“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
The sky is bright. The day is new and I am out in the neglected garden, busy as a bee, foolhardily attempting to resurrect order into chaos. I feel wonderful out here in the fresh air and sunshine. It is a spectacular Saturday. I have the whole day ahead to do whatever I want and this is what I want.
I miss it out here and from the looks of it it misses me. It is a cornucopia of green things vying for space and light. I liken this tangled mess to my mind and life in general; bursting with wild, colorful and impatient things…lush, exuberant and messy. Tending the soil has given me metaphor upon metaphor upon on which to reflect and the act of gardening itself allows my mind to meander down strange and unusual and often very creative paths.
I am more of a scientist really than an oranmentalist. I like crazy wild. I shy away from the straight line. I will allow a mysterious plant to grow, just to see what it turns out to be. Most of the time it turns out to be just a common weed but once in a while serendipity will shine on me with something new and wonderful. Life is like that I think too.
It is labor intensive here. I set all this up when I had oodles of time on my hands. I didn’t have to do much at work and life came pretty easy. My garden, my sanctuary as I called it, was my respite from the world, a world I was very much afraid of. It was here I started this blog and the blogger Strawberryindigo was born. In a little converted garage we call the studio I typed and typed and purged my heart out.
I think about that now; how far I’ve come. They say where our heart lies there lies our treasure. Once my yard was my treasure. It was pristine, nary a weed or grass-blade out of place. I worked hours at a stretch, this is where I gained my satisfaction in life but it was lonely being so afraid of the world…
Through design and through fate via a series of sales related jobs has forced me out of my comfort zone again and again, so much it is a common occurrence. Once I gain mastery I go onto the next challenge. I am cultivating my garden. I am accepting myself as I am but weeding out what does not serve me to make room for the more beautiful things that do. Beautiful things we all can enjoy. I am cultivating friendships where I did not before and now my garden is not so lonely anymore.
My goal is to spread goodness and light in my own small way; planting seeds along my path. Some may not take root but others will, growing into something wonderful. I figure the more seeds I plant the more flowers that will grow…
…and so here I am pulling weeds thinking about this and there I spy a butterfly; a swallowtail. It is headed for the butterfly bush. I run and get my camera. It is kind enough to stick around for a few photos
I get excited at this sort of event , and yes seeing a butterfly is an event to me! I lay back in the grass. The breeze cools my sweaty brow. I am totally living in that moment and then as if on cue nature rewards me with a smallish flock of sweet little birds who make tiny hops around the branches of the tree next me, they make cute little chirpings the sort you’d expect from birds such as this.
I am happy…
I watch honeybees visit the white clover flowers in the grass. They carefully buzz from one to the next fast and efficiently. Their devotion to their task inspired me to leave this wild area in the grass, unmown and full of clover, the patch has grown since last year.
I am an avid bee watcher although I don’t have the time like I used to…
My mind drifts to the story I was reading earlier that queried if bees dream and then what do they dream about? The whole prospect of bees dreaming intrigues the hell out of me and the writer of the article states that bees when kept from sleeping (yes, bees sleep) tend to forget where all the good flowers are.
This makes a whole lot of sense. I think that we humans could learn a few things from our friends the bees:
A busy bee still finds time to dream. It is those wonderful dreams made into fruition by hard work that create beautiful gardens.
“Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” ―David Foster Wallace
The day smells fresh and new. It is sunny and warm for mid February and I have already stripped off my coat and sweater and I’m down to my Captain America T-Shirt. The wind is brisk and invigorating. It drowns out the sound of all else. I am working in the garden for the first time this year; turning the dirt over in what was and will be again my vegetable patch.
This is got to be one of my most favorite activities; digging in the dirt out in the sun on a lovely day such as this. I am grinning like an idiot. I can’t help it.
This feels so right. so symbolic. If I could create my own start of the new year it would be right now; the time that I first turn the dirt over. It is so hopeful; this whole thing. As I dig my mind drifts along so peacefully, so merrily. My thoughts wander to and fro, from this to that in a steady stream of thoughts that lead to a big quiet pool of lucid nothingness. I float there, mindlessly…mindfully. I feel connected to everything and all seems right with the world. I feel more myself than I have all winter. I have missed this I think, more than I first realized.
It has been an unusual winter. It’s been one of major growth for me. I am still working at my “seasonal”retail job. They have yet to kick me out. Who knows? I may stay awhile. Never before have I been so confident in myself. I am a happy, confident, positive, bright and beaming person and it has taken my whole life to get this way. I feel blessed to have a family that loves me and a roof over my head and a garden to work in.
I feel like I’m standing on the precipice of something wonderful; a something not far beyond my grasp and if I just reach and stretch a little more, I’ll get there.
“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” ― Louisa May Alcott
It happened so quickly: a flutter of wings, a white flash..and then I saw them…two cavorting butterflies, cabbage whites, I think. Fluttering all around me; my head and legs, coming so close I can feel the gentle breeze on my face created by the fritterings of their little wings. I sit as still as I can and take in this surreal and glorious moment. Then just as abruptly as they appear they flutter off together into the blue October sky. It was quite a moment and strange as it sounds I got the idea they were thanking me for something. A place to cavort perhaps. A resting place amid the growing greenness in this nondescript urban oasis that is my backyard. A wildish place of ordered chaos. A pesticide-free zone with a little bit for everyone. Native plants and more. Providing nectar and seeds and shelter and safe spots to forage with berries and tomatoes and lots of tasty bugs and worms.
A respite from the lifeless urban jungle of hard concrete and indifference.
These moments bring me such joy; my encounters with the urban wildlife that visit my garden. There are the squirrels who compete for nuts with the squawky jays. They are beautifully blue and like to fly from rooftop to rooftop swooping down in the yard hunting and catching insects.
