Saying Goodbye: A Tribute

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I wrote about one of my first encounters with my neighbor Shirley here. I met her in the spring of last year, while she was in her backyard (and I in mine) tending to her garden.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that she played an integral part in getting me excited about my own garden. At most, I’ve watched my Hawaii family expertly grow and care for flowers (orchids, roses, bird of paradise, red ginger) and produce (mangos, papaya, peppers, jackfruit, tomatoes, ginger root), but hadn’t done much of it myself.

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On top of that, gardening is so different in the Midwest than Hawaii or California. In Hawaii, you plant something and it just sort of grows (except my mom/auntie have not had success in growing cherry tomatoes, whereas they grew like weeds for my grandfather, who planted in the same spot). San Francisco is a little trickier because of the fog and cold, and I didn’t get much opportunity (except for pruning) to work with plants while we were there because we had a shared backyard and finicky neighbors.

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Here in Michigan, zone 5 (didn’t even know what a hardiness zone was and that you even had to pay attention to them), the weather plays a huge factor on what you can plant and when. And shade plays a big part as well, which is tricky with our backyard, which is bordered by massive maples and evergreens. And let’s not forget soil acidity. GAH.

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Sedum, ground cover. The first plant we transplanted together.

She taught me how to divide plants, how to transplant them – what soil/compost mixes to use for planting, which plants like shade vs. the ones that like sun, which ones are good for ground cover, perennials vs. annuals, etc.

She reminded me that transplants take a year or two to really flourish (she gave me so many last year. Half my beds are filled with flowers/plants from her garden), so this spring was very exciting as I watched the different plants rise up from the ground, strong, healthy and happy.

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I was aware that Shirley had cancer. I had heard from a couple people (bless this town), though never from her personally. On the outside, she was just as healthy and happy as those spring plants, but this summer it hit hard, and she passed away Saturday morning in her sleep.

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I didn’t have a chance to see her during her last days. By the time I figured out that things weren’t going well, her visitor list was limited, as she needed to reserve her strength. Fortunately, I was still able to communicate with her through email – via her daughter, who relayed sentiments from me to Shirley and vice versa.

I was able to tell her how much she meant to me. More than a teacher or a mentor, she was someone who came into my life when I was feeling not so great about having moved here (small towns are hard to crack, especially as an adult). And being able to work the land gave me a connection to Grosse Pointe that I desperately needed.

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Her daughter wrote back… “Did (Shirley) ever tell you how she became interested in gardening?” (no, she did not) “It was not from her parents–they never gardened. It was a neighbor who gave her a paper cup with a few seeds planted in it which she put on her windowsill. It was the first thing she ever grew.”

She also expressed that “she is happy to know that some of her favorite plants will live on in your (my) garden” and I promised her that I would continue to have the girls plant with me and help tend the land, even though they might not do things exactly the way I want. I promised teaching with patience, in her honor. It’s going to be really hard, but I am going to try my best to stick to that promise.

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One of the most memorable things I learned from Shirley was to say goodbye and thank you to my garden. One afternoon I saw her and her husband walking slowly around their garden, and she told me she was saying goodbye.

My first thought was, “why? what happened? are you moving?” What she meant was that gardening season was coming to an end, and thus she was no longer fertilizing, dividing, weeding. The plants would be left alone to their own devices until the following spring, so she was thanking them for being a part of her garden and saying goodbye until next year.

And so I say goodbye and thank you to you, Shirley. Thank you for being a part of my garden and goodbye. Until we meet again.

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The July List – 2016

IMG_6268 (819x1024)July has come and gone in a flash. I’m still loving the heat, although I do wish it would rain every now and then for the plants. Midwestern summers are the best and I have zero complaints. I love sitting in the backyard as the sun goes down, and when it’s cool enough (and sometimes even when it isn’t), sitting by the fire pit with my husband after the girls go to bed.

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1)  We spent the Fourth poolside with the family, but per usual, I didn’t get in the pool, which I won’t do unless it’s above 88 degrees (or thereabouts).

2)  When I was out jogging at the beginning of the month (not many jogging days for me this month – too lazy hot), I passed three people I knew. Actually they passed me, as they were in their cars, driving. But they all waved or gave a honk. My husband does not love this aspect of small towns, but I do.

