Diagnosis Confirmed: Thinning Problem

Before you call Rogaine or sign me up for the Hair Club for Men as a special exception, let me clarify.

I knew this diagnosis was coming.  It was just a matter of time before I would display any symptoms.  When they finally showed up, they were more painful than I could have ever expected.

You see, I’ve found that I have a problem with ‘thinning’ the seedlings that have just sprouted in my vegetable garden.  To date, I have followed the instructions on the seed packets very carefully.  I diligently planted the seeds evenly (spaced with almost ruler precision if instructed), covered them with ¼” of fine soil and tamped it down carefully.  Just as the seed packets had instructed.

My beautiful (albeit DENSE) row of newly sprouted radishes!

However, now they are instructing me to ‘thin’ my seedlings as they reach 1” in height.

And it is painful.  I almost can’t bring myself to pull their little green sprouts from the rows.  They lived too, you know.  They worked hard and sprouted just like the others, why do they have to lose their hard-earned spot in my row of vegetables?

Why can’t they all just live and produce beautiful vegetables in my garden?   I know the obvious answer to that.  If I want my radishes to have any sort of radish root, I understand why it is I need to be thinning them out.  But that doesn’t make this task any easier.

Peas!

As I knelt down to carefully inspect them, I found myself comparing them like a judge at the county fair:

“This one has a notched leaf.  This one is smaller.  This one lacks uniformity.  This one isn’t quite as strong and green.  This one is not in the straight line of my row.” 

It worked for awhile, this thinning by what I’ll call “Natural Selection according to KT.”  But soon, I couldn’t see any differences in my beloved little sprouts.  They were all equally strong and equally green with equally perfect leaves.  I was quickly left with only the strong, and the picking became decidedly more difficult.  And I had made it about an eighth of the way across one row.

This ‘thinning’ project was definitely going to take longer than I had expected.

I also have to admit that it felt a little disconcerting to be that deciding hand, the final authority judging my poor little surviving sprouts, the ones I had so lovingly planted.  The ones that had made my heart skip with joy when I saw them first sprout delicately out of the garden soil.  Having the ability to grant life, and decide death wound up being a little harder than I expected.  And we’re just talking about radish seedlings here, folks.

Are there things in your life that need to be thinned, like my row of multiplying radish sprouts?  Sometimes it’s not easy to part with things.  Especially those things that you’ve toiled with, that you’ve fought for, that you’ve grown, encouraged and protected.  Emotions like pride and a sense of accomplishment can hold us back from the ‘thinning’ that’s necessary.  Without a little ‘thinning’ here and there, we are allowing those things to take over, pushing the other things in our lives aside.  By letting them sprout and prosper are we allowing them to eventually take over in the gardens of our lives?

‘Thinning’ is difficult, tedious work.  But just like my baby radishes that will swell and thrive with the new room for their roots, you may find that you are granting a little more space for the good in your life.  You might be giving your hopes and dreams just the room they need to take root and provide you with a bountiful harvest.

My darling row of radishes: BEFORE.

My darling row of radishes: AFTER (I think I made a little progress, don’t you? Now just another inch to go between them!)

Needless to say, my first attempt at thinning, didn’t go as easily as instructed on the seed packets.

Maybe it will just take a few more attempts by this amateur vegetable gardener.  Pulling a few more spry sprouts out at a time, until one day, my row will look like it has finally been thinned to perfection.  Let’s just hope I get the job done by July.  In the meantime, I’ll be poring over their little forms, looking for any slight bend, weak leaf, or yellowing stem.

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Summer’s Sweetest Scent

I sense it the moment they open.  The air is instantly different.  Heavier with fragrance, yet lighter and warmer with summer’s sweetest scent.   It is as if the world has stopped.  And I am encapsulated within a gossamer cocoon, spun of the perfume of tiny yellow blooms peeking out shyly from among the silvery green leaves of its tree.

You cannot even see them, until looking close.  Close enough to notice their bright yellow eyes, their sweet scent almost visibly aloft in pale waves upon the summer’s evening air, proclaiming dreamily that summer is here.

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I’d love to bottle their sensory beauty, corking it carefully airtight, and displaying it reverently upon a shelf.  But it wouldn’t be enough to just look at it.  I wouldn’t be able to resist its summery magnetism, opening it slowly with its soft scent taking me back to June, no matter the month.

One summer evening years ago, as they were just beginning to unfurl their fragrant blooms, I thought there could be nothing more perfect than cutting a few branches to put in a vase in my house.  I imagined their perfume lightly scenting my entire house, waking me in the mornings with their sheer, veiled aura.  But after only a few hours, their scent had fermented into something hotly putrid and overpowering.  I’m not sure if it was their anger at being cut from their mother trees or the extremely close proximity, but I quickly realized that some things are better left unrestrained, wild and floating freely on the hint of a summer breeze.  That they just cannot be bridled and harnessed into a vase indoors.  They must be aloft upon the breeze, their yellow scented pollen riding happily to destinations unknown.  Their strong scent diluted with the warmth of the air, moving and swirling their fragrance here, there and everywhere.

Of all the many scents in the world, I know it is my favorite. It is memories of small towns in summer, of tall grass growing green in the hay fields, swaying with the breeze like a loosely-threaded tide.   It is memories of summer concerts, the music rising and mingling with their perfume upon the still summer air.  Of barbecued ribs, and warm evenings not yet disturbed by the hum of mosquitos, serenaded with its sweet scent upon the dusk.  It is the feeling of night’s coolness slowly filtering across our little valley from the wet rushing of the river, dampening the grass and the day’s memories with dew.  And in the morning, its perfume rises again, lifted from its tiny yellow petals to be wafted upon the light air for another day.

How I wish it lasted all summer, this perfect essence of fragrance.  Ushering us into and out of summertime, like a graceful doorman, visible with the first opening of the glass door to summertime, but almost unnoticeable the remainder of the summer with his well-trained etiquette and quiet existence.  Eventually they would escort us out of summer without even a goodbye, only the faint fading of their scented beauty growing slighter and slighter, until we no longer even miss their presence.

Alas, we are blessed with but a week of heaven in June.  Maybe that makes its arrival all the sweeter, and its exit all the more lonely in its abrupt end.  Its short-lived aromatic culmination something relegated to just memory again for another year

So as the lovely season of the fragrant Russian Olives draws to an end, may you find the time to be still, soaking up the most of what comes around just once a season.  May you enjoy the sweet scent of summertime upon the warm breeze and may you relish the many blessings summer brings.

*As a footnote, I feel I must tell you that the Russian Olive tree is an outlaw.  It is a foreign species that gained notoriety for its overtaking of western river banks since it was introduced to the US in the late 1800’s.  But in its defense, it is without a doubt, a scrappy survivor.  With shoots of sharply-thorned branches hurtling forth from its trunk almost daily, it doesn’t mourn for the weak.   Their roots ground them in odd places, unfit for other trees.  They thrive in sand and poor soil, reaching deeper and deeper for water and nutrients. And according to multiple sources, their roots can produce their own nitrogen, allowing them to grow even in nutrient-deprived soil.  They have a bad habit of out competing our native trees and shrubs in wild areas and they enlist the help of our feathered friends, who gorge upon the tree’s ripened berries, to disperse their seeds.  The Russian Olive is currently classified as an invasive species in Colorado and 29 other states.  For this reason,Colorado banned the sale of Russian Olive trees within the state to its residents in 2002.

Prelude to Summer

The first to bloom were the purple irises in a large clump.  From chiffon-shrouded buds, they curled their purple petals open, revealing a hint of glimmering gold.  They stood tall, their grape fragrance catching you just as you passed by, causing you to look again, surely that grape scent hadn’t come from them?  But it had, and as a slight breeze carried their fragrant symphony delicately forth, the bees buzzed and hummed, enjoying summer’s first taste of song.

Then it was a tight ball of a peony bud, bursting open with its huge, single petals as if proclaiming, “Look at me!  I am the first of the peonies, none can surely be as magnificent!”  And they may not be, because nothing is as amazing as that first peony exploding into bright bloom in the garden, no matter its color, its size or its type.  From atop strong, tall stems, my first-born peony of the summer looks across its counterparts in the garden, crowning itself with a golden center of bright stamens.  And nothing quite prepares you for the disappointment as its concerto quickly fades and one by one its petals lose their grip, and flutter to the ground.  Their beautiful interlude just a memory, as its dark petals stain the rocks pink with morning dew.

From tight-coiled cones, my white allium were next on stage.  Their stems swelled and swelled until one morning, feathery white headdresses emerged.  Theirs was a soft minuet formed with the slight scent of an onion and chive-like stalks, waving gently in the breeze.  And their small clumps throughout my garden performed long-blooming solos in white.  The only white blooms in my garden, they warrant a standing ovation for their brave deviance from the bright colors that take over later in the summer.

