Catching Up

We’ve been…IMG_4637

…enjoying downtime before heading off to new adventures.

Rooting for our teams in the World Cup. Korea knocked out Germany! (Sorry, German friends). Belgium is still in! And England, oh England! (We’re watching the game right now).


Eating peach ice cream at Chiles Peach Orchard…


And tending to our garden.



Weekend Snapshots 61: we’re still standing


img_4056My husband took my daughter to her soccer game in Blacksburg this Saturday. I played hooky and spent the day pottering around in my garden, getting a few more patches of poison ivy rashes on my legs. Meanwhile, my son took himself to his own soccer game, but had to come home early, having badly sprained his ankle. He’ll have to be on crutches for a week or so.

While he convalesced indoors, I kept being drawn outside to admire the flowers. I’ve been especially enamored with the irises I planted a couple years ago. They’ve finally come into their own this year…

I was annoyed, however, to see that a bright orange interloper had popped up in the flower bed.


My daughter noticed it immediately and asked “What’s that orange flower?!”

“That’s an iris. They must have sent it by accident with my order.”

I was just about to tell her that I was going to yank it out and replant it in some obscure patch in the backyard when she gushed, “I LOVE it! It’s SO cute!” So, I guess it’s staying…

What’s NOT staying is the huge oak tree, pictured upright just beyond the orange iris in the previous picture. Today it looks like this:


Yesterday, I drove home from work through a powerful storm. It was late and I was so thoroughly exhausted that I somehow managed to pull into the driveway without even noticing that the tree had fallen into another huge oak tree, whose top sheared off and took down the fence with it, and fell into the road, blocking traffic coming from the other direction. When I came through the door, the kids came running up from the basement, where they had been cowering in fear.

“Thank goodness you’re home!!! Did you see the tree?!” my daughter asked breathlessly.

“Tree? What tree?”


She had to drag me to the window to point out the obvious.


We sang in the choir all together for the last time. During the service there was a big, mushy send-off for the graduating seniors, including my son, who is heading to college in New York this fall. I was reduced to a quivering mass of exposed nerves, tears, and snot right up front and center in the choir loft. I’m sure I stuck out like a gaudy orange flower, and not in a cute way either.

But…we’re still standing.

Move over, Sisyphus

img_7141The daily grind has been more challenging than usual these days. Since everything seems impossible and futile at the moment anyway, I thought I’d tackle a Sisyphean task that has been plaguing me for months. The side entrance we always use to enter the house has drainage issues. Rain was washing soil from the garden beds into the pathway. It got so bad, we would have to take a running leap to get over the permanent mud puddle that was forming at the base of the steps.

When I was a little girl, my dad took us to visit Mount Vernon. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what happened to me two days ago to save my life, but I can clearly remember the distinct pleasure of walking on the crushed oyster shell paths at Mount Vernon decades ago. They crunched softly underfoot and gave just a little with each step. With a visceral memory of that delightful sensation, I thought oyster shells would be the perfect solution to our mud problem. Back in the spring I discovered that our local Tractor Supply store carried 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shell for chicken feed and I hauled five bags home. After shoring up the sides of the garden beds with the plentiful quartz rocks that are all over our yard, I poured all 250 pounds of oyster shells onto the muddiest part of the pathway at the base of the steps. It worked beautifully! What a relief to be able to walk rather than leap over the path to get into the house!