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3) In my last post I talked about cooking. I’ve also been on a baking kick, which means we’ve had lots of scones this summer. Usually it’s blueberry, but I’ve also tried raspberry. My first batch of the summer came out picture-perfect, but most of the batch I made for the 4th of July party fell on the floor as I pulled it out from the oven. I was able to salvage a plateful, at least.

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4) I’m still discovering new plants and this one growing on the side of a house in Grosse Pointe Park wowed me. One of my Instagram friends told me the name – trumpet vine – which makes complete sense, as you can see.

5)  The time I made a beautiful salad with greens from the garden and fresh (aka expensive) mozarella cheese, and sprinkled it with fish sauce instead of the balsamic glaze. That first bite was the worst. I was able to wash a lot of it off, but every few bites I’d get a taste of fishiness.

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6)  Found this robin egg completely intact under one of the backyard hedges. Couldn’t tell where it fell from. Such a pretty blue.

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7)  Our little 4 x 4 raised vegetable bed did pretty well! The peas were especially delicious, as was the lettuce and kale. It’s been somewhat neglected, as I’ve spent a lot of time at The Garden Detroit, but it has been a great experience in growing food. Both girls helped care for the plants, and tasted everything, even though they didn’t love all of it. Sam, as it turns out, loves peas.

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8)  My husband and I finally tried the new Eastern Market restaurant La Rondinella. The ambiance was nice and the food was great. Nothing exceptional, but we both enjoyed our meals. We took a short walk after dinner. It was nice to be there without the hustle and bustle of a market day, the only other times I’ve ever been.

We then drove to the Detroit Riverwalk, where we watched kids play in the fountains and people walk or ride by on bicycles. We had such a great time that we went back a couple days later with the girls.

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9)  The Garden has a flower farm called Detroit Abloom. They have weekly CSA flower shares, which I subscribe to. They are always so beautiful and I love not knowing what I’m going to get from one week to the next. The cost comes out to $15.00 per week, which is a fabulous deal. And I’m supporting a local business, which we try to do as much as possible.

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10)  I took the girls to a new-ish spot in Grosse Pointe Park, Sweeties, for ice cream. They also have jars of candy for sale. My ice cream was vegan – made with coconut milk – and way too sweet for me, but the girls’ flavors were yummy.

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11)  This is what our fridge has looked like this month, thanks to my work at the Garden and also our weekly CSA share. Although I must confess, I’m a little burnt out on leafy greens and went several days without any. I think I’m ready to get back on board. Especially after all the ice cream we’ve been eating (but it’s seriously been so hot!!! What else can you do?).

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12)  And lastly, my @thegardendetroit Instagram account hit 1000! Super goofy, but it’s a big deal to me and I couldn’t be happier. Also found yesterday that someone from North Carolina, an Instagram follower and fellow farmer, would like to come by and see our gardens as one of his stops on an upcoming trip. That makes me so happy, too.

I hope your August is filled with many things that make you happy! Until next time.

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The June List – 2016

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So wow. June is over. How in the world.

1)  Summer is upon us. The photo above says it all. Lord have mercy.

2)  Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE summer and in Michigan we actually HAVE a summer which is so awesome because, as I remind people often, San Francisco summers are fuh-reez-ing. I can do hot all day long.

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3)  Here’s a little corner in Grosse Pointe over the course of two months. In June, everything is in full bloom. Not as exciting as the first signs of spring, but in summer, you can sit back and settle in for a bit.

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4)  To celebrate summer’s arrival, I made strawberry shortcakes for dinner. This was something Grandma Lucy in upstate New York used to do once in a while on hot summer days (except with a side of corn on the cob, not green beans).  I only had wheat flour, which isn’t nearly as good (and even with white flour, never as good as Grandma’s), but it was still yummy. Will do it again soon.

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5)  I’ve been spending a lot of my free time (HA-ha, what even is that!?) at the Garden Detroit urban farm (which I started writing about and mean to post before this one, but alas) that my own yard/garden has been somewhat neglected. I did get around to taking care of some of our pest issues with this nifty chemical alternative – live nematodes.

Except that I made my husband spray them all over the yard because of the creepy factor. Seven million invisible alive organisms that bury into the soil and hunt down bad bugs? Yes but no.

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6)  Speaking of the urban farm, our CSA share/weekly box of produce started this month. We got the strawberries from another farm, but the rest came from our harvest. Lettuce and kale for days.

