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....the brightest of light in the darkest of seasons

“Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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When we moved into this house in December of 2004, my son Thomas and I planted several bags of bulbs purchased from the local nursery bulb bin sale. There wasn’t any landscaping here at the time and it was the season for planting them, so that was pretty much the first thing I ever did to the house to make it a home. Years later, the purple Gladioli still come up, bright luscious purple happiness. Ahh, home.

There are more than 250 species of Gladiolus, most of them native to South Africa. Gardeners call them bulbs, but they are technically a corm. Bulbs and corms look alike and are mostly treated the same, but the difference is on the inside. If you cut open a bulb, you’ll see it’s made of layers of modified leaves called scales. Like an onion.

But, if you cut open a corm, it’s solid tissue all the way through. What you’re planting when you plant a corm is a piece of stem, complete with nodes that will grow into a plant and roots and give you a big happy purple flower. When a root grows directly out of a stem or a leaf, it’s called adventitious – which mostly means it’s in an unusual place.

The brown papery skin covering on a Gladiolus corm is called a tunic, another modified leaf that the plant uses for protection from animals and insects, or getting soggy when there’s too much water in the soil. It also keeps too much moisture from escaping the stem before it can start to grow into a plant.

Some corms have contractile roots. This means that these roots will literally contract under ground in a way that pulls the corm deeper into the earth allowing for temperature control and space for growth above the original corm.

As a matter of self defense from animals who find them tasty, corms will develop cormels which are tiny and get left behind in the soil to grow new corms.

Some corms can be dug up, cut into pieces and replanted for more new plants.

I don’t dig mine up, I leave them be and they do their thing.

The older I get, the more I appreciate plants that do their thing without my intervention.

These are among my favorite plants in the garden, mostly because of their color and the ‘fleshy-ness’ of the flowers.

They bloom in Spring at the same time as the Matilija Poppy flowers and the color contrast is gorgeous.

The best photos are actually taken in the evening when the darker shades of purple don’t get washed out by the Sun.

I always take a hundred photos of every flower.

No, I do not think that’s excessive in any way.

Here’s a rare photo of Tom in the garden.

I made him pose there so I could see how tall the Gladiolus growing in the meditation circle gets. This one was about 6’4″. It’s always much taller than me.

Next year they’ll come up again and I’ll be reminded of my favorite color, a day fondly spent digging in the Earth with my son, and the ever-eternal optimism that is Spring.

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Since I was already cutting herbs for drying last week during the New Moon, I decided to start my asexual plant reproduction experiment, otherwise known as making new plants from cuttings. It is and has always been a very common garden task. However, I have never been really good at doing it. Usually, I’m quite happy having one of a kind plants in the garden, unless it’s a seasonal vegetable. This year, Andrea and I made a pact that we would try to swap and share cuttings as a way of saving money, getting new plants, and also as a learning experience for me. Having had poor results from previous efforts, this time I promised myself to try and do it right. So, I got some Rooting Hormone and some little peat pots and set up a lab zone on the patio. We’ll see how it goes.

The official Asexual Plant Reproduction Staging Zone aka the patio

The Rooting Hormone will stimulate your cutting to make roots where there are none. There have been times when I skipped this product and have always been rewarded with death and destruction. It’s a common product available in most garden departments.

Rooting Hormone

The potting shed was full to the ceiling with 10 years worth of collected plastic nursery pots in all shapes and sizes. I finally had enough of shuffling them around and sent them away in a recycling bin. These are my new organic, biodegradable, single use peat pots and they are so clean and easy to use, take up no space, and make me so happy I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner!

these little organic pots are the cutest

When choosing the right specimen for cutting/rooting make sure you know your plant. Not every plant is appropriate to propagate this way. Then there are differing degrees of ideal woodines: soft, hard, semi-ripe, ripe etc. Google your plant and you’ll quickly know what time of year and what type of stem to use. My choices were from stems that were mature enough to survive, were in the middle of growing so I know there’s LIFE in there, and not from parts that were blooming, since I want the flowers and seeds of these plants later.

