Morning in the garden

When I left for WordCamp Europe, our garden was pregnant with plump flower buds: echinacea, milkweed, hydrangea. While I walked the streets of Vienna, admiring the red geraniums that spilled from window boxes, I wondered how my flowers at home were doing. We can never get our flower boxes looking as good as the ones I saw in Vienna, but that’s ok. I have my whole life to keep tinkering.

It was dark when I arrived home after 24 hours in trains, airplanes, airports, and cabs, but not so dark I couldn’t see the outline of a new purple coneflower when I dragged my suitcase into the garage.

Every morning since I’ve gotten home, I make a smoothie*, walk downstairs to the garage, slip my feet into green rubber boots, and walk out into the dewy grass. I inspect the milkweed, parsley, rue, and passionflower for caterpillars (none yet) and check out the progress of all the flower buds. I deadhead a few withered blossoms. Sip my smoothie. Listen to birds trill. Nobody in the neighborhood is outside. I have it all to myself.

I keep trying to get a good photo for y’all but I’ve had zero luck. Despite digging close to 200 holes and putting a plant in each one, there are still large open spaces in the beds. I know they’ll eventually fill in, but for now the garden is young and I just have to accept that. My husband said we can take our daughter to pick out some annuals this weekend to plunk them in the open spaces. She will be very excited.

Morning in the garden is my favorite way to start the day: beautiful, serene, full of life.

*For the smoothie-lovers, my smoothie usually has kale, banana, walnuts, flax seeds, frozen pineapple, frozen strawberries (or peaches or mangos), and pineapple juice.

Soft shaping

Curved flower bed

From the street, everything about our landscape was blocky. When we moved in, the front of our house was all straight lines and rectangles: driveway perpendicular to the street, stairs perpendicular to the driveway, flower beds parallel to the house. Right angles, hard lines.

When we lived in Maryland, we rented a small house that felt welcoming to every person who visited. A picket fence curved around the corner of the lot instead of meeting at right angles, and the path from the gate to the front door formed a graceful, elongated S. Nestled against the fence were the mounds of rounded flower beds.

On the inside, large floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on the gentle curves of the garden.  A raised brick hearth filled one corner of the living room: a foundation for the wood-burning stove. The pot-bellied stove and its hearthstone softened what would have otherwise been a sharp corner in the room.

All those curves made a difference. I am convinced they are what made the house feel so welcoming. They directed the eye, and the feet, to move along a pleasing path, without hard stops or starts. In our home now, I keep looking to see where we can add soft edges, where we can add graceful curves.

Out front, we can’t build an S walk to the front door since the door is on the second level, but we can add rounded flower beds. Already, with the first bed laid, the house feels more organic. The curved lines relax it.

In our living room, though, we have work to do. Rectangular windows, fireplace, bookshelves, rug; blocky, square furniture; hard slats of wooden blinds. We need some softeners in here. Circles, ovals, or something organic.

Looks like I have a new weekend project.

For the month of April, I will publish a 10-minute free write each day. Minimal editing. No story. Just thoughts spilling onto the page. This one is from the Daily Post one-word prompt, Curve

The things we focus on are the things that will flourish

I know this has been said a million times before, and is cliché, and everyone is already familiar with the concept of nourishing the appropriate areas of our lives that we want to grow, but I am still astonished by it when I garden: when we take time in our lives to pay attention to something, that thing will prosper.

This is true whether we cultivate our craft by carving out time to write or photograph or woodwork; our relationships by spending quality time with the people we love; or our worries, making them larger and more real in our lives for the care and feeding we give them.

But nowhere is it so clear to me, so real, as when I water plants. Perhaps this is because I see what neglect results in as well: withering. Decline. Death.

As I trickle clear water on pansies and lettuces, I see new flower buds that weren’t there when we bought the plants, new leaves that have sprouted since we planted them. It makes me kind of giddy.

It only takes a few minutes of my day. Each time I fill our lemonade pitcher with water and go out on the front steps to give the flowers a drink, I am struck that this simple act gives them life.

