55 Days Till Spring

55 Days till Spring: the title of a Facebook post from a neighbor. My thought: Egads! That’s less than 2 months away. Since moving to the ‘country’ from NYC, 6 years ago, this is the first year that I’ve felt that the winter season serves a valuable function. Now is the time to do all the things that must be done indoors. Making paintings, designing client gardens, designing new collections for Stonewell Cottage, implementing indoor projects chez Stonewell, completing sewing projects for clients, preparing for the upcoming gardening season here, on our own turf, ordering seeds and plants and trees, so much to do, and so little time to do it in. Andrew has his sights set on completing the stonework on the wood-fired, beehive oven and, possibly, the adjoining patio area. It’s been too cold to implement that plan, and all the while, ‘tempus fugit’. Snow continues to fall. temperatures hover around or plunge below the teens, Farenheit. Trips to the woodshed  demand an act of willpower and grit. Tea and coffee punctuate the bursts of action that spike the flatliner vector.  The grey and white landscape induces introversion; pinning our attention to the warm chair, the colorful computer screen, the opiate draw of Facebook and news channels and leisurely websearches for bees and plants and ‘how-to’ guides for any number of things that will deliver distractions from the dead and frozen landscape. Fifty-five days. Egads. Not enough time. Not nearly enough time till the shocking green shoots greet us with the suggestion of Spring. Not enough time until the long list of tasks that gardens and beauty will make their demands on us. Not long before the gardens will murmer, in their sleep, as they’re slowly aroused from their hibernian slumber, to seek attention.

Yesterday, while rummaging around the place, I noticed that the peonies were already sending out alerts with tiny red shoots from their frozen roots. My reaction was somewhat ambiguous.(“Dear god, it’s January, for crying out loud”) It is snowing now. I’m grateful, as this will conceal the thing that we love the most and yet, are not quite ready for: Gardening.

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Angry Bird – Maple Sugaring

EXCELLENT! Mission Accomplished. Seeds ordered from Fedco. We’re now ready for seed-starting in the greenhouse in late February. Soon, depending upon the climate, we’ll be able to start the maple sugaring process. I say WE, but I really mean my husband, Andrew. You see, Andrew is the youngest, (underaged 60),  member of a group of sextuagenarian + fellas who get together to harvest and make maple syrup at the farm of a woman, named Wendy, who’s inherited this practice from her long-gone Dad. The way it’s been explained to me is that they’re  ‘traditional’, and don’t like to have any women involved in their activities, unless it’s Wendy, bringing them muffins and biscuits and hot coffee, while they’re hard at work producing the sweet stuff, and nipping at their flasks. Last winter was a dangerous one. Deep snow glazed with a deadly layer of ice set the scene, and the ‘fellas’ were neither willing nor able to brave the elements, check on the sap flow and harvest the sap. Andrew, of course, volunteered. Michelle, of course, said “there’s no #$&^(*way that you’re going out there without a spotter. Therefore, together, Andrew and I collected the sap, stored it, reset the buckets, and did this over and over again over a two month period. Cold. Dangerous. Nice. Bonding. Cold. Dangerous.

It was a boon year for maple syrup. The ‘fellas’ did a great job of boiling it down, and our good neighbor/member ‘fella’, did a wonderful and selfless job of distributing the goods, which we’re enjoying to this very day.

Of course, no-one was or is aware of my ( a woman’s) contribution, however paltry’ it may have been to their effort. It’s fine….I don’t really mind….but, BUT, well, I guess that I DO mind, after all. I guess I mind because I was concerned about the safety and well-being of one of their own being out there without any safety net or back-up. What if Andrew fell, slipped on the ice, was knocked unconscious? His cell phone wouldn’t help him, would it?  If you ‘fellas’ are neither up to the physical job, nor up to the managerial job of arranging assistance and safety for one of ‘your own’, and a petite woman must rise to the occasion to ensure safety and partnership, then, all I can say is that  you ‘Fellas’ are careless, indifferent, unkind and need a reality check. This post, of course, relies on Andrew’s veracity, and, so forgive me if I’m ill-informed. I don’t like to say this but I’m afraid I must. This is no longer your world. You’re unwillingness and inability to invite diversity into your enclave, makes you obsolete. Your world was small, is small and rapidly becoming smaller still. That smallness will bite you hard. Maybe not now, with your wives and partners, but very soon, and very definitely. Your children and your grand-children are rejecting your values at this very moment. They will try to remember you with fondness and compassion but, in truth, they will deeply regret that you did not embrace diversity. They will be told that “oh, that was a different time; a different generation. We’re not like that” But they will not accept it. In short, you will make them ashamed.

I hope you can live with that, my friends. I cannot. I chose not.

I am not ‘HIP’, but I don’t want to be sarcastic.

Recently, I was informed that I am not’ hip’. Shortly thereafter, I was deemed unworthy of being listened to, or so in my perception, as I was interrupted and ‘spoken over’ every time I tried to get a word into the ‘conversation’.  No, surprisingly, these intimations did NOT come from my husband (kidding, sweetheart), but from friends, whose company I enjoy and whose taste and energy and lifestyles I embrace.  Where does that leave a person? Re-examination. That’s where it leaves a person. Right there at the front door, in freezing weather,without any lights or keys or tools to break-in.

