Monday, January 27, 2014

Writiing it All Down

Writing It All Down: A  Garden Journal

 How do you keep track of what’s going on in your garden? I’ve seen everything from scrap paper tacked on the garden shed wall to elaborate spread sheets on the computer (horrors, who has time for that?).

I have always admired those beautifully done garden journals with charming little colored-pencil sketches and prose-y writing in a delicate hand. I can’t tell you how much I would love to do one of those, and how many I have started, only to have them disintegrate into a mess of lists, clippings, hasty sketches and stuffed full of would-be catalog orders and confirmations in a matter of weeks. By that time I have lost track of most of my colored pencils anyway and it’s a welter of skipped pages and crossed off bits because I can’t find my eraser and besides I’m writing in it in ballpoint pen. It’s got dirt on it from being dragged out into the garden, some of the pages are slightly wavy and a bit blurred from having gotten wet, and my scribbles have started to look like a Hobbit got hold of it and wrote something in Middle Earth language.

But I still persevere. I take it with me on garden tours, jotting down names of plants I covet and think I really must find, and it goes along to the nurseries and garden centers we visit and nearly every place else. It lives in my tote bag in the spring and summer, (along with my pruners and a small trowel) because, I never know when it might have to be consulted, or something written down. It’s filled with dry pressed flowers, lots of business cards, plant tags, sticky notes, a feather or two, hasty one-line thoughts I don’t want to forget for my blog or column, an occasional quote or poem that I find or write along the way, brochures, addresses of places I want to visit,  garden tours I don’t want to miss, notes for talks I have to give, and sundry other garden and nature bits and pieces.

My garden journal is truly one of my most valuable garden tools, especially with a garden this size.  I record when and what plants I’ve acquired, and I keep notes on what succeeded well (or too well!) and what plants were dismal failures, never to take up soil space again here. Then there are the interminable lists; we have over 500 hostas and when visiting a nursery I need to know that I’m not duplicating them. I keep track of the earliest blooming crocuses, the weather, plant combinations I see and want to try, changes I want to make, what needs divided or relocated. Spring to-do-lists are made in the fall and winter, fall lists in the spring, daily lists every day; not that we always get around to doing all of them. It’s my memory, my nudge when I get lazy, my dialogue with my garden world and the environment.


A garden journal need not be one of those fancy, prettily bound books from the bookstore, though you might write in it more often if it is. Mine is one of those 5”x 8” blank diaries, a good size to carry along; but it could be a spiral notebook, a sketch diary, a composition book, or even an old zippered Dayrunner that you don’t use any more. (Those are handy, stuff doesn’t fall out of them and you won’t lose your pencil.)  

I’ve divided my pages with tabs to make it easier to find what category I’m looking for, and glued an envelope to the inside back cover. I think that when this one is finally filled, my next one might be loose leaf so I can rip out pages and add new ones, maybe a pocket or two for all those bits and pieces that I keep poking in there, and a few of those plastic photo pages for clipped pictures.

And yes, I’ve actually considered trying to keep track of all my stuff on an iPhone—if I had one—but I couldn’t press flowers and leaves, or tuck feathers in it, and I would probably drop it in the pond or leave it out in the garden—so that thought flitted out of my mind as quickly as it went in.

Whatever form your garden journal takes really isn’t important; what matters is that you get into the habit of using it.  And before long, one will become such an indispensible part of your life that you’ll wonder how you ever knew what you were doing with anything in your garden without it.

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”
Will Self

 Learn to be an observer in all seasons. Every single day, your garden has something new and wonderful to show you.

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view.
- H. Fred Ale



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bald and Beautiful

The first time I saw a bald eagle up close in the wild was at Roaring River State Park, while we were trout fishing. It was so awesome that I nearly cried, then laughed so hard I almost dropped my fishing rod when I realized what going on. The eagle was flying low, maybe 50' away and below treetop level as it chased a flock of crows up the river, flew back the way it had come; circled and made a second pass to be sure those miscreants were staying gone before coming back down-river to perch in the top of a nearby tree where it could keep an eye on its territory and those pestiferous
mischief makers. It was a thrilling sight that is printed on my memory for as long as I live, and a tale I retell at every opportunity to whomever will listen.