Without intermission, an heirloom yellow shrub rose performed a final, golden overture among its deep green, glossy leaves.  The morning sun’s light setting their petals aflame. In an instant, they seemed to go from bud to bloom to flailed petals, scattering on the ground below.  A brief, yet lovely, sonata of color, fragrance and thorns.  Here now, gone tomorrow, nothing but a golden dream blurred sharply in our minds.

There are certain times in life where the work just must stop, the music must be heard and the world’s most beautiful moments must be applauded.  The weeding could wait.  The watering could wait.  These were times to look over the first of my blooming bounty, cherishing the very magnificence of an iridescent, silken petal tempted open by the sun’s warm encouragement.  This was a time to watch in wonder as butterflies descended from windy heights, swirling madly, but somehow ending upright atop a pollen-encrusted bloom.  This was a time to feel excitement like goosebumps on my arms, for the magical, visual sound that is just beginning, each new bloom an instrument, only just refraining at the final stanza of their prelude.

And as all these instruments of a springtime garden came together, a late spring orchestra culminated in one grand crescendo, diminishing back down with sweet, soft notes . . . promising a symphony yet to come.

The Place Where One Thing Leads to Another

It started with just the seed of an idea.  The mere thought that maybe I would like to try my hand at vegetable gardening – this being inspired by just recently discovering the tastiness of fresh kale. And an inspirational article in Country Gardens about a young lady who began a garden basket program that provides fresh, heirloom produce for her community.

The wheels were turning, albeit slowly and unpersuasively.  I just wasn’t sure.  My “friends”, the deer, would no doubt appreciate my efforts, enjoying my newly sprouted delicacies in the dark of night.  I’m crushed when I wake up to rose buds sheared off, imagine how I’d feel if I lost an entire row of ruffled lettuce, or worse . . . a just-ripening squash with a single deer bite taken right out of its perfect middle?

More than just these fears was the bigger question:   Was I even CAPABLE of growing vegetables?  Indoor houseplants have long been banned from within my house.   I can hear your gasps now.  Somehow, I fall victim to the over-watering trap, I preen on them too much, water too frequently and apparently drown them in my overzealousness.  So the question remains there in the back of my mind, will I even be able to get these tiny seeds to grow and eventually produce things I can eat?

As these questions circled around my mind, and as I was still “researching” (and by researching, I mean: attempting to talk myself into just trying a vegetable garden) my father showed up at my house with six heavy planks of wood and a plan.  Thank goodness for dads and plans.  Before I even had another minute to talk myself OUT of it, we were measuring and cutting, the sawdust was flying.

What had started as simply an idea to buy a pre-fabricated raised bed cheaply online, had now turned into a full-fledged DIY, Pinterest-worthy project.  There were ninety degree metal plates to measure, cut, and then grind.  Then there were holes to drill in the metal pieces with a drill press. (And YES, I do know what a drill press is now and how to properly use one!)

There was even concrete to pour!  Suddenly my little idea had become a little disconcertingly permanent!  There were holes to be drilled in the wood, bolts to be tightened, and even a level was making frequent appearances.  Heck, it’s probably a good thing my Dad DIDN’T know the very un-perfectionistic plan I had in my mind to begin with!  Believe me, it probably wasn’t going to be level, I know that!

After my now-perfectly-constructed raised beds took shape, there was topsoil and compost to bring in.  And then gravel to lay in next to them.  And a fence to construct to keep my “friends”, the deer, out.

But I can’t blame all this on my Dad.  I started adding things to the once-little, raised garden bed idea too.  Suddenly, a few vintage, rusted culverts seemed like they would be the perfect spots for herbs.  And the side of the old shed, seemed like the perfect canvas for a little artistic creativity.

Our lives sometimes lead from one project to another, without much time in between to relish in the blessings of the here and now.  But isn’t life really about a series of do-it-yourself improvement projects both within and around ourselves?  There’s not always a professional to call.  Sometimes it just takes sweat, a little elbow grease and a small spark of an idea to prompt a change.  Every day is a new chance to embark upon a DIY project in our lives.  To do what we want to do, to give what we can give, to help how we can help and to change those things that need to be changed.  There’s still time to transform your life, to create something new while having the powerful ability to remember the “before” pictures.  As difficult as they may be to look at, they will be there always, telling us where we’ve been and reminding us just how far we’ve come.

In your life, too, one thing will probably lead to another and another.  Each day will probably give you something new to work on.  But with the hope of the “after” picture in our minds, these daily, internal DIY makeovers are possible.

