I am hoping to do some planting today, playing hooky for an hour or two from my work in order to catch this great weather and save my little plants. And my mind–as is always the case this time of year–has turned to my garden and the joy it brings to my life.
Tending my little bit of land on this great vast earth has helped me to mend my spirit. Through my garden I am constantly participating in the renewal of myself and of the earth we share together.
Everything grows and changes in a garden. Try to hold onto a beautiful blossom and it changes, almost as you’re watching it. Create the perfect design and it achieves its own perfection that wasn’t what you had in mind, or the seeds you planted never come up, or they come up in different places than where you sowed them.
Anything that lives where it would seem that nothing could live, enduring extremes of hot and cold, sunlight and storm, parching aridity and sudden cloudbursts, any such creature; beast, bird, or flower, testifies to the grandeur and heroism inherent in all forms of life. Including the human. Even in us.
I met my adorable friend Anne-Marie through the miracle of Facebook.
My Jesse and her Carmen were in school together, hanging out in a close knit group of four friends they called their “posse.” And so Anne-Marie and I “friended” each other online.
One day she simply wrote something like this on my wall:
“I have heard that you like to garden and I’m looking for some advice. Would you be willing to come and look at my wee garden with me?”
Anne Marie grew up in Glasgow. So the word “wee” is bandied about quite liberally in her conversations. I adore it.
And so I said yes and we made a date so that I could meet her and visit her “wee garden.”
I really don’t “officially” know anything about gardening. But that, as you likely know, has never stopped me from giving advice or encouragement when it has been requested, regardless of the topic.
I went to see Anne-Marie’s “wee garden” and made some suggestions. And she was thrilled. I wonder if her husband Michael was quite as thrilled with what could have been perceived as meddling from some unknown and unqualified person. In any case, he was more than tolerant and I did try to be useful.
Fast forward a couple of years and Anne-Marie is now one of my loveliest friends. Jesse and Carmen still enjoy each other’s company, but Anne-Marie (or AMW as I call her) and I are fast friends. Kindred spirits. I told her recently that when I come to pick her up for some event or cooking class or retreat or something or other, I always feel as though I am stopping in to pick up my school chum. And that we likely will get into some kind of mischief while we are out. Something the tolerant headmistress would smile and shake her head about, looking fondly at us as we returned to our classrooms.
Yes, we are far too old for this, but it is the best way that I can find to describe how Anne-Marie makes me feel.
Over the years I have become Anne-Marie’s informal gardening coach. I even drove to her house with a basket full of ferns and other plants to transplant last year. She has made a lot of changes to her yard, even putting in a vegetable garden. She has been an exemplary pupil (smile.)
At the end of last summer I dropped in for a “wee chat” and Anne-Marie proudly showed her garden off to me, pointing out what had taken off and what hadn’t done as well during the season. She also mentioned that she and Michael were frustrated by a delphinium that–though very beautiful earlier in the season–had become prickly and was taking up a lot of space. She said that they were working hard to keep it happy but that it had become a real nuisance and was making it difficult to even work in that area of the garden.
As you may know, delphiniums are not prickly plants. So I was perplexed. And Anne-Marie wanted me to take a look. My plant knowledge is not extensive, but I am familiar with most of the major perennials that can be grown in this zone. Within seconds I was able to ascertain that this plant was most certainly not a delphinium. The delphinium was there, but completely crowded out by the tall unidentified nasty prickly thing.
I confidently told Anne-Marie to get it out of there. It was some kind of weed, and a pain-inducing one at that. And it certainly was not a delphinium, which is a very gentle and fragile plant by nature. We then went into the house, where she made me feel like the most successful gardening coach in the universe by proclaiming confidently to Michael and Carmen and both of their cats that “Rachel’s figured it out. It’s not the delphinium. It’s a weed. She says we can take it out.”
I went home and a simple google search confirmed that said delphinium was actually a stinging nettle.
To be fair, the foliage of both plants is somewhat similar:
“That was it alright. I just pulled the damn thing out of the ground yesterday (looking like a knight ready for battle I was so protected 🙂 – so the wee delphinium (that had been much maligned as being the root (ha) of the problem) looks very happy now.
It was great to see you on Saturday and wished you could have joined us for dinner – another time for sure!!
And this is just one of the reasons I love gardens.
In this story–as in many tales before and since–a garden has gifted me a dear friend and an opportunity for self reflection.
Perhaps it’s having grown up in a home where everyday life was constant fodder for sermon illustrations, but this funny experience instantly made a spiritual and philosophical impression on me. The question is:
Are you caring for a stinging nettle as if it was a delphinium?
