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PROPAGATING

One of the things I love to do when traveling

Is visit local gardens.

So on our recent family trip

To Newport and its Jazz Festival

We headed for Bellevue Avenue

And the mansions of the “Gilded Age”.

They are spectacular.

Unbelievable really.

Actually, a little too unbelievable for our taste.

There likely were elaborate gardens

At one point.

But not so much today.

There are however seas of hydrangea

Blue mopheads, green limelights and

Of course, Annabelles.

But I like real gardens

The kind that are a bit messy and unkept

Like mine.

Luckily Elliott discovered Blithewold Mansion and Gardens

Down the road in Bristol, R. I.

Though Blithewold was built during the same era

It has a completely different feel.

I feels like a family lived, played and gardened there.

Photo credit Kristina Wynne

The estate is currently 33 acres.

It is filled with a cutting garden, vegetable garden

Water garden, bamboo forest, rose garden, greenhouses

And an arboretum.

Generally, I head straight for the flowers

And they were wonderful.

Many of the things I grow

And others I’ve long been curious about.

It did not disappoint.

But the trees are what captivated me.

In particular the Giant Sequoia.

Now remember, I’m on the east coast

Not California.

I know, I was a bit confused myself.

I don’t remember how the first one came to Blithewold

But Marjorie Randolph Van Wickle Lyon the daughter who grew up here

Took it upon herself

To learn to propagate them.

And propagate she did.

The origianal Sequoia is now 90 feet tall.

Kristina for scale.

There are a dozen more on their estate

All of which are the product of Marjorie’s ingenuity.

It seems she created so many that she gave them

To guests who visited.

I like this lady.

So let’s think about this.

A young woman

Born in 1883

Into an era and a social strata

That shall we say

Didn’t encourage women to do

Well…anything.

Yet, she decides to propagate

GIANT SEQUOIA !

Marjorie never had children

Yet she left a legacy that will last generations.

So as three generations of Wynnes

Explored her home

I couldn’t help but think about the legacy

And memories

We create each day.

Hoping that we will leave such a lasting legacy.

Gail

Photo Credit Kristina Wynne

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Filed under Blithewold Mansion and Gardens, Garden Travel, Gardening, Giant Sequoia, Hydrangea, Legacy, Uncategorized, Wise Women

FLUID CRYSTALLIZATION

There is a section of my garden

Where I don’t have many perennials.

I have given it over to self seeding annuals.

Poppies and Larkspur in the spring

Are followed by Cosmos, Cleome, Cockscomb and Zinnias.

This does however result in a few empty spaces.

For years – decades really – I have planted Zinnias in those places.

This happens later in the season.

Usually mid – June through Mid – July.

So when the first round of volunteer Zinnias

Get mildew

And they will.

I have a second fresh crop for fall.

This accidental plan

Has worked great for years and years.

Then comes this summer.

The first round of Zinnia seeds

Planted in mid – June

Have sprouted and started to bloom.

But the second and third rounds

Simply won’t sprout.

I’ve tried different varieties

From different companies

At different times

And zilch!

Then I read this week

That because of this relentless heat

The soil is too hot to germinate seeds.

Seriously…how can that be.

Think about that for a moment.

It’s a really scarey thought

Since growing food

Requires lots and lots of seed germination.

So, once again, we must adjust our knowledge

Of what works

And what no longer will.

Which brought to mind a book I’m reading.

“From Strength to Strength” by Arthur C Brooks.

In it he talks about the “fluid intelligence” of our 30’s and 40’s

And the “crystallized intelligence” of my stage of life

And ways of sharing our “crystallization” (my word) that will lead to happiness.

So my “crystallized intelligence” of decades in the garden

Needs to become a bit more fluid

To adapt to nature and the changes we are forcing on it.

But that is really how nature works.

Witness the life of poet Mary Oliver

Who walked the woods and shorelines of her home

Writing books and books of poems.

Leaving behind a depth of “crystallized intelligence”

For the world.

Maybe it’s the generations of Presbyterians in me

But I’m thankful I don’t have all the answers.

About gardening

And about life.

There is still space to grow.

Gail

If we don’t change we don’t grow. If we don’t grow we aren’t really living.

Gail Sheehy

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Filed under cleome, cockscomb, Cosmos, Garden Planning, Gardening, Larkspur, Nature, Perennials, Poppy, Seeds, self seeding annuals, Timing, Uncategorized, Zinnia

STAYIN ALIVE

It’s been over a decade

Since we have had

This kind of heat.