I hadn’t ever used garlic scapes before (the curly things). They are the flower bud of the garlic plant and taste just like garlic and slightly more mild, but only just. I found a fantastic pesto recipe online that pairs scapes and pistachios with the other usual ingredients – so good!

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7)  I’m still taking photos for the farm’s Instagram account, and if you haven’t followed me there already, you can find me at screen name @thegardendetroit or click here for the link.

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8)  The yearly influx of fish flies came upon us starting a couple weeks ago. I think they are nearly gone, but ick. Super nasty and stinky. The girls love playing with them, though, which includes putting them on different parts of their bodies. And mine. Sigh.

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9)  For Father’s Day we decided on a picnic at the park. A friend of mine told me you can “reserve” a spot early in the morning (and no one will take or move your stuff!) so I decided to try it. At 7:15 am, there were already several tables set up, but I was still able to grab a nice spot. Small town win.

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10)  Summer nights are the best and my husband and I were able to escape one evening (thank you, Leslie!) for a date at the Yacht Club. After dinner we sat outside at the gazebo, had drinks and watched the sky change as the sun went down. A perfect night.

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11)  I’ve totally slacked off in the exercise department. Yoga classes have stopped for the summer and it’s been too hot to run (unless I want to get up at 5 in the morning, which I do not). As of a week ago, I am back at it, riding the exercise bike and doing minimal stretching. I don’t want to let all my hard work over the last few months go to waste (or to my waist, hehe). Up and at ’em.

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12)  There’s a health food shop in Grosse Pointe called the Sprout House. It’s been over a year since I got food from there, so when Tom (Garden owner) offered to buy lunch from there one day if I picked it up on my way to the Garden, I obliged. Their avocado sandwich is packed with avocados and there are also sundried tomatoes, cilantro and vegan chili mayonnaise. I’d forgotten how good they are.

I love Michigan summers so much. It almost (almost) keeps my San Francisco longings at bay. I hope you are able to take full advantage of your summer days and nights. Happy July, everyone!

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The May List – 2016

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May was an epic non-stop month. Here’s the scoop…

1) My big news is my involvement with a nonprofit urban farm called The Garden Detroit in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. I met one of the directors in Trader Joe’s and the very next day I was out visiting the farm.

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In addition to gardening/farming, I’ve operated an excavator…

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and started an Instagram account for the Garden (please follow @thegardendetroit )!

IMG_5614 (1024x1024)I’ve already learned so much in just a few short weeks. Too much to put in this list, so I will write an extended post soon.

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2) Last week someone put up this hammock on Lakeshore Drive. Is that even legal? Probably not, but it looked like a good idea and I don’t even really like hammocks.

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3)  One of the book group girls has a place up North at Walloon Lake and invited us all for a girls’ weekend. Only three of us were able to make it, but we still had a great time and yes, we did sit around and read one afternoon out on the deck! Girls gone wild.

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Although things did get a little crazy when Allison busted out the Chicken in a Biskit. Didn’t realize they still made these – don’t think I’ve seen them since elementary school. Even though I didn’t have any (MSG OMG!), I remember their distinct salty and chicken-y boullion cube taste. (Full disclosure – I did, however, indulge on a ridiculous amount of chips and french onion dip).

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We stopped at this little shop on the way (that Allison and I have spied but never been in, as popping into shops is not ideal when on family road trips). Among the little chachkie items, there was cute country-style furniture that was nicely priced.

The next day we drove into Petosky for dinner at Chandler’s and beforehand I was able to load up on my American Spoon supplies, namely their bloody Mary mix, my summer staple.

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4) Breaking news in Grosse Pointe! This excerpt from the police section made me do a double-take. I thought for a second they were talking about my kids. Nope, just a couple of 20-somethings, whew.

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5)  After multiple failed attempts over the last few years of trying to wear false eyelashes, I finally nailed it with some new glue and several YouTube tutorials. I even took a couple of selfies because I was feeling pretty awesome about my new look.

When I came downstairs, my seven-year-old exclaims, “Oooooh Mom! Your eyes are so dark…you look like a witch!” Alrighty then.

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6)  Our peas are growing! They’re so pretty with their little delicate tendrils, don’t you think? Our lettuce and green onions are slow-growing (not enough sun?) and our cilantro finally came up, which was a nice surprise as I thought Sam had displaced or eaten all the seeds.

