Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ABC Wednesday: "Why I Garden"

Ideas for today's S post have been floating around in my mind for several weeks. Then I read about the contest at Idaho Gardener for essays on "Why I Garden." The two ideas seemed to mesh, so if you will bear with me, I have combined these two ideas in today's post. Many of the photos have been used here before, but they are some of my favorite scenes from my garden.

My kids think I am a little obsessed. One son finds it "morbid" that I plant flowers on the grave of my late dog Roco and his buddy, Max the cat. My daughter accused me once of "spending her inheritance" as she saw me unloading yet another trunkload of flats of annuals one spring. A non-gardening blogging friend once commented here that he admired my flowers, but they did seem like "a lot of work," implying--in a very tactful way, of course--why do you waste so much time on gardening? Yes, it's hard to explain to non-gardeners just what it is that motivates us to spend so many hours in the hot sun pulling out weeds while fighting off mosquitoes and getting our fingernails permanently caked with dirt. Until a few years ago, I would have been one of these people questioning the sanity of someone braving the cold winds of November just to get a few last tulip bulbs planted. But over the last few years, as I have spent more time in the garden, gardening has become so much more to me than just a way to dress up the outer appearance of my home with a few pretty flowers.

The garden for me is a place to find Serenity. Spending time admiring the beauties of nature creates a feeling of peace and tranquillity that I rarely find anywhere else.

The garden is also a place where I can enjoy Solitude. I am alone with my thoughts, free from the noises of the city or the blare of the television inside. I listen only to the music of the songbirds as they perch above me.

Of course, I am not always alone. But my companions are the kind who make no demands on me but simply enjoy my company.

For many people, the garden is a place to find Solace. My best friend remembers her daughter as she walks through the garden, her spirits uplifted by the appearance of dragonflies and the fluttering of angel wings.

I have been very blessed that my family has not experienced such tragedy, but I understand the healing power of the garden. A small plot with cheery blooms helps me ensure that a faithful companion will not be forgotten.

The garden is also a reminder of Thoreau's exhortations for Simplicity. There is joy to be found in the simplest of creatures.

I can pause in my work to delight in a butterfly flitting from blossom to blossom or the antics of a bee frolicking in pollen.

Even weeding has its benefits. Working in the garden is one of the best Stress-relievers I know. There is nothing quite like hoeing or pulling out nasty weeds to get rid of one's anger or frustrations.

On the other hand, growing vegetables is not as enjoyable to me as growing flowers--it's more like real work. But it gives me a great deal of Satisfaction to harvest what I have sown, not to mention being able to have the freshest vegetables available to serve my family. Crunchy green beans and red, ripe tomatoes from the garden far excel anything you can purchase in the store.

There is satisfaction, too, in seeing flowers blossom from the seeds I have sown. Sometimes the resulting combinations are pure Serendipity.

Spending time in the garden makes one even more aware of the changing of the Seasons. As much as I complain sometimes about the weather, I thoroughly enjoy living in an area where there are four distinct seasons. From the emergence of blossoms and leaves in the Spring . . .

. . . to the Snow-laden branches of winter, I marvel at the beauty of Mother Nature.

Over the last two years, in particular, I have matured as a gardener. No longer dazzled by just the blooms of flowers, I have come to appreciate much more the changing Shape and Structure of the garden. I can see the beauty in yellowing foliage or dried seedheads, or the change over time from this blossom . . .

. . . to this Swirling Shape.

While my children do not share my passion, at least two of my grandchildren are eager to spend time with me in the garden. Whether we are watering newly planted seedlings or counting caterpillars in the fennel, the garden gives me a chance to Share some memorable time with my grandchildren.

Keeping up with the garden is work, to be sure, but it doesn't feel like work. And not all my time is spent looking downward to the soil; I have ample time to look Skyward and enjoy the brilliant blue skies of a Sunny day.

Not everyone shares the same interests, and not everyone enjoys gardening. I do understand. But for me, gardening has become so much more than planting flowers and waiting for them to bloom. Very simply, the garden has become my Sanctuary.

"Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."

--William Wordsworth

I hope you will check out Mary Ann's gardening contest, and do visit other entries in this week's ABC posts on the letter S.

I am posting a day early this week, because by this time tomorrow I will be like many of you, up to my elbows in pie dough and turkey innards--hopefully not at the same time:) I hope that all of you enjoy this holiday weekend with family, friends, and good food.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Raining Leaves

Two weeks of sunny weather at the beginning of the month provided ample opportunity for finishing up some fall chores in the garden. However, I still haven't gotten everything done, especially the chore that always gets last priority on my list--today's R . . .

Raking Leaves

But one sunny Saturday morning I was surprised by two little volunteers
who came to rake some of Grandma's leaves.

Granddaughter brought her own child-sized rake to help.

But Grandson had to wield the big adult rake and managed just fine--
once he was shown which side was up:)

Just look at those powerful two-year-old muscles!

Sophie thought it looked like great fun, too, but finally had to be put on a leash to avoid her chasing the rake around. She's not quite as helpful at raking as she is at digging new flowerbeds.

Still, her exhuberance in destroying neat piles of leaves caused some consternation.

Finally, she had to be sent inside, not too content at having to view
all the fun from the living room window.

