On my knees. In the garden.
It grows with wild abandon this year, unkempt as if forgotten. It's not forgotten, just not a priority as time earlier this summer was spent focusing on health issues and running a business. Now more of a priority, and that thing nagging at me every time I look out the window, I've been spending my August mornings clearing pathways, sorting through the wildness, and restoring some order. Not many people I know enjoy weeding, but I'm one of the few who find it relaxing, peaceful, and extremely satisfying. I know the potential the garden holds, and being part of the creative, restorative process brings a sense of joy and is great garden therapy.
As I tackle each garden, one by one, the 'before' is obvious as it looms in front and around me, but I can visual the 'after', and that's what drives me. What I find amazing is that as I tackle each garden, it's not just the perennials that are rescued and form that is restored, it's me that is tended, fed, and made whole again. The process of any restoration shapes character, sharpens resilience, and grows determination. Whether a garden, a piece of furniture, a car, or an old house, it's the vision that drives us, isn't it? It's that we see the potential of what could be, and belief in those possibilities motivate us through the hard work, setbacks, and challenges.
On my knees. In the quiet.
This time it's my soul that's in need of restoration. Weary from what seems like a marathon of challenges, I'm tired. Yet, I'm resilient. God is a God of restoration. He sees the potential. He uses the challenges and setbacks as stepping stones that build character and perseverance. He restores, room by room, making it beautiful - better than before. I know He is using this journey to help me grow in so many ways. And just as the sun rises every morning, His mercies are new every morning, and I draw strength from knowing that He is present. He is in control, and He is growing something good right now.
What about you?
Do you enjoy taking something old, seeing the potential, and make it into something new?
Are you in need of some soul restoration? If you are, I hope these words encourage you like they have encouraged me:
First, familiar words:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. " Psalm 23:1-3
"For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness, I will create rivers in the dry wasteland." Isaiah 43:19
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us. . . " Romans 5:3-5 NLT
and finally from CS Lewis:
"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."
Take heart and lean into Him. Find gratitude and joy in this journey of restoration.
Until next time -
It's just days past fourth of July celebrations, and these words keep running through my mind: 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'.
Home of the brave.
I think of the many who bravely left loved ones and all they knew behind, trained hard, and fought for our freedom. Some never returning home, sacrificing their lives for our freedoms. That's true bravery.
But I see bravery here, too. I see it in the faces of those who hold grief in their hearts - mourning loss of loved ones, loss of home, loss of income, loss of abilities. I see bravery in faces that carry physical pain that paralyzes with pleas for relief. I see bravery in faces that carry financial stress, health issues, and wearied spirits. That's what I see in the mirror lately.
To all of you who wear that face of bravery, I just want to hug you, because I know that you are trying to act like everything is ok when everything is not ok. And I say to you these words that I've been saying to myself, it's ok to not be ok. It's ok to grieve your loss, it's ok to buckle under the weight of life's stressors, and it's ok to admit that the physical pain it's all too much. It's ok to ask for help, and it's ok to accept it when offered.
But like all true warriors - which is what we are - we can't stay there, in that place of hopelessness. We must fight our battles, and we cannot - can NOT let the negative forces and negative thoughts defeat us. There is always hope, ALWAYS. For me, that hope is found in a loving God who never abandons us, who fights for us, and who gives us the strength we need to face each new day. He has not forgotten us. With his help, I am brave-hearted, and I know you can be, too.
There are so many encouraging scripture passages that I want to share with you. Here are three that are giving me the most comfort at this moment.
This one fills me with courage:
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Deuteronomy 31:6
I read this next one almost daily because it fills me with peace. It's also a call to become a prayer warrior:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4: 6,7
And finally, here's a psalm that I've been listening to especially at night before I fall asleep. Hearing these words bring such a sense of calm. I'll share them with you here, but I hope you'll click on the link below and listen to it read aloud.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains--
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you--
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
So hang in there, dear brave-hearted friend. You are not alone. You can be a light despite what's happening in your life.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
- Traditional Irish Blessing
It was totally unprompted.
