November 18, 2008

A Little Poetry

by Linda Frank

Upon myself I take their sorrows.
A heart so burdened by the weight.
My pace grows slowed and labored
With knowledge of their destined fate.

I do not deign to say “I know”
For that is not my right to feel.
But of their lives,
So callous held
By others who’d not think me real,
To be so bothered
And seek from harm
The ones who cannot shout...


Mercy's pleas are little heard
Above the deaf and hardened crowd.
Yet in my saddened, stifled heart
Silent cries ring clear and loud.


November 12, 2008

What's It All About?

Whether it's political, social, educational, recreational or avocational, I believe gardening is a combination of all those factors.

Political because politically-influenced policies, regulations and laws will trickle down to effect my environment; what seeds I plant; how clean my air will be; and the safety of my water source...among other things. Social because where more than one gardener gathers, either in person or on the internet, some sort of personal interaction ensues.

It's educational because any gardener worth their weight in compost can tell you - or they should tell you - that they never stop learning. Hence, my life-long-held philosophy that there is no such thing as "an expert gardener". That often-times, self-appointed title presumes a particular gardener knows all there is to know about gardening with little or no wiggle room for any further information to penetrate their already overwhelmingly-overloaded and permanently-closed-for-repairs font of gardening knowledge. Phooey!

Recreational because, gosh darn it, it's fun. It only ceases to be fun when it's laced with pain. Even then, as long as the pain isn't too persistent and can, at least, be managed, there's still a modicum of fun involved sometimes in just the simple gardening act of pruning. Of course, who amongst us hasn't spent less time pruning and more time just standing and staring at the sky, the birds, dashing antics of chipmunks, tall stalks bending in the breeze or just felt the all-encompassing calm enfold us in warm layers from an errant sun peaking between drifting clouds in that sky which so mesmerizes us? All this "fun", despite increasing aches & pains and knees that refuse to bend as much or hips that snap, crackle and pop like that old bowl of Rice Krispies this old fart remembers from my 1950's breakfast table, or the reality that we just can't keep doing what we've been doing the way we've been doing it or to the extent to which we've been doing's still the best form of recreation even for us creaky, old fart gardeners.

Finally, it's an avocation because, I've chosen to devote as much time to it as one would devote to an honest-to-goodness-money-earning job. I don't get paid for it, but I do it anyway. These days, however, I find myself 'avocating' less and less in the garden. Not out of choice, but necessity. Yet what I do do still provides a requisite necessity of diversion; a physical and metaphysical diversion which works better than any bullet on which I can bite to 'ease the pain' of what ails me at the moment be it physiological or psychological.

Consequently, if it's pain I'm trying to escape, then the last thing I want to invite into my circle of diversion is any talk or thoughts of any form of pain- either my own pain or any pain of the animals who share my garden of solace.

My garden has become more and more a safe haven for me and all creatures who've deigned to share it with me, and I might add, who have allowed me to share it with them! Many are creatures who others would dispatch and snuff with nary a care, concern or whit, if it meant protecting a petunia, a tomato plant or even an expensive, long-standing shrub of some kind or just for the shear, unfathomable ego of mounting a dead animal over a mantelpiece.

I need my garden- and all living things in it - to help 'ease my pain'. My contribution and thanks to them for that gift is that I will try to do whatever is in my power to ease theirs. I speak, as always, from a gardener's - not a farmer's - perspective. My garden is my avocation...not a vocation. So my ability to sacrifice that petunia, tomato plant or expensive shrub (on which I probably shouldn't have spent so much money to begin with) is not tied to my living wage or sustenance.

I am an organic gardener endeavoring to remain true to the tenet of "doing the least harm". I'm merely given the privilege of sharing my piece of earth with those who, in reality, have more of a right to exist there than I do and who did so long before my arrival. I figure if they can endure my frailties, faults, mistakes, errors, and downright stupidity, then the least I can do is offer them the same gift, leniency and forgiveness in return.

My circle of acquaintances and topics of gardening conversations has grown tighter these day and totally removed from those who relish and regale the number and methodologies of murder and pain inflicted upon the (perhaps) distant cousins of my extended animal families who reside in or around my place of solace. From the smallest chipmunk to the beautiful, gentle deer families with their babies in tow who grace my back yard...all are welcome in my garden. They have nothing to fear from this gardener and I have everything in a spiritual sense to gain from them.

Time and life is shorter than we think. Too short to waste. Too short not to recognize how sacred all Life is. Pain is too frequent in the world. At the hand of God and nature, it is beyond my control, whether in my garden or out. Yet I can still mourn. At the hand of Man, however, I can not only mourn, but my conscience cannot condone it by silence, and it's my choice to disassociate myself with the multitudes who casually dismiss the pain, suffering and death of God's creatures' as inconsequential.

I am an idealist, some may say. Some will also say I'm naive. (A concept so removed from my personality, it's more than just a little ludicrous to even contemplate.) Some will say I've grown reclusive. But then, if they really knew me, they'd know this already. Some may have confrontational comments about this entry. I don't know whether I should be flattered or annoyed for all "they" might have to say. But then, I'd have to give care in the first place, now wouldn't I? And guess what?

November 04, 2008



I'm proud to have been one of those people and proud and blessed that this has happened in my lifetime.

Cowardice asks the question: "Is it safe"?
Expediency asks the question:"Is it politic"?
Vanity asks the question:"Is it popular?"
But conscience asks the question:"Is it right?"
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one what is right.
M.L. King


No more words to say despite the following:

October 29, 2008

Away From The Garden

"To say nothing or remain silent about that which you consider unethical or unacceptable, is to condone it, and like a cancer, allow it to spread"

But, sometimes, even the most verbose, most outraged and most saddened of us can never raise our voices loud enough, express our outrage strong enough or cry rivers of tears deep enough over the pain and suffering inflicted upon the weak, the helpless and the voiceless by the heartless, the cruel and the inhumane.

Sometimes to rail against the prevailing wind of insensitivities is to do so in vain. Ultimately, our only recourse may be to turn from those inevitable gusts, pull our coats of loved ones, ethics, principles and all that is precious to us - even tighter...closer... and follow our own path away from the storm and ignorance that rages around us.

Or not.

BTW: There is no more to read right now.

September 10, 2008

And The Rains Came...and Came...and...

...when the clouds broke, and the parched earth drank, even the grass plumes were once again fat and happy.

After over a month with nary more than a spit or two of moisture from the sky, I'd begun the process of culling the weak and needy. Beginning with the annuals which I knew would be headed for the compost shortly anyway, I made my 'Sophie's Choice' of who would go and who would be given another day's reprieve.

For weeks we'd been teased with eagerly anticipated prognostications of precipitation. (Try saying that three times fast). The darkening clouds would roll in and blot out the sun's searing rays which continued to bake right through the layers of mulch and dry the soil beneath. Winds would kick up, sucking out whatever moisture remained in shriveling, wilting leaves. The cloying humidity smothered plants and prohibited my pathetic attempts at simple tasks like deadheading. It's hard to do much of anything in the garden when there's an elephant standing on your chest flogging you with a wet towel. But, the tease of rain would be just that: a sadistic taunting followed by a quick return to New Jersey's version of the Sahara.

I'd just about exhausted the paltry remnants of water in my rain barrel. No longer could I see water glistening beneath the screened lid. Now when I lifted the lid, all I could hear was the echoing "plunk" of condensation that dripped from the barrel's inside walls and slapped into the every-lowering water level below.

The daily triage of hose dragging to water perennials in distress and the meager remains of potted annuals, became mandatory and more loathesome as temperatures increased. As any thrifty, water-harvesting organic gardener might have considered, I pondered if I should have collected the sweat dripping from my brow, smearing my glasses and running down my chin to at water at least one small plant or two. But if I'd leaned over that long to catch the droplets, I'm fairly certain the garden would've started to spin, my knees buckled, and the chipmunks would've quickly taken up residence next to my prostrate body and under my garden hat . In my garden, if anything lays immobile long enough, one of them will surely stake squatters' rights. "If you lay there, they will come" and begin storing sunflower seeds and acorns in your ears.