the perfect specimen for my experiment - this is Clary Sage

You want to cut your stem a couple inches below a leaf crotch. Not all experts will tell you about the leaf crotch, but in my experience it’s an important zone. The leaf crotch area will get buried and from there down to the end of the stem is where your new roots should grow, providing your plant can change gears from leaf growth to root growth before it dies. It’s a tricky process for a little plant just taken away from it’s happy place.

the crotchal area - home of future roots

Right in the crotch between the stem and the leaf is a bit of plant called an ‘axillary bud’ and this area should be trimmed flush to the stem.

cut the leaves and axillary buds off

Now we make a wound in the plant with a knife so the Rooting Hormone can get inside and stimulate the plant’s root-making skills. This is the part I don’t like, maybe because it’s called a wound.

my least favorite part of the rooting process

Make sure this entire area is moist and then dip it in the Hormone Jar, swirl it around to make sure some gets into the wound, then tap off the excess.

let the Root Magic commence!

Plant in the appropriate Rooting Medium. There are different products for this part of the plant’s journey and it may be worth looking them up if you’re going to do this type of thing with all seriousness. Not one for seriousness in the garden, I’m using some potting soil I had laying around. Fingers crossed. Press the soil just enough to make the plant secure without rubbing all the Hormone off.

tucked firmly and safely

Now it’s time to look at what you’ve got and trim off what you don’t want. The ‘terminal bud’ – or very tip of the plant where all the ‘tallness’ growth happens, needs to come off. Any extra big leaves, stems, and flowers need to come off too. The plant needs a couple leaves so it can continue to make food for itself, but not so much that it drains energy away from making roots.

time for a final assessment

On this Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) the leaves are really big so I cut one off, leaving one medium and one small sized.

no need for excess baggage when trying to put down new roots

I should probably also cut the remaining top of the stem down a little further, now that I’m looking at the photo.

now we're ready to join the others

Place your cuttings in an area where they get a little Sun, but not too much. Too much heat and Sun will accelerate the transpiration process (water loss through the leaves) and that isn’t good when a plant has no roots. So keep your little plant preschool moist but not too moist – we don’t want moldy squishiness either – and give it the right amount of Sun and Love and cross your fingers. Remember that cuttings typically wilt or rot very easily, so don’t feel bad if it happens to you. The internet is full of hundreds of slightly different methods for this type of propagation. There are many methods much more advanced than mine, but this is the way I’m trying it this time…after all, it’s an experiment! If all is lost, we still have our Mother plant and the rest of the Summer to have another go.

lined up on the observation deck

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I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

–Richard Le Gallienne (1866–1947)

Miss Peanut answers the call of a Mint leaf

Well, the last week has simply been heaven. Every spare moment was spent planting the seedlings started during Spring Break. Several huge cans full of grass and weeds were pulled as well. There is still a lot to be done, but the garden looks tended again. It’s impossible to express just how good for me this process has been. My intellectual pursuits of the last 20 months were very intense and I had not been grounded in the way I need, which is that special brand of grounded I only get from, well, the ground. All head and no body makes one a bit insane after a time. The garden is medicine. My muscles are delightfully sore and I have a touch of color back in my cheeks. The weather was even on my side with cool cloud cover and a bit of rain midweek. The photos all came out with a bit of fog in the center, so I apologize for the quality – not worth retaking them though. Let’s just pretend that I was going for that vintage nostalgic hazy days of summer sepia toned wonder and call it a day. Later I’ll clean the lens, since I know I probably thumbed it with sunscreen. We get messy when we’re gardening 🙂

Somewhere around 42 Tomato seedlings went into the ground in various spots around the property. They had priority, of course. Those are the leftover winter peas drying on the tops of the stakes so I can plant them later.

the Brandywines are in the ground and all is right with the world

The Artichoke seedlings, 4 of them, came from last year’s fruit.

Artichoke seedling

I found a bird’s nest, probably doves, in a burrow on the ground in the meditation circle. This makes four nests that I save in a special place in the potting shed. They are among my favorite things.

I have quite a growing collection of bird's nests in the potting shed

The Hollyhock seedlings are from Andrea’s seeds, so of course I’m hoping for dark colored flowers!