For the month of April, I will publish a 10-minute free write each day. Minimal editing. No story. Just thoughts spilling onto the page. Trying to get back into the writing habit.

Killing grass: we're pivoting

As I suspected, research would have helped with my attempt to murder our grass convert lawn to garden. I spent a warm Saturday cutting black garbage bags open, hauling bricks and stone edgers, and fighting with crinkling sheets of plastic in the wind while I tried to anchor corners and smother grass.

Four days later, at least five corners had dislodged; sled-sized patches of bright green grass grew happily towards the sun. Growing grass bulged under the billowing bags while a friend overseas asked, “How’s the grass-killing going?”

When I told him I didn’t think it was working, he sent me an article on No-Dig Gardening. “The hippie way,” he said. Another friend said his dad used newspaper, then covered the newspaper with mulch, instead of using plastic.

This didn’t occur to me, to smother with materials that worms can eat, that will decompose, that will become a part of life instead of a blocker to it.

On Friday, it was warm and sunny, and I decided to undo all the work I did last weekend. I pulled up the plastic only to see how ineffectual it had been. The bricks and edgers succeeded in killing some grass, but the plastic did not.

I stacked the bricks, threw the plastic away, and started reading about happier ways to kill grass.


Killing Grass

gardening boots and gloves

On Sunday, in the late afternoon after a run, when the sun was shining and the sky was blue, I dug out my gardening gloves, whacked last year’s crusted dirt off of them, and got to work in the “garden.”

I use air quotes because it’s not a garden yet. Right now our “garden” is a huge swath of gras: grass that last year had to be mowed, and grass that currently occupies the real estate where flowers and herbs will live.

In other words, grass that needs to die.

The snow has all melted, and we’ve got about 2 months until it’s time we can start putting plants in the ground.

Sunday was the perfect day to get out and get to work. I can’t start seeds indoors, and there’s not a whole lot we can do outdoors yet either, seeing as how we could still have more snow.

But in the warm sunshine, I could start laying black plastic over the grass we want to kill. At the nursery they recommended spraying it with a bunch of Roundup, but I didn’t really want to do that. So instead I cut huge black lawn bags to open and spread them, then weighed them down with bricks and edgers we dug out from the previous owner.

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Killing grass. #gardening #amidoingthisright ?

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I have no idea if this will work. I thought the plastic was to keep the light out and prevent the grass from photosynthesizing, therefore killing it. My husband thinks it’s more for heat: plastic will trap the heat, killing the grass. He says the plastic is a benefit because the heat will kill weed seeds as well, something Roundup wouldn’t do.

I’m sure I could research to find out for sure, but I’ve found that when it comes to gardening, I’d rather be outside messing around, actually doing stuff instead of reading about it. I try things on a whim, sometimes resulting in massive frustration because a little bit of research would have told me the thing I did was dumb. Usually, though, I just appreciate being outside, poking around in the dirt.

Dreaming of seeds, but — cats.

The seed catalogs arrived! As soon as we brought them in from the mail box, I started poring over them. Our intention is to plant a flower garden out front, but the catalogs begin with tomatoes.

Bright red, juicy tomatoes whose slices drip with the warmth and sunshine of summer. I can’t imagine one of those fist-sized Burger Boys in the afternoon, when the fruit is warm, slicing it into slabs on the sunny porch, sprinkling it with salt, and eating it with a fork. My God.

We don’t have space for a vegetable garden. Well, I should say we don’t have usable space for a vegetable garden. Our yard is large, but consists pretty much of a giant steep hill that’s treacherous to even walk up, much less plant a garden on. Everything would wash away. So, no tomatoes this year. Sadly.

And then I got to the flower and herbs section of the catalog. Emerald sweet basil, spring green lemon balm, silvery lavendar. Happy yellow sunflowers, powder blue hydrangea, purple bee balm. They made me want to buy grow lights and start planting right away.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I’d love to start plants from seed indoors, but I’m not sure how to accomplish it without an extravagent setup: stringing grow lights from the ceiling, scrounging up a large table for flats, and most importantly, finding a place to put the seedlings where the cats won’t destroy them.

