Happy Thanksgiving

Today and tomorrow I give thanks for many things, not the least of which is Hillside Farms Heavy Cream (which may or may not give me a coronary at some point, depending on whether some other fate nabs me first). In the summer, when the Jersey cows are on pasture, the cream is butter colored. In the winter it turns white. When you open a fresh bottle, there is what I call a Butter Clot in the neck. It is probably just really thick cream. You have to scoop this out with your finger and plunk it on your tongue, because if you just pour the bottle, the Butter Clot will be stuck and then all of sudden not stuck, and cream will douse your coffee mug and the counter.


I'm rich! (or, All about mulch)

It was a beastly windy day. I sat at my desk, and then went outside to admire my pile of gold, which cheered and warmed me. I grinned like a cat and cracked my knuckles in a miserly way. What to do with my spoils? Such a heap of plenty! So many possibilities!

Here's the thing. Every year I want to order yards of mulch (the ground-bark-and-wood-chips kind). I do order yards of mulch - for my clients, but not myself. The first urge to call in a man with a dumptruck happens on the first day I feel completely out of control. Everyone's garden is tended but mine! There is pigweed in my strawberries! Pokeweed under my roses! Polygonum in my sweet potatoes! THE BINDWEED IS GOING TO STRANGLE MY DOG!

Yes, it always escalates from feeling all a-tad-unkempt to feeling all we-are-in-grave-danger. I'm crazy like that.

So, I do not order mulch. I partly do not order mulch because I am too busy with paying work. I partly do not order it because I do not want to spend the money. I mostly do not order it because I have this thing about how my immediate environment should provide: I can produce all the organic matter I need here on my lot, or I can pick it up in my neighborhood, for free. That's how it ought to be.

We do produce most of our organic matter. We make a lot of compost, and I supplement by hauling bags of the neighbors' grass clippings home each spring, and in the fall, on community-dog-park-cleanup day, requesting that the waste be kept separate: maxi pads and dirty diapers in these bags; nice clean oak leaves in those bags, and then taking the leaves home. (Later, I sort out the dog poop and, at arm's distance, those things I can only hope are balloons.)

This October, I went to the Starzec farm, had my usual "how was the garlic? how was the hay?" conversation with some of my favorite farmers, and drove away with my usual eight bales of straw. But because I was mulching far less garlic than usual, I had seven bales of straw left over. That is enough for the whole rest of the city garden. Good god, all of a sudden, I was wealthy!

I have been reveling in this fact ever since I realized it. I mulched the blueberries. I might mulch the herbs this fall, but I will horde the rest of my sweet, sweet stash until the spring.


Rosa 'Pat Austin' does chores with me

Yesterday, quince jelly...

Today, a clean desk...

Oh, the toil of it all! When I am through mopping my brow with a rose petal, I think I shall faint...


Cold blue lanterns

Pineapple tomatillo (ground cherry) husks after frost

Autumn crocus

Yesterday morning, I was delighted to see that Garden Rant posted a story I'd sent them. You can read it here: A Tale of Tree-Dwelling Thieves. Thanks, Garden Rant!


Herbs versus the animal kingdom

Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor'. Deer-resistant.

One garden that I maintain stands out above all others as the most challenging in the animal control department. My client feeds the deer in her backyard. I should say, my client feeds an entire Noah's ark of animals in her backyard. Rolling the wheelbarrow around the corner and down the path causes the rushing, clattering, crashing sound of mass departure.

Let me paint you a picture. Occasionally, I must defer to the skunk: if he is coming up the path, I do not continue down it. Sometimes, there are fawns asleep in the compost heap. And... I once witnessed a pair of juvenile woodchucks tearing through the yard. The second little fatty was in hot pursuit of the first, who had a treasure clutched in his jaws: one of those red rubber Kong dog toys, I am quite sure. Pure mayhem.

If it weren't for the fact that my client's dedicated husband always has his finger on the trigger of the deer repellent squirt bottle, there would be no garden at all.

The heaviest pressure is on a pair of small flower beds outside client's husband's office. Either he doesn't spray this area, or the stone-wall-resident woodchuck has grown to appreciate a meal spritzed with that nasty putrescent-egg-solids potion. Either way, these beds have been steadily grazed to the ground. Each year I replace the disappeared plants with something I think will be more critter resistant, and this season, I actually gained some ground.

They do not like herbs! While my old standbys for deer-resistant plants - beebalm, yarrow, and ornamental salvia - have all been sampled, enjoyed, and subsequently cropped, the lavender and culinary sage appear to still - in autumn! - be in possession of all of their parts.

Lavandula angustifolia (English lavendar),
resistant to dog-toy-toting woodchucks.


Just before frost, there was flame

A Candle: California poppy bud

A Campfire: Calendulas


A little blue

This time of year catches me unawares when it comes back around, as if my heartbreak isn't predictable. It's not just the deeply cloudy skies, or the way the hours of daylight quickly diminish like sand in an hourglass, or that for a whole summer I spent each day - from coffee to cocktail - in someone's garden.

I watched my three friends - two black swallowtail caterpillars and a banded orbweaver spider - feed until well past the frost date. Wiser and wilder than I, they packed it in safely before our first real hard freeze. I checked on them obsessively until each disappeared, hoping I'd find the place where one would build a chrysalis or egg case. I cried when I lost track of them. I have always cried at goodbyes, and somehow, at this time of year, I feel closer to the others who live in my garden than just about anyone else.

I look for ways to feel like I still have a purpose. Tactics that work are physical - lots of yoga classes and hikes. I try to - and do - feel grateful that I have a job that allows me so much time off. I appreciate that I am in tune with the seasons, and that it's okay to feel sad about death.

And I remind myself that what I'm witnessing isn't only death, but also dormancy. I read once that a chipmunk stores far more seeds in his hollow than he should ever need, and then hibernates atop a great mound of them, which I imagine are so deep and so old that they perhaps ferment like compost and give off a little heat. This cheers me immensely.



The only way I can describe cotton flowers is: Tattooed. The petals are a freckled complexion, and the husk they emerge from is an ink-speckled scroll.

Matt brought two seedlings home from a friend at the farmers market in the spring. We are well north of the cotton belt, but of course growing zones and geography do not stop the inquiring mind.

The seedlings waited in static perfection under the grow lights, forever. We planted them, and they went out of sight, out of mind, dwarfed by peppers and eggplants. Then one day a flower peaked out, and we were entranced. I did not get any pictures of the pink ones, probably because I was chasing the woodchuck with a pitchfork. Oh well.

I would have loved to see the pods split and the cotton poof out, but our season is apparently too short, even when it's long. So oh well, again.

Weeks after peppers reached their knee-high potential and eggplants slumped under weighty fruit production, the cotton stood up tall, with straight strong stems. It was purple and cream and green, and sort of built like a praying mantis, with slim angles and soldered joints.