an early spring

So last week temperatures hit record-breaking levels here. People are actually playing in the ocean even though the water is much colder than the air, and the gulf stream has not returned to the coastline yet. Trees have bloomed, some even sprouting early leaves. Pine pollen is coating everything with a filmy yellow-green. The daffodils are in full splendor and tulips are right behind them. Even a few azaleas are starting to open buds.

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The Azalea Festival is a big deal here. It’s kind of an arts festival but there is a queen of the festival and she has a court. They look like antebellum debutantes! Yes, hoop skirts, parasols, and escort cadets from The Citadel in Charleston. Apparently the original mission of this Gala began with the restoration of an unattractive marshy area and it became so beautiful the city decided to celebrate it. Thus began the festival in 1948.

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I have never been.

The azaleas, camellias and bulbs all bloomed last year long before the festival, and it looks as if this might happen again this year. There’s a garden tour which makes for a difficult time if you have no flowers to show in the garden. But each year they persist by holding the festival in April.

At that point tourists have begun returning for the summer, dogs are not allowed on beaches, parking meters have been reinstalled for the busy season, storefronts have been restored and repainted, streets resurfaced, everything has a polish and hums with anticipation of a successful summer.

But I digress.

It’s still February.

Normal spring doesn’t usually start here for at least 2 or 3 more weeks.  And even then it’s been known to snow after the dogwoods have bloomed. So here we are looking at burgeoning life and the skimmers and terns aren’t even back yet to their favorite nesting areas.

I can’t get caught up in all of this. I have to keep my brain focused on the day, not what it feels like.

When does Daylight Savings Time start?

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“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” –1 Corinthians 1:27

Shoulders

This is an interesting word. We have shoulders at the tops of our arms. They are susceptible to strange injuries, like rotator cuff tears or bursitis, arthritis, dislocation. then there are shoulders on roads, a place where drivers can pull off the road for whatever reason, relatively certain nobody will come along and hit them.There are shoulder pads sewn into some women’s and men’s clothing, I don’t know, to make them look more imposing, more angular I suppose.

And shoulder seasons.

That indiscriminate time when it isn’t really winter/spring/summer/fall, or it’s far enough along in that season where you can sense the beginning of the next one to follow but you aren’t really in it yet.

That seems to be where winter is right now. There are no leaves on the trees but (where I am anyway) we are far enough out of the dark, grey sky months to see light coming. The daffodil bulbs have pushed their leaves up and some of them are blooming. Trees are budding and blueberry bushes have a reddish tint to the tips of their branches where they are waking up and will have flower buds soon. Forsythia, that shrub that my mom’s housekeeper broke off branches whenever she threatened my brother or me when we were little that she was gon’ switch us, and she did not mean have us trade places. Well the forsythia is usually the first to bloom, bright yellow flowers on a bare stem. After the flowers are spent the leaves grow. This has not yet decided to awaken.

The wintergreen plants in the woods that had tiny delicate white flowers last fall are now covered in bright red berries but for the most part the woodland floor seems to still be dormant. We had a couple of weeks here recently where everybody was sure winter was over, balmy temperatures, bright sunshine only to be plunged back into sub-freezing this weekend. Some people call it a false spring where sleeping plants and trees are convinced it’s time to wake up and start pushing out their little leaf buds.

From what the Farmer’s Almanac tells me we’ll be warm/cold here for a few more weeks, with one weekend the middle of this month getting real cold again, snow about 100 miles west of us, but that’s about the end of it. I hope anyway. And the beginning of the pull into springtime. No more shoulder season. Full on spring.

But then spring around here can be pretty short, no “shoulder”, no warning that hinge-melting temperatures are just days away and will last for weeks.

I know the groundhog saw his shadow (hope nobody dropped him this year) but those 6 more weeks of winter only seem to apply to the places north of here that have winter in earnest. I mean more than 3 or 4 inches of snow through the winter where it doesn’t melt and finally goes away sometime in March. April maybe.

Though I love snow, like seeing its beautiful transformation of the world with  white softness nobody down here can drive it it much less rain either so I’m just as happy if we don’t have any. Or if we do have any people have the good sense to stay home.

