Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Arsonist's Garden

I know it's still dark before I open my eyes. The dog snorts and shifts in his sleep, his feet kicking my ribs. I grab my phone and watch the numbers 2:27 slowly come into focus. I've only been asleep for two hours but my brain has started to spin. It's slipped quickly into the same groove for the past month and I cannot turn it off. I am an encourager, a problem solver, a "let's talk about this, let it go, and get on with life"-er but not every issue is that simple and I'm growing frustrated with a problem I've been handed that doesn't have a quick solution. There may not be a happy ending and I'm hesitant to hope for something that might not happen.

An unexpected conversation with one conflicts with conversations with another and I'm left to wonder about who and what is behind it without any means of contacting the person in question. Sleep is elusive and different outcomes play like scenes in a movie. I roll over and close my eyes, platitudes rolling through my brain like a marquee. "Go with your gut." "Everything will be ok." "Have some faith and let it all go" "Maybe there's something to be learned in all this." "All this wondering hasn't solved a damn thing, so just deal with it when the opportunity arises." But I want that opportunity to be now. I'm tired of carrying this weight and make plans to see the person I need to talk to.

The retaining wall will be built on both sides of the brick walkway.

 But the event that was supposed to bring resolution doesn't happen and I'm left with a mouth full of words and no way to say them. I head for the basement and shut the door behind me. I tip my head back and yell at the Universe until tears, thick with salt, run along my cheeks and into my mouth. I sit on the bottom step, my head on my knees, until my breathing calms. "I don't want to feel so much. I wish I were a robot", I whisper to the walls. "You're being stupid", I tell myself. "We all have our talents", I respond. 

A new plan is made and I get in my car and drive in silence across empty country roads. I go straight until I have to turn and tell myself to think every thought and then leave them behind, mental confetti to litter the roadway but it doesn't work. I come home exhausted.

The wall will include three different levels.

Sitting at the table, I grab a stack of paper and cut it into strips. One strip at a time, I write down all the thoughts that gnaw at the edges of each day and chew into my sleep. They are frustrations, concerns, and hard things that might need to be done. I do not like them. I grab another stack and write down everything that's right in my life, before stuffing the strips into two different bags. 

The back garden is a mess. A series of long trenches dug deep into a slope for the retaining wall has turned the yard into a scene from a war movie. I sit on the top step on the brick walkway that runs between the two sides of the planned retaining wall and open the bags. I quietly read aloud each problem before letting the slip fall into the trench. Between problems, I read a slip that reminds me of what's right and beautiful in my life. I tuck these back into the bag when I'm done while the others cover the bottom of the hole. I grab my lighter, reach into the empty space, and quickly light the paper on fire.

An unexpected text that brought me to tears.

I am terrified and fascinated by fire, a feral childhood spent in California watching hills burn and cheering with my brother when orange flames from a road flare we'd ignited engulfed our turquoise polyester couch. But this is thick red Virginia clay, moist from rain and the pages smolder and smoke before burning. The ashes will soon be covered with concrete blocks and river rock. If I must wait to solve this problem, I will transform it into something beautiful. It is the only way to let it all go. I am desperate for the peace.

My brain grows still and I watch the ashes blacken the soil. "Maybe everything will be ok" I whisper. I look across the mounds of dirt and weeds and imagine a happy ending. "What are you growing in this garden?" I ask myself.


Monday, July 2, 2018

There's Only One Road to Now

It never occurred to me when I was a teen and planning out my life, that I would become a teacher or gardener. Gardening was for old people and lunatics who specialized in baseball bat sized zucchini and massive trees growing at sharp angles in tiny spaces. I was going to become a writer and travel the world. It would be a bohemian, artistic life not unlike Hemingway’s days in Paris. To accomplish this goal I spent a few years in college often drunk and occasionally naked and only traveled from party to party before marrying a conservative military officer I met in a bar. I stopped writing, had children, and poured my passionate spirit into creating a garden everywhere we went. 

