You Know You’re a Gardener When… (Take Two)

photo by Levi Chavez

photo by Levi Chavez

You know you’re a gardener when the caption to a photo on the AOL news roll says something about a naked woman in the pool, and all you notice are the black plastic pots and hand trowel in the lower left hand corner.

Can you tell a good “you know you’re a gardener” on yourself?

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My New Best Friends

Did you hear something creak as you opened this post?

It was me.

Even though it feels as though this winter was very short, it will still take a while for muscles to regain their gardening habits.

And even though Spring is very young, I already feel like I’m catching up. How does that happen?

In the meantime, I’d like you to meet my new best friends.

best friends

Recess in the Gardenhood

Wednesday evening this week, Rose and Diane, who work with me in Green Way’s gardens, agreed to let me cook for them.

We needed to talk about the coming season, how drought will effect our work load. Passionate gardeners often find ourselves with many other things in common. Our conversation ranged over several countrysides. And while we laughed, exclaimed, solved the world’s problems, and, yes, ate, it snowed.

It snowed a real snow. Moisture laden. Four inches in the three hours. They left in a quiet sifting of heavy flakes and a celebratory mood.

5inches

The official total out at the airport was 7.3 inches. The patio table on the flat corner lot captured five.

Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the national weather service in Pueblo, CO, says “We’re still knee deep in drought.” But snow on the ground lasting for several days and the clean fragrance of fallen clouds raises spirits and has everyone hoping for more.

Up in the mountains as much as 17.5 inches of powder accumulated. Good news for the river basins.

Did you know that no rivers flow into Colorado? Here, instead, are the headwaters of the Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and more.

Snowpack remains at 75% of normal statewide, but with March and April typically the snowiest months, fingers are crossed that February’s treasure will kickstart a productive spring. You can almost hear as folks around the state take turns holding their breath.

Another big storm heads our way tonight. Cell phones have buzzed: blizzard warnings are posted.

Today, however, I declared a recess in the gardenhood. The sun polished the sky into a porcelain blue. Wednesday’s snow shrank and liquified, singing its way down gutters and storm grates. I strolled on down to Shooks Run just to hear the liquid music. Upstream, inside the fence of the municiple golf course, ancient western willow raised their broad and glorious heads, bright February gold twigs against high, icy bands of clouds.

Back in the office, a message from my cousin Ginny alerted me to the March issue of National Geographic. There is an article on fracking in North Dakota. It attempts to give a balanced socio-economic look at the changes fracking is making in the state. The photos by Eugene Richards convey the story beautifully. However, a quick reading yielded no information on troubles ranchers are having with their livestock. There is always more to the story.

Alright, back to recess!

Tracking the gardener.

Tracking the gardener.

Homely: A Valentine

the old home garden

Sleeping Bear Oasis, where I garden before the flat corner lot.

Would it be a stretch to say you love your garden? It might frustrate you from time to time (OK, a lot). There may even be times you want to tear out whole beds. Start over. Walk away. Then, there are the moments you wrap your hands around a mug of favorite brew and take a stroll. You might bend to lift a flowery face or pinch away a browned leaf, but mostly you just look, even admire. This isn’t because there’s nothing to do, no weed to pull, no hose to drag. It’s simply because you want to visit, to be together with your garden.

You might grab your camera and snap photo after photo of the same greenly emerging bun, the same trio of lilies, the same burnished ferns that you photographed last week, last year, or the year before. Approaching plants just like the children you adore, you only wish you could say, “Smile for me, honey.” If you’re like me, you probably do say, “Oh, you’re so beautiful.”

“Most of us intuitively believe that the things we labor at are the things we love…” wrote Shankar Vedantam in Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even if It’s Crooked which aired on NPR’s morning edition on 6 February 2013. “What if… it isn’t love that leads to labor, but labor that leads to love?”

To pursue the question, Vedantam spoke with Tulane University Marketing professor, Daniel Mochon, about a phenomenon he calls the Ikea Effect. “Imagine that you built a table,” Mochon said. “Maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you’re the one who created it. It’s the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect.”

From a marketing director’s point of view, this effect is a great way to get people in the door. For every person who has ever struggled against criticism, Mochon says, “Building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and competence, and also signals to others that you are competent.”

Any gardener who has successfully pruned an overgrown red twig dogwood knows the truth of that.

In the business world, however, it turns out the Ikea Effect has a definite downside. It can cause a detrimental loss of objectivity. After laboring on a concept for a couple of months, the person working on the project or an entire company may fall in love with their idea and not see its flaws. It becomes a failed project, and time and money are lost.

To some extent, we gardeners are subject to the same failing. And I think we can turn it to our advantage.

