Living With Limitations:
Virginia Bluebells, a favorite early blooming native perennial
Native Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s Breeches
My parents were born at the beginning of 1900’s, so they were big believers in spring tonics. There was the old standby my father preached, a mix of molasses and sulfa, along with his personal patent medicine in a brown bottle (mostly alcohol). We also gathered newly emerging greens such as dandelion and early polk sprouts. Then, there was the dreaded cod liver oil, the mere thought of which, still brings shudders of revulsion decades later. Just the thought brings back the lingering odor in my nostrils. Thankfully those are now bygone days.
Speaking of bygone days; did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte needed a safe method to feed his troops when on the move and offered a reward for someone to come up with an answer? About 1800, canning of heated food in sealed glass jars was invented, and that method some of us still use today when canning jelly. Shortly after, an Englishman invented sealing heated foods in non-breakable tin cans. Thanks to those two gentlemen we no longer need spring tonics for we get our vitamins from glass and tin canned goods, along with frozen produce, during the winter now. If you don’t eat your veggies, there is always a bottle of multivitamins available.
I suppose it is my age; lots of “not-so good old days” tend to creep into conversations. “Remember whens” are very much a part of paragraphs leading up to today’s topic. Those were the spring tonics of my childhood, of which I am most thankful, to see remain in the distant past. Being a gardener I have my own spring tonic that puts a spring in my step. My gardening is again awakening and there has been just enough weather suitable for humans occurring on my side of the Hoosier hills allowing me to be in my garden.
If I could use only one word to describe how I feel after pulling weeds, clearing out some winter debris, it would have to be invigorated. I remember only yesterday it was a sunny day, temps in the low 60’s and no wind. I was on my kneeling pad trimming dead stems and foliage from my Epimediums before they bloom, the sun on my back. I felt like a turtle on a sunny log, baking wellness into my being. I could actually smell the heat on my jacket; the scent and warmth of clothing just as it comes from the dryer. My body craved activity, needed activity, after the long weary months of winter. As I got down and up from the kneeling pad, moving from one drift of Epimedium to the next, my whole body felt, well, invigorated.
Would I have aches and pains this evening? Sure, but that is another time, a willing payment for my transaction with my garden.
As my body responded so did my mind. I could sense the gloom of winter slipping away into the soil. There would be no feeling down today, no concerns with my health. Today, it was only my garden and I; pausing while kneeling, using pursed lip breathing, concentrating on the in and out of breath as warmth caressed the back of my neck, my mind and body opening the gate to another world. A world of tranquility.
You know the old saying about how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing new under the sun there, for Aristotle the philosopher gave us that nugget of knowledge. With a body content within itself, a mind wrapped in tranquility, almost mindful meditative breathing, there was a transcending into a sense of peace, a melding if you will, of my soul and the garden. For that moment, however long it lasted, I was more than myself, I was a part of; we were a flow of wellbeing.
If there was some way I could can that transcendence I would gladly pay the postage to share a bottle with you. But, if you have a garden, you already have all the spring tonic you need.
I hope to have the garden ready for visitors this year. Come visit me.
Living With Limitations: Fatherly Advice
Trout Lily in bud
A Father’s Words
In my father’s younger years he was a hunter of small game. As he aged fishing became his passion. He loved to spend his days on local creek banks, local river and, on occasion, trips to large lakes with companions. He had a ritual when heading out for a day of fishing; two rods were carried, a tackle box filled mostly with canned sausages, mustard, crackers and warm beer. However, he only left the house on days of good weather. I will quote the logic of his words to me; “If you have to be miserable to have fun, I ain’t goin’.”
His words of wisdom have stuck with me over the years. The last couple of weeks have had days of clear skies with sunshine and reasonable temperatures of mid-40’s to mid-50’s. Sounded good until I stepped out the door and was met by a wind that cut like a cold knife. As much as I love being in my garden working, it simply was not going to happen on those days. After all, “If you have to be miserable to have fun, I ain’t goin”. So, No crawling around weeding for me today. I could, however go for a walk with a heaver coat and hat.
First Day of Spring
With this week being bringing the first day of spring, there is no way I can not be in my garden at least long enough to see its new beginnings. If there are new plants poking their noses up the least I can do is be there to welcome them into a new spring. In observing past springs I know that weather uncomfortable to me is just fine with them.
Mostly it is ephemerals pushing up through the leaf mulch. When I see Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) foliage opening I know there will be blooms of lavender-blue, an occasional white-blooming, above cut leaves reaching a bit over a foot in height. For now they are mostly just promise, but I am a believer. Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) with rounded leaves of purple-green-blue are in a race and will be showing sprays of blue trumpets along with the dwarf larkspur. Trout-Lilies (Erythronium) are up and I see an occasional bud forming. Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) now have full size arching blades of beet-bronze reaching all of two inches. Dwarf Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale) is up and in full bloom with its pristine three-petal flowers over blue-green leaves. Other trilliums are beginning to emerge, with Trillium lancifolium up above the groundcover of Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens). Trillium decumbens sits on the mulch with a bud resting at the center of the three leaves.
