The first week of Fall
And it’s cool outside.
Not a foregone conclusion,
But a happy coincidence.
Does that sound dramatic?
For those who work and play outdoors,
Weather matters. For those who rely
On the land and sea for their living,
It matters even more.
I am somewhere in between.
For me, gardening is both work and play,
Optional and not optional at all.
I can’t escape it.
That’s who I am.
When I look at our
Small dot of land,
I’m reminded that
I am a gardener.
And so yes, I rejoice.
I can garden all day
Without stress or duress,
Exulting in the gift God has given me.
That little bench, built by my husband as a gift to me, is possibly the most fragrant seat in the garden. I'm not sure which smells better -- the juniper or basil. But I don't have to choose.
And this gardener needed to sit down every now and again this past weekend. We've been busy, as usual, and then a tropical storm blew through. Southwest Houston wasn't hit hard, but our garden took a pounding. Between the storm, benign neglect, and the fact that it's an excellent time to sow the cool season garden, I just had to spend some time out there. The problem was that it's not quite cool yet. This weekend was very hot, especially in the afternoons.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, I gave up. What was funny was as I dragged myself through the back door, Joseph, who was busy with carpentry, came in through the garage. The weather was sweltering. I don't think he felt as bad as I did; he's more practical than me. I, on the other hand, felt defeated.
Sunday, I knew that if I was to accomplish anything much, I'd better do so in the morning. The temps jumped from the low 70s at 7 a.m. to almost 90˚ by 1 p.m. -- and the "feels like" would be around 99.
I had already decided on what chores to attack. As I began working, aware that I was at home and not church, I recalled a conversation I'd had with a woman at the garden center a few weeks ago. The actual temp that day was 98˚, never mind the heat index. She was, I believe, quite elderly. There were countless crinkles in her dark skin, her hair was pure white, and she walked bent with a cane. She also had the most beautiful, welcoming smile. We chatted over some plants, agreeing that gardeners are crazy, the two of us included. As we parted, she said, "I always dedicate my garden to Jesus. You should do the same. It will thrive."
I always strive to make my days worthy. I don't always succeed. But as I hurried around my garden, I prayed. I weeded and deadheaded, staked some plants flattened to the ground by the storm, cleared the vegetable beds, spread organic fertilizer, raked, and hauled bags of debris to the curb. We're still trying to figure out where we might squeeze in a small composter, but that's a discussion for another day. Anyway, it took hours. By noon, I was hot and hungry. Then the sun disappeared. I looked up to see dark clouds.
Rain wasn't in the forecast, was it? I checked on my phone. Nope, no rain. But it was time to go in. I just wanted to sow some seeds -- one bed, at least. I chose lettuce and radishes and got to work. I'd still had to water everything.
A drop, then another, then a few, so light and fresh... I began hurrying. I didn't want my seed packets to get wet, but I was determined to sow that one bed. By the time I finished, it was truly raining. I got soaked, but I was happy.
Once I had showered and dressed, the sun was shining again. The afternoon would be steamy. But the garden looked better, and everything was watered. I felt a sense of accomplishment and, more, a sense of peace.
It was a beautiful, restorative Sunday.
I’ve loved Beatrix Potter’s books ever since I was a child. I have no doubt that her descriptions of Peter Rabbit, Mr. McGregor and the wood, of Squirrel Nutkin and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, encouraged the future gardener and naturalist in me. I read the stories to my own children, too, and more recently to my grandchildren.
You can imagine how happy I was to come across Marta McDowell’s book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life. It’s a beautiful book, filled with stories and photos of Beatrix Potter, images of her original artwork and writings, and photos of Hill Top Farm, her home and garden in England’s Lake District.
Her illustrations of Peter Rabbit and friends are engraved on my heart, but I’d not realized that she painted numerous, beautiful landscapes and botanicals.
Beatrix Potter was a preeminent gardener and naturalist. Throughout the book, amidst every sort of wonderful image, Marta McDowell tells the story of the gardener and her garden, and of the plants and animals within it. She is a knowledgeable and thoughtful guide. It is the sweetest sort of garden read.
Towards the end of the book, just when you think you couldn’t ask for anything more, she provides an appendix of all the plants in Beatrix Potter’s garden, which the author left to the UK's National Trust, and all of the plants in her books. She also offers notes and suggestions for further reading.
Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell is a wonderful, joyful book. Highly recommended.
Euonymus americana, Strawberry Bush, Burning Bush, Hearts-a-Bursting are the names I'm most familiar with for this gorgeous plant. I have three in the garden, but this is the only one to receive full sun all day and the only one already turning colors. I originally bought the shrubs for the birds. They're attracted to the fruit. Although Strawberry Bush is native to Texas (traveling up the eastern U.S.), I wasn't very familiar with it. I was therefore surprised and thrilled by the changing colors late last summer and well into fall.
For the second summer in a row, I've not succumbed to my annual gardening boycott during the hottest months. But it's not easy. High heat, humidity, and insects are formidable opponents. Aggressive weeds sometimes make gardening feel like a thankless task. But my garden is still evolving, as is this gardener. If things aren't working out there, I hold myself largely responsible.
Of course, the things that are working do make me smile.
