Thursday, August 13, 2020

Introducing Ethel's Echinacea


This is Ethel's Echinacea. It's not an official name, but they're in my garden so I get to call them what I want.

These flowers are a gift from the garden of my friend Ethel, and they are thriving in this garden by the back deck, with the rudbekia transplanted last year, and the phlox transplanted this year -- saved, in fact, from being crushed by the effort to move the greenhouse. There's also honeysuckle clumping up in there.

On the right in the photo are the Stella daylilies planted in memory of my dog, Stella. I can't remember which Stella's they are but they are a darker red than I expected. That's how it goes with gardens; you never know what is going to pop up, what is going to thrive, what is going to bloom one year and never show up again. 

Audrey Hepburn said, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."

Here's a little announcement related to this two-level back deck: next year, Ethel's Echinacea will be overlooking my kitchen garden. This fall - or even as soon as the heat wave ends - we are going to tear off the lower deck and start the work to transform it into a space that will grow herbs and other kitchen gardeny things. My winter project will be figuring that out. 

We're also going to create the space for a salsa garden where we will grow the tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and green & yellow peppers that go into Rose's Salsa (recipe from my friend Rose). 

What would I do without my gardening friends?? 

"Friends are flowers in the garden of life."

A word about the lighting of that photo of Ethel's Echinacea. I was watering at sunset last night, the sun going down as it does over the far trees at the edge of the field. But the opposite sky was full of grey clouds -- teasing me about the possibility of rain -- and this combination turned the light pinky and orangey, depending on the moment. 

When I saw the light on Ethel's Echinacea, I wanted to capture it. Every blossom coming out, thriving, offering its healing and its hope. Keeping me in the pink. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Rain Before Seven

The 60 per cent chance of showers came through! 
This wasn't enough water for the roots but I swear you could hear the leaves gulping down the drops. 
As well as a huge sigh of momentary relief from all the plants: "Ah, moisture!" 

Yes, you can hear these things. Nature speaks. 

But so does the Nova Scotia country boy: "Rain before seven, fine by eleven," and it is supposed to clear off by noon, leaving us with sunshine and gusty winds, courtesy of what's left of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaias. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Heat Wave

This is crazy.
I really hoped we'd get a day of rain from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaias but it's heading west of us. 
The chickens get four buckets of cold water a day; I'm been a bit lax on the frozen treats but it looks like they're going to get them for the next few days. 

This is not good. 
We're lucky -- we draw water from a spring along another country road, and fill four or five water barrels in order to keep our gardens watered, but anyone who relies on a well... by the beginning of next week, we might be hearing stories of people in trouble with water. 

People love to complain about precipitation, whether it's snow in winter or rain in summer, but the ground needs the water. Snow fills our wells and rain grows our vegetables and flowers. It's a country thing -- we need water.

And on a personal note, I was hoping for a break from watering just to give my right arm a break. I've developed a case of "bucket elbow"! 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Righting A Wrong

I made another sign

For thirteen years, an injustice has bothered me.
As injustices go, this one is small and very personal -- it happened to someone I love, and I have an overdeveloped sense of fairness. But it also was an injustice I could do something about.

Dwayne and I are both survivors of divorce, but he lost far more than I did when his long marriage ended in 2002 (at the same time mine ended). The canoe in these photos was his but she sold it. That's the simplest way to tell the story. And it's a typical divorce story. There are no unique divorces, just He said-she said, who did what when, I want-you want, Let's just get this over with. 

After we married, Dwayne told me about the cedar strip canoe he bought from a maker in Ontario (see? all good things come to him from Ontario!) when he was forty, and how he'd added his nickname to the thwart in front of his seat in the stern. It was perhaps a harder loss to bear than anything else he lost.

He's nicknamed "Flint" for his hard head, but he has a soft heart.

I knew where the canoe was -- tormentingly close, in a garage just up the road -- and  I knew who owned it -- a really nice guy. It bothered me that Dwayne lost his cherished canoe. It bothered me that he didn't fight for it, that he just gave in and said, "Fine, take it."
Because she only wanted it to sell it. 
Yet even as I fretted about the injustice of it, I never felt the urge to spend the money to buy it back. It didn't feel like my job to correct the decision he made in another lifetime.

Then in June, on a boat run upriver, as we passed by this guy's house and I thought about what was in his garage, the voice inside me, that voice that speaks clearly and it always, unfailingly right, said, "Get it back". 
I've learned not to ignore that voice. In 1996, when the voice said, "Break up with him," but I ignored it, I ended up in my own unhappy marriage, so that's how I learned to trust the voice.

I thought at first the canoe would make a perfect birthday gift but realized I couldn't wait until the end of August -- one just doesn't know what could happen, right? So I decided to give it as an anniversary-and-birthday gift. 
I made the deal to buy the canoe on July 13th, and Dwayne's father died the next day. So for two weeks, I knew that as he struggled with the loss of his father, he was going to gain a piece of his life back. 

The voice is always, unfailingly, and sometimes freakishly, right. 

