Sunday, November 20, 2011

the ocean

This summer I visited the beach as often as possible.  My feelings about the seashore are similar to other people's feelings about mountains. Each wave is a peak, each calm a valley. Vast and expansive, full of secrets, the ocean is as cavernous as any mountain range. We stand at a precipice, whether at the ocean's edge or a mountain's top.

One particular day my best beach pal had to leave for work and I decided to stay.  Late afternoon was coming on as I strolled South along the shore.  The sun made blinding sparkles as it danced and reflected with the radiant turquoise water, each wave painted with golden surf.

After a while, I turned to face the sea; just stood there and let the sun drench me.  If I were on the Titanic, I would've been doing that flying lean out at the bow thing.  If I did yoga I would have been doing sun salutations. On a mountain top I might have been shouting to hear my echo. You get the idea. And then I heard a voice.

"What do you want?" It said.  "You know you can have anything.  So what is it that you want?"

Stunning. (Was all I could think)

Like the deep rumble of an earthquake or thunder that starts slow and then becomes clear, I didn't doubt what I heard.

The calm confident sound in the voice made me feel like whatever I named would be given to me and so I didn't want to be frivillous with the opportunity. (You don't waste a conversation like this on what you want for Christmas.) My mind was silent and clear.  No interference. In that shining instant, I didn't even have spend time to consider the question. I knew the answer.  Without realizing it, all the surface concerns were washed away, and I saw the deepest truth. I didn't ask for what I knew I could achieve on my own.

And that day it wasn't as much about achieving something as it was about listening into the quiet.  About owning your hope.  As I've probably mentioned before, settling for what you think you can get is different from setting out to get what you actually want.  It's important to know the difference.

Be ready though, once you ask, you're setting yourself on a path and it might change your course.

Life is a puzzle, filled with good options and we have to sift through and discover the pieces that fit.  Not the pieces we wish fit or someone else's pieces.  This process takes forever and that's probably why a lot of old people are confident and loving and funny...

For the New Year I wish this conversation for everyone. Each of us is a part of this universe.  Each with a story to write and the chance to have a purpose and a dream, or lots of them.

If the ocean isn't asking you, then ask yourself.  You know you can have anything you want, so what is it?

"What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" -- Robert H. Schuller

Monday, November 7, 2011


A little off the subject from Horticulture is another science, Chemistry.  Right now we're learning about limiting reagents.  That is to say, we're learning that in every situation there is a factor that limits the amount of production.  In Chemistry we're talking about the combination of two or three elements on the periodic chart and their ability to combine and create a new substance.  The limiting reagent is the element we have the least of will because it will decide how much product we can create.  But, this idea of limiting factors is not specific to Chemistry.  When we take away the confusing technical jargon, we can apply this concept to anything.

For example, recently I made stuffed shells for an early Thanksgiving Feast. The element in my refrigerator that determined how many shells I could make was the ricotta cheese.  I only had enough Ricotta to make 34 shells.  Since Ricotta is the main ingredient in the filling, it is the limiting reagent in the recipe.  (No point in having empty shells.)

It's not just cooking...A person's ability to build muscle or to lose weight is based on a number of elements.  A person's ability to learn, to love, to grow...all these are based on a combination of elements and it isn't too difficult to discover the one element will limit the success of whatever is attempted.

My latest realization is this:  School is a condensed version of life.  You learn lessons by experience, but it takes a lifetime. We need a lot more knowledge a lot sooner than we can gain from living and so we educate ourselves.  Ideally we combine our education with life experience and get a balanced idea of how to conduct ourselves and succeed in the world.  However, since life is not ideal, it's easy to see that one or the other: experience or education could limit a person's ability to achieve or succeed. For that matter, a number of other things could limit us as well. 

It seems important to note what our personal limiting agents are.  Are we limiting ourselves? Are we limited by fear? Are we limited by something else? Some cards we are dealt and we have to accept, however, others we can trade in, discard or collect more of....Circumstances exist that allow us to add more of the element we are lacking, so that we can become unlimited.  

Here is the recipe for the stuffed shells.  The only change I made was to add a tsp of chopped fresh tarragon and to split the cheese,half and half finely shredded mozzerella


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This Spring, my sister-in-law asked for my help in nursing her Bromeliad (Guzmania) back to life.  I'm never sure I can help,but secretly I love these opportunities to see if I can get to know the plant well enough to have a positive effect.  Best, I get to do research and discuss the plants with experts at work.

This particular plant came to me around April.  The plant's bloom and most of its leaves had turned brown.  Other than that it didn't show any signs of mistreatment.  A Horticulturalist at work had a grim outlook for the plant, saying that I should probably just 'get over it and throw it out.'  But then in what sounded like an after thought, almost like a secret kept for the very brave, he said skeptically, "unless you are willing to be might turn around...but tropical plants take a long time to heal." My ears perked up at this possibility.

