It being a good week to be an American, I thought this pic would be a fitting tribute to good things coming about.
Earlier this week, I had a dream that I saw myself walking in a large, tall, glass building. I was wearing a thin coat. Everyone I saw told me I would be cold outside, that I should put a coat on. I told them I was fine, but thanks anyway. I saw so many people tell me this as I watched myself walk around in this building of multiple floors and various staircases, escalators, and elevators (but still plenty wide open space, for as much as a building can have such), that I began to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t put on a warmer coat, and maybe I would be cold when I went outside. As soon as I started to doubt, I watched myself take off my thin coat, and I saw there was another under it. I then proceeded to take off that coat, revealing another under it. And another came off revealing yet another, and another, and another, and so on and so forth. I never saw myself leave the building, but I knew by what I had seen that I certainly wouldn’t be cold when I did.
This year’s garden has had more flowers in it than ever before. Not that that’s a lot. Previously, I had committed to only planting things that were useful — things I could eat, or that would protect plants I would eat. There were some flowers that I was only partly responsible for their presence: hostas that were given to me by the neighbor across the street the first summer I was here 13 years ago; day lilies my sister brought from Wisconsin a couple summers ago that now have the opening act before the hostas are in bloom (and often steal the show); a wild white rose bush that I don’t remember planting but which could have been from the summer I threw seeds with abandon wherever they would land behind me, like tossing salt and having about as much faith (I’m not one to bend to superstition but will take its gains when they happen across my path). So I was surprised to find myself being red with envy at the bright red poppies I spied through the picketed fence that separates me from my back neighbors. They nearly spat their color burst taunts at me. And I caught myself feeling ill at ease when the morning glories that usually sneak out ahead of the pack and try to hold my whole garden hostage never really made much of a show this year, and not a single sneaky purple twisty flower did I have to tear away from fences or gates or the preferred “planted” plants.
Flowers, I am finding, have got me in a big crush. I seek them out, trying to spot them, trying to name them, playing the line over in my head — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — and wonder if it’s true. Their scent seizes me. Like a peeping tom peering through the blinds, I cannot look away. And so I resign myself to the corny fact that this is my summer of love … of flowers. Accepting that, I finally bent and took myself to Shannon’s to buy some flowers to plant, to keep my day lilies company till the hostas appear, and to perk up the lonely dirt surrounding the wild rose bush since the wild roses went away. It pained me to buy annuals – so against everything this revel gardener espouses: frugality, practicality, simplicity, efficiency. But true to the one thing that underlies it all. Under all the doing, and the digging, and the planting, transplanting, replanting, soil scrounging, compost turning, and sometimes back breaking exhaustion, there is joy. This summer, the flowers give me that. So I am making room for them.
I may have mentioned I worked with a clutter buster for about a year. A spiritual type who got to the root of the matter, he helped me see that letting go of one thing makes room for something better. My front yard right now is largely a patch of dirt. I dug up the weeds (native plants) and other plant paraphernalia that was hanging out waiting for the concert to begin. The yard seemed to heave a sigh of relief. But stripping it nearly bare, I also saw the bends and the hills and the dips and the valleys where all this recent massive rainfall has an opportunity to seep in and make things uneven under there. (So I am looking for dirt. If you got it, let me know.) I thought that I would come up with a plan — one that was organized and scheduled. With useful things like echinacea that I could use to stave off illnesses and flu. Maybe there would be mint for tea, but perfectly contained in carefully constructed border walls throughout the now-untamed yard. Something in me could not bring me to assert such control over the space. So I have left it the largely bare naked ground it is, waiting patiently for an occasional flower or two to greet the curious passerby.
