We all receive gifts from time to time, usually around the holidays or birthdays. But sometimes we get gifts at random times, like when friends come to our house for dinner with a scrumptious homemade cocktail mix that leaves us regretting life the next morning or with a mouthwatering chocolate bar from a country where they actually make good chocolate, like Sweden, which is awesome since IKEA stopped selling chocolate (WTF IKEA?).
Sometimes though, I’m tempted to sneak the gift back into the givers bag when they are not looking, like the cute plastic signs from Christmas Tree Shops that say something quaint like, “Our Happy Wholesome Homegrown Who Cares Home.” I know my Great Aunt Nellie is giving with all the love in her heart, so I smile and graciously accept while thinking of ways to repurpose the very thing I disavow, crappy plastic tchotchkes.
I want to warn you though. There are some gifts you should actually refuse. Often these gifts seem like the best ones. They smell good, taste good, and it seems like it could really work out long term.
A fellow Master Gardener once brought me a jug of fresh mint tea accompanied by a clump of chocolate mint to plant in my garden. The tea was delish and I happily found a sunny spot in the garden atop my small hügelkultur bed, where the fragrant herb could spread as a ground cover and keep the weeds at bay. It grew and I let it spread, as I often do with my plants, letting them drop their seeds and slink their roots around the garden as they want. This was good for a few years, but this year I’m starting to notice it might be time to take a bit more control over who sleeps with who in my garden, if you know what I mean.
The Echinops Ritro muscles its way through, multiplying and growing massively while pushing the timid Meadow Rue out of view. The tall silent Balloon Flowers suddenly have 3-foot tall off-spring interspersed among every species. The Bellflower reseeds itself in a new area each year so I never know whose bed I’ll find it in. We won’t even mention the way the Black-Eyed Susan’s get around, except that nothing is safe, nowhere. The raspberries – need I say more? Milkweed has decided it’s a regular garden plant and I find it sneaking in everywhere. Even the Cranesbill Geranium, who was shy at first, is getting around. Everyone wants a piece of the soil.
So I’m taking an hour each day to start thinning and taming these bunnies. Most of them can be plucked out with a firm grasp and tug at the plant base, except for the Echinops which actually bites me back when I try. I’m slowly separating the almost indistinguishable mass of Black-eye Susan Bellflower Yarrow Chive Clover mess. But today I tackled the Chocolate Mint. I never met such an opportunist that not only spread into and over the roots of other plants but also created a dense weave into and over itself that I literally need to cut through the 2” deep root carpet with a knife to pry it off the soil. And don’t be leaving any root remnants unless we want this party to start all over again.
It was during this three-hour Weed-Fest when it struck me. This SOB comes in here smelling all good and being all sweet and seduces me into planting it in some of the richest soil in my garden. And then when I’m not paying attention, it smothers everything in its path until it is the only thing left standing, all delicious and proud. WTF CHOCOLATE MINT?
This is the one – the specimen that will make me rethink who I plant where in the future. Just because it seems dreamy doesn’t mean it should get VIP seats to the all-you-can-eat buffet. Hell no. Those ones, the real resilient types, they can take the back row from now on because clearly, they will thrive anywhere and don’t need special treatment.
I have a massive mound of Chocolate Mint laying in my fire pit and still my little hügelkultur bed is smothered in it. So, as a friend, I’m saying, please come take some of my Chocolate Mint. But after enjoying it in watermelon salad, DON’T let it fool you into gaining nutrient-rich real estate in your garden. At best it deserves a high walled container or a sand pit on the far end of your yard.
This morning, my nature-loving little boy invited me to come see a grasshopper he caught. This was a big deal because it had taken him a couple days to achieve this task, one he usually finds quite easy. Although I wanted to share in his triumph, I had to respond with “I’m sorry honey, I’m stuck in the weeds,” because literally, I was balancing between perennials in the center of my garden, plucking the uninvited, but thriving greenery.
Weeding has been the theme of my life for the past weeks. The mass of clutter, glaring at me until I find time to tackle it, picking, sorting, and ousting till I can breathe again.
Being someone who can be quite obsessive when I start a project, I tend to let other things fall to the wayside. Early this year, I started a new job and concurrently began the process of revamping our kitchen. The consuming combination led to my dropping of Mindful Making, and other seemingly important things until I could actually have space in my brain for a thought external of those two topics.
Today, our kitchen monster is 95% tamed and my job has steadied for the mid-summer months. The tv area is more integrated, and the dining room is no longer a make-shift kitchen. The living room has been de-cluttered and the toys have been combed through.
My poor. lonely. studio/dumping ground/laundry room has been purged, sigh, and the garden has been weeded.
I am feeling like I can breathe – deep, pure, cleansing, relief. I’m feeling like I can pick up the pieces of projects I’ve let fall to the wayside, including this blog.
So if you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading. And thank you for your patience as I move onto things I couldn’t do until the weeds were cleared.
Kiss and Make-up Gardening
My vegetable garden and I weren’t on talking terms this summer. Coming and going, I’d give it the side glance, occasionally noticing something bright to pick. Usually though, my son found the ripe fruits ready for picking. Indignantly, the plants thrived little less than usual as a result of the compost I’d laid heavily in the spring, when I was starving to dig in the dirt and high with visions of a heavily abundant harvest.
As a result of my negligence, I was the one who suffered most. The plants did their thing as I moped in front of the computer screen and inspiration was replaced with guilt.
Finally on this dryish autumn day, the garden called me for a kiss and make-up and I dutifully answered. Clearing out the mostly passed tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, a few final gifts were offered as a sure sign of appreciation. And as usual, I was filled with gratitude for this miraculous gift nature provides. Our time apart reminds me of our codependent relationship and I know next year I’ll be a better steward. Now that I can actually see the soil, I await patiently for our first hard frost to sweeten the remaining carrots - a treat to quench my craving in the colder months ahead.
Earlier this spring, I told myself I wouldn't start any new projects outside because I wanted to spend time with my family and develop my website. Somehow I just couldn't fight the urge to create more vegetable beds so my son could have his own garden and I would have room for squash and pumpkins.
Having just finished my permaculture design certification course a few months prior, I had planned to build some hugelkultur beds in the space between my vegetable and perennial gardens. Hugelkultur beds would allow me to build height without bringing soil from elsewhere, as well as encourage healthy soil and good drainage.
Into the woods with a chainsaw and a will, I gathered all the fallen wood I could reach. Hauling the logs into the front yard, I arranged them into one small bed for my son and one keyhole bed for berry bushes and squash. This turned out to be a lot more work than I had intended… with my husband grumbling in the background.
Fast forward to today, my son's garden is flourishing with his choice of cosmos, sunflowers and zinnias. The keyhole garden is still in process. I will finish it before fall!
One of my favorite children’s books is “The Turnip,” an old Russian folktale illustrated by Pierr Morgan. An enormous turnip grows in the field and Dedoushka, a portly farmer, can’t pull it up from the ground. He solicits help from the whole family including the pets. I love imitating the voices of Baboushka, Mashenka,and Keska, the cat. Pierr Morgan’s skillful and colorful illustrations complete the zest and liveliness of "The Turnip."
I thought of “The Turnip” today when I found our turnips ready for harvest and called for my son to help me pick some. He looked at me and said “Pull it?” I said “Go ahead.” He pulled and “Out came the turnip!” He was so excited.
Next he helped to dig my first ever harvest of garlic. With every scoop of dirt pushed away, a huge worm was revealed and my son promptly transferred it into his own garden of soon to be sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. I’m so proud that he even thought to do that! He knows those worms are gold!
But today’s bounty convinced me turnips are the perfect vegetable. Not too sweet, a little bitter, and very versatile. For dinner we had local organic country rib marinated and grilled, with our fresh sautéd turnip greens and garlic scapes, and mashed turnip roots. The turnips gave us plenty of food to feed the three of us - along with the pork. Simple and so yummy too! My two favorite ingredients these days are fresh ground white pepper and smoked sea salt. They’re both sort of subtle and delicious!
The sometimes unexpected and curvy path of a nature-loving artist, gardener, dreamer, and mom.