The Heath Mowing
The noted essayist and poet Charles Lamb (1775-1834) said “New Year’s Day is everyman’s birthday.”
As I look at the snow covered mowing near the center of Heath, I cannot help thinking that the mowing is like the first day of the year. It is perfect and flawless as the new year begins. It seems filled with opportunity and the promise of a good harvest. There may be only sunny days and gentle rains. And yet we all know that wind and weather will also act on it over the year. Drought may dry the hay too soon, and rainstorms may turn it into swamp and rot the hay. Wind may blow down the circling trees. Pests and weeds may cause their own damage. But come the end of December, it is likely that the mowing will once again be perfectly and flawlessly covered with snow as a fresh year begins.
For many of us there are two New Year’s a year. The school schedule dies hard, and long after we have to go to school, or have children to send off to school there is something about the existence of the first day of school that allows us all a new beginning. We’ll do better, study more, be more disciplined, do our chores without complaining, and smile and look people in the eye when we meet. All behaviors we’ll be attempting most of our lives.
But on January 1 the whole world pauses and takes a step into a new year, with new hopes, new possibilities, new ideas, and renewed energy. I look at that field and I am looking into the future. I hope I have learned a few things as I have gone through life, but the view ahead always seems full of promise to me.
I have never been one for making great New Year’s Resolutions, except possibly swearing I really will get the garden under control this year. However, everyone will tell you I am a great believer in visualization. Simply by keeping the vision of some desired end in mind, I think you will go a long way to reaching that desired end. I don’t know how it works, but I think it does.
So, as I look ahead I see a garden that is different from this year’s garden. That is partly by plan, and partly caused by unforeseen opportunities, or the unpredictable vagaries of the weather. More unpredictable weather each year it seems. I don’t know that the garden will be any more under control, but I have a list of projects,: plants to be removed, plants to be added, trellises to be built, favorite vegetables to include, and new varieties to try. Those are not resolutions; those are plans capable of change at any moment.
The British author Neil Gaiman has written many award winning books for adults and teens. For Christmas I gave The Graveyard Book to a grandson, and I recently came across a new year’s wish of Gaiman’s, intended for us all. “My wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
I think this is good advice for all of who will be called up to do new things in the new year. Of course, I have to remind myself to be patient with all those New Mistakes – mistakes that I make, and mistakes that those around me make.
I know I will mistakes in 2014, because I made mistakes in 2013. Most of them were not glorious, amazing mistakes. You can make mistakes in actions taken, but also in actions not taken.
So as I take a last fleeting look at 2013, I am grateful for the love of my family, for laughter shared with old friends. I am grateful that my back and knees are still willing to bend for digging and weeding. I am grateful to be a part of groups like the Friends of the Heath Library, the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club and the Bridge of Flowers committee because they give me the chance to make new friends, to learn, and to serve my community.
So now I will turn face forward and march confidently into 2014, into the new year, into new garden plans, and into preparations for unexpected pleasures and opportunities. I embrace the thought of the noted 20th century Broadway critic Brooks Atkinson who said “Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.”
What do you look forward to, and visualize for 2014?
Bella and The Major
Happy New Year! We started celebrating on New Year’s Eve Eve with Chinese.
Bella and the Major and a toast
Thank heaven, and cousin Tricia for homemade gingerale.
What’s the point of snow? Sledding!
Bella and sled
Who cares if it’s only 15 degrees? Not Bella!
Bella and Granny
We can always warm up baking cookies – and taking them to a friend.
A great beginning to 2014!
For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
A new day, a new year dawning
New Year’s resolutions. The beginning of a New Year always has something of the seductive about it, no matter how dismissive we try to be, or how skeptical we think we have become.
I look at the blankness of the calendar’s pages, matching the blankness of the winter landscape and think about the ways I will fill the days of the new year, fill my days in the garden.
The older I get the unhappier I get with dichotomies, old or new, plain or fancy, dark or bright, good or bad. The older I get the more I see that we live in a continuum. We are always moving from one place to another.
Movement is irresistible and inevitable, but the movement is not always forward as in old to new. In the gardening world we see this in the tack of garden catalog promotions. They trumpet the New. Bigger! Better! Improved! There is the continuum, bigger, better and improved over the old varieties.
