back home-home, my sweet momma had planted bleeding hearts on the east side of our house. there were four-o-clocks there as well; old-fashioned flowers in her garden. we didn’t have any fancy plants – it was otherwise hosta and day lilies, rose of sharon and hydrangea, azalea and forsythia. but, in thinking back, i love her sensibility of these old-timey plants, steadfast through the ages, and anytime i see or plant any of them, i think of my momma.
our trail takes us through the woods. the honeysuckle lines the dirt path and its sweet aroma wafts around us. there’s pink and white, both. and, as i glance over, there is something that makes me think of my momma’s bleeding hearts. we’d plant them in our backyard but for the fact that they are toxic and we don’t want to take any chances with dogdog. so simply being reminded of them will have to suffice.
maybe today we’ll go and get a few flowers at the nursery. we need some to put in a planter on the old chair out back and in the retired firepit vessel. i suppose it’s time – already! – to pick up our basil plant and the cherry tomatoes we love to have on our potting stand. we are heading into summer soon and caprese salads and skewers are beckoning.
honeysuckle is a symbol of pure happiness. i’m pretty sure that four-o-clocks and hosta and day lilies and rose of sharon and hydrangea and azalea and forsythia are as well, though i haven’t looked them up and i’m guessing there’s more meaning for each.
for me, they are walking in my growing-up yard. for me, they are my momma, bent over the garden, deadheading the four-o-clock blossoms and loosening the leathery seeds. for me, they are the light purple buds of the hosta heated by the sun – the ones planted by the garage just off the one-car driveway – just begging for tiny hands to pop them at the end of the afternoon when they were filled with air. for me, they are the giant flowers of my sister’s name (though spelled differently, she would quickly add). for me, they are sitting up in the maple tree with my notebook, writing, gazing down at the garden on the shady side of the house. for me, they are big bunches of dried hydrangeas in the fall. for me, they are delicate hearts lined up on a stem, for i was always fascinated by these. for me, they are so much more than old-fashioned flowers.
for me, they are comfort. for me, they are like old friends.
there is a magazine i look at most every day. it is a simple-magazine publication and features container gardens of all sorts. each time i page through it i see something new, get ideas, wonder about unique re-purposing, changing old typewriters or baskets into succulent planters or large-animal feed scoops or galvanized tubs into fence pots. the photography shows beautiful plants in all seasons of growth and it makes creative juju pick up pace.
we walked slowly through the daniel stowe botanical garden with our daughter and her boyfriend, enjoying every second. the greenhouse was steamy and we got misted as we walked. gorgeous orchids punctuated the tropical plants. we stopped to read information, take pictures, admire textures and the colors that looked like dr seuss had taken crayons to everything.
the monstera deliciosa (or aptly-named swiss cheese plant) captured our attention. nature has a way of making sure that rainwater and dew are properly retained yet the leaves are not perpetuating algae or molds, fungus or disease. amazing. instead, waxy fronds or holey swiss-cheesed leaves let the droplets roll off, keeping them open to sunlight. each plant has its own system for balance, all depending on its ever-changing circumstances.
the day at the garden was over too soon; visiting is like that. there were only a few days and it’s hard to fit months and months of not-seeing into bits and pieces of 72 hours.
i now know why my sweet momma always had lists when i called or visited with her. there were things she wanted to know, needed to know, that she didn’t want to forget to ask. there were tiny and big questions about my daily life she wondered about – the extraordinary and the mundane, my feelings about things happening in the world, curiosities she had about my comings and goings and adventures and challenges and transitions. she just simply wished to hear my stories, have a window into my life. without being too invasive, without crossing the ever-changing-invisible-tightrope-line, she wanted to share in it, be a part of it. i get it.
kc, my bonsai gardenia plant, is difficult, “one of the most loved and challenging plants”. i never know if i am watering her enough or too much, if her brown-edged leaves are due to too much attention or too little attention. she has not had a bloom, though she did have two hopeful buds. she is not easy, but she is beautiful and particular and i am determined. charlie, my heart-leaf philodendron, the other plant that was also a lovely gift from my beloved daughter, is easy. she grows no matter what. she is healthy and thriving. she is green and lush and i can practically see her smiling. charlie is the opposite of kc. treasured plants on our garden table in ever-changing light and seasons as they grow, so much like the diversity of real living, i talk to them every day; i appreciate and adore them. they are lessons.
and it occurs to me that these two beautiful plants, both on the table in our sunroom, are – indeed – the spectrum definition of motherhood, the nature of every single cherished relationship, the easy-hard, the fragile-resilient, the holding-on-letting-go, bursting blooms and foliage or the missing of blooms, the learnings, the balance of unconditional love. perhaps a good addition would be this happy swiss cheese plant, a reminder to let it all roll off and keep on keeping on.
in the age-old tale of things-are-often-not-as-they-appear, this beautiful almost-transparent white moth flits from lavender bloom to lavender bloom. in certain moments it is even hard to see, its translucent wings disappearing and then glinting in the sunlight. against the dark background of the deck, it is easier to see as it feeds on the nectar of these deep purple blossoms. it’s a cabbage white butterfly. and it is likely responsible for the tiny holes in the tomato plant leaves. it’s fortunate we do not have a cabbage patch as these little guys have the capacity to destroy it. such a beautiful little creature and so much potential for destruction of goodness.
i’m writing this (ahead) on a rainy sunday morning and it’s too easy on sundays for my mind (and heart) to jaunt over to the things-are-not-what-they-appear heading.
this translucent butterfly has specific markings (a black spot on the upward front side of its wings), a specific size just over an inch, markings that depict the gender, making it easier to identify and, if necessary, prevent or eradicate the damage it can do to a hard-earned crop. if it were to look like any other butterfly – or say, a beautiful monarch – it would be much more difficult for gardeners to recognize the peril, much more difficult for farmers to stand firm and work at keeping the crops safe that they have nourished so carefully, for so long, with so much dedication.
sitting on the deck watching this butterfly flit about, the sunlight catching its gentle wings here and there, i never suspected it might be at the root of the problem i am experiencing late in the season now with our cherry tomatoes. under a cloak of not-knowing and not-asking-enough-questions or googling enough, i didn’t know to point at this gentle creature. but the act of googling has given me information. i can look for larvae on the tomato leaves and examine the damage with a plan for it.
were it to be a full field of cabbage, like out in the county here, it would seem imperative to act upon this. a whole field of cabbage – a field of potential abundance – can be destroyed by the existence of something that people might never question. research says an infestation of the cabbage white butterfly caterpillar can destroy all cabbage growth, and prevention is said to be imperative to avoid the ruinous nature of such an aggressor. that way “you’ll have less work and damage later on.”
this butterfly has been here since the 1860s so its presence seems pretty solid and unshakable. i guess you have to pay attention to damage being wreaked around you in your tiny tomato garden, delve into it, gather information, ask questions and stop the quiet chaos from happening.
it’s easier when the wings are transparent, when the markings easily identifiable and when the community of gardeners and farmers are seeking the goodness of the cabbage field.
perseverance is an understatement. the fuzzy caterpillar patiently and laboriously walked the tightrope above our garden, strung as a straight snap-line to lay bricks along the garden edge. his destination was unclear; i hardly think he could determine – ahead of time – which daylily leaf upon which he wished to land. perhaps he wanted to cross the whole expanse; maybe he wanted to travel clear across the yard in front of the old brick wall, but, along the way, tired and out of energy for further travails, took a side jaunt onto the nearest leaf.
we stood and watched him – he would scooch on the string and then his entire body would flip upside down. he – with every suction-cup-footed leg of his tiny body – would lurch back up on top of the string and continue slack-lining his way for maybe an inch and then – to our despair – he would flip over again, his legs holding him onto the string as he – upside down – continued on – what appeared to be – his merry way. he never appeared frustrated, though he flipped over constantly, alternating from side to side. he just kept going. and going. and going. surely, had he been human, he would have called an uber, a lyft, or given up. he was getting nowhere fast and the road had to be excruciatingly wearying. the tenacity was laudable. his journey, auspicious. he had chutzpah and sisu rolled into one.
we videoed his movement along the caterpillar slackline. and marveled.
ken called and david told him of the previous week, a week in which he had been on the slackline, not sure of the destination, but absolutely aware of the challenges. listening intently, asking questions, teasing a bit, and being a sweet big brother to his little brother, ken lamented, “life’s vicissitudes, eh?”. ah yes. “surviving life’s ups and downs, with special emphasis on the downs”, vicis, the root descendent of the word “vicissitudes”, is latin and means “change”. you betcha there’s change.
i’ve decided we are all on some kind of slackline and out in the farthest galaxy someone or something is watching us as we flip over to the left, upside down, right ourselves, flip over to the right, upside down, right ourselves and make the tiniest bit of progress as we go.