Generally I try not complain about the weather.

After all, my grandmother drove a conastoga wagon

From Iowa to Oklahoma when she was 18

During the summer.

What have I got to complain about!

Yet, somehow this feels different.

It is unrelenting.

I think we are on week 4 or 5

Of most days well over 100.

Keeping the garden alive

Can be a full time job

In years like this

If you haven’t prepared for it.

There are two things I did by instinct

That help my garden survive.

Granted not everyone wants a full blown perennial garden.

But adding perennials to your flower beds

Will save you time, money, water and worry.

Because perennials intend to survive

More than one season

They are more deeply rooted

Meaning they can take the slings and arrows

That nature is throwing these days.

Some even thrive on it.

So right now these things are not just surviving

But are actually happy in my garden.

And providing all the nector

The flock of buzzing pollinators living with us

Seem to need.

Happy perennials are Maxmillion Sunflower

Purple Coneflower, Tall Garden Phlox, Gloriosa Daisy,

Veronica Spicata and Sunny Border Blue and Verbena Bonariensis.

All of these not only come back but also spread.

No perennial gives more than Annabelle Hydrangea

And her cousin Incrediball.

Then there are the self seeding annuals

Zinnia, Sunflower, Cleome and the ever present Cockscomb.

These are the foundation of my high summer garden.

Other plants may bloom a little but these are the staples.

Even in this heat they only require water about every 5 days.

That, of course, is with drip irrigation.

Fifteen plus years ago when we built my garden

I ordered a really large roll of inline emitter drip line

From Dripworks.

1,000 feet of coiled drip line was like a giant snakey octopus

All over my backyard.

Once it was softened by the sun

And put into place

It has been the lifeline of my garden.

I connect the line to two faucets at opposite ends

Of the back of the garden.

We are lucky to have a well.

I turn them both on at once

And let them slowly drip for several hours.

That’s right.

I want the water to go deeply

To the low roots of even the biggest plant.

The water will draw the roots even deeper

Helping the plant survive

The 114 degrees predicted for next Tuesday

And the two weeks near zero

That will surely come next February.

I don’t know whether plants are like people

Or people are like plants.

But I do know that without my deep roots

And firm foundation

The last 2 1/2 years would have been

Even more difficult.

For me and my garden.

Gail

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Filed under Annabelle Hydrangea, Bees, Bugs, Bumblebee, drip irrigation, Garden Planning, Gardening, Gardening;Perennials, Gloriosa Daisy - Rudbeckia, HELIANTHUS, Maximillian Sunflower, Perennials, Purple Coneflower - Echinacea, self seeding annuals, Sunflowers, Tall Garden Phlox, Uncategorized, Veronica Spicata, Zinnia

“ON BEING” IN MY GARDEN

Much of what I do in my garden

Is dictated by the rythmn of the season.

Winter is for seed starting.

Spring for planting and transplanting.

June is for…well…just being glorious.

July is all about survival.

And this year is a rough one.

We are stuck under the heat dome

Bringing days and days at or near 100 degrees.

So, the most important thing I do

Is monitor the water.

Using it in the most earth friendly way I know.

Less frequent deep watering with drip lines.

Another part of the ritual is seed collection.

The garden house floor

Is covered with stacks of Larkspur, Poppy and Hollyhocks

In their final stage of drying

To re-suppy my seed collection

And share in the coming year.

I love sharing seeds

And hearing about them sprouting in new homes.

I thrive on pattern and ritual.

So following nature through the seasons

Brings me peace and joy.

My Saturday morning garden ritual is to first cut flowers

For the church arrangements.

That way they have several hours to get a good drink

Before being arranged.

This week I quickly moved on to weeding

And planting Cosmos & Zinnia seeds

In the open places that were created.

I was clicking along when my friend Debra sent a text.

She too was in her garden

And doing what we often both do.

Listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast “On Being”.

I have been a faithful listener since near the beginning 20 years ago.

Together Debra and I have listened and discussed

Along with Krista and her guests.

At times it feels like we actually know these people!

After all, Krista is an Oklahoman so there is a connection.

But this morning was different.

It was the last of this particular format.

“An On Being Listening Party Reviewing 20 Years”

And the memories of so many Saturday mornings in my garden.

Came flooding back.

Conversations with a joyful Desmond Tutu, Mary Oliver, John O’Donahue

And so many more were recounted.

These are all favorites of mine.

But two of my most memorable conversations were not mentioned.

So I share them here with you.

