Bringing in the Seed

by Mimi Hedl

The rain and sudden cold snap probably took the few lingering monarchs by surprise. The asters, the traditional nectac plants for fall migration, didn’t last as long as usual because of a late summer drought, so tithonia, in garden rich soil, took over the role of nectar provider. At times, fifteen to twenty monarchs slurped from one enormous tithonia. Orange on orange. What a sight. I would not plant a garden without this life-saver, in fact, at Strawdog, a dozen plants grow over the ½ acre gardens.

Last year I saved enough tithonia seed to last for many years, though I may not resist picking one or two seed pods, breaking open the prickly receptacles, and looking at the quality of the seed. For new seed savers, noticing what the seed looks like, feels like, becomes important in knowing when to pick the seed, and if the seed has become viable, i.e. fertilized and grown to full plumpness.

In dry conditions, the seed pod may grow, but you will find either no seed inside the shriveled pod, or undeveloped seed. Take a bowl out to your chosen plant, break or cut off a seed pod in the bowl, then go sit down and look at what you find inside the pod. If you don’t remember what the seed looked like when you planted it, go check out the seed packet and compare the seeds. An important rule: never plant all of any one seed. Think of yourself as a preserver of genetic material. One never knows when a seed company will discontinue offering a seed and even seed saving organizations may fail you too.

Remember that many birds eat seeds. They begin to eat the seed out of the pods before the seed ripens, so sometimes, if you don’t have many flowers, you need to net the seed pods. I love to watch the finches and sparrows pull seeds out. Have you ever noticed all the abuse poppy seed pods endure? The birds rip open those salt and pepper shakers and leave an interesting artifact, fun to put in a bouquet for a friend to decipher. It took me years to catch a bird in the act and know just what happened to that poor poppy capsule.

Cleaned milk thistle seed

The house fills up with bags and bowls of seed, some partially cleaned, others waiting for the seed cleaner’s attention. I have two wooden bowls I use to winnow seed. Now I have American bell flower seed to clean. I’ll take the seed and bowls to a shady area I’d like the bell flower to grow in, when the wind seems neither too strong nor too weak. Dust-like seed of this bell flower, will blow away with a strong wind. But separating the seed from the chaff does take a bit of a breeze. I hold the bowl with the seed higher than the other bowl, and slowly pour the seed into the other bowl. You can watch the chaff blowing away and know it takes some of the seed too, so it seems wonderful to know the seed will go where you want it to.

This process will repeat itself in countless locations on the homestead. From the earliest years when I began to learn how to save seed, I always felt like an Indian maiden, out with the wind and the sun, preparing my family for the winter. My romantic streak stays with me, and now I’ve become the crone who does that work, even though I still see myself as the maiden.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching the guys up at Missouri Wildflower Nursery clean seed. They have barns filled with flower heads they feed into machines so loud you cannot stand by them and pick their brains, the guys’ brains. In fact, they stay so busy I feel grateful if one of my questions gets answered when they have to shut down the machine because it jammed. They have, over the thirty years, imparted tidbits as precious as jewels to me. How to clean individual seeds can perplex. A little experience goes a long way to enlightening neophytes. Ditto with how to propagate seed. Sometimes they use a blender to scarify seed!

For small quantities of seed, seed that will go in a packet, after I feel sure the seed has dried sufficiently, the packet will go in a plastic bag and into the freezer for a few days. This will kill any eggs laid on the seed while it dried. For larger quantities, I put the seeds in glass jars and leave them on the table on the summer kitchen. Soon enough, cold freezing weather will do the work for me. And I will leave the seed out there until spring. Perfect storage. I’ll cover the jars with a blanket to keep out the sun.

As I sit here, I pick beggar’s lice off my socks, my pants, my sweatshirt. It comes from a native legume, Desmodium canadense, also called showy trefoil (each leaflet composed of three leaves). I plow through the meadows and prairie grasses on a daily basis and always, regardless, forget I’ll pick up a slew of these seeds. Sometimes I’ll pick them off, throw them in a hot cast iron skillet, and nibble on them with a beer. They do taste good, but oh my, what a mess in the laundry!
Thankfully my wringer washer doesn’t object and when I drain the machine a good quantity of seed goes out with the water.

When someone says a name of a flower, a tree, a vegetable, my mind goes to the seed, what the seed looks like. If I don’t know the seed, I feel curious. For years I hung seed pods on nine lines near the book shelves of the library. Each line measured 10-feet long. Every new seed pod I fell in love with, would end up on the line. A Persian carpet sits under these lines, and I used to do my stretches there, and look up at the seed pods. A beautiful sight.

Last summer I decided to take them down. They had collected so much dust and I couldn’t possibly clean them. So I began, somewhat mournfully, taking down each seed pod, putting the pods in a tub, and hauling them down to the compost. When I mentioned my task to one of the textile artists down at the gallery, she foamed at the mouth. She’d love to have them. I still had five lines of seed pods left. So she came out with her boyfriend, loaded up ALL the rest of the seed pods, and hauled them back to Texas.

I still catch myself bringing in seed pods, but they stay for short periods here and there in the house, like a bouquet, and then I let them go. My mind has a full inventory of all the seed pods I’ve known, and I can go there for comfort, to see the receptacles of life.

Jacob’s cattle and Mayflower

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Memory

by Nita Hill

The other day before the rains came, I stopped at a nursery that I had noticed but never visited. I left my husband in the car while I wandered around for a bit. Not really looking for anything in particular I was approached by the owner. He saw me looking in the dry shade section and he handed me Sarcococca, Sweet Box, and began reveling in the memory of the first time he had ever experienced the plant. As he spoke of the honey/vanilla fragrance, his vision softened and he was swept away.

Being an aromatherapist, I was well used to the experience of the close link between smell and memory. People used to think that babies knew their mothers from her voice, but it seems that it is her smell. We are animals after all. The limbic brain, our reptilian brain, is what makes us alike. It is what we all share as a species.

Then we discussed the imprint of the first time we saw a plant. After the first impression, every time thereafter the memory of the first time can slip in. My prototypical story of that was Aruncus, Goat’s Beard. I was descending the funicular in Quebec City and in the middle of a small lawn stood a huge Goat’s Beard. It was so beautiful and had such a presence I was taken back. It took a while to find out what it was and I planted a dwarf in one of my gardens, but I eventually gave it away.

I bought the Sarcococca and one other ground cover for dry shade. But they have a golden Sumac there that is PERFECT. Next year it will go into my xeric bed.

I sing the gardener’s song. There is always next year for…

Rose de Rescht

by Mimi Hedl

Back in the mid ’80s, before I kept records of what plants and seeds came to Strawdog, I received my first rose cutting, a Damask rose, rose de Rescht, from Penny Henderson, a member of the Flower and Herb Exchange, out of Decorah, Iowa, she from Davidsonville, Pennsylvania. Why do we remember these little details? I guess because learning how to strike a rose from a cutting seems like an initiation for a young gardener, and Penny raised horses, romantic, and seemed to know lots about gardening that I wanted to learn. I can only surmise what went on in my young mind. I do know I felt eager for fellow gardeners and quite alone in rural Missouri, so I welcomed her letters and gardening talk.

Using a stick, I primed an opening for the cutting at the head of the culinary garden, still only a skeleton of what that garden would become; the twenty raised beds constructed and filled with compost, but little planted at that time. On paper, when I designed the garden for the architect of my dreams to consult, it looked like a Gothic arch. At the head, where the rose hedge now grows, the arch, and the beds, pews in a church, the sides of the arch. I didn’t think about it at the time, but now I realize my Catholic upbringing figured into how I designed my world. I wanted order and hierarchy of a sort, the rose hedge the master, the mistress.

I would never do that now, plant a cutting so far from the house, from a source of water. I’d keep it in a pot close at hand, and when roots formed, I’d move it to its home when the elements all seemed propitious, like a Greek goddess casting a spell. Luck served me well and the rose took. In time I would take more cuttings and establish a hedge of roses marking the eastern perimeter of the culinary garden.

Mistakenly I planted garlic chives with the roses, their white flowers attractive with the ever-blooming damask rose. The combination seemed perfect until the seeds from this Allium fell every which way and I had a forest of garlic chives. Garlic chives need a wild place or a smaller garden where the gardener has time to cut back the seed heads before ripe seed claims more territory. Like all things, I learned this the hard way. So, on a late summer day, thirty years later, you would find me working on that eastern edge of the Culinary, in extremely dry conditions, digging garlic chives from the roses.

Assembling tools for this task required little more than pruners, shovel, fork, and rake. I already had on my gloves. With trusty wheel barrow, I headed out in the early morning, before the sun had taken hold of the sky, and began undoing what I had done years ago. A gardener’s lament.

Up at the Hong Kong Market in Columbia, they sell large bags of garlic chives, cut close to the ground and bundled with rubber bands. If you’ve never used this green in a stir fry, please try them. Two cups would not seem like too much for one person, they cook down considerably, have a mild, delicious flavor and add fiber and nutrients to your meal.

Because of all the organic material in the soil, beginning with the entire quarter acre covered 2 feet deep in straw when the idea for the “Park,” sprouted; and followed, over the years with more straw, and now grass clippings, the fork slid into the earth relatively easily instead of meeting an impossible resistance that clay, untempered, provides in dry times.

The roots to the garlic chives, a massive structure, held little soil so I only had to knock the clumps against the fork once or twice before tossing them into the wheel barrow. I trimmed back the rue that has become a tame companion to the roses and a lovely foil with its blue-green leaves, yellow flowers and swallowtail caterpillars that appear in late summer. After rue flowers, it becomes scraggly and needs a trim anyway. It felt good to dive under and around the roses, pulling up the chives, grasses and even tree seedlings that had sequestered themselves in the chaos of an unweeded patch.

Lemon balm grows on the west side of the rose hedge, and creates a nice barrier that the head mower enjoys when she pushes the mower against this fragrance. Even those of us who love and grow herbs can forget the restorative powers of fragrance. Many a foul mood can become a glad mood with the wafting of sweet smells. Take me to that delight!

By noon I had pushed the last wheel barrow load of weeds to the compost pile. It never fails to amaze me how many weeds cram themselves into a small space. Hot and sweaty, I retreated to the hydrant to cool off, to go in for lunch, a nap. Over the next few days I’d haul all the bagged grass from mowing out to Rose de Rescht, mulching the bare, weed-free earth, creating a frame for the culinary garden.

A woman named Nancy Lindsay, brought this rose back from Iran. She happened upon it in an old Persian garden in ancient Rescht, hence its name and the attribution of “very old.” Both lemon balm and rue would figure into the very old category too, so I like to think many other gardeners have combined these three plants in similar designs, the world over.

Planting, tending our gardens seem like peace offerings. If you’ve ever noticed a gardener working as you walk or pedal by, you’ll notice the prayerful positions they assume. Heads lowered, often on the knees, sometimes prostrate, but focused on the earth. A friend of mine who lived in Cochise’s Stronghold, called the activity, “feeding the earth.” I like that. I like thinking that our actions have a positive thrust on our often crazy world. That perhaps our activities counter some of the more careless actions and that gardening does represent a quietly subversive activity.

When I stand by the rose hedge and look into the Culinary garden, the beds neatly arranged with a wonderful variety of herbs and flowers, I do feel like a conductor, as we all must, when we see the dream become reality, in cooperation with the earth and her dictates. And this church of sorts fits my conception of life and the universe. I go to the garden for comfort and nourishment, as I try, not always successfully, to explain to my Christian neighbors.

Thoughts like these surfaced in the early morning, before the sun slows down our bodies, our minds and work becomes drudgery. What a fine way to begin my chore, my appointed task of redeeming the rose hedge.

Roasting Tomatoes

by Mimi Hedl

Brandywine, San Marzano, Pineapple and lots of Double Rich tomatoes sit on the table awaiting their destiny. The tomato plants, started from seed in April, have come into their own, bursting at the seams with fruits.

I salivate at the thought of roasted tomatoes for winter. The cook stove has lids that come off. With minimal effort, the stove top becomes an open grill, the perfect spot to roast several dozen tomatoes at a time. The garden can wait. The day has become a celebration of the roasted tomato.

The summer kitchen provides a somewhat comfortable place to light a fire when the temperatures hit the 90’s. The old timers had to depend on breezes to keep them comfortable, I have the luxury of a fan, so when I feel hot and sweaty, I stand in front of the fan for a few moments and then go back to the inferno.

With beautiful tomatoes, perfectly ripe with flavors I’ve come to know, I focus on what treasures they’ll provide for the cold winter months, and gladly suffer the minor inconvenience of the heat. The sweet gum provides full shade, the hot coals roast the tomatoes quickly so that I move from one task to another, not able to think about how sweaty I feel.

When I carry a plate of roasted tomatoes into the house, the temperature difference overwhelms me, a reprieve indeed. The tomatoes sit until they’ve cooled enough to peel. The skins go in another pan, and when all the skins, from 100 tomatoes, have accumulated, the pan goes back on the cook stove to cook a bit more. Then the skins go through the food mill, and all the goodness from them adds flavor and gelatin to the roasted tomatoes, simmering on the stove.

The water in the canner heats. The tomatoes need to reduce a bit more. When you look at a quart of these roasted tomatoes, the jar should say, “essence of tomato,” all the water evaporated. As I wait for this moment, I organize the jars, the lids, and screw tops, my funnel, dish rag, and dipper, ready for the last step in the process, 45 minutes in a boiling water bath. Twelve quarts will mark my day, twelve jars that turn the humble tomato into an intense jewel.

They’ll sit on the counter for a few days, waiting for me to label them and put them in the pantry. A friend will stop by. He’ll admire the tomatoes, wonder if I’d sell any of them. I tell him I have no interest in selling them. He presses me, “But if you did, what would you sell a quart for?” I think about it. I think about the entire process, from saving the seed of the heirloom tomatoes, year after year, to starting the seed inside, to the hours spent on the summer kitchen. “One hundred dollars,” I say. “A hundred bucks!” he exclaims, “That’s outrageous.” I say, “Good. That means no one will buy them. I’d sure hate to go through this process all over again.”

He doesn’t get it. It’s one of those things a gardener understands; or an artist or anyone who values their time and energy, who has a privileged life and doesn’t have to undersell themselves. Maybe he’ll stop over some winter day when I have roasted tomato sauce and fresh pasta. Maybe then he’ll understand. I won’t hold my breath. I will savor the beautiful tomatoes, preserved for the winter.

Our Temenos

by Mimi Hedl

Meditation Garden

Sometimes we access our temenos, that sacred grove Jennifer has written about, to help quell a sadness. I did just this. Down on my hands and knees, with fingers delicately removing unwanted seedlings from the Meditation Garden, I let my memories of Maggie surface.

A painter, who showed joy and color in her work, she had a gentle nature and healed with qi gong. We had our most intense moment with another artist, a poet, dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Let me explain.

I had never met Renate, but because of my sister, another artist, Renate knew about my Death Garden. I admired Renate’s poetry, especially a poem about her grandmother and sewing on a button. Renate, also a gardener, would appreciate my gesture, I thought, as I grew cipollini onions, so I could put these “button” onions in an old Singer thread box, and send them to her with a note, of appreciation and fondness for her poetry.

Months later, a letter arrived from Renate. “It was such a surprise to open your sweet package and be greeted by rosemary scent and those four lovely buttons inside a special old box for spools. The whole thing had an aura from another world far away from bad news about Iraq and prepackaged consumerism — it must be the whiff of Strawdog Farm. Thank you so much for thinking of me in this way!! I hope to meet you someday when you are visiting Barbara. Good wishes to you.”

I had not met her, and already I loved her. How often does someone respond to us like this? A gift indeed. And I so wanted to meet Renate.

As life goes, I didn’t meet her until she had become paralyzed from her disease. On an October afternoon, I called from Mom’s apartment in Boulder, and asked if I could come visit Renate. The walk down Broadway to her home tucked into the hills calmed me, the autumn air rich and fragrant. I picked a bouquet of dried seed pods as I walked.

Nervously, I rang the bell. I didn’t know what to expect. A woman from Naropa opened the door with a kind smile. Another poet sat with Renate, reading her poetry. And Maggie, dear, sweet Maggie hovered in the room. Maggie felt so happy to see me. She beamed and laughed and we hugged.

Renate smiled at my bouquet. She could not talk, but she could nod in response to questions. Her eyes still lit up. Maggie and I, now alone with Renate, decided to do massage and qi gong. Renate didn’t “believe” in qi gong, and Maggie laughed about that, and said even if she didn’t believe in it, Renate still let her do her magic.

As Maggie and I worked, we told stories to Renate, to each other, and it felt as if time stopped and we entered another world of only our three spirits. Maybe Maggie’s qi gong worked on me instead of Renate. I had electricity coursing through me. We all felt joy and sadness. When I left, I knew I’d never see Renate again. I kissed Renate good-by. She cried. Oh dear, what have I done? Maggie comforted me and told me I’d brought her such happiness too.

When Renate died, in the spring, Maggie made a hummingbird box for Renate, to hold her spirit. Renate felt a kinship with the hummingbird. Such a loving gesture. I thought about that as I weeded, her spirit box for Renate.

For me, life in the garden and out of the garden, involves moments. Some good. Some not so good. But moments piled one on top of the other, make our lives. I feel grateful for the moments I had with Maggie. Her leaving, her death, represents only another moment.

A bouquet for Maggie

August 2017

by Nan DeGrove

Lunar full moon eclipse in Aquarius, August 7th, 2017
Solar new moon total eclipse in Leo August 21st, 2017

Eclipses have special meaning in astrology. They correspond with major shifts, both in consciousness and in the affairs of daily life. Always occurring in pairs, solar and lunar, they reflect the theme of equilibrium between the lunar, emotional, subconscious realm that can either destroy or nourish the aspirations of the solar drive for expression and significance. The lunar eclipse reveals where we might be trapped in the past, but also can bring gifts from the past, a memory, a recovery of something lost, a visitor, living or angelic, from our history. The time around eclipses is charged with magic. If we are unconscious of the this, the magic can erupt and disturb. That is why this time calls for creative effort, working with images. visions, dreams, guides. Aquarius speaks to the human dilemma of being a vessel of primal instincts as well as transcendent yearnings—both dark and light. Aquarian values of compassion and social justice are much in the forefront now, as are the forces that work against these virtues.

Solar Eclipse: The Black Sun.

The Black Sun in alchemy is a stage of dissolution that precedes renewal. The idea is expressed in many traditions—the Void, Descent to the Under-world, Dark Night of the Soul, Dante’s Inferno. The Leo solar eclipse relates to this realm: a literal black Sun. Since Leo works with its opposite, Aquarius, we are witness to collective wounding and healing that are transpersonal, global, as well as personal. Again, we are in the zone of magic—the un-likely hero, the small act that changes a life, the angelic stranger, the butterfly’s wing that raises a storm. Magic can be dark or light.

America in the Eclipse Path

The solar eclipse cuts a stunning path across the country, a metaphor sure-ly, for the peril of the nation. with endless foreign wars, environmental crisis, assault on democratic institutions and a madman in charge. who has awakened sleeping demons in the American psyche as no leader has done in our memory. The eclipses are already in force, and have effects well before and after the actual dates. The president has his ascendant and Mars, (war,aggression,ego) at the degree of the eclipse (29 Leo).This is al-so the degree of the alpha star in Leo, “the heart of the Lion”, Regulus, which is said to give enormous power, but if the power is misused, Nemesis brings downfall. In Greek tragedy Nemesis was a goddess of revenge who punished hubris. Trump was born on the day of a lunar eclipse, which is another puzzle piece in this surreal drama that is unfolding. This last degree of Leo can be a channel for great power, positive of negative, but if it is seized by the ego downfall follows. Mars is close to the Sun throughout the rest of August and will be closely conjunct retrograde Mercury at the end of August and early September. Mercury will turn direct at the eclipse degree on September 5th. All of this adds fuel to the volatile atmosphere of the eclipse. A time for caution, humility, kindness, carefulness in word and deed. No playing with fire. We are in for a wild ride.

These eclipses have most influence for Leo and Aquarius, and for those who have other planets in these signs, but they have significance for all. Eclipses have collective influence; indeed, the solar eclipse of August 21st will have millions of Americans away from their screens, outdoors, gazing at the sky. Both positive and negative possibilities exist, but eclipses are omens of major change. We make meaning through the experience; there is no preordained outcome. Events of this time will continue to play out well in-to next year. Another pair of eclipses in Leo-Aquarius will occur next February.

The Sacred Heart

Leo is the sign of the heart, and its alpha star, Regulus, is the heart of the lion. The solar eclipses calls to the heart. The essential quest of Leo is love, the eternal longing of the heart. The heart is seen as the seat of the soul in many spiritual traditions. In alchemy the stage of opening the heart is called the rubedo and the color is red. The heart in this stage becomes a vessel of love. This is the stage that leads to gold—the heart of gold. The sacred heart tradition in Christianity transcends theology and expresses themes of universal compassion, hope and divine love.

Stained glass, Germany, 18th century

Midsummer Stars

by Nan DeGrove

Summer Solstice June 20th
New moon in Cancer June 23rd.
Capricorn Full Moon July 8th, 10:07 P. M. MDT

With the the new moon we pass through the sacred portal of the solstice into summer, which carries us to the dog days of July, with a potent full moon on the 8th. Eclipses of the moon and Sun are coming in August, making this is a time of swiftly moving tides and undercurrents. Cancer, the moon’s sign, was in ancient times considered a portal through which souls passed as they entered and departed life. Thresholds, gates and doorways are liminal zones of transition that express this theme. In Egyptian mythology Cancer was symbolized by the scarab beetle, symbol of immortality. Be aware of thresholds this month—some are invisible. Place flowers and tokens (horseshoes, seashells, wreaths) at your door to invite good fortune.

Home, family and emotional states are emphasized. There may be a need to retreat from the streams of information that bombard us—to be discerning about what we take in, as well as what we send out. Subtle vibrations affect us more in this sensitive time, like pebbles thrown into a pool. The overwhelm of national and world events can flood our minds, leading to confusion and burnout. This is a time to cultivate positive means of emotional refreshment—love, friendship, solitude, nature, art.

Full Moon

The full moon in Capricorn on July eighth is like a seed that breaks the
ground, grows quickly and spreads in many directions. The moon is conjunct Pluto and opposite the Sun and Mars in Cancer. In this combination there is power, aggression, and an intensity that can blow things out of proportion, but also provides motivation for overcoming obstacles. This moon comes just after the Fourth of July holiday, and signifies a critical time in relation to national and global politics. This full moon leads into and foreshadows the August lunar and solar eclipses. Eclipses encompass a period weeks before and after the actual phenomena—a period in which change accelerates, some things come to an end ,and surprising new possibilities arise.

The World

In the Tarot there is a card called The World. In the Waite-Smith deck it shows a goddess figure dancing within a wreath of laurel leaves. with the symbols for Taurus, Scorpio, Leo, and Aquarius in each corner. These signs represent different forms of power—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual This is the last of the 21 major Arcana, the cards that portray archetypes or universal experiences, in a sequence that relates to the soul’s journey through life.

The card speaks of a summation, a gathering in of energy and experience, a completion or ending, but also a new beginning, continuity. The movement of the energy is a spiral, the most basic form in nature, from DNA to seashells to nebulae. I feel the archetype this card represents is a central theme for the times we are in, a great turning, on a global level. How do we find our place in the world, respond to massive global issues and upheavals, and how do we create the future? The “world” is a seething mass of culture, nature, politics, migrations, war, calamities of all sorts, broadcast through media. Yet, there are the inner worlds we create through mind and imagination, art, poetry music, as well as the small intimate worlds of loved ones, home, gardens, and personal sanctuaries. The dancer in the cards is the eternal self in the midst of swirling temporal forces, the dance of life. As we come through the month of Cancer, the Solstice and the full moon, balance between the world of collective forces and the personal worlds we nurture is our mission.

In the Garden

In the Northern Hemisphere the days are longest now as the Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Cancer, before traveling back to the Tropic of Capricorn. This is high summer, the time of fairies and nature spirits, midsummer night’s dreams that call us to abandon overly serious concerns of life and appreciate beauty.

Water lilies (nymphaea, water spirits) seem to me the quintessential Cancer flower, as they float serenely over dark water. They close at night and open to the morning sun. They are little cousins to the lotus, a flower sacred in ancient Egypt, India, and Buddhism; a symbol of peace.

“Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.” –Bhagavad Gita

The magical datura, also known by the less grand name of jimson weed, blooms in the dog days of July, when the dog star, Sirius
rises with the sun. The luminous blooms open at dusk, sending their intoxicating scent into the garden and attracting the fairy-like sphinx moth.

My poppies have lingered longer this year, in spite of hot weather. They have established themselves in sandy cracks between flagstones, refusing to grow in proper beds. in some versions of the myth it was the poppy that lured the maiden Persephone, rather than the narcissus.They have an association with graves and death, but I love them for their wild ways and color.

Love and Summer Blessings,
Nan
nandegrove@gmail.com

Exuberance of Spring Gives Way

Mimi Hedl

Sooner or later, the exuberance of spring has to fade, and the business of producing seed and fruit begins in earnest. The crazy ways spring makes us feel, having to do many things at the same time and feeling like we make no headway, have disappeared for another year, and we can settle in to our summer routines.

So I go about my daily chores, filling bird baths, spending 45 minutes on bamboo eradication, (GRRRR!!!) pushing tomato plants back inside cages, all the while taking stock of what chores need doing: straw on black currants and rhubarb, make a bed for last five purple sweet potato plants, plant more zinnia seed, sow pole bean seed where tall telephone peas ripen seed and the list, of course, goes on.

View of the culinary garden from the figs

And then, at least for the next few days, I do what I want to do, and not what I HAVE to do. Let the play begin. Of course to the casual observer, it still looks like work. I don’t lay in the hammock and contemplate my navel, or read one of the books in my stack of summer reading, I do garden-related things, but chores I’ve neglected because they seemed so trivial and unimportant, but they nagged at me, nevertheless. With the pressure of spring released, I glide into the new season.

The pokeweed in the perennial garden looks beautiful, its architecture magnificent, but I know what lies in store if I don’t dig out the roots. Three good-sized plants grow now; I could have a forest of them. It takes ten minutes to dig out the deep tap roots, used to treat cancerous tumors. Pokeweed leaves, early in spring, provide greens that taste like asparagus. The berries produce a beautiful dye. These facts gather in my mind as I dig; the folklore of every plant dear to me. I warn folks that every part of this plant has poisonous qualities; that you have to change the water twice when you cook the greens. The fact this plant contains an anti-viral mitogen makes me respect it even more. I don’t know how the research has gone in HIV and cancer treatments, but would provide an interesting topic for anyone so inclined.

I move to the first quarter acre that, slowly, I am giving back to native plants. In the far section, near Kuan-yin and the downed red oak, staghorn sumac tries to move in. The mother plants produce beautiful red fruits; and if you’ve seen adult male deer’s antlers, you know exactly what the fruit looks like. What a fine lemonade drink the berries make. Boiled in water, strained, a bit of simple syrup added, and who needs lemons?! I like the mother plants along the fence row and in the wild area, but I don’t want them moving into the “meadow” as they belong to the cashew family and cause a slight dermatitis when you brush up against them.

The runners pull out easily when they first come up, effortlessly really. But since the tornado, I haven’t ventured into that area, and now have twenty suckers coming up through the tall grasses. I use my pruners and cut them as close to the ground as possible. They’ll sucker again, but this time I won’t wait so long. While doing this, I pile some of the redbud branches into a neater pile, out of the way of the mower. This little effort makes me feel more in control of my world and more able to deal with the results of the tornado. I sit down, in the grasses, and watch all the fluttering about me. Because I burn these areas in winter, I don’t have to worry about ticks, a blessing indeed. Just to sit and watch all the life flitting about me. Ahhh…

clematis versicolor

Before lunch I go out to the park and weed around one of Missouri’s native clematis, versicolor. I’ve worked around this delicate clematis, opening up so the area so its beauty comes through. Have you seen a sweeter flower? The first of the plumbago has begun to bloom there too. That little scene inspires me, the simple beauty; an awareness of how many years I’ve waited to watch this vignette unfold. Don’t we live for these moments and then stand back and sigh with pleasure.

The last chore before I walk into the house for lunch and a nap, I cut a dead end off the vitex, or summer lilac. Every time I walk by, many times every day, it bugs me, sitting there dead and ugly, right in my line of vision. But I don’t take the time to use the ratchet pruners because I have too many important things to do….Whatever, it took 5 seconds. Now a list of small tasks that irritated me, have disappeared and I feel lighter and happier. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much.

The gardens fill with lovely scenes. The eyes know how to frame these pictures. We walk our gardens so often, we manipulate the vista, tweak it here and there, creating a world, our world, that gives us beauty and inspiration. I give you a couple of mine.

Butterfly weed and grinding stone