The January List – 2018

The first month of 2018 brought more freezing temps during its first half, which meant that when we got several days of 40+ degree weather recently, we were ecstatic.

1) The winter brings such beautiful sunrises and we had so many notable ones this month, though I only snapped a few.

2)  This old man turned 12 on January 6th! (He looks sad in this pic, but he is merely fixated on the treat I am holding up to my face.)

He has become a nuisance in the mornings in his old age, waking me up at ungodly hours, pretending he has to go out, only to fake pee and run back in for his breakfast. This faking and running back is nothing new, but the early morning wake-ups are. Nonetheless, I always cave, especially since we don’t know how much longer he’ll be around.

2)  I forgot to talk about cranberry salsa last month and I’m wondering if it’s a Midwest thing or an East Coast thing or maybe a small town thing? I’d never heard of it or had it before, but at our December book group TWO girls brought a batch, which was kind of fun because one was served over cream cheese and one had jalapenos in it.

I pretty much ate most of the one with jalapenos in it, and after I asked for the recipe and saw the ingredients, I knew why I liked it so much. SUGAR. Loads of it. Which should have been obvious given the fresh cranberries. Alas, I will not be making this dip save maybe once a year as a holiday treat.

3)  Our group skipped a book this month (I read “A Man Called Ove” last month, but that’s for our February discussion), as we decided to have a dinner with spouses instead. After a yummy beet salad and cassoulet dinner, we played several rounds of Cards of Humanity, which I’d never played before. It’s like an adult (and inappropriate) version of Apples to Apples. So bad but so good.

The hosts’ King Charles spaniel was soooooo super cute. I am not a small dog person, but I’ve always loved that breed along with little white Westies.

4)  I’ve been reading the above book by Fuchsia Dunlop. It’s about her wanderings throughout rural China as a study abroad student and how she came to study Chinese food at one of the culinary institutes there. There is something slightly amateur about her writing (maybe it’s because it’s a memoir?), which is not necessarily a bad thing in this instance, as she writes honestly and with passion.

The problem is that I love Chinese food and she talks about it a LOT. Chili oil, garlic, black bean paste. And I’m only ever reading the book in bed, so it makes me very hungry and also very sad, knowing that even if I did want Chinese food  the next day to satisfy my craving, that I wouldn’t be able to satiate my appetite without going into Detroit (which I would more than love to do, but time doesn’t usually permit).

5) Maybe because of these cravings, I bought yet another cookbook. This one is from one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco, Burma Superstar. I’ve made the very easy coconut rice twice (I’ve made my own version which does not include the sugar sigh that makes the Burma version so good), but need to get to a specialty store before I can attempt to make some of the other dishes.

6)  I am up to my eyeballs at work, as our deadlines for the year are looming. I’m not sure if I mentioned ever that the head of our department resigned over the summer, so it’s just me running my team (and reporting to the Head of School, which is not the same as having your very own director across the hall), crossing my fingers and forging through the chaos. Godspeed.

7)  I get the organizing bug often and the re-decorating bug sometimes, and it makes sense that it usually strikes when its too cold or hot or wet to go outside. Our living room was still feeling a little too formal and not….”together” to me. I’ve been wanting to get a mirror for over the fireplace for a long time, but hadn’t found the right one and also they are soooo expensive.

I finally found a suitable and affordable (only because Arhaus was having its winter sale and I got it for 60% off) mirror for the space and I think it looks worlds better. I’d been hoping for a gilded frame, but I actually think the subtlety of this muted gray works nicely.

8) I’m sure I told you about the lamp in the corner that I bought from an estate sale when we first moved to Grosse Pointe? I was texting about it with a friend the other day and realizing (again) how cool it is, with its real butterfly specimens pressed between parchment-ish paper.

I’ve never thought to look up what kind of butterflies they were until now, which I did just a second ago. Perhaps the bottom one is some kind of swallowtail? But I’m not sure about the other one. Maybe it’s even a moth?

9)  I bought a boatload of houseplants (eleven to be exact) to brighten and cozy up the space (and of course I had to buy pots for all of them). I am hoping for zero casualties, at least for several months, because no matter how much attention I seem to put into houseplants, they respond by dying.