Finally, a few days ago, I stood looking proudly over our hard work and feeling excited about the possibilities (and being finished.)  That’s when my Dad showed up.

Next on the to-do list?  Trenching a brand new water line to my garden area.   My mind instantly began swirling with future calls for line locates, trenching machines, a dug up driveway, orange water pipe and the dream that I could have a water faucet right there IN my garden, no green, kinked hoses necessary!

And so, this is the story of how one thing led to another, and another, until I ended up with something that perfectly completed my backyard.

Now, for the hard part . . .getting these veggies to grow.

And so it begins . . .

It finally arrived.  The day I’ve dreamt about for the past six months.  The moment you whisk through the doors of a plastic-encased shrine to all things budding and blooming.  The warm smell of fragrant, green-leafed humidity and rich, perlite-dotted soil envelopes you immediately, fanned around you lightly by huge metal blades whisping slowly at the other end of this inverted half-pipe of flora and fauna.  An array of pots beckoning you, enticing you with bright colors, textures and opportunities and the unequivocal instant emotion of hopeful inspiration.

There is just nothing quite like that first deep breath of the summer season inhaled in a greenhouse.  That moment when all things seem possible, even the deep burgundy-robed miniature calla lily hidden in the corner, out of sight of its much humbler Zone 4 flowering neighbors.  Who’s to say how its exotic beauty even made it close to this place, with delicate blooms not well suited for Colorado’s cool nights and short summers.  Maybe it hitchhiked, escaping its hot, humid home, catching a free ride with a delivery van undiscovered, destination unknown.  But somehow, at that moment, even this tropical variety seems do-able.

The possibilities are endless.  As are the trips up and down the aisles.  Slowly surveying the wondrous displays of seeds, turned seedlings, thinned and transplanted, fed and fertilized until robust, with blooms stretched upward as if arms waving at you boldly, saying “Pick me!  Pick me!”

And the competition is stiff.  Pinks, yellows, reds, purple, orange and even blue.  Tall, short, bold, delicate.  The bright eyes of the almost-neon-bright geraniums follow you carefully up and down the aisles, the queens of potted annuals keeping a close eye on their rows of supporting actors.  The sweet, faces of pansies smiling innocently, nodding at you as you pass.

Bright marigolds, uncurling their ruffled arms, laughing happily in deep oranges and yellows.

White bacopa and periwinkle lobelia trail down their pots, following you, begging you to take them with you.

As I scoured the rows over and over today, not so much undecided as simply admiring the beauty, the fragrance and the first of this summer’s blooming bounty, a light mist of small raindrops began tinkling lightly upon the clear plastic roof over us.  Summer’s first sweet orchestra, playing gently and rhythmically, lulling me to wish I could sleep if just for a moment in this perfect place among the flowers, awakening later to their fragrant harmonies of color and the scent of freshly fallen rain.

But today, the afternoon will have to be enough.  I will leave what remains in the care of the fluttering butterflies and sphinx moths, carefully wafting from one flower to the next.

May you enjoy the first of summer’s blessings and embrace the hope of the nearly endless possibilities it offers.

Where the Metal Meets the Dirt

I found them earlier this year.  Paint peeling, marred with scratches and gouges, scarred with rusty scabs, I knew they would be perfect in my little country garden.

I like to think it was manifest destiny, a magnetic pull that brought me to their hiding places two states away.  Trapped within a rusty boneyard of repurposed old metal, I saw through their neighboring junk and felt myself mesmerized by their rough, rusted beauty.  Although still winter, I was already dreaming of their scrolled curves flanked by green leaves, the sun glinting through their open filigrees, a flowering vine creeping carefully up their metal spines.  I knew their home would be my garden.

So after patiently waiting in my dark shed all spring, a few weeks ago they saw their future home for the first time.  How they sun must have quickly warmed their cold metal as I brought them into my slowly awakening garden.  We moved them here.  Then there.  And back.  Until I had found the perfect angle in that far corner of my garden.   They were perfect, just as I had imagined.  They were like long lost friends that I had stumbled upon, not realizing it was garden destiny.

That day we sliced the warm dirt apart with a pick, digging a thin slit in the ground to anchor the heavy weight of its frame.  And as we carefully tamped the dirt down around its base, there was a magical moment when my red scrolled gate stood on its own, rising above my garden, whispering wordlessly of that enchanting, magical threshold that gates and doors instinctively evoke.  And begging questions like

What is beyond?  Where will this lead? And Where have I been?

