Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Knowing Dee

You guys. I am well aware of how lucky I am, okay? 
Yesterday just proved it all over again. 

For several friendly, languid hours I sat, strolled, chatted, and brunched
with a beautiful and interesting woman you will want to know.
She and I first met in 2012 for that nifty little Oklahoma Bloggers' Ball we had here at the farm.
She advised me in my garden when we hosted a wedding  a couple of months later.
And most importantly we have become friends.

Dee Nash writes over at Red Dirt Ramblings and 
generously gave me practically all of her Tuesday 
so that I can share it with you. 

She sweetly photographed me in my garden for her upcoming book.
(terrifying but she made it so easy... More on that later...)
We talked about garden pests and best practices.
We played with Pacino and petted Mia.
We drank coffee, ate hard boiled eggs and downed fresh fruit smoothies.

We talked about life and family and books and discovered 
another few dozen wonderful things we have in common.

Dee and I topped off the afternoon by visiting a nearby tree farm,
Tony is a friend of hers and her husband's.
Do you know how much fun it was for me to explore 
a fancy garden center with someone 
whose passion for plants matches my own, 
but whose knowledge triples it?
So. Much. Fun. 
She was like a happy little girl, and I loved it.
On her urging, I brought home a St. John's Wort for my new herb garden.

I was excited about her visit ahead of time;
but I had no idea how much the day would nourish my soul.

Thank you, Dee, for so much enriching conversation!
Thank you for your gardening encouragement and inspiration,
and thank you for sharing these wonderful interview answers that follow!
You are an Oklahoma treasure, and I am proud to call you my friend.

Dee Nash holding a pretty variegated canna at Tony's Tree Plantation

1.     Do you come from a long line of gardeners?
Yes and No. Both of my grandmothers and one grandfather were gardeners, but my parents weren't. I learned most of my gardening from toddling after my Grandma Nita and from books. She died when my son, now 18, was two, so I've read a lot of books.

2.     What is your earliest gardening memory?
You may be too young to remember small white toddler shoes, but I remember mine against the black soil of my grandmother’s garden in Commerce, Oklahoma. I was walking behind her. I also remember her teaching about the “bad butterflies” i.e., cabbage moths, and why she had to kill them.

3.     At what age did you start your own garden?
It depends upon what you mean by garden. I had house plants in my bedroom when I was 13. I planted outside for the first time at my first home, a mobile home in a trailer park. I was 19.

4.     What was your first plant, if you remember?
Polka dot plant, Hypoestes phyllostachya. Mine was green with light pink polka dots. I was about twelve.

5.     When did you first start keeping a garden journal?
I’m embarrassed to say I've started about a billion of them, but I don’t keep them up very well. I guess the blog is my real garden journal. Keeping too much info, too neatly, takes the joy out of it for me. I’m very right brained.
I love that about you, Dee! I am right brained too, and keeping a blog is the ONLY way I am ever gonna keep an ongoing real record of anything. And three cheers for joyful chaos. 

6.     When did you first start photographing your gardens?
In 2004. I wanted to see the layout.

7.     Present day, do you prefer growing edibles or ornamentals?
I like both. I find ornamentals to be less work, but I like to eat the edibles so there you are!

8.     Two phrases you have coined are very special to me... "English with an Oklahoman accent" and             "Thriller, Filler, Spiller" for container gardening... Do you have any new comments or adds for                   these?
I can take credit for the first one, but the second was actually coined by Steve Silk in Fine Gardening magazine a long time ago. Here’s the link to his article: I try to give him credit whenever I write the terms. They are perfect though.
As for “English with an Oklahoma accent,” that’s mine. It pretty much explains itself. It simply explains my love of the English cottage style garden, but the reality of gardening in a state with climate as difficult as Oklahoma. In other words, you need different plants. I've been experimenting with Carol Klein’s favorite plants though this year. I started a lot of them with seed. I’m testing how they will perform here.

9.     How has your gardening style evolved over time?
I’m much more intense and intentional than I once was. I think more about design and symmetry.
I love the photos of your garden. Your use of color, scale, shape, rhythm... All so beautiful. Living, changing artwork.

10.  What factors or life events have affected these changes?
My kids growing up. I have more time. However, the writing and speaking have really picked up so I now need a helper in the garden. I’m considering a horticulture intern. I must talk to OSU about that.
What a lucky intern that will be! I would love to have worked with someone like you in college.