At the same time the old varieties, open pollinated varieties, heirloom varieties have come back into fashion and are once again New! The old flower varieties are again recognize for their charm, loveliness and fragrance, and old vegetable varieties appreciated for their flavor or hardiness or special suitability for a particular circumstance. They are also appreciated for their value in maintaining a diverse gene pool from whence new varieties will be born.
As I’ve considered the continuum I’ve asked people whether they have any new year’s resolutions. I’ve gotten an earful.
“More light!” One gardener said she and her husband had been working on their house and gardens for nearly two decades. They suddenly realized the sheltering woods around their house had grown so tall and dense that they shut out the sun. “I used to cringe at every tree that was cut down anywhere, but no more. The garden needs the sun.” And my friend assured me that lots of trees are left.”
This was a reminder to me that we have to be aware of how growth or depredation in our gardens creates the need to react to and work with those changes, whether it is trees that grow up and throw deep shade or old trees that blow down in storms resulting in unexpected sun.
Two other gardeners, one man and one woman, said their resolution was to get better equipment. Maybe a new tractor! Maybe just a new lawnmower. Both recognized the value of good sturdy tools and the necessity of caring for these tools and creating proper storage. I have my own resolution to create better storage for my tools and supplies.
“More dahlias!” Now there is a resolution that touches my heart. Aside from the fact that dahlias need to be dug in the fall and stored properly all winter, they don’t require a lot of care. In the end you can even treat the tubers as annuals. In the late summer they start a long season of bloom. Dahlias come in so many sizes and flower forms that there is a variety for every type of gardener and garden aesthetic. For me there is something about the big bold splashy vividly colored dahlias that really appeals. I’ve heard people call dahlias (surely only some dahlias) vulgar. I just think those glorious big irrepressible blossoms are great fun.
“We need to improve our soil.” This from my own son Chris who has never paid a lot of attention to the garden. Now he has a house that came with a yard of mossy compacted soil. Last year he put in a sod lawn, a mass of white rhododendrons, a holly hedge and a collection of shrubs around the house. Although he did take my advice about careful planting and compost, not everything has thrived. He is learning (the continuum again) that soil improvement is not a task you do once. It must continue throughout the life of a garden.
The custom of making new year’s resolutions gives us a ritual for looking at our past experience, in the garden and elsewhere. It also gives us a chance to think about new and interesting things we have seen during the year and to think about ways that we can incorporate some of those ideas in our own gardens.
Sometimes a review of the changes in our lives, children being born, children growing, children leaving, can affect the time we have for our gardens, or the kind of gardens we want to have.
Sometimes our interests change. With the easier availability of locally grown delicious vegetables the passion for a vegetable garden might wane, but a passion for dahlias might take its place.
Sometimes there is a change in our own health or strength and that compels a change in the scope of our gardens. The new year gives us a chance to consider the changes in our life and spurs us to think about shifting our efforts.
We toss around the words old and new, good and bad easily. But in the garden, as in life, it is movement along the continuum that keeps us balanced and happy.
I wish you all happiness in the garden all the new year long.
This first appeared in The Recorder in December 2004 BTC – Before the Commonweeder – and repeated in 2010.
Thanksgiving at the Friendship Hotel 1995
As I prepare for Thanksgiving in my nice American kitchen I cannot help thinking of other Thanksgivings, most notably two that were celebrated in Beijing where we lived in the Friendship Hotel. The first was in 1989, and the second in 1995. While many things had changed in those five years, much much more car traffic, much much less bicycle riding (because of the vehicular traffic), the arrival of big department stores and McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken, our apartment at the Friendship Hotel was just the same. Our tiny kitchen came equipped with a two burner gas stove, a tiny fridge and a sink. No oven. Drinking water was delivered by the fu yuans (service people) at the door every morning in the excellent thermos bottles that you can see on the window sill. I had to visit our new friend Bettina who lived across town and had an oven in her tiny kitchen. Together we made this pie with delicious Chinese apples.
Li Sha was our wonderful language partner that year. I have to say that her excellent English may have improved somewhat, but I certainly made very little progress in my Chinese. I went around quoting a cartoon that one of our friends tacked up on his front door. The prisoner is being walked to the scaffold when he is told he will be granted a final request. His request? To learn Chinese. Oh, for a long lifetime of studying Chinese. I am happy say that our friendship with Li Sha has endured. She was even able to make her first trip to the US last year. She is used to big city living so Heath was a big change. The thing that most amazed her was our clear winter sky, thickly sprinkled with brilliant stars. No smog. No light pollution.
Henry with our turkey
The Friendship Hotel took orders for Thanksgiving turkeys which we picked up at the Foreign Experts Dining Hall at the appointed hour. The Chinese don’t know much about turkeys, but they did a great job.
All the gang for Thanksgiving dinner
Our dinner guests included other Foreign Experts like Bettina, and in 1995 we had several Chinese friends as well. All of us had something we could be thankful for. In addition to making new good friends, one of the blessings I counted that year was being able to attend the UN Women’s Conference. I had learned a lot about the life of Chinese women while working for Women of China Magazine, but I gained a much greater understanding of the problems women faced around the globe, as well as their achievements.
Bettina and me after dinner
Bettina shared bows with me for the apple pie. Our friendship is one of our unexpected Beijing blessings.
This year I will again be celebrating Thanksgiving with my daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons, grateful that we are all well and happy. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends.
Welcome to Heath Halloween
Because we are such a rural, spread-out town children can’t easily go trick or treating from house to house. A Tailgate Halloween in the town center was planned, but the rain called for an instant revision. The community hall was quickly turned into Trick or Treat Central and the youngest children, baby pumpkins and kittens, arrived first, followed later by the older kids who had a map of all the houses in town where the Trick or Treat light was on.
Even the witches needed to have their fortune told before going on to the main event. Candy! Also apple cider and donuts.
Candy – all you can carry
This is the only night when the grown-ups urge children to take more candy. Go on. You can have another handful!
For some there were scary stories! Bats in the library, terrified bunnies, scared siblings. Max and Ruby – what are you doing?
Ghouls and witches
All the ghouls, witches, kittens, spiders, frogs, French knights, gorillas, elephants, Princess brides, and fishermen of all ages in town turned out for a sweetly ghastly celebration.
View from our bedroom January 1
Happy New Year to all!
“The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months! ~Edward Payson Powell (American author and journalist 1833-1915)
Heath Gourmet Club
Celebration Season this year has been quite lengthy. We had one rowdy family Christmas on December 22, but then a quiet adult Christmas on December 25 with only one child and his lady, and a dear friend who always joins us for Christmas dinner. On December 29 the Heath Gourmet Club celebrated Christmas with a theme of Looks Like a Wreath to Me! Nearly every course was wreath-like. My savarin pans came in handy for the main course which was grape leaf covered rice and beef, with roasted cauliflower in the center and braised kale with colorful dice peppers surrounding it. My Green celebration bread was a big hit. Gourmet Club has been serving ourselves for over 31 years! Wonderful food with never a single failure, and friendship.
Wreath de Noel
The finale was not a Buche de Noel but a Wreath de Noel with lots of fabulous chocolate ganache, pistachio marzipan (home made) and topped off with a fondant ribbon.
Grand and great-granchildren
Yesterday, we drove throught the nearly 20 inches of snow that the last two days have brought for a final family Christmas. The eating continued with some of the Butternut Squash soup I made for Gourmet Club, and delicious pumpkin pie. The children all agreed that pumpkin is a vegetable and they were very happy to eat their vegetables. It is impossible to get all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren together anytime except in the summer, but we had a very nice showing. They even stopped moving long enough for a posed photo.
Son, grandson and great granddaughters
There were a few quiet moments. Reading Aloud. Lola, the youngest, got a new copy of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. Happy reading. Happy day. Happy family. And a happy new year beginning tomorrow
A living plant can be a wonderful holiday gift whether it is chosen for its flowers or for its foliage. However, before you give a plant think about the recipient. Will she accept the plant as a long lived bouquet and then let it go to its eternal reward in the compost pile? After admiring the plant will she feel overwhelmed by the necessity of caring for the plant? Will she weep because she wanted to keep it alive, but to no avail?
Many blooming houseplants are given with no expectation that they will be kept for another blooming season. Forced amaryllis and paper whites may be among this category. The amaryllis is a spectacular holiday plant with blossoms that comes in a range of shades from brilliant red to pink to white, and some with stripes. It is easy to find large prepared and potted amaryllis bulbs online or in local garden centers. All you need to do is water the bulb well, and then wait for growth to start. The recipient will only need to water the plant regular and the reward will be large glamorous blooms that can last over a month.