They go back to a time early on when the program was only on the radio

Not podcasted – and was called “Speaking of Faith”.

The first is an interview with Joe Carter.

Likely you don’t know of him.

He is a musician who told the stories of spirituals.

With a deep rich voice

And a broad knowledge of these stories.

I was transported back to my childhood

Listening to my great uncles singing these very songs

In my parents living room.

I think I’ve listened to the unedited version 6 times!

The other early memory is of a conversation between

A Jewish woman and a young Palestinian man

Titled “No More Taking Sides”.

They tell the stories of their unimaginable loss

And what they have done with their grief.

Be prepared to cry at the end.

If you don’t know “On Being” you can find it and the treasured conversations here.

The conversations are rich.

The subjects are broad.

Fortunately, those hundreds of conversations are available to everyone.

I know I’ll be listening to them again and again for another 20 years.

So thank you Krista for being my Saturday morning garden companion.

You have opened my heart and broadened my mind.

You have challenged me and helped me grow

Bringing fascinating people into my life.

I’m looking forward to the next iteration of On Being

And how it will enrich our lives.

Gail

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Filed under hollyhocks, Hydrangea, Larkspur, Poppy, Shasta Daisy, Uncategorized

WIND

Last week my new friend Amy came for dinner.

Once we realized we both like gardening

A quick trip to the garden house

Was a must.

Some of you may know that once someone asks me a gardening question

I’m off

Giving them a gardening encyclopedia

When all the really want is a cliff note version.

Normally, several minutes in I finally look at the glazed eyes of my innocent victim

And dial it back a little.

But Amy kept asking questions

And I kept going.

There was one question I’ve been asked before

But I heard it differenly this time.

“Why do you have a fan running on the baby plants” she asked.

To strengthen the stems

My usual reply.

Then it hit me.

Stress….

I’m putting stress on these tiny plants

To make them stronger.

Oh my, maybe it’s just living my life

“Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”

Is actually a line from our state song,

Or maybe it’s having lived so much life,

Or maybe it’s these past two years

But suddenly I knew.

We are like those baby plants.

Standing in the winds of life.

I know so many people

Who have struggled and stood strong

Against those winds.

And though the stresses of those lives

Would never have been our choice

They have strengthened us

And helped us to grow.

We are all just creatures

In God’s great creation.

What a gift.

Gail

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FINALLY…THE BEGINNING

After a March of fits and starts

This weekend feels like the beginning of gardening season.

The 10 day forcast shows no freezing temperatures

And it is the 13th of the month.

Put those two things together

And I spent several hours

In my garden

Doing “spring things”.

I pruned the last of the roses

Planted lettuce, arugula & strawberries.

All Star Gourmet Lettuce mix edging the flower bed May 2021

Cut back the Annabelle hydrangea a bit

For the first time in their lives.

I was chicken so I just cut back every other one

And not by more than a third.

Finished planting sweet peas

The blooming kind this time.

And cut the old crispy leaves off of Hellebore

To expose those glorious blooms.

Who doesn’t love a late winter blooming flower.

Hellebore

But mostly I reveled in the miracle that is a garden

When the negative wind chills of just a few weeks ago

Nipped the baby buds on my rose bushes

They simply made more.

They did not pout or throw a tantrum

They just got on with the business of living

Bringing beauty into the world.

And hope.

A gift for a world in great need.

Gail

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.”

– Lady Bird Johnson

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Filed under Annabelle Hydrangea, Arugula, Hellebores, Hope, Hydrangea, Lettuce, Nature, Peas, spring, Uncategorized, Vegetables

HOPE IN THE SMALL PLACES

This morning’s sermon was about hope.

Looking for it in times that seem hopeless.

Now for instance.

And finding it in the small spaces.

The cracks of life.

So this afternoon

When I headed to the garden house

To plant even more seeds

It seemed like a natural way

To spend the afternoon.

Planting hope.

I’ve gotten rather obbsessed with seeds this year.

Trying a few new varieties

And methods.

I keep reading about starting Dahlias from seed.

Really?

How can that be.

Convincing that little dried up

Kind of seed looking thing

To sprout

And become this

Photo Credit Debra Mitchell

Is well

More than even the most Pollyanna among us

Could hope for.

But why not at least try.

So I got out the Dahlia breeding book I bought.

And read through the incredibly detailed instructions.

Then I realized

I’ve seen this done before.

Damp paper towels, seeds a plate….

My father did this every year

Before he planted his wheat.

