The Fruits of Orchard

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

After moving into our house with fruit trees in the backyard, I envisioned gently dropping ripe fruit into a basket while my smiling children danced around. Seductive aromas would drift from my kitchen as I baked magnificent pies and canned and froze our bounty. That was the dream.

In our first walk-through of our orchard, we saw an apple tree with a five-inch diameter trunk only a few feet away from a young cherry tree. A few steps away stood a pear tree. Nearby grew a plum tree partnered with another apple tree.pear-453828_960_720

These five small trees stood like a wee forest in the equally small backyard behind the kitchen. Even to a new gardener like me, they looked a bit too cozy. The cherry and plum trees were young enough to be transplanted to the big spacious side yard. The other apple tree had to go to make way for our vegetable garden. This gave the pear and apple trees some breathing room.

The cherry and plum staged their annual contest for best springtime bloom with the plum always coming in second. Not only were the plums not tasty, but a nasty winter killed the tree. As for the traditional Christmas dessert, did you know there are no plums in plum pudding?

The cherry tree looked good year round, the bark a smooth purplish-brown. Cherry blossoms in spring ripened like little red ornaments during the summer. The squirrels scampered on the branches, hanging upside down eating until their faces dripped red with juice.

With the abundant fruit on the tree, I filled my basket and started pitting. Alas, for each pit there was at least one worm. Never did make a cherry pie. A few seasons later half the tree died, then the year with no blossoms or buds. Cannot lie about it; we cut down the cherry tree. Sitting in front of the fireplace, the kids would wave glowing branch tips while cherry aroma filled the room.

Now we were down to two fruit trees. The pear tree produced for several years. Each fall I lined up the canned jars in the basement. Then the tree split and lingered a bit, the last year standing forlornly with a few pears dangling on a single branch.

apple-tree-1593216_960_720The lone survivor is a full-size mature apple tree, greeting us each morning through our bedroom window. Each spring the blossoms tell a different story. Many blossoms, few blossoms, early ones, late ones, fast petal drop, slow petal drop.

The trunk is now nearly 20 inches in diameter with strong branches reaching out like fingers on giant hands. My kids climbed in and sat like birds in a nest. Now my grandkids settle in an even bigger nest. A visitor once commented on the great bones of our apple tree. Indeed, it is a magnificent sculpture that spreads itself out to shade our porch.

The apple tree and I continue to travel through the seasons together; blossom time, petal drop and the progression of windfalls that I faithfully pick up. The tree peeks in through the kitchen window as I mix its tart, sweet flavor in pies and applesauce. When all other trees stand bare, the apple tree hangs on to its leaves, determined to be the last one to give up and settle down for the winter ahead.


The Best Laid Plans – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

I don’t know about you, but for me, the growing season in spring begins with a lot of ambition, enthusiasm and good intention. Similarly to a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to tend my gardens with the utmost care to make this year, the year when I’ll host that garden tour or send those prize winning photos to Better Homes & Gardens for publication. Pretty soon my notebook is filled with sketches of grandiose garden plans showing where I’ll transplant that Lamb’s Ear that’s overtaking my front bed, how I’ll construct and place that arbor with a climbing trumpet vine, add that shade garden, and fill each nook and cranny with colorful blooms. Ah… the hope of spring.

Now, September is here. The Lamb’s Ear is bigger than ever. The arbor still sits in my garage, cleverly displayed as a pile of wood. The new shade garden consists of a dozen hostas still sitting in their pots behind the house. But hey, those nooks and crannies are filled, albeit filled with weeds. No prize winning photos will be featured on the cover of next month’s gardening magazine. As I looked out across my yard, I contemplated what went wrong. I fondly recalled those glorious plans, wondering to myself, “Where is that notebook, anyway?”

I began to reason with myself, reciting in my head the excuses: a busy summer, the weather, those darn squirrels, the price of mulch, that sore shoulder, and the list goes on. I walked across the path, noticing the thistles that sprang up along the stepping stones. “Some master gardener you are,” I said to myself with condemning tones. I knelt down to pluck a weed. Just as I was about to go in for the kill, I noticed an insect. It wasn’t one of those scary bugs. It was a fly of some sort, one I’d never seen before, brilliantly colored in iridescent green, purple, pink and yellow. It stopped me in my tracks. The sun shone bright, making it look like a magnificent jewel resting among the thorns. It was so stunning that it distracted me from the weeds and I suddenly felt contented. As I stood up, I thought to myself, “I didn’t expect to find some thing so beautiful hidden among what seemed to be such a mess.”

