“Patience Is a Virtue….”


It’s a virtue that in some ways I possess in spades. I mean, (cough, cough), I spend all day with toddlers and I almost never yell or lose my cool. Truly.

But sometimes I do NOT want to wait. Sometimes I am all about the instant gratification. Sometimes I am not at all patient.

Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago my sister-in-law gave me a gorgeous orchid. I had never had one before, and I was head over heels in love with its tender beauty. I read the little card that came with my plant. It said to give the plant 1/4 of a cup of water every week.

I was a little bit perplexed, because that seemed like a pretty meager amount of water for a tropical plant. I asked my sister-in-law how to grow it, and she gave me the advice that I later found online. Add an ice cube once a week and the plant will flourish.

Really? Once again, that didn’t seem like much water for a jungle plant. Plus, it was really really really cold water. Wouldn’t jungle rain be warmer?

Still, I did what I was advised to do. Because I hate being cold, I skipped the ice and went with the 1/4 cup of cold water once a week.

My flowers stayed in bloom.

They stayed in bloom so long in fact, that when I went to visit my 87 year old Mom, and saw her orchid starting to wilt, I offered to take it home and save it.

Yay me!

I put both orchids in a sunny spot and watered them every 7-10 days with a little splash.

They both dropped their petals, lost some leaves and keeled over.

I was heartbroken.

I mean, I don’t have a lot of skills to brag about, but I thought I could at least keep a houseplant alive! One of the orchids turned totally brown and began to look more like a tumbleweed than a jungle creature. I sadly tossed her onto my compost pile and turned to her barely alive sister.

“Please tell me how to bring you back,” I whispered sadly to my spindly friend. “Look on Youtube,” she whispered back, her voice so weak that I could barely hear the faint hope it held out. “Google orchids….google….care for orchids…..”

I wiped the tears from eyes and followed her sage advice.

And there I learned that (AHEM) I was right all along. Orchids are tropical plants. Ergo, they will thrive in environments that mimic the tropics. As in: lots and lots of tepid water dumped on them all at once, then long periods of heat, then you repeat the process.

So I did as advised. I moved my weakened limp leafed friend away from the direct light of the window (forest canopy, anyone????) I let her roots rise up from the pot and hang outside like spindly spider legs (orchids grow outside of the soil) and I watered the crap out of her every time the wood chips and bark beneath her felt dry.

Lo and freakin’ behold. One fine day, a lovely, bright green shoot arose from her stem. Up, up, up it crept. It took a full month for me to be sure that it wasn’t just another root.

But at last, this courageous and intrepid plant, sentenced to life in a completely non-tropical New England home, sent up a gorgeous stem filled with buds.

I rejoiced! There was prosecco. (OK, fine, there’s always prosecco here, but still. I was very happy). There was music and dancing and as the formerly limp green leaves of the orchid rose up again in good health, there was much cheering of fabulous gardening Nonni.

Every day the buds grew larger. Every day, the purple and green stem arched it’s way toward the sunlight.

Every day Nonni waited to rejoice at the fact that she had brought this nearly dead exotic plant back to life. Nonni waited with gleeful anticipation for the first glorious flower.

She kept the orchid close to the sunlight, but not bathed in it. She turned it a couple of times a day. She watered it thoroughly with room temperature water every few days when the winter heat dried it out.

Nonni eventually started to sing to her lovely tropical guest. “Oh, beautiful plant, so full of life!!!!” she trilled, hoping to nudge it into bloom. “Where the heck are you, anyway?”

Each day the buds got bigger. And fuller. And more alive with promise.

But. The winter days passed. And nothing happened.

As in. No. Thing.

Nonni was losing her grip.

And Hannaford’s had pretty little orchid plants in full bloom for only a few bucks. Nonni bought one.

Isn’t she so pretty? No ice cubes for this girl!

OK. So maybe it wasn’t entirely fair to bring home a sweet young thing, but I was getting a little bit short of patience. I won’t say that I was hoping to shame my recovering orchid into bloom. But I did think a little competition might be helpful.

Alas.

Here I sit, in front of my not-cold-not-dry-not-too-sunny orchid. I am still singing to her lovely full buds.

But I’m almost out of patience. I mean, come on already!

Give me all the toddlers in the world. I am not sure I have the patience to deal with shy orchid blossoms.

Git out here already, before I replace you with some early daffodils!

Ready. To. Burst. Open.

Scilla Siberica


I was only 31 when my family and I moved into our first home with a garden. We had rented apartments before then, but this was our first single family home. It was only a rental for us, but it was my first experience with real gardening.

The house we rented, my husband, our baby daughter and I, was small and old. But it was kept in perfect shape by our landlord, whose parents had lived there for decades. The back yard of the little Cape held a small lawn and a lovely little shady flower garden, complete with overgrown irises, loads of day lilies, and several clumps of what I later learned were gorgeous purple spiderwort plants. There were two small birch trees and a little winding path through the flower beds.

I was completely enamored of this tiny fairy garden, and spent many hours dividing, pruning and otherwise reclaiming the flowers that grew there.

The front of the little gray house held some treasures, too. A gorgeous and absolutely huge hydrangea grew in one corner. Two beautiful white spirea bushes flanked the front windows.