Don’t over water (I KNOW). People seem to want to tell me this whenever I tell them I have issues with houseplants. I actually think my main problem is that I’m so scared of over watering that I under water. Anyway, this batch of plants is doing well. Which has made me want to buy even more (my husband loves me so much).

I also am trying a yucca plant in our family room. It’s starting to tip a little because it’s so heavy, but otherwise seems happy.

Photo by Susan Martin, of shade plants at her home in Holland, MI.

10)  Speaking of plants, my neighbor’s daughter Susan Martin (her mother Shirley was my sweet neighbor who passed away a year and a half ago), a garden writer and speaker, invited me to a talk she was giving about shade plants at the War Memorial at the Grosse Pointe Garden Center’s annual meeting. I’m not normally one to attend a lecture, but because it was Susan and because my backyard/garden is 90% shady, it piqued my interest.

Himalayan Maidenhair Fern and Toad Lily, two of the plants I wrote down on my list.

I arrived just on time and grabbed one of the last remaining seats. It was such a great talk – Susan was so knowledgeable and personable and engaging – and she gave me so many great ideas for my shade garden and more importantly, hope for it. When I wasn’t crying (which I did intermittently throughout, thinking about and missing Shirley), I was scribbling notes on the handout she gave us. I want to try a million things! Spring cannot get here fast enough.

After the talk, I was approached by a woman who I’d never met, but who knew me through my affiliation with Shirley and also Detroit Abloom (and as it turns out, I’d heard of her, too). Once in a blue moon I will meet someone who already knows me because of my friendship with Shirley. It’s incredibly touching and shows that even a short-lived friendship can be deeply meaningful.

You can follow Susan’s gardening tips and articles on Facebook by clicking here: Gardener Sue’s News. You’ll be so glad you did!

11)  Just as I was about to get back on the healthy/workout bandwagon, I sprained my ankle. Doing a freaking puzzle. How does one sprain an ankle while doing a puzzle, you ask? I’m not sure, but after going to the doctor, we concluded that I was probably standing on it weird (for like two hours straight) or sitting on it at a funny angle.

Regardless of how, I would get shooting pains that would last for 10 to 20 minutes at a time and could not bear weight on it. And then it would go away for 24 hours and then it would come back in full force. It’s been two days without major pain, so hopefully I’m in the clear.

12)  I leave you with this amazing list I found while cleaning up, that our 8-year-old wrote. I dare you to guess what it means (I haven’t a clue). But I can tell you that it pretty much sums up my state of mind lately.

I realize we have several days left in January, but it has exhausted me and I’m on to the next. February is going to be even more nuts work-wise than January was. That and the 8-year-old turns nine. And I think I signed up for my first grader’s Valentine’s Day party. And a ski trip that’s smack in the middle of my deadline. I’ll write about it all next month. Until then.

 

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Dahlias and Then Some

The dahlias at Detroit Abloom and also my house (yippee!) are exploding with blooms.

I was concerned that the one sunny spot in my backyard wasn’t sunny enough for them, but most of the tubers I planted have survived and are going to produce flowers.

Some, however, got nibbled on by bunnies or aren’t getting enough sun and aren’t going to make it. I haven’t cut the plants down on these because you aren’t supposed to take the tubers out of the ground until late fall, early winter, and if I cut the plant down, I won’t know exactly where to dig, even with a marker.

However, this morning I noticed several evil beetles eating the leaves of my precious Cafe au Lait variety and my heart sank. I killed it of course, but I’m sure another one took its place soon afterwards. You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s pretty eaten up. Still so lovely.

I’m obsessed with this variety, because of its pale pink, creamy color. In all their stages, they are stunning. And you never know what you’re going to get color-wise until the bud opens, which is always exciting.

The most perfect Cafe I got was this one (also the close-up first photo). No bugs, beautiful blush color and crazy huge.

Just this week I’ve had five Cafe buds open and I spent a zillion hours photographing them with my new camera. Speaking of new camera, some of these flower photos are slightly out of focus and no, this isn’t on purpose. I’m determined to shoot in manual mode (vs auto), so it’s going to take me a while to figure it all out.