Andrea's Hollyhock seeds are finally in the ground

Tom bought me an upside down hanging Strawberry planter so I would have more than just a few ripe ones at a time. He loves me.

Tom's Topsy Turvy

There were at least three of these cans full of grass and weeds pulled out to make room for seedlings.

out with the old - in with the new!

At a certain point, I had pulled out so many plants needing new homes, I had to spread out over the lawn. I find I have to make a mess before I can bring about any kind of order.

finding joy amid the chaos

There is still a lot of transplanting to do; finding new homes for what I dug up, re-potting things that have grown out of their pots, moving all succulents and cacti to pots leaving more ground for herbaceous plants, etc…

looking for new homes

When I get it all cleaned up, probably by the Full Moon this coming Wednesday, I’ll be able to sit in my rocking chair and celebrate with a juicy glass of wine. In the meantime, the bees are busy gathering pollen…

greedy little bee in an Agapanthus

…the flowers are blooming…

Roses and Grapes and Andrea's birdhouse

…completely oblivious to the fact that I’m literally turning the entire garden upside down. The only ones to really notice have been the spiders, but we get along famously as long as we respect each others space.

the ever-faithful Feverfew

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This journal was never created with the intention of discussing politics or anything that tends to tear people apart or make them grumpy – it’s a happy place! However, this month, we received extremely good political news about the overturning of Proposition 8 in California: an evil construct that denied the right for Gay and Lesbian people to marry each other. This affected my family in a very deeply personal way and we’ve been moping around for the last two years while the powers that be wrestled it out. We won, human rights won, open minds and hearts won. This is an important issue in my life and I’m dedicating this post to my son and daughter, daughter in law, the Aunties, and all of the beautiful Gay and Lesbian people that brighten my life and make the world a much better place to live in every day. I love you guys…and Congratulations!!!!

double rainbow - road trip with our kids

“The Rainbow Connection”

written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
sung by Kermit the Frog

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it,
And look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

All of us under its spell,
We know that it’s probably magic…

Have you been half asleep? And have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I’m s’posed to be…
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers, and me.

double rainbow - road trip with Tom

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It’s a rainy weekend and one thing I love to do in this kind of weather is read. I’ve recently finished two gardening books that were actually good enough for me to recommend to any gardeners out there looking for inspiration:

“Garden Anywhere” by Alys Fowler

This book was discovered in a used book store in San Francisco in January. When we go up there, it seems we always end up book shopping with Terri and Emily…it’s wonderful and I always look forward to it. The pictures appealed to me first. Instead of sterile textbook photos, there is dirt everywhere, mud and worms. Her hair is messy, hands are dirty – she’s a gardener, not some pissy greenhouse snob telling me things have to be sterile and perfect. I like her frugality. She uses all kinds of recycled junk in her garden and includes instructions that are actually useful to me. I found the sections on compost tea, pricking out seedlings, and saving seeds most inspiring. Her writing style is modern and familiar, and she is a trial and error type. Fabulous! This book works as a reference that you can go back to over and over, depending on what you’re doing or what the season is, and the back is filled with modern internet resources. It will go on the shelf next to my lunar gardening guide.

“Gardening at The Dragon’s Gate” by Wendy Johnson

Gardening at the Dragon's Gate by Wendy Johnson

This book was truly a love story. The author is a Zen Buddhist who spent many years and the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in northern California. The book comes from years of journal entries and experience working with the earth. Her meditative style inspired me to slow down and actually LOOK at what was happening in my garden on the small scale as well as large, the way I used to. I notice more; the shapes of leaves, the number of petals on a flower, the color of the light at certain times of day. I sit and look around more, enjoying the fruits of my labor as much as planning the next task. There is plenty of love and ‘poetry’, so you don’t really notice the solid instruction included, but it is there. I have a whole new way of looking at dirt and this book helped me remember why I started gardening in the first place. A great book to read by the fire, or in bed late at night when it’s really quiet.

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The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies.
– Gertrude Jekyll

our gnome who sits under the fig tree

That quote was chosen because this is the time to plant seeds! Also, her name is Gertrude, one of my favorite of the “vintage” names. One of my grandmothers was named Gertrude and it always upset me that they called her “Gertie” so I swore I would name my daughter Gertrude and never allow anyone to “Gertie” her. I was six and very silly, but I still love the name.

