The clouds were beautiful this morning,
perhaps mainly in their strangeness for midsummer,
but in themselves, too.
I saw a bird flying in the light shining through, and then it “flew away” and was gone. A few raindrops fell on my head, but soon all cleared and it was sunny and warm, the kind of summer day that brought a blanket of sleepiness to lay over me, and pretty much forced me to lie on my bed, to fall asleep after reading Wendell Berry.
But before that, I was in the garden pushing around among the leaves of the pole beans to discover that the Spanish Musica are getting big! They are flattish green beans. A friend and I ate raw the only two that seemed too big to leave hanging… but afterward I thought that perhaps I should have let them go a little longer, to see just how big they might get.
My bean project has become an international event, what with Oregon Blue Lakes, Spanish Musica, and now Japanese beetles arriving on the scene. 😦
I find it the hardest thing to be in the garden and not try to take more pictures of bees! I never think about the time it will take to sort and crop and organize all those shots… I will never be known for my clean floors, but maybe someone will appreciate my legacy of bee photos.
I kneeled on the walkway in front to get close to the humming action, and marveled at the number of bees working close together. They are camouflaged among the blooms that have faded, so in the photo below I zoomed in and circled the ones I could make out.
And here is a wider view of where I sat, between the hedges of germander that is the species Teucrium chamaedrys. If total strangers weren’t walking by to see me, I would be tempted to stretch out on the warm pavers to revel at leisure and more intimately in all the sweet and flowery humming!
In the back garden, they are at the lavender, yarrow, lambs ears…
And on the oregano!
When the bees are happy in my garden, I feel that at least something is right in the world, and I’m humbled to be a participant.
The day is done now, it’s actually cold, and dark. The honeymakers have stopped working for a few hours. I will sleep, too, and be glad to see you again tomorrow, my little bee friends.
Ann Ralph does make it seem easy. She is all about the backyard gardener being the one in control, managing the tree, and not letting it decide on its own how big to get.
If you didn’t have to climb a ladder to tend your fruit trees or pick the fruit, wouldn’t you find it simpler to keep up with the maintenance and to enjoy the harvest? Most of us don’t need bushels of fruit from one tree, so it’s good stewardship to reduce the quantity of fruit likely to go unused anyway.
I read her book in the fall, and wished I had known about it when we were choosing trees at the nursery two years ago, because you can make the most of this method if you start with a specimen that has a couple of lower-than-average limbs to begin with. Mine are not ideal that way, but I think I can still be the boss. I pruned my plum trees severely before Christmas; but at the summer solstice, according to her plan, they should get their second pruning. I did that a day late, this morning. It took me exactly 50 minutes – I know, because I had set my timer so I wouldn’t be late for an appointment.
I had reviewed the pertinent paragraphs right before I set to work, so as I walked around the tree and made some preliminary cuts, and circled around to the other side to look from that perspective, and on and on in that fashion, I had some phrases lingering in my mind to guide me and give me confidence:
If you see something that cries to be corrected or pruned away, prune it. As always, prune out limbs that annoy you. Picture the height of the tree you have in mind. Don’t allow the tree to get taller. As Scenic Nursery’s Jim Rogers would remind us, “insist.”
Limbs that annoy me? Well, yes, I did find a few of those, that were angled down, or toward the center of the tree; maybe there were a couple that just seemed a little pushy in the wrong direction and not beautiful…. Must we analyze every annoyance?
I wish I had taken a Before picture. In this After picture you can see I hadn’t really finished, because the clippings are lying all over. But I have just hired someone to help me in the garden on a continuing basis — my heart is dancing for joy about it — and will let him do that part (as well as trim the wisteria vines which are coming into the picture from above, hoping to twist on down into the tree).
In the foreground below are yarrow, lavender, and hummingbird mint, favorites of the birds and bees. The picture is taken from a different angle on the same tree. Both of these pictures make me wonder if I shaped my trees enough… those gangly limbs… I trimmed them less because they had the nice curve and direction I am encouraging. They are small and not getting out of hand, so I thought they could wait until the main pruning in winter.
I’m feeling so relieved and restful about the garden now that I’ve engaged my Helper Gardener, cleaned the greenhouse, and pruned the plums. I can think about tackling a few other categories of projects and tasks on my to-do list. And also, sit down in the garden with a book, listening to the hum of contented pollinators.
March is the month that my husband fell asleep in the Lord, two years ago now. My experience of bereavement is all over the map, following the topography of the seasons and the holidays and whatever physical ailments fall on me.
Most of the time I am happily swamped by a myriad of plans and activities, and tasks I’m behind on. But sometimes the absence of my husband when I lie down and when I rise up, when I go from room to room or when I come home from a walk, is like a huge and strange presence.
March always features Lent, which is a mercy, because that is an opportunity to focus on prayer, which keeps me in the present, where my husband and I are both living in the Kingdom of God. I can put our marriage in historical perspective and in the context of eternity.
This year once again I cooked for 100 people, with the help of several dear friends, an agape meal after last Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, as a memorial for my husband. I made the same menu as last year. We had so much fun cooking on Saturday that I completely forgot to take pictures.
But the night before, I had been soaking 20# of Great Northern beans to make the Greek Beans , and I took pictures of them soaked and being dried off on a tablecloth. They have to be dried off a bit so you can sauté them in olive oil before stewing them. Neither of the photos shows the whole 20#.
I also borrowed some pictures from last year that are pretty much identical to the scene from last week.