Isle of Wight, England

But I am an explorer at heart. Little road trips around the area I recently moved to have peppered my summer days. With no final destination in mind. I simply get in the car and drive down whatever street looks interesting. But travel abroad is my favorite. 

beach vacation, English style

With my daughter in graduate school in London for the past year, another trip to England was soon on the schedule. I should have said no when the flight attendant asked if I’d give up my seat for a passenger whose seat was broken and switch to a non-stop flight to London but I didn’t. It seemed like the kindest choice and would get me to my daughter faster. But as a reminder that kindness should always be given simply for the sake of being kind and that the Universe doesn’t owe anyone anything, while I zipped off to England, my luggage stayed in Virginia. 

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

But life goes on, doesn’t it? Despite my fatigue and frustration, I was on vacation and was damn well going to enjoy myself. After traveling by train, Tube, train, feet feet feet, hovercraft ferry,  bus and a short walk, she and I crashed at our flat in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight. A happy reunion with my luggage was several days away. 

The view out of our Airbnb

Since the airline assured us daily the luggage would be arriving soon, we stayed in Ventnor instead of venturing across the island to the usual attractions. I visited their botanic gardens but only took one picture. Most gardeners probably don’t take pictures of plants they don’t like,  but I did. The largest, most lethargic looking agave I’ve ever seen lay slumped outside the garden entrance. I do not like agaves. I like my plants the way I like my people - warm and cuddly. Agaves are stabby and while I can forgive them for this since it wasn’t of their choosing, I avoid their company.  But to be fair, I avoid people who are stabby, too, since there’s no rationalizing with a psycho. 

Agave have skin puncturing spikes at the end of each leaf.

I don’t like heavily scheduled vacations. That just seems to defeat the purpose. I want to relax and just wander. I’d rather see less and enjoy it more than rush from spot to spot like a five year old on a  sugar high. So we wandered. We climbed the steep hills of Ventnor and took the coastal path back. But I’m not that good at staying on any specific path and kept going off to explore the trails less traveled. One path ended at a steep drop off that not being a mountain goat, I was unable to scale while another required a bit of bush wrangling but ended with a gorgeous view. 

This path was unexpected but worth the extra work.

This view lay at the end.

But that’s life, isn’t it? What we think is the destination might just be part of the journey and we sometimes find ourselves somewhere completely unexpected but absolutely beautiful. We finally made it back to the beach and I  turned and asked my daughter, “Where are we?” But before she could answer, I responded “We’re right here.” “Exactly” she replied. 

Having packed nothing in my carry-on but a good book and a few snacks, I borrowed my daughters clothes and let the wind style my hair. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Vanishing Act

If I were a magician, my best trick would be the vanishing act. I'm very good at disappearing and often leave few clues. Sometimes you just need to take a break from one part of your life to give yourself time to deal with what's happening in another. I stopped reading blogs and rarely posted. I disappeared from social media and didn't think much about gardening. I was in a holding pattern while I waited for the front brick work and back garden retaining walls in my new garden to be completed and had nowhere to plant my seedlings. Instead, I walked for miles and worked out to force myself to focus on the moment. Music is a constant in my life and when I just needed to get out of my head, I turned up the volume and danced danced danced. I took long baths with a glass of wine and a good book and talked to my dogs, who think I'm a genius.

'Welcome' seemed like a bit of a stretch but I can say 'hello' to anyone. 
Even my door mat was a philosophical choice. 

The past twelve months have been a delicate balance of holding on and letting go, of having the strength to listen to that quiet, steady voice that always speaks the truth and finding the courage to do what needed to be done. Often without realizing it, we seek what we need to nurture ourselves emotionally but our choices reflect who we are.  I needed to come home to warmth, peace, positivity, and balance but also wanted space for my family when they visit. I had divorced the father not the family. I bought an old house, painted it yellow, and began a new life.

The dead tree to the left was removed before I bought the house.

My house in November 2017

The front hardscaping was finally completed in early June. I added over 2,000 pounds of compost to the soil, which is mostly heavy clay.

June 2018

I planted diervilla 'Kodiak Black' and abelia 'Kaleidoscope' under the windows. Diervilla is a tough native shrub that thrives in dry soil in both sun and shade. Both shrubs attract pollinators and have beautiful fall color. Right now the yellow diervilla flowers are blending into the house, which breaks all the design rules but I don't give a rat's ass about design rules. 

