Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bugs... think 'Art of War'

These bugs are making more bugs!!

Prior to the spring invasion of bugs, some rules should be established to deal with invasions. I feel a hands-on approach is best for the garden and gardener alike.

Often it seems gardeners are somewhat overwhelmed and outnumbered if one considers that there are over one million different species of insects in the world. Recently North Carolina scientists took a five-inch deep soil sample and tested it for insect and microorganism populations; their study indicated the presence of approximately 124 million living things per acre!

The good news is that most species are not remotely interested in what is growing in the garden and not all insects are created equal. Some are beneficial and others require extermination. It may also be noted that most insects are very selective about what they choose to eat. The same insect that has an affinity for dahlias may avoid the delphinium growing next to it so knowing the enemy is important.

Gardeners are basically pacifists so it is necessary to occasionally accept advice from 'The Art of War'; victory may be achieved only when one knows the enemy. In order to evaluate the damage caused by insects, one needs to first inspect the plants, preferably prior to wantonly killing every beneficial insect with widespread and random spraying. With overzealous spraying the darling Lady Bugs will meet the same fate as the Aphids. Cut worms must die, but the plump Striped Swallow Tail caterpillar eating the Dill should be left to cocoon then emerge as a lovely butterfly later in the season. Some bugs hide in the morning to emerge in the evening, while others (like grasshoppers) enjoy the heat of the day. Learn the habits of the hoards.

The slugs which inevitably arrive after spring rains dissolve nicely with a sprinkle of salt, and the rolly-pollies are usually in clusters which may be easily stepped on and squished. Perhaps entertain yourself by hand picking for awhile. Take a cup of hot water, squirt a little dish washing detergent into it to either kill what you pick or at least burn their eyes and prevent their escape. Squash bugs hate the solution!

If you have a tree that is 'weeping' buy a large syringe sans needle then fill it with one part vegetable oil, two parts dish washing detergent, and two parts water. Squirt the mixture in the weeping crevice and watch as tiny brown beetles and white thread like worms cluster from the crevice to writhe in agony before dying. This is wonderful garden entertainment that is very pro-active and empowering!

As summer arrives this year, no doubt the garden will suffer with the arrival of hoards of blister bugs, grasshoppers and other detestable vermin, but consider careful and prudent control... the Praying Mantis will thank you.

Besides being lovely, Dragonflies eat mosquitoes!

The Redbud and Tulips~

The current chill is exactly what we needed to assure beautiful blooms on the Peonies this year. They need a good dose of cold in order to produce bountiful flowers. Luckily, we lost only a few mid-blooming Jonquils that were in the boot last week.

The fabulous Redbud, our state tree, has begun to bloom and can be seen dotting the landscape everywhere. The delicate lavender and fuchsia flowers crawl along the bare branches before the heart-shaped leaves emerge, thus making it one of the earliest signs of spring. The Redbud is an ancient species common in North America, Europe, Japan, and Asia where it can grow as tall as 40 feet. It is also called the Judas tree because of the belief that Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ, hanged himself on a Redbud tree.

The early tulips have begun to bloom as well. With over 3,000 varieties available at affordable prices, there are tulips for every taste. Gardeners can plan a continuous spring show by planting several varieties which bloom in successive intervals. The early pastel heirloom, the mid-blooming fragrant ruffled, and finally the late blooming sexy-scalloped parrot will provide continuous flowers for almost a month each spring.

One year we bought several hundred bulbs at a Fall close out sale for pennies on the dollar. Of course they were not top quality, but still we imagined at least some of them would produce a show for us. I carefully planted mine in appointed places in the beds while Michael tossed his indiscriminately into the vinca. I must admit, his looked far better than mine peeking up from the greenery here and there as an early spot of color.

Tulips make lively indoor arrangements and it is delightful to be able to bring cut flowers inside this early in the season. Do remember that tulip stems continue to grow several inches after they have been cut. This is the reason that many tulip displays tend to develop a droop over the edge of the vase after several days. This effect is quite attractive but choose a vase that will allow for dramatic flow.

Several retail outlets are offering marigolds and other summer annuals for sale now. It is too early for these flowers, who like it hot, and they will not survive erratic spring weather so it is best to wait awhile before purchasing them.
However they could all be started from seed on a windowsill now and they will be ready for the garden at the perfect time.