Along with the white butterflies, there are bees galore, buzzing from here to there, intermixed with hover-flies which seem to defy gravity. These beneficial insects love the sweet asylum that seeds itself freely and grows every summer against the southern wall that borders the driveway. This once barren slab of cement now teems with exuberant life. The other side is filled with a hodgepodge of annuals and perennials.
It resembles more of a science experiment than a tidy yard. I’ve never been a very tidy person but the urban fauna doesn’t seem to mind.
And as the season progresses and as October turns to November my time in the garden has decreased in fact admittedly, it has been nearly a week since I have been back here. I take advantage of a much needed sunny day and plan to spend some time working and appreciating. All the work I do know will pay off next Spring.
Of course I leave much of the wildness for the urban wildlife who will winter here.
All the remain of the once vibrant yellow Susans are the jet black seed pods which the chickadees and finches have been devouring with a flourish.
I am always reflective this time of year and I do much of my reflecting back here. The fuchsia is still blooming and the Pineapple Sage is in it’s full glory. It’s scarlet spires provide nectar to the hummingbirds which still visit as the season progresses and progresses it does. The leaves have changed and many have fallen to the ground. I can hear them crunch under my feet. My mind goes back to the white butterflies and my brief encounter with them just a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen any since. Our next meeting will have to wait for Spring when they return. And so will the Canada Geese that I hear flying overhead, their distinct honking flooding the sky with such riotous sound. This brings me back to Autumn’s past. It is these living harbingers of winter who make me sit and pause and reflect upon life and time. It will be the Geese again who will prompt the same reflection upon their return.
And now it is my turn to say thank you to the fantastic world around us. From the smallest proton to the largest supernova…from the tiny microbe in the soil to the hummingbird to the black and white house cat to the awestruck and humbled human. We are all connected and what a beautiful thing is that.
Have a fantastic day!
“…Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
The air is clear and slightly cold, just chill enough to notice. A layer of glittery dew covers the grass. I stand on the back porch my eyes closed, face to the rising October sun. I feel a slight warmth on my eyelids and this makes me smile.
The birds are in riotous glory; I listen to their songs intently; trying to make out as many distinct songs as I can. I recognize the song of the chickadees accompanied by the expectant cluck of the chickens next door. I hear the caws of the crows in the distance; calling to each other from neighboring trees. At once they all take flight, flying high into the deep blue sky circling the tall pines and calling out to each other. I can feel their hurried energy as I do the squirrel’s. I think I hear one rustling in the large bush in the back, or at least what I presume is a squirrel. My imagination comes up with ” interesting scenarios” as to the identity of this “mysterious” creature when Jay, the Scrub Jay, bursts out of the very same bush and scares the zen-like serenity right out of me. He lets out a distinctiveSQUAWK, swoops down across the yard in perfect form and lands right on top of the roof.
A-ha! He then spots the peanuts “some kind human” has set out. I watch with delight as he goes from the roof down to the top of the fence. He picks up a nut in his beak, tips his head back, the nut rolls into place and then he’s off with his prize…off to one of a half-a-dozen stash places located in the surrounding tree canopy. Every time he dives down he squawks and this sound reverberates all over. I watch as he checks the ground for any missing nuts. He lets out one last flurry of distinctive calls then takes off somewhere beyond the neighbors Maple tree.
My listening has not ended as I try to make out as many sounds as I can; city intertwined with nature. The purr of lawn mower and the edgy beep beep of traffic noise and mixes with the sweet innocence of birds. I hear the other neighbors goat, yes goat. A child’s laugh is drowned out by the roar of a jet engine high in the sky, leaving a white trail behind it.
I am distracted once again, this time by a real squirrel. It has come to the fence and found the nuts gone. Again, taken by that dashing blue bandit. The squirrel scolds me; staring at me and barking. Its fluffy tail adding to the drama, twitching and and going in circular motions. I laugh knowing it will soon be checking the bird feeder out front and gorging itself on mixed seeds. All the while eyeing me out of the corner of its eye.
I can’t help but smile.
This is a spectacular time of the year. The exquisiteness of the season deepens with every passing day. I feel intoxicated with the thrill of life as I live from moment to moment each changing from one to another like the seasons, deepening and becoming more and more beautiful.
Life is good!
The ground we walk on, the plants and creatures, the clouds above constantly dissolving into new formations – each gift of nature possessing its own radiant energy, bound together by cosmic harmony.
Dirt has a bad name. We assign it to foul, perverted things. Icky nasty things we do not touch lest it taint us, infect us. We are a society bent on cleanliness; antiseptic-ness. We pride ourselves in our civilized approach to dirt. Filth is what animals live in not we who are above such things.
That dirt which lies beneath our feet, it is alive, that soil; a mosaic of organic-ness which makes up much of our planet. We don’t think much of it but it’s there. We walk on it, build our homes on it, plant our food in it. It’s what holds it all together and it’s more important than people realize.
Throughout history, civilizations have prospered or declined as a result of the availability and productivity of their soils. Soil resources are critical to the environment as well as food production.
Soil is defined as a natural body consisting of layers that are primarily composed of minerals, mixed with organic matter. It is the loose covering of fine rock particles that covers the surface of the earth and is the end product of the influence of the climate, organisms, minerals and the passage of time.
When used in agriculture, it serves as the anchor and primary nutrient base for plants and soil resources that are crucial to the environment. It absorbs rainwater and releases it later, helping to prevent floods and drought. It cleans the water acting like a sponge as the water percolates through it.