11.  Who and what are your biggest gardening influences today?
Carol Klein and Sarah Raven, both in England. I love Raven’s use of dark, rich color in the garden. I enjoy Klein’s sense of fun. She loves gardening and loves to share her craft. My friend, Helen Weis, is also a great influence as is Deborah Silver, each for their sense of design. Helen is always stressing symmetry to keep my jungle in some kind of form.

12.  I know you love Pinterest (I do too) and have written a great piece on its usefulness... Where else do you find inspiration?
I watch English gardening shows on You can’t get their shows here in the U.S. very often. Sometimes, they are on YouTube, but not with any regularity. I can’t buy the DVDs because they are in a different format. I love Carol Klein’s Life in a Cottage Garden, I bought the companion book. I also watch Sarah Raven on YouTube. She isn't as infectious as Klein, but is soothing. I watch these in the winter when I’m ready to go mad. February is the worst month for me. I also read a lot of gardening books when I’m not writing my own. Sarah Raven’s The Bold and Brilliant Garden is a treasure. Also, here in America, I follow Nan Ondra’s blog, Hayefield. I've also bought most of her books. Nan is a darling, and I enjoy her photos and insights so much.

13.  How did you break into the professional garden writing world?
I was already writing professionally for the local newspaper, The Oklahoman, occasionally, along with other regional newspapers. I also wrote for the state Catholic newspaper. I joined the Garden Writers Association where I met wonderful people who encouraged me to start a blog. The blog helped national editors see my work. I then began speaking at various venues. I met my publisher at a GWA event. Two years later, I pitched them a book idea. Hint: I already had the outline ready, and they knew me. I emailed them the outline at their request when I got home.

14.  Also, how did you come to do the landscaping at Mount Saint Mary's?
I don’t do MSM’s landscaping. I do the landscaping for St. Mary’s in Guthrie. We now attend church there, and she went to 8th grade at their middle school. I just saw a need, asked the priest if I could work on it, and when he said, yes, I did. I've been working on it for over a year now. I do get help from friends and volunteers for the big jobs. It’s starting to take shape. I’m happy. Tony of Tony’s Tree Plantation (?) is the landscaper for MSM. He does a beautiful job.

15.  Congratulations for your first book! I imagine more book ideas are already in the back of your mind. Care to spill any literary beans? Don't worry. Not too many people read my blog anyway. We'll keep it secret.
LOL! Thanks. You need to be more specific. Hmmm, it’s a book for 20/30 something gardeners just starting out. That’s all I can say until after August when the cover and other stuff is announced.
We will be tuning in to watch this adventure unfold! And you need to know how happy you made me to be invited to take photos for this age bracket. : ) By the time you book hits the shelves, I will barley qualify.

16.  Can you name your Top Five favorite plants? Or is that like asking you to name your favorite child?
It’s not easy, but here goes.
            A. Roses, but my love is becoming more jaded over time. I had Rose Rosette Disease in the garden, and I lost six roses to it. I have over 90. I think I just saw it on another old (over 25 years old) rose. I will have to dig it out in fall, and it will be very hard. It is ‘Cl. Old Blush.’ I thought I had it eliminated, but I am seeing similar damage. Of roses, my favorites are ‘Carefree Beauty,’ ‘Dame de Coeur,’ the Drift(r) series of roses, particularly Pink Drift, Coral Drift and Red Drift. I've added a lot more red to my color scheme over the years. I like the depth of color. I’m also still a big fan of single Pink Knockout(r). They are rock hardy in my yard. Of the David Austins, ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’ ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘Darcey Bussell’ are favorite cultivars.
          B. The humble day-lily, Hemerocallis. If you live in the south, you can’t miss with day-lilies. They are beautiful and easy to grow. If you choose yours based upon early, mid and late blooming, you will get two months of bloom.
            C. Dahlias, but they aren't easy to grow here. I’m just sayin’. I like the ones with bronze foliage.
            D. Tomatoes. I love all types. Cherry types are easy to grow. Larger, potato-leaved ones don’t fruit as often and take longer, but the tomatoes are wonderful. I don’t like ‘Brandywine,’ but I am fond of the pink, ‘Marianna’s Peace.’ I now collect seed. Eggplants are the other edible I can’t be without. Oh, and onions too. I make a mean salsa.
            E. Japanese maples. I like all types. Some perform better in Oklahoma than others. They must have a windbreak and supplemental irrigation. Also, they need to be on the north side of the house most of the time. ‘Tamukeyama’ will take a lot of sun although in hotter years, it has leaf burn. 
You and I have so much in common. Great choices. Oklahoma gardeners should be paying attention!

