Jiminy Cricket!

Jiminy Grasshopper, actually. I found this little guy enjoying a cool rest among my flowers last week while we were having an oppressive heat wave. I’m still not sure if he was there to eat my plants or just enjoy the cool moisture of this flower pot. Either way, as he obliging posed for me, I let him be.

After a few shots, Jiminy tired of being my subject, and began to retreat.

I got the message and left him alone. At least until I see him again some day.

(Hey Jiminy Grasshopper, I CAN still see you!)

© Huffygirl 2012


Tending: A daughter’s tale

I plunge my trowel into the moist soil and wrangle out a clump of pansies. These happy yellow-faced flowers are starting to look a little long in the tooth, but still have some life left in them. I can’t bear to throw them out, so they’ll be  getting new life in a pot with other misfit transplants that will be perfect on the shaded patio in back. This is the happiest time of my day – tending the garden. I would gladly neglect inside chores, work, and even writing to spend the rest of my summer, and perhaps the rest of my days, tending flowers. I ponder why this is so, but deep down I already know the answer.

From the time I was old enough to walk I spent my early days following Daddy around the yard. Each summer evening after supper, he’d leave the inside work behind and tend the flowers and garden. Never mind that he’d just spent all day working in someone else’s greenhouse – this was the work he loved. We’d putter in the yard together. I’d follow along while he carried buckets of water, sifted composted soil and scattered pink fertilizer around the stems of young tomato plants. I learned the names of every kind of petunia, marigold and  tomato. Big Boy, Early Girl, beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes, which sadly tasted nothing like cherries, all went into the garden  behind our greenhouse. Tiny tomato sprigs that Daddy had painstakingly started in our cellar from seeds back in March, were now brave little plants that grew into bushes under our care. At the end of our gardening, there would always be time for a wheelbarrow ride, then sitting in Daddy’s lap in the cool darkness of the porch until bedtime.

Today, I no longer grow tomatoes, but I have flowers. Perennial gardens of Black-Eyed Susan, Sedum and Euonymus  edge the house and yard, and pots and boxes of colorful annuals brighten the porch and patio. I have never mastered the art of growing geraniums the way Daddy did, but I’ve learned the art of growing my new favorites.  Bright orange Gerber daisies shade deep blue petunias, and blue lobelia rings delicate Maiden Hair ferns. Yellow tuberous begonias kiss red verbena in a giant coffee cup, while pairs of Purple Fountain Grass reach for the sky in matching pots. My gardens are more varied than Daddy’s were, but just as loved.

Every time I sprinkle handfuls of fertilizer around my plants, and dig into the dark moist soil with my favorite trowel, I remember those days we spent together. Every time I enter a greenhouse and smell the deep sweet smell of moist earth, I feel the hard packed dirt of our greenhouse floor beneath my feet, and once again see the rows of tiny seedlings awaiting our care.

Thanks Daddy, for teaching me to tend.

Daddy and his daughters in our greenhouse. That’s me in the middle.

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© Huffygirl 2012

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Hardy Mums

In the UK, hardy mums are mothers with great resiliency, but here in Michigan, they’re colorful fall flowers. Mums can be planted as perennials, which will come up year after year, but require a lot of summer maintenance to keep them looking full and bushy. That’s why many people here use them as fall annuals. We plant them in September and October, when summer annuals and perennials have begun to fade and look scraggly. This year I bought a flat of small mums for about $15 that had tightly closed flower buds, and planted them in my window boxes and flower pots. It took awhile for the plants to fill out and grow, but now I have a beautiful riot of colorful mums that look fresh from the greenhouse.  Local greenhouses here usually stock mums  into late October and early November, in all stages of bloom, so I’ll often buy a couple late in the season and use them indoors for a cheery burst of fall color, or for Thanksgiving decorations, if I can still find good ones that late in the season. 

The other hardy mum.

Hardy mums prefer cool temperatures, which is why they thrive long after summer flowers are gone. They will remain alive until there is  a hard frost. If planted in the ground, they can be cut back and will come up the next year, but usually never look as good and full as the first year they were planted. Container mums can be thrown in with yard waste compost once done blooming.

Many people pair hardy mums with pansies, another cool weather plant. The  squirrels in my yard religiously dig up any fall pansies I’ve ever tried plant, so I’ve given up on them, but  the mums also look great alone or can be paired with late ferns, perennial sedum, or pumpkins and gourds. Hardy mums come in brilliant colors of yellow, orange, rusty red, maroon red, purple, light yellow and white. I like the yellow, reds and purples best, which make a nice compliment to the fall landscape.

Brilliant! (© Huffygirl 2011)

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 © Huffygirl 2011

What I do for love

Tall grass growing wild at Lyme Park. Category...

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My husband and I clamp on our ear muffs, then gloves and safety glasses. We look like we’re headed to work on the tarmac at the local airport, but we’re not. We give each other the thumbs up, then I head off on the riding mower while he picks up the weed-wacker. We’re doing something that we’ve done for the last four summers – cutting the grass at my parent’s home.