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans, and not an ephemeral) is, indeed, a ladder to heavenly blue blooms very shortly now. A Hepatica with white blooms has regained is position in the hollow long where Walking Ferns thrive. And, saving best to last, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) opens it first bloom on the first day of spring.
On the side of the garden getting the most light European Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) is popping up in drifts. Soon there will be carpets of color holding the space until later perennials emerge. Lung Wort (Pulmonaria) now has a few bright blue mini-trumpets heralding the arrival of spring. Two species of Primula have bright new foliage crowned by a multitude of plump buds. Several species of Corydalis have foliage with buds up and ready to open. In addition to the ‘normal’ Peonies, Japanese woodland peony (Paeonia obvata) is unfurling its beautiful foliage of green, bronze, almost-red and beet.
The calendar says spring has arrived this week and my garden has confirmed the event. Perhaps the way spring begins around here, performing like a roller coaster running in and out of tunnels, may not be such a bad thing. Makes me put down the weeder and the rake, spade and notebook of projects and just walk the garden, taking time to welcome the arrival of each plant that faithfully returned to entertain and keep me company.
Dear Old Dad
It would seem Dear Old Dad was wise on more than one level. Having a sense of optimal timing for the most pleasure; for right moment, right activity, lets me enjoy my garden in spite of, perhaps because of, that chilly spring weather.
My Upcoming Book now has first edit completed. Selecting photos now.
Living With Limitations: Containers
Native Pachysandra with Maidenhair Fern
I am doing my best to contain myself over container gardening this spring (There. I actually said that). I made myself a promise last year to begin this season exploring container gardening for several reasons. One is my lack of energy and strength to continue gardening as usual. A lack of oxygen due to damaged lungs will not allow the physical activities I once took for granted. Or, certainly not to the extent of my past gardening activities. Another reason is container gardening has always fascinated me, but I have never been good at designing containers satisfying my eye.
Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamom
There are times when events come together in a flow, such as when I watched a talk by Deborah Trickett of The Captured Garden on container design. The concepts and execution flowed from her fingertips as each came into being as if by magic. Such knowledge and confidence could only come from experience and success. Simply put, she was good at what she did; she not only held my attention, but I actually I took notes.
Later I visited Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL and Rotary Gardens Janesville, WI. Both were using containers in a way that held my attention, especially where ferns were used. Large ferns as single features in containers and artful arrangements of several containers. Then there were the multiple species of ferns used in and on driftwood and stone.
Ella Square Container
Campaign for Containers
I placed my notes and my photos in a folder and began my concepts for ferns in containers. The search was on for something different in affordable containers, plants I could divide and use from my garden, and a list of sure-would-like-to-haves. Again, things began to flow as I made a rare stop at Adamson We-Grow Nursery, a local garden center. There were my containers; Ella Square containers in the preferred color of teak; something besides the usual round shape. Ella containers were also were of heavy substance being constructed of stone and resin, and had a built in reservoir system to prevent overwatering. I purchased two 16 inch and place an order for a tall 19 inch. They also had large healthy ferns in 3 gallon size for reasonable prices so two of those came home with me as well. Some shopping remains, but enough is here to begin the project.
A container medium is not to be mistaken for a spiritualist in a bottle (from the Fozzie Bear School of Comedy. Waka, waka). Since I am concentrating on growing ferns as features in containers I want the container medium to be long lasting, so I will mixing my own. I will be using soil conditioner which consists of very small chips of wood, usually pine bark. I will then add about one-third by volume of vermiculite and a touch of coarse sand. While mixing I will toss in some slow release fertilizer. My measurements are by eye and what looks “just right”. This will make for a coarse mix that provides a loose root run with plenty of oxygen, and beneath every grain of sand, every piece of wood or vermiculite there will be a drop of moisture held, but remain free flowing. And all remains lightweight making the containers easier to move around as desired during the seasons.
Ghost Fern, European yellow Corydalis
I won’t go into the individual names of all the ferns both already on hand and on my list to purchase for I will be returning to this topic later on as the seasons progress. Some of my concepts for containers will be a pairing of fern and wild ginger (Asarum). Another concept is ferns and hosta, and/or fern with Lungwort (Pulmonaria), preferably with solid green leaves or solid silver. Nothing wrong with simply one fern in a container, or a fern(s) with stone or weathered stump and moss. As you can see I am going for green, centered on textures and outline, all of which will work together and not become too busy. If I were to place a label it all, I would use the single word Serenity.
Have You seen native Indiana yet? Lets go hiking together.
Living With Limitations: Rituals of Renewal
Helleborus thibetanus, Thibetan Hellebore buds emerging
It’s That Time
Once more it is that time of the year for gardeners to begin the ritual of renewal. It may vary from one regional hardiness zone to another in timing, but we gardeners have internal clocks making calendars redundant. Just as a daffodil begins pushing up new growth in the dead of winter anticipating another spring, I am out there performing my own version, and neither of us can be held back by weather.