Because, of course, to kids, Raking leaves is all about fun!

Seeing just how deep you can go . . .

Covering arms and legs and hair, too, in crispy, wispy leaves.

Why do we adults worry about disposing of all these leaves?

It's the size of the pile that matters!

Unfortunately, the operative R word for the past three days has been rain, rain, and more rain. Which means a soggy mess of leaves still waiting to be cleaned up. I do hope the sun comes out soon and I can convince my two garden helpers--and their older cousins--to come back and finish raking all these leaves!

For many more creative takes on the letter R, do visit the ABC blog, hosted by Mrs. Nesbitt.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November GBBD: End of the Season?

Every Midwesterner knows that November can be an unpredictable month. Often gloomy with gray, wet days that never end, this is one month I've often wished could be wiped off the calendar. Last year, however, was an exception. I remember planting bulbs, warmed enough by the sun that there was no need for a jacket, all the way till Thanksgiving. This year November has been a welcome surprise and relief after an unusually wet and dreary October. Although we have had frosty mornings, the sun usually brings the temperature up to a comfortable warmth. For example, yesterday I sat through yet another disappointing Illinois football game wearing only a sweatshirt and jeans.

The cold of October has brought the garden nearly to an end. Yet there are a few things still to enjoy for this November Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day:

There are the usual suspects for this late in the season, like the fall pansies sitting on the steps.

Or the potted mum carelessly planted in a container to replace the dying zinnias and heliotrope.

Or the lavender mum in the shade garden partially obscured by the dried feathery plumes of the heuchera.

More typical scenes in my garden, though, are like this one. Some of the Victoria Blue salvias are still showing some signs of their vibrant purple of early autumn, but most are fading to a silvery hue for the winter.

The hydrangeas are wilting and turning brown, but "Let's Dance in the Moonlight" is determined to give one last colorful hurrah before ending its season. I know you're probably tired of me showing yet another photo of this plant, but this fall I have been enthralled by the hydrangeas that have been almost as colorful in their final days as they were in their summer prime.

Looking for something--anything at all--still blooming in the shade garden one morning, I was sad to see that the Brunnera "Jack Frost" had finally succumbed to the frost. Or so I thought . . .

The next day, after a few hours of warm sunlight, I was surprised to see a full recovery! "Jack" is typical of what it is still blooming in my garden--what I call the "hangers-on."

Still hanging in there, protected on my back porch, is the Desert Rose begonia. This is one of the few plants that will be taken in the house for the winter--I've never had a begonia do so well for me as this one.

Another hanger-on is the "Homestead" verbena. It seems to actually enjoy the cooler weather, but here in zone 5 it is an annual so its time is limited.

The lamium, specific name now forgotten, is another plant unfazed by cool temperatures and is still setting blooms. If covered with leaves, it wil usually stay green all winter.

A few stray petunia blooms are also hanging in there, along with the helichrysum. Someone asked me about this plant on a previous post. It often goes by other names, such as licorice plant or mouse ears, and it is one of my favorite accent plants in containers.

Another tough plant is the sweet alyssum. I think all of these re-seeded from last year. They were getting rather leggy this summer so I gave them a "haircut," which gave them a new burst of energy for this fall.

There are a few surprises for this time of year, though. This is the first year I have planted lemon verbena, purchased early in the season from the local Herb Society's plant sale, and I don't think I've ever featured it here before. According to information on the Missouri Botanical Garden website, lemon verbena, Aloysia triphylla, reaches a height of 2-4 feet. Not to brag, but my plant is at least 5 feet tall! (Wish I'd moved that trampoline out of the background, though.)

However, the website also mentions that it has showy white flowers from June to September, but mine never bloomed. I'm not too disappointed, though, because this plant has done so well otherwise and provided much more than blooms. Every time I was in the Butterfly Garden I couldn't resist pulling off a leaf or two and taking in its heady lemony scent. While it can be used in making teas or desserts, I have only dried the leaves in hopes of making some potpourri. Unfortunately, while lemon verbena is a perennial in zones 8-10, it won't survive in my zone 5 garden. But I am going to attempt to root a cutting, and if that fails, I'll be back at the plant sale in the spring for a replacement.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the new lush greenery and pink blooms of the Achillea, or yarrow. This is a tough plant that is one of the first to bloom in the spring and one of the last in the fall.

But I was surprised to see these little violas blooming in the pot of now-spent dianthus. Did I plant these in here last spring and they've come to life again? Or did I throw out the dead spring blooms in this catch-all pot? Sometimes there are advantages to being forgetful.

Yes, the season is winding down, and for the next few months, I'll have to use some ingenuity to come up with a Bloom Day post at all. I'll enjoy the garden for as long as it lasts, admiring the seedheads of the daisy "Becky" and discovering right next to these dried up blooms . . .

A brand new "Becky" bloom!

You may have noticed a common theme throughout this post--throughout my flowerbeds are leaves, leaves, and more leaves.

Sometimes, though, it pays to pull back a few of those leaves to discover a final surprise underneath--a few primroses are blooming again! This can only mean one thing--only a few more months until spring!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is the brainchild of the always entertaining and energetic Carol of May Dreams Gardens. For more Bloom Day posts from around the world, be sure to visit her.