Bzzzz August 2nd, 2015

It is before 6 a.m. on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing. As I do every morn­ing I stepped on the bath­room scale and then looked in the mir­ror. On some morn­ings the news is worse than oth­ers. Today was a bad news day. I know the 2 and 4 a.m. moon­light walks with a diar­rheal dog didn’t help how I looked. And I gained two pounds overnight.

sarah on black rug

Poor lit­tle dog post-bath.

At that moment the thought occurred to me that I may be on the down­hill side of life. And what’s weird is that I can’t even remem­ber becom­ing a grownup. I mean, I still find myself won­der­ing what I want to be when I grow up. I still get these ideas that I can pur­sue all sorts of careers and passions.

I want to be a pro­fes­sional fig­ure skater!”

I’m going to start a rock-and-roll girl band!”

I think I would make a really good pri­vate detective!”

I know! I’ll go to med­ical school!”

Real­ity intrudes most days. The fact is that I have a house with a big yard and gar­den. I have three cars, two dogs, eight pet chick­ens, pro­gres­sive lenses, 27 mag­a­zine and two news­pa­per sub­scrip­tions and four sets of dinnerware.

Yes, in fact, I do call it din­ner­ware. When was the last time you heard some­one other than a grownup say the word “din­ner­ware?” Never, that’s when.

The sad fact is, the train has left the sta­tion on my being a figure-skating-rock-and-roll-private-detective-doctor.

I’m not going to reveal my age, so let’s just say I’m past the age at which some­one would con­sider me to be a kid. I know, for exam­ple, that you would look at me and think “Yup, she’s a grownup.” And the signs are all there.

I know I’m a grownup because I’m the one who cleans up the dog vomit at 4 a.m.

I know I’m a grownup because wear­ing a string bikini is no longer an option. (You’re welcome.)

I know I’m a grownup because I some­times turn on closed cap­tion­ing to watch True Detec­tive.

I know I’m a grownup because I have a reminder on my cal­en­dar to change the heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing air fil­ters on the first of the month. It’s a paper calendar.

I know I’m a grownup when I hear rap music.

And weeds. Weeds make me know I’m def­i­nitely a grownup. No child vol­un­tar­ily weeds. But here I am, a grownup, wide awake before 6 a.m. on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing with the great big to-do list sit­ting on the kitchen counter that says in big cap­i­tal let­ters “PULL WEEDS.”

Oh yes. I have grownup writ­ten all over me. I think I have a t-shirt in the back of my closet that says “Keep Calm. I’m a Grownup.”

You know what? Even if I’m a grownup I should do some­thing to make weed­ing fun—or at least make weed­ing funny.

Two weeds walk into a bar…

prostrate spurge

pros­trate spurge

Hey, I think this funny weed idea has legs. Already we have some funny weed names. Quak­grass. Nut­grass. Pros­trate spurge. Creep­ing Char­lie. Pig­weed. Hen­bit. Hairy bit­ter­cress. I know some­one was pok­ing fun when they were nam­ing these things.

What else can make weeds funny? Lim­er­icks. Lim­er­icks are funny.

There once was a gar­dener in Maine

Who set out to kill the purslane.

Instead of a weed she killed her best steed.

And now she’s con­sid­ered insane.

No wait. That’s not funny at all. Let’s try again.

There once was a gar­dener in Beed

Who set out to kill a big weed.

Instead of a hoe he used his big toe

And now the whole garden’s weed seed.

Hum­mmm. Maybe this better?

There once was a gar­dener named Cass

Who set out to kill some quakgrass.

Instead of a hoe she used her big toe

Of course she is now on her ass.

Oh well. Time to go be a grownup, drink cof­fee and pull some weeds.

Now let’s see…two weeds walk into a bar…

Posted In: Gardening Life, Humor



Bzzzz July 23rd, 2015

Unless you count the jun­gle of house plants in my child­hood and later col­lege dorm rooms, I started gar­den­ing as a veg­etable gar­dener rather than a flower or orna­men­tals gar­dener. After all, I do love food. I also come from a fam­ily in which prac­ti­cal and use­ful activities—such as fix­ing your own car, build­ing a shed or grow­ing your own food—are highly valued.

But even more than that, the intel­lec­tual part of me under­stands that food is grown from the ground thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of sun, soil and rain. The roman­tic part of me, on the other hand, thinks that grow­ing veg­eta­bles, herbs and fruits is some­how magic. When I grow a tomato, I can mar­vel at it for quite a long time before I get around to sink­ing my teeth into it. The cucum­bers I pickle are more than mere jars of food. They are the prod­uct of my abil­ity to do magic—to make some­thing from prac­ti­cally nothing.

Down Place Greenhouse

Green­house at Down Place

Unlike some of my gar­den­ing friends, I have not had the advan­tage of a gar­den mentor—a par­ent or grand­par­ent to show me how to stake toma­toes, wran­gle rangy straw­berry plants or iden­tify which end of the bulb goes up. I have learned about gar­den­ing largely from read­ing books and killing plants. So when I digress from my report­ing of my Big Fat Eng­lish Gar­den Vaca­tion to sneak behind the hedge and look at the lit­tle green­houses and poke among the uneven rows of nurs­ery pots, just under­stand that I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out this whole gar­den­ing busi­ness. Part of me still believes that if I can just see how these incred­i­ble gar­den­ers do things behind the scenes I may learn some secrets that will help trans­form my own gar­den into some ver­sion of the Eng­lish ideal. For me, it’s like sneak­ing behind the magician’s curtain.