I was saying goodbye to my grandkids who had spent the night. Before climbing into the car, my four-year-old grandson saw the dandelions growing in the lawn. He picked one and give it to me. Then he picked another and give it to his mama. Tears stung my eyes, and I gave him a good squeeze.
Friends, that simple act of watching him engage with nature and wanting to share it with me, and his mama, just touched my heart. Immediately I was taken back twenty-ish years when my own kids would do that. One of my favorite photos of my youngest son is him at age 4 holding a bouquet of dandelions before giving it to me. I remember showing my daughter how to make dandelion crowns when she was about five; teaching my kids to make a wish on a dandelion seed head and blow, not worrying bout the many offspring it will produce (aka more time spent weeding). Summers were simple and carefree back then - filled with little pleasures and special moments. The days were long and we lived them outside: kiddie pools, picnics, sand castles, chasing butterflies, riding bikes, tending the garden. I think back even further to when I was growing up and have similar memories: getting lost in a good book, swimming with my siblings, exploring the woods on our property, water-gun fights, catching fireflies, and just laying in the grass watching the clouds. Summer was a special time.
How different summers are now. Admittedly those days as a young girl and then as a young mom weren't all rainbows and butterflies, but I'm thankful I can look back and cherish them. Lately life just seems complicated - unsolved health issues, managing the effects of rising inflation, the challenges of relationships, the stress of work - l sure could go for those simple summer dandelion days. Can you relate?
Maybe there's a way to recapture the essence of those days. What I'm really in need of is finding rest amidst the stress. A vacation isn't in the cards this summer, but even those often leave us feeling exhausted when we return. How can I get the rest I'm looking for on a daily basis? Jesus says in the book of Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Like a drink from the fountain, he refreshes us when we come to him. A few moments spent in his Word, singing a praise song, saying a prayer are small ways to find rest in him. This gives me hope and inspires me to make the most of these summer days in small ways. Determined to recapture some of the simple pleasures of summer, here's what I've come up with:
Create a simple morning routine.
Summertime and routines seem contradictory, but how we start our day impacts the rest of the day. It sets the tone. Over the years I've learned that I function best when I have a morning routine. My day seems more productive and focused. Studies show this to be true for most of us. I still need that routine during the summer, but in a more simplified and more relaxed way. Starting with a devotion on the patio, yoga on the lawn, a morning walk, a check on the gardens . . . that's how I envision my ideal summer morning. Even if I could do one of those things every morning, connecting with God and with nature does my soul good.
Make a summer bucket list.
In order to capture the essence of summer, we need to live it intentionally so it doesn't slip away. Before you know it, September will be here. Instead of asking yourself, "Where did the summer go?" ask "What do I want my summer to look like? What are the elements of my ideal dandelion days?" If you are a list maker like me, you'll like this exercise. It doesn't have to be a vacation, it can be small things like reading a book in a hammock or for me, just reading a book!
Here are some things on my list:
- daily walk in the gardens
- find recipes for the herbs I'm growing and make them!
- read a fiction book
- watch a butterfly flit from flower to flower
- blow bubbles with my grandkids
- go barefoot in the grass
- watch the sun set
Cultivate what matters. Summer is a good time to check in with intentions that were set back in January. For me, I need to ask myself, am I cultivating what matters to me? Hmmmmm . . . honestly, I've gotten off track. So how can I refocus and cultivate those things that do matter? One way is to clear my schedule as much as I can. Saying no to a few things this summer is saying yes to simplicity. Maybe a 'no' to mindless scrolling is a 'yes' to more time outside or more free time to do the things on the bucket list. It's a choice! We make decisions all day long regarding how we spend our time, and as author Emily P Freeman says, those daily decisions are making our life.
What about you? Do you long for dandelion days and the simple pleasures of summer? Do you long to experience and savor all the flavors of summer, instead of letting it pass by in a blur? I hope you'll take some time to think about the summer days that lay ahead and how you want to fill them. Let's recapture that child-like sense of being carefree. It's in the small things, the small moments, that we can find joy, peace, and contentment. And maybe, just maybe, I might pick a dandelion and make a wish. :)
They look good, work hard, and taste delicious!
