it was worth more than my other little things.

I sipped A&W Diet root beer while I cut some fresh zinnias. The zinnias were much needed to replace the dead ones gracing my kitchen windowsill. A small ‘little thing’ that makes such a happy difference when at the sink.

The A&W root beer was a nostalgic choice. My grandparents took me to the A&W drive-in in Buffalo Center, Iowa, when I was old enough to go for a visit but still young enough to be home sick. The root beer float was a diversion tactic. I don’t recall if it worked, but I do remember the frosty mug of vanilla ice cream and icy root beer.

I enjoyed the memories and the cicadas and the root beer while I cut zinnias.   

Sometimes, on days–in seasons–like these when all you can tackle is a million little things one day, one moment, at a time you find that ‘little things’ are what keep life real and precious and particularly simple.

“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.” –Vernon Howard

The Season Between Weddings

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I’m in a season between two weddings. I’ve never been here before, and I doubt that I will again. It has been strange and wonderful and a little stressful. Not because of the weddings but for various other reasons.

I say strange because this earth-loving, weed-pulling, flower-plucking nature girl has been slightly house-bound and quite negligent of her yard duties. But the amazing thing is that God hasn’t.

Finally, today, I went out with clipper and wagon and wandered the yard in a way I hadn’t for quite some time. Never in all my gardening years do I remember roses scenting the air or nasturtiums overwhelming the walk at the end of October.

It was a quiet blessing to see that, despite my inattention, God and nature carried on quite well.

Nasturtiums

Sea Oats

Roses still in bud and blooming!

Hydrangea, foxglove, and the last honeysuckle on the vine.

Bonnie and Libby, always my gardening companions.

An explosion of pink. . . the last daisy and a solitary zinnia.

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No need for embellishment.

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The only way to wrangle rowdy pumpkins.

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 Audrey Hepburn once said,

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

That really is the joy, the magic, the excitement of gardening:

to believe that tomorrow, the next season, the next year will be

better. And the next step outside the door will bring you

~a new delight.~

“she breathes in dirt and exhales flowers.”   ~unknown

“We’re not in Iowa anymore, Toto. . .”

Ohhh–kayyy. . . what’s going on.

It’s July 30th.
In IOWA.

I’m sitting here with the window open drinking hot chocolate! I might have to put the heavy comforter back on the bed tonight.

Isn’t it suppose to be sweltering? Shouldn’t my legs be sticking to this leather chair?

The dew point should be higher than the temperature. (o.k., I know nothing about weather, so I don’t even know if that is possible.) Moisture droplets should be condensing on us as we leave Walmart.

We’re all suppose to be sitting at the pool or the ballpark asking, “Hot enough for ya?” as our sunscreen melts and drips from our elbows. Children should be doing the hot-parking-lot boogie as they race barefoot to the car.

We should have gone through at least two 100-count boxes of those nasty neon-colored popsicles by now. None. Nada.

We are knocking on the door of August, for pete’s sake! Dog days and all of that!

O.k., I know you all think I’m a bit loopy for praying for snow this winter, but what’s my beef with the gorgeous fall-like weather? Why would I complain about 78 degrees and cloudy? Well, it’s like this. I’ve got things I need to get done in August. House cleaning that’s waaaaay past due. School planning and book ordering nipping at my heels. Speech contest ideas richocheting around my brain. A couple of books that are just chapters from being finished. Some painting projects that really shouldn’t be procrastinated any longer. Scrapbooks that must be started before my girl’s senior year begins, or I’ll be huffing and puffing to catch up. And, well, it’s just too stinkin’ nice to be inside doing all of this stuff!

I need that blistering heat to wilt my garden and my enthusiasm. I must say that the japanese beetles are doing a pretty good job of decimating parts of my garden. But, really, it’s looking quite lush for verging on August.
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The zinnias are celebrating like it’s a circus.

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Sunflowers loom well over my head.

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Black-eyed susans stare up at me.

My tomatoes are just beginning to blush pink but are amazingly free of pests.