One year before a late freeze I cut everything and gifted my friends!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Viburnum and New Grass

With the world spinning very quickly these days, it is more important than ever to seek some harmonic softeners in some aspect of daily life. The escalation of current technology has become mind-boggling when one considers that only 100 years ago the main duty of School Boards in rural Oklahoma was to provide hay for the children’s horses and fire wood for the stoves. Now more than ever the peaceful expanse of the garden is not only desirable, but a necessary means to keep one grounded. Whether you are six or sixty, there is no pastime more joyful than playing in the dirt so this spring plan on some serious down-time in the garden.

The heat of last week pushed the garden headlong into spring, with almost all of the early bloomers making a show. With usual weather, the flowering arrives in staggered waves rather than all at once. Thankfully the chill will slow it down a bit so once it begins to warm again we may go outside to enjoy our early spring.

Nature endowed the earliest spring bloomers with the sweetest scents and the Viburnum is no exception. Of course we have the Asians to thank for the sweet spicy scent; our native Viburnum do not possess the spellbinding aroma. A member of the Honeysuckle family, Viburnum are seen all across North America, in Europe and all of Asia, making them a naturalized global sensation. And their early arrival makes them one of the first seasonal feasts for the bees.

The Viburnum is a small tree with easy growing habits that has been a garden necessity since the early 1900’s. The Korean Spice has lovely white or pink flower clusters which appear before all of the dark and heavily ribbed leaves have matured. Their scent is sweetly enchanting, almost delicious, as it wafts through the garden carried by the breezes. And their show does not end after flowering; the flowers become berries prized by birds and the foliage turns a lovely dusty red in the fall.

Summer Snowflake(above)is another fantastic Viburnum. Although not as fragrant as the Korean Spice, it blooms several weeks later and has the most lovely drifting layers... as though it is wearing white lace petticoats peeking from under a deep green dress. Both species are spectacular additions to the garden and promise years of carefree beauty.

The early grasses have arrived as well and the tender lush carpet is calling for bare feet to ‘feel’ the first sign of spring. If you do not have a baby of your own, borrow one and be the first to remove booties and let tiny feet feel grass for the first time. Crinkling toes gingerly curling, opening and closing, surprised and curious… first garden experiences are a great way to giggle!

Julia loves the grass~

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thoughts on Truning Sixty...

Turning sixty is most certainly a milestone in any life. In recognizing my age I am also able to recollect the events I have been able to witness and I am truly grateful for the opportunities I have had.

If I were not sixty, I would have missed:
The time when mothers were at home while fathers went to work. Childhood would not have included an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all gathering on Sunday to recount the week's events. Back then, neighborhoods were safe and watchful; people were polite and generous with a sense of purpose which involved caring for the young and the old with equal diligence. The term 'latch key' did not exist.
Pleasures were as simple as a walk in the park, fishing for crawdads, ice skating on a frozen pond, dancing in a community pavilion at the beach, occasionally going to the drive-in theater or having simple Sunday night dinners on with TV trays while the whole family watched Disney. I would have missed 'cruising' when gasoline was a quarter a gallon and everybody could go out on Saturday night knowing they would not be shot.

I would have missed:
The times of turbulence of the 1970's. I was in college at that singular time and it was incredibly exciting to be involved in the push to end the war, give women equal rights, and bring politicians to accountability. I burned my bra in a crowd of 300, lit candles when the National Guard gunned down innocent students at Kent State, gathered with thousands to protest Vietnam, heard Martin Luther King's speech live, sat up late at night over marijuana and strong coffee discussing strategies and writing intellectual and emotional essays to address the ills of our society. Entire intercity neighborhoods included old timers and hippie/students who put twinkle lights in the back yard and had cook outs while girls hand embroidered jeans, men hand tooled leather, and children danced about. Blue jeans became the universal uniform, sex was death free and rain wasn't acid. It was an outrageous and hopeful time full of unimagined collective energy. I am glad I was a young adult and not a child then... I would have missed it.