Is there something or someone that’s hurting you all the time, crowding out the good things in your life and injuring you every time you get near it?
Are you nurturing this thing because either you don’t know–or can’t see–that it’s actually a nasty weed?
Or can’t you part with it because you’re not sure that the beautiful delphinium is there, just on the other side of the stinging plant?
It snowed today.
And yet my hellebore bloomed.
What a treasure in the barren landscape!
I need to plant more.
Sometimes referred to as ‘Christmas Rose’ or ‘Lenten Rose’, hellebores are the
stars of the late winter/early spring garden. Plants generally bloom between
December and March in cultivation, though some begin earlier, and others
continue into April and May, particularly in gardens with colder spring climates.
Nearly every garden has a spot for hellebores, and the plants will thrive in many
different environments. Still, they remain unknown to many gardeners despite
their toughness, beauty, hardiness, and wonderful habit of blooming in winter
when most other plants remain dormant.
My shade garden is positively buoyant today.
It finally poured rain last night and the heat has abated. (Maybe I can even run today.)
I (and the plants) feel so relieved.
We all needed some refreshment.
I wish the plants pictured below were still blooming (that was, alas, earlier in the season), but at least I can look out at a lot of verdure today.
I have been underwhelmed by our house’s curb appeal for some time. Even though it definitely has potential. Atop a sweeping hill with a curved sidewalk approach, and set off by the extra wide boulevard offered by our block (between 55th and 56th Streets on Park Avenue), my friend and feng shui consultant Ann Drew Yu said that the house’s setting was “auspicious.” And I agree.
However, we face some pretty big challenges out front: 1. It’s dominated by two large trees, resulting in full shade, high competition for nutrition from soil and water, and big roots everywhere; 2. Lots of seeds and leaves are always falling onto the lawn, which combined with the shade makes it nearly impossible to get grass to grow; 3. The whole lot slopes down from the backyard toward the front yard and down a steepish hill to the street. 4. We have very little budget for hardscaping and labor.
As someone who can spend hours joyfully passing time in her back garden, and carves out every possible square inch of gardening real estate in the yard, I was uncharacteristically avoiding one half of the available gardening space. Why? Because I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. There were dirt patches and roots and mud puddles and plants that didn’t grow so well…and not much else. I would usher people right past the front to my backyard, which is also shady but (for me) a gardener’s paradise.
I love the idea of gardening with and for my community, and knowing generally that raingardens are good for the health of our neighborhood, I have wanted one for at least two years. In fact, I had signed up for a Metro Blooms raingarden class two years ago in June but was unable to make it happen at the time (this wonderful organization offers these classes throughout the Twin Cities metro for a mere $10 and will do an on-site consultation/design in your yard for only $50.)
This year, it all came together. Into my inbox came a message announcing that a new project called Go Blue! was being implemented in our neighborhood. And, that this might offer me the opportunity to get a raingarden put in at half the cost. Not only would it improve our yard’s ability to manage stormwater in order to benefit Diamond Lake, I also hoped that the raingarden might provide an affordable, beautifying solution for our abandoned front yard.
(By the way, Diamond Lake is just a couple of blocks west of us and has a not-to-be coveted “F” rating for pollution, mainly because of the storm water runoff and yard management practices of surrounding properties. Reminder to those of you who have been out of school for a while: F means FAIL. We have such a great neighborhood and fantastic block–we had five raingardens put in, all in the same week–and Minneapolis is such a healthy, outdoorsy place to live. Diamond Lake deserves a passing grade. As do all of our city lakes. After all, we’re the ones who benefit most from their health.)
What is GoBlue?
Go Blue! is a partnership between The Friends of Diamond Lake, Metro Blooms, Hale-Page-Diamond Lake (HPDL) Community Association, Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, Hedberg Landscape and Masonry Supply, Diamond Lake Lutheran Church, and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. It’s made possible through a $224,224 grant from the Minnesota Clean Water fund. The 2010 Blue Community Makeover Program (Go Blue!) is a pilot program through which property owners in the Diamond Lake watershed are implementing stormwater mitigation projects that will have a direct and positive impact on the water quality of Diamond Lake. Stormwater drains to Diamond Lake from the approximately 690-acre watershed, which includes portions of the Windom, Lyndale, Tangletown, Diamond Lake, and Hale neighborhoods in Minneapolis (see map, above). Major projects are also planned at Diamond Lake Lutheran Church and Pearl Park, both of which currently contribute runoff directly into the lake. Here’s a Star Tribune article about the project.
What is a raingarden?
