Growing Things

Cultivate the Root

"Cultivate the root; the leaves and branches will take care of themselves."
            --- Confucious

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I have a love-hate relationship with houseplants.
(Oh. No. That's far too strong.)

Let's begin again: I have an off-again/on-again relationship with houseplants.
(Much better.

There have been periods of time in my life . . . when I have tended a lush, indoor jungle. And there have been other (honestly longer) periods of time when my indoor gardens . . . hmmmm . . . shall we say fail to thrive

It seems to be challenging for me to to care for the plants both IN my house and OUTSIDE my house/IN my garden . . . at the same time. And those plants outside/in my garden tend to win out every time.

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But as I was thinking about my word - root - earlier this year, back when it was deep-winter and dark and I was not feeling very hope-full and being IN my garden seemed a very long time time away, I decided to build myself an indoor garden again. I decided to follow that advice from Confucious: I'd cultivate some roots, and let the leaves and branches take care of themselves.

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Back in January, I had two very old (but hanging in there!) Christmas cactus plants, a mini jade tree, and a few amaryllis bulbs (3 new; 3 dormant that I was hoping to coax back to life). If I was going to create a new indoor garden, I was going to have to do better than that! Luckily, my favorite nursery sells houseplants in the "off season." And I signed up for a Horti membership.

And I put down some inside roots.

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I love the results!

And I'm committed to cultivating the roots IN my house even as the roots OUTSIDE my house call ever louder.
(Remind me of that should you notice neglect, won't you please?)

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“Gardening is the greatest tonic and therapy a human being can have. Even if you have only a tiny piece of earth, you can create something beautiful, which we all have a great need for. If we begin by respecting plants, it’s inevitable we’ll respect people.”
     — Audrey Hepburn

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How about you? Do you tend an indoor garden?

 


Spring Cleaning in the Garden

Welcome to the Friday edition of . . . 

Spring Cleaning Week

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”
  --- Kate Morton

There is one very big reason I’m not so good at Spring Cleaning.

My Garden.

When the weather starts to warm up, and the snow melts away, my garden calls me. Often . . . and loudly. And taking care of chores in my garden will ALWAYS win out over taking care of chores in my house! And there is so much to DO in the garden in the spring -- even in the earliest part of spring. In fact, the earlier I can get out there and start working on my spring clean-up chores in the garden, the better off I’ll be when things really start exploding in May.

I know many of you are happy gardeners, too . . . so I decided to focus one day of Spring Cleaning Week on garden chores. Join me today as I bring you some tips to help you tackle your “spring cleaning” . . . in the garden.

Let’s begin with some advice from Martha Stewart, maven of all garden chore lists.

“Even with a winter chill still in the air, there are plenty of tasks to start handling now if you want to get your garden in shape by the time the temperatures rise. A few words to the wise: Walking on or digging in soil when it is still too frozen and wet may compact it, and plant roots need soil to live their best lives. So, if the ground is still too hard or fully saturated with water, be patient.”
  --- from MarthaStewart.com|Garden

Martha’s tips for garden “spring cleaning” (with some of my own tips thrown in) include:

  • Survey your yard and garden. 
    • Check out your trees to assess limb damage from the winter. You can also do some judicious tree pruning -- it’s much easier to prune before they’re leafed out for the season. (NOTE: If you have a spring-blooming tree, don’t prune it in the spring.) (And if you live somewhere with Oak Wilt -- like here in Michigan -- do NOT prune your oak trees at all between April and November.)
    • Cut back any of last season’s perennial foliage (if you left it for winter-interest). Be sure to add these cuttings to your compost pile if you have one. (And if you don’t, maybe you want to start one??? See below!)
    • You can rake mulch from garden areas with bulbs. It’s much easier to spruce things up before the foliage - and blooms - get really going.
    • Check your hardscape: fences, paths, patios, structures, etc. for any winter damage. Make plans for any repairs that need to happen.
  • Give your garden tools a tune up.
    • Gather your garden tools and check them out before the season gets going. Make sure you know where everything is, and make notes of any tools that need to be replaced. Maybe oil your pruners. Make sure you have enough garden gloves. That kind of thing.
  • Note the gaps in your garden and do some planning.
    • Spring is a great time to plan ahead. What new perennials, shrubs, or trees might you want to add to your landscape this season?
    • Alternatively, are there any things you’d like to dig out to transplant (or even pass along to a gardening friend)? It’s easy to dig out shrubs or larger plants in the spring -- before everything leafs out and your garden fills in.
    • Make lists of plants you’re looking for this season, so you can be ready when it’s time to hit the nurseries again.
  • Think about your lawn.
    • If you mow your lawn, make sure your lawn mower and related lawn equipment is all ready to go for another season. Get the blade sharpened, if needed. Make sure everything starts up again.
    • If you hire a service to mow for you, make sure you’ve contracted with them well before the mowing season begins. (Same with arborists, fertilizing services, and irrigation systems.)
    • Make plans for fertilizing your lawn. Purchase necessary products or contract with a lawn service. Mark your calendar for the recommended treatment dates in your area if you do it yourself. (Here’s a quick-and-dirty fertilizer schedule for northern lawns.) (Timing is important.)
    • Check out your hoses and sprinklers so they’ll be ready when you need them.
  • Prune shrubs.
    • Spring is a great time to do some pruning. It’s so much easier to see what you’re doing before there are leaves on the shrubs. Go ahead and take out dead, damaged, or diseased branches. But before you go much further . . . make sure you know the right pruning time for your shrub. (This is tricky - and one of the things I get asked most often as a Master Gardener. I’m including some handy shrub-pruning links below, but basically . . . don’t prune a spring-flowering shrub - forsythia, lilac, weigela, or quince, for exampleuntil AFTER it blooms.)
  • Prepare new garden beds.
    • Once the soil is warm enough to work, you can start prepping new beds for planting this year. Here’s Martha’s advice: “Clear the planting area as soon as soil can be worked, removing sod or weeds and debris. Spread a 4-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure and any amendments over soil, and cultivate it to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spading fork. Rake it smooth before planting.”
  • Fertilize your existing garden beds.
    • As your garden wakes up, it’ll appreciate a little fuel. You can apply a balanced fertilizer (the numbers on the container should be 6-6-6 or 8-8-8) around trees and shrubs when new growth appears. You can spread high-acid fertilizer or pine-needle mulch around acid-loving shrubs like azaleas and rhododendrons. Start fertilizing your perennials when active growth starts.
  • Tend to your compost pile. (Or start one.)
    • I usually poke around a lot in my compost pile in the spring -- just to get things "cooking" again. Tom “harvests” compost from the bin for me, and then we start throwing things back in again, ready for another season of garden waste. (We use compost all over in the garden. We add a healthy serving of compost to every plant we put in the ground, and we spread it in our beds in the spring. We supplement our own supply of compost with bags of composted cow manure - it doesn't smell, by the way - that we stock up on each spring. Compost . . . is my biggest "garden secret.")
    • If you’re interested in starting a compost pile of your own, there is lots of helpful information online. You can start with this informative article if you want to learn more.
  • Clean Your Bird Feeders and Bird Baths
    • If you’ve already established yourself as a bird-friendly location, now is a great time to give your feeders a refresh. You can disinfect the feeders by scrubbing them with a weak bleach solution (¼ cup bleach: 2 gallons warm water). Rinse and let the feeders dry thoroughly before refilling them.
    • Scrub your birdbaths with the same bleach solution, then rinse them thoroughly and refill, changing the water weekly. 
    • Clean your bird baths and feeders regularly throughout the season. (I’ve never paid much attention to cleaning my feeders . . . until my daughter had to stop feeding her birds altogether this spring, as California is battling a bird-salmonella disease that is killing songbirds. I’ll be taking much better care of my birds this summer . . . )

No wonder I never feel like cleaning the INSIDE of my house . . . when there’s so much to do OUTSIDE in my garden! (And even though chores are chores, they just feel so much more like FUN out in the garden.)

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And now, those pruning tips I promised:

  1. Check out the excellent Pruning Demystified guide from Proven Winners.
  2. Here’s some other good general shrub-pruning advice.
  3. And here is some pruning advice specifically about hydrangeas.
  4. And here is advice specifically about pruning your clematis.

How about you? Do you prefer spring gardening chores . . . or spring in-the-house chores more?

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Spring Cleaning Gardening Tip of the Day

Be ready to take cover if freezing temperatures are in the forecast. If you garden in an area where late spring frosts and freezes are a possibility, be prepared to cover up plants that have tender emerging buds or foliage if freezing temps are in the forecast. If the buds haven’t begun to open yet, there’s no need to cover them. Old sheets and towels that have been relegated to the rag pile are a good option, and professional row cover is available for purchase, too. DO NOT cover tender plants with plastic sheeting or tarps. The effect of the plastic touching the newly emerging buds and foliage will magnify the cold’s effect, rather than mitigate it.   (Today's tip is from Proven Winners.)