In the last few monthly columns I’ve written, we’ve been discussing the benefits of attracting pollinators to the landscape using native trees, shrubs and perennials, and into the vegetable garden with companion plants. Now that the weather has turned and we’ve all got the vim and vigor to get out into the garden, let’s talk about four powerhouse annuals that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, make terrific garden companions, and are edible to boot!
How do Borage jelly, Calendula Paella, Nasturtium salad, and Blueberry-Hyssop ice cream sound? Yum! I asked local herb enthusiast, Marge Koenecke, from Hickory Grove Farm, how she uses these plants. Below are her comments intermingled with my own:
Borage (pictured above) is an annual herb with a true blue flower; easy to start from seed (direct sow), and has a tendency to self-seed.
IN THE GARDEN: plant with tomatoes to attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps that will take care of tomato hornworms. Borage also attracts bumblebees, native bees, and honey bees.
IN THE KITCHEN: the edible flower has a cucumber flavor; add to salads; freeze in ice cube trays and add to lemonade.
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is another self-seeding annual herb for the sunny garden. The pretty yellow and orange blossoms make great cut flowers.
IN THE GARDEN: plant them with cole crops, especially collards. Calendula repel aphids and attract beneficials. At the end of the season, take dried seed heads and scatter seeds to ensure a good crop for next year.
IN THE KITCHEN: Calendula has wonderful healing properties for skin, especially as an oil or salve. It’s often used for insect bites. In addition to its medicinal qualities, the petals are edible and can be added as a flourish to paellas, salads, and used to make flower & herb butter.
Nasturtiums are another annual easy to grow from seed. Soak seeds overnight before planting. They take awhile to germinate - just when you're ready to give up is when they pop up through the ground.
IN THE GARDEN: look for vining varieties of this pollinator plant to interplant with zucchini and other squashes. Nasturtiums deter squash bugs and the moth that lays eggs for the squash vine borer.
IN THE KITCHEN: Both the flowers and leaves are edible and have a mild peppery flavor, so they are fun to add to salads. I even came across a recipe for Nasturtium pesto using the leaves and stems. Need to try that!
Anise hyssop is one of the best pollinator plants for the garden. The bees love this herb! Anise hyssop is not always reliably hardy but usually sows itself around the garden.
IN THE GARDEN: As a member of the mint family, Hyssop has a wonderful fragrance. This quality makes it deer and rabbit resistant. In addition to attracting beneficial insects, it also attracts cabbage moths, so use Anise hyssop as a trap crop, planting it away from cabbage plants.
IN THE KITCHEN: As its name suggests, the flowers have a mild licorice flavor. Use the flowers to toss into salads, make vinegars, herb butters and herbal tea.
This is just a small sampling of the many ways these plants can be used. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these edible pollinator powerhouses, join me and Marge Koenecke in a virtual garden discussion on Wednesday, June 8 at 6:30 pm. Happy gardening!
It was dusk and had just rained - a sweet, summer kind of rain. She walked through the beautiful, lush gardens. There was music playing in the background, and the breeze carried waves of distant conversation. Yet she walked, her long gown trailing over sopping ground, her fingers running through tall grasses, stopping only to smell the flowers. Such is my memory of a scene from the 1992 version of 'Howards End'. It was the lovely garden and the peaceful smile on Mrs. Wilcox's face that has and will stay with me for a long time. In her garden . . . she found peace and contentment.
From those pages of fictional England where 'even the air smells delicious', I find myself in my favorite spot in my house, and a few moments of quiet. It's a cold, rainy day in May which happens to be my 'off' day. I settle in with the long-awaited magazine, In Her Garden, and enter into another world of beautiful photos and essays. It's just what I need at this moment. A phrase catches my eye as it's woven through the pages: 'In my garden . . . ' and each author, in turn, shares what she finds in her garden. . . immense peace, inspiration, connection with nature, freedom, growth, memories . . .
I find it pretty amazing that such a place can provide a universal balm to the soul. It's incredible, really. If you've been following along, you may have noticed that my blogs have been pretty heavy lately. I find writing as a type of therapy, to sort things out, work through them as thoughts flow from heart through pen to paper, in this case, keyboard. The garden provides this for me as well. A walk down the Hellebore path, pulling a handful of chickweed, planting a few sweet pea seeds . . . it all does wonders for the spirit. In my garden . . . I find refreshment and restoration.
How can the garden, or even bigger than that - nature, offer such healing and solace? Nature is amazing - from the very smallest creature, to the mightiest oak, to the miracle of life contained within a seed, and the intricacy of a spider web - It's all amazing. There are scientific studies that show the mood-lifting benefits of digging in the soil, and I'm sure there are other studies that indicate the healing power of nature. But I have a theory of my own. Maybe it's being surrounded by beauty that refreshes, maybe it's the calming color of green that restores. Maybe, but I believe that through nature, we have an intimate connection with the Creator himself. God, maker of all things, is our true source of peace, inspiration, freedom, and joy. Through his creation, he offers us a place to just be for awhile. He shares with us the joy of watching things grow. He uses nature to nurture us. Even the psalmist says "He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul." (Psalm 23:2-3).
One my favorite things about the garden is that it's a place to be creative. This, too, is a gift from our heavenly Maker, who created the very first garden. Made in his image, we have been given the gift of creativity. We create tidy rows in the vegetable garden, combine colors in the flower garden, and arrange trees, shrubs, and perennials in our landscapes. We create spaces for gathering, spaces for kids to play, and spaces to start and end our day in. In the garden, we can creatively express ourselves, and this too, can be healing. "At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source." - Rachel Naomi Remen, MD.
The rain has stopped for now, and the garden calls, so into the garden I go for some plant therapy. In my garden. . . what do you find there?
Tomatoes love carrots. Sounds like a grade-school romance. Tomatoes and carrots, Marigolds and salad greens. Plant pairing has been around for a long time. Its history is filled with folklore passed from one generation to the next. Only recently has it been backed with scientific research. So keep reading for companion planting that really works and how!
Why practice companion planting?
As we become more aware of the importance of attracting pollinators to our yards, it makes sense to take the next step of creating a yard full of biodiversity - including in the vegetable garden. More diversity of plant species leads to a greater diversity of insects. Those insects feed on other insects that are wreaking havoc in our gardens. When this ecosystem is in balance, we gardeners can step back and let nature do its thing. We’ll have healthier plants, and use fewer pesticides.
Debunking a myth
Let’s begin with the marigold myth. A common practice is to plant marigolds around the vegetable garden to repel pests and rabbits. Research has shown that marigold’s strong odor does mask the smell of certain host plants and does keep insects at bay, but to a very specific pest. Planting marigolds with members of the onion family will deter onion root maggot flies. Marigolds are also effective when planted with broccoli and other brassicas to deter cabbage root maggot flies. And, by the way, marigolds do not repel rabbits. I’ve seen rabbits munching away on them.
Tomatoes actually love radishes. Young tomato seedlings can be susceptible to flea beetles, but the beetles prefer radish leaves, so interplanting radishes with tomatoes is an effective trap-crop technique. Tomatoes also love basil. When tall varieties of basil are planted around tomatoes, research has shown that it reduces the number of eggs laid by the five-spotted hawk moth that mature into tomato hornworms. Here are more examples:
Create a haven for beneficial insects
Most good bugs need more than protein sourced from their prey to survive. They also need pollen and sugary nectar to reproduce. Let’s go back to the tomato hornworm. It has a natural predator - the larvae form of a parasitic wasp. The adult parasitic wasp lays its eggs under the skin of the hornworm. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the hornworm, eating their way out. The adult form - the parasitic wasp - requires sugars found in flower nectar. This is also true of ladybugs and lacewings and many more beneficial insects. We can create an environment for these beneficials in two ways: by planting specific nectar plants for specific beneficials, and by including a large diversity of flowers to attract and sustain a broad spectrum of beneficials.
As you plant your vegetable garden this spring, consider using a few of these simple techniques to grow healthier plants in a natural way. Get yourself a good book to learn more about it. I recommend Plant Partners by Jessica Walliser. You can also explore this topic further by joining me for a free monthly virtual gardening discussion on Wednesday, May 11 at 6:30 pm. Register here.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!