There are other times I’ve made grandiose plans in my life – more important in the scheme of things than a well-manicured yard. I recall when I was younger and planning an education, a career, a marriage, a family … a life. Very few of them ever turned out the way I planned. I saw my thwarted plans as failures. Even more so, I saw myself as a failure. I wanted to be in control of every aspect of life, and when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I felt devastated, like a victim of circumstance. Soon, excuses began piling up, and I began blaming many family and friends for the reason my life was so miserable and unfulfilled. Life became a pity party, filled with damaged egos and emotions, and more importantly, damaged relationships.

Through the years, though, I’ve had many wise and wonderful people speak into my life – people whose stories are filled with tragedy and heartbreak more devastating than my own. Life had not been kind to them. Their plans were dashed by job loss, broken marriages, a stray son or daughter, an illness, financial struggles, and death of loved ones. Life and their plans seemed out of control. Yet, they shared their story with a profound sense of purpose and hope, and I longed to know their secret.

Their secret: control. Oh, not the pursuit of it, but the pursuit of letting it go and allowing life to unfold. It didn’t mean they didn’t plan. It didn’t mean they were irresponsible. It just meant they trusted in their heart that they would do what they reasonably could, yet understand that they couldn’t control every aspect of life. So, when life got difficult, their circumstances were no less painful, but they had learned to look for those magnificent jewels resting among the thorns. They searched for those jewels, and they distracted them from the weeds of life. And yes, no matter how out of control life felt, they found something beautiful hidden among what seemed to be such a mess.

It’s a paradox, but when we acknowledge how powerless we really are to control our lives, it’s then that we’re most empowered to live our lives to the fullest and seek out the beauty. Many plans are noble. Many are also unattainable. So, I’m determined to enjoy the beauty I discover along the way and not spend too much time mourning what could have been.


The Weeds of Life – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

C.L.-Fornari-garden-saying-905x1024I hate weeds, which means I have a lot to hate about my lawn and my gardens. But I have vowed to keep fighting despite what seems like a losing battle. Let’s face it – it’s tough keeping weeds out of our garden. It requires lots of getting down on your hands and knees, working the soil, pulling, digging, and at times using some form of concoction to finally get rid of them. It’s hard work. I swear there can be times when I’m strolling through my gardens and I may see a small weed, and I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll get that tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow comes, and behold, it had grown into something resembling a weed from the Little Shop of Horrors. I’m amazed at how quickly weeds can take over. There are other times, especially in early spring, when I go to pull a weed and catch myself, realizing I was just about to pull out that expensive perennial I had planted the fall before. I can honestly say I have carefully tended a plant that I thought was a flower, only to realize in July that I had been carefully watering and nurturing a clump of wild goldenrod.

b9188b3d54ec0c0e2a56717ea4f980e6There are weeds in life too. And like in the garden, it requires a lot of hard work getting them out. They start out unassuming and sometimes unrecognizable from the good things in our lives. Weeds can be like that. Sometimes weeds in our lives start out small and subtle… like a habit, that left unattended, can grow into a full blown uncontrollable addiction. Or a grudge against someone that, unchecked, can grow into an obsession of hatred. When I was in middle school I was bullied and made fun of by a classmate. She spread nasty rumors about me. She would meet me after school to beat me up. In gym class she would tease me and tell me how ugly I was. Slowly my self image, my value, worth and dignity faded away. I carried those wounds with me for years. My grudge against her was a weed that had eventually grown into hatred that almost destroyed me, and the roots went deep. But the day came when I had to face my weed of hatred towards her and forgive … even though she didn’t ask for it. Even though she didn’t try to make up for what she did. The unforgiveness and hatred that I held onto was hurting me more than the pains I experienced at the time. I wish I had known as a school girl about the principles of weeding: get them when they’re small, and get the whole root. If you’ve ever tried to pull a dandelion you know that it has a really deep tap root. And if you just chop off the leaves and those yellow flowers, your lawn will look pretty nice for a few days. But eventually that weed will come back bigger and stronger than ever. In our lives if we just clean up the outward appearance so that it looks good from the outside, but don’t get the root, the weeds of life will overtake us and only get stronger and more difficult to get rid of.

