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

Flowering Dogwoods

Flowering dogwood, bright

“You know how you can spot a dogwood tree?” I ran my hand down the trunk of one at the Duke Gardens.

“By its bark,” I said. And then giggled. It’s dumb, I know, but it’s one of those things I remember from my ecology classes at the University of Georgia.

Dogwood bark and lichen
Dogwood bark

I can identify dogwood trees now, thanks to that joke, and ours is finally blooming. When the cherries, pears, and redbuds were blossoming, I couldn’t figure out why our dogwood wasn’t full of flowers too. Shouldn’t it come early with the other blooming trees?

In my home state of Georgia, I remember dogwoods being my favorite part of spring. They were the only flowering tree I knew, and when I was in college in Athens, where trees stripped bare in winter, dogwoods flowered before  any green reappeared in the woods. I’d drive the three and a half hours from the foothills of the Appalachians to my home on the Georgia coast, and all through the forest, in the otherwise brown understory, I would see small trees dotted with white blossoms. Dogwoods.

I photographed our dogwood here in Virginia during the time of the cherry, pear, and redbud blooms. The dogwood flowers were small and green.

early April dogwood flower
Dogwood flower, April 2

I thought they’d be peaking the same time as the other flowering trees, so I wondered, Do we have a different kind of dogwood? I had never watched a dogwood flower up close before, so I didn’t know if that was all they’d do, or if the flowers would grow.

Flowering dogwood, bright
White dogwood flower, April 23

The flowers grew. They took their time. Over a period of three weeks, they slowly spread their celadon petals, and they deepened to a rich white.

Maybe I’m remembering wrong about the earliness of dogwoods in Georgia. Maybe they seemed first because they were only. Either way, I love that we have one in our garden. I’m sitting with it now, in fact.

Birds trill, a breeze moves the branches, white clouds drift in a blue sky, and we have a flowering dogwood tree.


Building a flower bed (Killing Grass: Round 2)

My skin is pink and warm. I spent all weekend outdoors, in the garden and on the soccer pitch.

The fresh air, dirt, and blue-sky matches were totally worth the sunburn.

Our neighbor has a farm truck and told us these past weeks that he would soon fill it with a (literal) ton of mulch; he wouldn’t need it all, and would we like to split a truck load with him? He dumped the mulch Wednesday, and on Saturday, our daughter and I drove around town collecting cardboard and newspaper: we were going in for round two of killing the lawn so we can put in a flower bed.

Our first attempt at killing grass with garbage bags failed, so we pivoted. We did some research, and I think we have a better chance of succeeding this time with compostable materials that worms can eat instead of ugly black plastic.

In preparation, my husband lowered the mower blade as low as it would go, and cut a curved shape in the lawn where the flower and herb beds would soon go.

shorn grass for flower bed
Shorn grass for the front flower bed.

Our daughter has been as eager to get out in the garden as I am, and she helped me cover the soon-to-be-dead grass with cardboard and newspaper.

watering cardboard 17
Laying cardboard over close-cut grass to smother it.

We watered the cardboard to soften it, then covered it with mulch. The mulch weighs it down and will also hold moisture, hopefully keeping the thick paperboard damp to help speed up the decomposition process. We covered gaps and filled out the shapes with layers of newspaper 4-6 sheets thick, then watered the mulch and papers again.

mulch on newspaper 19
Mulching over cardboard and newspaper to kill lawn.

We ate through half the chipped bark and wood before our neighbor even touched the ton pile. Even though I hated to stop, we got through two rows of cardboard and newspaper before I reluctantly quit working so we didn’t use all the mulch.

curves of the bed 41
Weighting down the edges while we wait for more mulch.

Our neighbor has said he will gladly get another truckload to split with us, so I’m excited for next weekend, when I hope to get through another section of the soon-to-be flower bed.

I was so happy to be outside, I barely remembered to eat. I made a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ate it on the front steps. I wanted to look out over the yard, what we’ve done, and what we’ve yet to do. Each time we drove up to the house — after soccer, after our daughter’s hair cut — I smiled and did a little dance for our house and garden.

flower bed so far 40
Stopped. For now.

Our daugher and I spent a lot of labor mulching our new plantings, laying biodegradable cardboard and newspaper over unwanted grass, and watering everything in. It’s going to be important that we stay on top of it — keeping everything wet to encourage both growth and decomposition.

I’ve been ignoring those mid-morning calendar reminders to “Water plants” every day for months. We didn’t have anything alive at the time I created the reminders, but I set them knowing this day would come, and I’d need to make sure I made time to nurture plants.

It is spring now, and the weather is beautiful. I’m ready to start taking a break each day to get outside and tend the garden.

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.

Early April in the garden

Finally! We can play in the garden! Well, I guess we did some back-breaking labor a couple weekends ago, digging forsythia stumps out back, but that wasn’t playing. That was work.

This weekend, though, I refilled our dead brown flower boxes with fresh new greens, and we put plants into the ground instead of taking them out.

Brown dead flower box
Sad dead flower boxes from September
lettuces and purple pansies in a flower box in spring
April planting: lettuce and purple pansies

It was one of those spring days that looks gorgeous when you look at it through a window: crystal blue sky with tiny puffs of clouds. Outside, it was also gorgeous, but gusty with wind. Our daughter and I were constantly putting sweatshirts on, and taking them back off. Putting them on, taking them off.

Garden gloves and blue sky
Gardening gloves and blue April sky

And I was forever distracted by flowers in the garden. We spent 3 hours digging holes that probably could have taken 30 minutes, but — flowers!

Red tulip in April
Red tulip from previous owner

We didn’t live in this house last spring, so we weren’t sure what kinds of bulbs might be here. Apparently there are tulips. Only one has bloomed so far, but there are fat buds on others. I can’t wait to see what colors they are.

Dogwood blossom

Dogwoods are one of my favorite trees, and I was giddy to see green buds on ours. I can’t believe I was able to capture a focused image with the wind blowing as hard as it was — the branches wouldn’t stay still.

Our new redbud

We added more flowers to the garden as well, with our new redbud tree, and our new blueberry bushes. Which we did actually dig holes for and plant.

Holes for blueberry bushes
Digging holes for blueberry bushes


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.