After that, he asked me questions about the way I was watering it, and as time passed and I wasn't seeing improvement he kept encouraging me to move it to deeper and deeper shade. The plant finally seemed happiest underneath the towering Cryptomeria Trees in the backyard.  There it got an early slice of filtered sunshine through the skirt of the tree's lower branches. It was fully shaded the rest of the day.  After I moved it to that spot, I hardly looked at it.  I only checked on watering it when it got really hot.  It stopped turning more brown but it was difficult to tell if it was really alive or just stagnant. I mostly forgot about the plant, and I also forgot that under the soil, is a factory of life producing proportions. Late this summer I looked and I saw new growth!!!  A small plant was growing next to the large tired one.  And so for this Guzmania, the following turned out to be true:
-you have to let troubled plants be in an environment that they love for a long time.
-They seem to go through a dark period of paralysis and then need to be able to overcome this.
-You have to let yourself forget about them and check on them very infrequently, without hovering or over-watering before you'll see any positive change.
(Thank goodness I have other plants and projects to distract me from waiting for the plant to flourish again.)

It's the same with boiling water, and I think it might be the same with some humans.  It's hard to see healing improvement in yourself or others when you check every minute to see the progress. 

I was sure that the Bromeliad was dead.  I had already imagined throwing it away.  But just like your check engine light comes on before your car dies, your plants show signs of stress to warn you before they really bite the dust.  Warning signs are a marquee of all living things, it's just a matter of taking notice and making a change before things progress beyond repair. I tend to accept damage to plants and to people and assume that once damaged, there is no real healing, just acceptance.  Life is teaching me that I tend to be wrong when it comes to the human ability to renew. It's difficult to believe in change or recovery when you can't see it, when it's in a measure of time to which we can't relate (like a light year...). But maybe some of us are like the Bromeliad, if we live through the paralysis of trauma, if we are willing to give ourselves a break, if we leave ourselves time to create a symbiotic relationship with our environment, if we don't hover, if we persevere through the helpless waiting, if we don't expect instant results, if we focus on all the other things about living, then maybe, just maybe we'll see some healing, we'll see some growth in ourselves and in others.

As long as we are alive, we are growing, even when we can't see it. Before you give up, listen for the quiet after thought, whispered to you, almost like a secret for the very brave : "Unless you are willing to be very patient..."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What you what you get

In the 1960's Donald Egolf, a research Horticulturalist at the National Arboretum, began hybridizing Crape Myrtle Trees (Lagerstroemia.)   His goal was to create a tree that was resistant to powdery mildew.  Before he ever discovered a cross that successfully resisted the mildew, he managed to create trees that stood up to the cold, that had varying heights,habits, flower colors, fall foliage colors, and bark characteristics.  A man with a different attitude may have given up.  From an outsider's perspective, unintended positive traits could be seen as repeated failure instead of  success.  For many years there was disparity between his achievement and his goal.  However, as a result of the lengthy disparity, 24 types of Crape Myrtles were introduced.  Had he succeeded on his first try in the fight against powdery mildew we might not have all the varieties we see in the nurseries today.

And so I pose these questions: In life, do you spend your time in the negative space between where you are and where you thought you'd be?  Do you value things intrinsically or do you only value them based on an outside standard? 

Once I saw a painting of a white gardenia, on a dark lush background.  I attempted to recreate the painting in a mosaic form.  When the mosaic was completed, I hated it because it didn't look like the painting.  It had no value to me because it didn't compare well with the vision in my mind of something else.  Months later I came across it.  The light hit the pieces in a such a way that it was full of texture and depth. I started to appreciate the mosaic for itself.  Not it's value compared to what inspired it, but it's intrinsic value as a mosaic.  Was it pretty?  Was it intricate? Was it interesting?  Yes,yes and yes.  Whether or not it looked like original painting became irrelevant.  Making comparisons hardly ever aids in creativity because nothing begets nothing.  Adding negatives never produces a positive. Fixating on emptiness is not a way to be filled.

This summer I thought a lot about the significance of perspective.  Day to day, a satisfying life comes from recognizing things for what they are instead of focusing on what they aren't. The disparity between what things are and what you think they should be is negative space. In photography and art, the negative space can be vehicles for the feeling the piece is trying to evoke. The art is intended to make you feel a certain way. But in  real life negative space only contains two things: Potential and disappointment. Potential to fill the space, disappointment that the space exists. There must be a better place to focus.  There must be something richer to see.

What do you see?  Is it something alive, something with momentum?  See what life is...forget what life isn't.

Abraham Lincoln said it best:
Photo by LAM

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


My work at the Arboretum is highlighted on days when I get a surprise visit from any kind of wildlife.  What makes it doubly exciting are the like minded individuals who work with me.  Whether it is someone announcing over the radio that they saw a Scarlet Tanager or a discussion about a fox someone saw darting out of sight in the Brickyard, the staff are full of stories.  This creates camaraderie and mutual respect. It's a gift to find a place where you walk in and feel immediately in midst of friends...this is mine.

