It’s Just a Matter of . . . Thyme

Good morning!

It’s been a long thyme!

IMG_2852In June, there’s a moment of thyme . . .

IMG_7501When I have thyme on my hands . . .

IMG_7487 And thyme is on my side . . .

IMG_7494Here, thyme knows no bounds.

IMG_7486I have all the thyme in the world . . .

IMG_7495To enjoy some quality thyme.

IMG_7491But thyme is of the essence . . .

IMG_7485Because, before long, it’s thyme to call it a day . . .

IMG_2853After a good thyme was had by all!

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And, truly, there’s a thyme for every purpose under heaven.

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Quilting and Gardening: It’s All the Same to Me

I’ve heard it said that quilters are often drawn to gardening, as gardeners are to quilting.

Since I’ve been doing a LOT of both lately, I’ve had time to ponder this proposition and can see a million reasons why these two activities would appeal to the same people!

In fact, I’m a more experienced quilter than gardener and I’ve begun to see that, when I reach a problem in thinking about my gardens, I can draw on my quilter’s knowledge to help give me insight. I bet it works the other way around, too!

Here are my top five ways (out of a million) that quilting and gardening are aligned. Perhaps you can add others!

Planning—While there are improvisational ways to make a quilt, I think most quilters like the planning process, which draws on both the right and left sides of the brain. There’s a fair amount of math involved in quilt making and it was only when I started making quilts that I saw any point in having taken high school geometry.

Math isn’t so important in gardening but there are certainly rules to follow, in order to achieve success. I used to ignore that silly business about plants wanting full sun or shade, until the plants threatened to report me for torture. Similarly, those rules about growing zones really do provide valuable information!

Level of commitment—Both quilting and gardening demand quite a high level of commitment. Even a small quilt involves multiple stages and I’ve learned it’s possible to get hung up at any stage. Quilts do not finish themselves.

Along the same lines, you simply cannot have a garden without a gardener. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve been known to plant things and then walk away from them, and it never ends well.

Both quilting and gardening are easy to start and more difficult to see through to fruition. While quilters talk about UFOs (unfinished objects), gardeners are more likely to simply look at their weedy, undistinguished patches of earth and shake their heads sadly.

Patience and vision—Related to needing a fairly high level of commitment, both quilting and gardening demand real patience and the ability to envision how pieces will come together to form a whole. I suspect that folks who are exceedingly product-oriented have trouble as quilters and as gardeners.

When I start a quilt, I need to be aware that it will be months before I can really see the beauty in what I’m doing. I need to find pleasure in the doing because the start is often messy and uninspiring. I need to be able to see the finished project in my mind’s eye, to give me the trust that all the tedious early work is worthwhile.

It’s exactly the same with gardening. Nothing we plant really looks good at the start. I’ve spent days lately with crud under my fingernails and my flowers look small and insignificant. I tend to over-fill my perennial beds because I have trouble envisioning how big the plants will get in time. As I get slightly more experienced with both quilting and gardening, I get better at anticipating and seeing into the future, which helps me practice patience.

Color and Shape—Perhaps the most obvious similarity between quilting and gardening is the use of color and shapes to create a pleasing whole. I tend to like solid fabrics (or small prints that “read” as solid) in quilts, and get results from shading and use of lights and darks. This translates well to the garden, even though I’m still trying to figure out how to do it.

I like the way bright, saturated colors show up against dark backgrounds in my quilts and am trying to use bright plantings in shady areas—chartreuse foliage and hot orange and yellow flowers. I have definite preferences for color in both venues—you’ll find no purple in my quilts and the only purple in my gardens comes from one happy, healthy rhododendron that was here when we moved in and I haven’t the heart to uproot.

For quilters and gardeners, colors and shapes become the building blocks of their vision.

Individuality—One of the activities popular with quilt guilds is the so-called mystery quilt challenge. Quilters are told to buy, say, four fabrics in a color range of their choice. Then they are periodically given instructions of how to cut and join the fabrics. Eventually, the patterns develop and all the quilters bring their finished products together.

The amazing thing about this challenge is how different and individual the quilts are, even though they are made with the same design! The different choices people make in the fabrics create limitless possibilities in the finished quilts. You would get the same individual interpretation if you asked quilters to use the exact same fabrics but to choose their own quilt patterns.

Makers have always expressed their individuality through quilt design, so much so that certain quilts can be recognized as being made by certain quilters or by having been done in a particular region.

Gardening, too, offers the same endless possibilities with the same basic ingredients. We all use the same relatively small number of plants and flowers that work in our growing zone but the results are as varied as we are. If you and I both start with petunias and geraniums and creeping Jenny, my end product will look entirely different than yours!

So, quilters and gardeners are always achieving their own distinctive look, even while they carefully eye the work of others to provide new ideas. Whether I’m at a quilt show or walking through a new garden, I’m wondering what I can use of the ideas in front of me.