I love all the serendipity in our life together. We ebb and flow, we give "for better or worse" a proper workout, but this time, Dwayne married a fighter. He married someone who doesn't give up, who won't give in, who forgets nothing and remembers every detail, every date, every word. 

Who trusts in the voice that guides her life. 

The voice that brought her back to the East Coast when her marriage ended.
The voice that brought a beloved canoe back into Dwayne's life just when he needed it. 
That voice brought brought the canoe back into our marriage right when we need it. It's been ten years - ten! - since we canoed. Life just got complicated; for awhile, we were physically unable to lift a canoe or paddle, then eventually we stopped making time. I got Dwayne a fishing boat for his 60th birthday and that's what we use on the river. 

But this canoe is who he is, and canoeing is who we are together, how we started out as a couple. And I couldn't have planned the day better for taking the "new" canoe out on the river and getting reconnected; the day was hot and the river was calm. Without saying a word, we renewed our vows: to keep paddling together, honouring the gentle strength up front and the power steering in back, taking up the slack with the other needs to rest, always moving forward yet going with the flow, knowing that even as the tide goes out, it will always come in again.  

There's no place he'd rather be. 
As Henry David Thoreau said, "Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing."

Monday, July 27, 2020

Dedicating the Sunflowers

As I watched the slideshow of family photos at my father-in-law's funeral on Saturday, July 18, I saw photos of Donn with the sunflowers he'd grown along the back of the barn or later, around the flagpole. It was before my time so I never saw those gardens, but they were his thing, a fact reflected in the sunflowers in the flower arrangements around his casket and the sunflower bouquets his great-granddaughters laid at his grave.

That's when I realized it had become Dwayne's thing, without him even realizing he was picking up where his father left off. We inherit a lot of traits and habits from our parents, some good, some bad, but planting sunflowers is definitely a good one.

So I decided to paint a sign dedicating this year's sunflower garden to Dwayne's father. The sign says, Donn Mattinson Memorial Sunflower Garden. 

At bedtime on the night of the funeral, I was reading a few pages from "The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver", and came across How Would You Live Then? Although the whole poem is a must-read, the final lines in particular made me think of my father-in-law:

"...What if
You painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?"

~ Mary Oliver

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Power of Gardening To Change Our Lives

Bee balm hinting at future redness in the tomatoes. 

In committing this summer to creating balance in my life between inside and outside, brain labour and body labour, sitting down and moving around, books and dirt, I have felt so much better. I look forward to and enjoy my work around the yard in the evenings, even with the deer flies buzzing and biting, even with feeling like most of my work is pulling weeds! 

There is balance even in the weeds. Although currently the balance of weeds on my property has the weeds winning! 
Nevertheless, spending more time outside in my gardens, watching my kale regrow after being eaten by, mostly likely, the groundhog, seeing the bright red bee balm flourish everywhere (!), and being in the "new and improved" greenhouse at least twice day now, I can say I feel the difference. I feel a balance restored to me that a mere hour-long walk every morning couldn't do. There is something about gardening -- tending to the soil, the seeds, the plants, the fruits and the flowers -- that truly taps into something essential. 

This is from the opening of an article in the July/August issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. The article is actually an excerpt from Sue Stuart-Smith's book, "The Well-Gardened Mind" (Scribner, 2020). 

~ We are a grassland species that emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa.

Over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world. This includes how much sunlight we get, the kind of microbes we are exposed to, the amount of green vegetation around us, and the type of exercise we take. 

When we work with  nature outside us, we work with nature inside us. It is why people feel more fully alive and energized in the natural world, why gardeners report feeling calmer and more vigorous, and why spending time in nature awakens the connection-seeking aspect of our human nature.

Later, Stuart-Smith wrote, 

~ The contemporary emphasis on self-improvement and self-investment can make caring for something other than ourselves seem like a depleting activity, but the neuro-chemistry of care is not like that. Care has inbuilt neuro-chemical rewards. The feelings of calm and contentment that accompany nurture have benefits for giver and receiver alike, and there are obvious evolutionary reasons why this should be so. The anti-stress and antidepressant effect of these pleasurable feelings arises through the action of the bonding hormone oxytocin and release of beta-endorphins, the brain's natural opioids.

What a beautifully written argument for more nature, more gardening, more outside. Everyone needs to spend time taking care of plants, putting their hands in dirt, hearing water pour over plants. It's healing, it's uplifting, it's essential. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


I managed to grow something from seed.

I planted tomato seeds, daisy seeds, coneflower seeds AND poppy seeds and not one, seriously, not even one seed germinated. Not even in the lovely heat of the relocatedgreenhouse. 

Not being one to ever give up, I put eight romaine lettuce seeds and eight spinach seeds in two different planters on the back deck. 

And I actually grew something -- enough to make salads! I'm not a complete grow-my-own-food failure but one cannot live on spinach and lettuce.

Especially considering my experiment with growing strawberries in hanging planters is an utter failure, even with the fancy hanging planters hanger my husband built. 

Not being one to ever give up, I'm going to build (okay, well, Dwayne will build) a raised bed for the strawberries. 

Like bee balm, I won't quit until I'm knee-deep in strawberries, too.