Managing Your Seeding Addiction: Practical Gardening Series

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I love seed catalogs, they evoke such hope! I peek at them quickly as they come into the house then set them in a basket next to my reading table. When I have a block of time, which is easier to find in the winter, I pick up the stack and snuggle into my chair. With my feet up, and a cup of tea, I peruse their colorful pages and dream.

And that is when I, and most of my gardening friends, get into a world of trouble. I have learned over the years that it is easier to abstain than to moderate. Today I am going to try and help you moderate the length of your purchase order form.

It’s true that it’s less costly to grow plants from seeds than to buy them in flats. But most of us don’t have grow-tables in our homes and instead use tables next to windows with southern exposures. So consider the available space in your home for trays of seedlings…and don’t forget about pets or kids assaulting your growing efforts.

Besides the space in your home, consider the space in your garden. Can you really plant three kinds of cucumbers, four different heirloom tomatoes, and a dozen herbs? Is there enough space for five kinds of blue flowers, and are they honestly going to be as blue as the catalog pictures? You know darn well that if all the seeds germinate you’re going to have a hard time tossing the extras into the compost pile.

With so many options, consider purchasing only new varieties or old favorites. I love cucumbers and can buy one or two plants at local greenhouses. But what I can’t buy locally are the lovely round Lemon Cucumbers, so I’ll order the seeds. Marigolds grow well and many of my favorites are also found at nearby growers, except the airy 30” ‘Cottage Red’. So I’d order these seeds too.

Consider growing a new plant that was just introduced into the market and offers a twist, such as the small cherry tomato ‘Sunchocola’. This new introduction from Burpee Seeds is a dark burgundy-red,  has a rich heady flavor and would be wonderful alone or on a salad of peppery greens.

Another thing to consider is the level of difficulty germinating seeds. I have the darndest time holding onto seeds to scarify them with sand paper or (yikes!) a knife. And using a heating pad under a flat of ‘Bells of Ireland’ to keep them warm is not the most brilliant of ideas no matter how many layers of protective plastic used. Check instructions for propagation method. If it’s only one sentence long, and contains the words ‘easily germinated’, go for it.

And speaking of instructions, double check references for growing conditions. Many catalog suppliers really stretch the truth not only about what Zone a plant will grow in, but also the size of the flower or its invasive tendencies. Get suspicious when plants have extremely close-up pictures of flowers, descriptive words like vigorous grower or naturalizing, or suggest they grow well in a protected site.

Take a little time to discern how you’ll spend your gardening dollar, and you may be able to use your dining room for meals this spring.



(Adapted from my gardening column, 1/20/11, Jackson Citizen Patriot Newspaper)

Everything Went Dark

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It was another one of those sleepless nights. I was in my upstairs flat, a small three room living area, and decided to make some tea when the lights went out.

It was pitch black, too dark for even shadows to fall. Groping and stubbing toes, I swept one hand back and forth in front of me seeking a safe way through the dark. My other hand grasped the back of a chair, reluctant to release something familiar.

There was the sudden momentary fear of disorientation. Not knowing where I was made me feel vulnerable. A heartbeat ago I could see where I was heading, a bright light guided me. Now all I saw were navy-blue blotches floating like ghosts against a sheet of black.

I felt I was suffocating with fear in the blanketing silence. No humming of motors, no ticking of clocks. My ears strained to hear past the sound of my own heartbeat. Did the downstairs door just click open? Are those footsteps scraping across the floor? Was that the stairs I just heard creaking? What monsters under the bed!

I was in the dark; the margins of safety became blurred. Caught in a wave of fear of imminent harm, images flooded in and drowned common sense. Flashbacks of years ago blinded further. Where did the security go that was so clear only a minute ago? My arms swam through air as I willed myself to move forward, anticipating at any moment an unknown force laying me low.

I dared not stop, dared not turn away from the direction I was heading. It was the right path a moment ago. I knew there was a candle in the other room. It became more than a candle to calm my frightened heart. As a friend once wrote it was “a pillar of fire” that both guides and tests.

I tripped and stumbled. Disoriented, I come up against a wall and wondered which way was the right way. I leaned against the wall for support though at the same time I knew it blocked my way. But what was the way? Where would I be once I got past this wall? I doubt myself when in darkness.

I told myself to be calm, that though I was in darkness God was in it with me. I told myself to keep moving toward a known source of light even when it can’t be seen.  I held on to hope that in my seeking I would find what I was looking for, blindly rummaging, feeling my way, trying to recognize by another sense what would normally be easy to spot.

The candle was pulled from the cabinet and lit. It was in my hand, firmly gripped against the tremors. I remained kneeling on the wooden floor as the flame’s soft glow illuminated the table-top crucifix. My world was now less frightening.

This is not the first time I’ve been thrust into darkness, and it will not be the last time I grope through it desperately seeking The Light. One day I will be calm as I traverse dark nights, believing in what is concealed just beyond its edge.

Unexpected Warmth

Looking ahead into the new year of 2013, I’ve pulled a reflection from my latest book Cultivating God’ Garden through Lent. From the past I share a lesson of timing.

Image purchased from photographer, Travis Juriga.

Unexpected Warmth (Wednesday of the First Week of Lent)

New Years Day 2011

Leaning against the dented aluminum siding near the back door were snow shovels and a covered pail of deicer. They had replaced the garden spade and rake. It was the beginning of January, and here in the upper Midwest it’s usually bitter cold and often covered with snow and ice. Last week Christmas was white and offered familiar images often seen on seasonal cards. The snow glistened in the sun and at night sparkled with colors from decorative outdoor lights. In the rural areas that surround my home, the fields glowed with the light from the moon.

Winter moved in as it always does. The plants go dormant and my immediate world slows and I become quieter. It is a peace-filled time after the bustle of Christmas. It is the time of year when I draw down and snuggle into a nest of pillows. Wrapped in an afghan I read, pray, reflect, and imagine.

This year appeared to be no different. Six inches of snow had fallen two days ago, adding a fresh layer to the existing three. The new snow framed the crèche of the outdoor nativity, my inheritance from my grandmother’s garage. Outside my window the birds were perched on the Serviceberry’s branches near the feeders, with their feathers puffed up and little heads drawn down.

Today, though, was unusual for winter. The steady rain occasionally worked itself into a downpour. It wasn’t a freezing rain but one that thawed. It was nearly fifty degrees outside. Rivulets of water grew into large flowing puddles as the snow and ice melted, flooding the road and ditches. It was also the first time I had experienced a thunderstorm on New Year’s Day. It was a turbulent and forceful storm, the garden-chimes dancing and jerking with each gust.

The second day after the rains and warm temperatures, the lawn and Creeping Veronica showed green instead of their depleted winter tan. Even the cardinals and finches were singing. It was an unexpected gift creating a hope-filled feeling of spring.

I sensed awkwardness about this feeling—a falseness—and recognized it as fleeting joy. This unusual warm spell was an event out of sync; it brought short-term happiness that was not in balance with nature. It was not the appropriate time for the gift of spring. The truth was that this aberrant weather could cause more harm than good by encouraging sap to flow and buds to set, too tender to survive the impending cold to come.

I recalled times in my life where immediate gratification did not bring a continuing happiness. Those events too were a gift out of season, often bearing false hope. And on occasions when impulsiveness trumped clarity of thought, they did more harm than good.

There is a lasting joy in waiting and in hoping for a gift in due season. Timing matters, and the timing that matters most is God’s timing. I recognized the masquerade of those past few days for what they were: a foreshadowing of what was to come and not the true event that it pretended to be.

I love spring with all of its new life and developing growth. I appreciate it even more after a long winter of rest.


“At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s newfangled mirth;

But like of each thing that in season grows.”

~William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost