“Let Us Cultivate Our Garden”

Most people out here in the real west are jonesing to get into their gardens. Cold weather porn has been arriving (see featured photo) in our mailboxes since Christmas. My email is attacked daily with solicitations about growing deer resistant, bee attracting, mosquito repelling gardens this summer.

Meanwhile in Bearadise, the garden is…

For the moment I’m growing cardboard boxes. They’re doing well. One of their main virtues as a winter crop is keeping Bear out of the flower and vegetable beds, especially as they’re frozen to the ground. They are also mulching their little hearts out, attracting and providing a haven for earthworms. We’ve had enough of a melt that the top layer of soil thawed so Bear could to attempt to dig.

My entire yard is a disaster and there’s not much I can do about it considering the proclivities of the giant white creature with whom I live. One of my goals this summer is to put down a small patio and a walkway between the gardens, leaving Bear the back part where her favorite digging spots are. There’s also the chance that if she keeps at it, she’ll extricate two annoying, giant, weedy lilacs.

I garden but I’m not an enthusiast. I can’t help it. I think it’s in my blood. My lack of enthusiasm but commitment to growing things works well for the plants. In the course of my life I’ve had some huge gardens, sometimes very fancy. But at this point I’m most interested in what the plants do. Two years ago I had freakishly huge zucchini plants — and discovered that I don’t like zucchini all that much. Last year at this time I was putting tiny tomato seeds in Jiffy Pots and moving them around to sunny windows. The best thing in my garden last year was my Scarlet Emperor Bean of Song and Story. That bean was a magic ray of hope and a friend during the weeks leading to my hip surgery when I was scared and in a lot of pain. I gave them each a Chinese name — emperor or author. They were amazing to watch grow, and those that went into my garden grew to be 12 feet tall. I didn’t eat them. I wanted their seeds to plant this coming summer.

Hong Li, my first Scarlet Emperor Bean

These regal beans gave me a lot of seeds and I have shared them with friends. This year my garden will have them but also Australian pumpkins. 🙂

Australian pumpkin seeds and Scarlet Emperor Beans

There is something else to my garden that’s very special. When I moved here, there were no gardens. Just a beautiful lawn (that ship has sailed, thanks Bear). Then…

Quotation from Candide outside my garden fence.

My friends, K, who lives next door and E, who lives across the street both garden passionately. As we got to know each other, and they saw that I also have to dig up perfectly nice grass to plant flowers, they shared their “extras.” We now have many of the same flowers in our gardens, lots of iris which grow well here and multiply like crazy.

I thought about that last year when the iris began to bloom in our yards. Sometime in the future when there’s no K, E or M, those flowers will be growing in our yards. Someone could say, “Wow, these gardens all have the same flowers.” And the flowers will whisper a reply, “Yes. The people who lived here were friends.”

Peonies and Violas

“Oh thank goodness.”


“It’s getting cold. I didn’t think she’d ever get around to putting our blankets on.”

“She always has. Always will. You need to relax a little bit. Soon after the leaves fall, she rakes them over you.”

“You don’t have the same problems with cold I do. You’ll bloom anyway.”

“True. Why are you so wimpy?”

“I’m not ‘wimpy’. I’m sensitive. Don’t forget I’m an exotic oriental blossom that has inspired poetry? I have tender petals.”

“Guess I’m glad I’m just a random wild flower.”


“Is she going to cover you all, too? I hope so. It can’t be fun hanging out on the north side of that fence when it’s 20 below.”

“Martha will cover us soon, probably, but not until she has to. You see, we like growing and blooming and making seeds and all that. A little cold doesn’t bother any of us.”

“I see your pal the columbine is doing well.”

“She loves this. She has ice over her all winter.”

“Well, gotta’ go. Dormancy time and all that, you know. Nice chatting. See you on the flip side.”

“See you in spring.”

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P.S. The fallen leaves are so helpful to bugs, bees, flowers, and the ground I just can’t think of them as “dead.” Oh, here’s today’s bonus, a flock of Sandhill Cranes. ❤




Quotidian Update 89.314…

34 degrees when I got up this morning. That’s around 0 Celsius. Times like this, taken by surprise by autumn which fell (ha ha fall, get it? Get it?) suddenly Monday afternoon in blasts of north wind (“Feel that Bear? It’s coming! It won’t be long now!”) on which rode several large, black birds, not ravens — I don’t know what they were. Their heads were feathered so not turkey vultures. They rode the wind with some of the joy I felt at having my hair pulled back and my face realigned by incipient winter in which hirsute creatures are cut a break and I have to put on long pants. Grrrrrrrrrrr….

The next day, ALL the trees on the golf course, including the numerous holdouts, had surrendered to gold. “Awright aready,” they proclaimed. Like me, they had a weird summer. In their case it wasn’t surgery, it was virtually no precipitation from October 2017 until July 2018. “We’re not ready for this to end!”

Frankly, I’m not either and I am not a big fan of summer.

My garden has been more like a friend this year than a chore. My yard is a mess — the grass patchy and not helped by Bear’s digging. I didn’t plant anything in my flower beds. The birds planted sunflowers and the wild-flowers reseeded themselves. For veggies, I put in a row of Swiss chard, a Scarlet Emperor Bean and two tomatoes. The whole crazy garden turned out beautiful. I have six tomatoes (two gifts, two volunteers) and they’ve been giving me tomatoes like mad. My bean? Ah…

As some readers of this blog know, I planted some old Scarlet Emperor Bean seeds when I planted the tomato seeds indoors. When — to my surprise — they sprouted so beautifully, fast, and immense, I started repotting them and naming them for Chinese emperors and favorite Chinese writers. I gave them all away, except one that sprouted at the last minute before I went to the hospital and that I planted in the raised bed with the chard and the volunteer tomatoes I didn’t know about.

I didn’t eat any of the pots as they came along — but Bear did. I wanted the seeds so I have let them dry on the vine. I have a large handful of beautiful purple and black beans for next year. For some reason, I LOVE them. I guess they represent to me this whole summer of rehabilitation and the regaining of my powers.




Once upon a time, four 1/2 years ago, when I first moved here, I looked at the yard and thought, “Wow. All I have to do is mow it!” I’d been living on a 1/4 acre of rock riddled land in the Cuyamaca Mountains of California and to cut the weeds/foxtails, I had to use a weed-eater. My new, green Colorado lawn seemed like Heaven well, in Heaven.

I’d forgotten. Twenty years before I’d had a lawn. I’d even planted the damned thing with seed! and then we got a lawn mower and I mowed it and I…

hated it. Hated that job. Looking at the emerald splendor of my new Colorado lawn, I forgot all about that until the first time I hitched up my (electric) mower and went at my front yard. Strong feelings of hating it rose to the surface, and as I criss-crossed the relatively small surface I yelled, “I hate this. I HATE it. I HATE IT.”

I gotta’ get out there before it gets too hot which is tomorrow when it’s supposed to hit 90.


Martha’s Saga

When you’re stove up there’s just stuff you can’t do and some of that might drive you nuts. The true nature of three common trees and shrubs — lilac, elm and aspen — is not known to everyone, but the truth is they are invasive as hell and opportunistic sons-o-bitches. They LOVE the dog yard because the sewer line runs through there and sewer lines in my (old) town are enormous clay pipes. Basically, my back yard — dog yard — is lilac, elm and aspen paradise.

Every year I cut them before they’re 6 inches. I mow them and that’s pretty much all I need to do to remind them who’s boss, but this year, that wasn’t happening. Add to that the guys who turned on the sprinkler — whom I’d asked NOT to turn on the sprinklers back there — turned on the sprinklers back there and they ran for at LEAST two hours three times a week. The lilac, aspen and elm were all singing about the wonder of life and the greatness of this summer and the owner of this house. Since those sprinklers didn’t seem to want to go off I also had to trudge (cane and all) through this jungle in the mud to turn off the sprinklers. Finally the guys came out and fixed the problem but by then many of these wretched plants were over 6 feet tall with  stems that were approaching trunks in width.

Not a pretty picture.



So yesterday I cleaned the yard that is the garden and might, someday, be a nice place to sit of a morning with a cup of coffee (when I’m able to carry coffee down two steps). Today I pondered, “What next?” But I knew…

I knew my weed-eater wasn’t powerful enough for the job and the lawn mower couldn’t cut it (ha ha). There were two possibilities. Hand pruners or hedge clippers. The choice was easy. Bear and I went into the dark, dark garage and found them and I took after the bushes. After 30 minutes, I had a pathway from the garage to the front fence and Bear’s second favorite hole.



“It’s still here, Human!”

After another 30 minutes, I’d cut a similar swath back to the little sidewalk that runs along the garage. I was done. Lunch and water and back out there, surprised to see I had a lot less work remaining than I thought.

I went for it. Thirty minutes later I invited Dusty to come out to inspect my work. His conclusion? “Yes, human, you’ll have no problems finding my poop here. Good job.”

That is, of course, the point.



“Couldn’t have done better myself.” “Dusty, you don’t have opposable thumbs. You couldn’t have DONE it yourself.”

The next chore awaiting my attention will not take place until Monday. It will involve the lawn mower and the front yard. Strangely, I’d rather cut down all those lilacs with hedge pruners than get out the lawn mower and go through all that. That’s a job I truly hate.

This evening I’m going to try something new; taking Dusty and Bear to the slough for a walk. Maybe no one will be there and certainly the light will be wonderful. There are lenticular clouds out there now and that could (please whoever’s in charge) mean rain.





It is actually cloudy and rainy here in drought-stricken southern Colorado, but it’s going to take a lot of rain to reach the target of 7 inches for the year. It won’t happen today. Having lived in California so long where fire restrictions in the mountains are strict, I’m amazed that people are upset that they can’t have campfires. There are a lot of great camp stoves on the market so it isn’t about food (except maybe s’mores). It must be some latent primordial urge to gather around the camp fire and sing “Kum-ba-yah.” I just want to yell, “Get over it. You can have a good time without a campfire.” The fire near the town of Durango is so large and dangerous, that the San Juan National Forest has been closed. Some guy even posted (in protest) on Facebook that it’s unconstitutional to close a national forest.

The first year I moved here, I bought a few expensive iris from some fancy company. Of course, I forgot what they were called, but who cares? I wanted them to grow. I wasn’t going to call them in for dinner. This year — their third year — sticking their pretty faces out toward the sun — they’ve been so beautiful and so cheering. I’ll separate them this fall and share them with my neighbors. I have also been given iris by friends and it’s a very sweet thing to walk around the neighborhood and see our gardens sending up brothers and sister flowers.

I love iris – for themselves and for nostalgic reasons. My parents planted a little field of them outside our back fence in Englewood (their first house) and when I was old enough — 4 or 5 — and had colored pencils, my dad told me to draw them. They were the simple beautiful purple iris and drawing them was a kind of magic.

In those same years, my Aunt Kelly lived next door to a man who’d turned his whole back yard — 1/4 acre+ — over to irises. She’d come to visit with actual ARM loads of irises. She and my mom would rush to find vases for all them. The fragrance filled the house.

In California, irises were hard to grow so I didn’t have any until I moved up to the mountains (3500 feet) where we had a few snows a year and cold temps in winter. I had a field of iris and I was very happy.

Here are a few pictures — not nearly all the different ones I have but during some of their blooming time, I wasn’t all that ambulatory.


Hongli, the Scarlet Emperor Bean

I have a pet bean — actually, I have two now, Hongli and Song Jiang. How this happened? Well, a few weeks ago I decided it was time to start plants in the house, you know, tomato and basil. I had a packet of seeds — beans — unopened from a little shopping trip I took with a friend when she came to visit three years ago at the end of summer. We ate our green chili smothered enchiladas at Ninos, then wandered around downtown Monte Vista which is mostly empty storefronts. BUT among those empty storefronts is an awesome mom and pop hardware store. My friend is a professional gardener, so she was drawn to the seed rack. I saw these beans. They have red flowers and a wonderful name, Scarlet Emperor Beans. I bought them thinking I would grow them along the front fence.

I put them away and forgot about them for two years. But this spring, I opened the packet and jabbed a few of these giant and beautiful beans into little seed starter things.



Close to actual size!


I forgot important information such as “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Most of them didn’t sprout but ONE did. Over night that thing was four inches tall. I got a pot, I planted it, it sang rapturous songs in gratitude. I named it Hongli, the original name of the first Manchu Emperor known as Chien Lung. The sound “hong” in Chinese has many meanings but one of them is “red.” “Li” usually means “bright.”

Hongli began his life and his adventures, taking the sun in various spots in my yard. I have had a good time following his imperial journeys (and sometimes posting them on Facebook where he has garnered three or four diehard fans). He especially enjoys mornings spent in the Garden of the Undaunted Violas.