He tested the seed he had saved

For germination.

I distinctly remember a saucer

Sprouting in the kitchen window.

So there it was

A sermon on hope

Followed by a fond memory

Of a man who thrived on it.

What a day.

Gail

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”

Desmund Tutu

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Filed under Butterflies, Dahlias, Farmers, Uncategorized

Christmas Joy

I revel in being a grandmother.

And because my grandchildren

Live several hours away

A visit to my house

Lasts for a few days.

So I do all the usual preparations.

Freezer stocked with easy meals.

Craft drawer resupplied.

And at Christmas a little decorating

Left for capable helpers.

This year it was the tree in the den left undecorated.

The ornaments were placed in baskets under the tree.

Each day a few more were added to the tree.

H & H took the icicles outside

And hung from low tree branches.

That really makes sense when you think about it

Because icicles can’t survive long inside!

Then, of course, the garden house was raided

And why not add the butterflies

And dragonfly stakes

That decorate the garden at Easter.

As long as we are all decorated

Let’s have a “Rainbow Butterfly Christmas Party”

Complete with crafts, treats and party favors.

Next came our annual gingerbread house construction

And this year “reconstruction”

After the visiting poodle ate 4 of the 5 houses!!!

But that’s a story in and of itself.

On a sunny Christmas Eve morning

Our neighbors joined in a continuing tradition

As we decorated houses outside on the patio.

A very COVID conscious event.

I love decorating tables

But this year I decided to turn it over

To Harper and Henry.

Harper agreed

As long as it was “sparkly”.

So we opened cabinets they didn’t even know existed

And pulled from generations of treasures.

John’s grandmother’s crystal wedding candleholders.

My mother’s copper charger plates.

Silver trees I purchased years ago.

That come apart to add tea lights

And fascinate Henry.

Hopefully, this weeklong flutter of activities

Created new memories and stories for the next generation.

It took me a week just to find everything

And get it back in place.

A way of extending the joy.

Likely there is still an icicle

Somewhere in the cedar tree.

Someday it will catch the light

Making it sparkle

And catch my eye.

Bringing a rush of memories

Of Christmas week.

Memories indeed.

Gail

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Filed under Grandchildren, Grandchldren Generations, Uncategorized

A FAMILY TRADITION

Family traditions can be tricky.

They can bring us comfort

And peace

And smiles.

But if we allow them

They can take up so much of our lives

That we can lose track

Of who’s life it is.

So, though I love traditions

I really try to re-examine

Them when they come

Swinging back into my day.

Holidays are especially ripe

For this.

Last week a tradition

In my family

Entered it’s 5th generation

When Elliott and Kristina

Took their kids

Into the mountains

To cut their own Christmas tree

With a permit from the forest service,

Of course.

A plains tradition

Transplanted to the mountains.

When I was a kid

My father would gather us together

And take us out into the field

To a cluster of red cedar trees

Where we would select

Our Christmas tree.

He would cut it down

Always leaving

A lower branch

So the tree could regrow.

(This was before red cedar trees

Became the nuisance

They are today.)

More often than not

It would be much bigger

Than we realized

Until we got it home

And it engulfed

The entire living room.

When Daddy took his young

Grandsons into the field

To cut a tree

The tree was so huge

It didn’t even fit into the room

And was placed outside the big glass door

On the patio

With presents placed

Just on the inside of the glass!

The adventure of cutting our own tree

Seemed like a quaint ritual

But I didn’t get the deep meaning

For my father

Until I almost messed it up.

You see we figured out over time

That my mother was allergic

To cedar

Which meant she was

Almost always sick

By Christmas.

So I pushed and pushed

Her to buy an artificial tree

Or as my father called it

The “plastic thing”!

Thankfully Daddy was a letter writer

So I have a record

In his own words

Of just how heinous

This crime was.

I read it at his funeral

And have included it

As a post script.

I am thankful for Elliott & Kristina

Picking up this meaningful tradition

And passing it along

Creating ” new old” memories

For yet another generation.

It’s hard to know

What to hold onto

And what to let go of

Since both are equally important.

I hope you enjoy

your traditions

of the season.

Looking back

While moving forward.

Gail

Nov 26, 1993

Dear Gail,

As my “sensitive” daughter you may be interested in knowing some of the thoughts that were going through my mind last evening as you all struggled to erect the “plastic thing” in our living room.

