"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." - C.S. Lewis
This morning, as we awaited the first measurable snowfall of the season to begin, I found myself in the garden with shovel in hand. I don't believe I've ever planted this late in the season - or this early - depending on your perspective. What makes it even more profound is today is the first of January - the beginning of a new year.
Shovel pierces through white slushy crust into soft earth - a January rarity here in Wisconsin. Daffodils, Camassia, Leucojum, and Crocus - about 150 bulbs in all - find their winter home deep in the brown soil. And now they wait, resting patiently through a few frozen months until the spring thaw. The flower show may not be plentiful this first spring, but next year it will be beautiful.
I can't think of a better way to begin a new year. Planting something that I can watch sprout, grow, and blossom, well, it's like planting hope. I had the same thought as I browsed the seed catalog this afternoon. Dreaming of a new growing season is exciting and much needed encouragement to get through snowy days that lie ahead.
This is where it begins - in this month of beginnings - the unearthing and the planting of dreams. Discovering what our heart desires takes some quiet time, to be still, and listen to what's tugging. Have you felt a tug? Have you thought about what you might plant in your life as we stand in the doorway of a new beginning? Is there something you've been putting on hold because the time just didn't seem right? Before planting, it's good to clarify the what and why by first unearthing. Here are a few unearthing questions to consider:
What are you passionate about?
What do you want to spend more time doing?
What do you want to let go of?
What is something you've always wanted to try?
What can you say no to, so you can say yes to this?
Spending time unearthing your dreams - big or small, is the first step towards making them become a reality. You need to know what you want before you can go get it. Don't rush this process. It takes time - unhurried time - to listen to your heart.
Once you've discovered and named what you want, it's time to plant the seed and watch it grow. One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of a new year is to do some annual planning and goal setting - both personal and professional goals. I know this isn't for every one, but I encourage you to consider practical ways to making your dream become a reality. Think of it as stepping stones: what is the first thing you need to do? what's the next step after that, and the one after that? This is really what setting goals is like - looking at where you want to go, then breaking it down into steps of how to get there.
If you are having a hard time relating to this idea of unearthing and planting dreams, then think of it a different way: what's one small thing you'd like to do differently this year? Maybe it's . . .
. . . be more hydrated, so drink a glass of water before every meal;
. . . be more active, so take a walk every day;
. . . reconnect with a loved one, so make the time to write and send that note;
. . . seek beauty, so make a bouquet every week from whatever is growing in the yard no matter the time of year;
. . . practice random acts of kindness
OK, I admit this is my list! Though they seem small, it's the small changes and improvements that we make to our lives every day, that stick and have the biggest impact.
My new year wish for you is that you'll spend some time unearthing and planting. When we do, we grow and that's the best thing we can do for ourselves and for those around us.
Have a blessed new year!
A Winter’s View
“A short story is what you see when you look out a window.” - Mavis Gallant
January rings in the year with a shiver and crisp blanket of white on what can be the loveliest of winterscapes. I personally prefer to admire these scenic vistas from a cozy spot on the couch wrapped up in a warm blanket with the fire going or candle burning. The large picture window in the living room holds my gaze as the snow-clad landscape takes center stage.
In landscape design we strive to frame a view, and in essence, this is what a window does. The window becomes the picture, framing winterlands that are the stage backdrops for scurrying rabbits, flitting birds, browsing deer, and other wildlife brave enough to venture out. Trees, woody shrubs, and evergreens set the stage with their strong lines of architectural structure. Perennials play a role in the story if left standing over winter, attracting finches and other birds. They also capture bits of snow which can be enchanting in a way. I always leave Echinacea and Stonecrop Sedum standing for these reasons. We are learning more and more about how pollinators depend on the stems of ‘dead’ perennials like Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and the perennial Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), so this is another reason to leave them alone and not cut back.
Birds are the main characters in the winter stories providing hours of entertainment. They gather at the feeders as means of survival, yet unbeknownst to them, they fascinate us - young and old alike. It’s like living television or a front row seat at the theater with a new play every day.
Here are a few ways to enhance the story you see out of your window:
January can seem to be the longest, slowest month, but enjoy the beauty it offers, especially the view out your window. What story do you see?
