FIELD REPORT FROM THE HERB GARDEN

FIELD REPORT FROM THE HERB GARDEN

 

In the few sunny days we had before another slew of rain slammed down, my sweetheart and I worked out in our various gardens, surrounded by plants and tormented by weeds. We slung away into the “dump it” wheelbarrow the grass that grew anywhere we didn’t want it. I heard the crows broadcasting to each other what we were up to, in case seeds they could purloin later were going to be part of our garden process. Swallows divebombed me because I was working mostly in the herb garden which is in close proximity to their houses, and the bird feeder is located right there. The golden finches, scarlet tanagers, and sparrows must have been salivating in the bushes, starving, because I never saw them.

But I was saving them from death by pruning the evergreen in the middle of the herb garden. I’ve long since forgotten what type it is, if I ever knew. I bought it because it was swirled upward like a Dairy Queen ice cream cone. That lasted only one year because I had no experience sculpting trees. Overestimating my talents, I tried sculpting it myself. The result was sad, indeed. In the ensuing years, I’ve been letting it grow back in hopes it would fill out and look like a real tree. We both tried, the tree and I, but the outcome has been less than we anticipated.

This was the year I had to do SOMETHING. I have noticed all the felines emerging from under the tree with smiles on their faces and feathers in their mouths. The tree provided the perfect hiding place, a little cave next to the trunk up under the bottom branches. There they bided their time until a bird was in the right position, and then, POUNCE!

The first thing I did after my loppers, pruners, and shears visited Mr. Sharpenator, was to sit down on my bucket seat and start eliminating branches, from the bottom up. There were enough feathers in the tree cave to have built a whole nest or two. Thank goodness I was spared seeing birdie skeletons! I raked everything out that had been lodged there. Now for 18 inches up from the ground, all around the tree, is nothing but open space. I like to think the tree likes the air flow now, like when you cut your hair and you feel pounds lighter and can feel the breeze on your neck. The shorn tree can feel the breeze on its trunk.

I stood back and gave it a few more nips and tucks here and there and it looks reasonably the way I envision a tree of its species should look at its age. Its branches aren’t covering up the herbs in the four raised beds around it anymore, so the herbs are happier as well. The lavender doesn’t have to crouch and bend. The oregano doesn’t have to push and shove, then move to new neighborhoods. The herbs can now feel the breeze on their necks as well.

I expect better production from now on. I’ve already clipped and dried the parsley, so the rest of the herbs will have to up their game. The lemon balm and chamomile come next, and the tea leaves need clipped for drying whenever it stops raining long enough. I’ll be making black tea again, with cinnamon, orange peels, and cloves. So yummy! All that’s left to do in the herb garden is to get rid of a bit more uninvited grass, and to plant some herb seeds, both medicinal and cooking herbs, in the beds and pots.

The crows will get excited again seeing me out working, but I will foil their intentions this year, just as I did the felines, with preventative measures–white cloth covers pinned down over the top of the herb seeds I plant–until they are toddlers or maybe even teenagers.

Once the sun comes back in a long stretch, we’ll install the fountain in front of the tree so we can view it from the kitchen window, and the herb garden will be complete, with something beautiful and/or scented blooming there all summer long.

How Did I End Up Here?

How Did I End Up Here?

I didn’t plan to be a gardener. In fact, my senior year of university I remember vowing to never live anywhere near a farm, where I’d lived through my teenage years, ever again. No more hands chapped, chaffed, and stained by soil or Black Walnut skins, no more broken, chipped fingernails, no more gloves with the ends of the fingers worn through, no more back sore from stooping and bending, no more picking hazelnuts up from the ground and stuffing them into my mother’s ruined nylon stockings, then hung to dry in the attic. No more sweating in noonday sun, picking raspberries and being scratched into a bloody mess. I even spurned one boyfriend’s proposal because I knew he would be a lifelong farmer. It would be the literary life for me—books, theater, symphony—and my life as a teacher. So it’s very curious, indeed, how I became the avid home gardener I am today.