17.  Do your husband or children ever ask you to grow certain things?
Yes, Bill asks for potatoes and green beans, not the fuzzy flat kind. There’s a story there.
I'd love to hear this story.

18.  How much does your family participate in your gardens?
The kids sometimes help, but at this time, they don’t like to garden. They are teens and have been surrounded by it all their lives. Bill helps a lot with hardscaping, building greenhouses, setting up fence. He likes to build stuff. I like the plant work. He doesn't.
Sounds familiar... xoxo

19.  Do you have any special gardening proverbs or expressions that are near and dear to you?
That’s funny because I think of the weirdest stuff while gardening, and it’s not usually related. For example, when I weed, I think “Out, out damn spot” from Macbeth. I don’t know why.
I love that. I find so much meditation and stress relief in weeding. Not weird at all.

20.  What is some of the best gardening advice you have ever received? Who offered it? Did you heed it?
I've received so much good advice over the years. My friend, Wanda Faller, used to say to "plant things pretty close together and not worry too much." She now lives in Washington state.
As with so much wisdom in the gardening world, this seems relevant to all of life. "Stay close together and don't worry too much." Excellent.

21.  What gardening questions do you get asked most often?
People often want me to landscape their properties. I’m not a landscaper or landscape designer. I’ll come over and garden coach you though. I get asked a lot about what will grow in Oklahoma, or does nothing grow here. That was the primary question of 2011 and 2012. In those years, not much. 2013 has been a whole different animal.
I am so glad you hear you mention that last part! Lots of my friends started gardening in the most recent HORRIFIC years and felt discouraged, with good reason. But it's just not the norm. Try again ladies and gentlemen!

22.  Do you think that anyone can be a successful gardener? What are the basic criteria?
Yes. You must like to be outside. You need a water source in our state, preferably drip irrigation or soaker hoses, but you can use sprinklers if you time them right. You must be consistent. You need to learn to tolerate imperfection and bugs. You don’t have to like either, but toleration is key.

23.  I know that you and I both love this beautiful state... Oklahoma. Indian Territory. The Red Dirt beauty. But it certainly presents some unique challenges in the garden. And I know you are widely travelled, visiting gardens in lots of different climates and regions. If not here in Oklahoma, then where in this big wide world would choose to grow and tend your personal Eden?
Hawaii or California. Need I say more?

24.  Okay. You are stranded on a desert island. You can choose only one gardening tool (made by Fiskars of course)  and five plants either in seed or seedling form to grow your own food. What do you bring along?
Well, honestly, the tool would be made by DeWitt. It’s a Dutch Hand Hoe. I can’t garden without one. 1. Sunflowers. 2. Zinnias. I need those because they are easy and pretty, and I can save seed. 3. Tomatoes. 4. Garlic. 5. Lettuce of some sort. I like ‘Nevada’ and ‘Black-Seeded Simpson.’
Again, great choices.

25.  Similarly, you are given one year and a choice of only five plants to grow the most beautiful flower garden, perhaps for a wedding or royal birth or something. What is your floral focus?
Roses. You must have roses for a wedding or royal birth. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ because it’s an easy and native hydrangea, and it is white. Peonies, big pink ones like ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, Asparagus fern for greenery and great big sunflowers as a backdrop. I know the last doesn't go with the other four, but I love sunflowers. They are tall and beautiful. Oh, and I must have Shasta daisies, Leucanthemum x superbum  ‘Becky’. Whoops, that’s six isn't it?
You're totally forgiven. In fact, you get extra credit. xoxo

26.  I am big fan of Niki Jabbour, and I know you two are friends. Have you mastered the year-round vegetable gardening techniques? Do you believe it can be done in Oklahoma?
If Niki can do it in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I would think so. I have mastered ¾ of the year. Honestly, I get tired around Christmas with all the mom duties. However, I now have a greenhouse, and Bill wants to build cold frames, so yes, it can be done. Niki is the master. I am simply the grasshopper where this is concerned. LOL!
(Hang on now, I thought we hate grasshoppers.)

27.  All good gardeners are constantly growing, learning, and improving. What questions do you still have that need answering, and where do you seek your best information? What challenges do you still face?
How do we cure Rose Rosette Disease? What about Sudden Oak Death? I have it in our trees here. Our climate is a big issue although I manage pretty well. I always love learning about new plants.

28.  What big gardening adventures are on your horizon?
Finishing the book. Building a cold frame. Keeping it all going. Each year is a new addition. I learn more every year about growing vegetables on trellises and how to do things better.

