Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snowing Again

It snowed today. More snow than anyone had predicted. We're up to six inches on the back deck and it's still coming down. And no plow came to dig us out, so all plans canceled.

Weather be damned, however, I was bent on my plan today to order my plants for next year's garden.

And though I've been making lists and then paring them, studying varieties, researching histories and trying to figure what I can afford and what I have room for, I had somehow hoped I might tame my overzealous temperament when it came to picking and choosing what I would buy. Not so. I went crazy like never before. Once again, I'll be overwhelmed when the plants arrive come April.

The list as follows: Mara des Bois Strawberries; patio tomato plants; collections of potatoes; herbs and heirloom tomatoes; Italian purple garlic; dusky eggplant, a lettuce mix; goldbar squash and marketmore 76 cucumber. For the deck, I bought two more fruit trees: a citrus lemon 'meyer improved' and a ficus negronne (fig). The Putterer

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rosemary is for Remembrance and A Good Gardener Should Always Remember to Do No Harm

The scent of rosemary was all about me yesterday when I came in from the garden. I have a nice size bush of rosemary in my front bed; and its trunk is a gnarly, tough woody fiber.

I thought I might trim it a little because there was a good bit of dead wood massed underneath its greenery. But since I didn't have the right tool for the task, I ended up wrestling with it, hacking at it with my Felcos. Now, I'm feeling kind of bad about the whole thing, because I left a rather inelegant slash at its base.

With some of the cut sprigs, I fashioned an amulet and hung it on a shepherd's hook, where it is presently lording over the back garden with a rather mystical touch of elegance. Rosemary is a symbol of devotion and fidelity and good luck in the new year.

Then, just in case I did more damage to my rosemary bush than I intended, I was over at Behnkes and I saw a pot of the herb and tossed it into my basket of purchases. It will reside with my winter indoor plants and get transplanted later this spring. Right now, though, I put it on Patsy's desk because she's studying for her finals and rosemary is supposed to help improve memory. "Here's rosemary for remembrance," I told her. Patsy was delighted by the gift and tells me that it's working.

I have a new companion in my garden library. It's a book by Ellen Dugan, who is not only a master gardener, but also a witch. (A good witch, not a bad witch.) Dugan's Garden Witch's Herbal has me convinced that I too might be harboring an inner witchyness. Of course everything I ever knew about witches could fit into a 30-minute episode of one of Daren and Samatha Stephens' bewitching escapades. But Dugan's green magick (which she mysteriously spells with a K and doesn't say why) is alluring. There is a certain affinity between paganism and that earthy spirituality that we gardeners encounter every time we enter into the green, glorious realms that we create. A witch, Dugan says, carries information between the natural world and the human world, making a bridge between the two to bring "hope, peace, healing and positive energy to each world." And so, too, does the gardener.

In my garden, I'm learning the earth-centered lessons taught to me by the plants and the herbs and the trees. And mother rosemary now bearing her wicked gash (which will now be open to all the harsh elements of the late winter) has reminded me that a good practitioner, first does no harm. Having committed the crime, however I will now borrow from Dugan's teachings and conjure up a spell to heal my dear old plant, which Dugan tells me is associated in the witches' world with love and health. So an old English verse now becomes my incantation:

Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us daie and nighte,
Wishing that I may alwaies have
You present in my sight.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Snow Days and An Anniversary

Happy First Birthday Garden Putter. Birthdays and anniversaries are an easy thing. They come once a year, whether you want them to or not. But the anniversary of a project such as a blog and the commitment to maintain it, write in it and supply it with pictures and updates, that's rather an accomplishment.

So, I'll take a few bows.

Today, the Putterer was circumspect; having participated in a robust Friday night bacchanal, she was feeling a need for a little quiet.

It was rather balmy compared to the bitter cold of the past few weeks. The snow almost melted today, but the ground remained frozen solid. I went out to get some fresh air and clean up after the messy birds who seem to throw six sunflower seeds on the ground for everyone they eat from the feeder. But the futility of trying to accomplish much in the way of gardening in a cold barren landscape eventually got the better of me and so I settled into my chair to just sit. It felt good. The Putterer

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tree Hugger

That thou, light winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
John Keats

I read recently that if you wrapped your arms around a tree and embraced it, you should not be surprised at all to sense within the mighty trunk a kind of pulsing, not unlike that of a heartbeat. It is in fact the life blood of the tree--its sap--rushing heartily within the towering structure, and circulating from branch to branch, and from leaf to leaf.

The term, "tree hugger," so often a pejorative, gives me pause, for otherwise, I might run out this very afternoon to see if I could in fact detect the "heartbeat" of my favorite tree.

Trees made an impression this past week. I was off from work and so had just a bit more space within my harried brain for pondering other matters. And so with the bitter cold of winter and no garden to tend to, I went for a walk in my park, Sligo Creek. Just as Emerson predicted, a "woodland walk" did prove to be a salve to my "worst wounds."

Quickly shedding office angst, the naturalist in me leaped to attention when for the first time in all the years that I have walked this same path, I suddenly noticed a separate grove of unique trees within the greater woods. In the absence of leaves in the forest canopy, their distinct smooth-skinned, gray-white bark stood out vividly in the sunlight and I saw them as if they had just sprung newly from the ground. It was an army of American Beech trees. They marched down the ridge from the apartment buildings above the stream and advanced across the creek bed before ascending the opposite ridge. (The one above, I snapped with my cell phone camera. Its branches seem to be lovingly embracing the tree alongside it, a tree hugger tree?)

Now, I must confess that when it comes to trees I am as ignorant as they come. A tree is a tree is a tree. And I have looked at them all my life without seeing any distinction. But a new friend, Donald Culross Peattie (1898-1964), a naturalist and a botanist, who studied French poetry before training his attentions on American plant life, is my mentor.

A 2007 reissue of his 1948 field guide, A Natural History of North American Trees, is quickly looking careworn and well-used in my possession. Like any of my compulsions, I've made trees a hot topic around the Lieberman household, and having found an online guide to the trees of Sligo Creek Park, I've attached a mass of stickies to the pages of the Peattie guide to cross reference what is available locally with what is available within the book's pages.

The Beech Tree, which Peattie says is "all that we want a tree to be," has a vast range across North America, from Nova Scotia in the north, to Florida and Texas in the south, and west as far as Oklahoma. "The elegant clear gray of the bark extends from the trunk to the main mighty boughs, then to the hundreds of branches, and out to the thousands of branchlets. So that when the tree stands naked in winter it seems to shine through the forest almost white in contrast."

And that was what caught my attention on my winter woodland walk.

I am educating myself now on the trees and from my garden chair, I newly recognize in my view a magnificent American Beech tree in the grove behind my neighbors' houses. Almost luminescent, it stands in stark contrast to the more slender tulip poplars, and the towering oaks and the diminutive holly and pines in our neighborhood forest.

And that is the very tree that I wish to hug. Sadly, those neighbors are not my "bestest" of friends so I'm quite certain that if they caught me in flagrante dilecto with their tree they might call the police. So instead to pay homage to my new friend, I might sneak down there and slip it a small gift. I'll lay at its base a bundle of rosemary, perhaps. And then I'll give it a quick hug. The Putterer