Well, the Moon is waning in Sagittarius and my almanac says it’s time for “planting and sowing all fruit and all vegetables that grow tall (runner beans, hops etc.)” Hops? Well, I’m not growing hops, but today I’m going to put my beans in seed starting mix and get them started. It will be raining by this afternoon when I’m done in the office, so I’ll be able to work in the garage or potting shed. Shouldn’t take long if I can keep myself to planting ONLY THE BEANS and not get distracted with a bunch of other things in the potting shed….like I always do.

Jack and the Beanstalk by Scott Gustafson

“Ah! you don’t know what these beans are,” said the man; “if you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky.”

“Really?” says Jack; “you don’t say so.”

“Yes, that is so, and if it doesn’t turn out to be true you can have your cow back.”

Also “favorable” under this moon; “pruning fruit trees and bushes, putting down fertilizer, combating above ground pests.” Unfavorable; “hoeing and harrowing (weeds tend to grow in abundance afterward) and planting lettuce (tends to bolt)”

(info taken from Johanna Paungger’s “Guided by the Moon”, which is my most favoritest book EVER and I never garden without checking it first)

Edgar in the Sun - June 2009

Yesterday I planted:

*Cypress Vine – Funny Valentine Blend – Ipomoea quamoclit

*Hyssop – Hyssopus officinalis
“Used as early as the 7th century to improve the smell of kitchens and hospitals. Hyssop leaves are used to flavor salads, soups, liqueurs and stews. Essential oil used in perfumes. Attracts bees, buterflies and hummingbirds. Plants grow 18-24″. Perennial in zones 4-9.” (according to the back of the Seed Savers Exchange packet)

*Magnus Lovage – Levisticum officinale
“The leaves, stems and seeds of the lovage plant all taste like celery. Still used extensively in preparing soups and salads. Perennial in zones 2-8”

*Night-Scented Tobacco Nicotania sylvestris
“Flowers open in the evening releasing an extremely sweet, intoxicating fragrance. Tender annual.” (this one’s getting planted under my bedroom window!)

*Anise – Pimpinella anisum
“One of the oldest known spices in England, that first appeared in the Grocers’ Company of London. Added to bread and sausage in Italy for centuries. Wonderful strong licorice flavor. Very easy to grow, similar to dill in habit, harvest seeds when dry. Annual.”

*St. John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum
“Highly esteemed medicinal herb since ancient times. Currently in high demand for its antidepressant qualities. Shrubby plant with yellow flowers. Grows to 12-16″ tall and flowers early. Perennial in zones 4-8.”

*Hollyhock – Black Beauty
These were a special gift in the mail from Lucie. Thank you Dahhling!

*Love-Lies-Bleeding – Amaranthus caudatus
“Recorded in South America before the 16th century, often referred to as Inca Wheat. Grown for use as a cereal and in ancient religious ceremonies. Long rope-like red seed-bearing trusses give plants and ornamental and graceful appearance. Great for long-lasting displays. Tender annual, 3-4′ tall.”

*Himalayan Blue Poppy – Meconopsis betonicifolia (oh say it again, you know you want to!)
“Stunning blue flowers make this one of the most sought-after plants in the gardening world. Best suited for cooler climates, but success can be achieved almost anywhere with a little practice and patience. Acts as a biennial or short-lived perennial, 30-35″ tall.”

*Red Milkweed – Asclepias incarnata
“Preferred food source of Monarch caterpillars. The bright pink and red flowers appear in June and July. Grows 5′ tall on moist soils that dry out in the summer. No butterfly garden is complete without Red Milkweed.”

*Thyme – Thymus vulgaris
because I always need more of it!

*Radicchio – Palla Rossa Ashalim – Cichorium intybus

Most of the above seeds were ordered from Seed Savers Exchange and the comments from the back of the packets were included. It seems like I plant a lot of seeds, but I’ve only planted a few of each. It’s early in the year and I’m experimenting with what I can grow from seed this early, if at all. Most of the packets are still more than half full, so there’s plenty of room for experimentation, trial and error: my favorite way of learning.

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