Partly because of Lent, March is always very busy. Not all Orthodox churches are able to celebrate a full calendar of services, partly because many parishes have only one priest, and he might also have another job. But God has arranged for me to be where I can be nourished and helped a great deal by praying in church and receiving Communion several times a week during Lent. We have so many services that no one can attend all of them.
March is when the garden takes off. If I didn’t have my garden, what would my life be like? Would I keep a tidier house? Pray more? Probably neither. I am always happy in the garden – and it’s a good place to pray, without a doubt. Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.
I started thinning the lamb’s ears with the help of a kneeling bench
that my cousin Renée gave me.
I used to not like Euphorbia (above),
but now that it is falling over my own garden wall I find I am quite fond of it.
The native currant bushes (ribes) aren’t very bushy,
but they are three times as tall as last year.
The first week of Lent I started out grumpy. But Lent is a good cure for that. I have since been given wonderful gifts of thankfulness. God has let me see how all through my life He has abundantly provided for me, and He continues to do this every day. When I think of the love that has been given me in my childhood, my marriage, my children and my friends – and now the Holy Orthodox Church that is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” my cup runs over.
No doubt I will lapse into grumbling and self-pity before long, and have to repent again (That’s what life is for!) but the view of my widow’s world from this mountain on which I stand at the moment is quite beautiful, and it’s a Happy Spring.
I began this post yesterday, and then went out to pull weeds and deadhead flowers. I was kneeling in the mulch by the yarrow when the florist delivery girl walked up with an elegant vase for “Gretchen.” Lilies, roses, carnations, blue flowers, sweet smells… Before I could get it into the house I started weeping, not being able to guess who would do this – it could be anyone, in God’s world that is full of miracles, and seemingly brimming with people who care about me. But it was my children and their spouses, with an early remembrance of their parents’ wedding anniversary:
“Mama, these are sent in celebration of you and Papa, and with love for you,
from your children.” See what I mean about that landscape?
Over the years I’ve had happy surprises in the garden, and disappointing surprises. Today I have a composite. My initial puzzlement began when I saw this view from my kitchen window; back in the corner by the fence I could see two whitish flower stalks:
I was confused, because they were of a kind I had not planted, so I went out to get a closer look, and it didn’t take many steps in that direction before I saw that yes, they were lovely foxgloves!
I haven’t grown foxgloves for a good while, I did not save any foxgloves plants from my old garden, and in the past when I did grow them it was far from this area of the garden. However, close to this spot I had planted one of the Indigo Woodland Sage plants that I had carefully saved for months in an old watertrough. It was there a couple of months ago, and now it is nowhere. Did a bit of foxglove come with the mulch, as I assume was the case with my surprise horsetail grass on the other side of the garden?
You may also be confused, seeing a decidedly not-foxglove leaf form here. That’s because the foxglove is emerging from behind a currant bush and hiding all its own leaves back there.
I’m sadly surprised that the salvia didn’t make it. It was a vigorous grower under what I considered less favorable conditions in the past; perhaps it didn’t like the shade from the snowball bush, nor the pushy calla lilies. But I know where to get another one if I want to try it somewhere else in the garden.
In the meantime, across the way I have three salvias growing in a sort of triangle: Indigo Spires is huge, the Clary Sage is growing very close to the ground so far, and a little culinary sage plant lives modestly.
Today is windy and cool. I was wearing my flannel nightgown last night and I was still cold. The morning was overcast, though, and not so windy, and that’s perfect for picture-taking. I got a good photo of my acanthus.
“My acanthus” sounds odd, because I haven’t wanted to take ownership of that element of my new landscape that was suggested by the designer. When I had met acanthus in the past I always thought it scraggly and too like a thistle; one I particularly remember by someone’s front door was huge and full of spiderwebs and litter besides. But a year ago I greatly lacked confidence and creativity, so I didn’t know what to suggest otherwise. I let several plants go in and thought without energy about what I might replace them with next fall.
My attitude began to change when a friend told me that acanthus leaves as a decorative form were common in ancient Roman architecture. Before that I was trying think of the plant as a representative of a Scottish thistle, which is also not beautiful to me, but it is meaningful historically, in several ways. Soldier and Joy featured purple thistle flowers as boutineers at their wedding. But honestly, that wasn’t doing it for me.
When the acanthus began to send up its elegant flower stalks, I softened. This morning after I took the picture, I looked on Wikipedia and found that the leaf form is ubiquitous in ancient architecture and popular in more modern art such as William Morris’s wallpaper designs.
And not only the Romans, but Byzantines and Greeks liked to use it. Here is an example from the Hagia Sophia:
So, I am surprised that I have changed my mind about acanthus. I’m glad I wasn’t in too big of a hurry to switch it out. I’m very pleased with my whole garden, actually, and I no longer feel that it belongs to someone else.
It doesn’t seem that most of it is taking three years to “leap,” and it really is full of delights every day. Those Iceland Poppies are certainly a wonder, how they keep blooming here in the middle of June! It’s strange to have the poppies right alongside echinacea; those two normally aren’t normally seen together.
To my consternation, the bindweed is more prolific than ever. I seem to be constantly pulling it out, but it sneaked past me and climbed to the top of a currant branch before I noticed. Very inelegant behavior, that.
The hydrangea I was gifted has nothing in common with this succulent except that they are both in pots on the patio.
There are yarrow fields, a variety of achillea called “terracotta.” Beyond it you can see that I have finally got the olives into their pots, and if one is not level it’s actually the one in the foreground — I guess that means the photo is not level. Anyway, the garden is in pretty good order now, and when you come for a tour you may be surprised to find, no thanks to me, patches of elegance.