Real live red cedar trees have long held a special place in the Bellmon household.  It all started when my Dad dug up five small cedars as he and his family forded the Arkansas River at Ark City and brought them to the dug out on his new claim in the Cherokee Strip where they were planted.  Three years later they were moved to the “home place” where three have survived the heat and drought of summer, the cold and winds of winter as well as the good times of spring and fall.  They are now over 100 years old.

During my early youth in the depression years, when there was barely enough money for necessities, my mother would saw off a carefully selected lower branch from one of the trees.  By placing it carefully against a wall and by decorating it laboriously with strings of white pop corn and red cranberries interlaced with paper people cut from red and green paper folded so each emerged holding hands with its neighbor, she managed to brighten up what would otherwise have been a bleak Christmas season.

After your mother and I were married I accidentally came across a patch of wild cedars growing near the creek south of the “big hill”.  By cutting above a low limb – which later grew upright into a respectable new tree).   I was able to harvest our Christmas trees from the patch during the years you girls were growing up.  Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas seasons highlighted (for me at least) by my annual sojourn, ax in hand, to the cedar patch followed by three small girls having trouble – and needing help from their father – getting past weeds and brambles.

After some time spent artfully selecting the best tree for our purpose I would fell the candidate with the ax and we would drag it, butt first back to the pick-up for the ride to the house.  The decorating was done by your mother helped by you and your sisters.  The trees were far from perfect but they were” our trees” in every sense of the word.  They briefly added a clean outdoor scent to the whole house which was –is-their undoing since cedar oil is a villain so far as your mother’s allergies are concerned. 

Also, after a few days the branches dry out and become a fire hazard.  When taken down and pulled out the door after Christmas is over they leave behind a trail of brittle, sticky, dead needles like leaves which adhere to carpets and drapes into the next spring and summer – a reminder of Christmas past.

There is even one memory of taking the grandsons on a – hopefully – annual Christmas tree search.  Our joint efforts produced a tree too large for the living room of our “new” house.

And now we have our “Made in Taiwan” “plastic thing” – what memories can it hope to breed?  Of dust accumulated during the months it will be stored in some dark and deserted place, of cobwebs, perhaps of a nest of mice?  Clearly there will be no allergy for there is no scent, not hint of life, no danger, no challenge.  The “plastic thing” is thoroughly safe, sensibly sterile – decidedly dead, forever.

Is the “plastic thing” symbolic of what life in the waning days of the 20th century is coming to – safe – comfortable – secure – complacent?  What will follow – monotony – boredom – frustration?  Life as I have known it needs it imperfections, its disappointments as well as its successes.  Without challenge there can be no victory.

Maybe the above is too strong.  Your mother’s allergies are a real and important fact of life.  If the “plastic thing” solves that problem I reluctantly and with a real sense of loss accept the inevitable.  I greatly appreciate your concern for your mother but I wanted you to see another side of the Christmas tree controversy.

                                    Love,

                                           Your Dad

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STORIES

Last summer I read an interesting book

“The Art of Gathering”

By Priya Parker.

Reading it has made me think

About the kinds of gatherings I host.

I have always loved the idea

Of bringing people together.

And I like to “decorate”

For the occassion.

But this book has me thinking

More about what happens

Once we are gathered.

Last weekend is a good example.

I hosted a sort of birthday lunch.

It would have been my friend’s 70th birthday.

Had she lived to see the day.

Instead, her three daughters came

Along with some of her friends

From decades ago.

We sat around my dining room table

Telling stories of her life.

It wasn’t a gathering to “catch up”.

In true Priya fashion.

I even sent a text to that effect

Before we gathered.

Telling my guests it was not a day

To talk about grandchildren

But rather a day to share our stories and memories

So that her grandchildren could know her

A little better.

We laughed.

We cried.

We re-connected.

Memories buryied deeply

Began to surface.

Bringing more laughter

And tears.

Stories have the power

To bring us back to a different time

And place.

The power to learn new things

And answer questions

We didn’t even know we had.

The power to reunite with someone

We have lost

Or get to know someone

We never knew.

I hope as you gather

Around your holiday tables.

You will set aside the news of the day

And the game

And ask questions

That draw out stories

Of the lifetimes

You have gathered together.

Gail

“Share your story with someone. You never know how one sentence of your life story could inspire someone to rewrite their own.”

Demi Lovato

P.S. Think about recording interviews of your families and submitting them to The Great Thanksgiving Listen at https://storycorps.org/participate/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/ With permission, interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. More than 650,000 people have participated in StoryCorps to date, making it the largest single collection of voices ever gathered.

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