Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winter Beauty

Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle -- a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
-- Barbara Winkler, American writer and editor

Never underestimate the power of a microclimate. Here in the temperate USDA zone 7 it’s not unusual to have some blooms in November and even a rose may send out a single bloom in December. We can get quite cold by our standards, the last couple of nights have dipped down into the 20’s F (-6C) but still I garden in what one friend calls “the place of magical gardens because we seem to be able to grow anything”.  Yes, being only a mile or less from the waters of Commencement Bay does have its advantages as bodies of water mellow temperature extremes.

Micro-climates can be small spaces of protection from the open air and winds just outside of them, those little warm pockets that are created by fencing and closely built houses. Hills and valleys create them too. Some can be warm and protective, others can be cold and ravaging. My back yard is a warm and protective micro clime. The photos below were taken just hours ago. Even though we are in the freezing temperatures of winter, for many of us there is still beauty to be found in our gardens, be it berries, blooms or beautiful leaves.

Blooms of Pachysandra 'Windcliff'

 Cyclamen hederifolium

Pyracantha Victory

 Fuchsia 'June Bride'

Hyssopus officinalis

Mustard Red Dragon Tongue

Fuchsia 'Aurea'

Salvia microphylla 'Heatwave Glow'

Geranium Lily Lovell

Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'

  Dryopteris erythrosora 'Radiance'

Geum 'Georgenberg'

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the beauty that surrounds us in the garden, the sunny day and the blessing of friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Fuchsia, Geum, Geranium, hyssop, Pachysandra, Pansies, Salvia

Author’s photos

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Save The Tomatoes!!!

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.
~Benjamin Disraeli


This time of summer they are in full swing, producing like crazy. Paired with freshly harvested basil and garlic from the garden, I think tonight’s dinner will be a fresh tomato sauce over capellini and a salad of dark red “Merlot” lettuce.

Well, anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that even the lightest of summer rains can split all of the tomatoes on the vine. They are of course harvest-able once split if you get them immediately after but leave them on a day or so and they will start to mold at the tear. Oh misery! Oh groan! What’s a gardener to do?

Break out the umbrella, of course!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache, Alyssum, Aster, Astilbe, Borage, Canna, Catanache caerulea, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s),Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera,Hosta, Hyssop, Kniphofia (torch flower or red hot poker), Lavender, Lily, Lysimachia ephemerum (non-invasive loosestrife), Nandina, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Penstemon barbatus ‘delft blue riding hood’, Phygelius, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thalictrum rochebrunianum (meadow rue), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini, Veronica ‘royal candles’

Author’s photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers

Garden writing is often very tame, a real waste when you think how opinionated, inquisitive, irreverent and lascivious gardeners themselves tend to be.  Nobody talks much about the muscular limbs, dark, swollen buds, strip-tease trees and unholy beauty that have made us all slaves of the Goddess Flora.  ~Ketzel Levine

Do you collect gardening books?

I don’t collect them per say, but I do keep a small library of my most favorite go-to books when I need extra info on a perennial or a particular veggie’s habit. Now and then I find garden writing books at used book stores, read them then sell them back if they are good but not keepers. I do check out some from the library too, by fun to read authors like Beverley Nichols and Ann Lovejoy. I wish Mike McGrath would write more books…his humor never disappoints and always produces belly-laughs from deep within my own experiences. Maybe one day some genius will compile his newspaper columns into a book. I’d buy it for sure. I have Christopher Lloyd’s cyclopedia with pages and pages of his opinionated thoughts on plants. I love it. It is great for information and a chuckle or two as he shares his experiences in the garden.

So the other day was a beautiful day in May.  We went on a walk and found the first of the summer’s yard sales were set up. As usual we scrutinized the goods as we ever so slowly walked by. We certainly don’t need more stuff but I can never resist a look-see. One in particular had a bunch of books out for sale. Lo and behold I found a gardening book so I picked it up and started leafing through. Written in 1933 (how cool is that?) it had beautiful hand colored photographs and some illustrations for every flower and plant detailed within its pages.

Reading old gardening books is a little like old science books….things change. New discoveries are made and botanical nomenclature changes as plants are reclassified by who-knows-who, rendering them inaccurate, but I thought one can always learn new things, even if they are outdated, right? So…well, it was just a dollar after all…so…I bought it. It would be nice to have for the gorgeous old time photos alone.