This year we went to Stella, Missouri for the first time to see the bald eagles where they have come in for the winter. Stella is at an intersection of four watersheds of Indian and Shoal creeks, and Big Sugar and Elk rivers, a place formerly known as The Village of Springs.  Bald eagles congregate here and in nearby areas in Newton and McDonald counties here in southwest Missouri for food and fishing, December through February. Next weekend, January 25, is the annual Missouri Department of Conservation's Eagle Days in Stella, but the weather is forecasted to turn cold again with another "polar vortex", and it was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 60's, so we opted to miss the festivities and just go for the birds. We were not disappointed! As we neared the Stella area, we saw several eagles soaring high, but the first one we encountered in a tree was not close to the wintering area--it was near a turkey farm. According to a local person with whom we spoke at a convenience store where we stopped for refreshments,  if we wanted to see bald eagles, we should go to a turkey farm with a compost pile--eagles are definitely opportunistic feeders!

There were too many eagles to count perched high in the trees and soaring overhead at a location just outside of the little town of Stella--population 161. The word is that in the winter, eagles outnumber the locals. They are reputed to be fairly solitary birds, as Ross Perot said: "Eagles don't flock, you have to find them one at a time."; but giving the lie to that quote, here there would be several to a single tree, and even two or more to a branch. We could hear them occasionally squawking to each other, like gossipy crows; or possibly a "shove over, mate" complaint about the lack of elbow room. Eagles are definitely birds of attitude!

Not for the first time I wished for a better camera. Mine isn't fast enough to catch them in flight, but still, they sat quite patiently in the trees as if waiting for me to finish taking their pictures.

We had heard that they were also at our favorite trout fishing area at Roaring River, about half an hour further south, so off we went again. On this mild mid-winter day, several avid fishermen were
fly fishing in the river where it flows through the park. You can't keep anything you catch inside
the park at this time of the year, but lots of folks like to catch-and-release. There is a hatchery here, with huge open tanks of rainbow trout in all sizes that will be released into the river during fishing season on a daily basis. For now they are just growing and getting bigger while waiting for opening day on March 1.

And yes, there were eagles. Mostly hanging around the hatchery area.....wonder what they were waiting for?

This magnificent bird posed for us for about ten minutes before it finally flew away, watching us as intently as we were watching it.. We speculated that it might be one of the resident population rather than a winter visitor. It seemed to be keeping an eye on the hatchery tanks also.



It was a most wonderful day.

"I am the eagle, I live in high country, in rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky."  --John Denver

"May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks." --Gandolf the Grey, "The Hobbit"--J.R.R. Tolkien














Sunday, January 19, 2014

Making scents of the garden in winter

Even though the sun is closer to the earth in winter than it is in summer, it seems wan and far away, due to the tilt of Earth's axis making the sun's rays hit our planet at an acute angle. The garden seems bleak and tired, and the one thing that is unexpected in the midst of winter is a heady perfume; but walking down through the woods a most tantalizing scent wafts under my nose. It grabs me by my senses, swirls around my head and beckons me with intoxicating aroma like the Sirens of ancient Greece lured ancient seafarers with their song.

It isn't going to be so dramatic as to lure me to my death on the rocks, however, as the Sirens did the sailors; unless I trip on the stone edging of the path getting to the Viburnum x bodnantense "Pink Dawn" that is the source of that wonderful smell so I can bury my nose in their blossoms. They are marginally hardy in our zone 7 but this one has survived here for four years. It's one of our zone-pushing successes: so far. Flowering with rose-pink clusters on bare branches, it can be a magical, spectacular sight on a winter's day. Early honey bees out scouting nectar on warm late winter days love it. With sufficient rain, blooms may start in November, continuing through March. If you are lucky enough to find one to buy at a nursery, plant it near where you frequently walk, so you can enjoy it close up. Viburnum Pink Dawn makes an upright shrub to ten feet tall that arches gracefully as it gets older. In fall the leaves turn a burnished bronze. It likes some sun, and though it grows well under an oak in this garden, too much shade will cause it to lean outwards to reach the light.