I am glad I didn't miss:
The 'Back to Earth' movement even if we didn't know it was a movement. The cities became so angry by 1975. Watergate, the assassinations of men of peace, the winding down of equal rights, the drugs which made their appearance were dangers that could not be escaped so we simply left. Many of us returned to our roots; to the places where our grandparents raised a family amid the simple pleasures of our own youth. The gift of a small town where the doors are never locked at night, where the car keys need not be removed, where you can call the pharmacist at home to meet you if the children became ill during the night... all this was too important to miss. I'm glad I didn't.

I am so happy I was able to experience:
Farm life before the disasters of the 1980's and closure of the family farm as a treasured institution. Family farming was over by the time John Cougar Mellencamp wrote the poignant song "The Auctioneer" and Willie Nelson began his battle to save them. Family farms were still on every section of land in 1975 so we became part of a close knit community of neighbors. I was able to go to quilting bees with little old ladies who had quilted together for forty years. My stitches are in their quilts and even though the ladies are all gone now, the quilts have been lovingly passed on. They took me under their wing and I learned short cuts to canning, how to milk a cow, plant a garden and the joy of fresh eggs. We attend family and community berry picking parties followed by homemade pies, guitar music, tall tales and ageless laughter. I was able to push back time a little and give my children an antique life style that has all but disappeared. I am happy I didn't miss it.

I am glad I was included:
In Native American cultures before casinos made their way there. In the 1990's the magic of the culture still existed. The elders were still living and tribal spirituality was an everyday way of life. The open generosity of Native Americans was to be envied. It included the belief that the measure of a person was not what you could amass personally, but rather what you could give to others. To admire a possession belonging to a Native American was for them to bestow it upon you. Condemnation was not in their vocabulary and laughter ran freely. I learned that Pow-Wow's were not a benefit where the promoters made money, but rather an event where they gave all that they could to each person attending asking only for collective prayers for the honoree. I would arrive at a camp with smoke drifting to the sky in the darkness above tepees, the drum beat as background music of another time, and my heart would leap. It called to me in an unimagined way and I felt at home there. To have been called to the grandstand to be honored and gifted by the Head Lady Dancer before a crowd of 5,000 Native Americans was truly one of the highlights of my life. The welcoming, the polite introductions, the respect and old fashioned manners reminded me of my childhood in its sense of propriety. It is gone now with the advent of drugs and the passing of the elders. I'm glad I didn't miss it.

I'm glad I joined:
The new age of cyberspace with MySpace in 2006. My last child was leaving home so in my moments of empty nest sadness, I found new friends. I met wonderful people from far reaching places and we shared thoughts, joys and successes. We discussed philosophy, religion, gardening and my women's group was supportive in a way I needed... with wisdom only dear friends provide. On MySpace we sent birthday cards, gifts, and even collective prayers for one another. We exchanged seeds and my garden contains living memories of friends I will forever cherish. MySpace is gone now... I'm so glad I didn't miss it.

I must say I have experienced a multitude of exciting and memorable events that I might have missed had I been born in another time...I'm happy to be sixty!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Images~

Tulips and Comfrey

Woodland Redbuds... gorgeous!


Chile Peppers… Ancient and Important

Several years ago the Journal of Science reported that the popular Chile pepper may be the oldest cultivated spice in the Americas. A 6,100 year old archaeological specimen, a bowl, was found intact. As scientists scraped the residue, they found it contained both Chile peppers and corn. In all, seven New World sites have found Chile pepper residues and also the remnants of corn. This would suggest that these two foods, still intimately paired in South American cuisine, have been used as staples since ancient times.

The study was conducted by a team of 15 scientists who found the residues in utensils in both the Amazon basin and on the coast of Ecuador. This was positive indication that cultivation occurred in coastal tropical cultures, which until now were considered primitive. The peppers were important enough to be traded across the huge mountain range to the home of the sophisticated and advanced Incas.

Additionally, the researchers believe further study may show that peppers have actually been used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen. The birthplace of agriculture has long been considered the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia. With this discovery the pepper will join the list of ancient spices cultivated there. The three oldest known spices are Capers which have been found at 10,000 year old sites in Iran and Iraq; Coriander found at an 8,500 year old site in Israel; and Fenugreek in Syria's Tell Aswad, which is 9,000 years old.

