Mullein Hill

Often, I go over just to walk around it and marvel. It was a sand pile. We live in a wide river valley where the soil is more sand than anything else. My brother had the sand put there during a construction project just to get it out of the way, and for a long time it was just sand. Nothing much grew on it.

Then this started happening. A plant that I’ve seen and admired on my walks seemed to love this sand hill. It’s so different from other plants that I had to look it up. It’s mullein.

The young rosettes are a soft grey-green, and the leaves are fuzzy, kind of like velvet or fleece. They are biennial, which is to say that it takes two years for them to flower and produce seeds. But when they do produce seeds, they spread prolifically. The seeds can be viable in soil for up to ten years. Some people call them weeds because of that but other people plant them in their gardens.

The flower stalk, which you can see in my later pictures, is really pretty. In addition to that, the plant has been used for ages to soothe coughs, sore throats, and deep lung congestion. Early settlers would make tea from the leaves, and found it helpful for treating TB. Mullein originated in Europe and came here early in our country’s history but by the 1800’s, it had spread everywhere from one coast to the other.

I like this plant. It has taken over the sand pile, which is why I’ve named it Mullein hill. There are a lot of other wild plants and flowers filling in the spaces on the hill which make it even more interesting. It looks a bit magical and I wanted to share it with you all. Mullein Hill.

Mullein Hill one year ago with a few flower spikes
Mullein Hill now
The flower/seed stalks should be removed if you don’t want this plant to spread and get out of control.
Someday I want to write a story about Mullein Hill because it stirs my imagination. How about you?

August in the Garden

I was away from my garden for two weeks in July. The days were long and warm. There were a couple of good rains. Things grew and although I know that sort of thing happens I am always surprised at how quickly it happens. I came back to find out that the family left in charge had been “forced” to pick the green beans. They had started pulling beets and onions. There were a few raspberries. And, of course, they had pulled weeds.

A garden is an endless source of things to do and that is one of it’s most valuable characteristics. When I need to get away from frustrations, worries, work I don’t enjoy, I just go to the garden where I lose track of time. Total absorption. It’s kind of like managing a small kingdom. I spend money and time. I plan and lay out my plots and paths. I defend my ground from rabbits, gophers and deer. I look back and quit doing things that didn’t work. I look ahead and plant things that won’t produce for a couple years. And if the work gets too “over the top”, I can decide to pull up some plants and be done with them. I am queen. I am boss. (As a side note, plants do know when you have good feelings for them. They do. )

And a garden is beautiful, even with some weeds. Here is a bit of my August garden for those of you who love growing things. I will also mention that the food I get from my kingdom is delicious. I try not to waste any of it.

Hope for Things Thought Dead

What is the story here? I can see it plainly, but I never know how plain it is to others – we are all products of our past thoughts and experiences and it can make such a difference in our outlooks.

Last fall I put these amaryllis bulbs in the garage for their winter dormancy period. Their long leaves flopped over, turned yellow and dried up. They got no water, very little light, and no attention. One of them started pushing up a new leaf during the winter but there was no chance of it surviving and I worried about the untimely appearance. They were all dead looking, didn’t seem very stable or rooted in their pots, and were soft like they might be rotting. Nothing hopeful about them.

And then they came to life, like so many things do in the spring. Tips of the new leaves were barely visible in the dead layers of brown wrappings. I didn’t know if the early started would start again a second time, but it did. It was much later than the others and seems a bit tattered but it’s alive.

For me, it’s all about the hope that is built into creation that dead things come to life. It’s one of those plainly seen reminders of the intentions of our Creator. Seeing how life is embedded into the DNA of plants and trees and animals of all kinds, I can’t imagine that it isn’t also built into us. I do believe there is a creator God and that he’s telling me on a regular yearly schedule, that he is all about restoring, making new, and starting over, no matter how unlikely it might look to me. I love the sound of that and the spirit behind it.

Funny thing, once I started believing that God was sending me personal messages through things I could see and touch, things he created for my environment, he became real and personal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. Science is a process by which we study our world. But science is not a creator. Science is still looking for a creator.