Some years back, my old garden was suggested as a possibility for a garden tour. A statewide organization of garden clubs sent a representative from Denver to deem whether or not my garden was worthy. She came before I had a chance to do some planned maintenance, and I arrived home in time to see her standing in the mess, gesturing toward a brush pile near a chain-link fence, and shaking her head at the local garden club representative. My face and ears burned with a bit of shame and a dollop of anger.

broom in panorama

Deemed unworthy.

Here is where a gardener has a definite advantage over the Ikea Effect. For two truths were revealed that day: 1) An outsider declared my garden a failed project in business terms. She saw my garden through the objective eyes of one who had a certain standard, which my garden didn’t meet. 2) I loved my garden, anyway. My time and money were far from wasted.

I don’t only mean I loved my garden sentimentally (which I surely did). I mean I loved it by rolling down my sleeves, removing what didn’t belong, and providing what it needed. Even more, I loved it by seeing the uniqueness and beauty it offered, photographing it, and sharing it with friends.

I confess, I often think of the flat corner lot as homely. Budget constraints in time and money haven’t allowed me to fill it with plants and sculpt it with stones. Even so, I love it. Loving a garden transforms both it and the gardener. It allows the gardener to change definitions of beauty. When I look up homely in my German/English dictionary I find the word heimlig, which means atmospheric. The gardenhood cradles the atmosphere of home.

About a million years ago, I read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. His love-as-verb approach shook my romantic adolescent concepts of love to the ground. As the Ikea Effect — labor leading to love — jogged my memory of reading Fromm, l had to look up the quotation. He wrote, “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissm. It isn’t a feeling, it’s a practice.”

Gardening, too, is a practice by which we come to love.

Home is Where Your Madness Blooms

on the line

Last summer, hanging a week’s worth of gardening garb out to dry, I noticed that some of the T-shirts were more faded on the back than in the front. Chuckling to my self, I thought, “You know you’re a gardener when this happens.” Quicker than the proverbial wink, the question followed: When did I actually know I was a gardener? Did it really begin when grade-school-me planted carrots in the sandbox outside the kitchen door?

Those questions sprouted into something tasty, like one of those beds of multi-colored lettuces. When does a person become a gardener? Are we born this way? Does some latent gene kick in when we’re exposed to grandparents bending over a zinnia or row of beans? Or is it environmental? Is there a virus that enters through the eye, under the fingernails, or in the perfume of a peony? How do you know you’re a gardener? What are the signs? Is it madness?

I’d been listening to my own true confessions on this obsession when I encountered a blog called PJGirl. There, I learned you just might know you’re a gardener if, after an hour of gardening first thing in the morning, you realize you’re outdoors in your pajamas. Madness delighfully confirmed.

Here we are. It’s February, and all the gardeners we know (in the northern hemisphere, that is) are swooning over seed catalogs or readying shelves and window sills for those little starter pots. We’re reading books, cleaning and sharpening our tools, sorting thorugh last year’s notes and photos. We’re pining for the smell of mud and can’t wait to come into the house with wet trouser knees. Is this how we know we’re gardeners?

Well, I’d like to find out.

Gardenhood turns two this week, and I turn 60, and the questions just won’t stop.

Today’s questions: Would you like to help me celebrate? Would you be willing to share your true confession? How do YOU know that you’re a gardener? And if you say you’re not, how are you so sure? (Hint, killing plants might actually mean you are). You’ll notice there are no qualifiers here. I didn’t ask you if you’re a real gardener, a talented gardener, or even a successful one.

Let me prime the pump with a few confessions of my own.

You know you’re a gardener when watching a movie — even a thriller or a stunning romance — you’re naming all the plants. Worse yet, you pause the DVD to get a positive ID.

You know you’re a gardener, when you get what it means to have a “gardener’s gap”. Moreover, you have a swath of tan there.

You know you’re a gardener, when you miss weddings, meals with friends, and your monthly book-group meeting because it’s May.

True confessions can be posted in the comment section, or if you’d rather, send an email to gardenhood88@gmail.com.

Thank you for two great years. May your madness bloom with joy.

Only Because

“I’ve got nothing to lose and only myself to please,” she said, as if it were fact.

We stood in midday heat, puzzling out changes to make in her garden. She, a widow with grown children and young grandchildren; a snowbird wintering elsewhere, summering here; a small woman with copper and gold highlights in her hair. These are the facts. Yet, which paragraph is more evocative?

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man has once again nominated gardenhood for a blog award. It’s a fact. Yet what does it reveal? Think about that for a couple of seconds, while I thank Kevin profusely for the nomination, his kind support of my writing, and the many ways his own writing cheers and teaches me.

liebster-blog-award

Now for a disclaimer, an aside, a disruption in the flow of the narrative, which breaks a cardinal rule of good writing (except when Shakespeare did it). I decided to accept the award only because it came from Kevin. Near as I can tell, these awards (and there are quite a few), are designed to up a blog’s visibility and readership. There’s no competition, no voting, no academy of blogospheric accomplishments. There are only rules to follow, and then you claim the award. The rules involve thanking the nominator and providing a link to their site, revealing information about yourself, and nominating and linking to other sites. It’s actually a lot of work. Well, it is for me. So, I decided to bend the rules, only because thinking about how to follow them, I turned them into writing exercises, a way to kick out the winter holiday induced block in my writing life.