29.  Please share a little more about your recent greenhouse addition. What prompted it? How big is it? What is going on inside its opaque walls? Has it proven worthy of the investment yet?
The greenhouse is 8 x 16, but I’m not using it yet. We need to finish the water system which involves rain barrels and a copper gutter. We traveled a lot this year so we’re behind. Besides, I need that greenhouse for winter so I won’t be so bored.

30.  When you visit other people's gardens, surely you do little edits in your mind. I mean, I do! Not to be critical; just because it's fun. What are some common "changes" you make to other people's gardens?
I really don’t. I mean, if they’re out of control and weeding needs to be done, I think about that. Also, deadheading. We should all get the clippers out and deadhead more often. It makes the garden neat and tidy. Plus, flowers bloom better. Harvested vegetables is the same thing in the edible garden. As for design, I don’t. I figure everyone needs their own space to do their thing.
More solid life advice, I think. We all need space to do out own thing. Love the advice to keep weeds out and deadhead or harvest regularly. I am often surprised by how much better my garden looks just after a good, thorough cleaning.

31.  What one big message would you get out to the average gardener, to help them?
Hang in there. Rome wasn't built in a day. Much of my garden is 25 years old.
Bless you for saying this, Dee. I have to repeat it to myself almost weekly.

32.  Now... what would you tell ME? Go ahead, I can take it.
I need to see your garden first Missy.
Fair enough Missy. haha! For my readers to know... Let me say that I was terrified of showing you my garden, although you gave me to no reason to fear. I am just alone in it all the time, and seeing it through someone else's eyes was daunting. Thank you for all of your kind words... Now tell me what you REALLY thought. i already know that I need to weed better. : )

33.  I am sure you spend at least a little time in your Eden every day... But you also are busy caring for your beautiful family and have several other professional pursuits, too. So. Do you have a gardening schedule? Do you follow a daily or a weekly routine? Or is it intuitive and fluctuating based on needs?
It’s intuitive. I have no schedule. I tend to get out there and never come back in. Ask my kids! When I’m writing and get really stuck, I go outside. Also, if I’m sad, it’s the first place I go. My best friend was just diagnosed with cancer. I pray a lot in the garden, and sometimes I cry.
It is possibly the most sacred place in my home, too, for times like this. I think God meets us in the garden when we need it. And it is often the first place we notice His miracles. Prayers for your sweet friend. xoxo

34.  Travelling seems to be at its peak when the garden is also at its peak, summertime. It's a cruel joke, and it always divides my heart. How do you prepare your garden for long absences?
I installed drip irrigation in my pots and put everything on timers. As for the weeds, I mulch beforehand and let the grass grow where it may. Then, I play catch up when I get home.

35.  My final and most important question: Do you really wear gardening gloves every day?
No, but I do most of the time. My hands can’t keep up with the amount of work I do. However, I do go out there sometimes without them, and invariably, I get bit, stung, or I clip my little finger. Yes, I did it last week. Gardening gloves might have lessened the injury. I have a basket of gloves by my back door.
I feel so honored by this as though I’m in Horticulture magazine’s profile or something. Great questions. As for that desert island, we should check out which plants can handle salt spray best. Perhaps, read Celia Thaxter?
Haha!! Great! I am so glad. You honored me by visiting the farm, and I certainly appreciate all of this wonderful insight. As for Celia Thaxter, yes. Let's start there then travel like mad.


   Wasn't that fantastic? I thoroughly enjoyed every word here and every moment with Dee yesterday. If you're not already following her blog, I encourage you to start. I learn volumes there and also glean so much inspiration.

   And friends, please stay tuned throughout the year. I'll keep you updated on her book release, and if you're local, won't you join us for her book release reception here at the farm? 

   Happy gardening!

"Stay close together and don't worry too much."
~Wanda Faller

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition. Part Three

   Oh I am so glad you keep visiting! Okay, it is a bit late (par for the course with me) but I have great excuses, as always. : ) The days are all full and busy around here. Today for your consideration... the third and final installment of Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition. If you haven't already done so, please read part one right here and part two right here.

   What remains are tidbits not particularly related to each other. Remember, we did no consult with each other as we wrote this advice. And I guarantee we would each have come up with more. But we stuck with twelve pearls of wisdom each for twelve years of marriage together.

   Okay! Onward.

   He Said: Work hard to have a beautiful home together. Let her express herself in every corner. Her happiness in the home will reflect her happiness in life. Even with the most modest budget, you can make beauty together.

   She Said: Try to pray together. Identify then nourish some common spiritual ground. Over twelve years, Handsome and I have fluctuated in lots of ways with regard to church and outward expressions of faith, and I imagine that will continue throughout different seasons of life; but having a basic spiritual foundation in our marriage has been a wonderful comfort at times of crisis. It provides a sense of safety and shelter that cannot come from anywhere else. I'm not telling you what to believe, just suggesting that you add this to your recipe for magic. Defining and steeling your own spiritual foundation is part of your own adventure.

   He Said:  When you fight, make up fast. Make it worth it when you do make up. Try to turn off your most awesome battling skills, even if you are pretty good with a bow staff.

   She Said: Do everything you can to make sure he knows you are proud of him. This is really easy for me, because he makes me proud daily. In every part of life.

   He Said:  Never forget to tell her just how beautiful she is to you. Trust me... everyone else is telling her... Keep your place in her heart.

   She Said: Develop your own shared history long-term and enjoy having daily rituals together, too. From big holiday celebrations to early morning habits and road trip traditions, Handsome and I have a million ways we know each other and remember each other. It feels so good.

   He Said:  Pick a girl that makes you swoon every time you see her and makes you want to listen every time you hear her.

   She Said:  For all the talking we do about togetherness and such, which is wonderful and important, I also want to suggest that you maintain a little breathing room. Not privacy exactly; just room in your calendars and energy stores to cultivate your own selves. A good friend once gave me this advice, and at first I balked at it. But now, about five years later, I see the value of her words. Speaking for myself, I know that I am most upset with others (especially my poor husband) when I am upset with myself. So starting with a full tank, so to speak, makes a lot of sense. And respecting his individuality and breathing room is healthy. I almost think you should try this especially where it's difficult; it probably matters most in those areas.

   He Said:  Love her like your life depends on it. Because it does!

   She Said:  Part of the reason this blog entry is late is that we've had a rough few days. As I mentioned, life is full around here. Life is also stressful, in almost every arena. Our nerves, emotions, and tolerances grow thin at times like this, and sometimes they get the better of us. My final piece of marital advice? Manage them. Protect and honor your relationship rather than testing or doubting it. Life is cruel enough without exposing your marriage to poison. Above all, if you are prone to it, mange your jealousy. That's all I'm gonna say on that today.

   Thanks again for joining us on this little twelve-year advice fiesta! We've had an eventful and overall very happy month celebrating. We feel very blessed in our life and wise about marriage only because we have learned from so many mistakes.

   Do you have any marital advice you'd like to share? How long have you been married? I'd love to know you better.

Never knew I could feel Like this
Like I've never seen the sky before...
Want to vanish inside your kiss
Every day I love you more and more...
Come What May
I Will Love You
Until My Dying Day

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shanghai Girls: Book Review

   I have another book review for you guys. This is a sweet and juicy little paperback I snagged from the back of my friend Seri's MINIVAN at our June book club dinner. She is a self-professed book hoarder, and of course we all are, so we love her for it. Thank you Seri! And I still owe you $5 plus however many fresh eggs will pay for those fresh pears. Yum.

   Okay. The book is Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Published in 2009, it is a New York Times bestseller and a luscious little piece of historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it, right up until the very last word. More on that later.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

   Shanghai Girls is set between British-territory China and Los Angeles Chinatown, right as World War II is building pressure and "Communism" is the hottest, most dangerous word anywhere. It traces the coming of age of two Chinese sisters who could not be more different or more complimentary. Their story continues through several decades and along an aching, undulating family saga. It also offers that special ground-level perspective of important historical events, like the Japanese invasion of China and the Hoover-era witch hunt for Communists in America.

   I like historical fiction. I particularly like historical fiction based around the two World Wars; the best samplings tend to be textural, emotional, and revealing of so many moral and social issues that are relevant to us now, all over again. For example?
  • Emigration and assimilation into new places
  • Immigration and the attendant fears and prejudices
  • Unemployment and family communities
  • Liberty versus dependence on the government
  • Cultural evolution
  • Racial tension
  • Legacy versus education and progress
  • Work Ethics
  • The limits to which you would work, lie, or sacrifice to help your children
  • "The American Dream..." and all of its flux elements
   Shanghai Girls did not disappoint. Without tasting academic but in fact just like a good personal narrative, it draws you in and involves you emotionally with the characters. It confuses you with their complex humanity (noone is all good or all bad, after all). It enchants you with scenes of places you have probably never been yourself, certainly of times you have never seen. This is the first book I have read by Lisa See, and I will be happy to find more. She writes succinctly but beautifully...

"I want to say my feeling of disgrace is hard to find,
but I'm ashamed to admit it's hidden 
just beneath the surface of my skin."