I can imagine spending $200-$300 on lights, pots, seeds, and soil, only to come downstairs one morning to a seedling massacre on the floor of the basement. I would spend weeks waiting for sprouts to emerge, then as soon as the green finally arrives, I’d go to bed one night and wake to find pots and dirt and mutliated baby plants scattered on the basement floor, while a cat looks at me with big, “What?” eyes and then licks her paw.

So my guess is that I won’t be planting seeds ahead of time. It would likely be more cost effective, and I’m antsy to get started on the garden, but I’m just not sure how to make it work.

Pining for a seed catalog

It is a warm, rainy Christmas day. We opened gifts, ate cinnamon rolls, and lounged all morning amidst shiny bows and piles of ripped wrapping paper. The cats are playing in cardboard boxes, our daughter is messaging me from across the room on her new iPod, our son has completed his fifth reading of the Catan instructions so we can figure out how to play, my husband is in the garage building a bed, and I am staring out the window at wet gray branches, listening to the soft patter of rain.

I wish I had a seed catalog.

The weather feels more like spring than winter — we have the sliding glass door open to welcome fresh air — and with an empty, lazy day indoors, I’d love to thumb through a catalog of leaves and flowers, day-dreaming about the garden we will plant in spring.

It has been years since I’ve planned, planted, or tended a real garden. I puttered in Minnesota, but never really dedicated myself. On my recent birthday, when our son gave me a book about butterfly gardening, I spent two days sketching: plotting groupings of host and nectar plants, visualizing colors, planning my kill of large swaths of grass to make room for flower and herb beds.

I may be be overambitious. As far as gardening goes, Virginia soil is foreign to me, as are seasons. In Florida we had a wet season and a dry. There were no freezes; there were no thaws. The main challenges were a scorching sun and the relentless growth: without a winter, there was no break from weeding.

Since I know nothing, it may be wise to start seeds indoors instead of buying hundreds of dollars worth of mature plants. We can buy a packet of seeds — enough for multiple groupings — for a fraction of the cost of a single potted plant.

Now, with Christmas rain coming down and a kitten in my lap, I want to turn the pages of a magazine-paper catalog. I want to circle the herbs and flowers we hope to grow, tabulate costs, and daydream about a garden in the front of our new house, green, and filled with sunshine and butterflies.

If you know of a good free seed catalog, or follow any Virginia gardening blogs that might help a newbie like me, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!


I grew lavender in Florida. The world is a more beautiful place for the fragrance of lavender.

When we grew herbs in Florida, I would walk out in the garden every morning and run my hands through the lavender plants to release their perfume. In the coolness of dewy mornings it was a lovely fragrance – how to describe scents? Olfaction is the hardest sense to write. Lavender is herby and floral and evergreen, it is soft wood; it is both warm and cool like its flowers’ colors, light and silvery like its leaves.

Other times of day, when I worked in the garden, I’d brush against its fuzzy blue green needles to smell it again: with my forearm while I dug holes, with my shin as I walked by, with my shoulder when I crouched to investigate leaf bottoms, searching for butterfly eggs. By the end of summer, it was sometimes tall enough that I would brush it with my hip and a warm current of lavender fragrance would drift up and make me stop to breathe it in.

The best part of growing my own, and why I can’t wait to move and start cultivating it again, is that when it is in bloom, and even when it isn’t, we can have bouquets of lavender in our house. I’ll cut sprigs and spears and stems laden with tiny purple flowers, and I’ll fill glass jars with water, and I will place lavender nosegays in every room: on the dining and coffee tables, on the bar, on bright window sills, and best of all, on bedside tables, where we’ll drift to sleep breathing one of the loveliest scents of the earth.

Photo credit: A little arrangement by Lotte Grønkjær

For the month of April, I will be publishing a 10-minute free write each day, initiated by a prompt from my prompt box. Minimal editing. No story. Just thoughts spilling onto the page. Trying to get back into the writing habit.