At least if I’m out on the roads. But then I learned to drive in New Jersey.

Not sure which is worse.

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Flowers

This was a week of catch-up reading. So many books I’d been wanting to read while involved in the Master Gardening program piled up and I have still got 5 or 6 left to read. At one point I wandered around my yard and potted plants and found many beginning to bloom, so here are a few —

DSCN0171.JPG geranium     DSCN0167.JPG  lily

 

DSCN0164.JPG  phalaenopsis DSCN0165.JPG  more phalaenopsis

 

DSCN0168.JPG knockout rose  DSCN0169.JPG tomato

 

DSCN0172.JPG blurry lizard  DSCN0174.JPG  Lulu hoping to catch blurry lizard

 

DSCN0135.JPG                                                    Lily and Lulu enjoying a backyard stroll

So this was our week and weekend. Next week we will have the yard enclosed so I can keep Lulu out of the neighbor’s yards and the street. A couple of days’ volunteering at the plant clinic at the Arboretum to knock off a few service hours. More books read, more books on hold at the library coming in, I hope.

I truly wish you a grand and delightfully surprising coming week.

“Ms.” Gardener??

So this Master Gardener program began almost 9 weeks ago. My brains are so full of information on annuals, biennials, perennials, grasses, fruits, vegetables, fungal diseases, bacterial diseases, blights, beneficial and pest-y insects, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, you name it, in these 9 weeks of intensive classes of 6 hours per week I am in gardening overload.

I have always enjoyed gardening. If you had told me at the beginning of this herbal odyssey I would feel this way I’d have laughed myself silly. It’s like gorging at Thanksgiving. The feeling’s just the same except my head wants to explode, not my waistline.

No idea when or if I will ever use this information. Maybe it’s crammed in there in such a way as to come through as second nature. I’ll look at an azalea leaf and know it is a rust disease, not lacewing insects. Or see little raised tunnels in my yard and know they are not really tiny moles but mole crickets. I will know the small, round shiny-gray things are ground pearl, an insect for which there is no remedy except to dig up and completely replace the sod, no small (or inexpensive) feat.

There are more varieties of oak that I could ever have imagined, and most wasps are beneficial. (I don’t guess that applies to yellow jackets as well).

I won’t know, right off the bat, if you have your soil tested and it has a low ph of 4.7 what proportions of fertilizer it will need. Clemson University can tell you. I won’t likely be able to say if a camellia variety is a japonica or sasanqua, but I know they are both beautiful flowering shrubs. I know more than I did at the outset of this class, much more, I just have to integrate it into my current knowledge.

So it’s hard, if I even actually pass the course, thinking of myself as a master anything, much less a master gardener. Even so as with most everything else, I will not ever know it all, at least I certainly hope not.

What fun could that possibly be?

 

Plans

Vacation plans, career plans, family plans, college plans, wedding plans, dinner plans, weekend plans.

Landscape plans?

I took a good, long look at my house and yard today. Rectangular  depth, one story brick, just like every other house in the subdivision. With a very strict and binding homeowner’s association the backyard is really all I can play around with. To quote each officer in the HOA, “we wouldn’t want houses with pink shutters and orange polka-dots, would we?”

Why not??

So I can’t do anything, really to my front yard., not much more than I already have. But I can put a helipad in my backyard, or a scale model of the Eiffel tower, or basically anything I’d like as long as (per HOA) “it can’t be seen from the front”.

So that opens everything pretty wide for anything I can imagine. I have never liked lawn turf. Grasses are hard to maintain, they need a lot of water, feeding, this isn’t normal.

Ornamental grasses- purple fountain grass, pink muhly grass, millet, sea oats– these are basically weeds and take care of themselves. So I figure if I use all native flowers, shrubs, grasses after a few weeks of watering in they can pretty much manage well without a lot of feeding, watering and attention. I have always wanted something like a jungle around my house. Anything to block out any sign of civilization leaving only nature. The birds, squirrels and other little critters will enjoy it. My philodendron are climbing the walls in the master bath. They are draping themselves gracefully down the bookcases and desks through the house.