Have a good spring cleaning - inside OR outside - tip of your own, or some spring cleaning advice you'd like to share? Please pass it along in the comments -- and I'll share in my post on Friday Monday! (I know I said I'd do this on Friday - today. But it's gonna be Monday.)

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Links to other posts in my Spring Cleaning series:

An Introduction and Some History of Spring Cleaning

Rolling Up Your Sleeves and Coming Up With Your Strategy

Finding Your Organizational Style

Taking Care of Closet Business



 


Something Amazing

. . . is unfolding in my inside-garden right now!

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This is one of last year's amaryllis plants. I decided to see if I could get it to re-bloom (following Bonny's most excellent advice). First, I got leaves exploding everywhere in the pot, which was exciting enough. (Especially given the extreme benign neglect I gave this plant.) 

But, look!

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I got a bud!!!

It's going to bloom!!!

I'm so excited.
Next thing you know, I'll be getting an orchid to re-bloom or something. . . 
(Although, as my mom used to say, "That'll be a frosty Friday in July!")


Tending

I love the word tending. As in . . . to care or look after.

It's such a gentle word.
So soothing.
It just exudes love-in-action to me.

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I think about the word tending most often when it comes to gardening. I love to . . . tend . . . my garden. I like to care for my plants. I'm one of those gardeners who actually prefers the tending kinds of tasks - weeding, deadheading, picking off pests - more than the planting and harvesting kinds of tasks.

That's what I miss most about my garden in the winter: Puttering around and tending.
(Well. That's not really true. I mostly miss just seeing it all unfold and being IN it.) (But tending is a close second.)

So I'm biding my time until garden-season by tending to my little indoor garden for now . . . 

First, there's my Aerogarden. Which is really coming along nicely!  Not much tending to do with this one, actually. It really is a Just-Add-Water kind of thing. But fun to watch all the same -- and soon I'll be able to harvest fresh herbs for my cooking.

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Then, there's this first-ever possibly-re-blooming amaryllis bulb. This is very exciting for me. I've never been good at saving my spent amaryllis bulbs from one season to the next, but last year I followed Bonny's instructions . . . and look!!! A green shoot! (I stuck it next to the Aerogarden, so maybe the light is helping it come back to life?)

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And then, there are tulip bulbs that I picked up at Costco last week. They don't require much tending, either, really. Another Just-Add-Water project. 

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But a winter delight for this gardener all the same!

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Are you tending any plants in your indoor garden this winter?

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Be sure to visit Carole for other 3-0n-Thursday posts today.


Seasonal Diversions

"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues."
                    -  Hal Borland

Okay.
So it's been an exceptionally mild winter here in my corner of the world. 
Cold. But not THAT cold.
No significant snows to speak of.
Even more sunshine than usual.

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(This morning. Looking down - through a screen - at "Tom's garden" below.)

I mean, sure. Today . . . when I look out at my garden, it's pretty bleak. There is a bit of snow. And there's ice on the streets and in my driveway.  It's definitely winter out there. But it's not that kind of winter where you just resign yourself to not seeing the ground for months and months yet, y'know?

Those kinds of winters - the ones with snow that never stops and temperatures well below freezing for weeks and weeks at a time - make it hard to be a gardener, trapped by winter. But I actually think it's easier, too, in a way. Sure. You get super sick of winter and dream about your garden all the time when it's a winter like that. But you also know it's gonna be a long, long time before the snow melts enough to be able to get out there! There is a certain . . . resignation . . . to the whole season.

This year - in a mild winter? It's even harder, I think. Because - most days - I can SEE my garden. I can think about being IN IT in a much more tangible way than is typical for a January around here. There is no resignation this winter! Just . . . a longing. And a wondering. Will spring come early this year??? Will I really be able to get out there next month, maybe? Or will the other shoe still drop, weather-wise? 

My itch to garden is starting even earlier than ever this year.

So, Hal? Your famous list of  "seasonal diversions" just isn't cutting it for this gardener this winter! First, we haven't needed a "January thaw." (Nothing much to "thaw," really.) And although the seed catalogs did just started arriving (right on schedule), I'm going to add a third thing to your list . . .  

Garden inside!

Which helps.

I finally broke down and ordered one of these. I've been thinking about it for years. Every winter, actually. (About the time I run out of the "basil bombs" I made and stored in my freezer during the previous summer.) Erin got one earlier this year. She shows off her fresh herbs to me often enough that . . . I took the plunge and ordered one for myself.

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It arrived earlier this week, and I set it up "gardened" yesterday. Soon (relatively speaking), I'll have fresh thyme and basil, dill and parsley! I can't wait. 