The view from the front door

After purchasing my home and beginning a month of mostly interior renovations that ended right before Christmas, I decided to only buy what inspired the strongest gut reaction. I didn't overthink or analyze anything. I simply made a list of what I needed and broke everything down into a Yes or No decision. If I didn't immediately love it and it wasn't perfect for the space, I stopped considering it.

The path from the side porch to the front garden.

I took the same approach to my garden. Without an HOA or spouse to contend with, I went outside, asked myself "What do I want?" and followed my gut. A side slope covered in turf grass was turned into a meadow full of prairie drop seed grass, liatris, and milkweed while I waited for the front hardscaping to be finished. To balance the strong, simple lines of the house, I replaced a scruffy, narrow flagstone path with a wide brick walkway and two curving side paths. A small path dead ends into a semi-circle centered with a bird bath so I can watch the action from the dining room window. Once the brick work was done, I threw myself into creating a new garden.

This bed is full of plants I started from seed that should have been moved out of their growing cups a month ago. What started as my annual seed starting bender quickly became a hostage situation observed with pity by the hefty, vigorous seedlings added to a few pots in May. The miserable, undersized Solo cup prisoners were planted into compost with apologies, a drench of liquid kelp, and a request to please stay alive. They've grudgingly agreed. Some of my favorite perennials from my other garden were also added. This is my new butterfly garden.

A cotinus 'Grace' (purple smoke bush in the far right corner) will eventually give me privacy from my neighbor and will balance the massive cherry tree in the shady side.

Wrens quickly moved into this house and have raised two broods, despite the constant presence of contractors.

The grass has been replaced with perennials and a metal glider given to me after my mom died fifteen years ago has been painted a warm copper and placed under the cherry tree. Plants brought over from my other garden were plopped into whatever spot I could find last November and again this spring, which explains why I have short plants in the back and tall plants in the front. I thought I'd have time to redesign the beds before summer. I'll save that fun for fall.

This bed is full of plants salvaged from my other garden, rescued from garden center sale tables, or gifted by my amazing local friends, who all knew where to find me. 

I purchased these handmade mosaic stepping stones from artist Jan Wilhelmi. They'll be here in about a month and will be placed in front of the copper glider. I love mosaic art because it takes the best parts of what's broken and turns it into something beautiful and new. That's the approach I took with my divorce and my ex-husband and I are still friends.

Gold solar globes hang like ornaments in the cherry tree. 
At night they glow as if full of fireflies.  

The website where I found these called them fairy dust balls. Whatever. The closest I'll ever come to fairy dust or a magic wand is a cheap hunk of plastic made in China but they're pretty and my tree looks cool at night so I bought them.

I have golden, glowy balls in my tree. What's not to like?

Corkscrew vine
Picture shamelessly borrowed from Google Images.
As for the arbor, I've always wanted a rose covered arbor so I bought one. It appeals to the romantic in me and gives the garden a greater sense of place with a prominent entrance. While I wait for the 'Laguna' and 'Climbing Lady of Shallott' roses and 'Baltyk' clematis to grow, corkscrew vine started from seed will quickly scramble up the sides and spill over the top, their purple pendulous flowers hanging down between the beams like fat snails. 

June 2018 
I'm back and will be blogging more regularly now that my new garden is taking shape.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

More is More: The Bat Shit Crazy School of Seed Starting

It must be said that I'm a passionate person and once I commit myself to a cause or hobby, I go all in. I'd get more sleep and have more money if these weren't defining characteristics, but they are so there ya go. To quote Popeye, "I yam what I yam!". 

It's not possible for me to just start a few packs of seeds. But turn my basement into a mini-greenhouse and start 55 different varieties? Yes, please! I open the seed catalogs or visit the websites and am seduced by the possibilities. So many flowers and so many options for just a few dollars. In the past I have methodically made my selections and drifted off to sleep designing my garden and filling all 100 of my containers. I allowed myself five or six purchases made on a whim but usually stuck to a plan. 

Many of these plants were grown from seed. Photo showing original Casa Mariposa garden.

Not this year. This year, I have no plan. I have no idea how much sun I have to work with although I doubt it will be much. I haven't arranged my containers or designed my new garden. There is too much work still to do. A retaining wall and terracing needs to built as well as two new brick paths in the front. The soil desperately needs to be amended, a new shady rain garden created, and shrubs added. But that didn't stop me from buying more seeds than I probably have grow light space for. It didn't slow me down at all. This year, I simply followed my heart and bought whatever seeds I damn well wanted to. Plants I don't have space or sunlight for will go to friends. A plant grown from seed and given as gift is a cup of love. Life could be worse.

Snapdragon seedlings 

I have 58 cups of seedlings but still have empty space under my grow lights for many more.

I grow my seedlings in big plastic drink cups that I've punched holes in the bottom with a hot screwdriver I've heated up on the stove. I cover the tops with a plastic sandwich baggie to act as a mini-greenhouse until the seeds start to germinate and then I remove it so I don't fry the seedlings.

I barely have any room between this set up and the nearby wall and have to squeeze through so I can do laundry. But I don't care because  I have plants growing in my basement in the middle of winter. To see what I'm growing this year, check out my So Seedy 2018 page. I went on a snapdragon bender when I was buying my seeds. Don't judge me. Alcohol may have been involved and I was left unsupervised. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Singular Choice

I'm not sure how to begin this post. Should I explain where I've been for six months or that I no longer have a garden? Casa Mariposa is a memory. The garden lies under a blanket of leaves, holes pock the surface where plants have been dug, and the patio is almost empty, bereft of the pots that brought so much color. The house soon goes on the market and what's left of the garden with it.

BEFORE - My new house is a 1938 stucco Georgian colonial. I cut the shrubs down the night I closed on the house. A huge cherry tree anchors the front yard.

AFTER - I closed on the house at 2:45 pm on a Thursday in mid-November and met my contractor there at 3:15. By Sunday I had a yellow house! I tore out the existing shrubs. The house looked like it was wearing a big green turtleneck.

I spent the summer after the Garden Bloggers Fling was over in my hammock and did not garden. I watered and pulled a few weeds but did not tend or nurture my plants. They grew wild and I turned away. You cannot tend what you know you must leave.

BEFORE - The back yard is an odd set of wooden terraces and poorly constructed steps. A steep slope filled with tree roots is being replaced with a retaining wall. The garage is being held together with ivy.

AFTER - I'm adding a retaining wall this spring to help level out this slope.

AFTER - The existing stairs were a death trap so I had new ones built.

I married young, a wild party girl with no plans in love with an Air Force officer. I was uninhibited and quick to laugh, an enlisted man's daughter eager for adventure. He was handsome and drove a Mustang and I was in love with being loved. But the decisions you make when you're 20 often no longer work when you're in your 40's and in September I asked my husband for a divorce. It was a difficult decision years in the making but life's too short to be unhappy. 

BEFORE - My garage is too small for my car but works as an awesome garden shed. A side porch adds period charm.

AFTER - I'm looking forward to filling this space with plants! I'm still in the process of rescuing and transplanting as many perennials and small shrubs as possible.

AFTER - Cute and funky works for me!

My new garden sits fallow behind an old house in a small country town twenty miles from the manufactured suburb where I used to live. A massive maple shades the weedy lawn and ivy grows with abandon. The existing shrubs have been torn out and a steep slope ripe with tree roots has made transplanting almost impossible. The property is small and I have no place to put most of the plants I'm so desperate to save. A month long renovation ate away at my time and the plants have gone dormant, leaving me to guess their location.

BEFORE - I kept the existing deck but replaced the lumpy stones with brick and removed the boxwood. The brick patio was built around an odd assortment of shrubs that were quickly removed.

AFTER - All the hydrangea stayed, except for one that was sacrificed to the compost pile for the crime of being planted just a few inches from the house and in the way of the painters.

All my pots came with me! Most of these pots have pots inside them like Russian stacking dolls.

I've already started lime washing my brick patio because I just can't resist a project....

But with everything I do, my divorce is as quirky as I am. My soon to be ex-husband and I are still friends, a new relationship to replace the old one. A new garden and life await.

I'm still here!