This week, while I was sticking my nose in yet another stranger’s plants, the master family came out to check me out. They’re Chinese, and our conversation was choppy but largely we all got the points. No, that other one over there was not a hydrangea (though I still question this). The one that I had my nose in? Those are edible petals — to cool down, to balance heat. They were delicate and slightly twisty yellow and white petals, with a fragrance resembling that of jasmine but with a slight bit greater perfume. It was heady, exotic. I wondered if it would be the polite thing to do to leave this poor family alone and be on my way. But I couldn’t. I’m sure in part-pity, one of them, who had come up from across the street or the store or wherever she was coming from when I wasn’t looking, broke a twig off, handed it to me and told me in her own way that if I put it in water it would grow roots and then I could have one of my own (and I wouldn’t have to rendezvous with theirs). Mission accomplished – I left them alone. Went on my way. Ran my errands. Bought my groceries. Got home. Did dishes. Made food. Ate. Remembered the twig. I stuck the thing in water thinking I had ruined the opportunity. Not twenty minutes later, I was in the kitchen wondering what that marvelous smell was. And there I saw it. It’s amazing how flowers give you their scent to let you know they’re okay.
Later this week, I was on an evening walk and noticed several small plastic cups of shoots from a single plant. Handwritten on paper taped to the cement was a note indicating they were free for the taking, and to just give them a couple days till they have their own roots, and you can plant them and they will … all year long. I don’t remember what it was they do – bloom, grow, something. It was enough for me. I took one, and it now sits on my windowsill.
Somewhere inside, I knew I was going to finally deal with those tomato seeds I’d abandoned last fall. I knew I had to. They were clutter to me otherwise. Clearing them from where they’d been placed opened room for new and better things. The yellow and white mystery jasminy plant. The generous offering from the neighbors I don’t know who set out their multitude of gifts for strangers. Then out of the blue, I received a call from my very most favorite neighbor who — I didn’t tell you — moved away a year ago last November. I shared my yard with her because where she lived down the street, there was no room to plant the vegetables she wanted to grow. We spent the better part of the summer a couple years ago talking plants and soil, and comparing notes on wild edibles, and going to community free talks on urban gardening.
My partner once teased I had a crush on her. This was after my partner saw us talking plants in the front yard from the upstairs window. I can see how this was the inference. People who have the love of dirt between them are connected in a deeper way than those who merely share desktops and cubicle walls (though I don’t disparage office friendships – they are simply different). About a month or more ago, she sent me something she had written. Two stories I’d been meaning to read. I’d started them. She’s such a good writer, it was hard to put them down. But life happens, and tasks, and untended gardens, and etc. I felt bad about not reading them, and worse about not writing to her to tell her I hadn’t read them. I finally broke my own silence with her, apologizing in an email I sent earlier this week. Luck had it she was coming back for a visit, and so I got to see her tonight. We drank coffee and talked about how I just finally planted those tomato seeds and would be reaping them in December if climate change continues to screw things up, and she helped me identify a “native plant” (read: weed) that she let me know was not the cool, edible plant I was hoping it might turn out to be and instead is an invasive one that was about to eat my strawberries. And I was glad to see her again. She brought me sugar snap peas from her garden in New Jersey, that we agreed I would see come August.
As we were talking, she noticed a couple of tomato plants that sprouted up on their own in the patch of dirt behind us. Just like last summer when I brought in tomato plants because I doubted my own seeds would take, here today I found I do have more than I need. More importantly, I have all that I need, even if no one else can see it.
I have a crazy science-garden experiment going on here. Through details too embarrassing to divulge, I ended up with several small containers of tomato seeds in the first stage of saving. This is when you plop them together with the pulp in a small cup with airtight lid, add a little water, and let them sit. The next step is, after they’ve had a few days to mold over, thereby sterilizing and protecting the seed, you’re supposed to remove any fleshy pulp and set the seeds out to dry on a windowsill on clean, dry paper towels. Suffice it to say I didn’t get that far. I think it may have been a repressed fear of what I might find that made me late with my planting this season.
It was a tipping point trip to the grocery store, dreading in a month or so being forced to purchase the tasteless rubbish that passes for tomatoes, when last year I had probably twenty or more different heirloom varieties in my own backyard, that I decided I had to give it the old college try. Probably nothing will come from these. It’s so late in the season I’m unlikely to get any actual fruit (though the season’s been weird already so there’s no way to know if we’re not headed for a long one). I’ll be surprised if anything at all actually grows out of these seeds that were still wet from last August when I planted them today. As blush-worthy as my blunder (inadvertence, procrastination, forgetfulness — I’ll never fess up so call it what you will), it makes for a possibly interesting experiment. I’ll let you know if I see any seedlings any time soon.