And then, earlier this week, Vicki introduced me to Horti . . . and I fell right into that rabbit hole! (Can you say . . . Sign. Me. Up?)

Despite the mild winter here, I know it's still going to be months and months before I can REALLY get out and into my garden. I'm happy for "seasonal diversions" wherever I can find them.

Maybe there's no dirt under my nails at present. 
No smell of fresh earth. 
But this is just what I need right now!

(As they say in gardening . . . right plant, right place.)

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If you stretch your imagination and squint a little bit, you can see this is a Three on Thursday post. Be sure to visit Carole today for more Three on Thursday fun.


In The Blink of An Eye

Like many of you, last week we had a week-long stretch of unbelievably wonderful fall days here in my corner of the world. Just day after day of blue skies, warm temperatures, and open windows . . . unheard of in November in Michigan.

Tom and I took full advantage of this weather by taking care of some lingering outside chores, taking the dogs on neighborhood walks (where they enjoyed crunching through the leaves gathering at the curbs), and . . . sitting out each night for drinks-on-the-patio.

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Such a glorious weather-week.

And . . . over in the blink of an eye!

On Tuesday night, a cold front moved through. And now? November is back, and all the remaining leaves dropped from the trees in one night. So today, seeing that it's a Three-On-Thursday kind of day, I thought I'd share three wonderful colors-of-fall in my garden - now gone, sadly. But wonderful while they lasted!

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Until next year, fabulous garden color!

"In the garden, Autum is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November."
            --- Rose G. Kinsley, The Autumn Garden, 1905

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Be sure to hop on over to Carole's today for more Three on Thursday posts.

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And do let me know in the comments if you'd like to join us for our first ever Read With Us Zoom meet-up to discuss The Women of Brewster Place -- Tuesday, November 17 at 7:00 pm Eastern Time. (You can also send me an email; address in the sidebar.)

 


Time To Button Up

Well. It's time to button up my garden for the coming winter.

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I really enjoy being out in my garden in the fall. It's cooler, for one thing, which makes it much easier to take care of my chores. It's beautiful, too. Not just the leaves on the trees (which are absolutely stunning this year) -- but also the last force of blooms on some of my plants (I have zinnias, dahlia, goldenrod, and hardy geraniums going to town right now) and even the dead-and-dying stalks and leaves. Because there is a beauty to the decay in my garden, too.

And the dogs love it in the garden at this time of year! They like to crunch down into the plants and dig a little here and there. There are squirrels to chase and possums to track. Exciting times, if you're a dog!

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(This photo isn't crooked; my yard is crooked - big hill - and this photo really shows it!)

Sadly, the deer are also happy in my garden this year. Usually . . . they don't venture into my fenced back gardens until spring. This year? They've already arrived. Mostly just munching on my hostas. Oh, well. Just another challenge to deal with in the garden. . . 

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(Jenny, now 13-and-a-half, has always loved hanging out in the hostas -- ever since she was a tiny pup. Some things never change.)

When it comes to buttoning up my garden for the season, I tend to take a . . . relaxed approach. I do what I can to prepare things for spring - a bit of pruning, a little more deadheading, some planting (fall is a great time to plant perennials) (and bulbs, of course). I like to take stock and make notes -- to remind myself of things that worked/didn't work, for example, and to remind myself in the spring of things I want to be sure to do then.

But I leave a lot of dying-back plants and seed heads . . . as is. I don't rake the mulch from my garden beds (much). I'm trying to provide a "friendly" environment for my garden friends -- the birds, the beneficial insects, my frogs and toads. (I do tend to get the leaves off the grass -- if they fall before the snows come. Always a crap shoot around here . . . ) I also like to let my self-seeding plants do a little self-seeding. I tend to like "volunteers" in my garden. I can always pull them next spring if they get a bit too exuberant, or if they show up where I don't want them to be.

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Now is the time I bring all my garden "tchotchkes" in for winter storage. And usually the furniture -- although this year, we're leaving some things out in an attempt to extend our outdoor time as much as possible. (Thanks, Mr. Heater!). I re-plant my containers several times in the fall -- mums and pumpkins for early fall, pansies for as long as they last, and then grasses and (usually) dead branches/brown hydrangea flowers and berries for later fall.

Fall . . . is a peaceful time in the garden for me. There isn't much stress-and-pressure like there is in the spring - when everything is exploding everywhere and I can barely keep up. It's more quiet. There is time for reflection; a gentle unwinding. It's a good time to BE in the garden.