Now to figure out how to sift out all those darn leaves and acorns…

I’d meant to finish up the rest of the path months ago, but I’d run out of rocks, I’d run out of shells, and I’d run out of will. I had scouted out more rocks in the paddock, but the thought of digging them up and hauling them back just seemed too daunting. Finally this weekend I tackled the project. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop…even to change out of my church clothes. My husband has more than once accused me of the crime of “ballistic intention,” and I’ll admit guilt to this one. I worked like a woman possessed. I dug up huge rocks and dragged them back in multiple loads in the little red wagon we used to pull my kids in when they were little. And yes, I did it in my dress and gold ballet flats. img_1746The paddock has a beautiful down slope that made the first part of the trip a breeze. But then the upward slope would loom before me like a nightmare. Trudging up that slope with my load of stones over and over again crushed my spirit and made me feel like I would never ever experience happiness again.

img_1748But I kept trudging. It took me two days. I had to keep stopping every ten steps or so to catch my breath and so that my heart wouldn’t explode. Every now and then I’d give up, abandoning my burden to go inside and collapse in a quivering mass of flesh and ruined hopes and dreams.

img_1739For the very last load, my son pulled the wagon while I pushed from behind, and…we did it! The path is outlined:

img_1752Now all I need is another ten bags of crushed oyster shells…

img_1754…and a new back.

It was brutal. I’m physically wrecked. I had to give up every now and then to preserve the tattered scraps of sanity I have left. But I’ve outlined the path, and I’ll keep on going until the job’s done.

Spring Sprang Sprung

The tulip magnolias are taking center stage around Charlottesville these days…They are almost cartoonish in their preposterous ebullience. In the blink of an eye they will be gone and it will be a whole year before we once again witness their improbable splendor.

IMG_8361IMG_8363IMG_8366At our new house, we are closely watching the flowers, trees, and shrubs come to life. There have been happy discoveries like this quince:


I can’t wait to see it in full bloom. And this redbud will be a sight to behold in a week or two:


There have been bitter disappointments…


I don’t love yellow flowers and I really hate forsythia. I wasn’t sure what this thicket of shrubs was going to turn out to be until those tell-tale egg-yolk yellow blooms started coming out. At work today I somehow convinced myself that there were only three or four manageable shrubs that I could easily chop down and uproot. In my foolish optimism, I actually debated whether to use a pair of scissors (HA!) or a small pair of clippers to get rid of them. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot more than either of those to tackle this mess. I’m pretty sure there’s no way this is going to end well.

On a more positive note, I planted some of my favorite flowers this evening. A peony, Brunnera macrophylla, some Virginia bluebells, a Philadelphus, and minuscule, practically microscopic lilacs:

Whenever I plant lifeless sticks, corms, roots, and seeds in the mud, I remember that gardening is an act of faith and hope for the future. It’s participating in a miraculous rite of resurrection.

Yesterday, my daughter and I planted the packet of seeds we got at my friend’s Celebration of Life. I’m not sure what the flowers are, but I know that when they bloom they will remind us that life goes on and that we can plant beauty with our hands and our hearts.



April Garden

Here’s what’s blooming in my garden right now…

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!

-Robert Browning

Well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads…

-William Shakespeare

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

“I hear a thousand nightingales. Spring hath sent them to awaken Earth from her morning slumber, and Earth trembles with ecstasy, her flowers are hymns, which she sings in inspiration to the sun… “– Heinrich Heine

Queen Anne’s Lace

This is my “garden” at this time of the year:

The Weedaretum in all its glory.

The Weed-oretum in all its glory.

Clearly, I have long surrendered to the malevolent forces of summer in Virginia.

My kids always ask me why there aren’t any flowers in my garden in the summer. Here’s my answer:

This. This is what happens when you venture outdoors in mid-July in Virginia.

Why put yourself through the misery of being poached alive in the heavy, sticky, humid air when instead you can swan around enjoying landscapes from the the air-conditioned comfort of your very own chariot of fire?

My sweet pimped out ride. See that Albemarle County Schools magnet on the gas cap? Custom, Baby.

My sweet pimped out ride. See that Albemarle County Schools magnet on the gas cap? Custom, Baby. I’m thinking about having flames painted along the sides next…

This is the best time of the year to enjoy the weedy splendor of roadside displays espied from my car windows. My favorite? Queen Anne’s Lace – the essence of summer.

Even better in combination with its constant companion, the cornflower:

Bad picture...Didn't want to get out of the car to take it!

Bad picture…Didn’t want to get out of the car to take it!