Where do your dreams meet the reality of the dirt?  Your dreams, too, may find themselves leaned up against a wall in your shed, far from sight and farther from mind.  No matter the business of life, the errands to run, the schedules to keep, the procrastinated projects pulling at you, they will be there still, waiting in the far depths of your mind patiently.

Collecting dust and being pushed further and further into corners, they will wait.

Until one day you come across them again, still beautiful in their dusty, dirty, abandoned corner.  Maybe you will have forgotten all about the bright hope they once shone in your heart.   Or maybe it will seem like just yesterday when you daydreamed of them constantly, feeling they were just within reach.  Will you have the courage to pull your dreams from the depths, dust them off, and move them around in your life until you find the perfect place within your garden?

That day this winter, with my new finds somehow strategically fitted into our vehicle, my heart fluttered with dreams of terra cotta pots, filled to the brim with cascading petunias, seated happily upon my white rusted garden bench.  Of oversized clematis blooms climbing vigorously up the sides of my red rusted gate.  And of the sense of magic I knew they would instantly ignite within my growing garden.

I couldn’t wait for my coneflowers to open their bright petalled eyes this summer to see their new neighbors.  A dream, small as it was, that came to find its feet planted stoutly in the dirt.

Just a Spot of Sunshine

My cats are attracted to them.

Just a spot of sunshine is all they need.  A shining place to curl up and be embraced by the bright warmth, to be coaxed into a sleepy nap.  They have a knack for finding them —  those sometimes out-of-the-way spots of bright light that have been cast just beyond a chair or up next to a wall.  Or even on top of a turquoise flip flop.

Do you have a little spot of sunshine?  It may be a special place.  A pond lined with cattail bird roosts and fuzzy-budded willows.  A velvety chenille blanket, a mug of steaming coffee and a riveting book.  Or maybe an old truck, rusted on the outside, its aged seatcovers still scented sharply with gasoline and musty sweat on the inside.

Two spots of sunshine, in the form of my nephews.

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Maybe it’s a special person.  A grandson that hugs you with his whole being on legs that never seem to stop running.  A friend made long ago, separated now by years and distance, that you can start up with again right where you left off years ago.  Maybe that spot of sunshine is someone who can make you laugh and giggle, no matter the situation.

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Where are you drawn, like cats to sunny spots?  Where do you go to feel safely embraced with warmth and happiness? What is your little spot of sunshine?

My sunny spot consists of gravel paths leading through slightly raised beds, a blooming haven of bumble bees, hummingbirds and usually a napping kitty or two.  It is a place that feels like home to me.  I built its borders with river rocks, handpicked out of a big pile, leveled edge to edge, to create a meandering free form outline on the very back of my new home’s lot.  I turned the hard clay soil within these river rocks, then hand-screened, shovel-full by shovel-full, new soil to fill them up.  Then I turned the dirt again.

And as I planted my very first bare root peonies that fall, I also waged war on the weeds that had traveled to my new flower beds via the hand-screened dirt.  It was hard.  It was tedious.  But I knew in my heart that one day it would be a sunny spot for me, in more ways than one.

It’s my sunny spot all winter as I peruse my perennial plant catalogs, dreaming of all the possibilities that exist.  It’s my sunny spot in the spring as I watch what started as little seeds of hope last fall, curl a brand new leaf open to the sun.  It’s my sunny spot all summer as I relish in the fruits of my labor.  Flowers blooming, bees humming and beautiful energy rising from its colorful bursts, bouquets of fragrant blooms abound.  And it’s my sunny spot in the fall as I watch my hard working plants slowly cower down to rest, and I plant new seeds, tubers, rhizomes and roots of hope for next spring.

I’ve celebrated warm Friday evenings there with a beer in hand.  I’ve sat on its graveled path, crushed and broken, embraced by only coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans.  Salty tears dripping onto the soil that gives these plants life.  I’ve smiled there and I’ve cried there.  But no matter the clouds in the sky, my little spot is always sunny.

Never underestimate the power of a sunny spot.

Those special places in our lives have the power to give us rest when beaten down. They have the energy to reinvigorate us, to help us rise up and conquer those obstacles we may have in front of us.

The also can have the calm presence to just encourage us forward, slowly, quietly and subtly.  Giving us a gentle hand on our shoulder to let us know we can do it, that life doesn’t always require us to fight with a roar, but maybe to just have the courage to continue on again tomorrow.