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7)  We were given several varieties of tomato seedings from the Garden (just assume that when I capitalize Garden from now on, I’m talking about The Garden Detroit), which I planted in one of the last sunny spots left in our backyard. I built trellises out of sticks and kitchen twine, which I hope are tall enough and hold up.

Hoping the squirrels won’t eat them all. Thinking of putting some chicken wire around them but of course that isn’t as aesthetically pleasing. Will watch and see.

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8)  I also planted some lavender this month along our small wall in the back of the yard. They like well-drained soil, which I tried my best to create with sand and stones and a slight mound. Again, will have to watch and see.

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9)  Our littlest had her class picnic last week. The weather was perfect (a little on the hot side, but I am NOT complaining) and it was sweet to see her interacting with her classmates. She and her best friend were unsure about the water balloon game (this pic), so they watched on the sidelines before deciding to try it (they loved it!).

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10)  Our somewhat dilapidated birdbath (inherited by the previous homeowners) was bugging me (literally. Attracted more mosquitoes than birds), so with my husband’s help, I re-purposed it as a fairy garden.

I took the girls to Allemon’s to pick out plants for it, which I thought would be a fun project, which it was, although they were more interested in petting the garden statues (lions, dogs, bunnies) and touching the water fountains than picking out plants.

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11)  My neighbor gave me a wheelbarrow full of forget-me-nots from her garden. At least a third of our flower beds are now filled with plants from her garden! It’s quite sweet, really.

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12)  The end of May gave us some hot, hot, hot weather. And also bugs. The spiders are out, not quite in full force yet, and the mosquitoes and ants are definitely out. The girls try to catch the ants, although when they succeed they usually scream with fright and flail around. Silly girls.

I’m sure June will bring more silliness, hot weather and fun. Looking forward to it and to sharing some of it with you in the June List!

 

 

Ailanthus Tree – The Take-Down

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Last summer we had weeds. Not just any weeds but weeds that I eventually learned were coming from our super tall ailanthus tree. I did some research and sure enough, this tree is considered an invasive species in many states, including Michigan. One neglected weed grew to over six feet tall within a matter of weeks! Our neighbor pointed it out to me and it was promptly (although not without some difficulty) pulled up by me.

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The tree originates from China and was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1700s. It is called the “Tree of Heaven,” probably for the tall heights it can reach, but when you google it, other common names are “Tree from Hell” and “wonder-weed.”

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One interesting tidbit that I got from the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop (where I also got the above image), an organization that makes creates art/items out of ailanthus wood, is that these trees started popping up in post-industrial Detroit when home became abandoned. They say “the quantity and height of Tree of Heaven specimen functions as a signifier for how long a place might have been abandoned.”

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I would have loved to chop it down last year, but after receiving quotes from several companies, realized it was something we were going to have to save up for. It was first on my gardening to-do list this year.

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Our backyard doesn’t allow for larger equipment to come in, so the company we used had one guy climb and cut the tree, and then a bunch of other guys on the ground helped guide him and move out the debris. Large pieces came down with a series of ropes (vs. throwing them down on the ground, which did happen with smaller branches).

Considering what a huge tree it was, they were quite fast and efficient.

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The stump was ground with a machine, leaving us with a huge pile of wood chips, which I’ve been dispersing around the garden

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I was thrilled to say goodbye to the tree. We now have a bit more light and hopefully, a lot less weeds this summer.

Alas, our next door neighbor has an ailanthus tree in their yard and you can be sure that I will be keeping my eye out on that side of the yard to make sure it doesn’t start invading our property as well! Happy gardening.

 

Reflections of Fall

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News of our first snow storm coming tomorrow gave me the push I needed to get my Fall photos up! We had a beautiful Fall (it’s not quite over, I realize that, but many trees are bare now). Not quite as amazing as last year and not because it’s no longer new. The colors just weren’t as lush, probably because the leaves were drier, is my guess?

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Fall always brings a great moodiness to it that makes for much more interesting photos. Summer is beautiful in its bright, fresh way, but Fall and Winter make my camera happy.

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am feeling extra grateful for the ease of my life and the beauty that I get to see every day in the Lake, the trees, the sky. I will never take for granted these simple joys of life. Wishing you all a very lovely Thanksgiving holiday.