This season's star is Ed's turtle.  Ed named him Eddie. (Surprise) He is a box turtle with exceptionally yellow markings. Ed found him sitting out in turf the Boxwood Collection.  When I asked Ed why he thinks they are called Box Turtles, he said, "Probably because they like to hang out in the Boxwood."  (I almost believed him.) Ed brought him over to Friendship in the bed of his pick-up. He found some worms and this is a picture of him eating on his first day.  This was at the beginning of August. Every morning since, he's in the same spot in the Boxwood.  Ed finds him and feeds him worms and crickets and turns on the water for him, and then puts him back where he found him. He's pretty much part of the crowd now and everyday someone asks, "Did you feed the turtle this morning?"

In addition to the turtle I've seen numerous types of butterflies and a Leopard Frog.  One day after two years of carefully looking, I finally saw a Black Snake. I startled it and it slid backwards into a hole. 

One morning while cleaning up the hanging basket of Million Bells I saw, in my periphery, something that looked like a beetle or a bee flying towards me.  I looked up to see a hummingbird, hovering right before my eyes.  I froze, hoping to prolong her visit. She hung in the air for a good 10 seconds before flying away.  She has visited a few times since. I watched her make her way around to each Lantana flower before she flew to a tiny branch at the top of an Arborvitea in our yard. She rested there so calmly, head proudly raised to the sky.  It's the longest I've seen a hummingbird be still. 

For a longtime it was my wish to see an Indigo Bunting.  They are an unbelievable flash of bright blue that you'll miss if you blink.  I saw one female early last season.  But it was so fast that I wasn't sure.  They fly high for such a tiny bird and like to perch on the top of grasses.  But this year I saw the male twice.  Mission accomplished. What a magical creature.

One of the best interactions I had with nature was at the Beach.  For two days a huge community of Dolphins enjoyed the very area where we were swimming.  We watched them jump the waves and play together, so close to us that we could see their faces.  They swam in lines and rows and families at the edge of the area where it was safe to swim. It was as if they were showing us the line between the shallow and the very deep.

Being observant about issues regarding, economics, politics and cruelty around the world can sometimes make you wish you were more oblivious, but being observant about your outdoor surroundings can directly impact how happy you feel.  It can make you realize how deeply and fiercely you cherish being alive. The stories we're heard of Dolphins feeling and experiencing pleasure, of saving people's lives are not made-up.  They seem to have perfectly aligned moral compasses. A Hummingbird is almost an impossibility, half bug, half bird, she seems something out of a fairy story. But she isn't made up either, she's real. There to remind us, that we are equipped to do the impossible, wildlife proves that the unlikely can be your reality.  

"You can change your life by changing your mind."--spoken by some television personality

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Harvest

In preparation for what was to be 'the worst storm since 1938....' I harvested as many herbs and veggies as
tomatoes, basil, chives, parsley, jalapeno, leek, taragon
possible before they were sure to be pummeled and lost.  With a big week ahead of back to school, students arriving and clean up work at the Arboretum, I spent the day looking up recipes to use the harvest. With the prediction of a power outage, and no idea how a loss of power really prevents you from showering....I froze numerous plastic tubs of water in order to prepare a cooler like scenario in my refrigerator so that all the meals for the week would stay fresh.  Thankfully (but not surprisingly) there was no power outage and we were spared the real wrath of Irene.  Still, an excuse to harvest and invite neighborhood friends over for food whether it be by candelight or in front of the weather channel is a welcome weekend activity before Fall gets into full swing.  And ahhh the sun is shining again already today. This week's menu includes: chicken salad made with garden Tarragon, Red Skinned Potato Salad with garden Chives, Lebanese Tabouleh with garden Parsley, Mint, Red and Yellow Grape Tomatoes, and homemade Pesto with garden Basil.

Irene did leave one message behind in the form of a giant tree limb from the declining Red Oak in the back yard.  Just around 10pm, while delivering my comments on the weather media's penchant for the dramatic and my suspicion that Irene was just an excuse for states to declare emergencies, reap the FEMA funds and practice their evacuation techniques, a HUGE tree limb fell onto the deck. It clobbered a chair, but thankfully missed the windows and the tomato plants.  Ok Irene, I take it all back, thanks for reminding me that I shouldn't talk smack about natural disasters....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Time

Where does it go, Time?  How do we spend our time?  Do we really save time? Ever? Hot or not, summer moments are fleeting--throwing themselves forward toward fall and football and freezing. 

Here are some ways time gets spent in the summer, interesting to compare from different perspectives what time means:

It takes a good three to four months for the plants to produce fruit and a good half-hour, maybe forty-five minutes to give them a drink each day. Without water, it takes less than a day (in 90-plus degree heat) to kill a plant like a cantaloupe or a tomato.  It's interesting to think about needs and how important it is that they are met in a timely manner.  Some plants are drought tolerant which means they can deal with being thirsty before they call it quits.  Others are more tender and cannot produce if their needs aren't met.  

One day at work Ed walked up and said, "Hey, got a present for ya."  He handed me a box of Combat Quick Kill Roach Traps.  I was thrilled.  He and I have talked for a while about how much we hate running into those pesky disgusting bugs inside the tool shed.  This reminded me that I just celebrated the first anniversary of my career change and the end of my full-time steady employment as a ballerina.  You know your life has changed when you are more than moderately excited about being given Roach killer as present.