It is titled Garden Flowers in Color. A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers by G. A. Stevens.

Once home again and comfortably flopped down on my chaise lounge, I read the introduction. The author states, and I quote “The text has been prepared with as much fidelity to the floral facts as that provided in the illustrations. It has been written, for the most part, from actual garden acquaintance with the wide range of subjects covered in these pages and it is believed that a book of definite educational value as well as a convenient adjunct has resulted” end quote.

Ok, so that said I commence perusal. Wow, lots of varieties back then that just aren’t seen these days. Educational and fun but not particularly helpful for researching today’s cultivars.

Hmmm, Funkia…the apparently old fashioned term for Hosta. Cool…I do have elderly customers at work asking for plants in terms we don’t use these days…this may be really helpful! Matter of fact one of our customers is 100 years old!! Scouts honor! I’ll have to ask her if she knows the term Funkia.

On and on I read, mostly it is indeed factual stuff…till I get to page 225. Rose Acacia. "Professionally known as Robinia hispida or Pink Locust." We sell Purple Robe Locust where I work and it is truly a beautiful flowering tree, but I’ve never grown one myself. Reading the description…”Robinia hispida is the botanical name of the Pink Locust, which gardeners for some reason or other have decided to call Rose Acacia. It is a clammy shrub, usually grafted on the top of a tall waking stick and stuck in the most conspicuous place in the garden. The flowers are obese and ugly, and they hang in sticky profusion from the foliage. It is a most unattractive thing without beauty or merit as a garden plant.”

Wait…what? But G. A., on page 7 you said your writing was prepared…”with as much fidelity to the floral facts…” Hmmm. Apparently this excerpt is more closely associated with the “actual garden acquaintance” you mention later. Ok, really, I have to ask…what in the world does “a clammy shrub” describe?

Well the rancor fun doesn't stop there. Weigelas don’t escape the author’s verbal lashing either…oh no my friends, read on...

“Among the commoner shrubs for ordinary purposes are the humble Weigelas. Great, rank bushes they are, with coarse foliage and still coarser and uglier flowers….But one of the most dreadful shrubs which have ever been foisted upon a defenseless nation is the supremely ugly variety called Eva Rathke. No one can imagine how hideous a flower can be until one of these monstrosities is brought to his attention. In fact the blight of Eva Rathke rests upon all Weigelas and no garden would suffer if all the Weigelas in the world were piled high and dry and burned to ashes.”

Oh dear, oh dear. A tad harsh? I've had Weigela. Mine was a lovely graceful variegated shrub with soft pink blooms much enjoyed by hummingbirds. Quite nice actually, er…in my humble opinion.

And who said gardeners were opinionated?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Blueberry, Brunnera, chive, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Lights’,Exbury azalea, Fuchsia, Geranium phaeum ‘lily lovell’ (mourning widow), Geum, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Peony, Phygelius, Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Rhododendron, Sage, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Schisandra rubriflora (strawberry vine), Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Trillium,Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower), Tomato

Authors photos

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Euphoric Over Euphorbia

All through the long winter I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirit soars.
~Helen Hayes, American actress, 1900-1993

Euphorbias (ew-for-bee-a) are native to the Mediterranean’s sandy, hot regions but hybrids have brought hardy varieties to our cooler northern gardens. Grow them in full sun in USDA zones 5-8. They are quite adaptable so don’t be afraid to try them in your garden even if it’s not so Mediterranean-esque. They have a long spring flowering season, and those planted in the more sunny sites often produce the deeper foliage colors. Give them good drainage as heavy soils will kill them quickly and they reportedly don’t like windy sites.

I have three Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.  Two are in my street side parking strip, notably windier than the one in my back yard. The two that get the wind, flowered just like the one in the back but they are lacking any leaves at this point. They were full and leafy all summer but the cold winter winds have left them bare stemmed. The new growth is coming out leafy so my guess is they will leaf out again with the warmer weather. This is their first year so their performance is yet to be seen over a succession of seasons so I can compare those in the wind to the more protected one.

