On broken things

I mentioned a couple months ago that I had broken my finger, badly enough that I had to have surgery to repair it.  I haven’t had surgery– real surgery– since I was very young.  Wisdom teeth don’t count.  And I was absolutely terrified.  My hands mean so much to me, as both a writer and a gardener.

And yeah, I’m a little careless about them some days, most days, if we’re being honest here.  I don’t wear gloves when I probably should.  But I like the feel of the soil between my fingers, and I am surer when I can actually feel what I have my hand on than when all I can feel is pressure.  Sometimes, I move quicker than I should.  I didn’t think about it.

Now I do.  Because I am still afraid.  Even though my hand is mostly healed now, I am still afraid.  I remember the terror of sitting in the orthopedist’s office when he told me with only a glance at the x-ray and my finger that I was going to have surgery in two days.

And thanks to him, and an excellent physical therapist, I have a finger that still bends.  It’s not perfect, but it bends.  It will probably always be a little crooked, and I’ll likely never get my full range of motion back, but it’s much better than it was.

But I am afraid now.  I hesitate, where I never used to.  My hands are valuable, and I have been sharply reminded of that.  Typing was a chore with one hand imprisoned in a cast, and gardening was completely out of the picture.  Knitting was impossible, and even after I was released from the cast, painful.  It’s better now.

I have my hand back now, but I am more cautious.  I wear my gloves a little more often.  They wouldn’t have helped with this summer’s injury, but they could protect me from other things.  I think more about what I’m doing, about how I’m going to move, how I’m going to grip.

This injury taught me fear of hurting myself, and maybe it’s a healthy fear, but I resent it.  I resent the ways it slows me down, and makes me overthink every movement when I garden.  But my crooked, healing finger also reminded me of the value of my hands, and that is important.  I use them for all the things I love, and it is not bad to be reminded to be careful with the tools we use for making.

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A garden out of season

I’m starting to get back into the swing of things here, and it feels really nice– the words are coming easily for once.  And so, back to the garden.

It has been unusually warm in this northern Virginia winter.  Warm enough that I’ve seen cherry trees in bloom, and a whole host of other things that certainly shouldn’t be in bloom now.  This whole thing has me very much on edge, but it certainly got me some interesting photos.

Let’s just start with all the bulbs that are suddenly in bloom.  Daffodils as early as December and January– how crazy is that?  There have been snowdrops too!  And crocuses, and scilla, and even this poor, confused lily!  I felt so bad for it– it bloomed and froze immediately after.

And it’s not just the bulbs– the coneflowers and calendula were going strong into the beginning of January.  The daphne started blooming, and it smelled completely heavenly!  And the Mahonia and Edgeworthia have started to flower as well.  It’s been really pretty, in a weird kind of way.


It certainly hasn’t been only the flowers that have been going late, either.  The peas have been setting fruit for weeks now, and they have been so delicious!  I saw strawberries in bloom, not three weeks ago.  The collards, kale, and cabbage have been going strong as well.  It’s wonderful to be able to cook with the fruits of my labor.

I’ve been benefiting from this garden out of season.  But it’s been odd, and much as I hate the cold, the return to more seasonable temperatures has been welcome.  It’s certainly felt weird with everything in flower and temperatures nearly reaching 80 in December.  It’s supposed to be winter.

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Finding my feet

It’s been a long time since I sat down to write something, and I wish I could put my finger on why that was, but I’m finally able to sit and let the words come.  So I’m back, and I have a lot to say, but that will take some time, and probably several posts.  Today, in celebration of the unusually mild weather, I made a trip to the National Arboretum, which I haven’t been to since I was an intern at Winterthur almost 8 years ago.

The plants have definitely been feeling the mild weather, and there were things that were in bloom out of season, and plenty of frost-burned flower’s that got hit by last week’s sudden return to your regularly scheduled winter.  I made it in time to see the winter bonsai exhibit, and took tons of photos.

bonsaiThis lovely forest clump was one of my favorites.  I have loved bonsai for a long time, and often wish that I knew how to grow and shape them myself.  But after some unsuccessful experiments, I mostly content myself with enjoy other people’s art.

I will spare you the rest of the bonsai photos I took– since I took pictures of nearly every one in the exhibit, and we’ll move right along to the glorious Capitol columns.

columns viewIt was a nearly perfect day, and they looked absolutely stunning against the blue sky.  I love how clean they look in the sun.  Later, as we were leaving, we passed by them again, and it had clouded over.  It looked so bleak and gloomy compared to this picture.

sun thru columnsI really enjoyed the way they looked with the sun coming through them.

prunus mumeJust outside the bonsai exhibit was this Prunus mume, complete with honey bees.  It was one of the many we saw today that were in bloom, or nearly there.  All of them smelled wonderful.

metasequoiaIn the conifer collection we found this gorgeous, and funky, Metasequoia.  Dawn redwoods have long been among my favorite trees, and this was an especially nice specimen.

cornus officinalis c officinalis closeup

These two photos are of a Cornus officinalis still hung with bright red fruits, even as it is bursting into cheerful yellow flower.  It was quite a nice thing to see.

helleboreAnd my last thing– a hellebore found in the camellia collection.  It was nice an close to the edge of the path, so I could get an easy photo of it.

This trip to the National Arboretum was a wonderful and refreshing way to spend the day, and I very much enjoyed my return visit there.  I can’t wait to revisit in the spring and see all of the plants in bloom and lively growth.

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Have a good look

I’ve been inside a lot at work, so this post isn’t going to be full of garden photos. Instead it’s going to be photos of some of my recent adventures.  But I did find a brand new tiger swallowtail, wings still all crumpled up.  It was beautiful and fascinating, and it filled me with this childlike sense of wonder.

butterflyHere it is perched on one of the books I’ve been going through for my current project.  I think the book is Phillip Miller’s The Gardener’s Dictionary.

But onward, the adventures are calling.  Conveniently (or inconveniently), my physical therapist’s office is rather close to the Manassas National Battlefield.  So after an appointment there, we hit up the battlefield, which was enormously cool.

manassasThe cannons were spectacular.  It was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get my history nerd on.

I also recently made a truly wonderful hike in Shenandoah.  We had a great day– perfect weather, beautiful scenery, and almost too much wildlife.view

Here’s one of our views from along the way, probably shortly before we saw the first bear cub.  We saw two bear cubs on the hike, and one adult black bear, altogether too close at twenty to thirty feet away.  That was much too close, but still very cool.

cedar birchThe trees were, of course, wonderful.  I love the way they’re carved by the wind and weather on the mountainside.

waterfallAnd this was a two-waterfall hike.  This is the first one we came to, the smaller waterfall, but still breathtaking.  It’s been dry here, and even as I admired it, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like if we’d been getting the rain we need.

This weekend, I got to get away a little and spend some time relaxing.  There was fishing and boating and floating, and it was a wonderful weekend that I wish I could still be having.

fishingI caught a fish!  I caught several fish, actually, but this was the first one I caught that we kept.  I haven’t been fishing since I was a little kid and all we were doing was catching sunnies and letting them go again.  This one got turned into dinner, along with several others.

bucket of fishHere’s a bucket of fish, shortly before they became food.  They were delicious.  I’ve never had catfish before, so this was a really awesome experience for me.

I’ve been having some really fun adventures lately, but I can’t wait to get out of this cast so I can grab life with both hands again.

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Bury my heart underneath these trees

I’m three days back at work now, and it’s alternately wonderful and awful.  I’m so glad to be back at work, but I so hate to be trapped inside.  I am doing interesting research and finding all sorts of things out, but the weather has been lovely.  And I have never felt more irrelevant.  I know the research I’m doing is important, but I belong in the garden and it makes me crazy not being there.  I feel so useless.  My coworkers have been decorating my cast, which is keeping me laughing.


It looked too much like a sock puppet to not decorate it with some eyes.

And now that I’m back at work, I’ve had a chance to get back to taking some pictures of the gardens.

dipper flowerThis is the flower of a dipper gourd just at sunrise.

giant spiderWe found this giant garden spider in my garden, while making a map of the plants in it.

honey peachAnd lastly, a rotten peach on the ground in the orchard, with honey bees feasting on it.


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Where the river will never run dry

I have been too long away from this space.  My life has flown along without pause, a mix of sorrows and stresses and joys.  It has been a bumpy summer, but a mostly happy one; and I have been too caught up in it to take the time to write.  But someone dear to me the other day said, “You should write.”  And he is correct in that.  I should write.  So here I am.

The words aren’t easy today.  Maybe I’ve been too long away and I’ve lost the knack for it.  I certainly feel like it.  I feel that way about the garden this year too.  This season has been a frustrating one.  Too much rain (which is a hell of a thing to whine about when parts of the country are suffering from the worst drought in years), too many bugs, too many deer, too much disease (damn the rain).  There are always too many deer.  I am frustrated by cutworms (leave my squash alone, damn you!) and cucumber beetles.  Fire blight infuriates me.  I watch my favorite pear dying by inches (I should stop picking favorites) and curse the Bradford pears that are so prevalent here.  The Bradford pears that have blackened blighted flags hanging from their limbs, but shrug off the disease that is killing my favorite.  There is powdery mildew on the squash.  And truly the less said about the cucumber beetles, the better  (they’re on absolutely everything).

Welcome back to my blog– here, have a good long whine.  But I am having one of those seasons where I am having a hard time seeing the good in the garden.  This year, my garden is a challenge, and I am having a hard time loving it.  But there are always those years.

And my frustrations multiply.  I am not frustrated simply with the garden, I am also frustrated with myself.  I had hand surgery this week, for a broken finger, so now I’m out of the garden for a while.  And it’s just one more thing.  I live and breathe the garden and it drives me crazy when I can’t work in it.

So I’m back to the blog, but for the time being, my posts will be more observing and a little less doing.

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Miles and miles away

Winter blues have caught up with me a bit, and I’ve been finding them a bit hard to shake, plus a few other worries I’m not ready to talk about yet.  But thank god for good friends who are steady when I need them.

We’ve had our first real snows while I’ve been trying to swim out of the doldrums (summer, I miss you).   Tuesday we were closed while we cleaned that first snow up, and it made the gardens and house lovely.

mansion snowThe mansion looked quite stunning surrounded by a blanket of snow, and so did the lower garden after the sun came out and everything was blinding white.

lower snowEverything looked so crisp and clean and beautiful.  It was a very pretty, fluffy snow.  And the next day everything was all glittering with ice.

february 18This is the sunrise from the next day, with fog rising off the Potomac.  I have the best view most mornings.

clochesThe bell jars in the lower garden were covered in gorgeous patterns of ice and the whole garden sparkled.

gooseberry signThe fruit garden was just as striking, and I was kicking myself for not having my camera with me.  This sign and the gooseberries around it were absolutely covered in little feathery ice crystals.  And the fruit trees sparkled and shone in the sun– my phone was definitely adequate to the task.  And it was so beautiful– snow untouched but by foxes and the shining colored limbs of trees full of promise for the spring.

Saturday brought more snow, and a heavy coating of freezing rain and we all reported for cleanup Sunday morning.  We spent our day armed with shovels and buckets of ice melt.  And this morning brought us out again with shovels and ice melt, cleaning up fresh slick spots and snow dumped off the roof.

And I am ready for spring– we prepped the cold frames for seed starting today– and I am itching for green living things and warm soil under my fingers.  Weirdly, I have started to miss sweating.  I miss the days where the sun is hot and the garden is so full of life I feel I’ll never keep on top of it all.

It is coming soon, I know, I can see it in the swollen buds of the trees, and the brightening color of their bark.  It is in the witch hazels, flowers starting to unfurl whenever the days are warm enough.  And it is in the bulbs pushing through the soil, even though they are covered over in snow.  Spring will come.

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