Well, it’s a New Year. No better time to reassess ones’  ‘hipness’ or ability to make vibrant, informed and interesting contributions to a dinner party conversation? Right? Well, here it goes, right to the top of the list, along with,

  • Shun the trends and trendiness that feel so formulaic and prosaic. Follow your own peculiar aesthetic. Don’t get sucked into the hole of the present trend that mimics mid-century patterns that are just “blown-up’ or ‘reduced’ and marketed as fresh and innovative. David Hicks did this in the 60’s. (Give the guy some credit). Explore your love of pattern and color, that’s informed by a vast and rich experience of historic design and painting from the beginning of time through now. Play with that experience; hip or not. Don’t follow trends; create them.
  • Choose your conversation carefully. Politics aside, can we talk about dietary habits, for a moment? What’s the big deal? Everybody knows that I don’t eat meat and that I don’t object to those that do. I would, of course, prefer it if meat-eaters didn’t make an issue out of it and demand that I provide them with reasons for my abstinence, but, I’ve decided, for this year, anyway, to just respond to the question with “What’s you favorite color”? By the way, I don’t eat meat because I don’t want to eat something that looks like me, a mammal. It’s a personal thing and I’m not comfortable with it. Period. I’m not judging those that do and I can see a lot of merit to being a meat-eater. (I would encourage all my neighbors to eat more Venison.)! But please, be gracious and gentle, and stop asking me why I won’t eat another mammal. I don’t want to. Period. Case closed.I don’t want to eat dessert either, not because I’m fretting over calories, but because I do not like the flavor sensation of ‘sweet’. I don’t ask for any special treatment at dinner parties, nor do I expect  it. I only ask that I not be subjected to an ‘inquisition’ and not be challenged and reprimanded for my peculiarities.
  • Design trends are short-lived. Face it. They are. I understand that one needs to keep up with design trends, but that nod only needs to go so far; gently. Let’s not become trend lemmings. That’s too embarrassing and humiliating for words. Let’s relate to the things (and it’s all about things, trust me) that we love and how we want to combine and contrast them to create an environment that makes us feel at home. Complicated, and yet, simple, at the same time.
  • Create an environment that feels and IS an expression of your emotions. Not so easy to do, I can assure you. It takes time, thought, contemplation, sensitivity, and a grip on reality…what you can actually achieve versus what you dream about. Its all about the dreams!

Garden Year 2013 in Review- Part I

As the seed and bulb catalogues start piling up in the basket, it seems that this is a good time to review the ups and downs, successes and failures of our gardens in 2013. Where to begin? Well, it wasn’t the best gardening year, nor was it the worst.  Just different. One of the main differences was the absence of a cutting garden. In the past, we’ve had a separate, fenced garden, approximately 65′ long by 25’wide, that was largely dedicated to annually planted cut flowers; dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, china asters, gladioli, zinnias, larkspur, Bells of Ireland, tall marigolds, nicotiana, and the like. This space was shared by espaliered apples, which line the fence, a fanned peach tree, asparagus, and vegetables that we couldn’t fit into themain kitchen garden. Last year, we rooted cuttings of red, white and black currants, blueberries, wine grapes, raspberries, black berries and gooseberries and these were all planted in that garden, and which we now refer to as the Fruit Garden, along with space-consuming strawberries. This was a great success. We produced loads of delicious jams and jellies, stuffed the freezer with raspberries,strawberries and blueberries, and are now enjoying muffins and ice cream in the dead of winter. This left us with no choice but to plant the ‘cut flowers’ into the borders and in a small, 20′ x 20′ un-fenced annex garden and the results were a dire failure. DEER! They ate everything in sight, all of the annual flowers were chomped down to nothing and many, if not all of the perennials. Deer pressure is reaching epidemic proportions in our neck of the woods and even at 20 feet away, they are fearless. They watch me feed the chickens, turkeys and ducks, they chomp away at the apples in the orchard, maintaining eye contact with me as if I were their friend, and now they’ve discovered the poultry feeders and learned to share! Yes! While the chickens and ducks and turkeys are snacking at the feeders, the deer are right there with them, nibbling away as if they were all one big happy family. The birds appear to have embraced them. The fowl seem perfectly fine with these cloven hoofed behemoths nuzzling their beaks at the feed source. (It’s almost as if they LIKE them, or worse, ADMIRE them)!!!! They gaze up at their eyes, and carefully, nimbly, negotiate around and between their legs with a generous sense of plurality and the cloven-hooved ones respond with gentle, careful movements. Not a peep or cluck or quack of alarm or concern. “Excuse me, but you don’t mind if I just grab this bit of cracked corn, do you”? “Certainly not, please, help yourself, and I hope you won’t mind my having a few of these delicious and nutritious layer pellets”.  ” Oh, not at all, help yourself, there’s plenty where that came from….the bipeds with the opposible thumbs always keep it full and fresh. Oh no, no need to go down that slope to the pond, the fresh water is over here, just follow me”.

Geez! What’s next? Fine, we’re accustomed to the chickens pecking at the front door asking for their treats of Cheerios or Carr’s crackers, but shall I now expect to hear hooves tapping at the threshhold demanding tortilla chips?

So, in short, there were no cut flowers for us this year, and very few roses, for that matter. More in the next post.