Something Lovely, Something New

I decided to take Anand’s suggestion and come out to the shed after lunch to work, so I wouldn’t keep getting irritated by mess in the house and wanting to snap at my family to clean it up faster.

I admit, I’d sort of avoided getting started in shed work season this year, even though it’s warmed up enough for it (I have a space heater and an electric blanket, so it’s quite toasty in there), mostly because I’ve been so incredibly busy the last few weeks that I haven’t had time to do any clear up in the backyard and it’s a disaster, trash and all kinds of gunk. Depressing to look at it!

I took ten minutes just now to clear away the thick leaves that were smothering the little yellow winter aconites just by my shed door. I planted them for the first time last fall, so the flowers are new to my garden this spring.

I’m not normally a yellow person, but winter aconites DO bloom incredibly early, which is a big plus in my book, and my son loves yellow the best (“like the sun!”), so I thought I could allow some yellow flowers in my back garden for him, at least. And already, I’m quite ridiculously fond of them, if only for the very silly little green ruff they have, which makes me think of Queen Victoria and court jesters and the like.

 

 

Welcome little ones. Something lovely, something new.

 

Gotta hang in there, and you’ll get through

Hellebore.

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Snowdrops.

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Crocus tommasinianus, and again with heuchera.

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This photo makes me laugh. It’s like the snowdrop is the first one out, and he’s talking to the crocuses. “All right, you young whippersnappers. This is early spring, and early spring is no joke, you know? We may get some snow. We might even get another freeze. But you just gotta be tough, gotta hang in there, and we’ll get through…”

Snowdrops and Hellebores

The snowdrops are well up in my garden now, and the hellebore buds as well. Funny moment as I was raking leaves away from them this morning — an older gentleman said as he was passing, “Be careful — they’re going to hire you to do that for the whole neighborhood!” Heh. I admit, a little bit of me was tempted to say, “Fine with me!” It felt so good being out and working in the open air this morning. But I wouldn’t really want to garden full-time. I’m happier writing and teaching other people how to garden. 

As you can see in the second photo, there are some snowdrops with very yellow leaves. Those are the ones that were smothered under a thick layer of redbud leaves — there was no way they’d be able to push through those, but now that they’re raked away, the yellow leaves should go green and they should straighten up and be just fine, like the others.

I’m thinking a lot these days about how to incorporate more eco-friendly practices into my garden, given that I still am the kind of gardener who delights in new varieties, showy blossoms, etc. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever go completely over to a purely native garden. I don’t plant invasive if I can help it, and I’m slowly removing the invasives I have already.

I’m also thinking of actually digging out some of my parkway strip this year, removing non-natives and replacing them with natives. My “Fairy” roses replaced with native roses — the website warns that native roses can be aggressive and aren’t suited for small gardens, but the parkway strip is contained, so perhaps they’d be okay there? (Advice welcome from those who know.)

And for the snowdrops — I originally had spotted them all over the garden, thinking it was charming to have little clumps all over. And it is. But it means I have no idea where they are, and I have to rake up all the leaf mould to uncover them, disturbing a host of overwintering pollinators. I’m thinking that this year, if time permits, I’m going to dig up the random clumps of snowdrops and move them to be near the hellebores. That way, I can use the hellebores (whose green leaves are visible in the leaf mould) as a marker — I can just rake carefully around them, uncover the snowdrops, and leave the rest of the garden alone.

That can apply more broadly to my other bulbs too, my daffodils and tulips etc. and so on. Keep them in certain sections (mostly bordering the path), and leave deep stretches of leaf-mould-covered garden for perennials, that will emerge slowly and have no trouble pushing through the leaves.

And then the leaves will have more time to break down and enrich the soil, continuing to transform what was once hard-packed clay into something rich and nutrient-dense. That’ll save me money too — I can skip putting down a layer of mushroom compost, and probably go lighter on the late spring mulching too.