It is not known whether the Capers, Fenugreek, or Coriander were domesticated or wild, however it has been determined that the peppers and corn had been domesticated. To be considered domesticated, a population of plants must have their behavior, life cycle or appearance significantly altered as a result of being under the control of humans for multiple generations. Within decades of European contact, the New World plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia where it was met with wild enthusiasm. Upon acceptance on these continents, it was further altered through selective breeding until today it exists in some form almost everywhere. The Chile pepper is an essential cooking ingredient in Hungary, where Paprika is a national symbol, in Ethiopia, with its signature spice Berbere, and in China, where entire cuisines are built around its heat. In our own Southwest, hanging peppers outside the kitchen is believed to bring good luck.

We have the foresight of our neighbors to our South to thank for this ancient and fabulous species of plant. They are easily grown here as our hot and dry summers are perfect for their temperment; they thrive here. If you are lacking a vegetable garden tuck one here and there among the flowers. The plants have varying degrees of heat… from mild to eye-watering so choose one that matches your tastes. Salsa anyone?

Photo Credit Dave Smith~ Tucson market selling hanging Peppers~

Friday, March 18, 2011

Trimming Fruit Trees

Flowering Crab in front of the cabin

Before fruit trees come out of dormacy, they probably need to be trimmed using the five ‘D' rule that applies to pruning. The D’s are dead, damaged, dying, diseased or deformed wood. Begin by removing all the water sprouts or suckers; the thin, whip-like wood that juts straight up from the main limbs but could never support any fruit. With a folding saw or running shears, cut down to the supporting branch and leave behind no trace of the sucker or its swollen base.

Then there is the possibility one needs to remove some large branches. First step back and evaluate the tree, or perhaps take pictures. One of the great things about the digital age is the fact one may take a photo and graphically “prune” out some wood before making any real cuts. With your favorite photo-editing program, crop or black-out the branches you think the tree would be better without. If the tree looks better without the branches then proceed with cutting them.

The basic idea is to open the center of the tree up from the congestion too many branches create which prevents light and air circulation. Never remove more than one third of the live wood in any year. Therefore, it will take at least three years to accomplish what you imagined when you “pruned” the expendable parts of the tree out of the snapshot.

When removing large branches, first reduce the weight of the limb by cutting off half of it. Pruning is a three-step process, to prevent tearing. The first cut is always an undercut, made no more than halfway through the branch from underneath. Next, an uppercut, from the top, just slightly farther out on the limb from the undercut, will leave a stepped-off stub.

If the limb is still very heavy and long, repeat the first two steps until you have still less weight. Then begin the final cut near the trunk, a one-step cut from above or below, depending on what angle suits the tree best. Make this just outside the branch-bark collar or ridge, which on many trees is a visibly raised spot where trunk and limb tissue meet. Never cut into the collar; but never leave a big stub, either. The tree will heal itself without wound paint if the collar is left intact. Finish with an application of dormant oil spray and look forward to a sizable harvest from you orchard.

Pear Trees in Bloom

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Tragedy in Japan

I cannot turn on the television anymore… the images of Japan seem surreal and the situation is too horrible for imagination. I can scarcely breathe when I see it. The world is witnessing a cultural catastrophe of significance, with scenes more horrific than the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii by the sheer magnitude of it. It is heartbreaking.

When Japan comes to mind, I never think of Tokyo and bustling technology; I think of gardens. For hundreds of years, the Japanese have taken horticulture very seriously and gardeners are among the most respected of artisans. Their successes include cultivation and hybridization of almost every plant we treasure and much of the Japanese culture is steeped in celebration of the Seasons with ceremonies honoring flowers. Their gardens are among the most cherished in the world and have been duplicated (in part) by everyone who has ever had a trowel and a vision. Their ancient culture is steeped in propriety, respect, and aesthetics.

When I was in high school my parents were a host family for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. As a host family we were often called upon to take visiting foreigners into our home and entertain them by giving them a small measure of our culture. My Mother believed it was a good way for her three girls to meet people from different cultures and interact with them on an individual basis... she was right. Most of our guests were from Japan and we usually spent three to five days with them. The exception was the gentleman from Thailand, who lived with us for almost a year.

Often I would arrive home from school to find a group of Japanese tourists in the living room having tea. They would giggle and bow as introductions were made and always wanted to visit the Oklahoma Cowboy Hall of Fame as their first destination. (The wild west is infinitely fascinating to those who have never lived it.) In the evenings we would all roll up our sleeves and talk, translation book in hand, bowing to each other while chopping vegetables for the traditional Japanese meal they always insisted on preparing for us... so we would know their culture and cultures are always reduced to food! Always, always, they were polite, respectful, and truly a beautiful and joyous people that made the experience memorable.