There’s another principle to remove weeds. Have you ever tried pulling weeds during a dry spell? Now compare that to pulling weeds after a good dousing rain. There’s a big difference, isn’t there? When the earth is nourished and softened, it’s easier to pull weeds. But I have known some people who have allowed pain, heartache and trials to harden their hearts like cement. As a result, the weeds of life that have grown through the cracks have a stronghold that won’t let go. I long for them to allow their hearts to be open, to risk having the gentle rain of love penetrate their soul to soften the grip. Our weeds in life need to be treated the same as weeds in a garden. Admittedly, I’ve toiled and worked to remove the deeply rooted weeds of my life, and yes, a lot of time was spent on my knees. And it’s a continual process. Weeds keep trying to spring up and rob the joy of life. But as with my garden, I won’t give up the battle. I’ll continue to learn to identify them and get them when they’re small, and continue to enjoy the journey

The Story of Black-eyed Sue

By Anne Garde & Alan Okagaki,  National Public Radio – 1986

black-eyed-susan-1344895368GENI rose early, at four o-clock, the morning glory still iris away. I was worried. Anemone of mine, Johnny Jump Up, was looking for me, and I’d heard he was carrying a pistil, a 357 magnolia. Iironed a periwinkle blouse, got dressed, and took a sprig of a dusty Miller’s beer. Johnny Jump Up was one of several rhizomes who’d gone to seed in Forsythia, Montana. He was convicted of graft in 1984, arrested again in ’85 for digging up coreopsis. Johnny then drifted on the wind up to my neighborhood, the corner of Hollyhock & Vine. He was a petal pusher in a phloxhouse nearby.

I knew he was trouble when he rode-a-dendron to my house and said, “Hey, little Black-Eyed Susan, wanna come over to my place and take a look at my vetches?” I didn’t want to tell him in all the cosmos, there was no one for me but Sweet William, so I said no, I was taking care of a pet dogwood that had a litter of poppies, which was weird cause she was just spade. Johnny had no sense of humus. He stamped his foot with impatiens.

“You’ll rue the day you turned me down,” he snapped. Then he spit a wad of salvia into the petunia on my portulaca and stalked away. “Forget me not, Sue, cause I’ll be zinnia.”

Ever since then, he’d cultivated a relationship with Lily of the Valley, a self-sowing biennial. One day, I aster what she seed in him. “Mum’s the word on this” she said, “He’s got a trillium dollars in the bank.”

“A trillium?” I snorted. “He’s lime to you. Besides, what about love?”

“Alyssum,” Lily said. “You bleeding hearts are all alike. Kid, you can go for a guy who’ll azalea with affection, orchid you can be like me and try to marigold”.

“Now begonia.”

I was in my kitchen, mullein over these past events. It was thyme to quit dilly-dahliaing. The calendula read August 3rd, and Johnny had sworn to propagate vengeance before the snowdrop. I hopped into my autolobelia and drove over to Daisy’s for help. Daisy was a pretty little transplant from Florida, who had wilted in the humidity there, but was now rooted in the well-drained soil of Bloom County.

Daisy mostly took care of her baby’s breath, but lately she had branched out and was columbining work with home life. “We’re all sick today, I think it’s gaillardia. Even the cat has got harebells. If we could take a knapweed be o.k.” Daisy’s face was blight yellow. She would not be of any help.

I beetled feet over to Sweet William’s garden plot. “Will, am I gladiolus to see you.” “Black Eyed Sue, I’ve been praying mantis see you. Let’s lilac in the snow on the mountain before it all melts down the geranium. Let’s ride a sage to Tansynia. It’s only a chamomile away.”

“Don’t be fritillary, honeysuckle,” I said, clinging to him. “Look, here comes the clematis of the story.” Oh, oh. Johnny had hired Pete Moss, a bearded iris-man to do me in. He was wearing a blue nectar and larkspurs. He had a larva men with him. The pests! They began to charge. In all the confuchsia, I said to Will, “Stem still and give me some ground cover.” I ran down the primrose path in my lady slippers, right towards Pete. “Don’t gimme any flax, bud, or I’ll slug ya. You’ll look dandelion in the alley. “Don’t gimme any flax, bud,” Pete quoted me verbena. It nettled me. I clovered him with a 2X4.