It occurs to me that the points I’m making about quilting and gardening may very well apply to other endeavors as well. Do you garden? How does it relate to your other artistic undertakings? Are there similarities? Do you learn how to approach one from the other? Do tell!

 

As I wait to hear from you, I’m going back to my quilting. Or my gardening. Or maybe both!

Spring? Bring It On!

IMG_6643Here in upstate New York, it’s far too early to do any planting of annual flowers but the garden centers are beginning to tempt and seduce us with spring glories!

For now, the flaming orange blossoms and rich green foliage of this trailing begonia glow indoors, in the afternoon sun. It anticipates, as do we, the days when we can move outdoors for the spring and summer, to enjoy the filtered sun and shade under the pergola.

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Goodnight, Sweet Geraniums . . .

IMG_3447I did one of my least favorite preparing-the-garden-for-winter chores this week. I cut back my geraniums and put them in the dark for the next 6 months.

The whole process of putting gardens to bed in the fall makes me sad. All those beautiful annuals, which gave so much all summer, go to the compost pile. The perennials, some still doing their best to produce flowers, get cut way back.

I’m not going to tell you how I talk to the plants as I cut them back and consign them to compost. It’s a little embarrassing. But it does make me feel better, to reassure them that they were wonderful.

The geraniums, for me, are the most difficult. They still look so completely fabulous, in the traditional red and this crazy-pretty salmon color.

IMG_1025The only thing that makes me feel better is that, with a little luck, some of these plants will survive the winter and be back, better than ever, next summer.

Most people who really garden know that geraniums can be over-wintered. When we lived in a house with a proper basement, I could count on the geraniums every year. I would just cut them back, including getting all the blooms off, and put them in the basement. It was cool in the basement, but not cold, and they got a little light, but not much. I could throw water on them if I thought they were excessively dry but, mostly, I just said “Hi” when I went down to do laundry. When spring started to come around, I’d start watering and give them more light, and all would be groovy.

But now I live in a house with only a completely lightless crawlspace beneath. It stays pretty warm, it stays pretty damp-ish, and it’s 100% pitch black. We don’t really go down there at all, all winter. I sure wouldn’t want to spend 6 hours down there, let alone 6 months!

When we first moved here and I realized I had no place to properly over-winter the geraniums, I decided I’d just stick them in the crawlspace and see what happened. I figured they would die but they were going to die anyway, if I left them outside. I was sad, of course, especially about the salmon ones because I’d had them for a few years at that point; we were old friends.

When the plants came out of the crawlspace that first May, it was a kind of horrifying sight. They were alive but looked undead, kind of the albino-vampire-zombie version of geraniums.

IMG_2871 IMG_2866The stems were completely white and spindly, very leggy, like they were desperately trying to find some light, any light. I couldn’t imagine these pale pretenders ever looking alive again.

But we’d come this far together so I cut off the dead stuff and the really spindly stuff, I watered them and I put them in a warm, sunny spot.

And, slowly, the most amazing thing happened. The stalks became hot pink and little green leaves sprouted.

IMG_3005Then, they became gorgeous again.

IMG_3446I guess it’s not really all that amazing. We probably all have a story about nature bouncing back against all odds. But these geraniums, and their will to flourish, sort of symbolize what spring is all about to me.

So, in the fall, as I put the geraniums into their lightless prison, I think about spring. And I think about my own winter, hunkered down in my warm, cozy house, with the geraniums sleeping beneath me. I think about how we’ll all keep a low profile for the winter and reappear come spring, very pale, craving the sun, but ready to thrive!

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Unharvested

deadfall-2Have you taken a walk, in an area you thought was purely natural and untouched, only to find evidence of previous habitation? Where humans go, we leave our imprint. Very often that’s an unpleasant sight—candy wrappers or cigarette butts in an otherwise pristine landscape. But sometimes we come across a sign that humans lived here and sought to beautify their world.

If you find day lilies, a lilac bush, or an apple tree in a field, it’s a good sign that people once lived on that spot and tried to make it their own.

As I take walks in my rural setting, I love finding an old apple tree, heavy with fruit and surrounded by deadfall. I know it means that, at some point, someone planted that tree and encouraged it along, and the tree is still providing as best it can.

Some people hate the sight of deadfall. They see it as sad, because the people are gone and the tree is producing for no one. Or they see it as wasteful. I read a blog a couple of months ago, in which the author wrote, fairly indignantly, about how awful it was that fruit was allowed to sit on the ground and rot when it could feed hungry people.

But I don’t see deadfall as sad or wasteful. The tree is doing what it was designed to do and, even though the humans who planted it are gone, the fruit is feeding innumerable birds and animals, as well as re-feeding the very ground in which the tree grows. And it provides an unanticipated sense of community to any person who happens by, and recognizes the human hand behind the tree’s existence on that spot.