If you're hoping for change, what you're asking for is a storm.  If you're waiting to see new growth, what you're actually cultivating is patience.  Things that happen quickly are usually short lived.  Slow development often means long life.  If you have to make yourself want something you don't really want it. Even drought tolerant plants are happier with water.  So drink up!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stormy Weather

Ocean View, VA 2009 photo: LAM

I was reminded the other day of a simple truth.

The Weather Channel forecasted storms in the morning before 10 and sun the rest of the day. But it stayed sunny all morning.  Throughout the day a cluster of clouds with just a touch of darkness hinted at the possibility of rain, but a strong breeze picked up in the afternoon and blew them away.

Ocean View, VA 2009 photo:LAM
And in the breeze, I heard this: Sometimes it takes a storm to bring change. In the summer we experience this, it's muggy it's hot, and then there is a thunder storm and it's cooler. Other times though, a strong breeze blows the clouds away before they can become a storm.  Maybe there is no need for a change that day and sunny skies prevail.  Its interesting that we don't get to pick the days that get stormy or the issues in life that disappear on a breeze. Maybe we shouldn't curse the sky's storms or life's battles, maybe we should just observe them and be thankful that change is inevitable and there are some things in the universe that we can't control.

"Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony." -Heraclitus

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Longwood Gardens Kennett Square, PA
It's been longer than usual because I was on 'vacation.' It all started when I read about Ladew Topiary Gardens and realized that it was nearby in Maryland (It was so good I visited twice!)  Hillwood Estate & Gardens is just a few minutes away so I checked that off the list. Then it expanded to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and while I was there I figured why not see a Phillies game, run the Rocky steps, talk to the Curator of plants at Longwood, eat a cheesesteak, eat at Domani Star, see an Oriole Bird in the wild? Check, check, check, check, check and check!  Then I thought, "Let's see see the new section of the Highline in New York's Meatpacking district, and go to the New York Botanic Garden."  Considered catching a Yankees/Red Sox game, but couldn't stand the idea of setting foot in their stadium and adding my precious dollars to their swollen pocketbook.  In between I got to eat my first and second Chesapeake Bay blue crabs of the season, and was lucky enough to see the National Ballet of Cuba AND the Royal Danish Ballet perform at the John F. Kennedy Center in the same week!  Both productions were inspiring enough to send me back to the ballet studio.  Well inspiring enough to make me think about going back in the studio... my pointe shoes are still in the closet, but both ballet companies showcased what has made them legendary. Cherry on top of all this? The friends who ran around with me and made all the adventures possible.

The Highline NYC
Eventually, I ended up at the beach and just sat there for four whole days...Well if you don't count going to a different beach every day, watching the Osprey, going on a boat and forgetting to re-apply the sunscreen, all the while contemplating what's coming next.

NY Botanic Garden the Bronx, NY

"Yo Adrian!"

Friday, June 3, 2011


When I was about 10 years old, I saw an unfamiliar bird in the parking lot of the church we attended.  As I watched the bird, I found its nest.  The nest was built in the rocks at the edge of the parking lot.  It seemed an unlikely place for a bird home and there were eggs! Excited at my discovery, my mom took me to the library to research this bird.  I came back proud to tell everyone that it was a Killdeer and that they are frequenters of parking lots and tend to build their nests on the ground.  Kindly, the people at the church built a small barrier around the nest to prevent it from getting run over or trampled and I was forever bonded to the Killdeer as if I'd discovered the bird myself.

Fast forward twenty years or so and I was experiencing a particularly difficult day at the Arboretum.  It was hot and I had just been introduced to my new nemesis, the weed whip, also known as the weed wacker, the string trimmer or weed eater.  When a five feet, ten inch, 160lb person operates this machine it looks light as a feather and easy to maneuver.  Take away ten inches and 60lbs--not so much.  Suddenly the machine becomes a vibrating, oscillating, heavy nightmare, whipping a plastic slicing string around and making holes in the yard, covering all passersby in grass and weeds, while tearing the bark from 40 year old Oaks....ahh the excitement of a second career---curse all those women who never have to find a second career or even a first for that matter....and there I am with my hand in a spasm, and my arm on fire, when my boss tells me the next assignment: to take the Saw and cut up 3 inch diameter tree limbs so that they can fit into the bed of my three speed pick-up/dump truck.  All of this before I have realized that on a Horticulture saw (as compared with a carpenter's saw) all the power is on the pull.  (This would've been helpful information I think)...And so I'm feeling sorry for myself, my sore arm and my life choices as I pull into the parking lot of the Brickyard.

Flying ahead of me as a drive is a bird.  Faintly familiar, I think, "Is that a Killdeer?!"  It is!! I haven't seen one in five years, maybe ten.  But there he is, in a parking lot, running along the gravel in spurts.  And I smile.  After I deposit the branches, I stop for a few minutes to see if I can find its nest. Not far away I see what must be its mate and think, "Maybe she is guarding babies!"  But while they run this way and that, they never settle on one area where a nest might be.  The male and female Killdeer are difficult to tell apart, but during the next event, I become keenly tuned into who is who...The female bird stands still for a moment.  The other bird jumps on her back. (Truly! Standing right on top.)  Suddenly I am a witness to something I was not privvy to the first time I met the Killdeer, at age 10.  A few seconds later, each bird is skittering through the parking lot, showing no sign of real interest in the other. (We could make a human comparison here, but let's not...)