at long last, there is not an unsightly mound in our front yard and our grass is actually growing. it is astounding what a little attention will yield.
we will never quality for the lawn olympics, but neither will we get the worst-on-the-block award. we bought a used edger and are defining the daylily garden with vintage bricks that match the old brick wall behind it. we used to have a beautiful old brick patio up by the front door – back in the day – but had to remove it in order to have the (non-disclosed-at-the-time-of-sale) underground oil tank removed. i’ll not forget the day we found a 7′ stick in the garage with carved inch and foot marks. we wandered the yard and discovered the cap, hidden in plain view, that spelled out the epa no-no. our poor yard has been through upheaval more than once.
and so, here we go. the backyard and the frontyard have consumed us this summer. but we are making headway. yup. no medals but it makes us just a little bit happy watching both flourish. just a little attention.
we were supposed to have company. it has been a rarity these last couple years to share our space with anyone, so we were really, really looking forward to it. visits with people we haven’t seen in a year, two years. coffee-sitting or wine-chatting out on the deck, slow walks along the lakefront, catching up. long-awaited.
it wasn’t to be.
just before, we had attended a small gathering – outside. we were alerted a couple days later that we were exposed to covid. guidelines are such that it was then our responsibility – which we don’t take lightly – to isolate from others so as to avoid being contagious, whether or not we were also ill. we have respected this pandemic and its resulting health guidelines from the start, so we did the only responsible thing. we cancelled our guests, two sets of them.
to say we were disappointed is to underplay the isolation of these times. we were stunned. the ever-present facebook shows people off gallivanting on vacations and cruises, at disneyworldland, at parties. and we, abiding by what had been outlined as ways to protect others, were alone. in truth, we were a little ticked.
and so, we dedicated ourselves to crossing every appendage we’d stay healthy and working on the backyard. the new fence has created a blank canvas and we wanted to re-plant and re-organize our tiny sanctuary. i began studying plants and sun and shadow and height and breadth and movement and placement.
we moved the old hostas. they were along that back fence line. it hasn’t been a good year for hostas, dan told us, and we’d have to agree. these intrepid plants, we knew, would bounceback, so we transplanted them next to barney and under the white fir pine. i wanted a few hosta for under the blue spruce, but i wanted elegans hosta, rich green not variegated, huge heart-shaped leaves, gorgeous texture that will share that space with tufting blue sedge grasses.
we went to the nursery. it’s all outside so we felt confident we were not exposing anyone and we spent a few glorious hours wandering in and out among the plants, dreaming. that’s where we fell in love with that little stand of quaking aspen. (pause for a moment…)
i took a zillion photographs, not only of grasses and plants, but of the accompanying tags of information, so that we could go home and i could research and develop a plan for the new landscaping we would be planting. i had my work cut out.
i made several trips to the nursery, asking questions and moving slowly through, glancing at my camera at the pictures i had of our backyard space, pondering. after a week – sans people – we went and picked up the first of the grasses, three switchgrasses, tall with plumes just peeking out. they would join the hardy pampas we had already purchased, hoping they would grow tall against the fence.
busying ourselves with greenery helped the sting of losing the opportunity to see loved ones, but not entirely. though grateful each day to not take ill, we felt gypped.
a few days ago we added a couple dwarf fountain grasses. their flouncy-ness is charming. we brought home a little zebra dwarf silvergrass and a purple fountain grass for contrast. after a few days of studying placement, we’ll actually dig holes, take them out of their pots and plant them. and there’s space for a small rock garden too, perfect for this thready heart.
it’s the end of the week and now more days have passed since our exposure. though we went through ten home tests – to make sure we were moving through a ridiculously long incubation period – we have mixed feelings.
we know that in cancelling our company we did the right thing, for we would not want to inadvertently infect them or anyone they would, in turn, see.
but we remain just as hungry – we are just as longing – for a bit more normal as we had been. we’ve all sacrificed much in these two plus years to protect each other. we – the two of us – have limited our restaurant-visits to less than two hands, have stayed back from concerts or festivals we wanted to attend, have masked in shops and stores, risking the dirty-look ire of others who have simply moved on. and we have not had the chance to really see many others – to laugh in our pjs together, to get in each other’s way in the kitchen, to spill out stories, interrupting and laughing.
doing the right thing is sometimes painful. especially when opportunity is few and far-between.