It's 6:30 am and the sky is still dark.
Only a few days before Christmas arrives. Wanting to start the day with a little quiet time, I find myself in the living room on the couch with only the lights of the Christmas tree to keep me company. I think back to when my four kids were still under this roof. There was a lot more activity in those days leading up to Christmas - more concerts, parties, shopping trips, and admittedly - more chaos. But watching the anticipation and excitement of the wait build in my kids is something I still treasure. We'd open doors on the little Advent calendar hung on the frig, and light the Advent candles as many evenings as we could, counting down the days until Christmas Eve.
Now that the nest is empty, there's more moments of quiet and calm. I'm learning to appreciate each season of life and the changes that tag along, but I'm savoring the constants as well - like the sky is still dark at 6:30 am on a mid-December morning. And there is still excitement that builds during the wait for Christmas' arrival.
But waiting isn't always fun and excitement. Sometimes the wait is hard. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath, and worry can sneak into my days - depending on the situation. Waiting for a diagnosis, a job offer, for reconciliation with a loved one . . . we all are waiting for something.
I think of Mary as she waited for the birth of her baby. I imagine she was filled with anxiety of the unknowns that lay ahead. She must have waited in wonder, that of all the women through all of time, she was carrying God's son. She waited with with joy when her cousin Elizabeth greeted her with great praise. She waited with bravery, willing to take on what God was asking of her - to carry the Messiah as a virgin. She waited filled with peace, placing her trust in God and his promise.
And while she waited, God was working in her - growing in her.
This forces me to look in the mirror and examine my own waiting posture. Like Mary, I wait with a mix of emotions - anxiety of the unknown, impatient for an answer and resolution right now. At times I wait in wonder, perplexed at why the answers are so evasive. But there is also peace and contentment in the waiting because I know God is working things out for my good. Even joy finds a place when I focus on the blessings, no matter how small. It's in those moments that I see the wonder of His grace and love.
Yet the wait can seem long. We wait for Christmas - it always comes. We wait for spring - it always comes. We wait for answers - and the answers always come - not always with the speed and surety that we crave. Sometimes its 'yes', sometimes its a 'no', because there's something different, and maybe even better, that's coming; and other times its 'not yet'. Through it all, I have learned this: in the waiting, God has not forgotten us. He is working behind the scenes, growing in us. He asks that we be still and trust him because He is God and He is good. His love for us is a constant that we can hold on to.
So my prayer for each of you is that you unwrap the gifts of joy and peace as you wait, no matter what you are waiting for. If you are holding your breath and are filled with worry, may you find moments to breathe deeply, to pray, and to be calmed by His presence. May you find contentment, and know that you are growing while you wait.
And for this week, in these next few days, may your wait be filled with wonder - the wonder of Christmas. May we all see it through the eyes of a child again.
As she gathered the fallen rotting apples into her skirt, she could feel the presence of danger. She stopped and looked up to see herself surrounded by ten Doberman pinschers staring her down, growling, frothing, ready to attack. She froze in fear and prayed, Lord, let it happen quickly. But it didn't. They didn't move. Then a man's voice "What are you doing here? You are trespassing, and these dogs are trained to kill, but for some reason, they haven't killed you. If I see you here again, I'll kill you myself".
This was one of the stories Gina Schoenherr, our current Artist-in-Residence, shared with me about her mother. As a young woman with two small children in Germany during the time of the holocaust, her mother lived in fear, darkness, hunger, and dread. She escaped death many times, yet she never lost hope. After living for 5 years in a displacement camp, she brought her two children to a new life in America.
Stories of courage like this amaze me - the determination of the human spirit, the love of a young mother, and her trust in a God who is faithful. We all have experienced darkness in our lives, maybe not to the extent of Gina and her mom, but we can relate to it in our hearts because we know - we've seen glimpses of darkness and evil. Some of us have endured dark valleys. Some of us may be in one right now.
But darkness doesn't win. Darkness can be the backdrop for the stars in the night sky. Richard Evans said “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” I believe the way out of darkness is found in a simple word: hope. Hope is the light that shines through the darkness. Hope can sustain us and bring us to a brighter place.