I smiled to myself as I headed back to the garden for the next round of weeding and watering.  The birds served as a sign for me that day:  Life is not just a series of accidents and we have not fallen off course.  Lots of times things are the way they are for a reason. There is a natural cycle to life that we are a part. Most of the time we are not forgotten and just when we think we are, there are memories and visits from old friends.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Garden update: Planted

Garden 2011 photo: LAM
It's planted.  the garden in the Porter Street Backyard is in the ground.  All the plants seem infinitely happier in the dirt than they did in their pots.  The transplants in the perennial garden are all showing new growth and the peonies are intoxicating everyone with their perfume. So far I've made two or three salads and about four spinach melts with the early harvest of greens.  I've even flavored soups with the early basil leaves. The lantanas (one of my favorite summer flowers and butterfly attractors) have been in their pot for a week and they are already blooming yellow and pink!  Now to be honest, I didn't grow the lantana or the marigolds from seed. The Rosemary, Sage and elegant Lavendar all over-wintered in pots last year and are showing leaps and bounds of new growth since they found their permanent homes in the ground.  But the leeks, tomatoes, parsley, basil, chives, spinach, stevia, nasturtiums, and violas are from seed!!

Lantana photo:LAM

This year I'm root watering my tomatoes.  I'm experimenting.  Two tomato plants are in containers on the porch where they get more sun.  Three plants are in the ground with the root watering system.  The idea is that with some PVC pipe, I water the soil beneath the tomato plants, this way the roots grow down to a safe place where they will not be so affected by surface environmental factors. 

million bells mix photo:LAM

Last year I bought a beautiful hanging basket of "million bells," a dwarf wave petunia. I paid at least $22.  This year I planned to purchase individual pots and make my own hanging basket.  Here's the truth:  I spent just as much or more and they don't look as good.  My advice is just bite the bullet and spend the money on the hanging basket that the experts at the nursery have put together for you.

The biggest pest so far is what i believe to be a weasily little squirrel.  Eating the marigolds, eating the basil, taking bites out of the tomato plants. Most of the garden is covered with a net now to keep  him/her/them away. More on that later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time to stop and smell the roses...

Backyard climbers
I've always felt like this statement is directed toward people who are too busy to allow themselves to be taken by the fragrance of a flower.  It's for people who are stressed or beaten down or exhausted, scared and lonely, or for people who aren't embracing life, right?  The statement leads us to believe that if we would just slow down and enjoy the fragrance of a rose, it might change our day... our perspective...our lives...I always feel like I'm taking advantage.  If smelling the roses transforms your life, I must already be transformed because I always make time to stop, I'll let myself be taken to a magical place by the scent of a rose as many times a day as possible.

USNA Herb Garden photo:LAM
If you look around the city, you will see roses thriving in the strangest of places and that is because Roses are old flowers with lots of history and when they find a place they like, they stick.  They don't go with the trends of our cities, moving out to the suburbs when 'the riff-raff' moves downtown  and moving back when it becomes hip to live in the city again. They don't mind the sites that have fallen into disrepair.  They aren't interested in gentrification. They are just as happy in the 'ghetto' as they are at Hillwood. As long as there is good sun, soil and rain, they come back again and again and do the real beautifying of our neighborhoods, climbing the fences, covering the entryways, brightening the most chaotic bramble.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you not to wait until the end of June to finally stop and smell a rose and here is why:

Best Smelling Rose in the Herb Garden photo:LAM
The early blooming roses have the most fragrance.  If you wait until late in summer to smell a rose,  you might wonder why you stopped at all.  When the rose breeders bred in longevity and repeat blooming, they bred out the fragrance.  Don't delay, stop and smell a rose today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Re-posted: Bird Emergency

A few days ago, a Catbird got itself stuck inside the tool shed at the Arboretum.  This structure is rather ornate for a tool shed and looks more like a Victorian concession stand.  (Around 2pm I'm always hoping there will be ice cream.)  That being said, it has four round windows at the top.  On that day, even though the door stood wide open, the little bird was convinced that the only escape was through the tiny sealed window.  He was getting more and more agitated as he flapped his wings, running into the window and then the wall again and again.  He would stop, but he would not look around and then he would start again, violently flapping his wings and jumping and smashing his beak into the glass. 
Tool Shed Friendship Garden US National Arboretum

Now, at this point I could write about the similarities between us and this bird. I could point out that sometimes, we are so fixed on having things go the way we envision them, so sure that things are the way we believe them to be, that we are unable to look around and see the huge, gaping, welcoming way out or way in or path or whatever metaphor works for you...  But, I'm not going to make that comparison. Today, the story continues...