But, mercifully, the rains finally did come. When moisture is bottled up in clouds that long, teasing the air for weeks on end, it's release explodes in of a single huge, pelleting deluge. The sky continued to drain itself in sporadic bursts over long days or steady downpours each night. The drenching sheets of rain hurled and crashed onto the dry earth- bowing, bending and breaking the already-stressed, tall stems of helianthus, physostegia, cosmos, cleome and gomphrena. It splayed open clumps of joe pye weed, spirea, phlox, boltonia, ornamental grasses just beginning to sport fluffy heads and lay prostrate on the ground soil-splashed arching buddleia panicles. Paths were blocked with toppled stems of tall ageratum and bulbous-headed crested cockscomb. But, I didn't care. Free watering was free watering, and sometimes a few plants must incur some damage for the others to survive. And there was a sense of renewed security in the knowledge that the rain's force and speed sluicing down the gutters had filled my waiting - empty - rain barrel once again. I breathed easily at the thought of not hearing that sad "plunk" any longer while also hearing the near-audible sigh of relief from my thirsty garden charges.

Yet my glee and relief was soon overtaken with overwhelming guilt that my area's good fortune had caused countless misfortunes for those in other parts of the country who'd been victimized by a seemingly endless onslaught of hurricanes and devastating storms. No sooner had waters subsided in those areas, another monstrous whirlwind would barrel up from the Caribbean making land along the eastern or western gulf shores. It was the remnants of one of those tragic storms that was at that moment filling my rain barrel and reviving my garden. Although relieved for my garden and for my body which, at least temporarily, wouldn't have to endure baking sun and exacerbate an aching back and neck by hauling hoses and hefting watering cans, I was deeply disturbed and saddened at the more perishable cost to others. My elation quickly became as deflated and flattened as the plants now strewn in beds and blocking paths. Plants, after all, are just plants.

The storms here came in relays over the next few days. After most had subsided to an occasional, sporadic trickle, I'd do reconnaisance of the battered victims in my garden. The fallen branches and huge clumps of oak leaves on the lawn, I'd leave for my husband to gather. But I knew that if I didn't attempt immediate e.r. of plants pelted down by those rains, they'd continue to grow in that sideways, pseudo-espaliered position we've all seen.

With twine, bamboo stakes, sapling cuttings, and sections of strong-stemmed-but-no-longer-useful plants, I wandered the garden making repairs, propping up the 'keepers' and pulling out those plants that just weren't worth the time and trouble. I was still making my "Sophie's Choice" - only now it wasn't the rationing of water, but its swift overabundance that guided my decisions. As I propped and repaired my garden back to some semblance of presentable life for perhaps another month or so, I couldn't - nor should I have - denied a sense of shame at my comparatively inconsequential concerns for my garden when the shattered lives of humans and animals - decidedly more traumatized by these storms - would need much more than a few bits of twine, some branches and a month to repair their bowed and broken lives.

Everything may be relative. But everything, certainly, is not as replaceable as a plant.

August 20, 2008

Never Again. Never Again.

There ought to be a "Do Not Buy-That-Plant-Ever-Again Registry", just as there is a "Do Not Call Registry". If there were, I'd sign up immediately. However, if I have an established, albeit lapsed relationship with a particular business or organization, I can still receive their unsolicited, unwelcome calls. So, I suspect plants I've coveted and purchased in the past would be exempt from my Do Not Buy Plant Registries as well. Given that my garden has played hostess to a myriad of different plants over the years, that might make registering on such a list a bit rhetorical, not to mention redundant, ridiculous and uproariously pathetic.

But this year if I have to commission some nerdy kid to develop a microchip I can have implanted on my credit card (can you do that?) which will list - with a skull and crossbones after each one - the names of plants that will be rejected when that little strip is scanned through the charge card thingy, then I'll fork over the money to the little Steve Jobs/Bill Gates wunderkind that I would have spent (*see: wasted) on plants that consistently tug at my heartstrings and aforementioned charge card and leave both me and my wallet empty.

