Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hatching Plans

Every new garden needs attention throughout the year. Even though no flowers are in bloom, even though many things have been shriveled by the freezing temperatures at night, much work remains around here. Now that the semester is over, Turfman and I have been spending a good hour each day planting the remaining spring bulbs we have. I just returned from the hardware store with enough lumber, screws, and olive oil (for the wood preservative I make) to build two more raised planter beds. Once those are finished, we'll still need to build seven more to complete the garden layout. And then there's the fence that we'll have to build around it. As I said, there's much work to do.

On the colder mornings, though, I've been spending time working out a garden design for the front yard. I can spend most of my time in the warmth of the house with my colored pencils and drawing template and only dash outside periodically to confirm a measurement. I can spread copies of Gardens Illustrated out in front of me and dream. I sift through my packets of seeds to see what I have to work with (and occasionally to have a little bit of a panic over just how many seed packets I have). These are the times when everything is possible and I begin to wonder (with great anticipation) just how it will all turn out.

I am painfully aware that by sitting here and drawing out my dreams I'm also creating more work for myself, but it's the kind of work that keeps me going. So watch that space in the photo. It will figure prominently in the story of this place during the next few months and hopefully in the years to come.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Settling Down

Once again, I've been away from the blog for longer than I had hoped. It is all my fault, a simple case of poor time management. The first semester back teaching full time after many years away was a little overwhelming. Now that I've successfully navigated it, I'm focusing my efforts on getting everything else back in order.

It's nice to be in a colder climate under such circumstances. In Florida, I would likely have been  fretting over lettuces and carrots and other such things. I'd probably even be mapping out my seed starting schedule so that I could be ready for the early spring planting season there. But I've been waking up to freezing temperatures here lately, and that forces me to take things a little more slowly. Though some lettuces, kale, mustard, and carrots are still putting on growth (albeit really slow growth), the vegetable garden is relatively quiet. Only the garlic is still hard at work underneath its mulch blanket. As for the ornamental side of things, everything is silent.

The garlic, kissed with frost, is snuggled under 6" of mulch

And so it is that I now wake up to find unique treasures outside each morning. The pond has been freezing along the margins for the most part, but the shards extended further this morning. I had been lamenting lately that the scene here has become so monochromatic, but the view from the front porch this morning proves I needed a change in perspective. 

The pond & bridge in the morning light

The beautiful icy filigree on the pond surface

Viewed through the lens this morning, the world seemed upside down, but I think it finally made me see things differently. The trees reflected beautifully in the water's smooth surface, and the sun set their branches alight. 

A new way of seeing things

Soon I'll be building additional planters for the vegetable garden in preparation for next spring. For this week, though, I think I'll bask in the warm feeling that I really don't need to do anything at all and everything is as it should be.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bare Bones

After surviving three nights below freezing, the trees here are either completely bare or are sporting crunchy, brown leaves that resemble frisee. The house, which is surrounded by trees, is normally shrouded in green. For the first few months we've been here, I had never seen the whole of the house as I made my way up the driveway until I reached the clearing that appears just in front of the house. Everything seems so skeletal now, so exposed. There are benefits to such exposure, though. Lately, the evening sky has been aflame, and the bare trees afford me a full view from our back windows.

Few green things remain around here. I've rescued my container herbs on several evenings by carrying their crate to the garage, but they're starting to get a little leggy, a sure sign of their desperate need for a little more sun.

Soon I will have to surrender to the season and retreat to the indoors. That just ensures that I'll be drawing up more garden designs. It will also give me plenty of time to start opening the massive pile of seed envelopes I recently ordered and imagining a garden brimming with flowers next year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Season of Mists

My disappearances from the blog in the last few months may seem inexplicable, but if I shared my course syllabi (and the fact that I have 120 students) with everyone, the reason for my absences would become perfectly clear. The gaps coincide with due dates for essays. Under the heavy reading load, I find it challenging to keep up with other things. Assignments waiting for my grading pen seem to be falling from the sky in constant succession. Just as I sweep a pile of them off of my desk, others quickly cover the empty spaces all over again. That's just how it goes in the fall.

As the papers seemingly arrive in wind gusts, so too are the trees quickly shedding their leaves. Just before they do, though, they are putting on quite a show. In fact, the Japanese maples, are simply showing off. This one below normally sports lime green leaves with red stems, but once they started turning, they have been acid green, then yellow, then copper, then orange. It's incredible.

We wake most mornings now to a world shrouded in mist and varying hues of gold. I've been whispering the opening line of John Keats's "To Autumn" to myself lately, and for good reason. 

I get to enjoy these magnificent trees putting on their autumn color for weeks, even while they litter the property with those glorious leaves. I rake once a week to collect the leaves, and within a day, the area I've cleared is covered once again. It feels like an endless task, but it is completely unlike grading papers. In a year from now, they'll make the most incredible leaf mould, which just might be garden gold for someone who needs to change the structure of her soil. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Infinite Possibilities of Space

When we lived in Michigan, our plot of land was tiny. The house was a mere 1400 square feet, and the property line extended just four feet from one side of the house and 10 feet on the other. The front and back yards were so confined that I actually purchased a reel mower and could complete the entire job in 15 minutes. When it came to gardening, I had to consider space carefully. I squeezed things into the tightest spots and wished, like all gardeners do, that I had more space. That was my primary focus when we went house-hunting in Florida. 