I’m enjoying this season. I’m watching for green grass to come up through the dead, matted fields. I’m watching for the geese to come to the marsh to make nests. I’m looking at the lilac twigs to see how far along the buds are. I’m watching the sunrise shift rapidly from south to north on the horizon. There is nothing dead that doesn’t have some hope attached to it and it all feels very personal, now that I’ve decided it is.

Spring Is Real

Here in Wisconsin, spring isn’t just a date on the calendar. It’s much more real than that. After being in various degrees of frozen for nearly six months, big changes have to happen and they have to happen fast because winter’s a comin’. I think spring happened today.

Mom and I were sitting on her patio this afternoon when my brother called her.

“What’s the weather like there today?“

“It’s been pretty stable, in the 40’s and 50’s, ever since it stopped being in the 20’s and 30’s .” (Last week)

“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to happen? It’s spring, right?”

“I guess it is. Shirley is sitting here with a T-shirt and no coat.”

That’s right. It was so warm today that I didn’t see anyone wearing a coat. Yesterday was a different story. I was out in the soon-to-be garden in my heaviest hoodie and a scarf when neighbors Bob and LuRae, also coated and capped, came up to gift me. He had bought too many lily bulbs and just didn’t have room to plant them anywhere. He wanted to give them to me. Last year he did the same thing with daffodil bulbs.

I said yes. I had a pot with nothing in it but dirt and lilies would be nice. He came over with a rather large box. When I inventoried what he had given me I found eight bags of 10, with large sprouted bulbs begging to be planted. I spent a couple hours putting them around the lampposts of the twelve condos in our development. That’s a lot of digging.

As much as I shovel snow in the winter, I dig at least as much dirt in the other months. The major project is the garden. It has to go in pretty quick or not everything will get ripe before summer is over. But not too quick because it might still freeze at night. I absolutely know that I could walk over to Walmart and spend far less for the same amount of food, but I tell myself that the food is better and I need the sunburn and sore back exercise. I mostly try not to think about the logic in gardening.

I’ve only been “up north” for one “garden year” so far and didn’t have time to start perennials, so last month I ordered asparagus plants from Gurney’s. I was about to order the world’s most expensive raspberry plants from them too, when a friend let me thin her patch for free! I probably won’t get any asparagus or raspberries to eat this year but it will be good for me to exercise patience. It’s all about the future…

This morning Mom and I did the most definitive spring thing. We went shopping for flowers. We actually traveled 39 miles to a fabulous greenhouse where we bought almost nothing because the prices were… pricey. We stopped at two other establishments on the way home just because flowers are SO BEAUTIFUL! I bought, and got them all planted this afternoon. I have big pots of petunias, coleus and herbs on the patio. I am stiff, sore and a bit dehydrated.

It’s spring and spring is real. Putting my feet up now, just sayin’…

Yes, It’s Time for This!

People, the perfect thing to do while social distancing is planning your spring garden! At least, it’s one of the many perfect things. I am always super excited when I get in garden mode.

It reminds me to be hopeful. I have to wait for things to grow so it’s a futuristic activity and there is no better way to think about the future than to imagine myself out in the sunshine, digging in the soft, moist dirt and making all those straight rows of soon to be green stuff. Think birds singing, soft breezes, green grass (but not in the garden), blue sky, leaves on the trees. All that beauty that God wants us to enjoy.

And that is really the point of enjoying gardening for me. I feel like I’m worshipping God when I see and experience how crazy it is that a little pinpoint of a seed that I can hardly see grows into a carrot, or a bean. All he uses is water, light and dirt and a very smart self-sustaining program. God figured that out and those plants have been carrying out his plan ever since! Sometimes I think I get so used to seeing vegetables and fruits in the store that I forget that they are such high tech design.

Our retail stores were still open today, so I went for a quick trip to L&M where seeds were 40% off. I’m always conflicted when I see all the different kinds of every vegetable there is – they all look so good. I picked ones I thought would have the best chance of making it to full size before we get freezing weather again. Now I’m just going to sit and look at them for a few days, because they’re pretty – and the ground is still frozen.

In a few days I’ll start the tomatoes and a few others in starter soil – I’m going to use the plastic containers that I save from getting grocery store spinach. They make good little greenhouses. And I have some south windows where the seeds can get nice and warm and start to grow. I can hardly wait!