this weekend we’ll sit out on the deck and gaze out toward our new fence. in the early morning of the days i’ll water all the new plants, greeting them each time. and maybe, later in the day, the new grasses will catch an early evening breeze and tilt toward us, billowing. i imagine they will be thanking us for bringing them home. birds and more birds will attend to the feeders. squirrels and chipmunks will scamper, chasing each other looking for fallen seed, high-tight-roping across the yard. dogdog, a little older and more tolerant of little friends in his yard, will lay on the deck watching with us.
surely this will attract the attention of agriculture lovers near and far. we – the tiniest farmers of them all – are growing corn.
i would like to say that we have deliberately planted corn, in an effort to have a cob or two, but this isn’t the case. the chippies are likely the generation alpha planters; they are messy at the birdfeeder and, while they are stuffing their little cheeks of birdseed, their tiny paws are flailing and birdseed is flying. they planted the corn and we were, frankly, astonished to identify it. in good-corn-fashion, i’m guessing it was knee-high-by-the-fourth-of-july, only we didn’t notice, as it blended into the ornamental grasses under the feeder. it’s nice to know our soil is good enough for corn.
i looked up if we could actually eat it, and stumbled into the georgia gardener walter reeves who said that “the seed used in bird food is delectable to birds, squirrels and chipmunks.” but “if the seeds sprout, you’ll get more of the same.” to his knowledge, “all of these plants would be edible by humans. but you might not want to eat them, because the varieties used in birdseed might not be digestible by humans. leave them for the birds,” he recommends.
nevertheless, we consider it a win. whether we were passively or actively farming, it grew and we are proud.
it is all beginning to make sense to me. all that time my sweet momma and poppo spent in arboretums and planting fields. all the time they spent watching the birds out their back windows. all the time they simply spent with each other, appreciating the idyllic opportunities that nature and outdoors and together bring.
i am guessing that somewhere – on another plane not too far away – my dad is watching. maybe he’s hanging out with columbus, who was pretty expert at the iowa-corn-in-which-he-was-raised. my mom is rolling her eyes at them, while they’re chuckling at the corn in our garden and maybe scoffing a tiny bit at walter. they’re paying no attention to her eyerolls.
they’re getting their yellow-plastic-tipped-corn-cob-skewers ready.
we have our own personally-funded go-fund-me for this dream. it buys time for the bigger dream.
the tiny stand of quaking aspen trees beckoned to us. it was instant love. at first sight, no less. tall, willowy, silvery-white bark, the stand transported us to high mountain forests, to trails in breckenridge, to the first ahhh moments coming over the pass.
we took a breath and asked the price.
the nursery is an oasis. in the middle of our town, we sank into it for a few hours, just strolling about and imagining. these trees brought us to center.
our real landscaping need, right now, is for tall grasses along our new fence. we studied each variety and its characteristics – upright and erect or billowing and rounded, low to the ground or reaching to the sky with plumes, feathery in the light. i visited again during the week, asking questions and spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the aspen trees, photographing from different angles and surprised, soaking, by a full-on sprinkler. we’ll go back and purchase a few grasses.
we’ve run the numbers and the stand of aspen must wait. our tiny aspen tree, delicately brought home from the high mountains, aptly named “breck”, is in our backyard and would love the mentoring of a taller, more established stand. with us five years now, we don’t want breck to feel lonely. but, numbers don’t lie and a stand of aspen, along with planting it, is a little bit expensive. the immediate-gratification toddlers in us want it now, but the adults know it needs to wait. there are other priorities. sigh.
we’ll visit the aspen again. and i’ll visit it while david is working, again. and we’ll save up and keep on designing what we want the next phase of our backyard, our sanctuary, to look like.
in future days, our – still-imagined – tiniest “pando” (latin: i spread) of aspen in our yard will grow and remind us of the interconnectivity of all. the canopy-to-come will bring us to places we cherish, dreams beyond the dreams. we will keep saving, a deliberate stand-fund.
and, in the miracle of the universe unfolding as it should, there was first fruit. i have to admit to my heart swelling just a bit. i peeked into the leaves of our two tomato plants and was astounded. many tiny fruit – little green orbs – had appeared, seemingly overnight. once again, we were going to experience the thrill of tiny-farming, a container garden on our old barnwood potting stand. just off the deck, tucked up next to the fence, canopied by the climbing ivy and right in the chipmunk trail to the birdfeeder, we were experiencing success. we are proud parents. and last night, as i snipped off fresh basil for our red pesto, i blew kisses, waving virtual pompoms, to these baby cherry tomatoes and encouraged them to keep on keeping on.