Soil is the most abundant ecosystem on Earth and is home to countless lifeforms; invertebrates, bacteria, fungi and algae. It supports and plays a crucial role in all life on this planet.
Good soil should contain a healthy mixture of soil-based organisms. These are the naturally occurring micro-organisms that release powerful enzymes responsible for keeping it free of molds, yeasts, fungi and other parasites which would otherwise make normal plant growth impossible. These organisms fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil and decompose organic compounds, including manure, plant residue, and pesticides; helping to prevent them from entering waterways and becoming pollutants.
The primary home of the vast soil food web is the topsoil. It’s the top layer of soil and contains most of the available nutrients. It’s where most of the biological activity takes place.
Scientists believe that 24 billion tons of topsoil are lost every year to erosion by wind, water and other causes including the way we feed the planet. Conventional agriculture encourages the depletion of topsoil because the soil must be plowed and replanted each year. Many experts believe that our chemical dependencies are stripping the soil of its life-giving properties and turning it into unproductive, thus, lifeless dirt. One inch of topsoil can take 500 years to form naturally. According to current trends, the world has about 60 years of topsoil left.
Topsoil erosion occurs when the topsoil layer is blown or washed away. Without topsoil, little plant life is possible. This is a phenomenon known as the Aeolian processes. This has happened before notably during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s when a period of severe dust storms greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the US and Canadian prairies.
On a dry grassland, the grass rooted into the soil can be the only thing keeping the soil stable. If too many animals are allowed to graze for too long, the grass can be stripped away and the soil will lose its anchoring roots. The area can become a desert. This is called desertification. Desertification and soil loss is a worldwide problem.
“According to the United Nations desertification is a creeping catastrophe. Already creating millions of environmental refugees worldwide every year, one third of the earth’s surface and the livelihoods of at least one billion people are threatened.”
This problem only deepens through time. As our global population continues to swell and demand for food increases, our ability to feed the world will become more difficult and in time perhaps impossible. Once land is lost it’s hard to gain it back. I know dirt isn’t exciting, most of us don’t think of it beyond a few scientists and the odd nut like me, but we all can do something about it. It is our planet and we have to right to our existence because it’s down to that. We need responsible and sustainable land stewardship not just here and there but everywhere.
A great place to start is at home, in our own yards. The website Wikihow features an excellent article; How to Prevent Soil Erosion . It is focused on what the average person can do about soil erosion at home and in the community. It is on the small scale but a good start.
Beyond that I think we the people need to raise awareness about this problem and through societal and monetary pressure persuade the movers and shakers in this world that we care about our topsoil and the future of the food supply. And that steps must be taken to prevent further loss and to reverse bad farming and land management practices. We need to adapt sustainable farming practices that encourage the development of a healthy topsoil by rewarding those who regenerate the environment and produce food that supports a healthier society. Most importantly we need to change the way we think about soil and how we use it. We must treasure it as the precious natural resource it is.
Future generations are counting on us…
Have a fruitful day,
“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” ― Wendell Berry
The miracle of life lies out there teeming in the dark rich earth. I can feel it. I can sense it and it is a wondrous thing. No matter how many times I see a tiny sprout emerge from the soil I am awestruck at such beautiful complexity inhibiting such lovely simplicity. Everything has it’s place, it’s purpose. Exquisite harmony and balance reins supreme…or at least it used to.
I have spent much of my 44 summers enthralled in the wilds of an urban garden; laying in the grass staring up at the imaginative clouds, cavorting with the butterflies and communing with the bees. As a young girl I felt a kinship with nature that has only intensified with age. I feel in tune with the earth and with all living things and I have always had a special affinity for the natural world and all the beautiful shapes and colors of life on our amazing planet.
It has been only natural for me to embrace gardening as one of my passionate pastimes.
As an adult I have spent countless hours in glorious toil in the backyard sun, digging and planting and weeding and planning. I have transformed a weedy double lot into what I refer to as my sanctuary, my retreat from the artificial inside. I feel safe there and so do many of the urban wildlife that visit. The neighborhood cats especially like it here and it isn’t uncommon for me to have a clan of disinterested felines “cheering me on”.
I am a great observer. It is another one of my pastimes; watching and observing and drawing conclusions….and I am a great watcher of the earth and I don’t have to tell you how sick it is.
How sick our mother is. Our planet Earth. Our only home is ill. She is dying. The signs are all around. Some people don’t want you to believe that because they are more interested in the status quo but if we don’t change our ways there will be no status at all.
It seems so far away; all this unbalance, this poison that eats away. It is all around us, in our plastics and pesticides, in our gas- guzzling machines and in our diet colas. It hasn’t hit most of us yet…not really, but can you hear the rumblings? I can. I do as I sit in my garden; my sanctuary.
I sit in a prime spot next to a huge swath of brightly colored California poppies. They are one of the stars of the garden at this time of year and a favorite among the bees, including my favorite, the honey bee. I remember a time when they would be in beautiful abundance; busily buzzing from one flower to the next. I have noticed them slowly start to vanish…little by little; just a trickle at first but now it grows more obvious every year. My eyes scan the flowers and I only see a clumsy black bumble. I patiently wait…I don’t see a honeybee. I scan the grass at the clover I allow to grow, still no honeybee. The sun is out on an 80 degree day in June and where are they?
Ahhh there’s one. One honeybee and two bumbles…
Perhaps it is still to early for them…perhaps I didn’t wait long enough…I will go out and look tomorrow for another one…
More stuff to ponder…
Just me Nancy reporting from the urban wilds of my backyard…SMILE! Have a good one and remember what our friend Anne Frank said:
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank
Sometimes that is all we can do…
(And one more thing: please no more pesticides. I know YOU don’t use them but for anyone who may. Please as a personal favor for me…stop.)