But that isn't all. Further on along the woods path, I get another tug on my nose, and I see our native hamamalis (witch hazel) has burst out with shaggy, spidery yellow, delicately spice-scented flowers. This small tree is one fondly remembered from the woods where I grew up back in Michigan, with hard little nut-like seed capsules that burst open explosively in autumn; sending shiny black seeds some 30' feet from the parent tree. Hamamelis is a medicinal plant; the source for soothing witch hazel lotion. In addition to our native variety, there are several cultivars; the most common one found in nurseries is hamamelis x intermedia "Arnold's Promise" which has larger large yellow flowers in midwinter than the native. Other types have yellow and reddish orange flowers, blooming variously from late autumn through early spring. Most make an upright shrub or small tree to about 12’ tall with brilliant yellow leaves in the fall. Full to part sun and plenty of moisture bring out the best in them, though they will tolerate the drought in our Ozark summers.
Witch hazel flowers

Hamamelis is the source of soothing witch hazel lotion. Its witchy name probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon wych, meaning to bend, referring to the use of its forked limbs as divining rods, when the tip would bend as it located water. Early settlers Native Americans using hazel branches to find underground streams, and from there the practice of dowsiing became widespread and was exported back to Europe.

Up close to the house there is another winter bloomer: jasmine nudiflorum. I can catch the sweet smell of it standing on the deck fifteen feet away from where it grows on the arch over the herb
garden gate. It resembles forsythia, but its yellow flowers are highly scented and appear in January.The long vining canes have to be tied to a fence or trellis to keep it off the ground, otherwise wherever it touches soil it will put down roots and sprout up into another plant, making a thicket of itself in a few years; much like forsythia also does if left to its own devices. Winter jasmine loves the sun and refuses to bloom at all in shade. Despite being listed as zone 8, it has grown vigorously here for 20 years; but a deep freeze in January after the flowers have begun to open will turn them brown. Most years we get lucky and just when we're longing to see flowers, there they are; their bright yellow glow warming our souls if not our bodies, making the January sun seem a just a bit less pale.

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
~John Updike, "January," A Child’s Calendar, 1965



Sunday, January 12, 2014


 This has been a bumper year for a lot of things; berries, acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts—and squirrels. The little stinkers are everywhere, chasing each other, playing tag up and down the trees, chattering with tails flickering, scolding, sitting on the tree above the deck showering black walnut bits on any hapless person who happens to be passing underneath, burying acorns in the flower pots, digging up the bulbs I just planted, but still charming even the most ardent squirrel-hater with their antics. The squirrel population rises and falls with available food, and this year there has been plenty of that, so if there seem to be more squirrels than ever, there are.

Our bird feeders are full of sunflower seed, at least temporarily. Five minutes after they were filled, nuthatches and chickadees were flitting in and out, and—squirrels. They were hanging upside down by their toes from the hangers, jumping from tree to feeder, setting it swinging wildly so birdseed would fall out and they could eat it from the ground at their leisure.


I have heard rumors of bird feeders that are squirrel proof, and I don’t believe it. If there is a will, there is a squirrel way to defeat every attempt to keep them out. A “squirrel-proof” feeder is just a challenge, a Rubik’s Cube for rodents, and they will solve it. I have tried different types, and after I watched them make a few failed attempts, have seen them sit in a tree, thinking, and sure enough, in another try or two, they have figured it out and are into the sunflower seeds again. They even work in tandem, using teamwork to get at that seedy treasure trove. Sometimes I think they really don’t care about the seed, they just like to prove they can get it!