Several of the subjects went into recycled plastic planter containers. These included the Kellogg’s Breakfast seeds from a couple heirloom tomatoes I bought at Amsterdam Market late last summer, a Dr. Wyche (an orangish yellowish beauty), and another one or two in recycled planters. The rest i used repurposed compostable egg cartons. The Paul Robesons have one row, while the Jaunne Flame has the other. Just one little unit holds the seeds of what I only had the wherewithal to call the “best tasting tom. of 2012.” Despite my abuse of the poor things once I’ve extracted the seeds for saving, I’m usually pretty good about labeling, especially since I have delusions of some time in the future having enough time to post some of mine on a seed exchange and it would be unethical to not be certain the variety. Really not cool and not fair to guess at something like that, especially when all heirloom varieties are at varying threats of extinction. But on that particular day, I was obviously not so careful. But, time will tell…or it might not tell me a damned thing.
In the meantime and between time, I know I will sleep a little better tonight knowing at least most of those soppy seeds are now nestled into their little egg beds, carefully laden with blankets of compost, organic potting soil, bumper crop soil builder, and vermiculite just to make it a party (and keep the others from clumping together like a gaggle of awkward wall flowers).
Progress (or lack thereof) reports to follow…..
QUESTION: what’s your garden confession? Go ahead … I won’t tell anyone … Gimme the dirt!
It is night. It is June. It is late. It is a Friday night, after 9 p.m. but before 10. The world is wet. The moon is uncertain. It is neither warm, nor cold, no breeze, and not my favorite feeling of when the temperature is the same as your skin. The weather, reposing in its usual state this month, hesitates before deciding if it wants to get torrential again. The street feels empty for being a Brooklyn street, mid-June. Even the children play quietly — those, like mine, from cultures or families to whom it doesn’t matter if they’re out late playing on the street. There are a couple girls, a boy, a ball. They’re maybe Bengali. A mother who stays quiet, standing guard between the children and the street, right at the edge, is near to the tree. She wears a sari, its bright colors muted by the night. I take my dog by leash, and walk into the street, wanting to pass by them uninterrupting. A sole car comes carelessly careening down this one way, lights bright for a quiet Friday night. There is an opening between me and the boy, who now stands just a little past the perimeter established by the woman of authority and the sole tree. He turns to me, wedging his way between the back of a car and a lifeless leaning motorcycle. Facing me full on, he says in a voice taken straight from the throat of Squiggy on Laverne & Shirley, “H-e-l-l-l-o-w.” I smile, grateful this starless night is interrupted.
The tag line – Gardening in the Age of Armeggedon – was a tongue in cheek response to the prediction that the world was going to end May 21, 2011, which was shortly before I started this blog. I was writing my way through the end of the world, so to speak – or write. I continued on that vein with the upcoming supposed Mayan prediction that 2012 would mark the end. I thought it was fitting for me to author my way through it, given my almost prescient knack for being at the right place at the right time for witnessing what I deemed turn-of-the-page events from living less than a mile from the birth of the white buffalo in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1994 to standing and watching the first tower fall on September 11, 2001, amid other less significant (but still notable) events such as standing just feet from Geraldo Rivera when he got punched in the face at a Klan/anti-Klan rally to unwittingly (and unknowingly till it was too late) sitting next to the inimitable Steve Buscemi, at the old Knitting Factory (the one in Tribeca) for a good hour one night while waiting for my friends to show. It seems there was one other big one – or maybe it was a little big one – but I’m sure I’ll remember it after I finish this post.
In any event, the whole Armageddon thing was a little wink-wink. — Does anyone else think of “armadillo” when you hear the word “armageddon”? Are we on to something there? — And then I just kept writing. And gardening. And as I wrote and gardened, I naturally found myself paying closer attention to weather patterns and changes and consistencies in patterns. I noticed last year, for example, that I got black soldier flies in my compost, but those are rarely seen this far north (Brooklyn). Same with catching a glimpse of a black widow, who, as I found out, was part of a larger migration of the spider to these parts. Other occurrences that might not effect me directly (yet) but that I started paying attention to simply as signs of these times are the invasiveness of certain plant and animal species from kudzu in the south, which I saw spreading like a green relief version of the blob across large swathes of Mississippi when I visited a friend there, to Asian carp in the Great Lakes and the Snakehead fish (not so affectionately known as Frankenfish and Fishzilla) in the northeast. And then there are those damned onions that keep popping up in my front yard. I have done the ritual hacking at them for the year. Oddly (or maybe not, considering the inconsistencies and unpredictabilities these last couple gardening years have borne), even the omnipresent and irascible backyard weed that every year I have had to choke back in regular battles till summer’s end has inexplicably nearly gone into hiding, without explanation or adieu.