“The natural world belongs to us all and it is vanishing at an alarming rate. We the people of this planet have a responsibility to the generations that come after us. I believe we gardeners have a special and vital role to play in the protection of our dwindling natural assets.”
It is a sunny afternoon in mid October. There is a slight breeze. I can hear the sound of birds and the occasional airplane overhead. I am engaging in one of my favorite activities; Gardening, It makes me happy, especially today–today I am doing one of my most favorite of favorite activities; digging…
…Oh how I love to dig…
It is primal, it is physical. It gets my blood pumping and pulse racing. It is natural and it penetrates my soul…it is almost akin to having sex. It is the mindless and mindful coexisting, together as one. It hovers on a higher plane and rewards in obvious and not so obvious ways. It is almost spiritual and definitely enlightening. I can do it for hours and become quite invigorated. In that token digging is sexy and so are the people that do it.
Yes, I’m still talking about digging.
Being a gardener, this thing for digging is a good thing. I am drawn to nature and to the very soil itself. I suppose that is the way with us gardeners. The soil plays such a vital role in our lives and in life in general. For there wouldn’t be life as we know it, without it.
I love the feel of the fresh good earth–it feels so alive. It is soft and luxurious, fertile as the day is long, this stuff is almost akin to magic.
Gardening is sexy–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. All that fresh air and exercise, not to mention all the “naturalness” can really get the heart pumping.
Gardening is good for you. It is a unique form of exercise that allow you to do something calming, creative and fun while working various muscle groups….gardening can keep you fit.
Women in general can burn up to 300 calories with an hour of moderately strenuous gardening activities like digging, cultivating or using a spade. Men typically burn around 400 calories per hour while doing the same activities.
Being in shape can enhance sexiness…
And what about dirt? Can dirt be sexy too?
There have been studies as of late indicating how exposure to the bacteria found in healthy soil, whether it be from the food grown in it or just by working the soil can raise serotonin levels which boosts your immune system and elevates your mood. There has been numerous studies linking the act of just being out in nature to good health. These indicate a direct correlation between our health and happiness and the exposure to the soil itself. We all know that general happiness and satisfaction with oneself is the key to sexual attractiveness.
Come on, tell me dirt is not sexy.
I do feel more connected with the Earth out here and I am compelled to seek this connection. There is a force inside us that needs to express this somehow. There seems to be a theme behind all this random chaos. We are intertwined with all of creation in a symbiotic dance of existence on planet Earth. We are driven to spread forth and propagate. We share this drive with all other life. This too, is sexy…
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” ― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Have you ever had a behemoth in your life? Did the elephant in the room ever come sit on you? Has there ever been a big thing that plopped down on you and grabbed you and now is sucking the light out of your life or in this case your yard…
I moved into this house 13 years ago. Back then it was quite a different place, besides of being denied of my whimsical vibes and general weirdness, the house and surrounding yard lacked the appropriate plant and animal life. The backyard lies on a double lot. In the far west back are big bushes of the still unknown variety. A very tall pine tree stood in the center like a behemoth. This tree was too big for the yard and it’s influence was greatly felt. The tree rendered 90 % of the yard dark and pine needly, what little grass that grew was patchy and only grew to shaggy and straggly near the outer parameters of the yard—the only place the sun was able to shine. This was where the tallest of the strongest weeds grew. They stood like sentinels seeming to be guarding the yard from interlopers. This yard had been neglected for some time. There was nothing; no odd wildflower sprouting up, no old forgotten rosebush in the corner overgrown with weeds. Nothing to show that someone who loved flowers was once there. I have a fondness for old neglected gardens, finding the traces and leftovers of a plants that at one time were planted there by someone and cared for and enjoyed them. To me it sort of feels like walking back through time. And I try how to image how the place once looked. To me gardens have always felt like the person who once loved them.
It has always been a fantasy of mine to move into a place with a yard like that. Where I would have the joy of discovery of finding and resurrecting once overlooked wonderfulness. an opportunity to nurse it back to former glory with equal parts love, devotion and hard work.
Well this yard had none of that; no hidden charm or gem. Just pine needles, grass and a few weeds and an overgrown hedge.
There was nothing to save and resurrect because there was nothing there. The tree took in all the life-giving light for itself and didn’t share. Nothing was left.
I tried to make the best of it. I have always been a gardener at heart. I have this need to be surrounded by plants. I probably got this trait from my mother who lived and breathed plants too. My childhood was filled with memories of the outdoors; of soft green grass, and miniature roses, big green trees with arching limbs, blue skies with big puffy clouds, a chorus of birds chirping and singing away happily. To me nature has also been magical and gardens a way for us mere mortals to create a bit of our own magic.
I much as I love trees I knew that if that if that behemoth didn’t leave we would never have a decent backyard, besides it was dropping needles like crazy, probably not a good sign. We knew what had to be done. We got three bids and went with the lowest one and the behemoth was gone 3 days later.
Once the behemoth was gone, the yard was instantly transformed. It was if summer had finally come after a long cold lonely winter. My mind starting whirling with ideas on what to do next. I picked a corner, started digging and never looked back.
I wanted this place to become an extension of me– “my little kingdom” and I spent hours and hours working…sometimes 6 or 8 hours a stretch with no break out there digging in the mud, planting, raking, pruning, mowing. digging, lots of digging…
I really enjoyed the work which surprised me. I was never good at sports or anything physical but I enjoyed this gardener’s workout. (it’s not as easy as it may look)
Over the years, a little this and some more that. I couldn’t afford a bunch of plants at once, so I would add little bits here and there; more and more each year. I saved many seeds and learned to propagate, adding more and more plants. As time went on the yard looked better and better. I started to feel good about this and started to feel good about myself.