So I don’t even try to fight it anymore. I know when a battle isn’t worth the effort, and I would be very sad if I never saw a squirrel again. There are better ways for the squirrels and I to coexist. Some cute corn feeders are on the market, and there are patterns for home made ones involving mason jars or PVC pipes that present a puzzle for them, and we know they love a puzzle. There is even one that spins, and flips them off, but I think they actually enjoy the ride.


Feeding the birds safflower seeds, which squirrels reputedly don’t like, might be a choice, but not all birds like them either and they are expensive. They don’t much bother with thistle seed, and can’t get it out of the feeders very well, so that is an option. Finches, chickadees, and nuthatches like it.  We feed with black oil sunflower seed in the feeders exclusively. Almost all birds like that, except the sparrows. Some wild bird seed scattered on the ground takes care of them and the doves.
This mama needs plenty of food to feed her babies!

Dusting birdseed with cayenne pepper might work, as birds aren’t affected by it. I am always meaning to do that but I never remember until the feeders are already filled. Providing an open platform feeder with peanuts and corn might be one way to go, the thought being that they will go for the easy food rather than work for it, and leave the other feeders for the birds that you want to feed, but I rather enjoy the entertainment value of watching them try to outsmart and get the best of the silly humans. Squirrels are really such squirrely fun!




Friday, January 10, 2014

What is a Garden Without a Cat?

 I miss my cat. If you have followed this journal, you may have met my Abyssinian garden friend, Ras TiFari. He was someone special, this companion of mine. Unfortunately, we lost him this year to intestinal lymphoma at only 6 and 1/2 years old. He was a great cat, one of the best, loving the outdoors. The garden was his playground, and he was an intrepid vole hunter, sometimes laying them at my feet, often just bringing them indoors to exchange for a treat, which he always got. He lavished love, head-butts and affection unconditionally to his beloved family, though strangers were a different story and he usually made himself scarce until they were gone.


RasTiFari came into this house on my birthday as an adorable, green eyed kitten whose ears were way to big for him; independent with a spirit of adventure that would not be denied. His main goal was to get out that door and see what it was all about out there,. It was all we could do to keep him inside until he got a little bigger and learned where he lived!

He charmed us all and soon wormed his way into the affections of Cutie, a 3-year old tortoise-shell that had belonged to my mom-in-law and was living with us temporarily. She adopted him as her own. Our Maine Coon, Grendel, affectionately known as Slasher (for good reason, but she came to us declawed and could do no real damage when she swiped at our ankles), not so much, due to her irritable and jealous nature. But she eventually came to accept him as her personal companion after he grew up, following him everywhere, albeit at a discrete distance, keeping an eye on him at all times as he loved to jump her from behind and roll her over--a game in which she participated with great glee whenever the tables could be reversed. She spent a lot of time trying to sneak up on him, and it wasn't easy! 

Ras TiFari--being an Abyssinian, he was named for Emperor Haile Selassie, of Ethiopia; formerly Abyssinia--was a intrepid explorer. He loved to ride in the car, as there was sure to be an adventure at the end of the ride, and went with us in our Airstream trailer on more than one occasion to the river campground where he got to go for swims. He was a real water cat. On his last day, before we took him to the vet for the last time, it was raining, and though he could barely walk, he insisted in going outdoors to make his rounds, to check on his beloved garden one last time. He went in the car wrapped in a towel, soaking wet but contented, I think.

Stupid cancer. It took him way too young, and we shall miss him always.

Cutie went back to live where she was born, and is loved and happy. She and Grendel the Slasher found they weren't compatible. A little too much jealousy there on both sides and both were unhappy.