We often kept in touch and when my parents traveled to the Orient, they stayed with many of our former guests. It was back in the pen-pal days so I exchanged letters with many and we became good friends during our respective college years. As our lives became busy, I lost track of them and wonder where they are now... I feel an overwhelming sadness for them.

The world will be changed forever by the loss Japan is experiencing; something fine and beautiful has been permanently altered. However I know the Japanese people are among the most resilient on Earth... things will change but somehow they will survive. After all, they are the creators of wabi-sabi.

Monday, March 14, 2011

St. Patrick, the Shamrock, and Oxalis

Oxalis is smack-dab in the center of the bed~ Click on pic to enlarge~

Spring is ushered in on March 21st with the Vernal Equinox...that brief moment in time when there are equal parts of both day and night. However it is also welcomed with the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th . Those of Irish heritage will celebrate his saint’s day by wearing a shamrock, planting their potatoes, and possibly imbibing large quantities of alcohol.

Saint Patrick was born a pagan in Wales in 387 and died a Christian in 461. His rock-star status continues to this day with celebrations which have surpassed the Catholic faith and become secular. Saint Patrick converted the pagan Celts to Christianity and was adept at using their sacred beliefs and symbols to describe Christian concepts... thus he used the magical shamrock to clarify the trinity. Using the tri-leaf of the clover he explained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were each separate entities but, as the stem suggests, all part of the whole. Early converts adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock as a sign of their faith.

When the English began confiscating Irish lands and outlawing Catholism and the Celtic language in the 17th century, the shamrock become the symbol of emerging nationalism and Irishmen wore it as a symbol of their heritage. Unfortunately it became a symbol of rebellion to the English and soon wearing a shamrock became crime punishable by hanging. However the Irish immigrants to America suffered no such persecution and in 1737 the residents of Boston celebrated the first Saint Patrick’s day with public celebrations, parades, and pub parties. Times do change so by the early 1900’s Queen Victoria had instructed all Irish soldiers to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day in memory of the soldiers who died in the Boer War… a custom which continues today. Additionally the Shamrock is the registered trademark of the Republic of Ireland and appears in the Royal arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and on a seemingly endless array of logos which include race horses and sporting teams.

In March the lovely oxalis, the largest genus of the wood-sorrel family, began appearing in the garden… calling to Irish descendants to remember their heritage. My twenty year old friend, a lovely pink, still blooms faithfully from spring throughout the summer and will rebloom in fall if cut back in August. For something new perhaps add a purple leaf with her halo of pale pink flowers that drift above the striking foliage… surely a stunning focal point for any garden.

They adore the shade, tolerate the heat, and even refuse to wilt if not watered regularly. Oxalis will reward the gardener with their easy-going nature and long life expectancy... happily, they will be permanent residents of the garden for many, many years.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Boost the Immune System Naturally

Echinacea purpurea...

The weather of late has been schizophrenic to say the least and the forecast predicts more erratic behavior in the coming weeks. With temperature fluctuations of 50 degrees or more within a two week span, about now it would be wise to look to nature to boost the immune system.

Until the advent of antibiotics, Nature provided all the ingredients to insure survival and health for the inhabitants of the planet. Here in North America our own Native Americans survived severely harsh conditions with an intricate knowledge of healthful foods. The Plains Indians ate as they nomadically traveled and the Apache alone had over 200 items in the yearly diet. Much of what they “found” along their path was both nutritional and medicinal.

An example of one of their naturally occurring health boosters are the Rose Hips found on wild bushes from Texas to North Dakota. Rose hips have long been a valuable source of Vitamin C, which easily boosts the immune system. The hips are the berries formed on the rose following flowering and contain as much ascorbic acid as an orange. In fact the portion of the orange containing the most health benefits is the bitter white inside the rind that most people discard. During WWII the federal government recommended that citizens add rose hips to their stews as a vegetable and recommended brewing it as a tea for the health benefits.