Which seemed like more fun and more fair to you.

So, on with it.

The first exercise: What can you tell about a person with eleven unembellished facts? It probably depends on the person (in this case yours truly) and the facts. What’s your guess?

The Facts

  • 1) In the John F. Kennedy high school class of 1971 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2) my name appears in alphabetical order right after Jim’s, 3) and he reads gardenhood.
  • 4) I went to northern Minnesota and acquired an accent.
  • 5) I still have it, sort of.
  • 6) My brand new Hausschuhe are felted Haflinberger clogs.
  • 7) On the same day I bought them I also bought chains for my hiking shoes.
  • 8) I start each day by saying out loud, “Yes, thank You!”
  • 9) The vision for the flat corner lot is under reconstruction.
  • 10) My hair is its own color.
  • 11) I complete my 60th solar return on February 3 at 1:41 Mountain time.

Exercise two: Kevin asked me 11 questions. I’ll provide the answers. It’s like writing only one side of a dialog. Can you discern the questions in the answers?

Mid morning. Because it still feels like anything can happen and I usually have even more energy than when I awoke.

I was in first grade, and I stayed in from recess because I was having so much fun writing a story. That summer I planted carrots in the sandbox, my first garden.

When Breakfast Club came out in 1985, I lived 80 miles and an international border from the nearest movie theatre. So, I have no idea in which high school group I best fit. I’m not sure I would know now, even if I had a movie to guide me.

I write at the solid oak desk I inherited from my father in a room I call the studio. I always feel like I’m steeping when I’m here.

I laugh in pure joy whenever I hear the choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

On a television talent show, my talent would be making a graceful exit.

The dandelion. Tough, resilient, bright, entirely useful, prolific.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Because it engages all my senses, including my sense of wonder and magic.

Eggplant.

I live where rain is an event, and rarely falls a whole day. I rejoice whenever it happens.

Carl Sagan. Then what happens?

Exercise three: If you wanted to get a group of people with diverse backgrounds interested in a complete stranger, what questions would you ask the stranger? What questions would you like someone to ask of you? Next are a few of mine.

What are your growing edges, in gardening or in life?

Describe the place on earth where you are most at home.

What do you listen for in the voices of others?

What have you always wanted to tell your mother and never dared?

How do you deal with imperfection?

What is your definition of beauty?

How have your perspectives changed in the last decade?

What is your best memory from middle school?

What does the smell of roses evoke for you?

How do you relax?

What are people most likely to say about you?

One more confession: I’m exhausted by research. I have the sort of personality that wants to jump headlong into synthesis with only a handful of information. I constantly rewrite sentences to fill in the blanks I jump over, eager to get to the next idea. When it comes to finding blogs to read or recommend, I prefer to let others do the vetting for me. Over the last two years, that strategy hasn’t netted me a very long list. In the interest of meeting my final requirement — that of nominating 11 blogs and putting their writers through this gauntlet — I trudged out into the blogosphere digging for some new ones. My criteria surfaced as I searched. I looked for whimsy, beauty, smiles, a sense of connection, and writing that pulled the mud-heavy boots from my heart. After far too many hours, and feeling like I’d just read 15 seed catalogs cover to cover, I pooped out. At nine.

I know most of you stop by to read gardenhood and aren’t looking for other reads. Maybe, like me, you feel as though you’re spending way too much time staring at blue-lighted screens and not enough time looking at soft white paper, kind faces, beautiful landscapes, and living earth. Nonetheless, if you’d like to visit a few other sites, here you go.

Griffins and Gingersnaps

Jordan Ketttley

Naure’s Place

Gypsy Sunshine

Enjoy Succulents

A 3 Acre Farm (Kevin already nominated this blog for the award, but I wanted to recommend it to you).

Lelo in Nopo

Danger Garden

Richard Huston Art

Fast Away…

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

IMG_4702

We’ve been waiting for this. For snow. For cold. For a productive gray sky and clean north wind. For a sense of something normal, however fleeting.

It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 and a half months since there was any appreciable moisture from above. October and November netted us a whopping .16″. That’s less than a quarter inch of precipitation in 61 days. Today’s snow might leave behind as much as the last two months’ total, and we’re glad for it.

Long term forecasts show the dry weather continuing. But for one dreamy Sunday, we have a little Winter.

As this old year passes, it’s time to consider what may be passing with it. Drought combined with rising water costs signal the passing of my original vision for the flat corner lot. So, before it has become a fully expressed garden, I will begin taking it in a new direction. With so many questions yet to ask,  Gardenhood goes on.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!