I try tweeting to the bird in a Catbird like sound. I keep hoping its mate or its mom will sound an alarm to help it get its bearings. I whistle, I close the door and open it again so that it will see the light. I even talk to it. Nothing works.  (Catbirds are native to North America, they should understand English!)

My boss was off that day and Ed, who always helps me out of a pickle, was gone too.  So, I enlisted help from the ladies in Visitor services. By the time we returned I couldn't see the bird in the window from the front of the shed. I felt a moment of hope as I walked around the side, only to find that in its panic, the bird threw itself to the ground and was panting and struggling on its side in a heap. I could hardly look as I imagined that its wings were broken, its dreams of soaring through the Oak trees dashed. Its death or at least paralysis seemed imminent. But, as Nancy and Lindsay came around the side of the building, somehow the little bird hopped to its feet!

It stood still on the floor for a few minutes.  And then when we leaned in to help, it flew to a nearby tree where he sat for the rest of the day.  (I checked on him of course.)  Coincidentally, a few days later a similar occurrence happened at the ballet.  Ms. Donna rescued the little Catbird, this time a younger one, just beginning to fledge.  So exhausted was he from his adventure inside the ballet school, that before she could place him back down on the earth, he fell asleep in her hands.

These miraculous creatures, develop in an egg---needing nothing but the right amount of heat to go from mush to what can only be called a wildly creative, inspiring invention of nature---with a tiny, delicate, complicated, bone structure, and an instinctual, yet novice handle on aerodynamics, they somehow do what none of us can do-- fly! They take the leap, most of the time before they seem ready. Even once they mature, sometimes they fall, sometimes they hit a wall and drop to the ground-- All appears lost.  They look broken, sometimes they appear dead. But what they really are is stunned.  They need a minute, sometimes an hour to regroup.   Intrinsically, they know this. They don't fly off in a panic, they wait it out, they let the process happen, they heal and move on. Suddenly, alive again, they go back to the business of flying.

And so, with that being said, it hardly seems necessary to put into words what each one of us can learn from the birds.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Ironically, while I write, there is a Stink Bug buzzing around my bathroom.  It's a horrible noise but I don't really know what to do with him. If I squish him, he'll stink up the place, if I open the window, more just like him will sneak in....

IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management
Here is the definition of IPM according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices..., it is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

A pest is really just anything that you don't want in a place where it is:  weeds...plants....birds....bugs....people...ha just kidding.  No seriously, I have becoming fascinated with IPM as I have begun a study of the weeds at the National Arboretum, as I contemplate the poison ivy and the mosquitoes that plague me in the summer and as I think about the pests in my own garden and how I will combat them without losing my crop or my cool. 

I'm amazed that our industry has pushed the concept of balance to the forefront.  In an age where excess is key, I'm surprised that we've officially made 'integrated management' of any kind a priority.  But, the effects of most herbicides and pesticides can be seen in a day or two, sometimes in minutes.  And so when you work outside, you can't ignore the effects that toxins, bad matches, wrong environments and sudden changes have on us and on our environment. Still, I can't think of any other area where we (mankind) have created jobs to really incorporate balance into our lives/workplace/world.

And so, it's not surprising that I think we could apply IPM to our own lives, not just our gardens.....Some plants are nice, but they aren't nice in the wrong spot, so they need to be dug up and replanted somewhere else.  Some weeds can be handled just by pulling them out.  Plants can be put near other plants to attract and repel the 'right' and the 'wrong' kinds of insects and avoid having to use any chemicals at all.  Some problems are solved with a lot of sunshine and a little bit of water.  Sometimes, insects that damage crops can be handled by finding the eggs ( their source) and disposing of them.  Some pests, i.e. poison ivy, are so dangerous that they need to be destroyed.  Some plants don't live well with others, they are invasive, and greedy.  Picking up on all the metaphors here?

What's interesting about IPM are the boundaries and balance that it promotes in our environment.  It forces us to share, to be creative, to be knowledgeable and rational.

I think it's the same for the 'pests' in our lives.  Our stresses, our 'enemies,' our fears, our vices, our loves, our obsessions.  Well, for getting through and thriving, we all could use a bit more integrated pest management...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Don't Miss it!

In this post, I wanted to showcase the flowers on parade in the residential gardens throughout Northwest, DC.  If you are looking for a place to appreciate Spring's color and fragrance, this corner of The District has got it. 
Wisteria photo:LAM
Though many people consider it a weed, Wisteria can be breathtaking. When it's in bloom, dangling chandeliers of fragrant lavender dew drops appear, entwining the tower at the National Cathedral, strand upon trailing strand. I have wanted to photograph it for years and recently I had some time to walk over and stare at it.  I don't think it has reached its peak yet, so it's not too late to see it for yourself.

It is probably the evanescent nature of the flowers that makes Spring so exciting.  The Cherry Blossoms are here today and gone tomorrow.  We can't really control them and it makes us love them more. 

Rare things are valuable and in nature most plants bloom just onetime each year.

Azalea Collection USNA photo:LAM
In an earlier post, I mentioned the National Arboretum's Azalea Collection.  It's only a few weeks in April when the Azalea's come to life.  In DC, the Azaleas are the stars of late April and early May.  Their colors are so spectacular that we don't mind planting them in our yards and staring at the green leaves for the rest of the year.  We appreciate that it takes a year long cycle for them to produce the beautiful display.