We will always have a cat. This garden has seen a succession of them, and we have loved them all. The first to live here in this house was my younger daughter's black cat, Midnight, who came with me to live here 25 years ago. He was already aged, and has been long buried under a patch of Virginia bluebells in the woods. Midnight loved the garden too, and spent many happy hours hunting and taunting squirrels. He was another sweet, wonderful personality. Several years passed before another cat came into my life to stay, and that was in the form of a small grey tiger female we named Jasmine--Jazzy for short--who was very pregnant. We kept one of her kittens, a half-Maine Coon male whom we dearly loved. It was so much fun watching Jazzy teach him to climb a tree when he was just barely 12 weeks old. She would go up, and call, and he would follow, then she would back down and call, and he would do the same. It wasn't long until he was at the top of the tallest tree in the garden, and knew how to get down! His name was Sebastian. When I opened a bead/store studio here, he would meet the customers in the parking lot and bring them to the door of the studio. Jazzy disappeared one day, I think she just moved on, having accomplished her goal, raising her son and making sure he had a good home. Sebastian died on his tenth Halloween, for no apparent reason. Perhaps a heart attack, or other natural cause. He was a beautiful delight for every day of his life, and we miss him too.


Grendel came with my husband when we married in 2003. She was three years old, and already feisty and cranky. She looked so much like Sebastian that they could have come from the same litter, tho she was several years younger.

Potted Cat: Hey, Slasher, that's too small for you!

She has never met a box or basket or shoe she didn't like, and we still find her in all kinds of silly places. She is aging now, too, and seldom goes outside any more now that her companion Ras TiFari is gone. In her younger days she was an intrepid vole hunter also in spite of her lack of claws. She still has teeth, and she knows how to use them! Wary should be the mouse that dares to come into this house, as she is a good mouser too. She got sick right along with Ras TiFari and we thought we would lose her too, but I think she was so worried about him that she made herself ill. She lost weight from her 11 pound, chubby self and nearly stopped eating along with him; after he was gone, she gradually began to put on a pound or two, but she is still painfully thin. Cranky as ever, though missing her pal and nemesis. She is too old, irrascible and jealous to adapt to another kitten, we think, so there won't be one for the rest of her lifetime, even though the temptation is great.

There have been other cats who passed this way. A sweet, old, abandoned lynx point Siamese gentleman, who spent his last two years with us when his owners moved away and left him, ill and alone; he told us his name was Sukey. Another very old Siamese, Tia, who belonged to an elderly relative who had to move to a home where she couldn't have a pet; they were both great cats.


 A pair of twin white kittens, who lived across the street were abandoned when their people moved away. They lived with us for a few months; very sweet, affectionate little boys. One had one blue and one green eye, and we think he is profoundly deaf. They were inseparable, and I think the hearing one took care of his handicapped brother. They went to live with three little girls who love them dearly.


 I think cats instinctively know where they can find help, and Ras RiFari brought a few home with him, including Sukey, knowing we would be kind to them. He had a lot of cat pals, one of whom is a friendly neighbor cat who has made our garden part of his territory, now, and visits me often for pets and ear rubs.  He hasn't told me his name, but he, too, has become one of a long line of garden buddies. He stood watch near the house all the time Ras TiFari was ill and stayed close by whenever Ras could be outside.



Goodbye, My beautiful sweet boy. Voles and kitty treats and wonderful adventures forever.

 Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” - Anatole France
What greater gift than the love of a cat.”
Charles Dickens


Time spent with a cat is never wasted.”

“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.”
Jules Verne

There is, incidentally, no way of talking about cats that enables one to come off as a sane person.”
Dan Greenberg

"A cat improves the garden wall in sunshine, and the hearth in foul weather." - Judith Merkle Riley

"No amount of time can erase the memory of a good cat." --Leo Dworkin

"A true cat lover cradles a newborn kitten and knows that 9 lives will never be nearly enough." --Author Unknown

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What a mess!

Mother Nature did some heavy pruning here in the Ozarks last week with the ice storm, and left a huge mess. In all fairness, she will eventually clean up after herself, but most of her human children don’t have the patience to wait while she takes her own slow time about it. Some residents began the cleanup immediately, but we didn’t have any inclination to get out there in all that ice, and besides I hate the cold. It freezes my toes and fingers, and makes my joints ache. We were lucky this time, no big limbs or trees fell on the house, power lines or cars that needed immediate removal, though I know many people were not as fortunate.