I didn’t much feel good about myself back then so this was a really good thing. I lacked self-confidence and wasn’t too sure of myself. I was shy ( I still am) this simple act of working hard, achieving a wonderful result that others and yourself can enjoy is absolutely wonderful. It makes a person such as myself feel all warm and toasty inside. This gave me a dose of confidence and more importantly made me realize the other behemoth in my life. The one’s who mighty shadow I was standing in and to an extent still do
This huge dominating force is not a tree, but it has taken root in me–planted there a long time ago. This behemoth is called fear. Unlike a tree I can’t just hire someone to come cut it down. But living in its shadow has rendered me a late bloomer I am afraid to say. I am also afraid to say it still stands but it is no longer a behemoth; just a big weed now. I will probably always struggle with fear to some extent. I highly doubt that I am the only one…but, I have cut it down to size and now my own personal garden in thriving in the light and is home to thousands of bright happy things.
Did you ever have a behemoth in your life? What was it and how did you overcome it?
“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…
“They don’t find it,” I answered.
“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
There he is again, my neighbor. The one I call “The Poisoner” and he is living up to his name. It is a sight that invades my vision 4 or 5 times a year; a big guy with a large canister spraying poison like a madman all over his yard.
Sometimes it’s the weeds in the lawn, other times it’s the poor green growth that dares to show itself between the cracks in the sidewalk. On a few occasions when he really gets going , he sprays the entire parameter of his house. He wears no mask, no gloves, just him and the Roundup.
When he is finished, nothing is left alive. Except his poor lawn which is a sickly palish green despite the many hours he spends on it. He is a warrior of sorts; it is him against nature. I think he’s fighting an expensive and time-consuming battle that we all pay for in the end.
Whenever I see him with his spray can, I try not to become angry. It used to make my blood boil; to watch him spray his poison like there’s no tomorrow while I’m digging up dandelions by hand. As the years have passed and my work has gotten easier due to the many organic gardening techniques I have learned and implemented, his work has not diminished…it has seemed to only increase.
While I enjoy a healthy green lawn with a myriad of various flowers surrounding; a yard that is truly bursting with life. He lives in a dead zone. It must be frustrating to him. He must notice during the summer while he waters his lawn every single day, I water mine once a week yet mine is still green and his has brown patches.
I suppose I could let him in on my “secrets” but they aren’t really secret. I learned about these techniques from books I found at our local library which is literally just steps from our houses. I suppose I am shy and I hate to admit that although I have talked to his wife, I haven’t spent much time conversing with him. He seems to me somewhat hostile and the glares he gives me may just be in my imagination. Frankly, I am hesitant to go over there and point out to him that what he’s doing is all wrong. People don’t like that. So call me chicken but whenever he gets to spraying his poison, I just get out of his way.
I thought in my naivety that he might learn from mine and other neighbor’s examples on how one can have a lovely yard without the use of such harmful chemicals but alas he has not.
I know he isn’t the only one who resorts to such methods. In the United States alone 80 million pounds of chemical pesticides were used on residential lawns last year. A staggering number to say the least.
Toxins from pesticides can remain in the body and build up in the liver. Even at what is considered “safe” levels, a person’s reactions can be mild to severe. High levels of exposure can be fatal. Some people are seemingly unaffected or mildly affected, while others become severely ill from similar levels of exposure. Some possible reactions include: Fatigue, Skin Irritations, Nausea, Vomiting, Breathing Problems, Brain Disorders, Blood Disorders, Liver & Kidney Damage, Reproductive Damage and (gasp) Cancer.
Whether or not a person uses these chemicals themselves these toxins find their way to us by seeping into the groundwater and entering the environment where they damage and kill precious wildlife, toxic indeed!
“Contaminated groundwater can affect the quality of drinking and other types of water supplies when it reaches the surface. Contaminated groundwater can affect the health of animals and humans when they drink or bathe in water contaminated by the groundwater or when they eat organisms that have themselves been affected by groundwater contamination.”
In recent studies of major rivers and streams, one or more pesticides were detected more than 90% of the time in water, in more than 80% of fish sampled, and in 33% of major aquifers (Gilliom, Robert).
Pesticides are one of the 15 leading causes of impairment for streams included on States’ Clean Water Act section 303(d) lists of impaired waters.
I can’t see how some would think a substance that kills something would NOT be harmful. I know it is a lot of work keeping a lush weed-free lawn. Many people would say it is not worth the trouble and definitely not worth the resources. I have read about people getting rid of their lawn entirely and planting a vegetable garden. I can see the merit of that. Perhaps I may try that in the future….who knows? But today this is not what I am attempting to address.
So besides digging up the lawn entirely which I am truly tempted to do…how does one have a beautiful lawn without resorting to chemicals?
I do admit that if one wants to go totally organic, which I will be getting to in the next paragraph, one will probably have to put up with a few weeds which aren’t so bad in reality. Many weed seeds provide food for birds. Weeds are a normal part of most lawns. When there are some types of weeds in the lawn such as white clover and bird’s foot trefoil, these weeds provide a source of nutrients for the soil and later for the grass itself. A good first step is identifying what weeds you do have and determining if they are annuals, perennials or biennial. This helps you find out the correct method for controlling them. You can find some great information at WWW.msuturfweeds.net.
Annual weeds will generate from seeds and will grow to produce flowers that in turn produce more seeds. Remove them before the seed heads form and you will cut their life short. Biennials have a two-year life span, as with annuals. The trick is to get to them before they go to seed. Remove the seed head. This will do much to reduce the amount of weeds in your lawn overall.