Another valuable immune boosting plant is the Echinacea. Results of archaeological digs indicate that Native Americans have used this marvelous plant for over 400 years. It was used to treat everything including infections, wounds, scarlet fever, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Considered a valuable cure-all for hundreds of years, its popularity declined with the advent of antibiotics. Today Echinacea is used to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold or flu, and the symptoms which accompany them such as sore throat, cough and fever.

Recent reports from the medical community have issued alarms that antibiotics no longer work; our systems are saturated with them. It is not necessary to actually take an antibiotic to ingest substantial amounts of them either. They arrive in our bodies from consuming milk and meat from cattle that are overly medicated, eggs from chickens that receive a daily dose, and so forth. I consider this medical warning a strong indication that we best seek natural cures that have been around for eons. Nature contains an arsenal of plants and herbs that were put here for us to use; grow and harvest some of the plants that kept our ancestors alive and well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Making Lemonade From A Lemony Snicket~ Adapting

The Courting Swing in the North Field... September of 2007

Lemony Snicket Summer...a Series of Unfortunate Events.
September of 2007, Summers End... Thank God

In the past month, a total of five households have moved... all requiring our help, supervision, and energy. I hope they are happy!! By the way, did I forget to mention the riding lawn mower has been in the shop since early July? It came home once and we began mowing only to have it stop then shock the bejeebers out of Michael so it was back to the shop for the fourth time this Summer.

The yard looks like a scraggly field. My garden is overgrown and covered with Johnston grass, the flowers are all spent and the trees have made an impenetrable canopy that killed the lawn. The damn moles have eaten every one of my bulbs leaving enormous holes in the flower beds which became caverns after the recent flood; over thirty years of work ruined! Henceforth, I have decided we will abandon gardening and have a nice easy-to-manage Koi pond instead.

Our home is sitting here in a state of antique decrepitude waiting for our attention which is not forthcoming. The overgrown trees and lawn, the sinking patio bricks, the house and awnings needing paint, the summer pool a dingy green, ditches formed by washed-out walkways and the flooded storage barn will have to wait while we attempt to recover. So grand was the family exodus that it seemed we experienced an in-home reenactment of the Jews fleeing Egypt! The cob webs of their lives are all that remain and no one seems to want them or they too would be caught-up and packed! Stressful events? It is our everyday life and it will be different but somehow we will adapt...

Where did the time go? Darling Peter and I at Christmas, way back when (Please note overalls and the clip on bow tie) and in 2007...after he jumped from a plane~

Weddings, Barn Dances, and Babies...Often Change is Good!
Spring of 2011~

I had written in my journal of the Lemony Snicket Summer of 2007 so I could remember it amid the confusion and apparently it was just another chapter in our lives. In retrospect I can see I was in a state of mild depression over the move of my last child... and only daughter. She had rushed from home that summer in a fever of first love, 'packing' her closet in black plastic bags, dumping her drawers into boxes... her entire life here packed and packaged in only two hours. She wanted her own home.... and Alex.

At the time I saw no respite from the current events, however as Grandpa Dougherty always said, 'Things will work out.'...and they have.

On Our Way to A Wedding~

The households grew and prospered and we have welcomed new family members with a wedding each summer. John bought a lovely brick with a half acre to expand upon. Then Dolan and Tara bought six acres and refurbished the farm house that once belonged to a dear friend. Next Marshall and Andrea bought an historic 1930's bungalow and last year, with the tax incentives, both Patrick and Lize and Alex bought homes. Andrew lives with Patrick and his lady, Kimmer, and each evening at least four family members gather at one house or another for a sit-down dinner. Marshall and Andrea have given us our first grandchild who tickles me... and it seems she thinks I'm funny.

Darling Julia~

We painted the house!

Michael and I managed to paint the house with Michael hanging over the roof edge with a roller as I pointed to various trim. The gardens were redesigned, the brick walkway repaired, and I made a curved gravel pathway adjacent to the garden. The massive vegetable garden has become a croquet court and since the new families plant their own gardens, I can still enjoy shopping for produce at their houses. Our former swimming pool was transformed into a Zen-like aquatic pond with water lilies and a medley of frogs have taken residence and sing to us each Summer night.