All of such stuff may be standard fare of gardeners over the ages. But tonight as I lay in bed listening to the endless rain pound away at my Brooklyn roof and drown my fledgling carrots and beets out back, I thought, nah, probably not. Probably, and more plausibly, this old Mother earth is really starting to feel our weight on her, especially the well-heeled weight of heavy hitters like Monsanto squishing its stiletto into her soggy soils. No one company is to blame for the fact that the rain bothers me tonight more than it does most. But it did flash into my head like a billboard for an upcoming Saturday night fight: Mother Earth v. Monsanto! And the rain pitter-pattered, incessantly, unendingly, while I turned around, took another sip of water, and tried to will my mind away from the oddness of the rain and into a peaceful slumber.
I ended up here instead. But it had been awhile since I’d poked my head in. And time is marching on. It matters that the gardeners of the world (that, as you know, is anyone who digs their fingers in the dirt with the hope to grow something) be noting these patterns, hiccups, and true deviations. Monsanto’s not going to do it for us. At least they’re not going to bring it to our attention if they do.
Meanwhile, I’m back after my longest hiatus yet. And ready and raring to stare out the window till this weather dries so I can get back in the yard and get that rose bush in the ground, and put the jasmine in a container big enough to give her shelter in warmer indoor weather in the brutal months (unlike the one I had two years ago — when I was simply excited to have a jasmine plant and even more thrilled it was a perennial, all the while not realizing I had some role to play too). For now, it’s back to my partner who (alarmingly to me given my partner’s usual eye rolling at dire suggstions) admitted that we really do need to have a more thorough preparedness kit in the house. Not like it’s Armaggeddon or anything – my partner was quick to point out. “The weather’s just been really weird lately.” Yes. It has.
response to a question re whether to plant herbs alone or together, in ground or in containers (obviously I’m trying to make this decision today, and will prob. do a mix of in ground and in planters based on this)…
RE: herbs in containers vs in the ground
|I was once told by an old and very experienced horticulturist that ‘God didn’t make pots, and he didn’t make houses, either!’. Which was his way of saying that neither is a natural ‘home’ for plants.
I’ve learned that he was right – up to a point. Herbs WILL grow in pots, as long as you remember that pots are high maintenance.
They need special potting mix, not garden soil which will compact down to rock-hardness very quickly. They need more water, more fertiliser and occasional repotting either to replace dead soil, or to allow the plant to spread a bit more. You see, keeping plants in pots is not unlike keeping a canary in a cage. It doesn’t have the space to spread out as far as it would do in the garden, and that means it will rarely or never get to optimum size, and it will never become truly independent of your care.
Now, my experience is that those multiple-planted pots you see in plant nurseries are very nice for gift-giving, but they are only very temporary arrangements. Plants, like people, like their own space, especially when it’s limited, and they’ll fight for it. One plant will always out-compete another over time – either by its roots choking out the others, or by more successfully accessing the water and nutrients. So it’s something I never recommend.
For a beginner, especially, you need to learn about the individual requirements of all your plants – things like room to move, sunlight, water, fertiliser etc. This is easiest to do if you have one plant per pot.
Another thing is that most beginners are surprised to learn just how BIG most herbs can get! Take a look at this picture (link below), with my rosemary in the background. It has grown considerably since the photo was taken, and gets a regular drastic haircut to keep it to manageable size in my very small garden. My basils get almost as big.
Plants have an effective way of telling you when they’re not happy. They sulk, then they die, just to spite you! Watch them, and listen to them as individuals. One might be perfectly happy in a pot (for a while), while another will hate it. One might be very comfortable on your back porch, while another might really yearn to be out in the garden doing its thing.