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"When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden."
                    --- Minnie Aumónier

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PSA: I want to point out that my laissez-faire attitude about fall garden chores and clean-up is appropriate for perennial gardens; NOT vegetable gardens -- where meticulous clean-up is absolutely necessary. (Another reason I don't have a vegetable garden, to be honest.) Here is an excellent article by Margaret Roach (perhaps my favorite garden expert) full of fall garden clean-up tips for both perennial gardens and vegetable gardens. You can find a lot more great information on her website (including links to her podcast).

 


Right In My Own Backyard

The other day, we woke up to some Big Drama in the garden . . . 

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(Husband included for scale.)

SURPRISE!

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So it's a bit of a drag, for sure. But it could have been much worse.

I'm counting my lucky stars and feeling grateful that . . . 

1 -- It didn't hit the fence.

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2 -- It didn't hit "Tom's garden" or the patio furniture. (Although it came close.)

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3 -- It didn't take out or damage ANY OTHER trees or plants in the garden.

So . . . good news all around!
(And BONUS -- the tree guy is going to do a well-needed prune and trimming to the rest of the tree when he cleans up the limb next week.)

Drama. 
But not altogether bad drama.

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Be sure to visit Carole today for other Three on Thursday posts.

 

 


Purple Haze

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This is the time of year when all my hard work in the garden (and Tom's, too!) starts to pay off. Everything is generally neat and tidy, the blooms are bursting, and the party's ready to begin. Usually I look for reasons to celebrate in my garden. With other people.

I mean, I do love to just sit in my garden and enjoy. And we do that. Pretty much every evening at the end of the day. But gardens are meant to be shared!

Usually, I host my book group in my garden. I volunteer to have small meetings right on my patio. I invite friends over for drinks or knitting. We host our giant solstice party. But not this year.

So I'll share it virtually with all of you instead!
C'mon back . . . 

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People are usually kind of surprised when they come through my garden gate . . . into the back yard . . . because you can't really see my garden from the front of my house at all. It's kind of a secret garden.

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(Pretend I remembered to move the yard waste bin out of the way before taking this photo.)

I have gardens beds and landscaping in the front, too. But the Main Event is in the backyard. It's private and hidden and comfortable. (As in not fussy at all.)

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It's, well . . . a lot of work (because this is only half of the back yard...), and Tom and I do all of it ourselves. (Except the mowing. We do hire out the mowing.) But it's a labor of love. 

Right now, my garden is in its Purple Haze blooming phase. 

There's the wisteria dripping from the pergola. . . 

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and the globemaster allium holding court over the hostas.

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I've got false indigo . . . 

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and several types of perennial salvia attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

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I wish we all could sit around the patio . . . on this glorious day . . . sipping some wine and enjoying the blooms together. But like so many other things these days, we'll just have to imagine.

Thanks for coming along!

. . . 'scuse me while I kiss the sky.


A Very Different Kind of Happy Place

As I wrote about earlier this week, I'm holding firm to my strict stay-safe-at-home routine. (Technically, this is not an really issue for me yet because here in Michigan, we are still under a shelter-in-place order).

But I decided to make one big exception:  I visited my favorite nursery this morning.  
(Landscaping services and garden-related shops were declared "essential" here in Michigan only recently.)

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Normally, going to the nursery is . . . going to my Happy Place.  I wander and I ponder and I take my time.  I find inspiration and I take pictures and I just relax and enjoy myself.  But, of course, these are not normal times.  

This morning, my favorite nursery still LOOKED like my favorite nursery.  The plants were just as gorgeous and lush as always. I knew where to find everything.  It smelled fresh and green and grow-y.  It felt so good to be there again.  

But yet. . . 

It also felt really weird. Surreal, actually. All the other gardeners had masks on. Everyone was polite and careful about making sure we could social-distance appropriatately. The nursery had all kinds of procedures in place to make shopping safe:  one-way aisles, carefully wiped-down carts, no-touch hand santizer dispensers, no-contact credit card readers, everything you need to feel (sorta) comfortable plant-shopping in a pandemic.  But it was so . . . quiet. No one was laughing or talking or even asking for help. It was so very, very quiet.

(At one point, I just felt so overwhelmed that I shed a few tears. It just . . . happened. And I couldn't do a thing about it.)

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So.
I got in. I got out.
Quickly. 

I picked up what I went in for: my herbs and a few plants for my front porch containers and hanging ferns for my patio. I didn't jot any notes. I didn't take pictures of anything for future reference or inspiration. I didn't browse. (Much.) (Because I did still end up with a few things that just caught my eye. . . )

And then I came home and jumped in the shower!

So it IS still my Happy Place.
It's just a very different KIND of Happy Place.  
("Enriched" now, as it is . . . with sad, scary, surreal-ness.)