I've made lists in the past. I've jotted the usual suspects down on post-its to remember and stuck them in places I can't remember. I've saved plant tags in a manila envelope marked "NEVER BUY AGAIN!". I've photographed the culprits in all stages of anticipated glory right on down to eventual disappointing demise and filed them in an especially created iPhoto library titled "Losers". I've even attempted to enlist the aid of squirrels and chipmunks to nip at my ankles if they see me toting one of the forbidden plants from the back of the car along with the groceries I originally went out to buy but was inexplicably...yeah, that's it..."inexplicably" diverted to a nursery. And should personal bodily attacks by Chip & Dale & Friends fail to thwart my caving in to yet another guara, polemonium (Jacob's Ladder) or a torturous list of I-wanna-bees-in-my-garden...then the wily, fuzzy-tailed acrobats and darting, striped cheek-stuffers have my full permission to nibble, tromp, pull, munch, drop nuts and make homes beneath and upon said waste-of-money-and-time plants.

I admit it. I cannot help myself. I am weak. Each year, I am lured by guara's waiving wands of white, pink or rose butterflies flitting over crimson-tinged or green stems. Sigh! I'm bedeviled by tall blue bell-like clusters atop graceful ferny foliage of Jacob's Ladder. (Wouldn't you know that to tempt my resolve, I've only just discovered there is a variegated Jacob's Ladder. Cruel. Simply sadistic of the plant breeders to taunt me so heartlessly.) Each year I think this time the Jacob's Ladder will come back next season or the guara will at least reward throughout the summer. And each year I'm hoisted by my own plant petard and dunked into disappointment. I'm just a glutton for punishment. Or a glutton for plants, which sometimes can by synonymous.

Oh, there's many others that I could and should put on that "Do Not Buy Registry". Perhaps too many to list or just too many I'm embarrassed to admit whose lure I succumbed to knowing full well they'd be compost fodder by October. At best, they might make a pitiful reappearance the following spring only to wither, produce nary a blossom and ultimately disappear, committing a merciful planticide. Even annuals don't escape my already weak gardeners knees. Especially the notorious "Specialty Annuals". 'Special' not because they can only be grown from cuttings and not seed so that the average, shlumpy gardener can order from a catalog and start on their own. Oh, no. They're 'specialty' is that many of them are primping, petulant prima donnas which require constant shearing, followed by weeks of no growth and no flowers and are usually so root bound and pushed to flower so prematurely by the nurseries growing them that by the time I buy them and pot them up, they've given almost all they've got and are ready to call it quits. Not to mention that one single plant costs more than half a flat of mundane - but workhorse - impatiens or vincas.

New Guinea impatiens are a good example of not much bang for the buck. They're great in the foliage department, but really suck pollen when it comes to floriferous flowering. Then there's pretty and full-of-potential calibrachoas or trailing petunias, trailing verbenas, beautiful, fragrant nemesia and bountiful, basket-filling bacopa, which oooooooh...pretty..... I just discovered is finally being offered as seed!! Okay, so this one's off my "Do Not Buy Registry". Hey, I said nothing about a "Do Not Buy SEED Registry"!!!
I'm an annual (or perennial if that's the case) sucker for them all. Well.......Never Again. Nope. Won't find me pushing cartloads of annuals and dubious perennials that, despite all my efforts, hope and bargaining with my resident voles, will only bring me heartache and empty spots in my garden...for which the vole disclaims any responsibility. (He/she wanted me to put that in print since we do have somewhat of a tenuous relationship.) Nuh-uh. No more. I shall not fall victim to the Kavorka of plantdom!

Perhaps I doth proteth to Perhaps that Do Not Buy Registry won't be as effective for an addictive plant horder such as myself. Does anyone know where the local chapter of Plant-A-Holics meets? Or where there are some squirrels and chipmunks trained by Tony Soprano?

July 14, 2008

Whether To Write Or Watch The Willows?

