Tag Archives: iris

My Life as a Dig

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Today is Tuesday, the day I set aside for memoir-writing-based-on-belongings. My inspiration came from my friend, Mary, who is working on a similar project. She calls it “My Life as a Dig,” as she excavates memories through possessions accumulated over a lifetime. I – wanting to be different while appropriating her idea – called my entries “Artifacts to Memories.”

Not today. Today all excavation has been done in the garden. For that, I have stolen Mary’s title, because it is most appropriate to my day’s activities. With necessary breaks to refill my water bottle, doctor my persistent head cold, or check on what our president is up to, I have spent this day with my hands in the soil.

Though I wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to get outside to work at least part of the day yesterday and the day before. Progress was slow; there was still an awful lot to do. Today, my last full day off, I started the day with a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. Sprinkles this morning made everything seem more urgent. Rain will bring the mosquitoes: then every chore will be complicated by protection – in the form of netting, added clothing, and chemicals – from the biting insects.

Also in my plan was transplanting strawberries, raspberries and possibly rhubarb. If rain was coming, best to get those tasks done so that the showers could help settle everything nicely into its new location. In order to do the transplanting, I had to prepare the bed. When my young helper was here last week – with the rototiller, no less – I purposely had him avoid that spot, as there were a few stray poppies I wanted to relocate first.

That’s what I started with today. I moved four Oriental Poppies to the long flower bed. Also a bulb that I believe is a Casa Blanca Lily – long forgotten among the overgrowth there – and a couple day lilies.

Next, I dug out four lengths of vented PVC pipe that I had buried between tomato plants as a means of getting the water down to the roots. I used to bury plastic milk gallons, with small holes along their bases, and their spouts above ground. Every day I would fill each jug with water, so that it could seep out at the root zone. The jugs got brittle after a season, and would break apart in a mess of plastic shards. The PVC pipe was my attempt at a similar but more lasting solution.

Finally, I was ready to begin digging the bed. It was overgrown with blackberry brambles, wild strawberries, clusters of a noxious weed that sends a thick beige root straight down into the earth – impossible to pull – and grasses. Quack grass and crab grass are both plentiful. Just like with buttercup and butternut squash, I can never remember which is which.

I think it’s the quack grass that grows in a circle, in a dense mound that is hard to pull, and that the mower scrapes across, leaving an ugly scar. If that’s right, then it’s the crab grass that is my worst enemy. Crab grass, with its long, white roots that travel miles, it seems, to make it into my flower beds, that twist around the day lily tubers or the corms of iris, ensuring that to pull it and its offspring out entirely would mean disrupting everything else in that bed besides.

I attacked both today, and anything else that kept company there, one shovelful at a time. Push the blade into the ground, tip it back, flip the mound. Drop the shovel, then, and dig in, pulling out plants and roots. Shake every bit of earth away, as topsoil is precious on this sandy island, and toss the rest into the wheelbarrow. Check the hole for rocks and roots, then dig in again. One scoop at a time, one row after another.

I hauled away five wheelbarrows full of roots and weeds. I doubt my knees will ever be the same; I wonder if I’ll ever get the dirt out from under my nails. I have not yet put together the raised beds for my berries, or laid down the weed barrier, or transplanted a single strawberry. Still, it was a productive day.

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I Fall To My Knees

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I’m reading a book by Norman Vincent Peale: Positive Thinking Every Day. It has a little prayer or meditation or positive message for each day of the year. I feel, most of the time, that I could use more positive thoughts in my life! Actually, the book is one I bought for my mother. It is inscribed, wishing her “Merry Christmas and much love, 1996.” When Mom died, my sisters set it aside for me.

Though it makes me feel good to think that as I  turn the pages I am following her movements, I’m not really sure she ever read it. Probably, though.

Mom was a positive-thinker, a believer in miracles, a pray-er. She had so many children, I suppose she had to be.

My most sincere prayers have been for the health and well-being of my children. Or dogs.

For the most part, I’m not much on praying, though. When friends are ill or having difficulties, I’m careful to offer “best wishes” or “good thoughts” rather than prayers. Worse than not praying, I figure, is offering to pray and then not doing it. I cut my losses.

Even so, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my knees.

These longer, warmer days provide a chance to work in the garden.

Snowdrops are wildly blooming along the edges of my flower beds. Clusters of Narcissus and Daffodils show all shades of yellow. Tulips have fat buds at the top of their stems. Iris and Day Lilies have presented their fan-shaped leaves. Through it all are layers of wet brown leaves that fell from the maple trees last fall, long bunches of pale Day Lily stalks and leaves and the remains of the fall-flowering plants. Together, they hide the progress of persistent spreading weeds.