You’ve started off wisely by giving them large pots. The babies might look a little lost at first, but you’ll be rewarded in the end by much happier plants. Don’t force friendships between them, however – keep each plant in its own separate housing arrangements! The plant world is a very competitive one, and they fight to the death!
Here is a link that might be useful: rosemary
Guess what I brought back from CA? My cousin, Diane, who looks as great at 50 something as she did in pics from her 20s, has turned me on to kefir. Starting my first batch brewing now…
As her instructions note, the grains will behave differently in a new environment. To give them a kick start, I used bottled mineral water (2 c.), deleted 4 T. of white sugar and 1 T. molasses in it. Added a touch of fleur de sel for more minerality to aid the kefir’s processing of the sugars. I put that in a container, covered it with cheesecloth and will check in on it this time tomorrow.
Hello, kefir adventure!
Fellow revelers, anyone else into this stuff? Why/why not? How do you take yours? Any tips to trade? Go ahead… Gimme the dirt!
My partner thinks I got side track distracted. Asked me if looking up black widow spiders was on my to do list. I think it’s become an annual ritual for me, since when I started to enter “how to recognize a bl,” Google filled in the rest with “ack widow spider.” Surprised, it only took a second before I remembered the night my partner was away at a conference and I was desperately scouring the Internet for any images that might be similar to the little thing with a red dot I had caught from my kid’s bed and held captive under a water glass.
But this one was much closer to the real thing. The one from before, I finally concluded it was a harmless-enough spider that had some red markings but was much too small to be a black widow and was described by others with enough proximity to mine that I did not rush Lil Bit to the hospital.
But, as for this one. Also a probably not. But still. Maybe just a maybe not. But still. I only took the pic because the image of the spider there on the porch wall I share with my neighbors was striking. I thought it looked like a shadow and was playing camouflage (not very well) with the other shadows. But as I walked into the house, I realized it looked kind of familiar. Last time, I spent several hours analyzing spider images on the web. Tonight, I had one of those moments – like when you pass someone on the street and only recognize after it’s too late that it was Steve Buscemi. Or something like that. I knew I had seen that spider somewhere before. (No offense, Mr. Buscemi, you’re kinda kinky weird and all, and even have a bit of a spider look about you, but I would never assume you had much in common with a black widow. If you do, I don’t want to know. I like you with just the right amount of weird you have now — no more, no less).
So, although my partner thinks this is not a black widow because it doesn’t have the telltale markings, my renewed online search instructs me that the markings on the female (the more dangerous of the genders, at least twice the size of the male) are typically only on her belly. This particular spider wasn’t flashing me. Side note — c’mon, amazing wonderful Internet — isn’t there some other way to recognize the world’s deadliest spider for pete’s sake? Mcbrooklyn blogger at least points out that if you’re close enough to see the red, you’re closer than you should be. At least the NYT has a post online about how to recognize when you’ve been bitten by a black widow. Running a pic along with that article might help. Being that I couldn’t see this spider’s underbelly, I don’t know if it was or wasn’t a black widow. Apparently there was an influx of the unwanted tourist last summer. And this one was spotted by an old wood log that was deteriorating in the crook between my neighbor’s porch and my front yard — which describes precisely the environment black widows love.
After coming across one article about a woman in the U.K. who almost died by being bitten by a false widow spider, I’ve decided I’m not as fond of spiders as I once was. I used to believe they were a good omen, and even let one remain rent free in the web it wove on my patio door. But now, I’m removing my welcome mat. What’s left of that wooden log that once looked so charming in my yard (yes, I am having one of those what-was-I-thinking moments) is as good as gone. And now I’m scouring the Internet for natural spider repellants. I’ve been on a lemon kick lately (one glass of water with the juice of one lemon gets me halfway to the two glasses that I hear will kick start your metabolism and help you burn fat all day, the lazy way). So I’ve got lots of lemon rind in the fridge and freezer just waiting to be put to use. According to this WikiHow, they’ll make the perfect natural spider repellant. So, take that all you faking me out maybe being deadly predators spiders!
How about you, revelers? Any other sightings? You know how it goes … go ahead, gimme the dirt!