They are known for their drought tolerance and most have chartreuse inflorescences as seen above on my E. Redwing. An exception being E. ‘Blackbird’ (below) whose flower is more of a rust color aging to apricot with some peachy tones throughout.

Euphorbias comprise a large group of plants ranging from annuals, perennials and succulents enjoying a surge in hybridization which is delighting Euphorbia lovers and collectors with an amazing array of foliage colors and a multitude of plant sizes for both big and small gardens.

E. wulfenii (above) is the tallest I’ve seen, at easily 5 ft (1.5m) tall but E. mellifera reportedly reaches 8 ft (2.4m).  There are others but the shortest I’ve seen is E. myrsinites ‘Donkey Tail Spurge’ reaching less than 6”(15cm) tall and looks quite like a succulent ground cover.

Some Euphorbias are reportedly short lived plants but can easily be propagated by cutting off stems, stripping the leaves off the bottom half of the stem and inserting it into soft soil. This is also a great way to increase the presence of your Euphorbias in the garden. Repetition of plants and or color can make your garden look ‘put together’ and professionally designed.  Some Euphorbias will seed themselves around your garden too. Some may come true to seed but others will not. You may like that habit of self-seeding as a way to fill a garden space.  Nope, not me.  I once had E. dulcis Chameleon that made such a nuisance of itself that I ripped it all out and continued to remove seedlings for a few years to come.  My little postage stamp sized garden doesn't have room for such joyful self-seeding abandon. Either that or I’m too type A to allow it. Hmmm. I think not.

Pruning is easy. When the flower is finished it will begin to turn to seed. That’s when you cut down the old stems to 3-6” (8-15cm) from the ground.  New growth will appear from the base or low on the old stems. Those will be this year’s leafy stems and next year’s flower. Now that you’ve removed the seed heads, the plant’s energy will stop forming seed and be redirected into producing the new leafy stems. When cut or wounded all exude a white milky sap which can irritate the skin and eyes so be careful when working around them.

Lastly a note on using common names. Euphorbias are also known as Spurge and are related to the Poinsettia. However this Spurge must not be confused with the ‘other’ spurge, Pachysandra, which is an evergreen ground cover with white flowers for the shade garden.  They are completely different plants, needing different exposures but sharing a common name. I know relying on common names is easier but as I've said many times on this blog, knowing the Latin botanical counterpart is so helpful to find the plant you are looking for in the nursery because many totally different plants can share a common name, especially if you travel to different parts of the world or even just within the US. 

In Bloom In My Garden: Alyssum, Anemone nemerosa robinsoniana’, Bergenia, Blueberry, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Euphorbia, Geum, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris,
 Tulipa, Trillium,Tiarella, 

Authors photos

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spring Bulb Fertilizing

Growing tips break ground
A hint of green on gray branches
Spring unfolding
~ Marie B. Rice, 1932-2011, Haiku

Spring has sprung here in the Pacific Northwest, er… well, actually a couple of weeks ago if you consider all the bulbs that have come up and the number of early daffodils blooming today. So for us this post is timely for the tulips, muscari and other later bulbs just emerging, not yet blooming. As for the rest of the U.S., this post will give you the info you need for the upcoming thaw, it's strong a little while longer, and be ready to fertilize your bulbs when they emerge in the warming days to come.

When organically fertilizing flowering bulbs the nutrient of choice is usually fish bone meal, but rock phosphate is an alternative choice for the vegan/vegetarian gardeners reading today.

Both are great sources of phosphate for encouraging blooms and root development but the success lies in the application. If you are accustomed to applying synthetic chemical fertilizers, you are used to just scattering the granules on the ground and leaving them to dissolve. Easy yes, but if you want to do more to better the earth, soil health and your own health you will consider transitioning your gardening to organic practices whenever possible.

This brings me to today's topic. Fertilizing your spring flowering bulbs organically. A recent walk through the neighborhood brought this post to mind. This gardener sprinkled bone meal around their bulbs and flowering plants.


The bone meal is a good thing, but leaving it in big blobs like that isn't. They left out one important step...working the fertilizer into the soil.

Organic fertilizers need to be broken down by the naturally occurring microbes in the soil. So as you sprinkle your bone meal or rock phosphate you will need to lightly scratch it in with a rake, lightly working it into the soil surface so most of it comes into contact with the soil and its billions and billions of microbes. Easy enough to do but it takes a few minutes more of your time.

