Don’t Panic!

by Mimi Hedl

I have a note in an old gardening journal. It says: “DON’T PANIC! It takes six weeks to put the gardens in order in spring.” I may need to revise that warning and add a week for each year past 70…

I haven’t panicked, but I haven’t let moss grow under me either. I pull weeds first with the right hand, then with the left. I leave piles of weeds along the pathways, too tired after my weeding ecstasy to go back and pick them up. Let them wait, I say. They’ll weigh less when I go back and pick them up in a day or two. I marvel at all the beautiful compost they’ll provide in a year or two and how I will covet every shovelful as I load the gold into my trusty wheelbarrow.

Usually I set strict boundaries for what I’ll do each day. I have goals, and I reach them. But sometimes, at least once a week, I want to do what I WANT to do and not what I NEED to do. I will give you two examples of projects totally unnecessary and perhaps frivolous, but that made me feel in control and happy.

Several years ago I began to turn the area under the 35-year-old sycamore tree into a woodland garden. The ninebark shrub had taken over much of the area under the sycamore, making it impossible to navigate that area. So I set a match to the area in the thick of winter, and transformed the area into a blank canvas. It took two years of steady weeding, digging out roots, to purge the area of the ninebark, a beloved shrub, just not there. (Incidentally, I read that in Central Park, in New York City, the gardeners had to employ a backhoe to pull out their ninebark that threatened to engulf the area … Living in the middle of nowhere does have its perks.)

Once the vestiges of the ninebark had disappeared, I began to introduce native, low-growing spring ephemerals, wild sweet Williams, Celandine poppy, Bush’s poppy mallow, meadow rue, squaw weed, our native columbine, fragile fern, lots of sedges, Solomon’s seal and so on. We had two successive years of spring and autumn drought, so this spring marked the first year I could make big strides, and I transplanted like a fool. Although not spectacular, I felt well-pleased with this spring’s showing, especially since so many seedlings lay hidden and will show their glory come next spring.

Another area, the entrance to the Medicinal garden, hosts annual foxtail and Canadian rye grasses. Though both of them lovely in their own right, they have no medicinal qualities and hide the plants that do. So down on all fours, I heft out these clump-forming grasses with ease. The soil here, enriched from years of mulch and compost, freely releases any plant except the deep-rooted ones. And grasses, especially annuals, have little claim on the earth.

The first wheelbarrow load took me one hour to produce. My enthusiasm seemed great and my energy equal. After lunch, when I went after the rest of the area, I started to wind down and it began to seem like a chore instead of a pleasure. I have the unfortunate quality of not stopping before I’ve completed a task, often to my harm. A bit of that obsessive/compulsive nature we all seem to have in some measure. I try to stop, but some force propels me forward. I do not resist.

I still have another 30 minutes to finish the entire area and more supervision over the next weeks, before the campanula americana, tall bellflower, germinates and begins to grow. I’ll walk by that area and bend over and pull the grasses I missed, breathing deeply. I’ve begun the eradication. I’ve worked on this area for two years. In another two years, all dormant seed should have germinated and unless I introduce another crop, this area should remain protected. Phewww!!!

Our goals, as gardeners, seem to be to protect areas from unwanted plants. We have to stay on our guard for intruders. And — get this — the very last plant I pulled at the end of a very long day, I mean the VERY last plant: poison ivy. I about fell out! A vine about 8-inches long. I pulled it with my skin-tight gloves. Immediately stood up, walked back to the house, washed my hands, with gloves still on, with my jewelweed/poison ivy soap, then took off the gloves and washed my hands with the soap. I have poison ivy on my knees from another encounter, but that would require another story.

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Box of Grape Hyacinths

by Mimi Hedl

As I sat writing on a cold April Saturday morning, the mail lady pulled into the driveway. I finished my thought and went out to greet her. We visited about the slow-to-arrive-spring, and how wonderful the sun felt, something in short supply lately. She handed me my mail, including a box from Boulder, Colorado. Hmmm, I thought.

Back in the house, I saw the return address. Hmmm. A little soil seeped from the seam in the box.
“Ahhh!” I said to myself. Taking the box cutters outside, I opened the package. My mouth opened into a large O, and my eyes bugged out. Hundreds of grape hyacinths, some with flowers still blooming, sat waiting expectedly in the box. “Give me a home!” they begged.

I threw a couple more logs on the fire, put on my dirty jeans, sweatshirt, vest, hat and gloves, grabbed the trowel from the wood shed, and set to work. They would go in the open area, under the vitex, where Canadian rye grass grows with abandon. I didn’t stop to think. It felt cold. I wanted the bulbs in the earth.

The bulbs varied in size from teeny tiny, to large, the diameter of a quarter, but mostly modest sizes, easy enough to pick up with bare fingers. Forget the gloves. The rye grass had made the earth rich with humus so the trowel penetrated easily; in 2 hours I had several hundred bulbs surrounding the vitex. “Imagine what this will look like next spring, in late March and early April, a burst of blue, right outside my front door.”

I still had several hundred more to plant including some so tiny I could barely hold them in my fingertips. I’d recently weeded part of the cottage garden so I had lots of bare soil there, easy to dig, easy to poke in the smaller bulbs. The sun warmed me up and what seemed like an impossible task came closer to an end.

As I reached the bottom of the box, I noticed a piece of yellow paper, hmmm. A note from the grape hyacinth lady! When I read her words, beloved by all of us, I burst out laughing and wondered if she had sent them on the 1st of April as some sort of joke. Whatever, it seemed like the perfect message and I delighted in her sense of humor.

When I wrote about the two pale blue grape hyacinths in my last post, she had sent an e-mail telling me about the patch of grape hyacinths she had dug out of her garden, they grew so thickly. She thought it funny I rhapsodized about two measly hyacinths. (I guess so after seeing her labors in my box!) I wrote back mourning their destruction and saying something like “I wish I lived closer.”

The most wonderful thing about this “joke”: I could see where I wanted these bulbs to bloom. When we order bulbs, they arrive in the fall. We have to recreate the scene in spring to know where we want them to grow. I had the pleasure of, ONCE, not having to dig through tall grasses and hard ground. This surprise occurs once in a life time. I will remember it as such. I will think of all the labor the grape hyacinth woman put into eradicating her nuisance and the beauty her labor will create on Strawdog.

Out Like a Lion

by Mimi Hedl

Can’t say March goes out like a lion, will instead say it goes out like an alley cat, spitting rain and wind and generally misbehaving so the egg hunters will have to settle for eggs handed out in bags instead of the crazy hunt they look forward to.

I surveyed the damage in the cold frame with wire-framed cover. The beautiful, picture-perfect, German winter lettuce looks like that alley cat did battle and the lettuce lost. I figured out how to better protect the lettuce, turning the wire- frame the other way so no small openings avail themselves to the roaming rabbit. It will recover. I won’t forget to better protect the lettuce in the future.

So much of gardening seems like figuring out how to out-fox the critters. I have screen-wire barriers up to protect the sprouting peas from deer, cold frames around cilantro and parsley and a whole arsenal of baskets and old fan wire -covers to protect favorite seedlings. I don’t get mad at the critters, I increase my surveillance and think of ways to outfox the armadillo, deer, badger, rabbits, cutworms and all the other countless visitors and predators. They like the exotic, tender meal, just like we do.

As I weeded the cottage garden on the only sunny day, perhaps all March, yesterday, I noticed a light-blue grape hyacinth in the path. Two actually. The ground, totally saturated, did not invite transplanting. But I have a scheme. And it works. I dig an appropriate hole. I place the transplant, in this case, the sweet hyacinth, in the hole; then I fill the hole with compost. Compost stays loose, even when wet, because of all the organic material. The wet soil goes in the working compost pile. I smile at my cleverness.

I put the pale blue grape hyacinths under the grape vine, a Concord, that divides the cottage garden from Brother Cadfael’s. She, the woman who tenderly tends the cottage garden, likes to smile at Brother Cadfael. He smiles back. They share plants, even though they live in different centuries. I can’t explain how that works. I just know it does. They both decided the grape hyacinths would grow well under the grape vine where no hoe or mower would touch them.

And so we will wait. We will forget about this gesture on the last day of March in the year of our Lord, two-thousand and eighteen, but in years to come, when these bulbs multiply, we will stand back in amazement on another March day, and celebrate the beauty. Let April and the snow arrive.

Spring Awakening, 2018

by Nan DeGrove

New moon in Pisces March 17th
Spring Equinox March 20th
Mercury retrograde March 23rd—April 16th
Full Blue moon March 31st

The Spring Equinox tips the balance toward light. More light is streaming
into our world, literally and metaphorically. We are coming out of the waters
of Pisces into Aries fire and heat. Mercury will be retrograde, in Aries until
April 16, making this a time when the energy of Aries is more subtle,
drawing us inward for a while before defining a new direction. Mars has just
moved into Capricorn, heading for a rendezvous with Saturn, which
accelerates the tension and anger in the political world. Jupiter, planet of
justice and truth, is retrograde in Scorpio, where it is constrained, but still
working behind the scene to reveal hidden corruption and misdeeds.

Aries is the knight going out to slay the dragon. Pisces is the savior. Aries
evokes the hero/heroine’s journey. We are all at different stages of this
journey many times over in a lifetime, and we face different dragons.
Mercury retrograde will help reveal these dragons masquerading as fear,
inertia, aggression, jealousy, among other things. With Mercury retrograde
we need to take care with communication, and the power of words to harm,
confuse, or heal in this Aries time.

The Libra full moon on the last day of March is another “blue moon,” the
second one this year. This full moon brings in the energy of Venus, in
Taurus now, as the evening star, setting in the west as the full moon rises
in the east on the evening of the 31st. As ruling planet of both Taurus
and Libra, Venus presides over this full moon time, tempering the dragon
fire of Aries.

La Primavera

For inspiration at this Venus-infused full moon we can look to Botticelli’s
painting, “La Primavera,” one of the most beloved paintings of the Italian ​
Renaissance. It is an allegory of Spring, a meditation on Divine Beauty,with
layers of hidden, elusive meaning. Its sensual beauty draws us into its
intellectual and spiritual depths. Set in a timeless sacred grove is a
procession of mythic figures: On the right is Zephyr, the March wind, about
to possess Chloris, who then transforms into Flora, the goddess of flowers.

In the center, elevated and presiding over all, is Venus, The devotional
feeling and gesture of Venus hints at her kinship with the Virgin Mary. She
embodies the Renaissance ideal of Venus as not only the goddess of
physical love, but also as Venus Humanitas, transmuting passion into
intellectual beauty and universal harmony—very Libra. Next to her we see
the Three Graces, Beauty, Chastity and Pleasure, in their elegant,
measured dance. They could also be the triple goddess, maiden, mother
and crone. Finally, Mercury, pointing upward with his caduceus to a realm
beyond nature of pure contemplation and spiritual love. Flying above it all,
is cupid, Eros. In our times we are assaulted by an extraordinary amount
of coarseness and ugliness. La Primavera reminds us of the eternal value
of beauty.

Happy Spring,
Nan

Nandegrove@gmail.com

Snowdrops

by Mimi Hedl

We’ve moved well into March and the snowdrops bloom on. I took a bouquet of snowdrops down to Gene, the chef at the Greek restaurant in Belle. He loves flowers. I also took the mirror, the special trick that Beverly Nichols, an English gardening writer from the mid-20th century, talked about in one of his books. Since you can’t see the markings on the inside of the drooping petals, the mirror reflects the pattern and creates a wonderful way of seeing, as a bee would. Gene felt captivated by the magic and immediately pulled out his Smartphone, so he could send the image to his friends. As I left the restaurant, he stood there gazing into the mirror. What fun to surprise him every winter with this bouquet. And how wonderful to have someone who loves flowers.

For years and years, I took bouquets to Kay, the librarian, who the main library unceremoniously fired 5 years ago. That event gave me good cause to write endless letters to the editor and garner enemies and then again, new friends too. It didn’t matter, the library acted unfairly, and several years ago the board above the board acknowledged just that. Kay loved the bouquets I’d cart to her every week. And the patrons of course enjoyed the snowdrops with the mirror. And I’d missed giving bouquets, as it seems a tribute to my mother, who had peonies and lily of the valley on the dining room table despite having 5 children to corral. I do this in memory of her love of flowers and how she made our lives beautiful with her artistic touches.

Winter aconite with sweet gum balls

For the winter aconite, coming on after the snowdrops, you need a petite vase, as you’ll find it tough to pick a flower with more than a 2” stem. The ruff around the flower, described often as an Elizabethan collar, sets off this bouquet of yellow and makes the eyes greedy for greener, everywhere, please.

Came In As A Lion

by Mimi Hedl

Did March come in like a lion? Yes. I’d say so. Even though the day ended up sunny and warm, it started out rainy and chilly enough for me to start a fire in the heating stove to make the house feel more friendly. So this means we can expect an early spring! Although I feel ever so ready, I also feel wary. I’ve spent way too many springs mourning my impetuous actions.

I’d harvested the willow rods from my willow stools a few weeks ago. Instead of curing them for a year before using them, like I’ve always done, I decided to make a fresh willow basket. Above is a photograph of the beginning process and below is the end product.

Using fresh willow means that as the basket cures, as the willow dries, it will shrink. The basket will end up looser and therefore not as strong, but you have the pleasure of watching the basket change from all these yellows and reds and some green into all brown.

I had enough rods left over to make this little sconce or whatever. It’ll go in the garden in some way. Maybe on top of a bamboo teepee. Whatever, it will look at home on Strawdog and add a little more character to the spring garden.

February: Tending the Flame, Taming the Beast

EDITOR’S NOTE: My apologies for the late posting. Nevertheless, the wisdom expressed in Nan DeGrove’s columns is always timely.

by Nan DeGrove

St. Brigid’s Day—February 1st
Candlemas—February 2nd
Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday—February 14th
Solar Eclipse in Aquarius—February 15th

January gave us two spectacular full moons. The recent one, on the last day of the month, was a blue moon and an eclipse in Leo. If these moons speak to us, sending messages we are perhaps yet to decipher, they might speak through the language of dreams, symbols, ancient myths, strange visitations of longing, restless stirrings and reverie. The moon calls us to honor the past, and our ancestors, both of blood and spirit. The lion (Leo) is a universal archetype, symbolic of majesty, courage, nobility, as well as untamed raw appetite, egoism, and selfishness.

The lunar eclipse stirs deep reservoirs of energy and passion at both ends of the Leo spectrum, and will unveil its meaning over many months ahead, especially with the new moon, February 15th, in Aquarius, which was a solar eclipse. The solar eclipse in Aquarius fell on the moon-Venus conjunction in the U.S. chart. In mundane astrology (national events), the moon relates to public opinion and mood, the common good, and women, especially with Venus in the mix. This pair of eclipses is very significant for the American soul. Leo-Aquarius eclipses evoke an old theme in human history — the misuse of power and leadership, which leads to chaos and an eventual arising of a new order. In personal lives, the eclipses can be catalysts for healing issues related to pride, fear and creative blocks. Eclipses mark turning points, often revealing something that was hidden, perhaps in plain sight. As the Leo eclipse in January tells us where we need to let go/learn from the past, the new moon solar eclipse is the future calling.

An image for meditation in February would have been the Strength card in the Tarot, which is a card for Leo. In alchemy, the red lion is associated with the “philosopher’s stone,” symbolic of the process of evolving from raw to refined states of being, through focus of will and compassion. Goddesses with animals appear in countless myths and folktales — a beauty and the beast theme that never grows old. A charming Polish tradition celebrates Candlemas with Mother Mary walking in the night with her “thunder candle’” to protect villages from roaming wolves!

Candlemas, February 2nd, or Candelaria in Spanish cultures, is a mix of pagan and Christian traditions. In Christianity it celebrates the Christ child being presented in the temple. In Ireland it is called is the Feast of St. Brigid, a goddess who became a saint, a version of the more ancient pagan Brigid, goddess of light, healing, poetry, fire, blacksmiths, sacred wells, cattle, midwives, and creative inspiration. As the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, Candlemas, and Brigid’s feast celebrates the reawakening of the spirit after winter, and return of the Sun’s warmth. St. Brigid’s Day extends for a period of nine days or more during which candles are burned each evening, and the household is cleansed and prepared for the coming of Spring

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincided this year, reminding us to remember we are mortal and to remember love.

Love from Nan
nandegrove@gmail.com

Felling the Dead Elm

by Mimi Hedl

The western edge of our 80 acres runs along County Road 725A in Osage County. The county maintains this road and takes care of trees along its right-of-way. One more elm, the second elm in 35 years, up and died along this stretch. The first, by our mailbox, this second one provided the backdrop for the shrine of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardens.

Jeremy and his dad alerted me to the second dead elm last spring. Yes, I’d noticed it. No, I didn’t realize it would start to shed limbs quickly. Sure, I’d call the county and see if they’d cut it down. A few months after I called Debbie at the Maintenance Shed, Randy came by to check out the tree. (Nothing happens quickly in these hills.) He said they had lots of storm damage, but would come out as soon as they could to take it down.

