Native seeds

Locals, stop by today! I bought these native seeds last year from Prairie Moon, intending to sow them outdoors in the fall; didn’t get around to it, so I was thinking I’d try the cold stratification method. I’m happy to split the seed packets if anyone stopping by today wants to take some to try! They’re a year old, so I can’t guarantee they’re still viable, but I think most should be.

Meet-up details:

Garden log: warming up

Garden log: We still have a few cold days coming at the end of February, but it’s warming up enough, esp. when it’s sunny, that it’s very hard for me to resist starting to putter in the garden. There’s a little patch by my front door that I ended up raking clear yesterday, uncovering a mature hellebore.

You don’t need to do this, the raking! And in fact, the more eco-friendly option would be to just leave it alone, not disturbing any possible pollinator larvae, etc. Maybe someday, that’ll be how I garden entirely, as if we were in the wild — no one is raking away leaves in the woodland or prairie! I’m heading a little more that way every year, it seems.

But right now, I still do rake some of my beds clear, for various reasons. I let the leaves fall in autumn, and degrade there — the breakdown of leaf mould over ten years now has dramatically improved the clay soil in my garden, making it much easier to dig and plant in. But then I do rake it away in spring — we have enough leaves falling in my garden that in some places it makes a heavy, compacted layer, and that means my tiny bulbs can’t always push their way through. I love the thrill of uncovering a little emerging flowering beauty.

(I don’t compost right away — I rake them into a big leaf pile in a corner of the garden and let them be for a while longer. Some more pollinators may well emerge from there.)

For the hellebore, I raked around it with a small rake, then used gloved fingers to clear away the last of the dry leaves entangled. That left me with a lot of big, old green leaves, lots of flower buds in the center, and some new leaves starting. If the old leaves are raggedy and bothering you, you can trim them away; the new leaves will emerge in a few weeks. But I’m leaving mine for now, in the hopes that they’ll continue to soak up lots of sun, converting it to nutrients and growing a stronger plant overall. I may trim them away once the new leaves emerge fully, esp. if they’re looking shoddy by comparison.

Can you see that one tiny snowdrop that’s managed to push through the leaf mould? Once I raked away the thick layer, tons of other tiny shoots emerged. Soon that will be a nice big patch of snowdrops, to be followed by whatever other spring ephemeral bulbs I planted there. Probably some scilla, chionodoxa, reticulated iris, muscari, crocuses — classic early spring ephemeral bulbs.

I’ve just started learning more about native spring ephemerals. It can be confusing — when we talk about “native spring ephemerals”, it seems like we’re talking about plants (often not bulbs) that bloom anywhere from February to May. Whereas when we talk about “spring ephemeral bulbs”, we’re usually talking about early spring, February / March, the tiny little flowers that come before the daffodils and tulips start blooming.

From what I’ve seen, natives tend to be a little more expensive to buy, and a little slower to grow and get established. But if you’re interested in them, there are more and more showing up in local nurseries, and if people continue to buy them, they should become more readily available (and hopefully more affordable, as more growers invest in them?). I’ve started trying to add them into my garden, as my budget allows, so I hope that in future years, I’ll have more natives to show off. 

One plus is that while you have to plant most bulbs in the fall, many of the native spring ephemerals can be planted in spring. New hellebores can also be planted in spring, to return year after year. Which means it’ll soon be time to start haunting the garden stores. Yes, I’m the obsessed plant lady who shows up in March, with eager eyes and grabby hands — “Are they in yet?” Maybe this year I’ll call first…

Lime tree

Noticed this morning that the Makrut lime tree I bought for Kevin this Christmas (okay, for both of us (okay, maybe mostly for me)) has started blooming. Little limes coming, yay!

This is my second time trying a lime tree; the first time, I bought the smallest one they had, didn’t manage to water it well, and it quickly died. This time, I bit the bullet and bought the biggest one they had (because it was a PRESENT, see?), and so it has a much more established root system in a bigger pot, and can take less frequent (deep) watering. Doing well!

A complicated relationship with magazines

I have this weird love-hate relationship with magazines. I’ve bought a lot of them in my time — I went through a big Martha Stewart Living phase, for example. Cook’s Illustrated is a perennial favorite. All the shelter magazines were in heavy rotation when we were renovating our house, and these days, I’m reading (well, skimming) tons of food magazines, as I think about pitching and writing essays for them, mostly to help promote the cookbook. I even fantasize about an occasional Serendib Home magazine.