The Frog Pond Fairy~

Even the contents of the storage barn have new homes. I called everyone and told them we were planning to 'clean out all storage' by gifting the contents to all comers. The guys, Lize, and my daughter-in-laws arrived in tandem and created individual piles, often trading during their process of acquisition. (How Tara ended up with eight of Grandmother's coveted 1930's grape-cluster capped wine servers remains a mystery.) By days end, the storage barn was empty and everyone was breathlessly gushing over their new acquisitions. For my children it was like meeting old friends as they rediscovered their childhood treasures.

Stored Items... gone!

The business expanded and the family works together each day.... building the tree saw that Peter and Patrick invented. (Although Patrick expanded on the original idea. ) Our newest hires are Lize and Alex' younger brother, Greg. With the downturn in the economy, we simply did what we know to do in such situations...we 'packed it in' and built the business at the base of the hill where the barn once stood. I was sad to see it go, but change is inevitable and adapting is necessary for happiness. It is very busy down there once again but instead of milking the cow, saddling horses, or hammering metal swords for make believe battles, there is fevered activity and the business is supporting the entire family in fine fashion.

The guys assembling one of the new buildings~

So once again, to my delight, everyone arrives each morning to gather for gossip and coffee before work. They gather here at days end to give their father and me (and each other) good-bye kisses before their evening departure. Things do change, but often change is not something to be feared, it is simply part of the process of living. And Grandpa was right...things did work out.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Birds, Bees, and Buds

Birds, Bees and Buds

Over the weekend, it became obvious that Spring made her grande entrance with the earliest flowers arriving at the garden party. To the utter delight of the gardener, the Jonquils, Daffodils, and early flowering shrubs have fearlessly begun their show. However the flocks of geese that were seen flying North last week were absent over the weekend. They knew instinctively they were flying into wintry conditions, so they have settled on local lakes and ponds to wait a bit.

The song birds have increased their activities with the arrival of mating season and since the trees have not yet leafed, we are allowed to watch feathered courtship rituals. Their songs have a new sweetness and they are darting about seriously flirting and ‘dating‘. The Titmouse, Chickadees, and Goldfinches are earnest, the lady Cardinals all look like teenagers, and the Woodpecker has begun rat-a-tat drilling to provide a home for babies. Once the trees have fully leafed, the sight and sound of our feathered friends will be minimized but right now they provide delightful entertainment in the garden.

This week the bees began their yearly activity and their numbers seem to have increased. The buzz in 2007 was all about the unprecedented loss of European honeybees with 70 percent of their colonies collapsing in Texas. CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder baffled scientists who studied everything from cell towers to climate change. Eventually it was determined the deaths were caused by a variety of factors, none of which was significant alone, however the combination proved fatal. Since a full third of our diet comes from insect pollination with bees providing eighty percent of it, Doomsday predictions were dire. Kevin Hackett, leader for USDA's Bee and Pollination Program, stated ‘without bees mankind will be reduced to a diet grain and water‘. With such a dreadful thought in mind, it was truly delightful to welcome them home!

It must be noted that early buds are swelling on the Maples and Elms and with them comes considerable pollen. Without going into intricate scientific explanations, it may be simply stated that the pollen of most trees, shrubs, and grasses is lighter than the pollen of flowers. It is carried by the wind as high as three miles up and as far as 100 miles from the original plant. Easily inhaled, it is the culprit of the condition called hay fever (or allergies) as it may irritate an individual’s throat and nose. With our typical breeze often increasing to driving winds, it is impossible to avoid this early pollen. As way of compensation, the pollen on flowers that arrive later in the season is generally much heavier… meaning it does not tend to blow about with such a vengeance. Thus as the season progresses, allergies will ease a bit. However annoying it may be now, it is necessary for the plant reproduction so we must be accommodating… while sneezing our way through spring.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jonquils and Daffodils

Today hundreds of geese could be heard calling in the sky above as they traveled North. The sight of their familiar V shaped flight pattern is always a reminder that harsh winter has finally ended. Thank goodness!

The signs that spring has truly arrived are present with a walk through the garden. The early bulbs, always the first to arrive at the garden party, have begun to flower. Many of our flowers are named after Greek myths, the lovely Narcissus being one of them. Named for the legendary Greek youth who was so enthralled with his own beauty he became forever fixed looking at his own reflection in a pond, the flower lives up to the myth. (And who hasn't known such a man?) Paperwhite Narcissus, with multiple delicate and sweet-scented flowers to a stem, are a ‘must’ for early gardens.