You would think I'd never seen an armadillo before. That's how pleased and excited I was. I show pretty much the same reaction with deer, opossums, raccoons... most wildlife that happens across my path, especially in my garden.
I know that many people have had problems with wildlife destroying their gardens. I don't doubt that part of my benevolent attitude is due to the fact that we've never had a serious problem with raiders. Well, except for the squirrels. But they give so much pleasure year round that I find it hard to begrudge them stone fruit in season. Birds do their share of pecking, too, but I can't imagine the garden without them. I haven't caught any other creatures in the act.
Overall, I find it encouraging to see wildlife in neighborhoods and gardens. We've forced the proximity, not them, and seeing them makes me feel we haven't ruined things completely.
Do you love seeing wildlife in your garden? Or do you hate it?
Are you familiar with the old saying, "make hay while the sun shines?" In other words, do it (whatever it is) while you can. Around here, it's sometimes more practical to make hay before the sun shines. The heat of summer is upon us, but this year, the garden requests attention like never before. It doesn't demand, it just patiently beckons.
The cleanup/healing is coming along slowly but surely. I will have to get out there this morning and water whatever’s not wet. We have yet to find an irrigation guy/company who can keep up with our plantings. Our days begin to broil.
Last weekend, I walked outside, snapped a few photos, and allowed myself to be lulled into a romantic dream of a day in the garden. That day, the temps rose to the mid-90s. I was drenched in sweat the first hour. A yellow jacket bumped into my hand just before I slipped on a glove. Fire ants ventured into said glove, and a mosquito got caught in one of my long, buttoned sleeves.
Hardly romantic. I wanted to give up. I wanted to give in. But no! I had purchased a few hundred dollars of plants and intended to plant them.
And that’s what I did. First I had to prepare the spots. It wouldn’t have been easier to prepare and then shop. Not only is that NOT the way gardeners tend to think, weeds take over in a matter of minutes. I wanted plants to be ready and waiting. There were also still a few dead plants left from February’s freeze and a few that have simply struggled too much for too long. I pulled all of them.
The garden was looking half empty. In a way, it still does since many of the transplants are small. But I have confidence in my choice of plants. All but one are native to the area, which is pretty remarkable considering the number I brought home. The exception -- have you ever grown a cleome? I haven't. I looked it up while still at the nursery. It looked pretty, and it’s not invasive, so I decided to include it for variety. Once home, I sort of regretted the choice for a few moments. Native pentas have similar flowers and more colors. But it’s mine now and it’s planted. Supposedly, butterflies like it. I’d might as well give it a chance.
The sun is higher, the temps are rising, and I still have a few plants to plonk into the ground. I’m getting out there while it’s still in the 70s. Woohoo!
Could mint possibly overtake the earth? Maybe in season, if given the chance. But I'm not going to do that. This year, there will be no summer boycott of the garden. There's just too much to do.
Prior to this year's deep freeze, I had all sorts of gardening plans and concerns. It's not that my concerns weren't valid, but more pressing issues arose. We had to evacuate our house.
We moved back in a few weeks ago. We're still working on renovations, but it's getting there. And in our absence, the garden grew wild. Wild, wild, wild. Whatever the freeze didn't affect, neglect did. It wasn't our intention. We were gone. Now that we're home, the healing process (for the garden) has begun, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. And the oddest thing has happened to me.
I'm no longer worried about any of it.
I'm pretty sure that my new outlook has something to do with the partial destruction of our house and the radical way things were rushed into proper perspective. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.
It's fun not to fret. Surprise!
For one thing, the birds and squirrels and other creatures are still at home in our garden. That makes me happy.
Due to a large number of hardy plants, especially natives, our garden sustained less damage than many others. But there were some inevitable casualties. Texans lost a lot of citrus to the freeze. In our own little garden, we lost our Meyer lemon and two blood orange trees as well as our olive. But our fig, peach, and kumquat trees prevailed. So did our brambles and blueberries.
A few perennials died, but most have returned with a flourish. I'm not entirely surprised that some roses actually succumbed. They won't be the first that we've lost. We might have had over a hundred rose shrubs on the acreage, but they don't do well on this property, no matter where we plant them. I'm not going to replace them. I love roses, but there are so many other wonderful options.
In our flower beds, despite, even underneath the weeds, perennials are coming up. One bed overtaken by mulberry weed (L. fatoua villosa) and poison ivy revealed several Thai basil plants when cleared. Certain basils are so great about reseeding.
The raised beds are buckling and will soon tumble down if we don't take care. But they're not tumbling yet and our plants don't seem worried. Our cabbages are beautiful, the root vegetables healthy, and tomato vines overwhelmingly overgrown.
And I've decided that I will continue planting in those beds until we absolutely have to rebuild. If it takes another year, so what? Will our loved ones not love us anymore if our garden looks a little ragged? Maybe I'll be able to bribe them with some fresh, organic produce. :)
Here's to our gardens and another summer season. May your gardening days be long and pleasant and your summer harvest bountiful.
For years, my husband and I worked at creating a series of gardens on our four-acre lot in a rural, Texas subdivision west of Houston. I have to say, it was a fantastic experience. Now, I have a pocket garden on a golf course.