April Showers and May Flowers

Maple blooming 17 2The forsythia is blooming. Its golden flowers brighten the landscape and provide a kind of sunshine even during April showers. Gardening is present in the thoughts of those who do and in the stores as well. Pansies and other colorful flowers decorate the entrances of supermarkets and other stores that sell them. Gardening supplies are piled up ready to purchase. Even though it’s not yet time to be planting, these and other signs of spring hearten those of us who are weary of winter’s drab browns and blacks, bare limbs and withered weeds.

Gardening runs in my family and in my blood. I wish I could yet I can’t claim the green thumb of my ancestors. My great grandfather planted an orchard of flourishing fruit trees. His apple trees blossomed and bore from the onset of spring until deep into fall. His quince trees produced fuzzy hard fruit that with my mother’s diligent efforts became jelly and preserves. In her garden she grew a variety of vegetables. I can see her still working away in it, her tanned back brown in the sun.

My grandmother had a gardener named Mr. Patch. He was Irish. I remember his nut brown face and his wonderful brogue as he discussed with my grandmother what he needed for the garden. She did some work also, principally with her pruning shears as she picked her magnificent roses. She grew both flowers and vegetables, harvesting and eating from her garden all summer long. What I remember most clearly were her glorious gladiolas, the saucer plate dahlias ranging from deep red to bright orange and yellow, and the colorful zinnias that lined the gravel path leading from her driveway to her door, bounded by a white picket fence and two strips of green grass turf.

My father too grew roses and later brought back some young peach and plum trees from a horticultural show, planted them and then harvested the fruit when they grew old enough to produce it. I did have one experience with a fruit tree. Back when I had my spiral garden I had bought what I thought was a white forsythia to plant there. After three years it hadn’t flowered. Reluctant to discard it, I dug it up, replanted it at the edge and forgot about it. To my great surprise and delight, though now in the shadow of a large spruce, it grew into a white peach tree that produced three peaches its first year and many more after that.

These days my gardening is limited to a few potted plants. Perhaps one day I will have a small garden again, however I couldn’t manage anything very much more than the original three by five foot plot I was given as a child for my own. I grew flowers there, and then weeds by the time August rolled around. But it got me started on many years of garden tending. These days I write poetry about gardens together with other aspects of nature and the world I live in. My gardens have become metaphysical rather than physical, and truth to tell my back is grateful.

Dandelion Days

dandilionforwishingThe first flowers I remember picking were dandelions. Proudly I brought them to my mother, who lovingly thanked me. I have memories of making dandelion flower crowns with her. We’d slit the stems, slide a flower through, and repeat until the crown or wreath was large enough to wear. Dandelions are the first flowers many children are allowed to pick. They are such pretty little bright spots, and unbeknownst to many, such good medicine It seems a pity that people feel they have to eliminate them.

Those who want pristine green lawns eradicate dandelions, never realizing that instead of poisoning these cheerful yellow suns, they could pick them and make a wine that tastes of summer, a bread, or other baked goods, or use the leaves in a salad, a stir fry or combined with other greens in a juicer. Dandelion leaves have excellent food value, and are a healthy, desirable spring vegetable. The roasted, ground roots make a coffee like drink.

Children love the yellow flowers; parents faced with eliminating stains from the milky juice, not so much. Homeowners might like to know the long roots actually benefit the lawn: they aerate the soil, keeping it from becoming compacted and unable to absorb nutrients. Susun Weed says there is enough vitamin A in a dandelion leaf to rival store supplements. As well there is vitamin C and many helpful minerals. It is also a mild, effective natural diuretic. If your lawn is away from the road, you can safely use your dandelions many ways.

Here is my recipe for Dandelion Deluxe: Ingredients: ½ cup chopped onion, 4 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine, 1 small summer squash chopped small, 4 cups dandelion greens, olive oil. Method: Prepare greens while you sauté onion, garlic and summer squash in a olive oil. Remove roots and tough bottom stems. Wash very well. Cut up with scissors. Steam in a small amount of water until they wilt down. Strain water and set aside. Add chopped greens to sautéed vegetables and cook until stems are tender. You serve as is or you can mingle into your food processor for a different taste. Drink the healthy cooking water, your body will thank you.

Dandelion Wine: Age for at least 6 months. It will continue to mellow. Ingredients: 1 Qt Dandelions, yellow part only. 4 Qts. boiling water, 3 Lemons, 3 oranges, 4 Lbs sugar, 1 Pkg. yeast. Method: Pour boiling water over blossoms, set for 24 hours in a warm place. Slice fruit and remove seeds. Cover with sugar; set for 24 hrs also. Then strain blossoms and pour liquid over oranges and lemons. Add 1 package any yeast. Pour into ceramic or stainless steel. Let stand 4 or 5 days. Strain, let stand one more day. Bottle, then cap with small balloons. Leave until the wine stops “working” and balloons collapse. Cork and store 6 months or more. Then sip. It tastes like summer. Recipe makes 5 bottles.

Tasha Halpert

The Persistence of Nature, by Tasha Halpert

Weeds and GridWhen I was growing up my father was an active member of our local Horticultural society. At the age of twelve I used to go to the meetings with him and learn about growing trees, shrubs and plants. In addition every year there was a Horticultural show late in the summer. There was a children’s division with cash prizes. This was exciting to me. One in particular that interested me was a prize given for gathering and identifying wildflowers.

Although I had a garden, it held nothing prizewinning. However the wildflower competition was an easy one because we lived amidst a great variety of them. Each year I scoured the surrounding fields and woods for the 25 flowers to be gathered and identified. Most other young people who entered the show were content to do something easier, so I had no competition and usually won first prize. As a result I gained a lifelong interest in wild flowers and to this day remember a lot of their names and even their properties, for my interest grew into a study of herbs as well.

My eye is often drawn to flowers growing in the wild. Recently I was traveling down 495 when a lone Brown Eyed Susan waved at me from the concrete divider. As I drove by the dark center surrounded with bright yellow petals seemed to wink. I wanted to stop and take its picture however the traffic on 495 is pretty steady and to pull over to the center srip in the midst of a busy stream of cars is to court an accident.

A seed had taken advantage of whatever soil had collected in a crack along the edge and sprouted this brave, solitary flower. Nature is opportunistic. Wherever enough grains of soil fill a crack in a manmade surface, Nature plants any available seeds. Openings within the pavement host all kinds of new life. Abandoned buildings and properties are soon festooned with green decorations eagerly seeking a place to grow.

There is a saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Certainly if the gardener is not vigilant, weeds fill up any empty space in a garden. Yet this also works to keep soil from blowing away. Poison ivy may be the bane of New England beaches, however it is one of the reasons the sand above the high water mark does not blow away. When the early settlers plowed up the prairies they lost the important topsoil that the grasses had kept in place.

I love the way Nature fills up empty spaces with greenery and flowers. Recently I noticed an evergreen hedge that had acquired a host of little white flowers courtesy of the bindweed that had decided to take root there. The small morning glory look-a-likes decorated the bland green hedge in a most complementary fashion. I rejoice that weeds are flowers too. As I pass by them, I enjoy the summer’s wayside offerings, and I thank Nature for its persistence.