A rain garden is an attractive garden with a special purpose — to reduce the amount of rain water and pollutants entering streams, rivers and lakes. A rain garden is a place to direct the rain from your roof or driveway, and more importantly to retain that rain onsite instead of discharging to the storm drain system. Rain gardens are typically landscaped with plant species native to our region that can survive varying wet and dry conditions, that have deep roots to improve soil conditions, and that add beauty.
Creating a rain garden on your property can improve water quality in streams, rivers, and lakes in Minneapolis. You can use rain the way nature intended, instead of throwing this resource away. A rain garden is a natural way for you to help solve stormwater pollution problems, help recharge groundwater, protect our water resources, reduce beach closures and provide improved habitat areas for wildlife.
For more details, click here. (Go Blue, Friends of Diamond Lake web site)
The extra feel good factor:
Executive Director of Metro Blooms, Becky Rice, says that storm water is the number one source of pollution for our lakes and rivers.
“When we are in our yard gardening, we meet our neighbors,” Rice says. “Publicly visible gardens beautify our cities and show care and a sense of pride in place. A rain garden is a very special kind of garden that shows that we care about beauty and our yard, as well as our local water body and the planet.”
Ever wonder about impervious surfaces?
We mean the parts of your urban lots that were nature not so long ago but now are covered by concrete, asphalt, shingles, and other materials that prevent rainwater from permeating the earth.
In spring and summer, unchecked rainwater rushes from developed areas into drain pipes, lakes, and streams; and this rapid movement causes both erosion and pollution, carrying sediment and manmade pollutants like phosphates, salts, oils, and trash. (Fertilizer phosphates make algae bloom and cut off oxygen for diverse aquatic life forms.)
Raingardens installed in Burnsville in 2002 – 2004 cut down stormwater discharge into Crystal Lake by about 90%. Imagine that!
Lower Minnesota River Watershed District web site. For more info, click here
OK so it isn’t at its peak yet, because the plants are still somewhat small, but in a couple of years my new raingarden is going to be stunning. In the meantime, the improvement in the approach to our house is already dramatic. Our contractor was Craig Stark of Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping and we highly recommend his work. To get your imagination going, here are some photos of the finished garden and the plants that were included.
I’m actually going to enjoy gardening and sitting in the front yard now, watching my six-year old ride his bike with his friends down the sidewalk instead of sequestering him in the back. I’m grateful to everyone who participated to make Go Blue! a reality, including all of the taxpayers who voted yes for the Minnesota Clean Water fund.
So here’s what all the fuss was about last weekend.
Le Donne had a Plant Swap Brunch. And it was so much fun!
All of the women who came–Lizzie, Bev, Cathy, Sheila, Laura, Anna, Cathe, Molly B., Molly D., Joan, Renee, Anne-Marie, Amy and Jen—brought amazing food to share and at least one plant or some seeds to swap.
I had my shovel handy and we dug things up on the spot. We also meandered down the alley to Bev’s magical garden.
I was so inspired that I was ready to make some house calls the next day. As Anne-Marie characterizes it…I made some visits as the Garden Guru (though guru is definitely a stretch in my case, I’ll take it!) I delivered Anne-Marie’s ferns–dug up from Sheila’s yard–in my bike basket.
As Jeremy pointed out, riding around the city with a basket full of plants is not going to lessen my reputation as a crazy lady…but how freeing to leave the car behind and visit close friends who happen to live close by! I was stopped by an elderly couple in a car who asked me if I always take my plants for a ride…they obviously enjoyed the sight I created.
When I got to Anne-Marie’s, the transformation she showed me was amazing. She continues to say that she is a novice gardener, but you should see the changes she has wrought in one short season! Look at her beautiful delphinium, which has obviously found its “happy place.”
I also did Garden Guru visits to Colleen’s and Lizzie’s. Several of us are going to do a garden makeover at Colleen’s on Friday morning. If you are free, come and dig! Bring a plant to share for a very sunny yard.
There is, for me, very little that compares with creating lasting beauty alongside good friends.
And the plant swap brunch? What incredible fun to have you all at my home and in my garden, even on a rainy day.
Le Donne friends, thank you for making my life so rich with meaning and joy.
p.s. The red plant holder and black planter pictured above were purchased very affordably at The Cottage House. They’re open this weekend for a “Summer Living” themed sale. They’re open once a month to sell their “Vintage Finds and Redesigns for Home-Garden-Cabin.” Hours: Wednesday 1-8, Thur-Fri 10-7, Sat-Sun 10-6. Address: 4304 Chicago Ave.