Category Archives: garden

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (link below) is just a lovely book. When I first heard about it, I knew I wanted to read it. (If you follow me on Instagram, you know this too.) An immersion into plants, poetry, and botany? Yes please!

The second section is my favorite: “Tending Sweetgrass.” This section is more about plants as they relate to humans, relationships, parenting, and home. In this section, she delves into her sense of belonging (or lack thereof) in the different regions she’s lived in. I identified with this section deeply as someone who hasn’t always been able to live in regions that feel like “home” to me.

The author uses metaphor and parable, and it’s beautifully done, but these sections were less powerful to me. Instead, I gained the most from the sections that seem most connected to her own lived experience. I also loved some of the deep descriptions of the kind of spiritual nature of sitting alone in a patch of wild strawberries, harvesting wild nuts, and the life cycle of the salamander (an animal that I’ve encountered in life and in dreams recently).

Parts of this book are dense, and I found myself skipping through. The end is a beautiful, poetic, and urgent , warning, plea, defense against the rampant destruction of Mother Earth. Sometimes I have a hard time reading this kind of difficult material, but she does it so artfully that I was able to understand it in a new way.

If you love plants, animals, people, and Mother Earth, you’ll want to read this book.

Lines I loved:

“[B]ecoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depend on it (9).

“Plants know how to make food and medicine from light and water, and then they give it away” (10).

“[R]estoring habitat, no matter how well intentioned, produces casualties” (92).

“Being a good mother includes the caretaking of water” (94).

“You can smell it before you see it, a sweetgrass meadow on a summer day” (156).

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2017: year in review

2017 was one of, if not the, worst years of my life. I got sick (for the first time in my life, really). Weirdly sick, and doctors couldn’t figure it out, until finally some fringe health workers said maybe stress, maybe anxiety, maybe adrenal fatigue, but still nothing certain. So, after all of the scans and doctors appointments that showed nothing, I took lots of supplements, and ate green salads, and was very still and gentle with myself for several months. It was isolating. I was fearful. I laid on the couch a lot. I read books. In fact, I read a lot of books last winter to pass the time, which ultimately helped me heal, I think. (My 2017 reading list is posted here.) Slowly, my strength returned. Slowly I began to exercise again. Slowly, slowly.

Despite that cloud hanging over my head in the first half of the year, lots of good, and beautiful, and life changing things happened in 2017 as well. Just as I was regaining my strength, I traveled to Portland, Oregon in March, to present at an academic conference. Then I took a trip to Spokane, Washington (I love that city), then a trip to Tri-Cities, Washington, then Moab to hike through Arches, then lots of time in Driggs, gardening and working and writing, then back to Oregon for my cousin Valerie’s wedding and good time spent with the kiddos, the Stampede, more gardening with my mom, riding lessons (I hadn’t been on a horse in years), a few trips around the pond on a paddle boat with my dad and nephew, a tiny raspberry harvest from my tiny new raspberry patch, and a conversation that had my heart pounding in my throat and ended with him saying, “Ok,” ejc’s visit (twice), along with Piper, a trip to Teton National Park, and the Table Rock hike, despite horrible smoke from forest fires last summer, a tiny huckleberry harvest (that actually took forever because—huckleberries), a road trip through Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas to Missouri, for some art, a train depot, and wandering through Kansas City, MO, and a return to Little Sweden, then the total solar eclipse viewed from an overlook in the Idaho mountains, an experience that completely exceeded my expectations and changed my perspective on what the world was capable of, then on to Mom’s fall visit, and I loved having her here, and then back to Oregon for my cousin Gina’s wedding (where I was maid of honor for the first time!), a little more time with my family in Oregon, and then back to work, and then back to Spokane (I love that city! (even though it was unseasonably cold this time)) to present at another conference, and then teaching my last class of yoga for the foreseeable future, and then on to Florida, where I walked in the warm Atlantic surf in December, and napped my way through a road trip in Alabama and on to Louisiana, where I spent some time with people I will probably know forever, and then back to Oregon for a really charming, idyllic Christmas week, with lots of baking, just the right amount of snow, and good visits with my family, and lots of good news and good cheer to share.

Cheers to a happy new year, everyone.

sherewin

my 2017 “best nine” from Instagram

 

my 2017 book list

(I’ve blogged about all of these in the past year, but here they are again with easy, clickable links.)

The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy by Rachel Cusk
We Made a Garden by Margery Fish
I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala translated by Ann Wright and edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray
The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40 by Jillian VanNostrand and Christie V. Sarles
The Doulas: Radical Care for Pregnant People by Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell
Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs
Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols
A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn
The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
Transit by Rachel Cusk
Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

gardening on a budget: 5 steps for propagating hostas

My interest in hostas began with an inspiring podcast from Margaret Roach and a chance encounter with a sum and substance with a fragrant bloom at my local nursery, which I wrote about here and here and here.  (I’m surprised it’s been four years since I’ve planted it!). Over those four years, it’s weathered drought while I was traveling during the heat of the summer and an early season hailstorm that pulverized the tender leaves. I’d like to dig it up this fall and propagate it into a movable container. I won’t live here forever, and I want to be able to take that puppy with my when I go.

But, so, on to the newest hosta developments in my life. Last summer I bought three unremarkable hostas and used them to fill in flowerbed space. You can see one of the hostas pictured in last year’s flowerbed:

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hosta, bottom left

The one pictured above is a medium-sized hosta with lightweight, light green leaves–similar to sum and substance in color and texture, but much smaller. Another is medium in size and variegated, green with yellowish green border (american halo). I wanted to move it because you can’t see it where I planted it in the flowerbed (pictured/not pictured above). Both of these were pulverized by slugs and/or grasshoppers over the summer, but everything survived/is surviving.

The other is a small variety with leathery leaves (labeled elegans, but I think it’s actually a halcyon because it’s much smaller), pictured here:

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hosta elegans (or halcyon)

Since I’ve got lots of flowerbed space to fill, and I don’t want to spend money on a lot of new plants, I decided to try to propagate all three of these hostas for the first time. Here are some factors: I’ve never propagated hostas before, they’ve only been in the ground for one season, and two of the varieties were severely damaged by bugs.

If you’re propagating hostas for the first time, you can learn from me!

1. Propagate the hosta in the fall before it starts to fade, but well before the first frost of the season. This will allow it to readjust before winter hits. I’m in zone three, and the winters here are bitter. So, I completed the process in early August. (Incidentally, this is also before my work schedule gets to crazy and gardening falls by the wayside.)

2. Dig a deep, wide hole around the hosta, but nothing too crazy. In reading up on how to propagate hostas, I was astounded to read about the root mass these plants have. Two times the width and depth of the plant! Look, in reality, I didn’t find these particularly challenging to dig up. I didn’t put the spade in all that far away from the plant, and yes, I’m sure I accidentally broke off plenty of root system, but there was still plenty to work with in dividing the plants. For your reference, here’s a picture of the root system of the first hosta I dug up:

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hosta root system

3. Divide the plants. I started off by finding logical divisions in the plant and gently, slowly, steadily, and sometimes really firmly pulling (sometimes tearing) them apart. In doing so, I accidentally broke off a few chunks with very little root system. Though I don’t have much hope for their survival, I planted them anyway. I read that I might need an ax, a saw, a knife, anything sharp and sturdy, but these plants are relatively small, and I found it easiest to gently work the dirt away from the root system and then separate the plants with my hands from the bottom of the root (opposed to holding on to the plant and putting). Even though you can easily see the separate stems from the top, surprisingly, I found it easier to divide the plant by holding on to the root system and tearing upwards toward the plant in areas where it naturally seemed to spit. This allowed for much less leaf breakage and a more natural division of the plant.

4. Plant the hostas. Dig new holes to accommodate the newly divided hostas. I tossed in a little fertilizer and spaced everything at least a foot apart. That’s a little on the close side for some of these varieties, but I want it to look relatively full next year (which, I know, is a lofty and possibly unrealistic goal to have the first season after plants are divided). Sprinkle with more fertilizer and water into place.

5. Finally, prune. Cut off any of the leaves that were damaged or broken in the process. I bent several leaves in the propagation process, and so I just cut those off. I also cut away some of the leaves that had been most damaged by insects. I left a few leaves to help the plant absorb sunlight for the next few weeks as it adjusts to the new division. In about a month (hopefully a few weeks before the first of the bad frosts), I’ll cut back all leaves entirely.

As you can see here, I’ve turned three little hosta plants into a new little hosta garden. I transplanted all three into a new area. They are looking pretty ragged right now, but should start to be more presentable when they come up again next spring. Summer 2019 should be amazing…that is unless the bugs continue their raid and I continue to dig them up to divide and expand my hosta garden!

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newly propagated hosta garden

 

raspberries! (canbys)

My parents put in a raspberry patch years ago, and it has been a source of low-maintenance deliciousness for years now. Worst case scenario, the patch is neglected all year, watered for a week or so before the berries are ready, and then we get all of the beautiful, delicious, plump raspberries we could ever want. Not only are the berries delicious, it’s a thornless (or mostly thornless) variety. That means me and my nephew can pick to our heart’s content without getting poked by itchy little thorns.

The inland northwest is a great place to grow berries, especially raspberries that seem to thrive in cooler temperatures. Since I love berries (I’ve been known to drive and hike and walk and bike to get to berries in the wild), I’ve wanted to plant berries of my own for several years, especially now that I’ve got the perfect place for them in Idaho.

Last summer, I decided I wanted to get starts from my parents’ plants–species that have proven themselves over the years. This spring, as the weather improved, and I was wanting to be out in it more and more, I also really started to want my own raspberry patch. Though I was planning on propagating plants from my parents’ patch, a sunny weekend got the best of me, and I started looking for starts to buy here locally. Nurseries in Utah and Idaho had root stock, but everything had thorns. I even called a private ad and was hung up on when I said I wanted a thornless variety of raspberries.

Here’s how the story ends: I found these Canbys at the local grocery store. I went home and did a quick google search and found that Canbys are thornless (or mostly thornless). It rung some subtle bell–like maybe this was the same variety my parents planted years ago. So, I went back to the store and paid way too much for these sweet little gems. I put them in the ground and then spent a lot of time just staring at them.

I still plan on filling out the patch with starts from the old raspberry patch back in Oregon. In the meantime, I’m love watching these little ones grow.

Behold:

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just look at this beauty, would you?

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ok, back up and you can see that they’re actually pretty small

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the tag, fyi

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40 by Jillian VanNostrand and Christie V. Sarles

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image from amazon.com

I’m not sure how I came across Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40, but I knew I was interested in reading more about these seven herbs that support women’s health. (I think I somehow missed the “Over 40” part in the title.) This text works best as a very short reference guide on how to start using herbs—as teas, tinctures, and oil infusions. (I also liked the drawings!)

I’m familiar with all of these herbs. Black cohosh is powerful and used in birthing communities. Chaste berry is used for fertility. This short book focuses specifically on the gynecological issues that many women face as they go through the “Change” [their word], such as fibroids and hot flashes.

After reading the book, I found myself searching for images of these different herbs. Were they cold hardy? (Yes to black cohosh, st. john’s wort, and yarrow.) Would they attract bees? (Yes.) Would they be attractive in a garden? (Yes, many of these herbs appear to be very floral.) Were they too weedy? I didn’t find all of the answers, but I did find myself emboldened to try some of these in the garden. I’ve been enjoying more familiar herbs like sage and yarrow in gardens for years. Maybe it’s time to try something different, like st. john’s wort and black cohosh.

Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs

Before reading Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs, I also checked out The Wild Garden by William Robinson and Rick Darke and My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner. The latter two weren’t really my speed. The Wild Garden had some beautiful photographs, but I didn’t find the text to be very reader-friendly. My Summer in a Garden has a great title. I wanted to get lost in that book, but the tone and approach didn’t speak to me. When it comes to gardening, I want something that is real, and true, and earnest, and beautiful–like a garden. While some of these titles do offer that, it’s always along with the same kind of self-deprecating humor that doesn’t really speak to me.

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image from amazon.com

I enjoyed reading Lessons from the Great Gardeners. This book also had some lovely pictures. I liked the way it was organized. Each section named a gardener, provided their biography, a description of the garden, some lessons, and pictures, which included both beautiful photographs of the original gardens and beautiful botanical illustrations. Of course, there are only so many ways to say, “Experiment with color!” And, “Don’t be afraid to take risks!” And, “Think outside the box!” Still, this was a book I could get lost in. And did.

Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols

Before reading Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols, I quickly scanned Old Herbaceous and The Gardener’s Year, two old books on gardening that aren’t really about gardening, but more like old-timey, self-deprecating insights on the human condition.

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image from amazon.com

I, however, am in the mood to read gardening books, and so I settled on Nichols’ book because, while there was a lot of inappropriate humor (jokes at the expense of everyone besides wealthy white males), it was also about gardening. Nichols is clearly obsessed with every detail of the garden. I enjoyed reading about the painstaking work that went into his seeds and sprouts. I liked reading about the close relationship he had with his parents and their shared interest in gardening. The competitive relationship he has with the neighbor, Mrs. M, is enviable.

Here are some of the lines I liked:
-“I believe in doing things too soon. In striking before the iron is hot, in leaping before one has looked, in loving before one has been introduced” (9).

-“There are certain very definite rules to be observed when you are Making The Tour. The chief rule is that you must never take anything out of order” (39).

-“And yet, not quite silence. For if you hold your breath, and listen, you can hear the plants growing…” (211).

-“It took a few million years to make a snowdrop. Surely one is justified in spending a few hours in studying the results?” (265).

and the words I liked:
-effluvium (157).

-Elysian fields (173)

recommended flowers:
-aubretias (128).

-“[S]imple, hardy flowers…forget-me-nots, schizanthus, nemesia, and sweet peas” (212).

-“I would suggest the little purple vetch, the ragged robin, the scarlet pimpernel, and the speedwell” (222).

We Made a Garden by Margery Fish

I think I first stumbled upon We Made a Garden by Margery Fish when it was mentioned in a podcast. When I did, it opened up an entire catalog of charming old gardening books. This book was first published in the 1950s, and as a reader, I had to take that into consideration when reading Fish’s self-deprecating humor and sexist attitudes between her and her husband. (I think she even refers to her husband as “Lord and Master” at one point.) Still, the love between them is obvious, and their mutual joy of gardening is contagious.

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image from powells.com

Fish begins as an amateur gardener, but quickly grows to love it. I was charmed by her endearing attitude toward her plants, calling them her “babies” and her “children” and referring to certain groupings and cuttings as “cousins,” “nieces,” and “nephews.” I strongly identified with this sentiment. I love my houseplants. I love many animals too, but I find myself reacting to my plants in the same silly, joyful way that people react to their pets in YouTube videos.

We Made a Garden is the perfect book to read in the dead of winter (huge white snowflakes are falling outside as I write this). Fish shares her favorite plants, in a thorough glossary that had me googling late into the night. My outdoor gardening space is limited, and I will probably always been constrained by living in cold zones, but I found myself daydreaming about the possibilities.

Fish works relentlessly at her garden and shares funny and fussy opinions about the proper way of doing things. Last night, on a freezing cold winter’s night, I found my neighbor outside tinkering in her garden, picking up scraps to go out in the yard waste bin the next day. You either get it or you don’t.

Fish’s garden is a kind of wild, informal cottage garden. Clearly years of thought, labor, and love went into it’s making. Today, decades later, visitors can still see the garden. While I don’t know that I’ll ever make the trip, reading the book has inspired me to visit more public gardens and pay even closer attention to the different plants. I’ll also be reading as many of these old gardening books as I can find.

Lines I loved:
“The plants will show their gratitude by giving even better blooms than they did before” (66).
“They come up year after year and I am quite glad to see them” (93).
“[I]t didn’t work out as he had hoped, so gladioli were banished from our garden” (98).
“I often wonder why some zealous gardening relation did not slay me with fork and spade in my unenlightened years” (104).
On Asiatic primulas: “It seem a pity to waste a position so admirably suited to their taste, so I dug out the heavy clay and filled the channel with a good mixture of leaf mould, sand and compost and here the Bartleys, the Postfords, the Millars and their foreign relations enjoy life, with their feet in deep damp earth and their heads in the sun” (118).
“Everyone should have an herb garden–a little oasis of old world plants and delicate fragrance, with clipped hedges of box or lavender, rosemary of santolina” (136).
“Everyone has their own ideas of what they want to grow in a garden” (144).