At first, there was no place to BE a gardener in the town where I began my career. The weather in Southeast Oregon’s High Desert was not much conducive to farming in those days before backyard hoop houses. No one I met there had a greenhouse. But my hands and eyes got itching to play in the dirt and see things grow, even to pick those wretched raspberries. I began asking around and observed that some people did have gardens, and that they grew short season crops like radishes, green beans, and peas. I had a huge back yard and what else was I going to do with it? I’d missed the fresh vegetables every summer from my parents’ garden. If I hurried, between the last frost and blazing 100-degree weather, I could maybe get in some lettuce and broccoli. I, too, could spend time chopping up the hard, reddish-brown slugs of the region. The jars on the canning shelves in the basement began filling, as well as the freezer.

There still were not many flowers, only lawns and bushes, because, well…rattlesnakes, who hung out in the shade. The previous owner had planted phlox along the fence line, and those were flowers enough for me, then.

Ten years later, I had moved as far west as a person can go and still be on land, surrounded by lush greenery, and I thought I was in Heaven. I could really garden here! Once I bought a house, I put in a small garden, much to the consternation of my neighbor, who thought lawns looked much more dignified. He protested, à haute voix, to anyone who would listen, the sins of my garden fence. My gifts of fresh produce when summer came, hushed his tone to a quiet grumbling. I moved once again to a house with a hillside behind me, where I envisioned terraces of burgeoning flowers and a vegetable garden. Through trial and error, I learned how best to cultivate flowers and food a mile from the ocean, what grew and what didn’t and what worked to keep deer away (nothing, short of a shotgun).

Now I live inland on a lovely, flat acreage, where my husband and I grow flowers, small fruits, and vegetables; where we have a small orchard of fruit trees that give us more apples than we know what to do with every autumn. I am working in a garden of some sort from February to December. So much for young adult proclamations!

Why am I a gardener now? I have the genes of my father and his father before him. I also believe that the beauty of flowers and the magic of growing things wormed its way into my childhood brain until it was a part of me and an addiction I couldn’t and no longer wanted to battle. I can’t exist or imagine a life without sunshine and fresh air, my hands soaking up the healing microbes in the soil as I work. My guess is once you’ve spent time as a child in a garden, you’re a goner.

STUNNING GARDEN FASHION

STUNNING GARDEN FASHION

 

October is a bridging month, stuck between the actions of growing, harvesting, weeding, picking, and the action of nesting indoors, organizing everything in sight. Closets, mainly. Because there is no inoculation for the organizational frenzy, the virus has me in its grip and I’m getting sicker by the minute, straightening this, tossing that.

Here’s what I noticed when I looked in my closet, deciding where to begin: gardening has overtaken my closet. I was shocked (well, maybe not) to learn I have five storage drawers full of gardening clothes!

What comprises gardening clothes, you may well ask? Those lovely denim jumpers and pristinely white tee shirts you see in ads for nurseries? Pastel pink capris, and pink clogs, with matching pink plaid camp shirt? Maybe in catalogs, but not in my closet.

Let me describe my gardening clothes for you. There is one whole drawer full of roomy but ruined tee shirts. I have one favorite purple tee shirt encaptioned “We Be Jammin’” emblazoned on the front that I purchased in Jamaica way back in 2002 when my friend Cecilia and I took a cruise. For a tourist tee shirt, it has had an extended shelf life, especially since I have worn it at least once every week after I got back home. It’s getting thin in places and I’ve mended holes where fabric and binding thread disappeared, but it’s still going strong and it feels so right.

Others of my tee shirts have stains all down the front that no amount of washing can remove. I’m sloppy, all the time, everywhere. I forget to wear my aprons. Or I choose not to because I don’t want to get them all stained. Go figure! I have more tee shirts unwearable in polite society than good ones. When I get tired out in the flower bed, I can look down and see several kinds of memories to make me happy—where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve eaten.