So I will find something I like that is natural and easy. Gravel and slate pathways, maybe a small pond with a fountain. Or not. Anyway it will keep me busy during the next several months.

And the HOA do not have to see a thing.

pansies, petunias, peonies…

So gardening. This wasn’t something I’d always loved. I doubt I even noticed those background plants in doctor’s or dentist’s offices. My dad’s company transferred us to New Jersey from North Carolina (culture shock! another blog…) when I was around 15. At that tender age my weekends were sacrosanct. Slogging through weeks on end of school, classes, peers, assignments and all that goes with it I desperately needed my weekends to recoup my social life, sleep, and other essentials, and homework.

Gardening, or tending a rock garden was not in the schedule.

We moved in the beginning of 1971, snow all over the place, more than I’d ever seen in my cumulative lifetime. Gradually as seasons do spring emerged from the frozen earth and uncovered a lovely, meticulously manicured rock garden across the front of our new home.

“Every Saturday morning you’re going to weed and tend this garden,” my father announced one morning at breakfast. A time at that age when I was barely conscious, clearly not capable of processing paternal directives.

Was he kidding?

No. So every Saturday I was rudely awakened at 8:00 a.m., sharp. Dressed, breakfasted and sitting on the walkway beside the little garden, trying hard to decipher what was weed and what was not, I carefully picked miniscule plants, one by one. As the garden came into flower– I would later learn the names of these flowers: creeping phlox, candy tuft, pinks, rock cress, blue star creeper –I was more careful to avoid those and soon learned what weeds looked like (though now so many years later I know one person’s weed is another’s treasure). As summer came into focus I found myself at the little garden not just Saturday mornings but whenever I detected an asymmetry or a wayward strand of vine. I soon loved this little garden and this love has since grown to consume the majority of my present waking hours in the forms of herbs, vegetables, annuals, perennials, various vines, specimen trees, depending of course on season.

During my adult life at places I volunteered now and then: the Fairchild Botanic Garden in Miami; Winghaven Gardens, Charlotte; San Juan Nature Center, Farmington, NM, I have heard occasionally the term “master gardener”. This lofty-sounding title always caused a sense of presence, something I wondered how people even began to aspire to.

After I moved here I understood this is a program in every county of every state with the local agricultural extension service, so I applied. Much to my amazed delight I was accepted into the program and, only being a couple of weeks into it, it is clear that though much information is imparted through lecture, handouts, homework, and  field trips I will never, ever, know “it all”. I may barely scratch the surface of even that which is presently known, but plants are continually being hybridized, fertilizers, methods of cultivation are constantly being improved, changed, and the climate of course is in a perpetual state of flux, whether you believe in global warming or not.

So no, I will never know all there is to know. But the fun is in the growing, and learning, both the plants and myself. That I hope will never end.

Weeds

Half of my garden is weeds. Seriously.

I intentionally planted cornflowers which is chicory. Spiderwort, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, mullein, all of which can be pulled out of the roadside. Now I actually went out and paid money for cardoon.

Globe thistle.

I am going to have this all over the neighborhood if I am not careful. It’s like planting clover on purpose. Anybody who is proud of their lawn knows this nemesis. I didn’t plant any but before the weed/feed application a few weeks ago (right before flooding rains which thus rendered weed/feed useless) I am certain I saw the familiar creeping three-leafed formation in my front yard, of red clover. I also have some oxalis which cannot be eradicated, I don’t care how much you pull it out or use herbicide (which I will not use, only white vinegar).

I am not a weed hater. When you think about it most of the plants we love (especially natives) were once weeds until somebody liked something about them or found herbal healing properties and made it popular. So even dandelions if the leaves are large enough find their way into a salad of mine or wilted-greens casserole. My son has been known to caution acquaintances never to accept anything I pull from the ground. I do vaguely recall when he was very young on a walk one Saturday afternoon I spotted some wild lettuce and fed us each a bite of it. Upon returning home we slept the entire afternoon. Looking it up I discovered it has somnolent aspects.