Sun and cool temperatures, 55 to 65 degrees, will help produce sturdy flower stems, but the plant should be turned regularly so the plant is not always reaching in the same direction for sun.
Many people are perfectly happy to say good-bye to an amaryllis after it blooms, or pass it along to a friend who really wants to keep it going.
Less spectacular, but no less delightful are forced daffodils (narcissus). It used to be that people were happy to half-bury some paper-whites in pebbles in a pretty shallow bowl that could hold some water and stored in a cool basement while roots form. Nowadays, all manner of daffodils can be potted up from miniature brilliant yellow Tete-a-tetes, to the tall paper whites. They can be planted in planting mix along with a little bulb fertilizer. While they do need cool to cold temperatures to start root growth they do not need basement darkness. Give them light. The soil should be kept moist.
Conventional wisdom says these forced bulbs will never bloom again, but if you, or the recipient, want to try to bring these forced bulbs into bloom again the foliage should be left to ripen after the bloom period. Then in the spring the yellowed foliage can be cut back and the bulbs can be planted in the garden with a little bone meal or bulb fertilizer. They may come back, or they may not. I have experienced both outcomes, but there is nothing to be lost.
I just bought myself the gift of a Jerusalem cherry for my bedroom because the red ‘cherries’ make it look like a little Christmas tree. This plant, like the ornamental pepper is an annual, just like the petunias we enjoy in their season. There is absolutely no expectation that it will have a life much beyond the holiday season. It can be tossed with no regrets. Be aware that the fruits are not edible and children should be warned.
The Jerusalem cherry is perfect for my bedroom because nighttime temperatures are very cool, down to 50 degrees. Ornamental peppers need warmer temperatures even at night, and both plants need at least four hours of bright sun.
Another plant that needs cool temperatures, preferably day and night is the beautiful cyclamen which is available in shades of red, pink and white. I keep cyclamen in my bedroom or the sitting room (where no one ever sits, but just passes through) because these rooms have bright sun, but are cool day and night. However, I do bring the pot of lovely blooms out into the living area when we have holiday guests. Short periods of warm temperatures will not shorten bloom time very much.
I have noticed that kalanchoe are beginning to appear at the supermarket as well as at the garden center. These easy care succulents have thick, waxy foliage that stores water and make them relatively drought resistant. The tiny flowers growing in little bunches in shades of red, orange and yellow. When choosing a gift kalanchoe look for one that still has most of the flowers in bud, and whose leaves are nice and plump showing that it has been cared for properly in the nursery. They need at least four hours of sun and cool nighttime temperatures.
Of course there is always the Christmas poinsettia in red, pink or white. It’s blooms last for a very long time because the flowers are actually bracts. When they finally fade, I always just throw the plant on the compost pile. Easy enjoyment with no second thoughts. A good attitude for beginning the holiday season, I think. Is a gift plant on your list this year?
Between the Rows December 1, 2012
My Christmas Wreath
One of the pleasures of belonging to the Greenfield Garden Club is the November meeting at Chapley Gardens where we have help and materials to make our own wreath. This year I did pretty well. At least better than I did before.
weeds and hips in winter
Mother Nature decorates like this.
For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
The Major and Rory
Thanksgiving Day dawned mild and sunny. There was little left to do in the morning at daughter Betsy’s house so there was time for a stroll and for The Major and grandson Rory to have a tete a tete.
Things got a lot busier at daughter Diane’s house, especially in the Thanksgiving kitchen. Cooks and kibbitzers gathered near the stove to be there when the turkey came out of the oven.
The Thanksgiving table
It is impossible to get everyone in the frame at the Thanksgiving table but all 15 of us were there. We couldn’t reach the Texas branch of the family who were in Pittsburg (?) with the Lawn family but a toast was drunk to family and friends, near and far.
Post Thanksgiving weather was cold, breezy and raw. This morning we woke to snow. The flurries are slight, the air is still, and the temeprature is up to 32 degrees, but the ground is covered.
We are poised for a peaceful moment, but time does not stand still.
The Christmas wreath is hung and the dance towards Christmas has begun. The halls must be decked, the oven fired up and beds prepared for guests.