Strewn by the invisible, artful hand of a master gardener, these lovely weeds are all the flowers I need to get me through the summer.

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In the Garden

Earlier this week, I went to the joyful occasion of my second grader’s “Garden Fence Commemoration.”

There have been garden beds at the school for as long as my children have been there. As I learned from the timeline created by the children, the first garden was actually created in 1997.

For as long as I can remember, the raised beds have languished in various states of weedy neglect. To add insult to injury, in 2002 as my daughter points out in her contribution to the timeline above, “Mr. Groundhog” arrived at Murray and began gobbling up plants as fast as they sprouted.

This spring, one of my friends and her husband spearheaded the move to build a solid fence around the garden to keep Mr. Groundhog and other marauding animals out. Enlisting the aid of volunteer parents, they erected the fence over the course of a weekend. In preparation for the serious gardening they could now look forward to, the second graders took a field trip to a local farm and had individual consultations with a farmer about what plants they were thinking about growing. They were each given seeds or starter plants.

Back at school, the garden beds were divided up so that each child could have his or her own little plot. All spring they’ve been keeping a garden journal and faithfully tending their plots with great enthusiasm. They have lovingly watered their plants and have pulled weeds.

Their teachers helped them create a beautiful sign…

make a map of the garden…

and write new lyrics to the tune of “Three Blind Mice” to celebrate their garden.

They learned how to play their song on the ukulele and to sing it in a round.

Parents were invited to come to the celebration.

After performing their song for an appreciative crowd, the children gave tours of the garden. My daughter proudly led me around each of the beds, naming every single plant and the gardener friend who tended it.

Seeds have been planted in fertile soil. Lessons in science, math, maps, history, writing, art, and music all sprung from the garden: a bountiful harvest!

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Junks I Collect No. 7: Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum) are beautiful in all four seasons. With their many variations in size, shape, color, and texture, they can be arranged as you would flowers in the garden. The leaves can look like little stars or hands (hence the name “Palmatum”); others with more deeply dissected leaves can have a more thread-like appearance. The tiniest leaves are as small as a thumbnail. One of the greatest pleasures of having Japanese Maples is watching the leaves change color with the seasons. They come in a wide spectrum of greens, reds, dazzling fuchsias, glowing oranges, yellows, purples, and almost black. There are some fascinating leaf color variations like the Lily Pulitzer green and pink combination that you see in Higasayama. My favorite combination is green edged with a deep, moody purple. Sometimes the most striking color comes not from the leaves, but from the branches themselves. Sango Kaku and Beni Kawa, for example, have brilliant crimson branches. The most beautiful color can even come from the seeds. I once witnessed the breathtaking vision of a Japanese Maple hung all over with seedlings that looked like ruby red ballet slippers glowing in the sun. In the winter, when the trees finally lose their leaves, the structure of their elegant architectural branches is revealed.

I only have a couple Japanese Maples planted out in the garden. Most of them are in heavy blue ceramic pots that withstand freezing temperatures year after year. Mature Japanese Maples are fairly expensive plants to buy, but you can find them as bonsai starters for reasonable prices. (Check ebay)!

This weekend, my Head Assistant Gardener, aka my daughter and I embarked upon a mission to repot this Beni Otake Japanese Maple:

Step 1 – cover hole at bottom of pot with coffee filter to prevent soil from washing away

Step 2 – Have able assistant add soil to bottom

Step 3 – Transplant tree, then add pebbles and sempervivum (hens and chicks) to the base

Step 4 – Pose trees for a family photo. Say “cheese”!

I grow: Red Dragon, Higasayama, Beni Kawa, Orange Dream, Wou Nishiki, Shindeshojo, Beni Otake, Hanami Nishiki, Murasaki Kiyohime, and Chishio Improved.

I’ve tried and failed to grow Beni Maiko a couple times. I want to try again, because it’s a beautiful tree, but mostly because I love its name:  “Red-Haired Dancing Girl”!

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