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Delicious Grapes

My friend from North Carolina, called me last week. At the end of our conversation I asked her what she planned to do that day. She paused to think, then shared, “I ordered several plants recently and they were delivered yesterday. The sooner they’re planted, the better. This afternoon I’ll be gardening.”

Remembering the happy anticipation my family experienced whenever Mom or my brothers ordered fruit trees from a catalog, I inquired with interest, “What sort of plants did you get?”

Chuckling, my friend explained, “I had a hard time deciding between blueberries and cranberries. I love blueberries, but I already have some growing in my yard. I wanted to try my hand at growing cranberries, so I ordered a few plants. My order wasn’t filled correctly though; the nursery sent blueberry plants by mistake.”

Laughing because the same sort of mix-up had happened to my brother Casper once, I questioned, “Did you call the nursery? Are they going to send you the cranberry bushes you wanted? In mix-ups of this sort, nurseries don’t want the customer to send plants back to them. They consider the incorrect order a total loss.”

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Flower-Fooled

A jumble of plants crowded together, all vying for a spot in a patch of weak, early spring sunlight in the far corner of my kitchen. Suddenly I noticed my mystery tree appeared to have blossoms. Stepping closer for a better look, I quickly realized the unexpected white blossoms belonged to the spider plant on the shelf above. One of its dangling spider babies hung perfectly within the cluster of the mystery plant’s green leaves.

Shaking my head, I vowed to put most of the plants crowding the counter, including the mystery tree, outdoors as soon as the weather was warm enough to plant my garden. As I began to make breakfast, I debated leaving the mystery plant outdoors next winter. Would it survive? Did that matter?

Two years ago as I was preparing the garden for winter, I’d found the mystery plant growing in one of the rows. The small tree already had a woody trunk. Its leaves were a deep, glossy green. To my surprise, I discovered sturdy thorns at branch points. I consulted Google, asking it what sort of plant would have these characteristics. Google answered, “Most citrus trees have thorns.” Of course, that meant I just had to put the plant in a pot and take it indoors.

Each summer I enrich the garden soil by burying scraps from my kitchen: potato peels, egg shells, banana skins, apple cores and juiced lemons. The two bags of Meyer lemons I’d bought earlier in the spring came to mind. So, I knew why a lemon might have started to grow in my garden. One of the seeds I’d buried along with other scraps must have thought it had been planted.

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Making the Rounds

The unexpected feeling came over me suddenly. I went to stand at my office window. Surveying the blanket of wet snow lying heavily on the flowerbed along the driveway, I cupped my cold hands around a mug of hot tea. Until now, I hadn’t given a thought to the plants and bulbs in my yard since the first major frost in September.

A mix of curiosity and desire, along with a deep, longing to see things growing in the yard where now everything looked dead and frozen filled me. I wanted to know if the daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths in the flowerbed were going to come up and blossom this spring. Would the herbs I’d planted near the trees along the south driveway flourish or wither this summer?

What triggered my unfulfilled gardener symptoms? I suspected the warm, forty-degree days Wisconsin enjoyed the last week of February. That, and the combination of a snow-covered yard, below-zero days and a five-month respite from gardening gets to the best of us. My mind wanted to jump back into digging in the ground, even though the weather and my body were signaling the desire was at least two months premature.

I complained to my daughter Tammie, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way yet. We’re still at least a full month away from “Making the Rounds” weather!”

Raising one eyebrow, Tammie questioned, “What’s ‘making the rounds weather’?”

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Aching Pinfeathers

Outside our cozy, warm house, a cold fall drizzle was turning freshly fallen leaves into a slick mat under the trees. I flopped down onto the linoleum living room floor beside the heat register and began to read a comic book.  

Mom put our supper in the oven to bake before she stepped into the living room. My brother Billy, who had been lounging in her upholstered rocking chair, got up so she could sit down. I observed his respectful behavior and felt pleased and content.

Mom snuggled into her comfy chair commenting happily, “Seeing the rain makes me thankful I worked all day yesterday getting my yard work done! But, ach…do I ever have sore muscles!” Her flowerbeds spanned our farmyard from one end to the other. In my mind’s eye, I saw how pretty they had been all summer. Yesterday Mom had removed all their frost-deadened leaves and stalks.

The comic book before me was about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews Hewy, Dewy and Louie on a search for a great hidden treasure in Egypt. Scrooge’s greatest nemesis, the Beagle Boys, ‘caught wind’ of their find and boarded the ship the ducks were taking back to Duckburg. Beagle boy number 176-617 held Scrooge upside down by his legs and demanded the treasure. He snarled, “Hand it over, you rich pig-of-a-duck!” A jewel suddenly dropped from Scrooges blue frock coat. The Beagle brothers, in true pirate manner, made the ducks walk the plank.

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Hot Vinaigrette

I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.

My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.

Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”

My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”

After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”

I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”

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Pitiful

Preoccupied by my thoughts, I sighed and absentmindedly began to clear the table. My garden was nearly ready to be tilled, but how was I going to get the tiller to start? I needed help but absolutely did not want to ask for help. Setting the stack of dishes and silverware on the counter next to the sink, I sighed again.

My daughter Tammie was standing at the kitchen counter mixing cake batter. She glanced over at me and setting down the hand mixer, questioned, “What’s wrong Mom? You’ve been sighing.”

I reluctantly admitted, “It’s time to till the garden and I know from experience that I can’t pull the starter cord fast and hard enough to make the engine turn over.”

Pulling a cake pan closer to the mixing bowl, Tammie advised, “List the people you could call for help. Decide which one you feel the most comfortable approaching. Then give that person a call and ask.”

