Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seeds Are Everywhere!

Seeds are Everywhere!

Have you noticed? Seeds are everywhere! Maple trees are sending their seeds spinning around the neighborhood. They whirl through the air at the slightest breeze and land on everything. The yellow dandelion flowers have changed into fairy seeds, catching the slightest movement of wind or breath to send them into new growing places. Pollen coats cars and houses, lawns, patio and deck furniture and people, if we can judge by the sneezes caused by allergic reactions to the powdery stuff. Leave a flowerpot filled with plain dirt outside and soon something will be growing there. Spring is a time for regeneration.

While we may have made a gazillion wishes blowing on dandelion seeds as kids (and kids still do) we adults seem to have lost our fondness for the plant. It does have a way of taking over a lawn. It is resilient to the point of defiance. Yet the dandelion has been a valued herb over the centuries. Almost every part of it has some health benefit. And while most of us are trying to rid our lawns of them, dandelion seeds are being sold with a host of other, more respected herbs.

So maybe we can give the dandelion a break and remember it has a beneficial purpose even if we choose not to cultivate it on our lawns. And perhaps once in a while forget that we are grown up, lift the stem gently from the ground, take a breath and blow out a wish!

What to value about dandelions and what to be careful of health wise:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Years ago I replanted about a dozen Lily of the Valley plants that were growing too near our air conditioning unit to our backyard to fill in a space in the shade. They accepted their new surroundings and grew. Each year there were a few more, thick green leaves with a delicate spray of white flowers that would come up in the Spring. Last year they had spread to the point of perhaps being too many so we put an edging around the outer plants and hoped that would contain them.

By this time, anyone with knowledge of this plant knows what I am about to say. They were not contained. In fact, they ignored the edging and now are heading for the main part of the yard. We noticed a similar thing happening at another house. The plants were growing beyond the wooden edging and were even starting to come up in a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s hard to believe that such a delicate plant is so vigorous. But maybe that’s why it is so loved. It graces gentle things like weddings and religious services. It is seen as the flower of fairies in folklore. It’s included in many birthday bouquets.

And yet, it can be a problem, outgrowing its designated place in the garden. I guess everything is on a continuum, the positive and negative blending into each other so that it is all part of the whole. All of nature, us included, has aspects that are pleasing to some, not so much to others. And that can change as customs and generations shift in their likes and dislikes. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the Lily of the Valley to be out there in the world but I think it’s time to insist on some boundaries. 

An affectionate look at cultivating Lily of the Valley:

Various meanings inspired by Lily of the Valley:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Squirrel Angst

My Squirrel Angst

I know I often complain about the squirrel antics in my backyard but I had a squirrel experience today that shook me up. My husband and I were out walking this afternoon and saw two young squirrels coming down from a tree. I stopped for a few seconds to say, “Oh, look at the tiny squirrels!” Then I said to the closest one, “You are adorable!” After that we moved on up the street. And so did that little squirrel. It followed us, running between our feet and looking up longingly. After telling it gently that it needed to go back to its tree, we walked on. But the squirrel came with us. We were walking carefully so as not to step on it. It pawed at our shoes and the bottom of our jeans and tried to climb up. It wanted to follow us across the street but we turned back so it would stay on the sidewalk.

By this time, my heart was aching. Surely this poor critter was looking for its mother. What might have happened to her? Was it hungry? Sad? Was it imprinting? I knew relatively nothing about a baby squirrel’s needs. We had nothing to carry it in to transport it to an animal center or vet so we couldn’t take it with us. We tried to lead it back to the tree we saw it climbing down from but it stopped following. It must have gotten the message that we were not going to be its parents.

When we got back home, I tried calling several animal shelters and natural centers for advice but it was after hours and I only got their voice mail. I hope the squirrel took after its smart adult counterparts and found its way back to its tree home to climb up to its nest and be safe. I think I will look at my backyard squirrels differently from now on and perhaps be less critical as I remember my squirrel angst for one of the new generation.

If you run into this situation, here is how to handle it:

Squirrel nests:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

I buy as much organic food as I can. I figure I’m supporting responsible farming, Mother Earth, and my family’s health. I try to plant my garden responsibly each year so that when it’s harvest time, our veggies are the best they can be.

But it wasn’t planting time yet when I discovered a green pea that gotten lost in the shuffle of the vegetable bin. It started to grow on its own so I put it in some dirt, in a small pot on the windowsill, just to see what would happen. At first it remained the same, a tiny bit of green peeking up from its gritty bed. But then it started to grow. And once it began, it continued sending up a delicate shoot toward the sun. Then leaves sprouted and viney tendrils began reaching for anything they could grab onto. And then a pea pod appeared with one beautiful, plump pea inside! How exciting! We had our own sugar snap pea plant. It makes me eager to get into the dirt and get the garden ready.