Meanwhile, another one sprouted,and I had to name him. I decided that he should have the name of a different kind of hero. One of my favorite works of fiction is The Water Margin known as The Men of the Marshes or All Men Are Brothers. It’s a late 16th century Chinese Novel that’s (weirdly) often compared to Robin Hood. The central characters are 108 semi-supernatural outlaws. It’s a lot of fun to read especially if you like tigers and cannibalism. 🙂 The hero of that story is Song Jiang who is everything you’d want in a heroic bean.



Hongli and Song Jiang in the Sunny Garden of the Resolute Violas


The two now hold audiences together in various parts of my yard (we call it garden). One of Song Jiang’s first outdoor excursions was to the Quiet Courtyard of the Serene Leper Bells.



Leper Bell


It appears that through the Scarlet Emperor Bean “grapevine” the word went down that this is a good place because a THIRD sprouted. He had a hard struggle to make his way into the light, but he succeeded. I was out of pots so he has gone directly into the ground (raised bed). His name is Li Ho because every Chinese court needs a poet.



Li Ho stationed on the frontier


This probably seems like a very elaborate life for a bunch of beans, but it’s been a cheerful distraction for me as I wait for hip surgery. This morning Hongli made his wishes known so I am building him a trellis.



Summer??? NO! NO!

Seed catalogs start arriving here in the back of beyond immediately after Christmas, and I mean (given it doesn’t fall on a Sunday) December 26. They are porn for the snowbound. In past years I fell prey to their siren song and was captivated by their air-brushed photos of juicy tomatoes and suggestive images of Genovese basil, almost, but not quite pesto. Not having lived through “real” winters in a while, I thought, “I’d better start some seeds!” and ended up with incubators (I call them) that I had to keep moving out of my way; my house doesn’t really have room for baby plants. But the “children” emerged with their two little leaves and my heart expanded with hopes that they might someday fulfill their potential. Tiny tomatoes emerged in mid-March and I defied many experts who said, “You can’t grow basil from seeds!” Well, I did.

Not this year. Still, a cue from my subconscious caused me to dream of last summer’s zucchini. It wasn’t a good dream, either. I think it combined with sleep paralysis or something. Dark times.

Last year I planted a raised bed of tomatoes, basil, chard and zucchini. It had been decades since I’d grown zucchini, and I thought it would be fun. I forgot that I don’t really like it. The zucchini grew to epic proportions (really! leaves almost as large as my dogs) It was beautiful and interesting and fascinated people from far and wide (my street and anyone who drove down from Colorado Springs or up from Durango to visit) but in the end, the result was zucchini.


This year? Salad. I’m planting salad. The best part of my garden last year was going out, picking the leaves of the Swiss chard and bringing them in for salad. The zucchini brought that to an end. The giant leaves covered the chard and attempted an invasion of the sacred ranks of tomatoes and basil (no no no no). I fought, but admit to being amazed by what the zucchini was doing. Three plants conquer the world… Then the fruit started coming.

I also am not crazy about cooking, but I made many mini loaves of zucchini bread. Some are still in my freezer. I don’t like zucchini bread all that much, either, but others do. I “shared” meaning, “Please for the love of God, take this!!!”

If I could only plant Gruyere….


Butterfly Sanctuary, Quotidian Report #35

That elastic spring in my step is gone, I mean LONG gone. But…I think maybe elasticity of mind is as important.

Yesterday, after my adventure at Great Sand Dunes, there wasn’t much elasticity left in the joints in my legs, but I took the dogs out anyway. It was a beautiful day for a walk and they were happy. Me too, though, honestly, it hurt most of the time.



Snow is forecast for Monday and the first “real” freeze, so I spent this morning out in the yard explaining to all the little plants why they have to be pulled up or cut back.


I hate working in the yard in front of my house in the summer. First, it’s a south facing house, which means it’s BLASTING hot. Second, it’s on a major US highway, so there I am, a little old lady in shorts, bending over to tend plants. No. This is not to be born. At a certain point, a couple months ago, I just stopped. I didn’t want to be on TV. As a friend pointed out, you never know when Google Earth is going to come by.

This morning was very cool (bordering on frigid), and the summer traffic is done, making my street just a street in a town. I cut the grass and, simultaneously, using the same tool, “raked” leaves. I cut back plants that will go dormant and pulled out stuff that will die. I found the sunflowers had given me seeds. Most wonderful of all, my neglected lawn — invaded by Piñon asters — was full of Painted Lady butterflies. I did not mow their little sanctuary. They need what the flowers give them more than I need to mow…



P.S. I did not take the photo of the butterfly. I tried, but whenever I got near, they flew away. I took it off the Internet.