Thoughts from the Garden on the Fourth of July
This morning I sit outside in my own backyard, coffee beside me on a black wrought iron table, my body cradled in a bright blue Adirondack chair. Birds chatter nonstop, from the spruce trees, the birch trees, the wildflower garden – so many birds hang around here. We’ve worked hard to cultivate a space to encourage just that. In the 21 years my partner and I have lived in this house, we’ve spent every spring and summer outside rearranging garden areas with native plants and putting out bird feeders, bird baths, mason bee houses. We’ve tried our damndest to avoid pesticides and herbicides. The onslaught of Japanese beetles over the past couple of years caused us to break that rule; we were afraid the beetles would decimate our birch trees. They congregated there, munched through leaves until the tops of the trees were bare. We sprayed the trees, put grub killer on the grass, stayed out of the yard for a few days afterwards even though the stuff we used didn’t say we had to do that. Today, I think about the story Michael Pollan told about a potato farmer who used poison on his crops to eliminate something that causes brown veins in the potatoes, which then makes them unsellable to McDonald’s; the poison is so toxic, that farmer had to stay out of his fields for three days after application. I don’t want that sort of thing happening in my backyard. But Japanese beetles are voracious. They stick to the skin if they fall on someone, their little black legs like Velcro.
I’ve seen only a few Japanese beetles so far this summer. I’m optimistic it won’t be so bad this year. I will remove them from plants by hand during early morning, dump their iridescent green bodies into a bucket of soapy water, hope that’s all we need to do.
The wildflower refuge we’ve created in the middle of the yard has taken a lot of our attention this season. I really shouldn’t say we created it. It’s my partner Mick’s creation. He ordered the wildflower seeds. He dug up the soil. He sowed the seeds. He kept us all off that patch of yard so things could germinate, grow, thrive. Last summer, the first summer after the seeds went in, we had black-eyed susans everywhere. There seemed to be little else growing there, although there were other things tucked in beneath what we could see. This summer, there are no black-eyed susans. There is everything else: penstamon, sweet clover, motherwort, joe pye weed, yarrow, and things I cannot identify. It’s a glorious mishmash of plant life. There are bees in there all the time: bumble bees, honey bees, little tiny bees that are barely visible. There are wasps, delirious with the bounty. There are butterflies, little white ones and black-winged varieties with orange spots. There are dragonflies, big blue ones, big black ones, small green ones. And rabbits, on my god, the rabbits. They munch on plants along the edge of the garden every evening, their little rabbit ears twitching, their fuzzy cheeks moving with their chewing. Our neighborhood fox has discovered we have rabbits and has visited for her own dinner quite a few times. The rabbit parts we find strewn around the yard are left as a tip.
Can you see the tiny bee on the yellow flower?
In another part of the yard, Mick dug up a piece of a not-wild garden and sowed California poppy seeds. He loves those poppies and they are spectacular suns on stems. Their golden cup flowers open up every morning in to greet the world. I love thinking about when he bought those seeds. We were on a trip to visit a friend in Encinitas and Mick asked him where he could buy some California poppy seeds. He specifically wanted them from the state where they grow everywhere, from the place where he first fell in love with them. Our friend took us to a local garden center. All the small packets of poppy seeds were sold out, so the garden center manager went into the back room and found an enormous package of seeds, brought it back out for Mick. He took it, brought it back to Minnesota, has enough seeds to sow poppies for several years. It makes him happy. And who can look at California poppies and not be happy?
I am so in love with this space right now. I sit outside often, think, read, write, photograph. This little piece of the world is full of life, inspiring, healing. It is where I come to shift my mood, to feel at peace, to lower any stress that may be happening. I am joined by little creatures when I sit still. A moth just landed on the mulch right in front of me, his wings nearly the same shade of light brown as the mulch. He is a fat moth, and perhaps an inch and a half long. He sits there, still, quiet as moths are (can they make any noise? Do they even have vocal cords?).
Moth in mulch
As do I. I sit here, not so still I can’t write, but still enough. I am quiet, except for the sound my keyboard makes. I don’t feel any need to make noise, be heard by anyone else. The line of sun-meets-shade edges closer to my feet. Absorbed as I am in the garden and my writing, I have forgotten my cup of coffee beside me and it is now too cold for my taste. A blue jay calls from the next yard, its squawk unmistakeable. Wind rustles the leaves of a tree in the yard behind our house, sounding a little like water drops hitting the leaves. The sky is clear, the air is damp, the temperature is rising.
This is summer in Minnesota. This is perfection. I am grateful to be here in this moment, in this chair, in this body.