I love the poem “Unharvested” by Robert Frost. I don’t know if I love it because it expresses my feelings about these old trees or if my feelings about the trees derive from the poem. It’s not as well known as his other poem about apples, “After Apple Picking,” but it is a much more hopeful poem.

Unharvested–Robert Frost

 

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

As humans, we plant and we harvest. We monitor the seasons and try to account for every little thing. We become difficult to surprise or delight. The discovery of an unexpected deadfall, the sweetness in the air and the color on the ground, becomes our reminder that nature still has the ability to outwit us and surprise us, and to outlast us.

So, should we see it as deadfall, and a waste, or a lively, and uplifting, lesson about being open to the unplanned and nature’s ability to catch us off guard?

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The Garden Diva (But Worth the Trouble)

IMG_3181One of the things we added to our garden this summer was a rose tree or rose standard. Our big box hardware store puts plants on deep, deep discount when their prime moment has passed and my husband couldn’t resist this tree for $5.99.

If I had read about the care and feeding of rose standards before he bought it, I probably would’ve said, “Don’t bother.” As I’ve told you before, I like a hardy, tenacious flower that thrives where it’s planted, with not too much input from me.

The rose standards are not hardy or tenacious and they need a lot of attention from humans–they are such divas! They’re actually created by humans and grown by grafting a hybrid rose to the top of a long rose cane, and that means they can be top heavy. Without real care in pruning, the cane will snap from the weight at the top. So they need to be supported with a stake, kept out of strong winds, and monitored for the cane bowing.

IMG_1751And, as if that weren’t all enough to worry about, they need special care in the winter. We will need to create a tall cylinder of chicken wire to go around the cane and then fill the cylinder with mulch, to protect the cane from freezing. We’ll try this but I don’t know if the poor thing will make it . . .

But in spite of all this, I have come to love the plant! It has given so much in the few months we’ve had it. It has gotten beautiful new foliage and produced dozens of the most gorgeous yellow roses, and they even smell fabulous! To top it off, it’s still blooming, better than ever, in October.

I do hope it makes it through the winter—I’ll keep you posted. If you’ve ever had a rose standard and have advice, please pass it along!

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As a postscript, I just finished dipping these coffee caramels and think they’re too pretty not to share!

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Art in the Strangest Places–A Humongous Fungus

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by Gary Chuszinski

The human desire to leave an imprint and to decorate a plain surface amazes me. From the cave paintings of Lescaux to the graffiti in today’s cities, we seem impelled to make a lasting mark.

Some artists choose a traditional medium and become expert in it. They purchase oil paints and quality brushes or yards of new fabric and state-of-the-art sewing machines. Other artists use what is at hand, finding a canvas in the most unlikely places.

One of the oddest of these accidental canvases may be fungus. Not just any fungus, like that stuff growing on cheese you forgot in the back of the fridge, but a particular fungus—Ganoderma applanatum, which grows mostly on dead or dying trees.

If you’re given to rambling through the woods, you’ve probably seen these fungi, also called Artist’s Bracket or Artist’s Conk, growing on the trees.

fungus5-4 fungus-1These aren’t little mushrooms but, rather, the kind of growth that will have you exclaiming, “There’s a humungous fungus among us!”* Indeed, some are very large and they aren’t gummy or gelatinous or icky like you might expect fungus to be; they’re quite hard and woody and often lovely on top, but soft and almost velvety on the bottom, the side that artists use.

This soft underbelly of the fungus is easily marked with a toothpick or point of a nail, and the marks turn brown and become permanent. As it dries the fungus becomes wood-like and can be coated with varnish but I don’t think it needs to be.

According to Larry Schneider, a fungus artist, on his website, the tradition of making art out of these fungi has been done by American pioneers and Native Americans. He also says that museums have specimens done by soldiers of the Civil War.

I couldn’t find any information to corroborate the history of the art form but it makes perfect sense to me that it’s an old form. I think of it as sort of a woodsman’s version of the sailor’s scrimshaw. The white surface becomes a tabula rasa, just inviting a transfiguring mark.

Today, artists decorate these fungi the traditional way, by scratching the surface or with a wood-burning tool, or they use oils or acrylic paints. The subject matter is usually, appropriately, rustic and primitive, with images of forest and stream, although I’ve seen examples with ballerinas and sad clowns.

Gary Chudzinski / Fungus moose / Primitive fungus / Painted Eagle

For all you DIY-ers out there, this is an easy camp craft. All you need is the artist’s conk—the ones that grow on trees, not out of the ground—and a pointy, but not really sharp, object to make the marks. So, take the kids on a hike and set them up to make forest souvenirs. According to Jean-Marc Moncalvo, senior curator of mycology at the Royal Ontario Museum, handling the fungus is  “absolutely safe.”

The only drawback is that you can’t hang them on the refrigerator!

We made this one  when we left our beloved lakefront rental, after it was sold.

We made this one when we left our beloved lakefront rental, after it was sold.

* I got this line from singer/comedian Camille West.