   This silly detail bears mentioning: I read the final third of this book over the past couple of nights, while wearing a really long, smooth cotton , beautiful vintage kimono. It's navy blue with white and poppy-red-orange flowers on it.I bought it at a books-and-junk store on the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and it is my newest favorite possession. YES I KNOW that kimonos are Japanese and not Chinese. But Japanese culture did play into the story. And anyway I felt feminine and elegant wearing it while reading this feminine and elegant story.

   Okay. I mentioned that I loved the book right up until the last word. As all believable family sagas should, the story has numerous crescendos and lulls. I grew accustomed to the boiling point and then the cool down. I read and luxuriated as the characters matured from girls into women, from fearful children into knowing and capable creatures. And I accidentally prescribed in my head where the story should lead. MISTAKE.

   Anyway, on the night that I finished it, a paragraph dropped me off at one of the boiling points. No biggie. I was excited. Then I turned the page for what I thought would be a new chapter... It was the end! The last twenty or thirty pages of the paperback were acknowledgements and author's notes! AHHH I craved so much more. I needed far more resolution that this provided, and as far as I can tell there is no sequel. So I guess my only complaint about Shanghai Girls is that it left me wanting more of the same. It was just so delicious.

  Do find this book! It's an informative yet transporting summer read. And come back tomorrow for the third and final installment of Unsolicited Advice, Marital Edition.

"I fold the letter and put it back in its envelope. 
There's nothing we can do about any of this from so far away, 
but I begin a chant- something more than a prayer, 
something more like a desperate plea:
Bring her home, bring her home, bring her home."
~Lisa See in Shanghai Girls

I'm linking up with Mama Kat today.
Go check out all the other great submissions!

   And please say some prayers for my book-loving friend Seri 
and her sweet family this week, ok? Many thanks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?

   When you just now read that blog post title, did you sing the words to yourself? If so, then you probably followed with "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme..." And chances are good that you already know this blog post is all about the herb garden. Thank you, Simon and Garfunkel, for setting my most favorite domestic activity to music.

   My herb garden is a paisley-shaped piece of earth located right outside my kitchen sink window, between the house and the swimming pool. You pass it when walking downhill to either the big garden or the bonfire. It's the casual transition between what we call the "front yard" and the "smokehouse yard." It's easily the smallest growing effort anywhere on the farm, in terms of square feet, yet it has captured my heart and my imagination in the biggest way.

   It has captured Mia's heart, too. He and his feathered friends spend many hours here every day. They meander through the oregano They nibble the grassy edges but never the cultivated plants. Momma Goose sometimes nests in the basil. Sometimes the chickens take shelter behind the box woods. It's a small but lively place!


   I have wanted a magical garden in this spot ever since we moved to the farm in late 2007. I spent the first few years just getting settled and being a Mom and, you know, thinking about the future garden. I daydreamed and visualized various garden designs every time I looked out the kitchen sink window. WHICH WAS SEVEN MILLION TIMES A DAY.

   I think all I had ever tried growing here were a few box wood shrubs I dug up for free from a neighbor, a rose bush, and maybe a handful of red cannas. Oh, sunflowers and poison ivy too. But you know how they basically grow themselves.

   Finally, on a cold day this past February, I started bringing wheelbarrow loads of manure and rotting leaves to this spot. The rose bush was dying a slow death from Rose Rosette's disease; the thrifted box woods were leggy and sparse; and the earth was not even a tiny bit yielding. Breaking it up with love was my only hope. So I just piled it on. For a month or so this hard, dormant stretch of the farm received several inches of organic matter as well as the full force of my greedy imagination.

   This might not be so pretty to look at, but if you have ever busted clay with organic matter, then you know how exciting this is! And if like me you love the smell of rotting leaves and old manure on a cold day, then you can imagine the joy of this scene. This was in February, 2013.

     So for several weeks the bare earth was covered with stuff that would miraculously change it into a loamy and fertile oasis. My spades were put to good use, turning and excavating so very much crabgrass and so very many weeds. Eventually the garden centers opened for the spring season, and I purchased a flat of baby herbs plus seven million seed packets. They sat on my dining room table until it was finally time to plant. Tiny Mr. T kept me motivated.

   The chickens helped the process along by scratching the dirt, eating grubs, and generally keeping the place cheerful. 

   Once the first plants were in the dirt and watered, I had that anticlimax feeling. I sat and stared at my Herb Garden of Discontent and continued to daydream about its future glory. I decided to be patient with its slow progress and decided that even if we didn't yield enough this year to sell at the local farmers' market, that I could still love and nurture this garden in small, daily ways.


   Gradually, day by day and week by week, things have improved. The heavy spring rains flooded out some of the annuals, but overall the herb garden in thriving. 

   Last week I got serious about weeding and realized there is still plenty of available real estate in this area. It happens. I coach myself to see it as potential instead of lacking.

   After pulling and digging the weeds, I groomed everything and surrounded every plant with layers of newspaper then watered deeply. Hey... don't you love the way your hands smell after grooming herbs?  Man. Best smell ever. Basil, sage, oregano, marigold, tomato, chamomile, rosemary, mint... Not an unpleasant fragrance among them. Sometimes I rub mint leaves on my neck.

   Eventually everything got a layer of mulch, too. And by the way I am a recent mulch convert. If you don't use it, you really truly should. It does everything it's supposed to do: Control weeds, retain moisture, and look snazzy.

   The herb garden contains more than herbs, too. I am growing surplus tomatoes, roses, zinnias, and watermelon. Also several flowers and vines just on the edges. This is a little rose bush I planted around Easter. I recently thought maybe we had another round of Rose Rosette's disease happening because of the thicker, fuzzier branches pushing around the garden... But no worries! It's just a wild watermelon vine! : ))

   So thanks for stopping by. The prettier this garden grows, the more I'd like you to stop by in real life, to sit in our mismatched lawn furniture, talk about everything worthwhile, and watch the dragonflies. To smell the herbs. 

   Do you have an herb garden? I would love love love to see photos! Please feel free to share them  here on Facebook. Have a beautiful day!

"Come to my garden.. 
 I want my roses to see you."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition Part Two,

   Hello again! Thanks so much for all of the sweet happy anniversary wishes and for reading this fun series! Handsome and I surely appreciate it. If you haven't yet seen Part One of Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition, you can read it here.

   I have another installment for you today, but first, a little comic floating around the internet that pretty well sums things up...

   Right? Perfect bottom line, I think. Solid advice if ever I heard it. Wish I had thought to just say THAT before giving you 24 pieces of advice. : )

   Okay. Part Two. These bits of marital wisdom are not necessarily grouped into themes, but I think it's fun to see some parallels still. Again, we did not consult each other as we wrote.


   He Said:  Love her quirks. These small idiosyncrasies are the things that will bring a smile to your face for the rest of your life.

   She Said:  Take lots of photos, write some journals of your memories, and surround yourselves with those positive, loving, laughter-bringing memories. You might be surprised what you would forget otherwise. And not just the big stuff; take stock of the mundane things too. Not every day has to be a show-stopper. The ordinary days add up, and reflecting on and celebrating them together now and then is wonderful. Later, when crises come (they will), you can take care of business but crave that calm normalcy together. You will know that your foundation is enough. At hectic, stressful times, Handsome and I have often laughed after crying, saying, We just want a quiet day at home with the animals and each other, and a home coked meal, is that so wrong? And in this difficult season without the kids, we have thousands of photos to remind us of what life was like with them. Not that we forget exactly, but sometimes pain and waiting have a way of dulling the old joys. And tactile memories help tremendously.

   He Said:  Get her a car that makes her happy, even if she doesn't task for it. She should ride in style with a smile! Listen, guys, don't put your girl in a minivan and expect her to feel like a sports car...

   She Said:  Learn how to live cheaply. Be the funnest date you can be, while spending the least. Sometimes cash will flow more freely than others, of course, but it's always good to know how to entertain yourselves without a huge monetary sacrifice. It's wonderful to know how to make up games, explore new places, and enjoy all kinds of entertainment on a shoestring. I can honestly say that we have had just as much fun and romance on cheap, spontaneous outings close to home (or at home) than on expensive dates in other cities.

   He Said:  Love her arts, whatever they are... Promote her to do them often, as they make her the woman you fell in love with. This one is so so easy for me, as most of my girl's arts center around her creating a beautiful home, a tasty meal, or fun!

   She Said:  Make regular, enthusiastic attempts to have fun doing stuff that he loves. I know that to some people this sounds old fashioned and cheesy, but it's not. I'm not talking about being a Stepford follower- type wife; I'm talking about legitimately involving yourself in whatever it is that makes this man you LOVE tick. We have made some of our best friends while showing cars, which is something I would probably never think of doing without him. And I have learned a ton of interesting stuff by paying attention when he gets excited about a car or a new project. If instead I left him to his own devices, just sort of dismissed him instead of accepting his welcome into this fun world, then I would miss that expression of little-boy joy he gets on his face when he talks cars. I do not understand the notion of limiting each other just because you don't organically share a passion. Give yourself a chance to see things through his eyes, and do not discourage him.