sunday morning we awoke to a flurry of activity on our blogs. with our coffee mugs in hand, we could see that hundreds of people were suddenly visiting certain posts and we ascertained that our favorite wander women had shared the cartoon and corresponding blogposts we had written with great pride about them. and – in a fun moment that was even better than hearing your name on the romper-room-mirror-out-there-i-see moment, they mentioned us on their video. we’ve watched every single one of their backpacking youtubes, their triple crown achievement, their biking, their supply lists, their rv-ing, their musings about aging and planning and adventure. nothing short of inspiring, we’ve talked about them a bit…ok, more than a bit. we shared with them the cartoon we drew, wanting them to know we are among the giant fan group they have, cheering them on as they are getting outside in the world. and then they shared our words. mutual pompoms.
there is power in sharing, power in being proud enough of, inspired enough by something to cheer it on. there is power in rooting for that which someone else is going after. it’s a synergistic power…back and forth and back and forth. kind of like how all cheering-on works. we encourage, we nurture, we are encouraged, we are nurtured. i found a note from my sweet momma recently. just a scrap of paper. on it she had written, “i know you can do it.” pompoms.
every new adventure – every fresh start – every launch – every foray – new fruit. vulnerable to the chipmunks – and much bigger monsters – but stalwart anyway. a few coffee grounds around the tomatoes will help deter those crazy chippies. we have plenty of coffee grounds. easy peasy.
i’m guessing the coffee will help with everything else too.
though a red and white striped jumper, accompanied by white tights and saddle shoes, was not my favorite outfit, i really loved being a candystriper when i was in high school. the local hospital – huntington hospital – had a training program and then you could choose as many days as you wished to volunteer. there were many options – to help in the coffeeshop, to deliver meals, to offer magazines or books on a cart, to visit with patients. my favorites were the coffeeshop and visiting with patients, but i loved all of the work i was assigned. i learned about origami from one of the patients and spent hours with him making cranes and lightening his spirit. i don’t know what his diagnosis was, but i do know it was very serious and he was only a little older than we were. he needed light and we all tried hard to bring it to him whenever we could.
the coffeeshop was a blast, always filled with patrons. i have this unusually tactile memory of making toasted onion bagels with butter – giant new york bagels – i can even still catch a whiff, mixed with coffee wafting from large pots we continually refilled.
the worst part of the job – as a candystriper – was wearing a hairnet. clearly it was for sanitary reasons, but no sixteen-year-old-girl really wants to scoop all her hair into a net and plaster it against her head. especially not if she has a nordic high forehead – which i did – well, and still do. yup. at the end of our shifts, we would go out into the sunlight and yank off our hairnets, leaving our long hair to blow wild and free.
our front lawn is wearing a hairnet. it kind of made me giggle a little as they laid down the haynet and rolled it out. the dirt and seed under it likely groaned – confined! – but the hay will keep the birds from snacking on the new seed and dan said that the hay will dry and then you can rake up the netting. easy-peasy.
mostly, it is astonishing to look out the front window or drive up to the house and see a flat yard. for the last seven months or so we have had a giant lump in the front yard, a debris pile with cement and rocks and asphalt and chunks of hard rubber and copper fittings and some cast iron – and, i’m guessing, lead – since that is what they were removing – bolts. when grass-trying-to-be-a-yard-again grew on the lump (which was all the way from the house to the street and at least twenty feet across) there was no way to cut it. we quickly became “those people” on the block, with the messiest (and ugliest) yard. david went out with the mower, but that was impossible, so he took trimmers and diligently trimmed the top of the mess. a lower mess is better than a higher mess. but – a mess nonetheless. i’m quite sure that people drove by and pointed. i can’t say i blame them.
they came and excavated the debris lump. it was a big job and they had big scraping machinery and a big dumptruck. it was quite the process. the guy in charge was particular and, thus, particularly annoying to the other workers. but they were a hardworking crew and, a few hours later, drove off with our water line replacement leftovers.
and so now we are primed for new grass. we are watering appropriately and we are conferring with dan, who has the best grass ever. he will guide us into better grasshood. we will tend our new yard carefully as it comes back from its turmoil and wreckage.
and one of these days we will be able to remove its hairnet and verdant grass will blow wild and free.