Gardening Archives

Autumn Meadow Missive

On Wednesday the temperature was in the 60s.

When you live in Wisconsin you don’t tend to take 60 degree November days for granted, so I determined to spend some of it outdoors, figuring this might be the last 60 degree day for months.

I decided to take a walk in the meadow at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. I hadn’t been there for a couple of months and looked forward to a mosquito-free walk.

In recent years I’ve realized I prefer rustic trails through woods, meadows and prairies over pristine gardens, like those at Olbrich.

This was made apparent to me a couple of years ago while gazing at an extraordinarily large and elaborate backyard flower garden. There literally wasn’t a weed anywhere. No visible dirt either. The lack of weeds was so distracting I couldn’t see the flowers for the lack of weeds.

The flowers were nestled atop beds of mulch. The gardener told me he adds a few dozen bags of mulch to the flower beds every month during the spring and summer.

I dunno… as beautiful as the flowers were, it seemed unnatural for all of them to sit in flower beds with no dirt or weeds in sight, just the mulch. Give me unkempt flora over the pristine kind any day.

Then again, I’m one who favors a purple yard, so you may want to take my opinion on such matters with heaps of salt.

Anyway, I set out for the meadow, with fantasies of a nice stroll through the meadow one last time this fall. I thought perhaps the colors would be similar to those in the painting at the top of this post. (I know. Silly me.)

I’m sorry to say I didn’t even set foot in the meadow. As I approached it, the grass looked scorched and uninviting. I didn’t hear any birds or honking geese. I realized then that fauna is as integral to the meadow experience as flora, which is another reason I prefer meadows to pristine flower gardens.

Like the recent time change, the autumn meadow was too much of a reminder of the approaching winter.

Speaking of winter, in a fit of optimism a few weeks ago I actually pondered the possibility of acquiring used snowshoes so I could snowshoe in the meadow during the winter. (I know. What was I thinking? I hate the cold.) But I fully expect my next meadow missive won’t be until next spring where, I hope, there will be white-throated sparrows waiting for me.

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September Rose

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For some reason I’m never inclined to take photos (or, more accurately, ask my oldest daughter to take photos) of the flowers in our yard in the summer.

As much as I like the star gazer lilies, peonies, hibiscus, petunias, etc. I’m also aware of how evanescent they are.

But come fall I start noticing the flowers in a different way because there are a lot less of them. The shrub roses in particular keep hanging in there even until early December and I really like that and draw encouragement from that more than I do from the summer flowers. I hardly notice the roses when all the other flowers are in bloom during the summer so it’s nice they can have their moment in the fall.

Whereas the mums almost make me grumpy when I look at them because they are branded as a fall flower and remind me too much that winter is coming. Not so with the roses.

This week my daughter’s Barbra Streisand rose started blooming again (see above photo), which was a surprise because it’s a tea rose, not a hardy shrub rose.

She planted it in June and it had one stunning bloom and then went dormant, much to our disappointment.

She planted an Elizabeth Taylor rose in that same spot last year and after one bloom the plant literally disappeared. The plant just had a single stem so we don’t know if it blew away or what. Weird.

So it was exciting for us to see the Barbra Streisand rose come back to life this week. These tea roses can be fussy so I hope it blooms again next year.

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On early spring gardening and spores

Today was the first day I worked in the flower garden since last fall.

There was something satisfying about clearing away the last of the dead plants from last fall and making way for the new blooms already peeking through.

As I cleared away the remains of last year’s peony bush I was very happy to see the new red shoots pushing through:

The last bit of the hibiscus stems, which reach 6 feet high or so when in full bloom, look and feel very hard and sturdy. At first one might think one would need a saw to cut them away. Yet I’m able to twist them off with my bare hands.

There’s something symbolic about that, I suppose.

As I worked I thought about how almost every plant and flower in my garden was chosen by someone else.

My husband went through a rose bush phase some years ago and there are several shrub roses in the garden.

I don’t especially care for shrub roses and sometimes I get annoyed at how I’ve now been stuck with their upkeep. They take up a lot of space and their thorns always prick me, even when I wear gloves.

Also, I prefer the look of the old-fashioned tea roses.

Here’s our Elizabeth Taylor tea rose, which belongs to my oldest daughter:

But last December the shrub roses were still in bloom in the flower garden, even long after everything else had died (the Elizabeth Taylor rose only bloomed for a couple of weeks):

So I have a new respect for these shrub roses and will keep them. Anything that retains vivid color in harsh conditions is worth hanging onto.

My father selected and helped plant most of the other plants. He’s not so mobile anymore and can’t help me in the garden like he used to. I wouldn’t ever consider ripping out anything he had planted for me.

Then there are the hostas on the east side of the house, planted ages ago by a previous owner, which require shade and bloom in August.

Seven years ago we chopped down the two trees in the front yard and these hostas have struggled ever since. I tend to forget about them because they aren’t in the front yard with the other flowers.

Constant full sun has been hard on them. Yet somehow they continue to bloom every year. I haven’t managed to find the time to dig them up and plant something different.

Also, I know what it feels like to be in full sun when you are in dire need of shade – there have been areas of my life where I have felt just like that.

So I kind of like these hostas, imperfect as they are.

Working in the garden in early spring like this, before the new plants have grown, reminds me of what Rachel Remen says about spores in Kitchen Table Wisdom:

One of the most dramatic manifestations of the life force is seen in the plant kingdom. When times are harsh and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores.

These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. It is an effective strategy. Spores found in mummies, spores thousands of years old, have unfolded into plants when given the opportunity of nurture….

But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. Spores do not grow. They endure. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live.

No wonder she likes to compare the practice of medicine to gardening instead of to carpentry. Helping someone to live and thrive is very different from helping someone to merely survive. Gardening is a nice reminder of that.

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