I have a drawer of shorts, ugly things of piled fabric and soil stains, or behemoths I have to secure with a belt from when I was a bigger gardener. In really hot weather they are perfect! In addition, I have two drawers of pants for varying degrees of gardening weather and comfort while bending. A couple pair I wear because they give roomy a good name. They have pockets for extras and I can bend and crouch without cutting off blood flow or oxygen. That’s important to a living, breathing organism. Others are light and stretchy, also good for hot weather when I don’t feel like using sunscreen on my legs. While they are also bendable, unfortunately, they don’t have pockets, so I have to make other arrangements for hankies and phone and other detritus I usually carry in my pockets, like seed packets, pretty rocks, or weird, dead insects to show the insect expert, Evelynn.

One larger drawer is an amalgam of all the others, plus more. Here I can find my dirt-stained-no-matter-how-many-times-I’ve-washed-them-socks, my dirt-stained-no-matter-how-many-times-I’ve-washed-them-headbands (How does dirt get clear up there anyway?), and two sleeveless, also-stained tee-shirts for the two or four truly hot days around here when I decide to offset the great farmer’s tan my arms have going. There is a pair of paint-stained, dirt-stained jeans for early spring when I need anti-cold weather and misty droppings support. Finally, rolled up in the corner is a pair of warm, wool socks for when I still have to wear my Wellies outside in the muck that amazingly turns into garden come summer.

Does my selection of garden clothing sound anything like yours? Or are you one of those lucky few I admire who never attract an ounce of soil (wet or dry), insects, or sprayed substance while gardening? If so, I don’t know how you do it. I feel sorry for my neighbors who, because they rarely see me in nice clothing with my hair combed, don’t recognize me when we meet at the store.

So now that I’m nesting and organizing, I’m faced with a conundrum–I have to toss some of this perfect clothing in order to make room for a new garden fashion arrival. For the first time since 1981, I have bought myself a pair of overalls, a gardening clothing option that actually makes sense—there are plenty of pockets, room for bending, and the ability to match with either short or long-sleeved shirts. I have followed Neal’s recommendation for the overalls even though the neighbors will have a tough time telling us apart next spring. Except for one thing. I’m the one wearing a muddy-finger-smudged floppy hat with an inoperable chin strap.

Civil Disputes

IMG_6746Today is January 2, 2016. This photo tells a story. The temperature on our front porch is 27.9 degrees. See the frozen rugosa roses in the background? The naked, shivering tree limbs dreaming of leaves, squeezing out buds? The chairs, loving servants, blown over to the doorway, reminding us they are ready for service anytime we are. Note the muddy swipes all over the bottom of the glass in both doors. The paw painting goes as high as Winston, our neighbor’s cat, can reach. Miss Emma waits on the rug for his surprise attack. Then they will both jump up on two legs, swat on their respective sides of the glass, yelling and hollering at each other. When they tire of this doorway, they move on to the window next to the door, then the dining room widows, where Miss Emma mounts her condo and Winston hangs from the outside window screens. Holes in the screens now reach as high as Winston’s paws. They breathe hard in retreat and then they move to the dining room door where Winston hangs on the doorway screen and remounts his assault. Miss Emma gives as good as she gets on her side of the glass. Sometimes this performance plays out three or four times a day, morning, bedtime when lights are out, and in the wee hours of morning. Sometimes Winston comes and is disappointed because Miss Emma has taken to her bed and doesn’t know he’s encroaching on her territory. She needs her beauty sleep to gather her energy for another battle. Recently, because of the frozen deck and landscape, I presume, we haven’t seen Winston as often. We miss his sweet face. We sneak him treats when Miss Emma is abed. That may be the reason for their difference of opinion. Today I may wash the windows outside; give them a clean slate for the next battle–the best kind, where no one gets hurt but everyone gets heard.