Gardening and writing a blog about gardening is both an oxymoron and a Catch-22. If you want to write all the stories, “adventures”, observations and simple tid bits that occur on a nearly daily basis in your garden…you have to leave the garden to do it. By the time you get inside, wash off your dirty self and begin the mind-numbing task of “What the heck am I supposed to make for dinner?” at 4:30 in the afternoon…you’ve not only lost the energy and desire, you’ve also lost the moment, so to speak. All those lovely, erudite, descriptive word pictures that flowed through your brain so easily hours earlier when you were knee deep in mulch and pulling weeds are now as vanquished as those weeds. Well, the weeds will probably persevere longer than your forgotten prose.

There’s no way I could recount all the blips of ideas, whole paragraphs and outlines of posts and mini-stories that came upon me in such an overwhelming creative rush while I was wheeling my wheelbarrow or washing the birdbaths or lugging watering cans from the rainbarrel. So, what happens? What has happened lo these past couple of months since my last entry? Those brilliantly woven words just ripe for typing, fizzled or they were saved, stored and filed away to be blogged at a later date. I’d reassure myself they’d be written down the next day or the day after because, as Scarlett O’Hara reassured herself, “Ta’marra is anutha daya!!”

Well, ta’marra and ta’marra became yestuhdaya and the day bafoe yestudaya and morphed into weeks. Oh, Fiddle-Dee-Dee. By then, it was ‘old news’. I mean who wants to read about some start up suggestions for beginning another new gardening season. Like, setting the “bones” of the garden right before moving any perennials or adding new ones. “Bones” being stepping stones and pathways. Or do you just galumph your garden clogs into your beds risking squishing and compacting of soil around nearby plants…do you!!??

Then there’s the spotting of volunteers and plotting their R&R. That’d be Rescue and Replacing as opposed to Rest and Relaxation which – hahahaha – neither gardener nor garden resident does in these ‘chere parts, pahd-ner. Like these serendipitous voluntary petunias of purple shades, salvia farinacea , balsams, celosia and ooops, where’d that zinnia come from? All surrounding one of my ancient clumps of coreopsis "Zagreb" that's just low enough to permit the peaking coral heads of a new (albeit temporary) resident, a non-hardy-in-my-zone-but-happy-as-a-clam-in-Florida tropical hibiscus.

Of course there were the usual suspect, ubiquitous thoughts and ideas about new introductions this year. Did I get any? Would I? Would I pay full price and will the woodchuck like them as much as I do? Do pigs fly?

So, I’ve decided to enter this truncated posting as my mea culpa for not being magnanimous enough to take the time to share my voluminous gardening expertise with my vast, vast, vast audience of readers. Did I already ask if pigs flew?

Unlike po lil ole Missy Scarlet who lamented to Rhett, “But, what’ll ah do?”, like Rhett, frankly, I don’t give a damn either because I know I’ll be more diligent in yanking my lil ole Yankee butt inside a few moments earlier to put down on screen all or some of those thoughts that wafted past the buddleias, over the hedge of white mediland roses and around the corner of the billowing willow and settled – kaplonk – in my fertile, compost-amended brain. Fiddle-Dee-Dee, indeed!

May 01, 2008


Oh, yeah, passed out over a collection of seed catalogs. Right. Well, I’ve since regained consciousness just in time to gear up for a little juggling act.

This Spring has seen not only the reawakening of much loved perennials, but a renewed venture into kitchen remodeling that had been put on hold for, oh, about two or three years now. Of course, if the kitchen had its way, it would have junked itself years before that. But since it isn’t responsible to pay the bills and create time where none exists, that decision making was left to us.

Once we made the commitment, however, **Sounds of carousel kaliope music**“Let The Games Begin! Step up folks and see the little lady juggle contractors and perennials all with one hand tied behind her back because she put her shoulder out shoveling wet compost. And in the center ring, see her also juggle blindfolded because she couldn't bear to see yet another replacement cabinet door being marched down her driveway by the Fed Ex guy." (After the 7th delivery of yet another replacement door, the guy actually asked me if the cabinet people were building my cabinets one at a time).

