mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Category: plants

mums! . . .

mums popcorn pale pink

mums poem

If someone had asked me what my favorite flower was, I might have said narcissus. That’s because I’ve planted many of them over the years in drifts wherever I lived and they rewarded me with multiplying blooms of great variety: single cups, white ones, yellow ones, bicolor ones, doubles with ruffled collars. They last a long time and have a wonderfully refreshing fragrance when cut in the Springtime and placed in a pottery vase on the kitchen table. So, narcissus would definitely be one of my top choices.

Another one, I have to admit, is the chrysanthemum. This flower has an Asian heritage, especially in China and Japan where ancient chests are decorated with the flower (one of which I won at auction years ago) and it symbolizes royalty in kimono designs and paintings. For example, the “chrysanthemum throne” is the name given whereof the Japanese Emperor resides. When I visited Japan years ago, I noticed potted chrysanthemum plants, not like the ones sold here in the autumn, but a single very tall stem in a flower pot with just one bloom. Perfect and spotless. I had not seen them in this form anywhere else and wistfully thought of going back to Japan to see more of them. I also noticed chrysanthemum sprays that were trained on bamboo supports, arching outwards many feet without a single spent flower showing.

So, when I happened upon the exhibition of Japanese Chrysanthemums at the New York Botanical Garden, I sent the link to my daughter, C., who was visiting NYC last weekend to see “Eugen Onegin” at the Metropolitan Opera. I then realized that the NY Botanical Gardens was in the Bronx, quite a long distance by car from the heart of NYC where she was staying.

We had lunch together this weekend and I thought again about how much I would love to see the exhibit called “Kiku” and that it would be cheaper to drive to the Bronx in New York, then to travel by air to Japan. And the exhibition was only open until this Thursday. I sent out some emails to see if anyone else might be game to go with me but nobody else was able to get away for the day. So, I got gas in the car, changed the CDs to all Bach piano pieces played by Angela Hewitt, a Canadian pianist, took a bottle of water and a Macoun apple, got some cash and I was on my way, starting out at 8:22 a.m. this morning. I arrived about three hours later, having made good time despite a three-lane-to-one-lane merge due to a construction snafu at the Whitestone bridge on the Henry Hutchison Freeway.

After I parked, I went to the cafe where I hoped for sushi but bought a turkey sandwich and some tea instead, carrying my picnic to eat later outside among the courtyards of foliage and flowering plants. Here are photos I took beginning with outside shots of the huge glass conservatories and then the chrysanthemum show (that’s the only word for it!) inside. I hope these images will lift your spirits as much as they did mine today. Plus! you didn’t get stuck driving around the Bronx on the way back when I took a wrong turn! No harm done though. I’m so glad that I went! You’ll see why below.

glass conservatory 1

glass conservatory 2

mums front entry 2mums pool archesmums front entry 3

From this front pool area with the arching bridges of chrysanthemums, you enter a loggia that is filled with displays on both sides:

mums pink spyder row

mums huge spraysmums pink football in a rowmums rose football mumsmums tableau with fernsmums closeup spraysmums tableau with sprays 2

Behind the huge tableau of white chrysanthemums, I saw a wooden box in which a single stem was rooted, the mother of all flowers, you might say, generating ALL of the blossoms from a single plant stalk. Here’s a photo of it and a plaque that accompanied the other white tableau in the hallway.

mums white tableau closeup

a single stem rooted in a wooden box that generates hundreds of flowers

a single stem rooted in a wooden box that generates hundreds of flowers

single plant started October 2012 with 432 flower blossoms

single plant started October 2012 with 432 flower blossoms

mums white tableau front

equinox . . .

newly planted chrysanthemums and perennial chinese lanterns

newly planted chrysanthemums and perennial chinese lanterns

Autumn in New England is one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. This afternoon around 4 p.m. the autumnal equinox will occur: when the sun crosses the equator resulting in night and day being equally divided. A song was even written about it, “Autumn in New York.” Yesterday morning, I passed by a beautiful, huge chrysanthemum plant at the grocery store. It was a combination of russet and yellow blooms, the buds barely showing any color, tightly wound ready to burst into bloom in a few days. I kept thinking about it so I went back yesterday afternoon and bought it. G. and I made a patch for it (at least, G. did) and we wedged it into the front of the stone triangle garden in front of the house. His little stone gargoyle guy was set right under it, gnawing or playing his pipe.chrysanthemum with gargoyle

Today, on Sunday, the 22nd of September, the morning began overcast and grey, although the blue morning glories on the deck greeted us from the kitchen window as we had breakfast and read the morning papers. Then, G. went off to Boston to do a couple of piano tunings and I settled back to write a letter to a potter friend in Australia.

I thought how nice it would be to pick up a few smaller pots of mums in different colors and to plant them all (including the huge mother plant) into the ground. There was also a bag of mulch sitting around all summer, too heavy for me to move into place to spread it (or at least that was my proffered excuse to myself.)

At the Stop and Shop, I found three bushy mums in yellow, russet and a warm dusty rose. Putting on my sneakers when I got home, I used a big garden fork and spade to dig holes for the plants. Weeded and cut thick, woody roots. Planted the mums and mulched them with ye old bag of mulch. Swept the porch steps and watered the plants with a fine spray from the hose still outside. It felt satisfying to have acknowledged the equinox with this bevy of mums in the garden, especially with so much human drama occurring all around us every day.

chrysanthemums 2

when less is (truly) more . . .

. . . the tree in recovery today

. . . the tree in recovery today


Some of you readers have heard me talk quite a bit about ways in which less is more. How simplifying by getting rid of things creates more space for energy to move around. For preparing less food at meals, cutting down from four (protein, starch, vegetables, salad) types of food to only two (vegetable and salad; or rice and vegetable; or fish and salad) reducing serving size at the same time. With less to eat, it tastes like more to savor somehow.

On the other side of the coin, though, I confess here to gigantic overdoing it when it comes to our money plant tree. It started out as a six inch plant on our kitchen sink.

. . . plant starting out on the kitchen counter years ago

. . . plant starting out on the kitchen counter years ago


Over time, it grew. And grew and grew until the top had hit the ceiling and I moved it to the one place that had room for it to keep growing higher. That turned out to be a big mistake. Here’s what happened. There was way more direct sun. If sunlight is good, then more sunlight should be better, right? I also thought the pot looked a little bare so I topped off the soil with some that was in a bag downstairs in the basement. More soil to grow with, I thought, naively. Last of all, water~! More water, I thought with all that additional sunlight and soil would make it grow faster and taller, right?

Well, it did grow fast with leaflets pushing up against the skylight. But it also dropped leaves that turned brown almost as fast as they grew in size. We had found a nest of cobwebby spider mites at the top and trimmed it off. After that, I was paranoid the plant was still infested with them and responsible for the leaves dropping like rain. In desperation, I wrote to a horticultural help line and a very nice man wrote back that this plant did not really like that much direct sunlight; that the photos I sent looked like natural secretions and that it might be a good idea to remove the soil that I had placed on top. Moreover, he said, the plant likes the soil to become dry before watering.

. . . money plant at its prime three years ago

. . . money plant at its prime three years ago


. . . tree dropping leaves on May 6th

. . . tree dropping leaves on May 6th


I was stubborn in thinking more was more in this case. But finally, we lopped off two feet off the top so that we could move it back to where it was before. The tree expert said it sometimes took three weeks for a plant to re-acclimate itself to a change in growing environment. So, I left it alone. It had indirect sunlight, the soil was still wet and I put it by our singing canary to keep it company.

Three weeks went by and still the soil was wet to the touch, much to my amazement. Finally, it was dry enough to the touch for me to water it with spring, not tap water as the expert had suggested. The leaves stopped dropping. The plant looked happy and happier as time went by because I wasn’t doing anything to it. For once, less really was way more in restoring this living thing to more optimal health: less sun, less soil, less water.

Now it seems happy. And so, dear reader, am I. In case you are a helicopter parent like me on occasion, you might also take heed of this little plant story. More is not always better. Sometimes, less is more. In fact, with almost anything these days, less is becoming more as a way of life.

Here’s a look at the tiny sprout that emerged from the cut top just yesterday!

. . . money tree with tiny sproutlet on top

. . . money tree with tiny sproutlet on top

Postscript Photos: About two months ago, we cut about two feet off the top of the tree. I was reluctant to throw it away so I stuck it into a bottle of water out on the back deck. In the meantime, there’s been a lot of rain. I don’t know if that made a difference but was astonished to find small leaf growths all over it when I went out to water the amaryllis the other day. So here’s a photo of this embarrassment of riches!

. . . tiny leaves sprouting on cut stalk

. . . tiny leaves sprouting on cut stalk


At the same time, the little sproutlet that emerged where the top was cut off shown above in this post last week has been growing an inch a day. I kid you not! It now has three leaflets on about ten inches of growth.
. . . new growth where the tree was cut

. . . new growth where the tree was cut

latecomer . . .

 . . .  orchid plant shelf

. . . orchid plant shelf

When I rearranged and cleaned up the shelf of orchids a couple of weeks ago, I culled out four pots of amaryllis, the soil dry and the flower blooms long gone by. After C.’s visit, I carried them out to the back deck so that the leaves would be watered by the rain, cut back at the end of summer, allowed to dry in the cellar and then brought up to the window shelf to flower again during the winter months. That’s the cycle for reinvigorating and nourishing these plants to bloom year after year. It is always astonishing when they come back and bloom, sometimes two stalks of four flowers each. That’s why growing amaryllis bulbs that originate from South Africa is so rewarding. These were forgotten and left untended in the front entryway over Christmas. But their blooms were so gorgeous in the dead of winter after the holidays.

We had a lot of rain recently as I noted in the last post. Yesterday, I went out with a pair of shears to trim off the unsightly yellowish brown leaves and to tidy the pots up. As I snipped the dried brown bits, I came upon this incredible late bloomer! Isn’t rain great?

    amaryllis in June!

amaryllis in June!


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starters . . .

a group of morning glory seedlings

a group of morning glory seedlings


morning glory seedlings planted near the clematis

morning glory seedlings planted near the clematis


Spring has been optimal for growing this year: alternating sunny, dry breezy weather interspersed with showers and soaking rain, sometimes for a couple of days. I am often surprised why people object to rain when it is so important to the natural cycle of things. Our Sassafras trees have the most graceful leaves when they unfurl in May.
lush white and pink in the front triangle garden

lush white and pink in the front triangle garden


in front of the barn

in front of the barn


For at least a decade, we have had a planting ritual for “Heavenly Blue” morning glories right around Memorial Day. There’s a nursery in Framingham, about a half hour’s drive towards Boston that grows and sells morning glory seedlings that are about four inches high when I purchase them. The seedlings are not that easy to find and while I’ve tried growing them from a packet of seeds, they don’t seem to want to sprout for me. So I buy a flat of seedlings and place them in the shade under the rhododendron bush to keep cool until we have a chance to plant them. I cluster a four-pack together and plant them in the ground. Then G. measures out fresh twine from the decking above and anchors the string to a brick which nestles in the earth right next to the seedlings. As they grow, they wind themselves around the string and climb. This year, I planted clusters near the purple wisteria vine and the white wisteria vine in the front, thinking that by the time the morning glories bloom, the other flowers, roses and such would have gone by. One new place was near the clematis arbor (see photo above) where there is a wrought iron trellis that branches out in both directions under the stained glass window. I thought that they might take and clamber up the trellis to grace the house sometime in late Summer, early Fall.
"Before" planting wildflower seeds

“Before” planting wildflower seeds


Finally, there’s a very rocky, poor soil area in the front near the street where G. pulled up the weeds and crabgrass, brought some compost over from his mother’s house across the street and the guys put in a stone pathway, sprinkling a mixed assortment of Northeastern wildflower seeds throughout. Afterwards, it rained for about two days, sometimes a heavy downpour from Hurricane Andrea in the middle of the night. Then, the sun came out and for the last couple of days, it has been temperate, sunny and dry with a light breeze: perfect weather for sowing and growing!

All of this is just to belabor a little bit the plantings that we made last week.
What’s most fun is to see what comes up and how they flourish as the Summer and Fall gently roll by. Later, that is.

In the meantime, here are some photos of early roses and right-on-time peonies.

apricot roses by the barn

apricot roses by the barn


climbing roses

climbing roses

peonies along the driveway

peonies along the driveway

Note: to enlarge photos, click once; to magnify, click again.

in the gloaming . . .

lavender wisteria by the barn

lavender wisteria by the barn

clematis and wisteria in front of the house

white wisteria and clematis in front of the house


rhododendron and norway spruce

rhododendron and norway spruce

These photos were taken in the evening around 7:45 p.m.

dogwood . . .

miniature dwarf red dogwoodI went to an event in a nearby town today and walked by a series of dwarf dogwood trees with unusual small reddish flowers. I picked a small sprig, feeling guilty, because I wanted to research the species when I got home so that we might find a tree or two to plant in our garden.

Dogwood is one of my favorite Spring flowering trees. I grew up in Northern Virginia, and as you may know, dogwood is the official state flower of Virginia. The classic white ones, called Cornus Florida, can be very majestic. We had a very old one with its trunk branching out in the courtyard of an old cottage that we once owned up in Rockport, a seaside town near Gloucester. I don’t care that much for the popular Kousa dogwood because it seems more like an untidy, overgrown shrub rather than a tree with a trunk, and the flowers look like flat petals that just came off an ironing board!

It’s been an interesting week. I am reminded once again how there are lessons to be learned and perspective to be transformed when one tests one’s assumptions amongst unfamiliar people. In the I-Ching, there is a saying where one finally realizes that someone we think is our worst enemy “covered with dirt,” is proven instead to be a friend and not an antagonist after all. Quite a profound realization, especially when it comes from within.

Tonight for dinner, we had sticky rice, tuna sashimi, dipped in a cooled sauce containing organic soy, tamari, sake, mirin and a little dashi. A small thimble of finely grated fresh ginger root and another small thimble of wasabi stood in opposite corners of the sauce dish. Some daikon (white radish) thinly sliced provided a cleansing crunch to the salt. I had some fine leafed kale (lacinato variety) that I chopped into large pieces after removing the center stem. Heated up some rapeseed oil (that I read about in my Japanese Farm house cookery book) sauteed some chopped scallions, added the kale and then turned off the heat so that the kale would not wilt and shrink. A couple of drops of Ohsawa soy and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice dressed the kale as I scraped it out into a bowl. Although it was a simple meal of rice, fish and kale–the condiments added complexity and made all the difference. The piquancy of the finely grated fresh ginger along with the hot wasabi in the fragrant dipping sauce made the tuna sashimi delectable to eat. Not very much of anything really, but a meal that was so good, I could eat it just about every night.

After dinner, I finished sewing on the buttons to the cable cardigan in a sky blue Rowan tweed aran yarn with white flecks that remind me of clouds in the sky or froth on the ocean for my granddaughter, A. I’ll put it in the mail after I wrap it up. I think that’s the seventh sweater or vest I’ve knitted since mid-January.

All in all, not a bad end to a couple of stressful weeks.

red dogwood 2

spring flowers . . .

DSCN5078We’ve been lucky this Spring with daffodils and narcissus blossoming all over the garden. There are many varieties of flowers–doubles, tinted centers, white ones, bright yellow ones, orange fringes, all beautifully fragrant. I usually leave them all outside but a few of them had flopped over and so I cut them and put them in a shino pottery vase by the kitchen window.
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spring! . . .

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rebirth et al. . .

IMG_6027You know how they’re always talking about rebirth at Easter time a few weeks ago? Coincidentally this year, the world also saw the convocation of a new Pope for those who are Catholic. Obama, at his visit to Israel, intentionally spoke with a phrase in Hebrew at each place that he visited. He also gave at least the younger generation of Israelis some hope that “peace is possible!” That’s a rebirth of an idea in that tense region.

In reflection over these last few weeks, the most profound thing that happened to me is that my cherished relative, Pei-Fen, whom I visited in the beginning of March, died soon after at the age of 92. She seemed to be hazy and floating in and out in consciousness after having had a recent stroke. But when I saw her, and when I asked if we could take a photo together, she straightened up and looked directly into the camera. Then, she made such an effort to tell me to: “Take care of your family. Take care of yourself. . . and BE HAPPY!”

I think she wanted to tell me this because she knew, even if we hadn’t been in touch that much, that I had not been very happy for much of my life.

           Pei-fen

Pei-fen

What I have done since I heard of her passing, was to remember that she had given me an old Victorian amber pendant when I was about college age so many years ago. I myself had later given it to a young relative in hopes that it would carry some meaning, and so, at this point in time, I didn’t have it any longer.

So, I turned to eBay to see if I could find a piece of amber that “looked like Pei-Fen”and would be something I liked so much that I would wear it all the time so that it would remind me to be happy each time I touched it. Sure enough, I found one that was not round and not oval, but more like a fat ellipse, an old golden brown piece of amber with the rough side of the petrified resin visible on the underside. The crude surface of the natural amber was part of the worn out look of things, the patina of life, that duly attracted each of us in our lives.
pei fen amber frontpei fen amber back
I like things whose beauty has been softened by age: hence “as is” is a familiar description for things that I have picked up for a song in my antiquing days long ago. That means there are usually hairline cracks, chips, repairs to things that don’t look pristine but whose beauty glows nevertheless.

Come to think of it, it’s sort of like people we know who age well (like Pei fen!) hold themselves with good posture and have grace in their faces that shows they have learned many of the things that bother us when we were young no longer matter at all. Most things don’t, I have found. And what a relief that is, come to find out!

So, here we are in mid-April, a time for rebirth as Spring begins to unfurl the crocus, daffodils, narcissus, hellebores. The roses also begin to wake up a little as the old thorny stalks are pruned away. Even my money tree inside, which has had a blight which has caused it to lose almost all of its leaves, is beginning to recover. I favored soapy eco-friendly pesticides for awhile but they didn’t work. So last Wednesday, I went to Home Depot and looked for the strongest pyrethrin spray I could lay my hands on. It seems to have done the job.

            at last!

at last!

What I have also been learning is that even though it’s great to look forward to what happens with your children, and then with your grandchildren, the truth of the matter is that no matter what one’s age is, and no matter how much time we think we might have left, the most important thing, I believe, is to live for oneself and not for others. To see each day as an opportunity to nurture one’s self with enough rest, modest meals, to do the washing up in the kitchen, do the laundry, to clean up the garden beds and to hang out our clothing on the clothesline in the cool Spring air because it means that one is taking care of oneself and the things that matter to us.

So, given Pei-Fen’s final exhortation to “be happy,” I think I’ve learned from it and am now happier, wearing an old piece of amber I know she would have loved. I remember to be happy each day, for my own sake, according to my own taste in all the little bits of happiness, cracked, chipped and worn but still beautiful.

That’s a lot of rebirths, don’t you think?