February rolled around. The tree decided to start shedding, mostly bark, but branches too. I wondered what would happen if a branch fell on a passing vehicle. Do I bear liability? I called Debbie. I asked her. She didn’t know so she hollered to one of the guys, then one of the guys came on the phone. I repeated my question to him, and he said yes, he figured I was liable. Oh dear I said, I better do something, and thanked him.

The next morning, 6:30 sharp, the phone rings. “This Mimi?, Randy here.” I say yes. He tells me he has a crew on their way, they’ll arrive in 30 minutes or so. I say, “But I haven’t had time to ask the neighbors to help me move St. Fiacre’s shrine.” He says not to worry, the men will do it for me. Wow.

Quickly I finish my morning chores, put on warm clothes and before long one, two then three, four and five vehicles arrive! A trailer pulls a big crane with grabbing arms, a dump truck sits ready for action, and ground crew arrive in three vehicles. A few of the men begin to mill around St. Fiacre. I walk up to them, greet them, and tell them Ron built this shrine for St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardens, years ago and that he’s done a fine job so far. I lift the statue from the shrine so he won’t suffer damage in the move.

Of course they don’t respond to my chatter, but ask me where I want it moved. I’ve braced the shrine against possible damage from a falling limb, with stout 2 x 4’s. I say I thought the we could put a 2 x 4 under the platform. They agreed that seemed like a good idea. The shrine won’t move, and one of the men bends over and sees that the 4 x 4 feet have frozen into the earth. He gently cleans out some of the soil, enough to free the feet. Then they slip the 2 x 4 under and hoist out the shrine. The biggest guy strains, whereas the smaller man, the crane operator, has no trouble. They carry it away from the felling site to where I guide them and help me prop it up again.

I feel touched by how gently they handle the shrine. Linn, where they come from, has a large Catholic population. They’ve probably never heard of St. Fiacre, but they realize he’s most likely Catholic, so they show honor to this saint and to the monstrosity of a shrine, that must weigh 100 pounds, that houses him.

Years ago, when Ron built the shrine and the statue arrived by mail from Vermont, the local Catholic priest, Father Hunkins, came out to bless the shrine. He brought the wand that sprinkles holy water, ( I should know its name), and as Ron secured the statue to the shrine, the good Father did his magic. Like I said, it has worked ever since.

When we decided we wanted to homestead, we took a trip to New Mexico, our first choice for home sites. We loved the land and saw shrines to saints everywhere in the small towns and villages. We spent lots of time visiting local churches and of course shrines too. Ron felt inspired, later, to build a shrine to a saint important to our lives as a tribute to the rough beauty we found in New Mexico.

As I watched the men work on the dead elm, I marveled at how much like a performance it seemed. The starring character, the man running the chain saw, cut the limbs that hung out over the county road. The man in the crane maintained the tautness on the chain around the circumference of the elm. His turn to shine would come later. The rest of the men either sat in their trucks, it felt chilly, or stood around watching the star perform. I crouched under a cedar, a good distance away, and witnessed the performance.

Once the limbs came off, the burly sawyer attacked the trunk, 100” in circumference. I’ve helped cut enough trees to respect the skill in knowing where to do the undercut. At this point, all the men came out to watch. When the sawyer cut through the elm, he ran, and the tree literally exploded as it crashed down.

The backup chain saw men now took center stage, cutting up the limbs into smaller pieces that the crane operator would pick up and throw in a pile by the tornado downed oak (220” in circumference) or drop them into the dump truck. They cut and scooped, lifted and hauled, until everything but smoothing the dirt road required attention, 2½ hours after they began.

The crane man started pushing on the tornado-downed oak. None of the neighbors had succeeded in bringing the oak to the ground, it remained suspended, dangerously so. Well, this man widened the stance of the supporting feet of the crane and pushed until he could push no more. I never thought I’d have help with this tree, too. I broke into a big grin when he brought it closer to the ground, waited until it seemed safe, and then walked over and thanked him for his generous help. This same man handled the St. Fiacre shrine tenderly. Needless to say, I felt a fondness for him.

That stretch of fence row has lost three huge trees in our days. The western horizon looms large, changing the landscape dramatically. The blue, blue sky looks huge, opening to the great west and our Colorado roots. Once spring arrives and everything turns green, I’ll begin to think about what to plant there along with St. Fiacre and his shrine.