It’ll take a little effort to shift over to that approach; once the snowdrops have bloomed, I’ll dig them up and move them while they’re still ‘in the green,’ to give them the best chance of surviving transplant. (Dig deep when moving bulbs, to try to avoid cutting the stalk away from the bulb itself — deeper for bigger bulbs that bloom later.)

I think in the long run, it’ll make for a much more pollinator-rich garden, which means, among other things, more flowers. Win-win.

A project that crystallized last week

So, I think I’m ready to talk a little about this new project that crystallized last week. (Photo of dragonfruit chocolate bars ‘crystallized’ for inspiration.)

 

There are multiple elements coming together in this, things I’ve been working on and thinking about for a long time. I’m still not positive of what the final shape will be.

• the memoir: I’ve been working for a while on a project titled _Domestic Resistance_, a meditation on how we stay sane while under siege in the Trump presidency, how handwork and reclamation of heritage skills, appreciation of culture and diversity, celebration of community and the joys of making all came together to sustain me (as I worked on my Sri Lankan cookbook in the last few years) through intense work, deep political frustration, and occasional flailings of despair. Asking how we can work for change without exhausting ourselves.

• the makerspace: we may have found a place in Forest Park for the first stage of the writing / textile arts / tech makerspace that we started planning two years ago. Our hope is that it allows the community to share their knowledge, help each other over the initial humps of uncertainty and anxiety, finding our way to new skills and approaches that make our lives better in a host of ways. I have some legal and financial details to work out still, and then there’ll be a Kickstarter to help get us off the ground (looking for around $25K in initial funding, I think), but I hope we’ll be up and running soon, possibly by May.

(NOTE: the space won’t be wheelchair accessible, unfortunately; you’ll need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to access it. My plan is that if people who can’t access it want to sign up for a class, we’ll find an alternate accessible location for that class. And then long-term, we’ll continue looking for accessible spaces in the area. Ideally, I’d eventually like to grow into a constellation of spaces in Forest Park, Oak Park, Austin, etc.)

• the magazine: this is the newest bit, and still a bit inchoate. For my memoir, I was already thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a traditional book — I was wondering what it might look like as a quarterly magazine, sort of a cross between Martha Stewart Living and Granta. Glossy, beautiful photos, a year in the life, combining running for office, the tail end of cancer treatment, the house and garden and parenting and engaging in local politics, and of course, cooking.

Last week, I realized that it would be SO GREAT to extend that into a broader publication. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by how balkanized communications media are becoming, and at least locally, we’re really splitting demographically, with some people reading the print Wednesday Journal, some people mostly on FB groups (often very private ones), some people mostly auditory listeners, and the kids are on TikTok and SnapChat doing god knows what…

If we had a publication that showcased progressive voices and conversations, in a variety of areas (garden, food, schools, etc.) and if we could push it out in multiple media (a print version, an online version, a podcast, TikToks, etc.), maybe we’d have a chance at actually talking to each other, actually listening.

So often when I was running for office, I found that with something as simple as getting rid of fines at the library, people I talked to were initially resistant, but all they needed was for someone to actually present the argument to them, and then they realized that yes, doing this would actually align with their values. And we could afford it too.

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That’s where my head is right now. I have a lot more specifics, but I think the next stage is a whole host of conversations. I’m going to want to shape this very carefully, if it’s to do what I hope it’ll do, and I’m going to need a lot of community input.

But I think my own memoir would be interesting in conversation with a broader community magazine, and the magazine would be in conversation with what we do at the makerspace, and as Serendib Press develops, Stephanie and Heather and Darius and Emmanuel and Julia are learning more and more about the publication process, so we’re getting into a better position to do this well.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to go out of town, and much of March is super-absorbed with travel and Feast launch events. But I’m going to be talking to people, local and otherwise, about all of this. We’ll see where it takes us.

(We’re going to need a name.)

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: https://www.facebook.com/events/2758810204233470/

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…