And in the springtime, all three springs that I spent in that pretty little house, the front garden bed was a mass of little blue flowers. A carpet of gorgeous blue that poked up through the snow to greet the coming warmth.

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I had to do quite a bit of research to identify the little blue flowers as “Siberian Squill” or scilla siberica. Each flower grew from a tiny bulb, only the size of a pea. I learned that the scilla bulbs would spread and form a carpet of bright color every early spring. They arrived with the snowdrops and lasted until the tulips bloomed.

I loved them so much! My little girl and I would pick small bunches of them and place them in tiny shot glasses and diminutive bud vases all around our house. They were my favorite harbingers of spring, greeting me before the earliest crocuses and bringing the hope of warmth back to our frosty New England landscape.

When we moved out of that sweet little rental, and into our first ever house, I brought a small handful of those little bulbs with me. I wanted the beauty of that blue carpet outside my door every spring!

But our new house came without a garden, and with four times as much land to fill as the place we had left behind.

In that first spring in our new place, I managed to carefully and slowly craft one flower bed. I added compost, top soil and a rock wall to hold it all in place. I planted a few annuals, and one or two bushes. And I carefully planted the ten bulbs of the scilla siberica, in hopes of seeing that carpet of blue the next spring.

Well, as any gardener will tell you, the best laid plans rarely pan out.

It has been 28 years since I planted those first ten little bulbs. Every spring I have seen one or two plants, separated by feet of icy mud, poking their heads up into the cold spring air. They always come up, but they are so few and far between that any idea of a “carpet” has long since faded away.

Until this week.

Here I am now, 62 years old. I’ve been in this house for almost three decades. I have flower beds all over the yard, and even a little vegetable patch. I grow irises, and day lilies and coreopsis. There are peonies, astilbes, wild roses and clumps of thyme and oregano. I have daffodils, crocuses, tulips and grape hyacinth. We have phlox, both tall and creeping, myrtle and daisies and black-eyed susans.

Our gardens are fully established by now, and the biggest chore is dividing and eliminating the plants that are overgrown.

And for the first time, the very first time in 28 years, I now have a small “carpet” of lovely blue scilla right out in front of my house.

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I’m totally delighted to see them there, in a clump that promises to turn into a carpet. But I can’t help wondering, “Where in the world have you all been for 28 years?” Why did they suddenly make an appearance this year?

Well, I have a theory.

You seen, by the time the young mother that I was moved into our little grey Cape house and hesitantly took over the garden, the woman who had planted it all had passed on to her next adventure. But I learned from her son, and from some of her neighbors, that she had been such an avid gardener that she’d planted spring bulbs even when she was in her 70’s and bound to a wheelchair.

I had taken the bulbs from the garden of an old lady who simply loved her flowers. I had planted them in my youth and inexperience, but they had mostly stayed dormant. Dormant until this year, when I find myself realizing that I am now an old lady who simply loves my flowers. While I’m not in a wheelchair, my health is such that I can only garden for a short time each day.

I wonder, as I look at my little patch of bright Siberian blue, I wonder if they were waiting for me to reach just the right stage in my life to fully appreciate them.

I never knew the woman who planted those bulbs in front of her little gray Cape, but I feel very close to her tonight.

Scilla Siberica. You really should get yourself some!

Is This Healthy? Or Am I Kidding Myself?


The thing about summer is that all of the veggies are amazing.

Right?

It’s July now. So I can drive up the street to the local farmstand where I can buy fresh, buttery lettuce, fresh peas, tomatoes still warm from the sun, cucumbers that are as crisp as breadsticks.

I can run up to the weekly farmer’s market and get garlic scapes, fresh spring onions, tender, fresh kale.

I can go home and microwave some beets, then cool them and mix them into all those fresh, tender greens with a bit of goat cheese.

Holy delicious.

I am the healthiest eater in the world from June through October.

But does all that delicious green goodness buy me extra time on this earth if I refuse to touch salad in the winter?

I mean, I try. Every single year, I try to eat salad in the winter. I buy grocery store lettuce (bitter!) and grocery store cukes (flabby!) and grocery store tomatoes (tasteless!).  And they sit in the fridge until they begin to liquify, at which point I give up until the following summer.

So am I still healthy if I sort of stock up for six months? Can I still call myself a healthy eater if I only eat roasted carrots, beets, potatoes through the fall? Is it still a good veggie side dish if it’s roasted butternut squash with butter and real maple syrup?

My theory is that New Englanders learned to eat a whole pile of greens all summer (I DO!). And then they learned to preserve summer veggies like corn and tomatoes and beans (I DO THAT, TOO!) so in the winter they could eat pig fat while telling themselves “Well, at least we have veggies put up in the old root cellar.” (YUP, THAT’S ME.)

The early New England settlers managed to survive without eating hothouse tomatoes. They didn’t die of scurvy just because they refused to eat hothouse kale.

And I won’t either.

Right?

By shucking the corn and taking the peas out of their pods all spring and summer, I am earning my way into ‘healthy eater’s heaven’, aren’t I?

I love summer food. The peaches, the cherry tomatoes, the ripe berries all over the yard. I love it. I could forage all summer on the garden delights that surround me, as long as I could get a free pass to eat pork and butter my bread all winter long.

What do you think?

Am I delusional, or can I really save up my health points before the cold New England nights set in once again?

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