Now the granules are surrounded by microbes so those little treasures can do their very important work of breaking down the bulb food and making it available to the roots.

The time to apply the bone meal for spring flowering bulbs is when the leaf tips are breaking ground. If you can see where the bulbs are, you can work around the tender green tips and not damage them.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Corylopsis veitchiana (winterhazel), Cyclamen coum (spring), Daffodils,Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinth ‘blue jacket’, Primrose (double English)

Author's photos

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Fragrance

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.  ~Walt Whitman


It’s January, and winter is in full swing up here in the northern hemisphere. Which means every time I step out my back door I am greeted, nay assailed by the heady fragrance of my Sarcoccoa confusa bush. This evergreen delight is planted near my front door, but the scent wafts completely around the house on the air currents to perfume my back yard too. Follow this link to my previously published work for its particulars.

As I walk around my city’s neighborhoods I find it everywhere by following the fragrance as it ebbs and flows across my path. It is in full bloom now and will soon be followed by Daphne odora (Winter Daphne), then after that Skimmia japonica, all of which will keep you in a sweet-scented state of enchantment through March.

So here’s a heads up…if you live in the Pacific Northwest, get to your local nursery now. Sarcoccoa will be blooming and for sale, ready and waiting to be added to your garden.

Oh, and a BONUS! Hummingbirds sip of it's nectar daily and honey bees take full advantage of its pollen and nectar offerings when the temperatures are mild. I see both on mine.

In bloom in my garden today: Cyclamen coum (spring), Galanthus elwesii (snow drops), crocus, primrose, Sarcococca confusa, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), hellebore

Author’s photo

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Power of the Garden

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson

Gardens are places of refuge. Of inspiration. Of peace. Where dreams unfold. They are places where tears can be shed in safe privacy. They are places of solitude where one can be swept away to another world through a good book. Where restorative naps can be taken. They are places where one can simply be in the moment, not giving concern to past or future.

Gardeners are a people of hope. We sow the seed or plant the seedling fully expecting it to grow, bloom in some cases and always to thrive. Even those with a black thumb, you’ve met them…their gardens just seem to be more like plant cemeteries…even they surely didn’t expect the plant to die when they planted it or else they would be knowingly wasting their time. We plant with expectations for the garden’s future, our future and the good of its presence to come.

In my work this summer at the nursery I met so many people who came to make their part of the earth a better place; each with different reasons for wanting to garden.

Some came to create gardens of healing for themselves, either physical or emotional recovery. They gardened to keep their eyes on the good things to come, choosing not to focus on their current infirmities. More than one came following surgery, leaning on canes or using walkers, determined to plant, nurture and enjoy just as they’d always done before. Undeterred, even though their physical condition staunchly cried out “no”, still they came because they knew the healing that would take place in their minds, souls and bodies as they spent time in their garden.

Many elderly, now in wheelchairs, came having already spent decades creating gardens. With them came friends or relatives who would be doing the much of the work now, giving them the gift of their time, the benefit of their strength and the outcome of beauty and joy.

Some came to plant memory gardens for loved ones who had passed away. Many came to plant gardens for weddings planned just months ahead and one came to plant a faith garden in preparation for the wedding she prayed would one day take place for her daughter.

I coached people on what to use in bee friendly gardens, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, songbird gardens, container gardens, water gardens, dry gardens, shade gardens, gardens for tranquility, moon gardens, gardens for aromatherapy and gardens for food.

A garden reflects the gardener. That which drives you, is often indicative of the kind of garden you eventually create. Whether it’s the theme of the garden; those who wish to feed hummingbirds or honey bees show their compassionate heart for the creature, or the color scheme you create; colors you are drawn to that gives you away. Do you love the hot colors, those that excite like the reds and oranges of the tropical gardens? Or did your garden end up full of the purples, blues and soft buttery yellows of tranquility like mine did. I didn’t plan it, I’m just drawn to plants with blooms of those colors. They are restful, and today they fill my garden.

Gardens everywhere provide well-being in one way or another, whether by therapy for the soul or nourishing food for the body.

Why do you garden?