In her book, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss writes, "The dark is not an end but the way a new beginning comes.". These days leading to Christmas are known as the season of Advent, which means coming. It is an ancient advent custom to light a candle each night, adding a candle each Sunday, greeting Christmas Eve with four flickering candles. Each candle is a symbol: hope, joy, love, and peace. It's a custom that I look forward to every year - lighting a candle, reading a bit of scripture or a devotion, and singing a verse from a familier Christmas hymn. It helps me prepare. It settles me, calms me, and reminds me of the hope that we have - the One that we wait for. That's the baby in the manger - our savior, Jesus. He's the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome him. (John 1:5)
How about you? Where are you right now? If you feel surrounded by darkness, remember that a new beginning is coming and hope is the way through. Join me tonight in lighting a candle of hope. “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” - Anne Frank
So much truth in those words.
‘How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!’
- Thomas Wentworth Higginson
It comes quietly. The soft snow slowly spirals down covering branch, leaf, and earth. The first snowfall is always a bit magical, gently signaling that winter is at the doorstep. How do you greet winter - with a sigh, a grumble, or quiet cheer? Though outside the landscape will lie dormant in shades of white, gray, and brown for the next few months, color and growth can be found inside our homes in our indoor gardens.
Tending to those houseplants teaches us lessons of patience and nurtures our spirit, but there is something especially wonder-filled about watching an Amaryllis emerge from, let’s be honest, an ugly bulb. Nestling it into a warm bed of rich brown potting mix exposing its shoulders in a pretty pot is a lesson in faith and hope. That unassuming bulb is full of potential beauty! So we plant. Then we wait.
A green tip begins to emerge! We watch as it pushes up from its cocoon, stretching and reaching. Then, with bated breath, we witness not one, not two, not even three, but four buds swell. A glimpse of color is revealed right before the miracle comes into its full glory. Like wings of a butterfly, the flowers fully open, and nothing else can compare with their beauty. The subtle colors of the slumbering landscape outside the window make the perfect backdrop for the bright, bold colors of this horticulture diva. Can there be any question why Amaryllis means ‘to sparkle’?
Amaryllis flowers come in many colors: deep burgundies, pure whites, rich reds, and elegant stripes. There’s even a terra cotta hue with a burgundy throat and white edging each petal. It’s amazing these lovely plants come with such little demands. All they ask is that you enjoy their beauty. Perhaps this is what is meant by the art and soul of winter: to plant hope, see the beauty in this season, and share it with others.
What a gift of wonder! Who can you share it with?
Learn more about growing Amaryllis here.
The autumnal rite of planting bulbs holds the promise of spring beauty. As we fall into the season of senescence and dormancy, many think the window for planting spring bulbs has closed - but it hasn’t. Early November is actually a good time to plant in southeastern Wisconsin.
The optimum time to plant is when soil temperatures have dropped to around 55 degrees. In a normal year, this happens in early October and extends into November. Last month was the warmest October on record, which means soil temperatures are also warmer than usual.
For us procrastinators, this is good news! There is time to get tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs tucked into the ground. And here’s a secret not many know: as long as the ground hasn’t frozen, you can plant! If you can get a shovel into the ground, you can dig, drop, and get it done. Granted, bulbs will perform best next spring if their roots have had time to develop this fall, but bulbs are full of stored carbohydrates which is enough energy to push out leaves and flowers next spring.
TIPS FOR PLANTING
Keep the following in mind as you plant:
THREE UNUSUAL BULBS
The world of bulbs is vast, so go beyond the classic red and yellow tulips and yellow daffodils. Here are three of my current favorites:
* Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’, also known as Summer Snowflake, is a snowdrop on steroids. It grows 24” tall and 24” wide and blooms mid spring.
* Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ adds whimsy to the garden with it’s large purple flower heads. I prefer this one to others for two reasons: it’s the first Allium bulb to bloom and the seed heads stay green when picked as a dried flower.
* Narcissus ‘Bella Estella’ is not just another white and yellow daffodil. The name translates to ‘Beautiful Star’ and bears two flowers on one stem. But her best feature is her fragrance!
No matter which bulbs you choose to plant, you aren’t just planting bulbs - you are planting potential and hope. A few minutes spent now leads to several weeks of enjoyment when next spring’s colorful display rewards you.
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!