His first minutes behind the wheel as owner of his Cobra, a lifelong dream.
I will never forget the look on his cute face!


   Okay friends, that's what I have for you today. It's getting close to dinnertime, and I have some big Alfredo-flavored plans. Please feel free to share your own inspired marital advice here or on Facebook or by email! I would love to her what works for other couples.

Love is a Verb

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition Part I, the Common Ground

   Hey friends! It's Anniversary Week around here, so as promised it's time for our first installment of Unsolicited Advice: Marital Edition. I announced this funny little project with my ornery tongue in the corner of my doubtful cheek but have since enjoyed some surprisingly positive feedback from you guys! So I hope this is good.

   Please remember... What follows, whether silly or serious,  are OUR experiences, OUR lessons learned, OUR slants on life... All based on the twelve years Handsome and I have been negotiating the marital waters. What works for us may have disastrous consequences for you. Then again, we may have cracked the code. You tell me!

   Okay. First, it bears mentioning that Handsome and I wrote our 12 pieces of advice separately, independently, flying solo and untethered by consultation with each other. And we each could easily have written far more than twelve little things. And each of those twenty-four things could have been books! Because, seriously. You learn through mistakes, and mistakes have stories attached. REALLY GOOD stories, sometimes...

   We then thought it would be fun to see how much of our thinking overlapped with each other. There was plenty. So to start our advice column tonight, a little common ground:

1. Grass is Greenest Where You Water It.
   She Said: Do what you can to become an expert on your husband. Learn everything about his needs, wants, preferences, dreams, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Then pour all of your energy into loving him and caring for him in the ways HE needs you to, not necessarily the ways you read about or assume you should. Hey, while you're at it, read Love Languages. It's commercial, sure, but pretty enlightening. Speak his languages whenever you can and don't make the mistake of expecting your languages to be the same. Become the world's expert on him.
   He Said: Make sure her needs and desires are met, because you want to, not because you fear what may happen. A woman in love will make your dreams come true, so you should do everything in your power to return the favor...

2. Fun is Not Extra Credit.
   She Said: Seek adventure together! In every sense, both privately and as world-citizens, actively hunt for fun experiences, routine-busters, laughter, games, silliness, thrills, and more. Also... Sex and romance are vital parts of life. Neglecting them even for a short time will cause both of you to suffer in surprising ways. It's totally natural, and it's also one of the best ways to express yourself freely. So if you feel guilty for craving or enjoying fun with your guy, stop. And if you're neglecting him, also... stop. Hubba-hubba.
   He Said:  Find things you both can enjoy, and do them often. There is no greater anticipation than looking forward to something fun together! Travel together and see the world. Build more experiences together than you could ever have apart. Sharing your lives is what makes your bond stronger. I could never imagine enjoying new things without her to share them with right then!

3. 'Cause You Gotta Havva Faitha-Faitha-Faitha!
   She Said:  Trust. Yes, like respect, everyone likes to say that trust is earned, and it sort of is. But sometimes what a marriage needs most is that bold flavor of trust that is issued ahead of time, that trust that is given freely more as an act of faith than as a reward for some kind of behavior. (This is something I am learning right now, by the way, because personal insecurity is huge for me. And Handsome pays the price for it more than he deserves.) Trust your guy regardless of what people outside your relationship do or say.
   He Said:  Be honest at all costs. Nothing hurts a woman in love like the feeling of deceit. If you love her, you will share your thoughts and feelings.

4. You as a Couple Are Not an Island
   She Said:  Be good to each other's families even when it's difficult. Maybe especially when it's difficult, because there will be days like that. Extend yourselves and maintain friendships with all kinds of people. Handsome and I have been so blessed in so many unexpected ways by getting close to a variety of interesting people. We feel so blessed to love each others families and love all of our friends! And I have learned so much about my husband in all of this. I can't even imagine not having our loved ones close to our marriage, even as much as we definitely prize our intimacy and time alone.
   He Said:  Have a family. You will never fully appreciate the depth of your wife's love until you see her mold the lives of little ones she loves more than her own breath.

   So there is our beginning! Four areas where Handsome and I had similar wisdom to share. I hope at least part of it is interesting to you, and I really hope you'll share your thoughts and reactions! As with everything else in life, I have had so much fun learning a little more about him with this exercise.

   Part Two soon!

Happy Anniversary Baby



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