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

Author's photo of the Japanese Garden at the Washington Arboretum

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Collards - A New Favorite

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Siddhartha Gautamav

First and foremost I want to thank all of you who still have my blog feed coming to you. I’ve been absent for many months and so appreciate you for hanging in there, waiting for me to get my stuff together and resume writing. Thank you so much.

It has been an interesting year since my last post; filled with sorrow and emotional soul searching while settling dad’s estate and clearing my parents’ house to prepare it for sale. However, peppered amongst all that was much joy and new beginnings for me.

I went back to work, this time at a nursery, doing what I love most…working with plants, helping people with their gardens and spending lots of time with people who love gardening like me. Thus far it’s the most rewarding job I think I’ve ever had.

In late August, one of my customers came in specifically to buy collard seeds. I remembered her as I’d helped her a few times throughout the summer but hadn’t really got to know who she is as a gardener. Turns out she is a weight trainer, and we got to talking about growing greens for a healthy diet. I’d sold lots of collard plant starts in the spring and knew it was very popular in Southern USA cooking. Now, I love greens… kale, beets, mustards, chard, etc but many greens contain oxalic acid which is fine for some folks but not for those concerned with calcium issues. I had never eaten collard greens nor paid much attention to them. So as she was extolling all the virtues of collard greens I asked her if she knew if it was high or low in oxalic acid. She didn’t know so I made a mental note to do research on it when I got home. Then she gave me one tidbit that sold me on growing collards myself. That it grows all winter in our climate, which means you can have fresh greens all winter and even snowfall doesn’t faze it. She said you simply knock off the snow, pick the leaves and cook them up. Wow, I want to grow some of that! I did some research and found them to be low in oxalic acid. Then I bought a bunch from my green grocer to try them. Yum! So I bought some seeds and got a few starts going. Today I have about 8 plants in various sunny places around the perennial garden to see which locations are best. 

Collards are cool weather plants. They are best grown in spring and fall, like spinach and some kales. I say some kales because I grew a new (new to me) variety of kale this year that wasn’t fazed by hot days in the 90’s F (32+C). But that’s fodder for another post. Today we’re talking collards. Collards can grow between 40-75F (5-23C) with optimum growing temps of 60-65F (16-19C) degrees, and as with many fall weather crops they taste sweeter after a frost. They are packed full of vitamins and minerals and rich in carotenoids. Naturally, as with many greens, they are high in vitamin K so if you have blood disorders they may not be right for you.

Collards are from the Brassica family therefore the cabbage moth is something to guard against. The minute mine were in the ground that little white rascal of a moth was flitting around laying her eggs on the undersides of the leaves. We still had warm, sunny days at planting time and the moths were persistent, so I mixed up some BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) in my 1 gallon sprayer. BT is an organic pesticide that is used to kill leaf eating larvae and caterpillars. It degrades in the sunlight so spray it in the evening hours and re-apply every few days or once weekly, depending on your level of pest control needed. That’s why I mix it up in a gallon sprayer. I just keep it mixed and use the gallon over a period of several weeks. It makes it easy to do a quick spray when I get home from work or after dinner. Frankly the cabbage moths were making a mess of my kale too so every few days I’d spray the whole lot, concentrating on the underneath of the leaves.  And I’ll say this about the collards…the cabbage moths seemed to like the kale more than the collards. Way more egg laying going on with the kale. Now that the weather has turned cold and wet, the moths are gone, so the spray isn’t needed any more.

Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer like seaweed extract organic liquid or a fish fertilizer since it’s the leaves you want and not flowers. I’m excited to see the plants getting bigger. And it is interesting to see which locations are growing bigger plants. Do you ever do that? Plant veggies in more than one location throughout your perennial garden areas? I’ve often done that when my veggie space fills up and am surprised to see some grow better where I least expected them to.

As far as cooking collards, I’ve seen many recipes and only a few ways to cook them. Thus far I have only chopped the de-stemmed leaves and sautéed them in olive oil and spices, just like I do kale greens. Quite delicious I must say. The flavor is hard to describe but for sure nothing like kale. Collard greens have an earthy flavor to me.

Our winter is forecasted to be warmer and drier than normal so I may not get the fun of knocking off the snow before I harvest them but I can’t wait to cook my fresh winter harvest.

Since I’m new to this beautiful green I’d love any and all thoughts on cooking and even your favorite recipe if you care to share.

Thanks ever so much for reading!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop),
Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed),
Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

Author’s photo

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Season of Transition

Childhood scenes rushed back at me out of the night, strangely close and urgent. Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.
~Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place p. 31

My dad was my beekeeping partner. Our beekeeping days are over. His body let go of his life on earth on Valentine’s Day.

Make no mistake, caregiving for a loved one is a heavy load to bear for both the giver and the receiver, and because of our group effort my sisters and I managed to keep dad in his own home to the end. I’ll not be the one to write the how-to book on making the journey a happy success, but I can say it’s a season of learning and growing in ways that will either make you or break you. It’s a time of running open-armed toward your beloved parent to help with all your heart and yet also a time (more often than I care to admit) when you look up at God with tears streaming down your face, stamping your foot, fists clenched by your side and yelling “No, no, no! It’s too hard God, I can’t do this anymore! Whatever made you think I could?” Then, just like after all moments like that I hear His quiet, soft voice “Be still and know that I am with you.” It’s a total immersion system of learning, overwhelming to say the least, yet a blessing to say the most.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is no higher calling than that of service to another. And that there may be no calling more difficult. I am coming off 10 years of answering such a calling. I have battle scars. I have amazingly joyful memories of laughter and shared jokes. I have sad memories of impatience and frustration bubbling up from deep within both dad and me.  I have stretch marks on my soul as I’ve been taken beyond my comfort zone time and again. I have grayer hair, longer laugh lines and deeper worry creases than I would have had I not stumbled down this path with both of my parents. I am blessed to have had the dad I had and the opportunities to be a blessing to him. I think that while my mental and physical commitment to be there for my dad in his old age is over, the lessons I will learn are still on the horizon waiting to dawn with new understanding when the time is right to reflect.

I was having some tearful moments as my sisters and I were arranging the funeral services for dad and I was feeling so very…oh I don’t know, just really missing his presence. We were in his house and I had my mini laptop with me. We were using it to write out his obituary. As we paused to discuss other things, it sat unused for a few minutes so the screen had gone black. When I picked it up again the screen came alive with a picture of dad on his riding lawnmower. A FULL screen photo. It was the same shot of him I used in his last Christmas letter to friends and family. In it he is riding away with his back toward me. I was so stunned. Then it flashed off after about 3 seconds. It wouldn’t came back up. I never downloaded that photo or any other photos to that computer, I just use it for written documents. I wrote the Christmas letter on my larger laptop where we have a photo program.

Later that night as I was transferring documents from my mini computer to a larger one so I could email the obituary information we’d written that day, after a period of idle the mini went to sleep. Then it happened again.  When I went to shut it down, a different photo of my dad flashed on the screen for a split second. It was a photo of him smiling directly at me, which I took at Christmas a year ago. Again the image filled the entire screen. No edges, no borders.

This business with photos flashing on the screen has NEVER happened before. I decided to do a little investigating on this computer, wanting and yet not wanting, to make some sense of it. It didn’t come with a photo program, and I never downloaded photos onto it but after looking I found some in a folder. I periodically send documents from this computer to a flash drive so I can put them on my larger computer and visa-versa. I can only surmise that it is during some of those transferring of docs via the flash-drive that maybe a dozen or so photos loaded inadvertently onto the mini computer, but then I’m not a tech-wiz.

There are other photos, not all of dad, in this rogue folder. A few of other family members, a dog, and clock parts from when we were working on his clock repair projects and we didn’t want to forget how to put the thing back together again. But only the photos of dad are flashing on the screen for a second or two, never any of the others. In my heart I know I need surmise no more. Whatever the technical explanation I know the true reason behind it. The photos appearing were simply gifts of God, given through the opportunity of that moment, my computer screen. The photos brought dad’s very real presence and comfort to me when I needed it the most on that difficult day. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may remember the post Garden of Memories, in which I also tell of holy gifts of comfort for me from God and mom surrounding her sudden death.

Days later we once again made the 3 hour drive across the mountains to the cemetery my parents chose as their place of burial. The last time I was there was to put roses on my mother’s grave. It was a tense drive over the mountain pass as a lot of snow had fallen just in the days before. Thankfully, as we wound our way down from the summit, the weather gave way to a sunny February day. Just as my parents wanted, we planned another simple, quiet, family, graveside service. I was surprised how calm and almost warm the weather was for us in those moments. It was February in Eastern Washington after all. The pastor spoke, then a few of us spoke as to dad’s life, memories, accomplishments and kindnesses to others and the service concluded. I stood by his casket, touching the smooth wood, pulling out a rose from the casket spray to take home with me then touching the other flowers. I wasn’t even conscious of people around me, it was just me and dad in that moment. As I was talking to him, one last good bye, just thinking and remembering, a stiff, cold, persistent wind rose up and blew from behind my back, pushing me. It was as if dad was saying, “Ok, it’s done, get on with your life. Go on, go home.” The wind didn’t let up and cleared those away quickly who had gathered to honor dad. He wasn’t really one to dither or linger unnecessarily. We did have to get on with a small family meal then get back over the mountain before darkness made it more difficult. The next day, two feet of snow fell up there and they closed the pass intermittently for avalanche control. God indeed did give us a window of sunshine and safety for such a sad day.

Today I look out at my February garden. It’s raining. Cold. A few crocus and snowdrops are blooming; hellebores too are lifting their blooms in defiance, not willing to be deterred by gray, wet days. One wee viola peeks up from within its leafy blanket and the tender bright green leaves of Clematis unfold, vulnerable yet undeterred. Heath offers its nectar to bees who won’t find it because it’s too cold for them to fly. Winter ebbs and flows in these weeks of transition toward spring, yielding to a mild day here then a cold day there, yet not willing to let go. Garden renewal has begun its process forward and won’t be stopped, but merely slowed if an Arctic Blast follows on the heels of a few balmy days. I contemplate what’s next for me. I’ll look for employment, one of the many things I let go of in my own life to be better able to help him in his. Will I do bees again this year? I’m kinda weary. Maybe I’ll wait till next year with bees, if ever. I wonder if dad’s colony is still alive and if so will I bring them here to my garden or give them to one of his beekeeping friends? I wonder if beekeeping will ever be the same for me as it was when we had it together. This too is a time of ebbing and flowing for me as I regroup and plan my next steps. I feel dad urging me to get on with my life, don’t linger or dither, move forward.

It occurs to me my grieving process is much like spring in the garden. A time of transition, in which there is much ebbing and flowing. Cold and dark giving way to warmth and light then back again. Progress toward joy on the horizon, yet returning to tears and melancholy when I least expect it. A confusion of emotions, what if’s and needs giving way at times to bright moments of clarity and strongly rooted determination. Renewal. And all the while God is there, holding me up, giving encouragement, letting me find my way without ever leaving my side. Growing me past my comfort zone, giving me the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again with His ever-present whisper “Be Still”.

And I smile. As I resume to edit this post, the sleeping mini computer awakens and there again dad on his mower flashed for less than a brief second across the screen.
This time not a full screen shot but smaller, and a briefer span of time. It’s almost as if he’s fading from me. I’m not really ready for that yet. It’s only been a week. Perhaps I really am healing and letting go.
I love you Dad.


In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Viola, Hellebore, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Cyclamen coum

Authors photo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Garden Companion

In your life’s defining moments there are two choices – you either step forward in faith and power or you step backward into fear.
~James Arthur Ray.

If you had asked me a year ago I’d have said “Never. Another cat with our Miss? Never!” Our current feline companion, Miss, was VERY territorial and quite the scrappy little street fighter when it came to furry neighborhood relationships. She’s been known to jump on a dog’s head that had the temerity to get too close! Visits to the emergency vet clinics, stitches, staples, oozing abscesses...oh yea, we've had them all with her.

She’s adorable and quite loveable when it suits her. A most welcome addition to our family but she didn’t come without some emotional baggage of her own. She desperately needs love (who doesn’t) but prefers to be aloof and often pretends she’s uninterested in getting it. And she’s definitely best suited to a one cat family.

Miss came to us from neighboring friends 6 years ago. Simply unwilling to live there she would come to our garden daily to see what we were doing or just to lounge quietly in the sun. We did what we could to help our friends with her attitude about their lodgings but to no avail. When awakened at 2 am as she stood outside our opened, upstairs bedroom window meowing, we knew then we were in trouble. She had made her choice…she’d live with us someday. It seems we attract strays somehow. And that’s not a bad thing in my opinion. I think I’ve always been in favor of the underdog, er…undercat as the case may be. Most of our four legged companions have come via their own wanderings.

