lessons learned: the willow

Last night, I stopped by the store to pick up a couple of things, and after a week filled with cracked windshields, missing legal documents and unexpected snow, I was pretty much done, and it was only Tuesday.

As a morale boost, I decided to treat myself to some flowers.  I meandered my way through the roses and orchids and lingered at the mums and daisies but nothing seemed to tickle my fancy until I caught eye of something I’d been longing for–willow.willow

When I was a child, my sister and I would walk down to Beaver Lake with my mother and watch from the edge as she stepped carefully in and around the marsh.  We would come home with cattails and willow, and Mom would fill vases with tall stalks of each–so simple yet so stunning.

My sister and I would sneak into the living room and pop off some of the fuzzy, round buds to rub between our fingers or on each others’ cheeks.  Their softness seemed to soothe in spite of their size.

I had not thought about willow until years later when I attended the Spring flower show in Philadelphia with my friend, Cheryl.  We watched as women literally grabbed handfuls of willow out of buckets and clutched it to their chests–perhaps, a treasure that offered them a bit of Spring hope in the midst of a dreary winter.  I longed to purchase some, but with travel back home, I was concerned my efforts would be in vain.

So as you can imagine, when I spied the bucket resting in the back of the floral area, my heart skipped a beat. I carefully selected two bunches and placed them proudly in my cart.  People around me selected bouquets of freshly picked, colorful flowers, and all I longed for was the simplicity and softness of my willow.

When I came to the check out counter, the gentleman assisting me began chatting about the stalks I’d selected.  He noted how easy it is to root it–just make a fresh cut, place it in a bucket, and ignore it.  We laughed about how people spend so much time and energy trying to care for plants or root cuttings with special formulas and specific science.  In harmony, we both stated, “Let Mother Nature do the work.”

On the way to the car, I pondered the two bunches in my hand.  I realized that I longed for my life to be more like that willow–simple and soft.  My conversation with the store manager reminded me that simplicity is attainable when we stop struggling with ourselves and allow our Creator to do the work.

Lenten meditation: when light falls on the creeping

With an unexpected warm day yesterday, I spent some time puttering around my front flower beds after dinner. In the garden directly in front of my house, I have a large blue ceramic planter that has become home to many bulbs and perennials. Last night, I noticed the tulips had begun to perk up through the dried leaves so I gently peeled back a few layers to see what else might be coming up.  I love this process because it’s like unwrapping presents–there’s always a wonderful surprise hiding underneath those leaves.  And there she was, my friend, Creeping Jenny.

Every spring, the bright green Creeping Jenny peeps through the mulch then by summer, begins to trail down the side and into the garden.  Yesterday as I pulled away crunchy dead remnants of autumn, I noticed something.  The places where the leaves had settled had left the stems of the Creeping Jenny brown and woody.  I looked closely, and tiny green buds confirmed that they were alive.  Around these stems, however, popped up fully green tips that had reached through the leaves and found the light.creeping jenny

As I continued to clear away the mulch, I realized that those green plants and brown stems represented what happens to us in different seasons of our lives.  Sometimes, we have those dark periods that seem to drain us.  Our bodies and spirits withdraw or become dormant in order to survive.  Then as the light begins to return slowly, as goodness and balance creep in, we blossom–our tiny green buds bursting forth with the energy manifested in love by our Creator.  While we may have areas that seem scarred or dead, those places will heal and grow as we step out of the darkness and into the light.

Just as the season of Winter slowly fades and Spring gradually blesses us with new growth, so do the seasons on our life’s journey.  The next time, you are experiencing the darkness of struggle, pain, or challenge, remember the Creeping Jenny–remember that the life and light will return again.

so you’ve started your seeds–now what?

After I pressed two posts on starting seeds, I noticed the trend in lots of posts and pinterest pics focusing on seed starting.  Yep, we get excited about planting the seeds, knowing that one day they’ll become vegetables and fruit in our gardens, but what now?  They sit in their containers or pots or greenhouses and do their thing while we wait, and wait, and wait.  Hmmm, all this waiting then suddenly, you have little seedlings on your hands.  What next?tomatoes 2 weeks

Here are a few tips and tricks for tending to those indoor seeds until they’re outdoor plants:

  • Keep ‘em watered–they need to stay moist–little seedlings in shallow dirt can dry out quickly
  • When watering, use a watering tool that has small holes.  I’ve seen plenty of preschoolers drown their poor seedlings with those dollar aisle plastic watering cans with big ol’ holes.
  • Separate seedlings that are growing closely, or they’ll stunt their growth.  You’ve got three choices:  replant the ones you pull, eat them as microgreens, or let nature takes it course (ie they become compost for the living plants).
  • Keep the seedlings in the sun but not in such a hot place that they wilt.  Remember, they are in their infancy, and like babies, they have tender skin.
  • That goes for setting them outside too.  Always good for seedlings to get fresh air, but not in direct sun that’s too warm.  Go for filtered or dappled sunlight.
  • If your seedlings shoot up quickly and become spindly, don’t worry.  I just replant them in little pots making sure they go deeply enough that the first leaves are just above the surface of the dirt.
  • As Spring moves on to warmer days and warmer nights, set the seedlings/small plants outside to get them ready for the outdoors. No need to rush this process–bring them in some too so they don’t get overwhelmed by quick changes.squash 2 weeks
  • Once the concern of the last frost has passed (Mother’s Day is a good rule of thumb where I live in the mountains of NC), feel free to transplant.
  • Keep watered after they transplant.  I typically will soak the hole I dig before placing the plant in it, soak the roots and dirt around the plant, then soak the whole area around the plant once it is in the ground.

Step back and be prepared to start the waiting again.  If you get bored, who says you can’t start a few more seeds!  I’ve had fresh tomatoes into November by doing some stagger planting.  And yeah, they tasted much better than anything you’ll get in the store, and THAT was worth the wait!

lessons learned: transplanting the seedlings

The fall seedlings have begun to sprout, and soon it will be time for thinning and replanting.  I will admit, it pains me to thin out the extras to make room for better growth, and so I try to save as many as I can by replanting the tiny plants elsewhere in the gardens.  seed starts kale

If you’ve never transplanted plant life, it can be a bit of a stress on the plant itself.  Whether it is a hearty bush or delicate seedling, the transplant needs much care and water to survive the first several hours of change.

I am always in awe of how resilient plants can be if provided with enough care.  They may wilt, they may struggle, but they wait patiently to be tended to by the gardener.  Then one day, you look at the plant and it is no longer something stuck in new dirt–it has become life.

Change moves us to new spaces and places on our journey–we struggle, we wilt, and we wonder if we will survive.  May we surrender to the great Gardener–the one who nurtures us with love and light and who brings us back to life again.