We too are seasonal beings. We bloom and we fade, we leaf out and we go dormant.

For the most part, other than waiting for babies to be born or flowers to bloom, humans are relatively impatient about development. We are out of touch with our natural rhythm.  Even though we know that anticipation is one of things that makes realization satisfying, we don't like to wait. We don't like to let things take their course. 

This is another opportunity for us to take our cue from nature. Is it possible for us to recognize our process, the building blocks, the time spent 'becoming' and embrace all that in the same way we appreciate the bursts of color and the exciting moments? Can we prevent ourselves from getting anxious or impatient during the part of the year when there isn't any color in the garden? This year, we could try to align our life rhythm with the plants bloom cycle. It might be a good challenge to see if we can enjoy the time it takes to develop a spectacular life, the way a flower enjoys soaking up the suns rays and using the soil's nutrients and the sky's water to make itself whole.
Illicium Anisatum (Star Anise) Photo: LAM
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, May 2, 2011

From Seed

First Harvest!  Photo:LAM
Here is a photo of the first harvest!! Chives, Mesclun Salad Greens and Spinach, all successfully grown from seed.  This is just the beginning.  The basil, parsley, leeks, tomatoes and bell peppers are still living inside as sprouts, just waiting for the day they can start growing out in the sunshine.  The Oregano's leaves are still little but it's already thriving in a container. The Nasturtiums are the most impressive so far, potted up and living on the deck.  These days the plants stay outside when it's sunny and come in when it's thundering or cold, but I have plans for them very soon to move outside permanently (my dad says, after Mother's Day is when you plant your garden.)  I will likely judge my aptitude as a farmer/gardener on the success or failure of the tomato and leek crop.  If I can successfully grow them from seed, I will know that I have a green thumb. It might have been helpful to be sure I had a green thumb before I chose this as a cross your fingers.

Acanthus "Bears Britches"
My mom recently gave me some Bear's Britches (Acanthus) and a Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) from her garden in PA.  The Dicentra is already dangling white hearts.  I wonder if the Acanthus will flourish as well.

Mugwort "Chrysanthemum Weed"
One particular weed has been very persistent at the Arboretum and in the backyard.  It's knick-name is Chrysanthemum Weed because it's foliage resembles Mum foliage, but it doesn't flower like a mum and it develops an obnoxious rhizomous root system.  I did some research, however and it's real name is Mugwort.  It's rumored to have medicinal properties AND to be a bug repellent, so I might go a little easier on it for a while and see if I can't put it to good use this summer. 

The Iris's are in bloom and we are well on our way to Peonies, Rudbeckias (Black-eyed susans), Hydrangea and nice crop of fragrant Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum.)  Best, Shannon's dad sent us a birdhouse that he made!  Some Wrens have built a nest there already and we are very excited that our backyard might be home to some baby birds!!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spoke too soon

Got two nice weeks of a poison ivy free work zone but alas today it days of carefree weeding and pruning are done. Hello summer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Arboretum in April

Columbine in Fern Valley Photo: LAM
Last week I started back at the National Arboretum.  This is my second term as a Horticultural Intern in the Friendship Garden. On my return, I was reminded of my worthy foes Poison Ivy and The Leaf Blower.   Lucky for me, I requested an April start date so that I am ahead of the game with the poison ivy, who hasn't emerged yet.  Better, I remember where it was last year, so at least I know where it might pop up.  The leaf blower bested me my on very first day, BUT in my defense, it had not been started since last November.  Since the first day back, I have been victorious over starting it myself in about three pulls. (Maybe be the end of the season I could get it in one pull!)

Sadly, I don't think the visitors who come to the Arboretum looking for peace and serenity much appreciate what I have gone through to become so skilled at leaf blowing. They seem to resent the noise and me-- even though I've managed to avoid getting dirt in their eyes and in my own... so far.

Bleeding Heart Photo: LAM

Cercis Canadensis Redbud Photo: LAM
The Friendship Garden looks very different in dormancy and re-emergence. It's fascinating to see exactly when the buds begin to open.   Bleeding Heart is a low growing, shade loving perennial that is in full bloom right now.  I missed this one last year because I started much later.  There are hundreds of types of Narcissus growing in the recently saved Boxwood collection.  Getting to see the first leaves of each grass pushing through the soil leaves me wide eyed as I understand how these plants begin .  As promised, there have been a few special days when the Redbud's flowers and leaves cling to the branch together and I can't help but want to knick-name this shrub, "the sweetheart of the lower canopy."

Magnolia Blossom Photo: LAM
On my very first day it was about 75 degrees and sunny. I visited the Holly Magnolia collection, where the trees were exploding with fragrant pink and white magnolia blossoms and at the same time, the ground was layered with soft petals. Someone was napping underneath one tree and it looked like a dream. The Dogwoods and the Azaleas are in all their glory on the hill in the Azalea Collection.  These blossoms always remind me that it only takes a few weeks of breathtaking beauty to make waiting a whole year, worth it.  In comparison, my second day of work was about 50 degrees and raining, so Spring is a real tease this year.  