“Sound the timpansy,” we sang “We won.” Pete moaned, “Curses, foliaged again. I noticed Johnny Jump Up planted on the border. I’ve sunk pretty loam, Sue, but now I’m be turning over a new leaf.”

“Bouquet,” I said. And he did. Will & I lived pearly everlasting.


Showers of Blessings – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

downloadPouring rain. I peered out the small window to see the ominous clouds, thunder, lightening and a small lake quickly forming in front of the building I had found as a shelter from the storm. Safe. The ground was already saturated from an overnight rain of an inch or so only two days earlier, and several days of stormy weather the week before. It was the middle of July, usually the driest month of the year. But this year it proved to be the wettest July ever on record. I was at a large outdoor event when the rains came and I found myself peering out that window. Several others had gathered with me, some friends, some strangers. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon and families of all ages were caught somewhat unexpectedly by the fast moving storm. Most made it inside before the drenching rains began so that they could wait it out. In my mind, all could think was, “Enough, already! When’s this rain going to end?” I recalled a friend telling me how her basement flooded. Another told me of how his garden was beneath four inches of water a few days earlier, and I thought about how this dousing rain might be the final blow. I was more fortunate since I lived on higher ground, but still couldn’t escape the wrath of the rain. Everything had flopped over. Slugs were seeking and destroying. Powdery mildew reigned. Tomatoes were rotting on the vine. Weeds were taking over. And the mosquitoes! Need I say more?

It’s hard to make sense of it sometimes. Storms often put a damper on our plans and our parties, as was the case with the event I was at. Where only a half hour earlier I saw crowds of laughing and singing people, now there were huge puddles and a sea of scattered lawn chairs tossed around by the fierce winds. The people inside along with me waited impatiently, talking on their cell phones or trying to sit clumsily on the floor as they tried to get comfortable. Needless to say, there was an air of disappointment. That was, until I looked out the window again. I could barely believe my eyes. A group of teenagers had gathered, running through puddles, laughing hysterically as they tried to battle the piercing wind and rain. Though there wasn’t any audible music aside from the heavenly rumbles, they danced to a melody that seemed to spring up from within them. They splashed around like carefree ducks in a pond, drenched from head to toe, arms outstretched and faces pointed towards the sky. Suddenly my high and dry surroundings didn’t seem like a safe haven any more, seeing their freedom and joy compared to the sullen faces surrounding me. Where I once felt sheltered, I now felt captive. I contemplated for a moment, “Should I go? Do I dare?” I brushed off the silly notion and stayed inside along with all my newfound companions, choosing to remain every bit as ill-tempered as them.

funny-life-sayings-quotes-15I regret not dashing out the door to frolic in the rain that day. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have experienced a joy far greater than those who hid inside. But fear kept me from going. Not just fear of getting wet or even fear of the danger. But more so, it was the fear of wondering what people would think of a forty-something year-old woman trying to do the slip-n-slide through a 6″ deep river that had formed nearby. Staying inside was dry. Staying inside was expected. Staying inside was … safe.

I wonder how often we see the storms of life as curses instead of blessings. We find it hard to see the good in something that has the potential to cause so much damage. Yet often, I believe we purposely hide ourselves away from the storms of life and try to protect our souls from the blessings that can be showered upon us in the midst of it. We peer through the window; catching glimpses of what it could be like on the other side if only we’d put aside our fears and reservations. We keep up appearances so those around us, who may be equally as miserable, don’t think of us as imprudent or childish. We choose to remain ill-tempered. Rains come. Winds blow. The storms of life are inevitable. Will we stay safe? Or will we take the risk to experience life in all its unpredictability, yet all its fullness. I hope to have enough courage the next time a storm comes, if that be from the weather or life. Will you join me? Step away from the window. Walk through the door. Stretch open your arms. And dance.

Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer 

Life Lessons from the Garden: The Secret Ingredient

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

My mom is originally from Germany and still retains her thick German accent despite being in the United States for more than fifty years now. She has a rich heritage of living through World War II, coming to America through Ellis Island, and countless stories. My mother is strong, both physically and in character, with a quick wit, hilarious sense of humor and unending energy. I hope to be as vibrant as she is when I’m 81. Truth be told, I sometimes wish I were as vibrant today. My mom and I are both passionate about gardening. We share many joys as it relates to flowers and other greenery in our yards, but also many frustrations. The greatest frustration is what she affectionately calls “varmints.” Squirrels, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, etc. these are the types of creatures that can destroy a garden. We both like to be environmentally conscious in our gardens, trying to avoid lots of chemicals or inhumane ways to solve the varmint problem.

rabbit-717855_960_720One day as we were eating lunch at a restaurant, my mom began sharing about a home remedy she had found in a gardening magazine. It required combining various ingredients commonly found in your home that would get sprayed on flowers. Try to imagine her thick accent as you consider the dialogue that took place in that corner booth. “I tried a new formula for the rabbits that keep eating my plants,” she said. So I played along. “What’s in it?” I asked, expecting the usual ingredients. She responded, “Well, there’s water, und Ivory soap, und castor oil. ..” I thought to myself, “Hmmm … It doesn’t sound terribly potent.” She rattled off some other ingredients from her kitchen, which seemed to make the recipe a little more promising. Then she put down her sandwich, gave a mischievous smile, and said with dramatic pauses, “Then … I added … the secret ingredient.” I waited for her to finish. Looking at her expectantly, I gave her the look that says, “And the secret ingredient is???” Silence. She wouldn’t tell me! I tried prodding it out of her, but she just kept smiling, laughing at my discomfort, hesitant to reveal the lengths she went to for her concoction. Frustrated, I gave up my pursuit of the answer and went back to my lunch. Just as I was about to take a nice, big bite of my sandwich, she blurted out very matter of fact, “I peed in it.” Have you ever had a laughing fit? That’s what happened that day. I couldn’t contain my laughter. My mom joined in the giggling as we tried to subdue the moment. Other patrons in the restaurant began to stare, giving that look that questioned, “What’s your problem?” If they only knew!

We want a recipe, don’t we? Not just for problems in the garden, but we want a formula that will fix the problems of life: the path to financial freedom, the perfect diet, the ten steps to happiness, the “easy how-to”. And the magazines, media and infomercials are more than ready to tell us how to make it happen on our own for only three easy payments of $19.95. In fact, more than 8 billion dollars is spent annually in the self-help industry in America. I’ve found that I long for a secret ingredient to solve life’s problems too, mostly because I’m afraid to expose my own secrets that can hold me in chains and rob me of life. Secrets can take on different forms – maybe hurts from the past that haven’t been dealt with, moments of indiscretion that you’d rather keep quiet, a habit that has slowly grown into an addiction, an area in life where you’re afraid to admit you fall short. I do believe there is a secret ingredient that will help those who battle with these struggles. Don’t worry; it doesn’t require peeing in a bucket. But truth be told, it is even more unpleasant for most. It’s unconventional in society. It screams against the mainstream, asking something of you that most are unwilling to surrender

So, what’s the secret ingredient to living life to the fullest? Expose the secret. It sounds secret-1142327_960_720simple. But for most, the prospect of exposing their secret life causes panic attacks and cold sweats. “But then it’s not a secret,” you say. Exactly. There is incredible power in secrets. Secrecy is the enemy of our soul. We’re often convinced that we need to keep our struggles a secret; that we need to hide it in a veil of darkness. But darkness is where despair resides. When we expose our secret it allows others to share in our lives and know us from the inside out. I don’t know about you, but my deepest longing is to be loved for who I am, not for who I want people to think I am. When we’re truly known, yet truly loved, that’s when we’re truly satisfied. Many think that rejection or disgust from others awaits those who discard their masks of pretense and expose areas in their life where they might not have it all together. But the beauty of it is that the opposite happens. When authenticity shines through, it draws people in. Let’s all be authentic people, exposing our own secrets and admitting our faults. Let’s not only share in the pains, joys and struggles of others, but allow others to share in ours as well. That’s what relationships are for.

Tammy is a regular contributor to our quarterly member newsletter, and her articles will now be a monthly addition to our blog.