So let me tell you about a few of the things I saw there behind the hedge.

In many Amer­i­can gar­dens I have vis­ited, there is no obvi­ous place where gar­den­ers start and nur­ture plants before set­ting them into the ground or pot­ting them up into a pretty con­tainer. In some Amer­i­can gar­dens it looks as if every flower and shrub comes straight from the nurs­ery and gets plopped right into a hole wait­ing for it to arrive. In oth­ers there is a lit­tle stash of plants in nurs­ery pots that look shoved behind a garage or under a deck in the hurry to tidy up for vis­i­tors. But I haven’t seen a lot of pot­ting benches and even fewer greenhouses.

greenhouse at The Grange


greenhouse at Old Erringham Cottage

In con­trast, every gar­den we vis­ited on my recent Eng­lish gar­den tour has a place tucked out of sight and around a cor­ner to prop­a­gate plants. At one small town gar­den we vis­ited the gar­den­ers only had space for a small cold­frame, but most gar­dens had at least a small greenhouse.

As you can imag­ine, a few of the green­houses were pic­turesque or even archi­tec­tural show­cases in them­selves. But sur­pris­ingly, most of the green­houses I saw—even on the grand estates—were small­ish, eco­nom­i­cal and util­i­tar­ian struc­tures. Some were well-swept, quite tidy and visitor-ready, but oth­ers were a lit­tle bit messy. Oh they weren’t oh-my-god messy, just the kind of messy that hap­pens when there is work in progress. Many times it looked as if the gar­dener had just stepped away from the pot­ting bench for a cup of tea.

garden work area2

A few of the green­houses housed toma­toes and cucum­bers. If, like me, you are a veg­etable gar­dener then you know that toma­toes and cucum­bers like the warm sum­mer weather that we have here in most of the U.S. I sup­pose the com­par­a­tively cool British sum­mers aren’t all that con­ducive to grow­ing these warmth-loving veg­gies in the open air, so they become cod­dled indoor veg­gies in the U.K.

Some of the green­houses still had seed start­ing oper­a­tions in progress while oth­ers had been mostly emp­tied out by the time we vis­ited in mid-June. A good num­ber of them seemed to have long-term plant board­ers on the green­house shelves. One green­house even had a grape vine as thick as my arm grow­ing through the pot­ting bench, up the wall and cov­er­ing the ceiling.

vine in greenhouse

Near the green­house there were the inevitable com­post bins. As with the green­houses, some were magazine-worthy (for a cer­tain type of mag­a­zine any­way) while oth­ers were no more glam­orous than lay­ered yard waste, but they all had a com­post oper­a­tion going on.

When we asked the gar­den­ers about whether they fer­til­ize, even sin­gle gar­dener said, “Yes!” A cou­ple of gar­den­ers men­tioned spe­cial tomato food. But most often they men­tioned the lib­eral use of fish, blood and bone. In fact, I saw con­tain­ers of fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer in a cou­ple of the work sheds. When I returned home and Googled around to learn about sim­i­lar fer­til­izer com­bi­na­tions here in the U.S., there were none. Strangely enough I did find a Mir­a­cle Grow (of all com­pa­nies!) fish, blood and bone fer­til­izer avail­able in the U.K.

fish blood and bone

Another thing I noticed in the green­houses were plenty of terra cotta pots, although I didn’t see many actu­ally put to use. The nurs­ery plants were all in those ubiq­ui­tous black nurs­ery pots–nothing at all fancy about that.

Potting Shed

Invari­ably, tools were care­fully orga­nized and well-maintained. There was no putting away a dirty shovel or hoe in these Eng­lish gar­dens. I can’t say if they were reg­u­larly sharp­ened, but I’m will­ing to bet that they were and that the fru­gal Brits know the value of tool maintenance.

tool garage

Birds must be a major prob­lem for gar­den­ers grow­ing berries and cur­rants. But rather than toss­ing on a stiff (and often tan­gled) black plas­tic net like I do here in my gar­den, nearly all the fruit­ing plants were caged in proper, neatly con­structed chicken wire houses, com­plete with lit­tle doors and some­times with raised beds. It’s obvi­ously work­ing for them because the cur­rents were gor­geous. We were there almost at peak pick­ing time.

red currents

Berry house at Nyewood House

Come to think of it, the gar­den­ers may have had their fruits pro­tected to keep vis­i­tors like me from gob­bling them right there by the bush. I mean, I had never had a goose­berry before. When no one was look­ing I picked and gob­bled the first unpro­tected goose­berry I came across in one of the fancy gar­dens! Have you had one? It’s an inter­est­ing tex­ture and a bit tart. But tasty. I can def­i­nitely see mak­ing goose­berry jam.

I have plenty of gor­geous pho­tos of the actual gar­dens. I took 1,977 pho­tos dur­ing my week-long tour, so it’s tak­ing me a while to fig­ure out how to share them. Check back!

A note about the pho­tos: I haven’t iden­ti­fied the loca­tion of most of these pho­tos. There is cer­tainly noth­ing shame­ful about well-organized tools or green­houses. But these pho­tos are cer­tainly not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the beau­ti­ful gar­dens we saw, so I’ll wait to iden­tify the gar­dens with the pretty photos–to come.

You can read more about my Big Fat Eng­lish Gar­den Vaca­tion at:

About Those Eng­lish Gardens

Did you enjoy this post? Please leave me a com­ment! I love to hear from readers.



Posted In: Gardening, Travel


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