It seemed better for us to wait until the ice was gone, when we could tell what was actually damaged. Trees that were bent over double and appeared to be done for popped right back up once the weight of the ice was off. We spent one afternoon picking up fallen branches and litter so we could walk in the area safely to see what had to be done. Chaos is a designated National Wildlife Federation habitat garden, and we keep a brush pile at the end of the woods as shelter for small wild critters so we have a convenient repository for storm debris.


Nandinas down, but fully recovered.

Cypress x Nanjing Beauty, heart-stoppingly bent double but standing straight now.

 A couple of trees have to come out; an old Washington hawthorn cracked at the base and toppled, and a young wild redbud fell over in the woods. The hawthorn had fire blight every year, so it won’t be much of a loss. The redbud won’t be missed either as its location was too shady for it to bloom well. A Japanese maple might replace it.

Hawthorn has to go!

 A huge branch is partly broken off a hackberry, touching the ground over a hosta bed; it’s going to take some finesse to tackle it. I’ll have to cover each hosta and perennial to keep us from treading on them and crushing the crowns. Daffodils are already coming up everywhere, but being stepped on will only bend the tips of the leaves. The flower buds are at least a month away from showing.

Where branches broke off the trees, the stubs should be pruned back to the branch collars at the trunks to keep out rot and disease and enable them to heal over, at least as many as we can reach.  A big lilac trunk that broke will have to be removed at the base as it would likely die back anyway. “Widow makers”, as large, broken. hanging branches caught high in trees are called, have to be removed; it is dangerous to work or walk under them.  Where they are too high for us to reach, we will hire a professional tree service to do it. 

Much of the work can be done easily with pruning saws, loppers and a chainsaw. Jim’s experience as a nurseryman and landscaper gives him the know-how to do it though he isn’t eager to tackle the high stuff anymore.

But before you dash out to your nearest Husqvarna dealer and slap down your credit card to buy a chainsaw, safety first! Never let amateur enthusiasm rush you into taking a chance with something that could hurt you; if you don’t know how to handle it, hire someone with experience instead. If you must tackle the job yourself, don’t even think about going out there without gloves, safety glasses and a hard hat. Make sure the assistant that is hauling off branches is watching what you are doing and you also know where they are so they don’t get in the way of any random branch-tossing; or there may be bad words spoken and angry stomping off causing you to have to finish the job on your own. Keep your kids safely away while you are working on big stuff. They can be pressed into slave labor later to pick up small branches and twigs, or if they revolt, be paid for it.  

Valuable post-storm clean-up information can be found on the University of Missouri Extension website:  

While we are at it, the rest of the plants that were left for “winter interest” might as well be cut back as the ice laid most of them flat anyway. I’ll bundle Echinacea stems and others that still have full seed heads and hang them on the fence for the birds to finish cleaning out. Ornamental grasses can be cut back to about 10 inches tall, and perennials to about 6 inches, leaving just enough to hold the fallen leaves that mulch them through the winter.

When the cleanup is all done, I can sit back and dream over the garden catalogs that have started coming in the mail, at least until Mother Nature has another snit that has to be tidied up. But Mom, no more ice storms this winter, please!


 Winter is nature's way of saying, "Up yours." ~Robert Byrne

"How can those who do not garden, who have no lot in the great fraternity of those who watch the changing year as it affects the earth and its growth, how can they keep warm their hearts in winter?"
- Francis King 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Garden of My Dreams

Frances Hodgson Burnet's "The Secret Garden" was one of my first fantasy gardens, and I still go there on winter days like these when snow has covered the garden with a protective blanket of white and the wind chill is below zero; curled up with a hot drink, a warm quilt and a pile of my favorite garden books.

