My less-than-show-piece garden

I used to be so hopeful when planting my garden. I’d think about all the seeds ready to burst forth and imagine my plot carpeted with showy foliage. Every May I’d wonder if I should contact the local horticultural society to register my garden for the annual tour. It’d be a pity not to show this off, I’d think to myself. Then June would come. And the weeds. And the slugs. And the blight. And who knows what else. These days, as I seed my garden, I’m more pessimistic (realistic?) about the whole thing. When something actually surfaces–and stays alive despite ragged holes crunched out of leaves–I’m blown away. Flourishing, heck, even surviving, plants are a miracle.

Perennial violets are edible and medicinal. I tell my girls they can only pick them if they promise they'll eat them.

I tell my girls they can pick these violets (edible and medicinal) only if they promise they’ll eat them.

Someone asked me recently if I’d planted my garden already, after telling me she’d planted hers on Saturday. I looked at her hard and realized she meant something totally different than what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. I clued in when she said she’d finished seeding hers in a day. I imagined her drawing the hoe through deeply tilled soil, getting crumbly black dirt in the heels of her shoes as she dropped seeds into neatly spaced rows.

Rosemary that over-wintered--a total surprise for our climate!  I surround my rosemary with rocks for heat retention. (Not that this helped during the winter.)

Rosemary that over-wintered–a total surprise for our climate! I surround my rosemary with rocks for heat retention. (Not that this helped during the winter.)

My way of planting is a back-breaking, multi-day procedure. First, I yank out all the sunflower stalks and other woody material I didn’t clean up before the snowfall. Then there’s the seed bed preparation: I hack at the clay with my pitch fork (no tiller for me, no siree, that would be too easy) and then rub the hard lumps of clay into mini lumps of clay until my hands are raw. I plant wild, row-ish looking things that wind around scattered perennials and fall-planted vegetables.

Sometimes this works. Other times it turns out like the arugula bed I seeded a few weeks ago. The seedlings managed to bust through the crusty soil, and before they even developed their first set of true leaves something devoured every green speckle, in just two nights. My friend, Bonnie, says the deer are noshing on her new raspberry canes and special-ordered fruit trees. No, this gardening thing is not for the faint of heart.


Lovage–a celery replacement great for soup bases. I know I’ve said chamomile is the hardiest thing I grow, but I was wrong. It’s lovage. Too bad we can’t survive on it.

Perennial green onions. They produce green onions all summer long and can be harvested multiple times. They are also shade tolerant.

Perennial green onions. They are one of my first edibles and can be harvested multiple times, producing all summer long. They are also shade tolerant.

When Belén saw the title of this post she wasn’t impressed.  “Why do you write just bad things?” she asked. I told her it’s not fun to read about perfection all the time. She responded, “I think you need a little good and a little bad.”

So here’s the little good: hardy perennials and wild finds. My perennials are mostly berries, herbs, and edible flowers and every spring I wish I had more. (All the above pictures are perennials.) When I’m sweating over my lumpy soil, the rhubarb, mint, and raspberries are already unfurling leaves, all on their own. Too bad there isn’t a winter-hardy tomato perennial! As for wild finds, we ate our first harvest of wild asparagus this week. I located the greenery last fall (see picture here to scope out your own) and marked the spot: third spruce tree along railroad tracks. We found it last Wednesday and we’ll go back for our third cutting today. So, if you see me walking around town with a knife, you’ll know what I’m up to.

wild asparagus

Wild asparagus–I leave the thin stalks to support root growth and only harvest ones thicker than a pencil.

Belén collected dandelions on the way and termed the whole excursion a "real success". I think this was mostly due to the dandelions.

Belén collected dandelions on the way to the asparagus and termed the whole excursion a “real success”. I think this was mostly due to the dandelions.

Belén and me

Belén and me.

So, all I can say is best of luck with your gardening endeavors! If you can nudge a piece of land towards production you’ve got my admiration. (Dirty) Hands down.


This is the Kind of Man I Live With…

“Open up your mouth, Belén. Mmm… I like the way your jaw is widening for your top teeth, but those bottom teeth are going to need more space…,” Stan says thoughtfully, keening forward in his seat to get a better look.

Belén closes her jaw and keeps playing with her puzzle.

Stan looks over at me and says, “I think I should do my own orthodontic work.”

“You mean orthodontic work on her,” I correct him.

My husband is neither an orthodontist, nor a dentist.  Not even close.  But, he’s not joking.  Those of you who know him will also know that he is completely serious about wanting to tackle our daughter’s mouths.  In fact, I can see the gleam in his eye as he thinks about outfitting our daughters with retainers, braces and other apparatuses made with his own hands.  As much as I admire his skill and handiwork, I am still reluctant to give him the go-ahead with this project.  After all, they only get one mouth.

A half hour later, he’s offering me new ideas, hoping I’ll jump on board.  While draining some beef broth from the bones, tidbits of meat, and chunks of fat, I can see his mind turning.

“What do you want to do with all of this fat?  Render it for tallow to make soap?”

I shake my head.  “Nope.  I’m not doing that,” I respond quickly.  The idea itself isn’t a bad one–we’ve rendered fat before for making soap and Stan’s made several batches himself–but the timing is wrong.  I don’t have the energy for soap making and correcting spelling assignments today.

He is now finished separating the broth from the bones and stands back to look at the pile of bones on the counter.

“Hey, I know!”  He turns around so he can measure my reaction.  “We can use these for carving.  We’ll use some caustic to clean them up and they’ll be a great art project. What do you think?”

What.  Do.  I.  Think. (See previous post for how I am doing, in general, for context.)

I think I have a very unique, interesting, special partner.  Someone I am attracted to, frustrated with, proud of, and overwhelmed with at times, but never, ever bored with.

PS.  These are just a few examples I picked from the last two hours.  There were more, even in this limited time period; I just chose these to illustrate my point.  Were they enough?


I finished typing this post, while listening to “The Tennessee Waltz.”  The music was coming from our living room.

You know how Stan isn’t an orthodontist?  Well, he doesn’t play the violin either.


Summer is exhaling one last breath of warm air here.  We went on a hike close to home and found some treasures…

The first was a stand of wild asparagus.  I now have two locations, marked off in my mind, where I need to get to eight months from now with a sharp knife.

If you see something like this in the woods, you’ve found wild asparagus!! Looking for this is like edible geo-caching.

You’ll probably notice the fern-like foliage first.

I was planning to save foraging for rose hips for X-country ski season, but these rubies were too plump to pass up.  Plus, my daughters decided to play “store” on the trail so picking these hips was the perfect avenue for staying in the game in that my-body-is-here kind of way.  Isn’t imaginative play wonderful when you don’t have to do it?

Check back, in a few months, to see them made into syrup or tea.

Now I have to add anther picture.  I can’t very well end on that note, (of not engaging with my children).  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  This, on the other hand, left a great taste:

handful of chopped cilantro leaves

one clove of garlic, minced

one jalapeno

half a purple onion, minced

two avocados, cubed

sprinkle of salt

dash of lime juice


It’s an easy marriage, fresh salsa with fresh guacamole; why make both when you can save a dish?