The lot in Orlando was decidedly bigger, but it never felt big enough. I wanted apple trees but had to limit myself to espaliering them. I bought a fig tree and worried it would outgrow the space. I wanted other fruit trees but realized that if I gave in to my desires, we would have no yard at all. 

And now we're here on five acres. I've always known that five acres is a sizable piece of land, especially after living on property so small it had to be measured in square feet, but the understanding of how much space I now have just hit me this afternoon. I was a little awe-struck, if not a little giddy, too.

New residents on the farm

This bolt of comprehension struck when I walked up to the garden today to check on the recent additions I made this weekend. I now have two fig trees, two plum trees, and three blueberry bushes, all appropriately spaced from one another. I was admiring how nice they made the area look when my eyes wandered to the vast open space beyond this new grove. I no longer have to restrict myself based on space. The only concern that can dissuade me from adding something else is whether a particular fruit tree is susceptible to blight or requires chemical spraying for any real success. It's all very exciting, but it comes with great responsibility, too. I've lost one censor that kept me from going a little wild, so I must tread carefully.

The same is true for the rest of the property and flowers. I cast my eyes upon a space, and suddenly I see the turf removed and a massive flower bed in its place. I assure myself that Turfman won't oppose me since there would still be so much grass left for him to fret over. I really can hardly contain myself, so I must focus on areas that are already cultivated to keep from taking these flights of fancy.

Here are just a couple of spots that are coming on quite nicely. Hopefully they will keep you occupied you and keep me away from the nursery and out of trouble.

The front flower beds are filling in

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of sugar snap peas

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Decline that Promises Something New

October is my favorite month of the year. I've been inclined to think that good things come in October, largely because it's the month that saw the birth of my brother, one of my stepsons, and one of my nieces. It also has signaled a clear shift in seasons, a reprieve, no matter where I have lived. In Florida, where seasons bleed into one another, making it difficult to determine when one has ended and other has begun, October was the month when we could finally open the doors and welcome the fresh, cooler air of outdoors. It saw the harvesting of vegetables that I couldn't grow through the summer, such as peppers, tomatoes, and corn. In cooler climes, we looked forward to the colorful cloak that the trees put on in October, an incredible mix of red, orange, and yellow, before the leaves fell to the ground and made a crunch underfoot.

I love the grey sky days of fall, the bite of cooler air, the spices that I seem to smell in the kitchen, a reminder of celebrations to come. I love the middle of the semester, after mistakes have been made but before the final sentence has been passed and when the proverbial ship can still be righted. I love the promise of October.

We finally got rain this week--real rain. It wasn't the pathetic little showers that lasted for five or ten minutes in summer, that brought raindrops which merely smacked the hard Georgia clay, never penetrating the ground but always evaporating in the heat. The rain on Monday night and Tuesday lasted 12 hours or more. It was a heavy, consistent, nourishing rain. It made the pond look a little less desperate. I don't have any photos of the pond at its worst. I couldn't bring myself to chronicle its demise. I hope that saying it was no more than two inches deep will suffice. The new photos, however, are encouraging. The pond has expanded its margins by at least five feet on all sides, swallowing most of the opportunistic sedge grass that grew as the pond declined.

Before it looked like a mud pit. Now it looks like a flooded

But it's a pretty flooded area.

As the leaves fall, I run around the property with rake in hand, scooping up the leaves and filling bags and trash cans (with appropriate drain holes) to make leaf mould. I walked down the driveway today with the wheelbarrow and rake to collect a huge pile of fallen pine needles which provided the six inches of mulch I needed to cover the garlic I planted a few days ago.

Free mulch!

October may begin the season of decline, but it is already producing the promise of future growth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Listening to the Garden

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
                                             --T. S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

I sent my students outside today with their notebooks and pens. I too often find them checking their smart phones for texts or hear them coming into class, their music blaring from their earphones, announcing their arrival well before they pass through the doorway. So many of them seem on edge, desperate for any kind of distraction at every second. In response to my asking, "What would happen if you turned off your phone for 40 minutes?" some have replied that they would likely have 30 increasingly insistent text messages from their mothers demanding that they account for their whereabouts and lack of immediate response. It all seems like a life of not-so-quiet desperation. They miss things, even though they believe that their technology keeps them completely informed.

So I sent them outside. Their instructions were to find a place to sit and observe the details of their surroundings, to record what they experienced using a thesis that I supplied for them. The results were rather surprising. One student, upon returning to the classroom, said, "I didn't even know there were birds on campus." Several remarked on the very fine smell of freshly-cut grass. One of my favorite responses was from a student who heard the repetitive thwack of flip-flops smacking against the feet of a student hurrying into the building. Most agreed that they had discovered things they never noticed in their time on campus.

I've been terribly busy lately, the kind of busy that makes the days melt into one another until I can barely recall any part of my schedule, past or future. So when I came home today, I gave myself the same assignment. I went outside and sat in the vegetable garden. I didn't pull weeds or consider where the next planter bed should go. I just sat down. I heard the quiet hiss of the water flowing from the drip irrigation. I admired the widely varied leaf forms of radishes and carrots, of beets and peas and lettuce. I felt the hot, dusty, dry clay beneath my hands as I leaned against a planter bed. I heard the neighbor working in his barn, a shuffling noise in the distance. In short, I wasted time, and it was delicious.

The beet leaves are absolutely stunning

Peas, radishes, carrots, and beets, all growing together
in harmony

The first small fruits of our labor,
'French Breakfast' radishes