As I circle the familiar yard atop the mower, something I never would have been allowed to do when I was growing up there, because everyone knows that riding a mower is much too dangerous for a GIRL, I have plenty of time to think. I slice through the tall grass making a path back to our old woods, where my sister and I spent countless hours tromping through the mud, and were  sure we had at least once seen a bear. (We hadn’t) . I circle the side yard where our greenhouse once stood, reminded of the hours that I toiled there as a girl, tamping seedlings into flats, surrounded by the warm, earthy smell of dirt, and my sister singing along to WLS top 40 radio. I head to the back yard where our barn once was, where we slipped our hands under warm chickens to pull out a fresh egg, and where Cookie the cow lived, until she mysteriously disappeared one day, and we suddenly started eating pot roast  a lot. Then, to the other side of the house, where sheets once flapped on a clothesline every Monday, and bluebirds nested in homemade boxes outside our windows, and where the TV antenna  stood, waiting for someone to come out and give it a turn, so maybe for once we could watch “The Patty Duke Show” or  “American Bandstand” (We couldn’t.) Finally, back to the front, where we’d find fat Blue Racers stretched out to cool on the cement stoop on hot summer days, making us terrified to step out of our own home, no matter how much Daddy reassured us they were harmless.

This job never fails to evoke this flood of memories and most of the time, despite the summer heat, and the dust thrown up from the blades, I don’t mind it. I could hire someone to do this work – after all, I’m in charge now, but it feels right to do it myself. To tend the home and lawn where I once played, where we had cookouts and turtle races; where we posed with our new lunch boxes on the first day of school; where my parents worked hard to makes this place a home. The old expression “You do for family” continually comes to mind. My parents are gone; they wouldn’t know the difference, yet I feel compelled to “do” for them, to mow, trim, and weed for a family that is no longer there, for a house that is no longer a home.

And so I spend a part of each summer Sunday tooling around on a mower, with a perpetual bruise on the inside of my leg where my knee bangs up against the levers on every turn, because I “do” for family.

Soon, the house will be sold. This labor of love will be done. I’ll be free to spend my Sundays at the lake or on my bike, but for now I do this task, to honor the memory of those who made it a home for me so many years ago.

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© Huffygirl 2011

The grateful deadheader

The Deadhead Basket (© Huffygirl)

I’m going around the  garden with my deadhead basket in hand, gently snipping or pulling off spent blooms. This is my most soothing time of day. I AM the grateful deadheader – the one who pulls and snips off dead flowers, so the plant can bloom anew. I wish I had coined this phrase, grateful deadheader, but I can’t take credit. Years ago I read an article in a gardening magazine about a couple with extensive gardens, and how they divided up the work to maintain such a huge landscape. The wife pointed out that she did the deadheading and was thus the grateful deadheader. The term struck a chord – I’d never thought of deadheading as something to be grateful for. It seemed like thankless, constant work. In fact for years I purposely avoided planting anything that needed deadheading to thrive, thinking my time was much too important to spend it bringing out the dead. But, if you don’t want to deadhead, you’re severely limited in what you might plant in your garden. Begonias, Impatiens, any lazy plant where the dead blooms just fall off – these I  find too uninspired and prosaic for my garden.

Petunia transformed into a dramatic spiller. (© Huffygirl)

So, I decided to try it. I pulled out an old basket and an inexpensive pair of scissors, and left them  by the back door where I could grab them easily. And I started deadheading. Whenever I had a few minutes, I’d creep around the garden, clipping, pulling, filling my basket with dead blooms. Eventually, two things happened. My gardens really, well, blossomed. And I relished in the quiet moments I would snatch here and there to perform a task so mundane, yet so important, Why this is soothing, I still don’t know. When I’m going from plant to plant, tenderly checking for dead blooms, I get the same feeling I used to have when sneaking in to peek at my sleeping children. That sense of quiet nurturing. Plants produce flowers as their seeds; once the seeds are produced, the plant feels its work is done. Seeds ready to go, no need to put out any more energy. But clip off the seeds, the plant says “Oh, my seeds are gone, I need to produce more” and voila’ – the plant thrives, blooming like crazy, filling out, adding branches. Do not our children do the same with quiet daily nurturing? So deadhead I will. And gratefully.

Deadheaded zinnias grow from a spindly stem to a multi-branched bush. (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl 2011

(Disclaimer: In no way does Huffygirl mean to offend persons who plant begonias, impatiens and other self-deadheading flowers.)

A basket of pansies

Beautiful pansies and violas (© Huffygirl 2011)

Right now my basket of yellow pansies and blue violas looks great. But its days are numbered. Pansies are cool-weather flowers that do well in spring, fall and early summer. Soon, the hot summer weather will cause these pansies to become leggy and anemic-looking. Once they become sickly looking, they’ll probably end up in the compost bin, as it’s unlikely that they’ll last long enough to make a comeback when the cooler weather arrives. So I’m enjoying them today and hope you do too.

Cheery yellow pansies with blue violas peeking out from behind. (© Huffygirl 2011)

© Huffygirl 2011