Both the jonquil and daffodil are members of this royal family as well with easily recognizable differences. The daffodil has a long trumpet, the jonquil a short one, rising from the flower circle of six petals. Each stem provides one lovely flower. All of these bulbs multiply underground so they will continue to spread naturally if left undisturbed.

The bulb absorbs nutrients through its sword shaped leaves and sends them to the bulb to assure flowering the following year. For this reason the faded foliage must be left undisturbed. Many gardeners tie or braid the stems together to create a tidier look as the leaves fade and die and tying will give the adjacent flowers air and light. Once they are completely dry, they may be removed without harming the bulb or future flowers.

All of these early flowers do well in arrangements and are a welcome breath of spring when displayed in a vase. Combined together, they are spectacular.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thoughts on Dying

I was very ill as a young girl and died at one point when I was ten. As I lay dying, I was lifted and began slowly floating upwards. I looked back and saw my bed as small as a match box with my tiny body in it... my were parents on either side of it weeping. I felt no pain and there was a lightness about me as I went higher and higher until I was called back by my parents. Suddenly, I was back in my body... I could feel the painful wheezing again.

My husband had undiagnosed peritonitis years ago. It is fatal in 24 hours and had remained undiagnosed for over 60 so his chances of survival were less than 1%. As he lay there, hearing all that was said in his conscious/unconscious presence, he felt no pain even though he could hear himself moaning. He was in a 'place' and knew that passing over would be so easy... it was such a small step. He heard my voice begging him not to leave and during the long night I saw a blue white light hovering above his feet. Slowly it traveled along his body, stopping at his head where it disappeared. I heard a voice as though through a thought that he would be allowed to stay. He awoke at first light and said to me, 'Help me up, I am going to live'.

Years ago I attended a 49, the Cheyenne ceremonies honoring the living warriors who returned from battle. As the evening deepened and the drum beat mesmerized, I had a trance-like vision. The ceiling to the building opened and my astral body traveled beyond the building, above the forests, to the mountains, the sky and further still into the star filled universe. Along the path, I heard the drum beat which echoed my heartbeat... it was the same heartbeat that emanated from everything that I passed along my journey. It is a continuum which connects all things with the beat of a single heart. I saw it all with awe and when I came back I felt peace, perfect peace, for three days. I have never felt such an emotion as I did then... the memory has faded over the years and I often wish I could feel that way again. Days later an elder told me I had received a blessing... and I do believe I did.

I have not been afraid to die since that time for I know that the energy that is 'us' unites with the universal energy of the whole. It is so far beyond earthly imagination of a heaven with golden streets or unification with loved ones. None of those human emotions are necessary... for uniting with the whole of everything is a joy beyond earthly comprehension. Death is not some txxserrible unknown to be feared, it is part of the journey... and such a small step over.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Absurd vanity... will I ever learn...

Cannot believe I did it again... I must be an idiot! Ouch!

Absurd Vanity
Okay, we all do stupid things out of pure vanity, but my latest takes the cake. I got these (heavy) large and stylish sunglasses in a valiant attempt to be 'with it'. I wore them for short spurts because they hurt behind my ears if I wore them for over an hour or so. As we were packing to send Michael's Dad off last weekend, all his siblings arrived in tandem so I wore them so my brothers/sisters in law would know how cool I am. I wore them Friday, Saturday and Sunday for about six hours each day. Okay you'd think.

NOT! I woke up Monday morning with a horrible pain at the bridge of my nose. I went to the mirror and almost fainted. My nose was huge!! Double the size at the bridge, with swelling all the way to my eyebrows; I looked Neanderthal. Apparently the sun glasses were the equivalent of pressing on the bone as one does when a nose bleed occurrs... for hours and hours. The kids tried to assure me it wasn't as bad as I thought, but I caught them making wincing faces behind my back... they were horrified.

The swelling at the bridge began 'falling' by yesterday until my lower nose looked like Bill Clinton's. (Sorry Bill) Needless to say, I haven't left the house. Today, it's still sore but on the mend. Am I an idiot or what?
Feel free to use this as a cautionary tale... vanity is pure folly.

*And no, I'll not post a pic. Stop laughing.