Gardening in the cold

The sun shines but it’s raw out there.


Snowflake on a convenient, sun-warmed rock

Nevertheless, I spent most of yesterday afternoon out there clearing the southside walkway of encroaching poppies, ajuga, dandilion, some grass, and muscari. The muscari I carefully dug up and moved, since I’m happy to have as many as I can get.


Tulip quintet on April 28

I started at 1:30 and stopped when a friend showed up. “What time is it?” I asked. “Around 6:00” was the astonishing response. I would have sworn I was weeding for an hour or so. Four and a half hours?? But this morning my hands show the evidence–scratches, splinters, a broken fingernail, and dirt ground into the callouses, skin rough and dry from the scouring soil. In other words, wonderful!!

Casey in the barn

Casey and morning sunshine, in the barn

I also spent some time in the barnyard with the horses, just hanging around, and peeking at the three newborn calves in the adjoining pasture. I’ll try to get some pictures of them this week. There should be about ten more coming in the next few weeks. It’s our equivalent of TV: watching out the kitchen window with binoculars.

Gigi eating hay

Gigi eating hay

Four Canada Geese are out there, too– the same two pairs, we assume, who always nest there. They seem almost as big as the calves. The calves are, of course, adorable.

Dot, the big draft mare I had here for about 6 months, has gone back to the stables and I now am caretaker of Gigi, a small but spunky senior citizen who has settled in well so far.

Snowflake on the rocks

Snowflake on the rocks

I forgot to say that my Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) have been blooming for a few weeks already, and have spread to about three times the size of the original patch I brought over from the sugar bush at the barn. The tulips are out and seem not to mind getting frozen every night. My gardener friend at the bookstore says I can protect tulips from voles by putting hot pepper on the bulbs before planting–now I’m thinking of buying a few hundred tulips (probably from Scheeper’s, my favorite for bulk orders) but I wonder–where will I get that much hot pepper? And, does she wear gloves and a face mask to do it? I’ll ask her when I go there for my daily dose of coffee and dessert.


Casey again--love the sunshine on his red hair

Sacred space

dark daylily

dark daylily

The other day the chaplain of our college put out an email to the entire faculty and staff. Getting this kind of email among all the usual day to day business is enough in itself to justify having a chaplain, if you ask me! We happen to have a particularly wise, loving and luminous chaplain here, in my opinion. Anyway, here is her email (the images are my insertions):

“As spring takes root in my soul, I have been reflecting on sacred spaces here on campus and beyond.  Then I wondered, what do others think?  So I pose the question: What, for you, is sacred space here on campus or in the broader North Country?  To encourage your reflections, I have included a short piece asking the same question about space in Santa Barbara CA.

daylily portrait

pink and gold daylily portrait

‘What is a sacred space? At its most basic, it is a place which invites the contemplation and encourages an attitude of spiritual openness. A sacred space is not necessarily where answers are grasped or understood. Rather it is where questions are asked, conversations occur, rituals are perpetuated, dances are performed, songs are sung, and silence is heard—all in the attempt to find answers.  ….    The notion of a sacred space is complex, encompassing a range of aspects: architecture, geography, core beliefs, community stories, and not least of all the receptivity of one’s soul. When several of these elements come together, the result can range from breathtaking to overpowering. ….

grey kitty in barn window

Grey kitty in the barn window

In the end, sacred spaces reveal themselves. They have a way of growing on the visitor, almost like something organic. Some would say they “breathe,” and that the old stories which their walls have witnessed are somehow “whispered to those who listen.” Usually sacred spaces are found in inviting places, which somehow retain the aura of those who have passed that way. Finally, they can be a wonderful antidote to all that is superficial and frenzied in modern society.’ [From:]”

I was inspired and wrote back the following:

It’s a place, it has borders, it is not everywhere, it’s set aside, and you have to move yourself to get there; you can’t stay there all the time (unless I guess you want to be a religious hermit, then more power to you, that’s fine too).


Sally, my little mustang mare

It’s a place where what you do/feel/think or don’t do/feel/think gives you power to go back to the everywhere with more balance, peace of mind, and compassion. It’s my garden, it’s anywhere within ten feet of my horses.

june canter

Last June with Tundra

Sometimes it’s an event or action that makes an everyday space temporarily sacred:  it’s my living room chair at 4:30 am when I get up early to sip coffee, meditate, and write in my journal. It’s the hospital room where I first met my niece and nephew within hours of their births.

Casey face


Supposed to be grading…

snow on pulmonaria

blue blooms in snow--pulmonaria

…but I’m playing around with my blog. I’m trying to figure out what I can change without paying for a fancier version of this wordpress site. And changing the header, thinking about how big the photos should appear, trying to figure out how to add tags— OK, yes, I am also procrastinating. A stack of draft research papers to grade, and suddenly all kinds of things seem more fun–including messing with this blog. All teachers know this scene. Cleaning the house, going for another coffee, calling so-and-so, … are suddenly imperative tasks. But the pile of papers doesn’t grade or comment on itself. So, I’m turning off the computer, and getting to it.


shivering tulips

Daunting weather, undaunted plants

Trudging back from our barn from the evening (horse) feeding yesterday at 5 pm, I stopped to wander around the yard picking a bouquet of narcissus. By the time I was done my fingers were numb–it’s cold and damp, with a raw wind. But we needed this rain/snow so I don’t mind.

flowers in snow

flowers in snow

This week and next are the last two weeks of the semester, so all “hobbies” are shoved aside while I try to keep up with grading. I drove over to the barn after work to put Tundra’s rain sheet back on, but didn’t have time for anything else.

patch of tall primroses

patch of tall primroses

The garden is on its own, and I put in the bare minimum practice time with flute and clarinet. None of the plants seems bothered by the wet, cold weather.  I forget the name of these primroses, and I forget where I got them! They are very cold hardy, with small flowers in a tallish 6″ stem. The bloom is exquisite but you can’t appreciate it unless you kneel right down and examine it nose to nose. Each bloom looks hand painted–amazing.


white anemone --sylvestris

The wood anemone is also tough. It has spread rapidly, and I plan to dig up the ones coming up in the path to plant elsewhere. These have pure white nodding blooms in May, about 8″ high, and then develop seedheads that look like cotton balls.

Another plant that likes the cold is delphinium.



Inside the house the wood stove is going again. My nasturtium, sunflowers, delphinium and heliotrope seeds are all germinated, sprouted  and growing quickly.

wild tall coreopsis

wild tall coreopsis

This is a patch of wild coreopsis, a beautiful plant given to me by my sister-in-law, who is interested in native flowers. It grows six feet tall and puts out small, bright yellow flowers that sparkle in this semi-shady spot all of late summer and into the fall. Lots of friends have asked for a piece of it, and this generous patch has had many chunks cut out of the edges and given away, but it is still bigger each Spring.

peony shoots

The peonies are also gorgeous right now–with those bright red shoots like hands reaching out of the soil.