Thursday, July 23, 2009

Going for it...

So after years of hemming and hawing, I went for it this year. I finally decided to start planting perennials in my front yard. The starting point is the patch of bare soil where the grass has died from being too near to the red maple tree. I had started earlier this year by making a brave foray into dividing the large hosta on the side of the house and transplanting two parts of it in the front. Over the past two weeks I have added a bunch of plants to join the hostas and the butter-and-eggs that was already growing there. Many of them are local wildflowers, many attract butterflies, some of them are very useful, and all of them produce some of the most beautiful and unique flowers that exist, in my opinion.

Here's the list:
  • Delphinium (one light blue, one dark blue)
  • Allium (I hope to add more flowering onions next year because they make the coolest puff ball flowers)
  • Echinacea (two types, need to figure out how to make into the cold cure)
  • Yarrow
  • Evening Primrose
  • Bee Balm (wild bergamot that will make a perfect tea when dried with peppermint to produce memories of the growing season this winter)
  • Butterfly weed
  • Iris (dark blackish purple)
  • Pincushion flower
  • Purple prairie clover

It was hard to stop, but at least I know I will get to add more in the coming years with the goal of completely taking over the front yard. In October, I will plant some spring bulbs in this patch so I can have some instant gratification in April when everything just seems brown.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Coming into Focus

I have lived in Minnesota for a total of eleven years. Josh has lived here for twenty five. We are both transplants brought here by college (Josh) and whimsy (me). We are tied here by the two boys we share with other parents. I suppose it's not a bad place to be tied to and at this point it feels like I would choose to stay even if that were not so. In the last few years at the same time we have been knitting together a family, Minnesota has been becoming home for us. I mean this on a deeper level, too. It started with the people and the community - beloved friends, an interest in local politics, etc. Lately, however, it has become a deeper identification with the land that has drawn us in.

It was not always that way for either of us. Josh remarks that he resisted exploring this landscape because he was always planning on returning to Alaska and he didn't think any place else could offer all the things of his original home. That, of course, is his story to tell in detail. For me, as a younger adult, I had a sort of wanderlust. I moved here because I didn't want to return to Chicago after graduating from college. I left here for my New York adventure for three years. When I decided to return here in 2001, I still had in mind the possibility of other places. Eight years later, I can't bear to leave here. While I am still an explorer, my energies are now focused on depth more the breadth. This place like any other is inexhaustible in the sense that one lifetime is not enough to know everything about it. And yet it is contained enough so that I do feel some security of ownership. Not all is new yet not all is known. This must be the balance that powers longtime commitments to anything - a marriage, a career, a place.

And so regarding the landscape of my adopted home. In these last few years (as some of you may have noticed), I've become obsessed with the plants. It started with the desire to garden and finally having a good space to experiment with that. It also started on a series of long bike excursions that opened my eyes to the amazing native plants and wildflowers. The most striking thing is that the learning curve is much longer on this than any area of study I've ever attempted. Usually, when I don't get something right away, I get bored or frustrated and give up. With this, however, I continue to be compelled to learn the names of beautiful and delicious things. And this is the first year that it seems to be starting to come into focus. The names are beginning to stick in my head and I can identify my favorite plants by sight. I pore over my field guides and garden books seeking more information and I can't wait for more opportunities to get out in it. I also keep thinking about ways to extend the season of being outside. Things to do in harmony with the natural rhythm around here. I love the slowness of measuring things out in years: this year, I learn this; next year, I'll try that. The time of my life in this place is stretched out before me with no greater goal than to love this place and to know it the best I am able.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

At the Arboretum with Charlie and Ellis, Pt. 2

The boys loved these sculptures of the microscopic life that lives in pond water. They loved to sit on the diatom throne.

Charlie was so excited by these sculptures he kept making the sign for "more" while babbling excitedly about the bright colors.

We managed not to get eaten by the iris pond monster.
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At the Arboretum With Charlie and Ellis, Pt. 1

First stop: the maze garden. It's best to check the map first.

Is this the right way?

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Sunday, July 12, 2009


On his bike excursions, Josh found patches of these berries growing in several spots around town. Yesterday we took the boys out on a berry picking expedition. We think that they are black raspberries. They are sweeter than regular raspberries and more perfumey. Last night we enjoyed them on top of ice cream. There are plenty more patches and plenty more berries ripening everyday. I imagine we will spend a lot of time over the next few weeks gathering these gifts from the land. The process of picking itself is a meditative art - like plucking beads off a rosary. The potential for using these berries is endless - black raspberry syrup, frozen berries for winter smoothies, black raspberry wine?

And then there are the things that grow right around our own house. These flowers called Butter and Eggs (yum) began growing in our front yard. They were an unexpected gift that set me to thinking. I have wanted to eliminate the front lawn for years now but have not gotten far because I've felt intimidated by the need to have some great master plan. Frankly, I just don't have enough gardening knowledge to create the master plan, so each year I dream and each year I hesitate. I think that I've come to a conclusion that perhaps I should just start planting things that I think are pretty out there and see how it goes. Maybe over time I will just turn portions of the lawn into a wild mess of pretty plants. Maybe the plants are smart enough to create order for themselves.
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Monday, July 6, 2009

As Seen on a Road Trip

Pulled over to the shoulder on I-94 in Wisconsin: A man dressed in a Santa Claus suit talking to two black-leather-clad motorcyclists.