But I digress. Many weeds have lovely flowers. St. John’s wort for instance has a bright sunburst flower that cheers even on the soggiest of days. It can’t help its invasiveness. Who wouldn’t want to share all that sunshine? I had a neighbor though who was terrified of snakes and certain every single one she saw was hiding in my blanket of shining golden stars. Nevermind that she still saw snakes even after I pulled out all those lovely healthy plants.

Most plants, when I first move to a new house I leave alone to see what they turn out to be. This proved disastrous in New Mexico one summer when I returned home after an extended time away to over-the-head weeds with unpleasant prickly stalks. It took about 6 hours to cut them all down, by hand each one, and then a healthy sum to have the piles carted away.

It’s alright. They were there first.

Daffodils

Hardiness comes in all forms. Fading whitewash on the northside of a house. window glazing dulled by grit and rain lashing against it. Or a stone at the water’s edge. Years of tides, waves, storms crashing against it and its rough smoothness, a few sharpened barnacles. A redwood forest, astronomical growth standing firm against unimaginable winds, snows, ice storms.

And then, through ice-crusted snow, a slender, bright green spear, unnoticed, then longer. A bud, evolving yellow. One morning you go out to retrieve the newspaper and a nodding yellow trumpet greets you as if to say no matter what life will bloom.

A brother I never knew

Mom held her life close to herself, reluctant to drop pearls or bittersweet memories. My living brother and I knew all our lives he’d been a twin whose brother had died in infancy. Mom did not talk about it much at all. Only recently my brother brought it up again. I live in the town where his grave is. I went to the cemetery. I had no idea the effect this visit would have.

Under the reaching branch of a red oak is a small, rectangular inlaid stone. May 1, 1957 – June 2, 1957. I did not even know he had only lived one month. I tore out a few stray meanderings of Bermuda grass, blew off the weeds. I asked the curator if I could please have a flower urn placed at his grave.

Yesterday, a few weeks after, I bought a styrofoam form and some pretty silk flowers and made a blue-and-white arrangement. I brought it to the gravesite. As promised the little stone had an urn installed at its head. I opened the urn and inverted the inserted stopper and placed the arrangement in. I knelt before the little stone and gently stroked my fingers over the letters of his name, the letters of my mother and father’s names. And I wept. I spoke softly to this little one’s tangible memory, asking whether he had grown up and was now the same age as his brother? Did he know of us? Could he please tell our parents how very much we miss them? Will he know how much we missed in not growing up with him, not knowing him? I wished for what never was and hoped for what will be someday, that whenever our days are lived my brother and I will someday meet this member of our family and bring us to a completeness, a wholeness that his little stone is now a mention of only what never was here in this life.

For whatever reason he was only here for so few moments, someday we will share with him a forever.

Be like a flower… ?

I had one of those chaotic, frenzied days recently. Nothing went right, got stuck in some kind of snag everywhere I went, things were out of stock, traffic was slow or stopped, drivers cutting in and out, turning suddenly with no indicator, cyclists everywhere. More frustrations for a single day than most. So I *finally* get home, unload stuff, lug it all inside, put it away. Remembered I needed to water the seedlings and flowerbeds. After I watered everything I looked at the foxglove with their tall, noddiing flower stems, daylilies pushing forth new buds, yarrow with its soon-to-be crimson flower heads, the Russian sage about to burst forth with bright blue bloom spikes, meadow rue, rose-of-sharon, four o’clocks, coreopsis, echinacea and so many others all waiting their turn to proudly display their lovely flowers.

Every year these beauties put out their showy and lovely display. They are pollinated, their flowers fade, and the birds feast on the seedheads through the winter. They don’t grow impatient waiting for the next rainfall, or envious because the butterfly weed bloomed before the daisies, or even angry that their flowers were not as plentiful or as bright as the year before.

They simply are.

Each year they have their season. The hyacinth, daffodil, iris, vitex, hibiscus, columbine. Each flower pushes up through the newly moistened earth, bringing forth new flower buds, they bloom. Their flowers gradually fade, bringing seeds for the next season. Tirelessly, effortlessly.

Why can’t I be more like that?