Gardening, and Life, Unforced

I failed, again. The orchids died during the winter. I just can’t grow them.

Maybe impatience, watching too carefully and an improper setting too close to heating vents doomed the orchids. But that’s okay. Because I’m through with the needless trying, in gardening and other aspects of life.

I’m no longer envious when I see others in the flow, doing something so easily. Well, maybe a little. But I don’t need to try to duplicate the ease of others now.

Because I have my own zone. My garden, for instance, is distinct, unique to me. The blooms fit my personality. Like the old-fashioned, predictable zinnia, which in my garden is anything but.

Aunt Re had her African violets, which were perfect, not a spot on them. In fact, you had to stare a moment to make sure they were real.

She was a sweet woman, a worrier. The violets must have liked being made over. She kept them in a room with a big sliding glass door covered by drapes she would pull open and closed throughout the day, carefully calibrating the light just so.

She never had the children she wanted, and lavishly loved her nieces and nephews, making us feel special. We all responded in kind. Most of us, to this day, when asked about our favorite relative, will answer, “Aunt Re.”

Then, there’s the baking. For years, I’ve made a little southern butter cookie called brown-eyed Susans. They have a chocolate splash on top with a sliver of almond. I’ve given out the recipe, but no one makes it the way I do. That and pecan bar squares, which a friend in Tennessee told me how to make and people often request it now.

Once, a woman I knew who was an excellent cook insisted I was giving out those recipes with altered ingredients on purpose, so others would fail. Which was ridiculous. I’m happy to share and even offered to hold a “baking class” to try to find out what these cooks were doing to make the cookies hard.

With all baking, for instance, I follow the specified time broadly, but I watch and check too. Sometimes the items just need to come out of the oven sooner and that can’t be predicted.

I know when something is done by looking at it, touching it, sometimes. Plants are the same way, the ones I grow just feel right to me, they look right. So the orchids are the last ones in my wasted effort category.

Like relationships with the people we care for, I don’t force them or try too hard now. There are so many beautiful blooms out there, so much love. And I am safe in the knowledge that somehow, like these surprising Hymenocallis bulbs, they will find me.

Hymenocallis

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Feeling Lost Without the Garden

I’m feeling lost without my garden and zinnia and rose bouquets that filled my house for months. I’m dabbling in the kitchen to try to fill the void.

We are strictly in survival mode here. That means I am just doing my best to keep the plants in pots alive until April when I can start taking them back outdoors for a bit during the day. Maybe I can plant some cuttings in May. June is for the zinnia seeds.

Meanwhile, everything has been cut way back for the long, cold winter in Northern Virginia. My husband, the Iowan, thinks I am not normal for saying that. But for someone born in Texas and raised in Alabama, the winters are long and cold here. And they always will be (meaning I’ve been here for 30 years and I’m not going to change my mind).

My plants are squeezed into small spaces and corners with trays of gravel and water around hopefully to provide some humidity against the onslaught of the electric furnace heat. It’s cold here, in the 30s at night.

I’m blue about it. I’ve never done much indoor gardening in winter other than buy the occasional houseplant, which I don’t do much with. I promised myself to do something about that this year. But so far I’m resorting to my old tricks. I’m baking again and catching up with old friends. I have three book club sessions this weekend, one of them at my house.

Recently, I said sure when my husband asked me to bake cupcakes for someone who works with him. It was his birthday and my husband assumed I would use a mix and buy some frosting. He should know me better than that by now.

I decorated some with chocolate grated from a semi-sweet chocolate bar with a carrot scraper. I sprinkled others with French Dragees. That’s a smart way to market sprinkles to grownups. I also have some glowy powder, fairy dust I guess, in the small bottle.

I used a recipe from a restaurant called Eve’s in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The cake is light and airy, angel’s food-like, but the taste is buttery, like pound cake. Absolutely delicious. It wasn’t easy to make cupcakes out of this confection, but I managed. The frosting is made with cream and powdered sugar. Heavenly. Eve’s is famous for its birthday cakes.

The chefs make a tiny one and tints it pink. They say even straight-laced businessmen are seen in the dining room at night, digging into the small, pink birthday cakes. The cupcakes I made weren’t pink, but everyone loved them.

I think all of us should be fussed over on our birthdays.

But my fussing is because I don’t have the garden. The baking is old news. I’m not really happy with this substitution. After all, I’ve been baking since I was a very little girl and would pull a chair up to the counter to stand on. I would pull down ingredients and make cookies and cakes and everything my siblings and I liked from Mother’s cookbooks.

We thought we were scamming her. She gave us free run of her kitchen and everything in it. If we needed ingredients, we got on bikes and rode down the country lanes to the general store and charged things to her account. That way we indulged our sweets habit with my baking using Mother’s ingredients and my labor. And we saved our allowances for other things. Meanwhile, I taught myself to be a decent cook and baker.

But the baking is not really scratching the itch I have now.

Because it’s not really feeding me down deep inside the way the garden did this past summer. Being surrounded by all that wild beauty, working in it, touching it, bringing the flowers inside, filled me with such light that it carried over into everything I did all summer. I miss that.

How do I replace that in the cold dark winter? I just don’t have any idea.

I’ll make it, I always do. I’m just wondering what other gardening fanatics in cold climates do in the winter. While waiting for, say, the lillies to come back.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 5:16 am  Comments (11)  
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Cold Weather Stop Gaps

drink-1

After losing my summer garden, I decided to turn to drink. Although not that kind of drink. The bottle of Campari in the picture is ancient. Actually, I had a friend I had not seen in a long time over for tea last weekend.

I made finger sandwiches, cream cheese cucumber and minced ham with pickle (yes, I cut off the crusts). And I baked pumpkin bread, my favorite, the kind with black walnuts and yogurt. The recipe calls for three loaves. If I’m going to that kind of trouble, why not make enough to freeze for later, is my attitude.

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I have lots of tea pots and many kinds of tea. My husband gave me this teapot, way back when.

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We sat and chatted about mutual friends, about the neighborhood and our children. About my attempts to go back to work fulltime. It was good to catch up.

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Of course I can’t just exist on friendship alone. A couple of days later I was down by the river, walking, on a glorious day. That’s when I finally felt happy again.

And although I shouldn’t have done it, I brought back a few bits and pieces of the river as keepsakes. To keep me from calling that suicide hot line. I firmly believe in leaving wild things in their natural habitat. But, well, the cold is settling in and I needed them. I won’t do it again.

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At first I thought “these are all scratchy” and then I realized they are pieces of shell that are fossilized. There were many of them.

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And finally this, my favorite part of the week. A few little pieces that I crafted into something all my own, to keep over the long, cold winter. To help keep me from descending too far down into that dark winter hole. The place where people who thrive in summer light and heat go when they end up in places where it is cold for the majority of the year.

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I absolutely love it.

I might make it after all.

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Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 2:40 am  Comments (4)  
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