Perennials are different. These weeds also spread by seed but they have nasty runners that spread under the soil. These runners produce rhizomes which are stems that grow horizontally underground and unbeknownst to you will survive the winter. These must be totally dug out of the lawn, when you do this some may come back. But don’t despair.
Weeds indicate the conditions of the soil. Certain weeds indicate certain problems and if you work to amend the soil this may help. For instance, if you have a problem with dandelions this could indicate that your lawn has an overabundance of nitrogen and on the other hand if you have too much clover in your lawn this could indicate not enough nitrogen. Nature is always in a delicate balance and problems occur when that balance is out of whack.
Monocultures are not natural and lawns aren’t really natural. They are just another symptom of the man over nature thing; something we humans have a problem with. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but the health and wellbeing of the natural world relies on a delicate balance and when that balance is thrown off problems will and do occur.
W A T E R
“Water is the driving force of all nature.”
Leonardo da Vinci
Water is essential to all life and a healthy lawn does need it especially in the summer. So how does one keep a green and lush lawn during those hot summer days?
Timing is important, Water your lawn during the early morning hours; the best time is between midnight and 9 am. This is giving the water a chance to enter the soil before it is exported by the hot summer sun. Watering in the evening causes the moisture to remain for too long in which there is a danger of fungus developing.
In general the optimal amount of water that a healthy lawn needs is only one inch per week. Of course some lawns have different needs. Some have more shade than others and it depends on climate as well. Be sure to leave your lawn a little on the long side as the longer blades help provide shade and aids in retaining moisture in the soil underneath. In addition, if you mow your lawn frequently it taxes the grass and it must work harder to regrow the top portion.
Of course you may if you choose to have your lawn go dormant in the summer; letting it turn brown. It may not look very good but dormancy is nature’s way of dealing with drought and your lawn will bounce back in no time once the rains return.
The subject of organics and pesticides is vast. I am only covering a small part of this broad and expansive topic. Organic gardening relies heavily on soil health and the organisms living in the soil. This also depends on the elements present in the soil and how we can give back those nutrients which green growth thrives on. In future articles I will be covering that very important subject, but for now I will impart just one little tidbit on the matter…
Please try to be natural in the care of your yard and garden. Natural is not perfection. Nature is wild and random. It is what we came from and it is what is meant to be. We humans must stop trying to change this world too much. Mother Nature is turning on us, the very beings she created because we are destroying her.
The problem is huge and at times overwhelming but together step by step, we can save this planet!
“The Earth we abuse and the living things we kill, will in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future.”
I have to admit something that I am not proud of and this is difficult for me to do. I am somewhat ashamed but I have the need to confess…I am a nature lover. I proclaim this in much of what I write. I cannot help but do this since I feel a profound connectedness to nature, I do. I am a big advocate for the environment. I recycle, I reuse, I hug trees and all that….yes, I am a nature lover….. and I am a neglectfulgardener.
For the past year really, I have barely done the bare minimum in my yard and it shows. My sanctuary, as I once called it, is getting ragged at the edges; weeds are popping up, left to seed, the grass has brown patches and the roses are wilty.
Queen Anne’s lace has taken over in the back and choked the life out of one of my favorites: a spectacular white swan coneflower, its creamy whiteness and dark browncenters stood in terrific contrast to the Black-eyed Susan. Now only the Susan remains; her bright yellow petals were being encroached by the fine white flowers of the over-zealous and jealous Queen Anne. A wild and invasive royal who is apt to take over the whole kingdom. I have been digging out her bundled white roots but no matter how deep I dig there is always more.
I lament this. This is my fault. I am not only a neglectful gardener, I am a soft-hearted one who tends to let an unknown mystery plant grow and grow until I find, which I usually do that it is an invasive weed. These science projects, so to speak have run rampant as I have not kept up my previous level of commitment.
The Hot Lips Salvia has grown leggy and the usually sensational Scarlet Daylillies never emerged due a growing shade from a behemoth of a hedge that has taken over the west side of the yard.
The hydrangea need pruning but the fuchsia has never looked better. I am amazed at the resilience of nature; how it endures. How no matter how much we mere mortals try to have it our way, nature has hers in the end.
That being said, it would be foolish of me to fight what has been going on since before we know-it-all humans came on the scene. Nature has her checks and balances. It is a good system and insead of trying to buck that system I am going to try to mimic it as much as I can.
My plan is to plant mass quantities of White Sweet Asylum; a free-seeding, free-wheeling annual that’s ambitious and attracts a good number of various beneficial insects. The Queen and the Asylum will battle it out and hopefully, with some help from me, the Asylum will win out.
I am coming to the realization that I can use these priciples anywhere. The trick is to go with what already works. I have been reading up on the subject and plan on eventually taking out much of the grass and replacing it with native plants and edibles.
This will take a few seasons but I’m not in a hurry. I will document my progress and keep your posted.
For now I will try to stop cringing when I see the brown patchy grass and the wilted roses…and I’ll try to hold my head up high in the neighborhood. Having an unkempt weedy lawn doesn’t make me a bad person does it? Hey, I can proudly say that we used less water this summer…conservation is important too!
Have a happy day!
(Note: all the above photos were taken last summer)
I have always been entranced with Hummingbirds, those iridescent jewels of the air. They dazzle the beholder in their almost seemingly abrupt emergence from nowhere. These tiny creatures are almost magical as they perform feats of the seemingly impossible while seeking out sources of nectar in our gardens and feeders.
It always takes me by surprise every time I see one; darting across the yard, its wings going a mile a minute. I feel the quick energy emitting from its diminutive body. You can never get used to seeing such a spectacle. I am in awe of this tiny life and I cannot take my eyes off it. This sense of wonderment stays with me long after it has darted off again.