Thick, ferny carrot tops create hopes of a harvest waiting below ground.

2013-07-30 09.41.08                                           And, my favorite, nasturtiums, bend like ballerinas with the morning dew on them.

This is Iowa stomping into August? I don’t think so!

Where’s the hard-packed dirt? The mangle of weeds taunting me to go back inside and forget about my garden?

Where’s the prickly lawn where the only green patches are crab grass and clover?

I need that affirmation that says, “Alas, there is no more hope. The heat has you beat. Go back inside where it’s cool and you can accomplish something worthwhile!”

But, blast it all, it’s green, it’s cool, the weeds (of which there are many) come out with minor coaxing. I have no excuse. . .

So, I will ignore the dusty floors and set aside the paint chips for a more muggy, miserable day that is surely to come. Green beans are calling me, and I have yet to gather a vase of zinnias.

Come on, Toto, let’s go outside. . .

“Ah summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”
–  Russel Baker

//

Garden dreamin’

I’m sitting here with my laptop warming my knees and a mug of chamomile honey tea close by–watching the snow.

SNOW.

Have you looked at the calendar? It’s May 2nd.

Just sayin.’

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Yes, I know, I prayed for it. People have been reminding me of that all day. I’m waiting for my house to be pummeled with snowballs. Someone even called me ‘the snow whisperer.’ (I kinda like that. I’m going to have a  t-shirt made–for next year.)

But for right now, I could do without the snow. The wind. The slushy mess that sent cars skittering into the ditches this morning. Not mine, thankfully. And I’ve been looking out at my forlorn daffodils, blooms sagging under a heavy hood of white. Tulips turning their backs to the icy onslaught. I think they’re going to be o.k., but I might need to go out and give them a pep talk tomorrow.

Thankfully, I haven’t done much gardening yet. By ‘much’ I mean very little! Like cutting back my perennials and raking out some of the flower beds. We’ve done the preliminary major dog do-do clean up. Actually, I’ll give credit where credit is due–Tessa and Seth did the poop-scooping. And I’m continually in the process of picking up sticks and branches. On 3.5 acres this is an ongoing thing, especially with the winds we’ve been having. And I’ve wandered around making lists of all the plants that need dividing. All necessary chores, but they aren’t giving me the gardening satisfaction I’m looking for. So, during one of those especially cold, dreary days we’ve had, I pulled down my gardening basket.

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If you’re a gardener-wanna-be, you need a gardening basket. If you’re a gardener and don’t have one, I’m not sure how you survive. You probably just make more trips to the garden shed, or, more likely, you’re much more organized than I am. This is like a purse for gardening–it has everything in it that I might need for a trip to the garden or around the yard. So I’ll give you the run-down of what I keep handy in my basket.

GLOVES~

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These are last year’s mud gloves, and they are probably headed for the trash. Because they’re plastic-coated, a year of gardening leaves them pretty stinky and stiff.

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Here are this year’s gloves (notice the Target sale sticker! ALWAYS shop for next year’s gloves at the end of the season–great deals!) The orangey-colored gloves are rose gloves. The longer, leather ‘sleeves’ give great protection against thorns. Believe me, if you’ve ever tried to nab a weed down under a rosebush–it ain’t pretty! So I may not use these gloves often, but when I need them, I need them!

PRUNERS~

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I have a thing for pruners. Can you tell? It’s like athletes and their shoes. I have different pruners for different jobs. I have pruners that SHOULD be thrown away. And I have favorite pruners that don’t even work the best, but I still grab the ‘old faithful’ ones. And all of them are in my gardening basket. On this day I was sharpening my pruners. How tedious, right? A bit over the top maybe? But when you’re out there cutting back your mums or pruning your fruit trees, you’ll be glad you have a sharp edge. So I give everything a squirt of WD-40 and a scrubbing with some steel wool. Then I take my nifty sharpening tool (red half-circle in the upper left of the pic) and run the blades through the sharpener. You can buy this tool at the Tractor Supply store in Ankeny for under $10. Soooo worth it!