Zeke is our latest addition but he didn’t come to us. We went to him. He lived across the street for several years. We knew him by sight but not whether he was a he or a she. As a matter of fact, I can remember chasing out of our garden on a few occasions. With Miss’ preference for a super-sized bubble of personal space and willing to fight for it, we didn’t need another nemesis coming around. Sadly, his people died last year and family members left him to fend for himself. He just stayed there on the porch. Waiting. Quite alone. A few of us in the surrounding houses started feeding him and gave him fresh water daily. No one knew if he had a name. I called him Zoe, not knowing he wasn’t a she at the time. I hadn’t been able to get close enough to him to see if he was a Zoe or not. He was mistrustful of anyone and was quick to run as I approached. Finally I saw he was not a Zoe. What should we call him? Hubby suggested Zeke. Zeke it is. Zeke has issues. Don’t we all? By his reactions, sadly I suspect abuse in his early life. Oh, but he’s a charmer, a sweet lovable guy very much in need of human companionship. Charismatic if you will, the way he tilts his head when he looks at you or the way the white patch on his chest waddles as he runs to us or the way his lip get hooked up over his tooth and he just stares at you as if to say “what are you laughing at?”. He’s welcome and most definitely wanted by the humans in our family.

But integrating him into the family won’t be without complications. Not only getting past his deep fears but also one by the name of Miss. As mentioned she had issues too. I wonder if she can put aside her jealousy and see that Zeke is in need of a safe place just like she was all those years ago.  While she’s been reluctant, oddly I think she does understand. She mellows when we have those chats.

On the other hand Zeke needs to accept her too. She was here first and we want to maintain her standing as Alpha cat. But he’s a scrapper also. Over the months it has not gone as we would have liked. At first he was all meek and mild, then as he got more comfortable he got aggressive. For every step forward toward progress with these two, we have had 3 steps back to the beginning.  There have been fights, tumbles, hissing and vying for territory within the house and garden. There have been hurt feline feelings and aggressive brawls. It has taken time, too much time for my liking. Nor has progress been made toward two cats living in the same house. We don’t prefer leaving the cats out as cars, dogs, and wildlife are just too dangerous for that. We much prefer to keep them indoors but when you adopt you have to work with what you get. It took several years for Miss to be happy with more time spent inside than out. Zeke is more of a challenge, I doubt he was ever allowed indoors so it’s is frightening to him. Winter was coming and he wasn’t bout to be come comfortable indoors enough to sleep nights inside nor days when we are at work. Once inside you can just see his anxiety level rise. Once let out again, he calms considerably. If our cats could have their druthers the back door to the garden would always be left open.

Open doors are great for warm summers but its winter now. No can do, so I bought a heated outdoor pad made specifically for animals and made him a nice shelter, much like a dog house. I used some unused beehive equipment and put it under the potting bench somewhat protected from the wind and rain. It took several design revisions before I got the right combination of bee boxes and location that suited his fearful nature. With all earlier attempts he would only stay in it for a little while and not at night. Seems he preferred his under bushes or some other burrow for his bed where he had a good view of his surroundings and a quick escape plan. At first I made the box with only one door, which turned out to be the problem. His fear of being enclosed made it too frightening. So I cut another opening on the side for escape and more visibility. He needs to be able to see what’s going on from several angles and have more than one way of escape, depending on from where the danger is approaching.  Such fear. Its so sad.

Things turned around nicely after I cut the second opening. He started really using the ‘spa’ as we call it now, since it’s heated and padded with fleecy material. Now he’s in it most of the day every day and nearly every night. It’s a rare night that he stays somewhere else, and we still don’t know where. Now that I’ve hit on a design that he can be comfortable with I will be painting it all the same color. He has also learned our schedules. He’s always at our backdoor for breakfast and dinner. This is all real progress and its been just short of a year.

And this is how it is today with the two of them. Wary tolerance from a distance. Oh well, all in all not too bad considering.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea 'springwood white'), Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa

Author’s photos