After a walk in my garden this past week I returned to the garage for my all powerful wand shaped like a dove-tailed weeder. Winter weeds were forming a carpet of fresh green in the paths and between where perennials were last year. Any spot without adequate mulch had these mats of trouble. In the last week of February I was able to wear a light jacket and, while kneeling on a pad, weave my wand beneath the root system of chickweed, crating satisfying piles. The sense of power, the feeling of grand poohbah of the garden, was intoxicating with its sense might; the lifting up over another (including the root system).
Spring bulbs pushing up
The second day was even warmer with almost no breeze and there was no way I could remain inside once I had touched my wand of power. I returned not once, but twice, during that day of spring preview. This time with a rake handle in my hand to clean the leaf litter and broken limbs of winter, clearing paths to work my rituals. Now all those unsightly debris are in organized piles blocking paths and waiting to be carried out to the compost pile. But, they are signs of my long-handled magic, and not so large they cannot be stepped over.
Erythronium, Trout Lilies emerging from the leaf littler
Real Magic Ritual
The real magic remain hidden until I begin my annual spring ritual of renewal; the close inspection of leaf litter. I am seeking the first appearance of native ephemerals shoving aside decaying leaves and revealing themselves. At this time it does require one to slow down and pay attention, bring back memories of last late winter. Just where did I see those fill-in-the-blanks last year? This week I see leaf after single leaf of mottled bronze-green and brown piercing the middle of leaves and pushing aside clumps of others. Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are already two inches of rustic beauty with a waxed sheen. Upon the hill where there is more sunlight shinning upon the paths Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) show themselves as slender blades of dark beet-bronze soaking up available sun. Not to be outdone, European Spring Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) have miniature green noses that are now exposed after removing the chickweed. I also see clumps of leaves forming domes rising above the remaining blankets of fallen leaves, so I know there is more to come.
Once that ritual has begun, nothing, including the return to winter, can hold back the natives or the Grand Poohbah of Gardening.
Come Visit. I have a pair of gloves and rake handle customized just for you.
Living With Limitations: Thinking
Helleborus niger, H. niger Sunset Strain
I lay there half-awake listening to wind howl around the corner of my bedroom with yesterday, tonight and tomorrow doing little dances in and out of my mind in no particular order. It is the last of February and we have fast moving fronts with temperatures running up and down the gauge like scales on piano keys. I have watched and listened to thunder, with accompanying lightening, seemingly unending rain, sleet and snow this month. Not much gardening going on in that kind of weather, but then, in February active gardening is not an expected activity. I did get to snap a few photos in between rain storms.
“Black” Lenten Rose (Hellebore x garden hybrid) opening.
I have kept records of photos in my garden for twenty plus years. I watch TV weather forecasts and see changes not only for me, but also the rest of the planet I live upon. Without getting into the politics and arguments in either direction, I will simply relate my concerns as I lay there in the path of a summertime weather system in mid-winter. I suppose I am like most human beings in that as long as it does not directly affect me, whatever it is cannot be of too much importance. If it is not an intimate threat then it can get in line and wait for attention after my immediate needs and wants.
In the past few years the weather has caught my attention like never before. Being a gardener I have been, and still do, pay attention to weather and how it affects my plants. But, now what was once the domain of others less fortunate has come home to roost. I have become one of the not so fortunate ones with a life that demands I pay attention to the world I live in. I can no longer take in sufficient oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide to keep my body active and healthy.
Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, Slate Bloom
I thought I lived in the country, but when I hear a local alert from the nearest city on weather channel warning of pollution, of taking precautions and not going out, I pay attention. If the humidity is high then the extra water in the air makes it harder to breathe. Below zero temperatures robs me of the ability to get sufficient oxygen. Weather changes finally got my attention on a personal level. If I want to breathe I find myself not only paying attention to my immediate world, but also find I am being affected by the actions of people I do not know. At times those strangers are at the other end of the state I live in, or smoke drifts in from forest fires in California, an oil spill in the local river, perhaps pollution from the smoke stacks that bring me electricity running the machine that creates the extra oxygen I need. The list goes on and on, including the auto I use to keep a doctor’s appointment, or radiation for cancer treatment.
There was a time when we did not know the damage we were doing to ourselves, how we were fowling our own nest. Now we really do know and are finding out each day the consequences of our past, and unfortunately, the actions of our present. So, I ask myself what I can do to breathe better and live longer. The list that comes to mind is so long I find it best to choose what I will actually do day to day.
Laying there thinking I wondered what I would do if I saw an auto accident with people were hurt, one remaining beneath the auto suffering, EMS having not arrived. There is no way I could move the car by myself. But if I stop and wave to others then another person stops; then perhaps two or three more because someone was helping you get attention. One person waving could be enough power to upright the auto and save a life.
My upcoming book will be on honest to goodness real paper.