Late April–writing and garden news

I subscribe to a writers’ newsletter compiled by Cigdem Kobu who develops and maintains the Inky Path website and writers’ community. The newsletter arrives in my email inbox each Monday and is packed with articles, tips, prompts, and other writerly inspiration. A few weeks ago, Cigdem posed the challenge to answer the question, “Why do I write?” and submit the results to her for posting in the newsletter. My brief essay appears in the most recent issue, here. Thank you Cigdem for posting this!

Spring is finally here–it felt very slow in coming this year. Each day I go for a slow wander around the yard to see what’s coming up, what wintered over well–or not. I note that last summer’s drought and months’ long watering ban took a toll, especially on shrubs which went into winter stressed. I see browned leaves, some dead branches, especially on the two mountain laurels. They won’t bloom much this year. Yet I’m pleased and surprised by the resilience of most of the plants.

At the front of the house, clumps of tulips add bright, hot colors.


The andromeda on the east side of the house is covered with creamy bloom.

IMG_0672The lilacs are full of flower buds, which will soon be deep purple, fragrant flowers.

IMG_0678The small PJM rhododendron is in full bright pink bloom.


Catching up

Here’s what’s happening in the garden in these early days of July, a time of hot, bright colors.


And the raised bed has taken off–it’s bursting with lush plants, with the cleome ruling all.


Happy almost July 4th!

And thinking about those meandering paths…

A conversation I had recently about purpose in our lives has been buzzing quietly in the back of my mind. I had the conversation this past Sunday, a quiet rainy day at the end of a quiet rainy weekend. I’d drifted a bit through the weekend as sometimes happens when I don’t have much scheduled. On these drifty days, I read, relax, putter in the garden, connect with friends in person or by phone, and am mostly content but there can be a nagging sense that I should be more –well, purposeful with my time. And the person I was talking with on Sunday echoed this thought in talking about her own day-to-day life.

For me this buzz is mostly background noise since my days are filled with going to work and maintaining my life outside of work. But the low buzz is there and gets louder on weekends and other stretches of leisure time. “What can I do that’s purposeful this weekend?” I wonder. “How can I be productive?” All too often, this wondering turns into fretting.

As I type this I think about my previous post on garden paths and my appreciation of meandering, whimsical paths. And this leads me to thinking about writing, which requires frequent strolls along those meandering paths. So, sitting here on a bright late June morning, I wonder if, for myself, I should shift the internal conversation. Maybe it’s less about purpose and more about simply being awake and receptive.

IMG_0036In order to write, I need to wake up and let myself see, not just what’s going on in imagination but also see the detail of my small world. The Japanese iris with its silky fall of petal, the waves of daylily bloom, orange and yellow and burgundy.

Right now the crows are busy and noisy–I suspect there’s a cat or a raptor out there somewhere. Sun is filtering through branches, lighting up the top of the maple tree and the big pine. Everything else is shadowed. The sky, glimpsed through trees, is clear and blue.

In order to write I need to let myself see without purpose. It’s all too easy to wander around the garden noting what needs to be done rather than simply noting the shapes, textures, colors, scents–Monarda and phlox about to bloom, roses pink and cream and the glistening backs of Japanese beetles feasting, bristly prickly nettles, fine blades of grass grown thick in the rain.


IMG_0384“I’d like to put in a couple of paths,” Tom said. He led me around the side of the house and gestured to the grassy path that leads between the rhododendron and the daylily bed toward the back porch. “Here’s one place–get the sod up, put down some bark mulch with rock edging.” “Sure,” I said. “Less to mow.” He then headed toward the area with the raised bed. There’s already a dirt path of sorts that cuts around the edge of that bed toward the side where the water faucet is. “And here,” he said, “put some bark mulch here, make a real path.”

In fact I don’t know if this will happen this year, especially the path that requires digging up sod–it might end up being more $$$ than I want to invest in garden projects. But it got me thinking about paths. These would be useful, logical paths, places I already walk regularly, sensible paths.

IMG_0383But I’m intrigued by whimsical paths. I’ve created a few of these over the years although they’ve all ended up overgrown. When I put in the bed in front of the maple in the front yard I made a path curved through the middle. It was partly practical–gave me weeding access–but it was also a path to nowhere and that entertained me. It soon became home to Siberian iris volunteers and is now just part of the bed. There was another path I made into the middle of the circular bed in the front—I even put down paving stones and placed a bird bath in the middle, hidden from view unless you walked along the path–but that path too became overgrown and the bird bath now sits in the back yard.

And this is all an interesting metaphor, of course, for paths through writing—or simply through life.

Of peonies and other flowery musings

Here’s the view out my living room window for June 1. JuneViewThis is what I see when I sit to drink my morning coffee. You can see the winter damage on the rhododendron closest to the house–more pruning is needed.

The bloom color at this time of year is pink, purple, blue, white. Yellows and golds will come soon and then in mid-summer the hot colors–the flame of crocosmia and hot pink phlox.

The tree peony only had 2 blooms this year–winter was hard on it as well. The blooms were deep magenta, big and blowsy, reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers I made when I was a kid. The plant always blooms in late May and inevitably the weather turns hot just about the point that the blooms appear.

These blooms are short lived in the best of conditions but the heat propels them along even faster–the buds open, flowers spread their petals out, and whomp they’re gone, in the space of a hot day. I wanted to get a picture of them this year but didn’t move quickly enough.

Sometimes I clip off one of the flowers and bring it in to float for a few days in a shallow dish of water but this year the 2 flowers bloomed and fell in less than a day. Once the bloom has passed, this is an unassuming plant with fairly ordinary green foliage–but for a day or two in spring, it prances and preens–look at me, look at me.

The regular peonies, which are dotted around the various garden beds, are slower to bloom and they retain their blooms in full glory for longer–the challenge is knowing when to cut a big bouquet before a pounding rain, again inevitable at this time of year, does them in. So far only one flower has appeared and I cut it yesterday to put in a glass vasepeonyvase on the mantel. Hopefully the buds that cover the plants will survive the rains to come over the next couple of days.

There wasn’t much of a garden here when I moved in–some foundation plantings and a small bed in the back. But this modest array of shrubs and plants got me started on my gardens and many of the plants have lived on: a peony; 4 rhododendrons; an andromeda; several lilacs, including one with deep purple blooms; an azalea with hot pink flowers; a patch of white siberian iris; some Jacob’s Ladder, coreopsis, and Ozark sundrops. I’ve lifted and divided and replanted in new locations and it’s all going strong.

Although life in a garden is often a story of transience, of beauty that blooms and fades quickly, falls prey to pests or storms, it can also be a story of continuity, of resilience. I don’t know who planted everything originally. Maybe the couple who were renting the house. I like to think it was the original owner–a single woman like myself who had the house built in the late 50s and lived here for many years. There was once a deck on the back of the house—I like to think of her sitting on that deck sipping coffee before work, looking at the rhododendrons in full bloom.