blown away

October 29, 2012

It is fall already.  The foggy winds are blowing hard.  The stone fruits are about finished.  The California hillsides are dried up golden, and leaves are starting to wither and hit the dirt.

And I must say I don’t feel quite ready!  I personally love fall, but this year I find myself fighting the seasonal change–maybe because late summer was so sweet.  Consequently I am just not living up to my own (high) expectations that I will gracefully transition into WHATEVER: a new season, a new job, a body transition or a mini-life crisis.

I admit I’ve been hiding out in the bathroom a little.  I know it’s reclusive of me, but that is part of the fall transition too.   Let me try and explain.

A friend pointed out to me that I always feel a bit deciduous this time of year.  Certainly I grow tired of gardening (though there is always one last push through the cutting back of the perennials and moving things around before winter and the holidays set in).  Heaving my hoe is slowly giving way to resting on my shovel…it’s almost that time.  Maybe another month and a half to get through before the big rest?  It depends on the rains.

So anyhow, in the evenings, (as I try to escape the sounds of another baseball game) I occasionally take a bath.  It’s the remedy for my autumn malady:   a pretend rain, filled with the sounds of actual rushing water, spruced up by beeswax candles and fragrant herbs to bathe in.  A little herbal ocean…

Just a few of my favorites are:  redwood needles or passionflower vine, fresh calendula, rose petals, sage.   It is amazing how alive one can feel after slipping into a bath with actual plants floating all around you.  I am so grateful that Kami McBride, my first herbal teacher, encouraged myself and fellow students to experiment with the healing powers of the herbal bath.  I remember her describing this incredible outdoor tub that she had taken in the woods beneath the stars.  As she told her story, the bath became a metaphor for the cosmos, with the immersed human body as galaxy and plant bits as individual floating stars.  It sounded literally out of this world.

While most of us don’t have access to a star-infused setting, the benefits of herbal bathing still run very deep.

I for one feel closer to nature and more aware of my amazing skin suit and the job it has to do.  More importantly, a bath helps me slow down and feel that relaxation can be a state of being, something I am trying to cultivate more of these days.  It helps me remember that within the human body, we contain all the elements of the cosmos.  Even as the winds and rain of autumn whip us around on the outside, we can take comfort in the quiet expanse within.

Words can be fertile ground…(a garden fairy tale come true.)

Some of you will remember a post about my friend Marion.   Marion and I were planting a medicinal herb garden at her home in Piedmont, CA this spring when she passed away suddenly.  This was a very sad happening, and her family wondered what to do with the herbs that she had planted.  There was much consternation, and then her husband Zafiris said the magical words “Take them away.  I don’t know what to do with such things.”  Really?!?  (Tears watered the soil beneath Marion’s oak tree.)

And so I bravely dug those happy plants out of their home dirt, and ferried them across the Bay Bridge to land in their new location–an under-utilized garden in the Inner Richmond.   A vast landscape of quick-draining soil, amended with homemade compost.   Hip hop music blasting in the background.  Old relics of the past garden lying around.  Woodchips from the trees that used to stand on site.  In other words, a blank canvas, a new beginning.

Forgive for a moment a narrator’s interruption:  I want to be clear.  I’m not the hero of this story.  I’m just the dopey sidekick.  The plants are the brains.  And despite all the unpredictable variables of their new destiny, and in spite of the gardener within that keeps saying “we’ll see…” they are looking really good!  Like sticks of a plant, with brand new basal growth where dirt meets aerial parts!  New growth!

And this gardener is so happy I could spit.  Honestly.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time:  sunny San Francisco location meets herbal medicinals.  An herb garden of my own!  To share with others, eventually.  First we’ve got some growing to do.

Sticks and stones get moved around to host Solidago, and Chamomile, Blue Vervain, and a ton of Grindelia…

Take a peek.  It may not look like much, but come next Spring and Summer, these baby plants will be usefully engaged in soothing your sore throats, calming your fried nerves, and pepping up your tired bones.

For now they look like sticks among the stones.  We are moving toward the winter solstice.  It’s cold and dark, it’s raining.  But eventually the rains will stop.  And then the plants will be lush.  And I’ll pick some of their leaves, and make you a tea.   See?

A deep thank you to Mary and Ted


Snail sidetrack

May 12, 2010

What ever happened to Steep of the Week?  Or SOW as I like to call it.  Heh.

Well, I got a little sidetracked by snails…

Ride 'em mollusk!

Just look at these things (if you can stomach it)!!!   I’ve definitely got enough for lunch (as well as a very deft snail catcher.)  Click on these pics to enlarge them and take it all in.  The snails sure do!

Escargot anyone?

I’ve decided one should always love snails for their expressive horns and their impeccable ‘decomposer’ role in the garden.  One also probably doesn’t love snails for gobbling up your baby seedlings just transplanted into the garden.  Or consuming the once perfect leaves of your first spring hosta.  Sigh.  Such is the way of the garden, folks.

Snails deserve lunch too, you know.

I love my garden.

I love it’s imperfections.

They exist because I neglect my garden, truthfully.

Although I believe they would exist anyway, despite my best efforts.  For you see, there is no such thing as the perfect garden. Nature has other ideas…and gardening is inherently a human activity.  Only humans would want to tinker with THE Garden that they had been given.

Tulip ala Anne...

Anne Frost, my upstairs neighbor (and fellow professional gardener) planted these gorgeous tulip bulbs in our backyard.  They have been open for the last week or so, reluctant to  expose their sexual parts to the ridiculous hail, rain and fiercely fickle March sunshine of the SF bay area.  The benefit of their reluctance is that we get to have them around a little longer.   They also teach me a (repeat) lesson about the impermanence of things.  I understand that they must fade, and so I appreciate them for what they are now.

I also wish I could have captured how really special they look against our neighbor’s robin’s egg blue wall.

Urban gardening is an exercise in letting go.

Lemon verbena trunk meets tulip meets retaining wall...

We live in a canyon of the buildings.  We don’t get too much in the way of sun back there…Sometimes it’s loud music stacked with laughter at all hours.  The humans may suffer their neighbors habits, but the plants still grow regardless of what he said/she said.  I consider this a minor miracle.   I also happen to believe that these green survivors really like their deep urban habitat.

For example, I have a fruiting raspberry patch for 6 months out of the year (!) The disappearing lemon balm reappeared!  The Forget Me Nots wink at me and remind me of both the Sierra Nevada forests and the Wisconsin woods of my childhood.   This is charmed.  This is medicine for the urban soul…

Through the looking glass...

This is a perfect nesting place for a Mourning dove?   I suspect it’s far from perfect, but it certainly is available and utilized and loved–more than I tend to realize.

The temptation for me is to criticize all that my garden is not…after all, people pay me to work in their gardens.

But the lesson of our garden is that it is enough.   It is enough for the Silver Lady Ferns, and the rescued boxwood, and the aging Pieris japonica.

And that is a metaphor for life.  My garden is imperfectly beautiful, and it is enough for me.

Mourn no more...