My dreaming mind strolls down winding paths in a woods that is carpeted with ferns and
wildflowers. Violets edge the paths, and there are trilliums, bloodroot and bleeding hearts on mossy banks along a rippling stream, with robins playing in the shallow water  and the gentle buzz of honeybees flitting in the blossoms. It only rains at night or very lightly in the day, creating raindrop diamonds on the leaves; a softly glowing sun filtering through the trees creating shadowy, secret places where fairies might be watching. Toads wait under mushrooms and box turtles lumber along, seeking ripe strawberries in sunny clearings. There are no mosquitos, and goldfish flash their brilliant colors in a small, quiet pool that reflects the azure of the sky. Sometimes there is wispy fog in the morning, and it is hushed and quiet as I walk the paths with my morning tea, watching the squirrels play. I wear a long, flowing skirt with my hair floating over my shoulders, bare feet with rings on my toes. Does this sound like the beginning of a Disney movie?


Some days, I walk through a moon gate into the complete serenity of a Japanese garden, where every stone and perfectly pruned shrub is placed with careful contemplation, delicate and yet striking in simplicity. It is a cool place, shaded with Japanese maples and  cherry trees, a waterfall gently tinkling into a serene pond where bright koi flash in the ripples. My meditative mind spends a lot of time here.

Lush hosta gardens are on my dreaming list, and I am green with envy as I stroll down paths under towering trees with huge spreading hostas, ferns and beautiful dwarf conifers. There are no slugs, hosta-munching deer, or greedy rabbits in them to disrupt the peace and beauty of these gardens .

None of my fantasy gardens are the least practical, no perfectly ordered rows of vegetables and espaliered apple trees, with straight rows of tulips in the spring. My gardens aren't populated with fancy chickens, ducks and other fowls, in quaint coops. I can't see myself gathering eggs in an apron or spending my days hoeing weeds, gathering cabbages, picking peas and wasting perfectly good summer days canning in a hot kitchen. I did all that on the farm when I was a child, and my fantasy mind has shut the door firmly on that vision.

Nor do blowsy, intense English flower borders figure in my dream life. Perfectly manicured lawns and clipped boxwood will never be a place where I want to live either, although I enjoy looking at them from time to time, as long as somebody else does the work.
But the garden of my dreams, in my real imperfect world, will probably never be finished, for my real
dream garden is a project with no end, ever changing, always evolving, ever challenging. And that is the way I want it.
Because my favorite fantasy gardens seem to be all different (what does that say about my personality?) in the real world I've created something of each. I have my woodland, and wildflowers, although not as mystical as my dream world; there are really carpets of trilliums and gingers, mossy paths and wonderful stones. There is a small mossy lawn with boxwood, azaleas, Japanese maples, dogwoods and Japanese lanterns; there are wonderful benches and roses tumbling over stone walls and fences. There is also an herb garden, and blowsy flower borders that are not even in my dream world, but they have managed to insinuate their way into my garden, after all.

My real gardens are not like my dream world. They are alive, with beetles and butterflies, spiders, snakes, and toads. They are noisy. Birds singing, squirrels chattering away as they dig up my bulbs and make holes in the moss lawn, crows arguing with jays over a crust of bread. There are holes in leaves, and rabbits munch my pansies. Deer step delicately over a $5 hosta to lunch on a $50 one (how do they know?). Groundhogs leave nothing but the stems of the voilets, and eat the chicory to the ground. Cicadas and crickets buzz and frogs and toads croak and sing. Weeds grow at a dizzying rate and my cherished plants grow ever so slowly.


And they smell. They smell heavenly of lilacs, and roses, and hyacinths, and lilies and viburnums. They are pungent with rosemary, sage, thyme and refreshing of mint. They are fragrant with earth-scent, freshly mown lawns, spring rain-washed air and the spice of autumn leaves. Sometimes they reek, of garlic and wild onions, of compost and manure.


My real garden gets wet with rain, cold with ice and snow, and sweating hot with August. There are life and death, predators and prey, carnage among the flowers. There is sex, and procreation. Life.

I love my dream gardens, with their lovely, static perfection, where flowers never wilt, it rains only at night, and the sun is always just right. They are wonderful to visit in the midst of winter when my soul needs green days and warm nights, but I wouldn't really want to live there. Reality is so much better.

"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye."
- Katherine S. White