Every day I come home from work, stash my papers and bags, let the dogs out to enjoy the sunshine, and I drop to the ground. My tools are simple: one claw tool for loosening and lifting roots, one ratcheting pruner for wayward rose, grape or wisteria branches. The creaking, wobbly and rusty wheelbarrow stands nearby.

My rule is that I’ll work at least one hour, and fill the wheelbarrow at least once with debris.

First, I pull all the dead stuff away, working with my hands around stalks, raking with my fingers though the blooms. Then I tackle the weeds.

Years ago, when I had about four fewer jobs, and much more impressive gardens, friends would ask me to come over in the springtime, to look at their gardens, and help them determine what was a desired plant, and what was a weed. I couldn’t help. I don’t recognize every good plant, and I don’t know all weeds, especially in the springtime. My advise was this: “Pull what you know: pull the grasses; pull the dandelions. If you’re not sure about it, wait until you’re sure.” Weeds show their true nature soon enough.

That’s the way I do it. One at a time, I move the rocks that border the flower beds. Roots of grasses are visible there, as they try to move into the gardens. I dig in with my fingers. I try to use gloves, but can’t get a sense for what I’m doing, so I usually set them aside. I pull roots up one by one, and follow them to the end, or until they snap. When an area is clear, I move on to the next rock, and repeat the process.

When I am working at the hardware store, I’m often thinking of things I need to accomplish for the news magazine, or for the townships. When I’m driving to and from other obligations, I’m planning art projects or remodeling projects, or plotting where I’ll find time to get groceries or do a load or two of laundry. When I’m awake in the middle of the night, I’m running through to-do lists or writing articles and doing interviews in my head.

When I’m working in the garden, I’m hardly thinking at all. One leaf, one root at a time, I am in the moment. It’s the closest thing to a meditative experience in my life.

The entry for May 1st, in my little book of positive thoughts, says this:

The secret of prayer is to find the process that will most effectively open your mind humbly to God. So experiment with fresh prayer formulas. Practice new skills and get new insights.

May 7th, I have heard, is the National Day of Prayer.

If the sun is shining, I’ll be on my knees…with my hands in the dirt.

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Today is an overcast, drizzly day here on Beaver Island.

This is exactly what I need!

I’ve been putting  many hours into getting my garden ready for Spring. My hands are dry and wrinkled from spending so much time in the soil. My joints are achy and my back is complaining, too, from shoveling dirt, forking compost and moving rocks.

There is progress. I have given away raspberry plants and strawberry plants that were taking over pathways. I thinned poppy beds and iris beds, and sent the extras home with happy visitors. Day-lilies left with everyone who would take them.

I have staked out my central flower bed, and am working my way down the row.

I first dig out the soil, to a depth of about twelve inches. I sift the weeds out as I’m digging, and have a bucket standing by for them. The next step is to rake the surface smooth, then roll out the weed shield and cover that with a thin layer of soil mixed with compost. Now I’m ready to move some plants. I dig up a clump of day-lilies, pull all grasses and weeds away, separate the plants, then settle arrange them randomly in the new bed. I want them to have distance between them so that they have room to grow, and enough nourishment to make the move without trauma. I do not want them to look  like I’ve placed them in regular rows. I want the tallest specimens mainly down the center of the bed, and the shorter  varieties nearer the stone border. I  cover them over with the rest of the dirt that I dug out, and border that section with rocks.Image

It’s coming along, but is still  only about one-third of the way done. This new bed runs right through space that last year had a 4’x5′ strawberry bed and – at the very front – a peony bed. Before I called it a day yesterday, I finished digging up the rest of the strawberry plants that were in my way. They seem fine, this morning, in their temporary home: a tub lined with soil and stored under the picnic table, out of the sun.Image

Today! Today, with the dampness outside, I will concentrate inside.

There is the usual, of course: rugs to vacuum, floors to sweep and sinks to clean. Every single horizontal surface in the house needs to be cleared of what doesn’t belong on it. Laundry to be done, houseplants to water.

In my studio, should I find time to spend there, I have twenty metal frames to assemble and fill with twenty sheets of plexiglass and twenty finished collages. I have four small paintings to frame and three others to order frames for. I have two large paintings underway and a dozen collages in various stages of completion. The studio could use a good cleaning, too!

I have committed to teaching an after-school art class to high-school students through five weeks in May. Today I need to complete that class plan to turn in to the program director here, and a materials list to send  to the Arts Council for dispensation.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at my regular job, so today I want to make a pot of soup so that I’ll have it to pack for my lunches, or to warm up for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking. As long as it’s drizzly, as long as I’m going to have soup bubbling on the stove, I’d might as well make bread, too! That sounds like it will warm the house up,  doesn’t it?