This time of year, the magazines are chock-full of resolutions and ways to improve your life. There’s something so seductive about the way magazine articles promise not just to entertain, but to inform, to make your life better. And you don’t need to read a big thick book first, no! Who has time for that? Here’s a helpful tip, a life hack. Something you can read in a few minutes (illustrated with gorgeous, sexy pictures) and implement immediately.

I’m not saying it’s a big lie, exactly. But if you read several issues of say, Real Simple, in a row, you realize that they’re basically telling you the same things over and over, such as advising you to get rid of your stuff! But what if you need your stuff, and can’t afford to just buy it again when you need it?

And all while they try to sell you more stuff (explicitly in marked ads, and implicitly in hidden advertorial content), slightly more expensive than your old stuff, but just that little bit prettier or more efficient. Presumably selling you those because the real money that supports the magazine comes from ad sales.

After being introduced at Clarion by our instructor Nicola Griffith to the parts of the publisher’s promo budget that go for things like magazine ‘advertorials’, I became deeply suspicious of the magazines themselves. (Honestly, I was a little shocked when I learned that which books go face front on the shelves, or on end caps, or on the front table, are paid for by the publishers. I was very naive.) That’s a lot of why I wanted my magazines (Clean Sheets, Strange Horizons, Jaggery) to be community-supported from the beginning. Though of course, the internet ad money mostly drying up within a few years contributed to that decision too…

I do still enjoy magazines. When I read an issue of The English Garden, I often do come away with at least 2-3 ideas that I make notes on, to try to implement in my own garden. Wouldn’t these rose vines look better with clematises climbing on them, so that you have active blooms in that spot for more of the year? If my home and garden are beautiful, it’s in large part due to all the magazines I’ve consumed. Also the books and the TV shows on design, of course, which mostly aren’t selling products to you quite as intensely, but the books usually have a larger up-front cost (hooray for libraries), and TV you’re paying for in other ways.

I’m just feeling a little conflicted about writing for magazines. I want to be careful to try to write things that are worth your time to read, even if the editors decide to pair my recipe for Instapot chicken curry with a feature spread on ‘the three best Instapots, ranked!’ A feature that was probably paid for by those particular Instapot manufacturers.

I can’t be too precious about that structure; it’d be hypocritical. That ad money is what lets the magazine exist, and what lets them pay me for my essay. And of course, I’m mostly writing my essay in the hopes that people like it enough that they read my bio at the end, notice that I have a cookbook for sale, and think “Oh, I want to buy that!” Capitalism, hmph. I wish I could just GIVE everyone copies of the cookbook. In the post-capitalist utopia to come, perhaps.

Just — I hope people are aware that so much of what these magazines are selling (peace, calm, an organized home, world cuisine recipes your children will adore), often require more money to achieve easily.

Quick tip! Buying a host of beautiful squared off, stackable glass jars will make your kitchen spices look much more organized, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, like something in a magazine! But those gorgeous square jars (oh, Container Store, I can’t quit you…) will also cost a lot more than recycling the spaghetti sauce jars and bouillon cube jars, the kind my mother uses to hold her spices.

Plus, if you display those spice jars on open shelves near the stove, you’d better be able to afford the time to clean them of accumulated kitchen grease and dust at least quarterly — monthly would be better. You need to afford the time yourself, or be able to afford to pay something else to do it.

Well. I don’t mean to be too dreary and fun-spoiling. And I’m not undoing capitalism today. But I can at least try to think about what aspects of the things I do can be replicated without spending a lot of money or time. And I can think about what makes for good design, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive.

Mostly I can try to keep talking about this issue, every once in a while at least, because the last thing I want is for someone to see a beautiful photo of my food, or my kitchen, or my garden, and beat themselves up because they struggle to achieve the same. It’s not you — it’s the system, and in particular, the way the economic divide has widened in the last decades.

Maybe a magazine piece can offer a tiny bit of help, though, if done well. A new practice that clicks, and turns into a rewarding habit?

A little easing of the road, a new perspective, a spot of beauty. That’s something to strive for.