As anyone knows who’s tred the dark waters of kitchen renovations and come out with heads barely above water, it’s a journey rife with anxiety, frustration, depression and, oh yeah, anger. In the beginning, more than just a few people forewarned: “Boy, if the two of you can stay together after this, then you know you’ve got one strong marriage!” Could it really be that bad I thought? **Shakes head, sniffles and wipes away an errant tear** I remember asking a similar naive question about the first tomato hornworm I saw and decided to invoke my usual ‘live and let live’ tactics I apply to most other aspects of gardening. After two days of unfettered interference on my part, that horned beast had shredded my lone Brandywine into fine heirloom lace and entirely peppered what leaves that remained with black mini polka dots, which I came to learn was frass or Mr. Hornworm’s fecal remains of my lovely, heirloom, tastiest-of-all and summarily, ingested, Brandywine. In other words, heed the learned advice of others who've 'been there and done that'. In the case of kitchen rennovations: Be Afraid! Be Very, Very Afraid!

Kitchen kapers and ensuing hyjinks (I'm delusional from even the low VOC paint fumes) demands 100% of your attention and nearly as much of your time and energy. If you're a gardener, that means making some additional tough decisions. Despite the forgiving and independent nature of loyal perennials, they still need a certain amount of support and guidance from the hand of their gardener to aid and ease them out of winter dormancy into their healthiest spring rebirth. Whole leaves that had missed the rake and shredder and lay clumped like a wet mat upon their crowns could rot them out if left too long. Paths needed clearing, beds restructuring, weeding, recomposting. There was timely pruning of herbaceous perennials’ seed heads and stalks stripped bare by birds as well as cutting back of woodies and shrubs. (I think I still missed one or two buddleias. Good news/bad news for having so many of them).

There’s only a certain window of opportunity for these tasks, and it can close quite quickly and unexpectedly especially if we’re surprised with an inordinately warm early spring compliments of Global Warming. So, despite their delusions of total independence, perennials still need some kindly - and the aforementioned: timely - assistance. Not unlike the grown child who thinks they know it all and shun the assistance of a wizened elder until they need financial support. In the case of perennials, it’s when they need the support of garden stakes, watering, mulching, hand-picking of beetles and soapy sprays to cleanse them of aphids.

This kitchen-garden juggling left me feeling torn in two directions at once. And no time to decide which needed attention first and how the heck I was going to do both at the same time if it was a tie. Do I move those perennials before they reach the underside of my eaves? Or do I paint the bottom half of the chair rail in the dining area of my kitchen? Do I agonize over which annuals to chose for the half-gazillion hanging baskets and planters that some garden gnome decided I need to fill each year? Or do I agonize over the seemingly endless parade of door-replacements? Decisions.

And so, I made my decision. Along with perennials and annuals and herbs…I’ve decided I’m also growing a clone. One of us will merrily skip in the garden. (Well, shuffle.) While the other paints, spackles, grouts, argues with contractors and waits for the Fed Ex guy.

I think I’ll let the clone handle all the latter. I’d rather skip. (Well, shuffle.)

February 19, 2008

Putting Seed Ordering On A Diet

After a protracted absence from blogging, I'm once again at liberty to share my inner workings with the world wide web. (Or the three people aside from my husband who read this thing anyway.) During that time, my catalog plight was digitally captured for posterity. ...So much from which to choose and so little time - and money - to match my unquenchable seed thirst. (*See spilled libation to dull the credit-card senses*)

With finances a tad tight and a dogged (make that "catted") determination to encourage more reliance upon saved seed, I'm culling my seed ordering down to the barest bones. Well, some catalog's order-form bones will have a bit more meat on them than others, but I am trying my best this year to stick to the Jenny Craig School of Seed Ordering. I'm only allowing myself 1,000 calories of energy to be expended on any one catalog.

Time and sowing of saved seeds will be the true test of whether my 'seed-ordering diet' has produced a gain or a loss. When I weigh my garden success on that seed-germination-and-growth-pass-or-fail scale in a few months from now, it'll be one of the few times (make that the only time) in my life when I'll ever rejoice at having that needle tip towards the high side.

Then, I think I'll celebrate with some good chocolate. Hey, I'm not the one getting on that scale.