I can't help but think about the circumstances of my first day last year.   How things have changed. How fast a year has flown by.  How lucky am I to get to return to this wonderful place a little more experienced and still excited about weeding? 
Magnolia Stellata Photo: LAM

All the usual suspects are back for the spring and soon there will be a string of new interns.  The lunchtime stories should abound.  It's a bit quiet now, but it's still early.

"Wisdom begins in Wonder" --Socrates

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Tidal Basin 2011 photo: Lam
Each year people from all over the world travel to the Nation's Capital to see the Cherry Blossoms.  This is an amazing phenomenon for a few reasons.  The first is that only God knows when the flowers will actually appear. We can make general predictions, but like last year when the trees bloomed early, we can never be sure.  The ephemeral nature of the flowers is what makes it so special when the day you choose to venture downtown, ends up being a peak day.  Ephemeral or not, we plan picnics and parades, festivals and fanfare around the three week window when the trees tend to bloom.  We flock to the Tidal Basin for a glimpse of the trees blanketed in blossoms.  From afar they look like spring snow, with a pink warmth, almost floating on the branches before opening their parachutes and dancing through the air, the breeze's manifesto.

The Cherry Trees were a gift from Japan in 1912.  A relationship was forged during the time it took to acquire the trees and finally get them in the ground. (This wasn't easy. Check out:  Cherry Blossom Time Line.)

As history progresses we see this gift threatened as it becomes a representation of the heavier aspects of nature.  The Cherry Blossom Trees can been viewed as a tangible example of the seasonal waxing and waning of the human condition.  Each flower can represent a separate piece of our condition: generosity and graciousness, fear and necessity, pride, pain, regret, forgiveness, perseverance, glory.  When we look at the long relationship between Japan and the United States, we can never forget that it only took a moment to nearly destroy each other, and it took years in the re-paving.  Now-- a natural disaster, not a human one, has damaged Japan and challenged us to deepen our friendship and forge ahead.

photo: Lam

Japan's real gift to us is a reminder that time does heal most wounds, that love does cover a multitude of wrongs. we can be reconciled to one another, and best of all beauty can continue to emerge.   Lucky for those of us close to DC, this reminder emerges each year as a ring of Flowering Cherries that have endured and blossomed, been grafted, reborn and remained for 99 years.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Cornus Florida,  NC State Photo: L. Metzger
Recently I completed an East Coast tour of education possibilities for broadening my horticultural horizons.  Each program boasted a personable faculty, a rich curriculum, state-of-the-art facilities, acres of greenhouses and gardens.  In addition to seeing the cities, I got to experience the emerging spring in each one and I am full of excitement for the next phase. I can think of ten reasons and a thousand scenarios that make each school a perfect fit, so it's not surprising that I don't know where to go yet.

NC State photo: L.Metzger
This must have been what it was like for normal undergrads to visit schools, seeing if they clicked, getting goodie bags with free t-shirts and being invited to lunch.  A far cry from the soul-sucking process of auditioning to become an undergraduate ballet major.

As usually, the most adventurous and entertaining part of this journey has nothing to do with plants and occurred on the drive home from North Carolina.

It all started when I stopped for a coffee at Starbucks and again got sucked in by the fanciful marketing schemes of what I like to call Starbucks Music.  If you know me, you know that frequently I need to learn lessons two or three times before I really get the idea.  My strong will has served me well in professional arenas, but in my personal life, I'd say it's made me a bit of a thick-skulled, slow learner. As I ordered, I saw a CD.  I was sure this CD would not fall into the category of the typically lame, sleepy Starbucks music.  So, I purchased it.

Little did I know, that once I commenced driving, the combination of the caffeine and the music would turn my foot into a piece of lead and cause me to day dream so fully that I would forget myself...I'm looking around, appreciating the budding trees, scanning the horizon for hawks, thinking about the highs and lows of the last three months, smiling-- because this IS a good CD--- 

All of a sudden,  I check my rear view and see a State Trooper behind me (tailgating if you want to get specific.)  I figure he is annoyed because I'm in the left lane, rubber necking so, I move over. ...And then he moves over...and then he turns his lights on. I can't imagine why he is pulling me over... He asks me for my license and registration. He doesn't ask for my proof of insurance, so I figure that I'm in the clear.  But then he asks why I'm driving so fast.  I respond with an expression similar to the one you might have when you realize that "red-light district" does not mean "artsy part of town."

I still figure he'll just give me a warning...But then he says, "I clocked you at 95mph." Apparently that is too fast to even be assigned a fine in North Carolina... You can imagine the rest. I did not get off with just a warning.

And so I'm sticking to my original story:  stopping at Starbucks mid-road trip, un-caffeinated and bored with your music selection never amounts to any good.  It's easy to get sucked in by their menagerie of colorful merchandise.  Stay strong.  Step away from the coffee counter.  After that, keep your eyes peeled for Dodge Chargers.  They aren't just Chevy Malibus anymore.