Archives

Straight Scoop: A Clean Driveway is a Joy Forever

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lynne Finch

Hardly has the last leaf tumbled from the trees when my husband starts waiting for the snows. That wouldn’t be surprising if he liked skiing or other snow sports. It wouldn’t be surprising either if he owned a winter resort, a plowing business or a tow truck. Or even a riding snowblower. What he does have is a long driveway, a lot of sidewalk and an obsession with keeping them immaculate. His only tools are a batch of shovels and some strange inner drive that makes him glow with pride when he finally leans on the handle to survey his cleared domain.

After a recent blizzard, as we both leaned on our shovels, he turned to me and said, “There’s nothing like a shoveled driveway.” He swung his arm to include all the snow-blown driveways along the street. “Notice how a snowblower leaves an untidy surface.” He gazed dreamily down the 100-foot drive leading to our garage, “But a shoveled driveway is neat and clean. Definitely a thing of beauty, wouldn’t you say?” I failed to appreciate the esthetics of shoveling. I was glad it was done–he was glad it was beautiful.

In all other respects he’s quite a normal fellow. He growls in the morning, fusses about taking out the garbage, and complains that there are never enough apple pies in the house. He refuses to wash the ceiling and does windows only under protest. It’s when Mother Nature plays the flip side of summer that he goes berserk. I began to suspect something when he gently caressed the handle of our first snow shovel and leered at its broad, steel-reinforced edge. From there his habit progressed to pushers, then on to chippers and brooms.

The path to our door was always immaculate. When we lived in apartments, he cleared whole parking lots, single-shoveled. Now he commands a motley collection of snow equipment that includes a hand-made wooden pusher, a grain scoop and a manure scraper. The steel-edged pusher that came with our old house scrapes a path as wide as the sidewalk. The grain scoop is lightweight and swoops easily through deep snow at amazing speeds down our 100-foot driveway and 130 feet of sidewalk.

My husband also is not one to let a puddle lie. He disperses them quickly with a broom; if one freezes he approaches it, ice chipper in hand, and smashes it to bits. He works carefully, never overexerting himself. Before shoveling he does warm-up exercises in the house. His shoveling form is flawless. A perfected swing and follow-through produce a smooth, steady rhythm of lift and toss. Knees bent to a precise angle relieve stress on his back. When he returns to the house, he is refreshed of body and spirit, glowing with accomplishment.

He is not one to wait out a storm before swinging into action. While other driveways may wait quietly beneath eight inches of fresh snow, ours may have already undergone two or even three strippings. Sometimes he even shovels in the dark of night, tossing snow that reflects the silvery moonlight. As the snowy walls grow taller, he treats them to occasional trimmings, much as a summer man shapes leafy hedges. But eventually they begin to shrink and the snow he so valiantly conquered sneaks into the ground or runs down the street. After all is said and shoveled, he’s a handy man to have around in the winter. He doesn’t need gas and never has been delayed at the repair shop.

Now if I could only convince him that a well-kept yard is a beautiful as a shoveled driveway, I’d have it made in the shade.

– Reprinted with permission. Copyright Lynne L. Finch.

 

 

Advertisements

My Small Corner of the World – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

It was a perfect fall day in mid-November with a sunny sky and unusually high temperatures approaching 60 degrees. I walked along a road with majestic oaks bordering one side and a glassy lake on the other. It felt like I had the serene world to myself with only an occasional car passing by. As I continued on I came upon an older gentleman with pitch fork in hand standing near a pile of leaves that stretched to the edge of the woods. As I approached more closely I saw smoke rising from the dry leaves. He had set them on fire.

downloadSomewhat concerned, I stopped and exchanged pleasantries, then casually asked, “How will you keep it from spreading into the woods?” “I want it to go into the woods,” he said. Surprised, I asked why. His response: “Buckthorn. ” I had noticed the abundance of this invasive non-native plant and how it covered the entire forest understory. I had walked several miles on the trails of this particular property and it had clearly taken over. It was everywhere.

The gentleman began explaining how he had begun burning the forest edges and portions within the woods last year and had seen a marked improvement already. “It kills the young saplings and destroys some of the seeds and fruit,” he said. “Each year we’ll do a little more and hopefully one day we’ll get it under control. I suppose we’ll never get rid of it all, but that won’t stop me from trying. ” It seemed pretty overwhelming to me. The day I was there it looked like he had only burned a little less than an acre, and it bordered more than 500 acres beyond that.

It didn’t stop there; I had noticed on my drive to this little retreat that the unwanted undergrowth lined the forest edges for miles around. Appearing to be in his late 50’s, I imagined the day of no more buckthorn might not even happen in his lifetime at the rate he was going. Even if he could one day get a handle on his little corner of the world, the bordering landscape would continually press in and encroach on this beautiful place. Yet, as he plaintively leaned against his pitch fork watching the smoldering flames like a mesmerizing campfire, he spoke with a sense of hope and ambition. I admired him. He faced an impossible mission, yet he wasn’t discouraged or defeated. He wasn’t going to give up. He was determined to do what he could to impact his little part of the world.

I think of the times when I’ve faced what seemed like an impossibility in my own life and have been tempted to give up. Sometimes, without invitation, the outside world invades mine and I feel overwhelmed to do anything about it. There have been seasons when I’ve let things get too far out of control to the point of choking out all that’s good. And at other times when I’m faced with the needs and injustice in the world, I feel too insignificant to make an impact. This man’s determination reminded me that no matter how overwhelming a circumstance may seem, there’s always hope. I suppose I’ll never get rid of all the injustice in the world, but that won’t stop me from trying. I may not be able to change the whole world, but I can change the small part I call home. And maybe, just maybe … someone may stroll along someday and see me fanning the flames, only to realize they can change theirs too.

Pruning Isn’t Always Pretty – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

When my husband and I bought our first home, it needed some attention in the landscaping department. Among the items that needed particular help was an old grape vine that grew behind the garage. Needless to say, it had been neglected by the previous owners and was terribly overgrown. Next to the garage was a tall pine tree and the vine had actually began climbing the tree and had grown to the very top, nearly 50 feet in the air. From the earth below you could see one or two clusters of grapes way up in the tip of the tree. For all appearances, the vine looked really healthy and lush and it obviously was very vigorous. But for all practical purposes, it was useless. It wasn’t fulfilling the purpose for which it was created: to produce fruit.

Each of us has a purpose, but like that grapevine, sometimes our lives become too far reaching. We spread ourselves too thin, filling our schedules with more than we can handle, reaching for heights in a career that may very well take us to the top, but leave us unfulfilled. Or maybe we look impressive from a distance, but when someone gets close, they struggle to find the fruit and purpose. Maybe it’s time for some pruning.

Pruning isn’t always pretty, and it’s not pretty in our lives either. Have you ever seen a freshly pruned grape vine? It’s bare and exposed, with only a few stems left to hold on. But it’s the only way you’ll get a full harvest of fruit. Pruning is a very painstaking and traumatic experience, requiring the removal of most of the growth and just leaving the best canes to focus their energy on fruit production. Bottom line: without proper pruning, you won’t get much fruit.

If we want to produce fruit in our lives, to truly have a life of purpose, of meaning beyond ourselves, beyond the outward appearance that may look good from a distance, we may need to be willing to allow things to get ugly too; to have those unnecessary things in our lives that we cling to be stripped away and be exposed for who we truly are underneath. We may need to cut away the branches so that the vine of our lives can spend its energy doing what it was created to do… to produce fruit and have a life of purpose and meaning. Often we think of the big things that need to be pruned… Maybe a violent temper, addictions, or overt stuff like stealing or cheating on your spouse. Yes, those things should be pruned away. But those are just behaviors, the symptoms of deeper underlying issues. To experience real life change, it requires deeper pruning of the stem of those problems. Maybe it’s a heart of resentment or pride, unforgiveness or a victim mentality. It could be any host of issues, but there’s only one solution to them all. Pruning.

Pruning is painful. It hurts. It exposes. It can shock us. But when things are cut away, take heart, because there’s still a foundation that’s deeply grounded that can carry us through and be the source of new life. I struggled with hatred and resentment for past offenses in my own life, and it left me reaching for more and more, yet feeling more and more empty and unfulfilled. I tried pruning away the dead wood and unproductive showy growth on my own, but always fell short. I couldn’t remove the hatred on my own. I couldn’t forgive on my own. I needed the help of others and a power greater than mine to do it with me. And I wish I could say that pruning is a one-time deal. But it’s not. With each season, it seems like something new crops up and needs attention once again.

But when we produce fruit for a purpose greater than our own, a life that impacts others and isn’t just in it to impress others with a showy display, we find that the pain of pruning… it’s worth it after all.

 

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.