With hands on my hips, I scoffed, “You’re a fine one to be giving advice on how to ask for help! You are completely stubborn about getting help. You’ve even admitted to me that you don’t want people to think you are weak and pitifully handicapped.”

Picking up a spatula, Tammie scrapped the cake batter into the pan as she defensively pointed out, “Some people only see me as a short-armed individual. I want everyone to see how many things I am capable of doing. Some things, like not being able to reach something on a high shelf are just physically impossible. But my not being able to do that, doesn’t define who I am!” Continue reading

Little by Little

Looking into the bathroom mirror at Arnie’s shaving-foam covered face, I stated emphatically, “You have to till our garden this morning before leaving for work.” It was more a demand than request.

Arnie slipped on his glasses and picked up his razor. After pulling the triple blade across his jawline once, he answered, “You sound like you’re in a hurry.”

Combing my hair, I sighed impatiently, “I am! “Today is my day off from the hospital. My next day off won’t be for another five days. The weatherman on TV last night said it will rain by the end of this week. I want to plant my garden today.”

Making eye-contact with Arnie in the mirror, I saw a twinkle in his eye. He said, “It won’t hurt to put the garden in next week instead of this week.”

Crossing my arms, I glared at his reflection for several seconds before grumbling stubbornly, “I don’t think you’re funny. I want to plant my garden today because I have time today.”

Using a washcloth to wipe away the last bits of foam from his now clean-shaven face, Arnie leaned down to give me a kiss and said, “Don’t get yourself into knots. I’ll get it tilled for you this morning.” Continue reading

Lying Fallow

Row after row of small, uniform white hillocks lay before me. Huffing and puffing from trying to keep up with my cousin Barb, blazing a trail through snow. I was grateful when she paused to wait for the rest to catch up. Donna and Alice quickly joined us. Silently, we examined the plowed field before us. A lock of Donna’s hair escaped her head scarf. The wind played with it, fluttering it this way and that, sometimes across her face, then again up in the air over her head.

Along the fence-line, small clumps of dead yellow quack grass peeked through the snow. Barb broke the silence. She stated, “Crossing this field is the shortest way back to the house, but walking through the plowed field will be hard.” We looked at each other. Did we want to attempt the field, or go the long way around? Alice’s face was red from our march through the snow and wind. Donna shivered, looking thoroughly chilled. Barb stamped her feet and rubbed her mitten-covered hands. I guessed her fingers and toes felt numb from the cold, like mine.

In the silence that followed, I heard the whispery sound of wind blowing snow across the drifts. One by one we volunteered, “I don’t want to walk around this field.” “Hard or not, it’s the fastest way back.” “If we step only on the tops of the furrows, it won’t be so bad.”

We knew, of course, that it was impossible to step only on the tops of the furrows. Our feet would slip off the small, icy humps, making most of our muddy steps feel as if we were climbing a mountain. To make matters worse, we were all carrying ice skates on our shoulders and were already tired from an afternoon of skating on the back-pasture pond. Continue reading

Dreaming of Flowers

Blackcap bramble, wild grape vines, Canadian thistles, a few seedling asparagus plants and quack grass were all fighting for dominion. Wild morning glory, creeping Charlie and bridal veil weed were making good on their nature to climb over and smother all the other plants. My daughter Tammie and I stood in the driveway next to the house inspecting the tangled mess of vegetation, which had once been a beautiful flowerbed.

Gloomily, I pointed out, “The weeds have nearly smothered the old-fashioned rose bush and I can’t even see the hosta.”

Stepping a little closer, Tammie exclaimed, “I see a hosta, but it looks like someone took shears to it!

Pulling tall weeds aside, I examined the plant before explaining, “Lots of deer come through my yard at night. They seem to think the hostas are salad bowls for them to snack on.”

Shaking her head, Tammie marveled, “It’s a wonder they can find them in this mess.”

Searching the gone-to-seed flowerbed for signs of an Anthony Waterer bush, clumps of stella-de-oro and other lilies, I reminisced, “When this flowerbed was new, it had decorative stone paths and there weren’t any weeds at all.” Continue reading

Termination Dust

Summer breezes played tag in the shade under the thin stand of trees. Balanced on the back of a horse plodding slowly behind three other horses, I looked around, loving the earthy woodland smell and the sound of calling jays. Coming to visit this “Dude Ranch” with my sister-in-law had been a good idea; she loved horses.

Hot sun dappled through the tall tree-top canopy. Deer flies buzzed annoyingly around my head, always staying out of slap range. Suddenly, my horse began to run. I bounced around on the leather saddle like the tenderfoot I was. Then I began slipping more and more to one side until finally I crash-landed beneath the horse. Miraculously, the horse stopped running and didn’t step on me. I rolled away from its hooves.

An hour later, none-the-worse-for-wear, I sat in my mobile home living room visiting with Arnie’s sister, Ann. Four years younger than my husband and married for just one year, my sister-in-law told me her husband had gone to visit Alaska. A cool breeze fluttered the light nylon curtain at one of the open windows.

Ann said, “Ben wants to stay. He told me to get airplane tickets and come join him.” I had done very little travel in my lifetime. I was sure Ann had done even less. My only flight experience was a 15-minute buzz over Marshfield in a small plane with Daddy when the airport opened in 1960. On that late summer afternoon, Ann was 21 and I, 24.

Did the idea of flying to Alaska alone scare Ann? Then, an idea popped into my head and I blurted it out, “I’ll go to Alaska with you!” The idea gained momentum in my mind, like an avalanche sliding down the steepest slope on Mount McKinley. It never occurred to me to consult Arnie, my husband. For that matter, it never even entered my mind to ask him if he wanted to come with us. In my totally self-focused state, I began to make plans. Continue reading