God likes gardening too – he planted a big one once. And he knew I would like it. Thank you, God.

Before You Know It

Time goes so fast! The fun thing I’ve been looking forward to for months, the hike in the Grand Canyon, is only six days away. I know from experience that it will only be a short time and I will be looking back on it and wondering how it could be over already.

While believing (strongly) in living “in the moment”, I also love to plan ahead, and I enjoy remembering good things from the past. So to alleviate my disappointment on having one adventure end, I like to have one always cooking for the future. I’ve picked my next enjoyable, spring activity! I’m already excited about the summer garden.

I love gardening. Almost everything about it is fun for me. Even if nothing were to grow (this has never happened) I just enjoy being out in the dirt, spending time in the sun, watching bugs and birds, loving on my plants. I know plants are not people and they don’t have feelings (not actually sure of that, but…). However, they do respond to good, thoughtful care which makes them seem kind of like people.

And so, I like to think about what plants will be in my garden, what kind of soil will be prepared for them, how I will keep other plants (weeds) from competing with them, and all that kind of stuff. I like to buy seeds and starter plants. I like to watch the garden grow from its early stage to being full of greenery and fruitful. I like to keep the edges neat.  Experimenting is allowed and there is always something new to try.

My brother Dennis says hi.

This year there will be a new garden location. My brother has chosen a plot in his yard, close to a water source and has it all worked up. There were a lot of grass clumps in the topsoil so he is tilling it up every couple of days to dry them out and hopefully kill the roots. I can already imagine being out there laying out the rows, mulching, getting dirty.

I’ll enjoy the hike thoroughly and concentrate on it while I’m there, but thankfully, I am a good multi-tasker and will probably have a thought or two about the garden while I’m trying to fall asleep, on the hard ground, in my tent… just sayin’.   

Xeriscape of the Canyon

Xeriscape: a landscaping method that employs drought resistant plants and special techniques to conserve water.  I love plants! Can’t forget to do a little research on plants…

I’m thinking that someone did a pretty good xeriscape job in the Grand Canyon. Looking at the chart below with rainfall averages for the South Rim, North Rim and the Inner Gorge, I see only one month, August, with significant precipitation. The highest number for any month is 2.85 inches. The Grand Canyon is mostly desert.

I am so glad we are not going to the Inner Gorge in July or August (the numbers with the little stars by them – see note about 120 degree temps!!!)

In spite of that, and because of the climate changes with elevation, it is amazingly rich in plant life and almost all are drought resistant. Here’s a list:

  • 1, 737 known species of vascular plants
  • 167 species of fungi
  • 64 species of moss
  • 195 species of lichen

There are 12 plants that are only found in the Grand Canyon (endemic), and only 10% of the plants in the Canyon are exotic (from somewhere else and probably invasive). Those are pretty special statistics.

There is such a variety of eco systems in the canyon. As you can imagine, along the river where there are seeps and springs and tributaries joining the Colorado, there will be willows, acacia, rare plants and hanging gardens. At higher elevations there is desert scrub, then pinyon pine and juniper, then at about 6,500 feet above sea level the Ponderosa pine forests start. On the north rim there are some mountain meadows and subalpine grasslands.

I’m glad I don’t have to forage for food while I’m visiting the canyon, but how good is it to know that there are things there that can be eaten? I found a website telling me that the top three plants that could save me from starvation are the banana yucca, the currant bush, and the cereus cactus. Maybe you should know about them too – you never know where you’re going to find yourself. Click the link. https://grandcanyonhelicoptertour.net/top-3-edible-plants-of-the-grand-canyon/

I would have a tough time creating a xeriscape that would have the natural features and beauty of the Grand Canyon (unless I had a couple billion years to work on it) but I am expecting to enjoy and photograph it – a favorite pastime. Hoping to add some stunning pics to this post after the hike.

My Visual World: This Weed

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You are just too cute!

I saw this little weed in a flower pot yesterday.  Doesn’t it just jump out at you because of it’s detail, symmetry, and well, it’s just plain pretty!  I couldn’t pull it out. I want to see what it looks like when it grows up. It is my visual for the day.  Something to wonder about. Finding it felt like a message and a gift from a creative, somewhat playful, imaginative mind. Yeah, that’s what it was. Just sayin’… glad I was looking.

McMaster Carr and other helpers

I am taking a break this noon while my pain killers take hold.  It is yard clean-up day week.  Let me introduce you to McMaster Carr who has helped me in my job.

Thank you McMaster Carr for this neat bundle of fire starting paper.
Thank you McMaster Carr for this neat bundle of fire starting paper.

McMaster Carr is a company that makes and sells virtually everything that other things are made from – every little tube, bolt, bushing, wheel, piece of metal, plastic, rubber or glass that you can think of.  Every year they send out this huge, six inch thick catalog, of which I have three.  I use them for various purposes, most having to do with how well they weight things down.  But today I discovered that they make excellent fire starters.  I have enough paper to start my recreational fires (I have to call them that – explain later) for the rest of my life and probably the first few years of eternity.  Fires are an important part of my clean up, or at least they are fun.

I started yesterday and quickly got overwhelmed with all that had to be trimmed and taken out of the way before I could even mow in the oneacrewoods.  Things got a little out of hand, you might say, over the summer.  But I did make a little bit of progress and  decided to adjust my attitude.  I’ll not be overwhelmed, I’ll just work at it real hard for a week and then it will be winter and most things will go dormant, I hope.  I can do this.

This is awful.
This is awful.

This is awful too.
This is awful too.

This is trying to get better, but it's still awful.
This is trying to get better, but it’s still awful.

I’ve pretty much stopped trying to grow food, unless you count the pineapples that I grow for the unnamed animal who eats most of them. And I’ve kind of stopped trying to grow anything ornamental, unless it volunteers.  I can keep completely busy just deciding what I will not allow to grow and removing it. Really, that’s all I do now is take things out and burn them.  Now you know why fires are so important.

God knew what he was doing when he put the first people in a garden.  There aren’t many things as satisfying as takiing something as beautiful as nature, and then organizing and cleaning it up a bit.  Nature can go a certain distance toward keeping herself beautiful and there are some fine examples of that in the oneacrewoods, but it’s often every plant for itself and that can get wicked.  Someone, me, has to be in charge and keep peace between them.  God called it “dressing and keeping” – good description.

Here is an example of a plant that arranges itself in such a lovely way...
Here is an example of a plant that arranges itself in such a lovely way…

My other helpers are various rusting implements, bought at garage sales and held together with duct tape, several tarps that I use to pull debris from one place to another, and my Toro mower (the one piece of equipment that I brag about here). Without this stuff, well, we don’t need to go to that dark place…

This year I’m going to take pictures after I’m done and hope I can see how much better the yard looks. I have to add that a couple weeks ago when I was outside on the driveway an oak tree threw a fairly large limb at me and barely missed. I’m just saying, I sometimes wonder if plants have a different perspective on my activities.  But, I’m not ready to call it war yet.

This is what I do to tree limbs that don't stay put, grrr!
This is what I do to tree limbs that don’t stay put, grrr!

Today’s Marvel, Sunday January 18, 2015

There are times when I feel so glued to the screen. When both of “my devices” are busy notifying, flashing messages and asking for my attention, it begins to feel like I can’t get enough.  I get almost obsessed with staying in touch.  Time to get outside and touch some real things.

Even though it’s Florida and we hardly ever get a freeze, I like to bring my orchids in for the winter. Every couple weeks I take them back out and spray them down, give them a good drink.  That’s what I did today. I was surprised how many of them have bloom stalks that will soon be flowers, in addition to those already blooming.  Taking care of my plants is part of the joy of having them – it is SO an antidote to computer paralysis.  They are a dose of fresh beauty right from the hand of God.

Here are my beauties, and the marvel of the day is at the end.  I think he lives there permanently.

just look at their cute faces...
just look at their cute faces…

these deep purple ones are some of my favorites
these deep purple ones are some of my favorites

Their thick healthy roots really anchor them
Their thick healthy roots really anchor them

...and my little marvel.
…and my little marvel.