Let’s see. Other necessary odds and ends for the gardening basket–

–a couple of trowels (little shovels) for planting and for digging out stubborn weeds. Again, I have several–just because.

old sunglasses. You know, the ones that are outdated or slightly scratched. Great for gardening because you don’t care if you drop them, lose them, or break them.

–a plastic container and foam paint brush. For those stubborn or invasive weeds, pour full-strength Roundup in the container and use the brush to paint down the weed. Yeah, I pretty much mean business.

–an old butcher knife. Pick one up at a garage sale because these are great for dividing your perennials. Dig those overgrown bad boys out with a shovel and then cut it up into two, three, or even more plants! I also use mine to chop the leaves off my rhubarb once I’ve pulled it. No worries about using your good kitchen utensils.

–my favorite gardening books. I’ll talk more about these in another gardening post. But the two books I keep handy are Flower Gardening Secrets by Cynthia Van Hazinga and Trowel and Error by Sharon Lovejoy. I have others, too, but these are entertaining and inspiring as well as helpful.

–and SEEDS!2013-04-06 12.32.28

Once I start planting, I usually keep my seeds tucked into a large Ziploc bag (I’ve been known to forget my gardening basket in garden–overnight). I never have a chunk of time to plant my whole garden at once. So I’m constantly putting in a few rows of lettuce, more beans, or zinnias, zinnias, zinnias!! Really, don’t get me started on my favorites.

Anyway, those are the basics in my gardening basket. It won’t stay neat and tidy for long, though. I’m sure that warmer weather is on its way and will be here to stay. And then I’ll have those glorious mornings when I grab my coffee cup in one hand and my basket in the other and head out to my yard. Not a worry in my mind except how to get rid of those Japanese beetles, and where to move that clump of day lilies. . .

 

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Hope or insanity

I encountered hope tonight. In the dusky evening as I peered into my much cluttered garden shed looking for a rake, I stumbled over it—hope—not the rake. Not surprisingly so. To be honest, it happens every fall. But after such a tragic summer, I thought it might be different. Yes, I said tragic. Not a perennial was purchased. Nary a well-endowed sedum was divided. Melons shriveled on the vine. Japanese beetles skeletonized my porcelain berry vine. And I skulked in the house breathing in my stagnant air-conditioned air. It was not a summer for gardeners. Even this fall I’ve turned a cold shoulder to my yard. Purple cone flowers stand like charred aliens taunting me with their gazillions of seeds they will drop with the first mighty wind. Who cares—go ahead! Mats of iris tubers, their brown and sickly leaves pointing shriveled fingers to the sky, demand to be dug, divided, and put to bed in some soft, tilled earth. But I shove my hands deeper into my pockets, kick a rock out of the grass, and return to my stagnant furnace-heated air inside. I’m jaded.

But tonight, in search of a rake for my husband, I ventured into my shed. Remnants of the summer’s disappointments blocked the door—watering cans, garden stakes, grass seed, hoes and shovels. I tentatively picked through it hoping not to disturb spiders or mice. A dozen gangly tomato stakes battled me until I soundly banished them to a corner. Bending to gather and stack a train-wreck of plastic plant containers, I encountered hope peering back at me. Each of these containers had a plant tag still attached—Lady’s Mantle, Pink Wave Petunia, Munsted Lavendar , Rocket Snapdragon, Purple Penstemon. Ah, yes, such sweet friends in those soft, gentle days of early summer. Maybe next spring I’ll finish edging the bed with Lady’s Mantle. Hope. I reach to retrieve a cobwebby humming bird feeder and lift it to hang on a nail. Poor things. Maybe the sweet, red bee balm—a hummer’s favorite–will fare better next summer. Hope. I hang shovels, corral plant markers, stand watering cans in a tin-soldier row. Certainly next spring we’ll have apple blossoms, and the beetles won’t be so bad. Hope.

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And maybe that’s a little bit the way gardening can be. I drive myself crazy every year coddling my cantaloupe, propping up my snap peas, and seeking revenge on horn worms. But I have hope.

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