I am always amazed at how food grows. A seed gives no hint of what it will eventually look like but holds all of its potential wrapped inside that tiny package. Sometimes, like the pea, you can see its final form but it first must grow into the plant to take root and nourish its development. The cycle assures the survival of the plant. 

And not so far from our own survival as a species. We can see our roots in our children from the genetic resemblances to the acquired characteristics. All of nature passes along what keeps things going in our evolutionary process. Parents to children to grandchildren and beyond. Pretty wonderful, I think.

Here is how to grow your own delicious snap peas: 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Our periwinkle (vinca) has blossomed again, as it does each year. It is a groundcover that takes its mission seriously. Given no interference, it tends to take over, which can be a good thing depending on where it is planted. It sends out vines and, well, covers the ground. It is green even in the winter months, a bright spot when everything seems dark and dreary. What a treat to see it peek out as the snow melts, reminding us of greener times to come.

And now, when spring is confused, sending us cold days alternating with warm days, it thumbs its leaves at the weather and sends up tiny, exquisite purple, blue, pink or white flowers. That is only the start of the options. These plants are adaptable. They like semi-shade but will grow in deeper shade or sun. They are exuberant, growing wherever they are placed and head out for other parts of the garden if not contained. Some homeowners use periwinkle instead of grass for their lawns – no mowing required.

I like vinca’s feistiness. It seems to know its destiny to grow and goes right at it. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all so confident in our own providence? We would all flower from within, allowing the world to see our potential as we embrace it ourselves. There is so much to learn from nature; periwinkle is one reminder of our own possibilities.

How to get started planting vinca:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Getting Ready to Plant

Getting Ready to Plant

I bought a container of organic strawberries from California last week. They were huge, ripe and delicious! We were still in winter coats while gardens out West were thriving. I can’t wait to dig in my own garden. I’m getting ready to plant!

We didn’t get to eat homegrown strawberries last spring though the squirrels did. I saw them haul off the fruit just before it was ripe enough for people to eat. They do that with the peaches, too. At least we had a bumper crop of tomatoes that were scrumptious. We planted four different kinds and feasted on red, yellow, and mottled varieties. Each had its own taste and texture but every one was a treat. That we had a crop at all was a surprise.

Last year we set up a small greenhouse that had a way of breaking loose from its boundaries despite the spikes we used to hold it down. It flipped over uprooting our peas and beans but the tomato plants were least affected. We couldn’t figure out if an animal pushed it over or some of the neighborhood kids were having fun but it isn’t going back up this season. We’re considering pulling out the ol’ posthole digger and getting serious. We don’t have a large plot so it shouldn’t be too hard to set up posts, connect them with screening, and keep the greenhouse stable. Hah!

I hope that we succeed. There is nothing quite as wonderful as eating what you have grown yourself. But if anyone has a foolproof/easy plan that you want to share, please feel free to do so. We’re probably not the only ones who could use some help.

Free plans for making a greenhouse:

And if you want to grow strawberries, here’s some advice:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do Robins Herald Spring?

Do Robins Herald Spring? 

the robins are here
redbreasts hopping on brown grass
prompting thoughts of spring

This weekend it’s officially Spring. Hard to believe when today’s temperature is in the 30s to low 40s and tomorrow it will be hovering around freezing again. The forecast for Friday is snow.

But there are signs all around to bring our thoughts to warmer times. Daffodils are rising green and confident despite the weather predictions. Soon there will be bright, yellow flowers cheering up the barren garden. The lilac bushes are putting out tiny, cautious buds that will become fragrant purple blossoms. Geese are heading north in noisy flocks. And there are robins bounding over grass that is still recovering from being packed down with snow, finding worms and renewing expectations of the next season

Robins are credited with heralding Spring. Is that true? Well, some do migrate and return as winter starts to let go but many stay in their breeding grounds. They may be huddled in more wooded areas where there is more protection so they are less noticeable; it all depends on the availability of food. Our affection for the robin as herald remains in tact, however, and why not? Robin-spotting is a way for us to anticipate the more amiable season. 

In the midst of Winter it is always easy to pine for Spring but then we often ache for Summer and its swimming weather only to welcome Autumn for the heat-relief it brings. Then Winter calls to skiers, sledders, and everyone for holiday fun. The year’s variety, while it can be challenging, is emotionally bracing. It adds variety to our days and a sense of movement to our lives; almost like a well-written novel, it keeps us intrigued about what will happen next.

For the most part I like the change of seasons. And when I see the robins, even if they have been here all along, just out of my sight, my energy shifts into a lighter space. It’s time to expand, to plant, to come out of the house and greet the world that, like me, is ready to be new and refreshed. The first robin we see is a reminder of all of that.

Robin myths and reality:

More about robins: