Monthly Archives: May 2013

Gardening Notebook

As long as I’ve been trying to grow things I’ve been using pencil and paper in my planning and sometimes to record how long seeds took to sprout, or what date the tomatoes got ripe. I had a box in which I kept articles from Sunset and Organic Gardening, and that box still is overflowing into a closet somewhere, full of ideas I mostly did not use.

A few years ago for my birthday a friend set us both up with pretty binders and colorful pages to go inside, all ready for garden-type information. At first I used lined pages to write lists of plantings and dates, but lately things have degenerated to the point where I just put my tags and labels under the clear sticky page-covers.

This has turned out to be the most successful way to keep track of what is what in the garden, and how long it’s been growing there.The pockets can hold those articles I’ve clipped, or a few seed packets.

It’s still a bit messy and chaotic, which seems increasingly to be my style. If I try to do things neatly and orderly they never get done. Even the creating of this notebook was a little too much like Kindergarten and I felt rushed and inept while we were putting the pages together, but now that I’ve figured out how to make it mine, it works!

Gardening? I’m on it!

pimiento peppers with nasturtiums

I thought I would skip this week’s discussion of The Hidden Art of Homemaking at Ordo Amoris, because what on earth — or about growing things in the earth — could I possibly say, that I haven’t said in my 115 blog posts that already have the tag “garden”?

But this chapter comes in springtime when it’s hard not to talk about gardening. I’d rather be in the garden doing it, but what do you know, it’s raining as I begin this ramble. And I happened to run across a couple of other blog posts as reminders that I haven’t covered every aspect of the subject.

kale with Mexican bush sage

The spiritual aspects of gardening are well treated by Vigen Guroian whose book is excerpted in  this blog. But I have a hard time making myself read about gardens or gardening, and if I wanted to convince a non-gardener to give it a try, I would just have them work in my garden with me a few times, and hope that they might by osmosis come to see the fun to be had.

If you don’t have a yard, as Edith says you can have a pot of something, and if you don’t want that, you can grow some sprouts on your kitchen counter. There are so many kinds of sprouting seeds available that you can grow a tasty and gorgeous salad in a week or so.

I do love to visit other people’s gardens and even look at pictures of my own yards of yesteryear, so I looked long enough at this Garden Rant post to see that it was about the gardener’s dismay when he realized that he had planted a dreadfully monochromatic and inartistic design.

His problem is the flip side of what I am careful about, the planting of clashing colors. What? you say, echoing my husband, don’t all the colors go together, as in God’s creation? It doesn’t seem to work that way in my gardens. Magenta flowers have caused me problems in the past – they don’t look nice with some of the red flowers nearby.

Once a bunch of bright red-orange flowers pretty much spoiled the look of my pale yellow and pale pink roses when they sprouted up in between, while the lavender bush in the same spot blended in nicely. So, I try to avoid mismatches and matchy-matchy. Most of the pictures I’m posting here are of nice contrasts in my own garden, but the one below is from our friends’ neglected beach cottage yard. It’s surprising how glorious these bright and wild colors look together. In foggy coastal areas it seems that whatever flowers you have are a welcome brightness, and they always steal the show by contrast with the white or grey skies.

Here’s a much quieter scene: Greyish Lambs Ears make a soft contrast to almost any bright color, as with these pincushion flowers.


And even the magenta rhododendron is nice with blue campanula. I have learned to think of my garden beds as individual paintings, each with its own color scheme that may change somewhat with the seasons. Some have magenta, while some on the other side of the yard have red.

unusual California poppy with Hot Lips salvia

Either color can go with yellow or orange or blue…

It’s fun creating landscapes, if you don’t mind surprises, and  w – a – i – t – i – n – g  for things to grow and bloom, and sometimes having to re-do your design or be happy with a missing part that died. If you take pictures or actually take paints to paper and save an image of the way your plants’ colors and textures have miraculously blended to become Beautiful, you can remember and enjoy your past gardens for years to come.

May the pots never grow cold.

About 30 years ago we owned a modular house whose many large windows were covered by the original fancy draperies, so that when the curtains were closed they covered most of the expanse of three walls with nubby gold curves. The walls were thin particle board painted to look like wood, as you can see in the photo – but I didn’t mind those as much as the drapes. I would have preferred something more rustic and casual and of another color to go with the country setting, but even if we’d had the money we couldn’t have justified spending it to replace Perfectly Good high-quality drapes.

It was a recurring temptation to me, though, to stew over how ugly and Not Me they were. This was tiresome, and eventually my better self convinced my offended self to stop, using this argument:

What is your purpose in life? To love God and be useful to Him.

What is the most important way for you to do that? To love people.

Do you need pretty and tasteful drapes in order to love people? No, I answered. If someone who comes to my house sees my drapes and not me, I can’t help that. If they need my hospitality and friendship they need it from me personally, and God will just have to use me in spite of this ugliness in the room. (Which of course was not a universally recognized ugliness anyway.)

Those of us who have read any of Edith Schaeffer’s other books know that she by her life and words demonstrated the importance of love and hospitality. Her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, which is the subject of a book club hosted at Ordo Amoris, I do not take as contrary to the rest of her life and work, but complementary to it. Some of you may not have read the other books like What is a Family? Partly from reading it I am pretty sure that if she had to choose, she would herself rather have been a resident or guest in a plain and even ugly house run by a warmhearted woman than in an artistically decorated dwelling with an unkind or angry soul. We’ve all heard of and perhaps had the experience of going into a house where the decor was shabby or messy but you wanted to be there because it felt like home — welcoming and nurturing. Mother Teresa’s saying fits here: “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.”

I think Edith’s own houses were like this, because she was that kind of woman, and likely much more than I myself am. But I have it as a vision to be like that, and am inspired by quotes that speak of a woman being able to make a home wherever she finds herself, of a woman herself being the heart of her home….but I can’t find any of those at the moment. The line that has intrigued me for years now is from the Santana song “You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways,” from the perspective of a man who is dismayed by his woman who’s gadding about all the time:

When I come home, Baby,
My house is dark and my pots are cold.

These are just signs to the poet that there is no woman at home to welcome him.  The verse reminds me of advice I read to housewives who haven’t figured out what to make for dinner, but who want to do something to give their husbands a good feeling when they come in the door after work: While you are getting your act together put an onion in the oven to bake so that he will get a hopeful olfactory signal.

A message I get here: A woman conveys her love and hospitality by these simple modifications to the environment: opening the drapes or turning on the lights, cooking something in the kitchen, and in both ways warming up the sensory atmosphere. If she has a kiss and a smile for her family and guests all the better.

The last few years when my husband and I live here alone, I notice that I am the one who thinks about light control. In that photo above you can see all the light that came into the humble house with the gold drapes. It was the best feature of the house, as I was later to discover, when I wanted our new house to have as much light — it was not to be. The photo was likely taken in the winter, when we would open the drapes wide and let in all the warming sun.

In our area we can get along pretty well in summertime without air conditioning, if we manage the windows and window coverings: At night open all the windows to let the cool air in; in the morning close everything up to shut out the sun’s rays, and leave them that way (and the house kind of dark!) until the air inside gets as warm as outdoors — then you may as well get any breeze that might stir, and be ready for the coolness to enter as soon as it arrives.

In Spring or Fall our present house doesn’t get very hot, so in the mornings I like to open the blinds and let the sun in as soon as I come downstairs — but my man never thinks of doing this. For my mind, sunlight is the very loveliest decoration. And at night, I like to close the curtains or blinds so as to feel sheltered against the world. This also seems to be, in my experience, a homemaker’s impulse.

I have learned to do many artful things in my houses over the decades; I have arranged and painted furniture, swept the floor, bought bedspreads and embroidered Bible verses to hang on walls that I painted, but those things aren’t more important than the light-monitoring I do. I also tend the fire in the stove, and light candles, and keep the pots warm.

While you’re working on the outward appearance of your home, attend also to your heart and keep it warm with prayer. If the family members are getting snappy or sulky, take a prayer break together and ask God’s help – then sing something to warm up the atmosphere. I like this quote that Debbie posted, by Laura Ingalls Wilder:

Let’s be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant & happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful.

Thank God for making Edith Schaeffer the kind of woman who could pass on to us a bright homemaking heritage.

The parasitic snow plants are blazing at Tahoe.

Mr. and Mrs. C. invited us to their cabin again on the south end of Lake Tahoe. At 6,000 ft. elevation it’s still pretty brisk in May, but the sky was SO blue, the lake was SO blue, and the air was dry, full of the smells of pine trees and cedars with some wood smoke thrown in. I breathed deeply.

Here is a map if you need to get your bearings. The lake itself lies on the Nevada-California state line. We usually approach from the southwest and drive through the state capital of Sacramento to get there.

I had escaped the world down below where picture storage was one of the many time-consuming computer problems that had recently worn me out, and I arrived with a reluctance to use my camera. Of course that didn’t last long, especially when wildflowers are out. May in the Sierras brings flowers you can’t see in the summertime, so I had to seize my opportunity, didn’t I? My other blog posts about the Tahoe area have different photos from what I came away with this time.

Cascade Lake in foreground, Tahoe in distance.

We hiked to the top of Cascade Falls one day. It drops and flows into Cascade Lake which lies just south of Emerald Bay, a little higher in elevation. This picture was taken from a granite shelf looking as straight-down as I could manage to the bottom of the falls.

Sticky Cinqefoil
                      This looks to me like some kind of buttercup but I haven’t found it in a book yet. (Update: I added the caption after one of my readers enlightened me.)

The Snow Plants have popped up all over, here and there on the floor of the conifer forest, with no leaves. Mrs. C. was coveting one, wondering how she might get a specimen to grow near the cabin, but what I found out on Wikipedia when I came home makes me think that would be near impossible to make happen.

The snow plant is sarcodes sanguinea, the only species in the genus sarcodes, in the heath family. It is unable to photosynthesize its own food, “…a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees.” Now I can imagine the roots of these bright plants extending deeply into the world of tree roots. If we are lucky, perhaps the right conditions will in the future concur and surprise Mrs. C. with a burst of red.

A lagoon by Kiva Beach

Another color that got my attention was the sand around Lake Tahoe. We took the yellow lab to swim and fetch and I sat on the shore and considered how all the grains of sand were warm golden tones, not like any ocean beach I’ve seen.

Wooly Mule’s Ears, also known as mountain mule’s ears, were in bloom, and I got a photo of them as in a perennial bed planted by Mother Nature, with a border of Squaw Carpet in front.

Wyethia mollis and Ceanothus prostratus

Here’s a nice flowering bush that I don’t know. Maybe someone reading this knows this plant? It grows in the forests on public land and in private yards. (Update: the same reader in a comment below is kind enough to tell us that this is Western Serviceberry.)

Did you ever do a Google image search of “lichen”? Amazing, amazing plants. Here is one of the more subtle designs, which we saw on a rock at the top of Cascade Falls, a lovely arrangement of vegetable and mineral and just one example of how God’s artwork is splashed all around the world for our pleasure and His glory. Thank You, Lord, for the refreshment.