Native Peoples throughout the Americas have been intrigued with Hummingbirds since the beginning. The Taíno People of The Caribbean and Florida, the first people to meet Columbus in the New World believed the Hummingbird was “The spreader of life on Earth”. Hummingbirds became known as “Doctor birds” a name that is still used today in the West Indies. Hummingbirds figured prominently in the religion of the Aztecs. Their most powerful god was Huitzilopochtli whose name meant Hummingbird sorcerer that spits fire. Aztec warriors were thought to be reincarnated as these jeweled birds. Hummers also figure prominently in the lore of the Hopi Indians and the Pueblo Peoples of the arid southwest who believed the bird brought them much-needed rain.
Hummingbirds also impressed the Europeans. Tales of the winged jewels reached Europe through early naturalists such as John Lawson and John James Audubon who observed that “The Hummingbird does not shun mankind as other birds do”.
There is truth to this statement as many can attest to. Hummers are known to be intelligent creatures with excellent memories.
Hummingbirds are masters of hovering flight: suspending themselves stationary in the air, without the aid of wind or thermal updraft; beating their wings backward and forward at the rate of 20-80 times a second. This accounts for the bird’s namesake “humming” sound. They can instantly accelerate in any direction and even fly upside down.
Winged Jewels and Flower Kissers
Hummingbirds are pollinators and some plants have evolved for bird pollination. They have certain characteristics in common, which either attract birds or deter competitors such as bees or butterflies.
Hummingbird flowers are usually large trumpet-shaped flowers. They mostly have no scent as hummers have no sense of smell. These birds are specialists and have developed bills for their favorites. These hummingbird flowers are found only in areas where breeding hummers have had enough time to exert selective evolutionary pressure on the plants. The number and variety of these flowers decrease the farther north one goes.
It has been widely known that hummingbirds are attracted to the color red whether this is entirely true is up for debate. Some have suggested that the birds are blind to the blue end of the spectrum and neglect blue flowers in favor of the more visible red ones. It is known the bees, a competitor for nectar are blind to the red end of the spectrum, adding to this theory.
This has been studied with many concluding that hummers learn from trial and error which flowers offer the best sources of nectar at a given time in the season. They will go to those flowers regardless of color.
Interestingly enough most of the flowers in North America that attract hummingbirds are red. Bringing up the theory of convergent evolution, whereby a variety of plants have adopted the very same solution as in how to attract the beautiful birds. Red stands out against a backdrop of mostly green serving as a sort of advertisement to migrating hummers so they can quickly determine sources of nectar from unfamiliar plants.
Hummingbirds are constantly pushing the envelope and extending their range northward. The proliferation of feeders seems to be the primary reason. Feeders provide hummers with a rich food source while natural sources are not yet in bloom.
Some biologists view this supplemental feeding with some reservation. Feeders can expose hummers to unnatural predation, disease or other dangers. The feeders need to be kept clean and supplied with the correct sugar solution. There is no need to buy commercial mixes. Hummers get their nutrients from natural sources of nectar and from the insects they eat to supplement their diet.
Exert from: Hummingbird.net
Penny Elliston, a licensed hummingbird rehabilitator, wrote about the dangers of relying too heavily on commercial mixes.
“Please, do not put honey, Jell-O, brown sugar, fruit, or red food coloring in your feeder! Honey ferments rapidly when diluted with water and can kill hummingbirds. The effects of red dye have not been not scientifically tested, and it is not necessary to color the water to attract birds to your feeder. Further, there are unverified reports that red dye can cause tumors in hummingbirds; this may or may not be true, but why take the chance?”
The recipe for artificial nectar:
Use one part ordinary white cane sugar to four parts water.
It’s not necessary to boil the water. The microorganisms that cause fermentation don’t come from the water; they are transported to the feeder on hummingbird bills.
Store unused syrup in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
This mixture approximates the average sucrose content (about 21%) of the flowers favored by North American hummingbirds, without being so sweet it attracts too many insects.
Unless you are prepared to keep the feeder clean and supplied with the correct solution please do not use a feeder. Instead consider planting a hummingbird garden.
Hummingbirds need a mix of sun and shade and a source of clean water. Many of the plants that attract them also attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Please do not use pesticides! This will harm the birds and kill off the insects they depend on.
With careful observation you will get to know which plants they prefer. The Anna’s Hummingbird’s that frequent my garden love the pineapple sage that is a stunning feature at this time of year.
The plants that attract Hummers also attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Planting a hummingbird garden is a win-win situation for all.
Hummingbirds, in my opinion are a wonder of nature. They are beautiful as well as strong. They are excellent fliers and never cease to amaze me. We in the Americas should consider ourselves lucky to have these wonderful birds. Flower kissers, winged gems, rays of the sun or just plain hummers; whatever you call them, I call these iridescent jewels of the sky SPECTACULAR.
Cute little fuzzy buzzy bees darting from flower to flower, devoted to their task. I am an avid bee watcher. They are fascinating creatures to observe, so active and alive.
I wasn’t always like this. For most of my life I never paid much attention to bees, only enough to get out of their way. As a child I saw them as mysterious and dangerous. Now as an adult knowing their precarious position my heart soars every time I see one.
I no longer take these essential little dynamos for granted. We owe much to bees and this goes far beyond honey. It is the by-product of their “busyness” pollinating roughly three-fifths of the food plants in the United States that keeps us in groceries, so to speak.
One full third of our diet depends on bee pollination.
We can thank our helpers; the bees for many of our favorite foods including: strawberries, apples, apricots, blueberries, kiwi, almonds, coconuts, pomegranates, cherries, okra, onions, sunflowers, tangerines, oranges, hazelnuts, soybeans,cauliflower, avocado, cucumber and watermelon just to name a few.(See complete list)
The Disappearing Act
By now many of us have heard of the bees disappearing. Scientists, the media and people in the know have been all abuzz about this phenomena they named Colony Collapse Disorder. (CCD) It seemingly came out of nowhere and since its abrupt appearance in 2005, it has been affecting millions and millions of bees all over the world. It is characterised by the disappearance of worker bees that leave behind a queen, a few attendants, and maybe a few drones. Basically abandoned, the infected are left to wither and die with a hive full of honey.
There have been many different theories floating around as to the cause of Colony Collapse and there has been much finger pointing. Many of the fingers point to our reliance on the pesticides and chemical fertilizers essential to our large commercial food production and the increasing use of Genetically Modified crops.
There has been evidence to support tracheal mites and varroa mites, known threats to bees. Some have proposed Nosema; a fungus as the cause, while others suggest it may be a virus such as Israeli acute paralysis.
Some are even blaming the commercial bee industry itself. Saying that the stress the hives undergo during frequent moves on trucks – typical of the way large commercial farms operate are helping to cause CCD. It should be said that smaller bee operations and hobbyists have reported less occurrence of this devastating disorder, this is probably due to the genetic diversity that smaller hives tend to have.
I personally think it’s a combination of many different factors and it’s a sign of modern civilization’s thirst for utter dominance over nature. Our total disharmony with our wild roots is catching up to us. Our disregard is showing and the signs are everywhere, not just in bees. We are being given a rather stern warning that we should heed.
Save the Bees
And how do we save the bees? I’m no scientist. I am just a backyard gardener with a yen for the planet. Yes, I care but what can I really do personally? What can we all do?
The best action you can take to benefit honey bees is to not use pesticides and if you must use pesticides try not to use them at mid-day when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar. Try to use natural fertilizers instead of chemical ones.
Plant a large number of native nectar producing plants particularly in the colors pink, purple, and blue. Some plants to consider are red clover, alfalfa, foxglove, bee balm, and joe-pye weed. ( See complete list of plants)
And put in a good word for our friend the bee. They get bad press. At the very least people just don’t care about bees. Some people hate bees and others are afraid and justifiably so, in some cases. (See Africanized bees)
But for the most part most of us will never encounter any killer bees. Just the garden variety, the cute fuzzy buzzy bees busy with helping transform our world into a garden; one flower at a time. Leave them to their important task. They mean no harm to you and will only use their stinger in self-defense. They are gentle creatures. If you encounter a hive in a natural area, leave it alone. We are meant to coexist with bees and we can as long as we learn to respect them for what they are and what they do.
We must change our attitudes about bees if they are to survive. The facts remain that while the number of bee keepers have been decreasing, the number of companies specializing in the removal of unwanted hives is on the rise.
Love them, hate them or fear them… we need them.
As the world population swells over the coming decades demand for food will surely increase. We will need not only the bees to help feed us but we will need to rethink our role on the planet. We’ll have to realise that we need to foster a cooperation with nature as well as our neighbors. We’re all in this together. You, me, the bees… the whole world. By saving the bees, we are in essence saving ourselves.
Winter: the season that tries many a gardener. And what devastation it can bring. We in The Pacific Northwest are fortunate enough to live in a rather mild climate, but winter does pay us a visit to varying degrees every year. Some years an early cold snap strikes and kills off a few stunned victims. Last winter it was a beloved lavender and two pineapple sages. Other forgotten plants in lost memory haunt the cold shadows and depths of the winter garden.
I must confess: my interest in gardening does wane this time of year. Nothing much grows and its damn cold so I spend more time inside. This leads me to feel guilty as the harsh season proceeds with itself and ravages the garden. I see pictures upon pictures of regal well-appointed winter gardens with an amazing structure of tidy Evergreens dusted with sparkling snow. Everything is so cozy, so tidy….
I always plan to prepare for winter but… well, those plans usually don’t pan out as more pressing matters arrive and thus my garden enters winter unkempt and wild. I watch as autumn’s tender leftovers; the jeweled nasturtiums and snapdragons turn to frozen flower pops after the first round of freezes.
Leaves litter the grass and the beds, never raked up. Potted plants remain lining the driveway. Discarded yard art sits barren. The tiny Buddha statue looks cold and all alone, standing in a patch of frozen Sedum. Its companions, the colorful sprays of Viola and Marigold have gone, so have the stately Susans, leaving behind only Black- eyed seed heads sitting atop willowy stems, half eaten by birds and standing like sentinels along the rocky outline of the empty flower bed.
I enter by the side gate crunching on frozen grass, surveying the wreckage with dreams of last seasons color in my head. Unlike last season, so far, this has been one of the milder ones. Lots of sun and with little rain, it is mid December but I see some flowers still in bloom: A hardy fuchsia reigns supreme here, its smallish pink and purple blooms still attracting the odd hummingbird in this late season.
Despite my neglect, life goes on. Nature is in command here, not me. I am but a caretaker that’s fallen down on the job, but as I said, life goes on. It is what we make of it as it does. I survey the skeletons and ghosts of last summer. All this empty space allows me to envision to plan for next years garden. I smile as I pass the empty spot near the deck where two rose bushes will go, I can smell them already.
Old summer guilt is replaced with the hope for the future. A cold wind blows across my path reminding me that winter has yet to officially arrive. I step inside with my plans, my dreams and my little schemes, vowing to enjoy the winter and all of its glorious devastation knowing that it is out of this which brings the promise of spring.
I am reminded of a favorite quote:
“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”