I have at least two purple varieties, one in the front and one in the back. A bunch of the ones I planted were unknowns, as in most cases, when they were digging up tubers at the end of last season, weren’t sure what was what. This year they have a much better labeling system in place, but it IS kind of fun not knowing what you’re going to get.

I can’t remember the variety of the flower in the first photo (Lavender Ruffles?) but the second one is a Vassio Meggos.

I visited Detroit Abloom and the Hoop House (also Detroit Abloom, but a different property) last week with the intention of volunteering, but ended up mostly admiring and taking photos of the flowers.

Their dahlia garden is insane, as you can imagine.

These two are seed dahlias, the bottom photo called Black Beauty.

Aside from the Cafe au Lait, one of my favorites is the cosmos. I love the white ones, and am also a fan of the cupcake cosmos (last photo above).

Other flowers in bloom are Morning Glory,

Japanese anemone,

Zinnias, celosia and a bunch more. There are a few weeks left in our CSA bouquet program. I’m surely going to miss getting mine every week.

The Garden Detroit and Detroit Abloom is having our annual fundraiser next weekend on Sunday, October 1st from 3pm to 7pm, so if you are in the area, please come by! For details Click Here. And if you can’t come, you can still make a donation online.

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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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Houseplants

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We finally bought some indoor plants and what a difference they make. Can’t believe it took us a year. I think part of the reason we waited so long is that I am afraid of killing them (haven’t had much luck with indoor plants in the past).

I did research on the easiest houseplants to take care of and then headed to Charvat, a local Grosse Pointe florist. Dave Charvat (an owner, I’m assuming) greeted me and gave me an overview of my options.

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When I first walked in, I spotted a full, grassy plant by the window. A ponytail plant. Of course. Was it easy to take care of? Yes. Check. They don’t have a huge pot selection at Charvat, but I did find a perfect $10 one for it. The plant itself I think was around $35.

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They also had a rubber tree that was the exact size I was looking for, so I grabbed it as well. It looks great in the family room and I love the pot from Modernica.

After a bad purchase from Wayfair (their online dimensions were not accurate), I decided to spend a little more cash for a really nice planter, which I am so much happier with.

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I’ve been really wanting a Fiddle Fig (I love the big, glossy leaves) and thank goodness it made the list. For the longest time, I thought Dave was saying FiddleyFig, which made me think of a leprechan every time he said it, but then later I realized he was saying Fiddle-Leaf Fig.

They didn’t have one in stock, but he offered to get one for me and said it would get there within a week. I think it was about $60 or $75? Somewhere in that range. And another chic planter purchase from Modernica.

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A few weeks later I went back to the store, looking for three plants to use for our dining room table centerpiece. I spotted some aboricolas, which Dave said would grow quite a bit unless I kept cutting them back.

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He re-potted one of the plants so it would be in the same size container as the others. They fit perfectly in our IKEA pots. I am obviously big on the white pots (if it weren’t for my husband, I would have picked a white pot for the family room, too!).

ponytips (768x1024)I told Dave that the tips of our ponytail plant were turning brown. I remember the delivery guy (they offer free delivery, which is so nice) saying that the worst thing I can do is over-water, so I’ve been careful not to overdo it, but maybe I was under-watering?

He said browning tips happens to their plants as well, and they’ve figured out the reason is the chlorine in the water. He said to leave water sitting out for a day and then water the plants, or use filtered water. I trimmed the tips and am hoping they’ll stay healthy.

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My parsley plant, in the meantime, is sadly ready for the compost pile. It was only a couple dollars at Eastern Market, but I so wanted to keep it alive through winter.

We’ve only had the plants for a month and a half, so I am still nervous about keeping them alive, but so far so good. Do you have houseplants? Which is your favorite?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

IMG_1295 (1024x1024)I knew our next door neighbor was an expert gardener, because everyone told me so. “Oh, you live on such and such, do you know the ____? She’s an expert gardener.” I met Mr. M in December when he and his daughter were stringing outdoor lights, but I didn’t meet Shirley until a couple months ago.

Naturally, she was tending to her garden. We said a few nice words and I didn’t see her again until a few weeks ago, when she called to me from across the fence. She was in the process of dividing some of her plants and would I like any. Umm…. yes, please.

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Shirley’s garden

She invited me to walk through her yard to see what she would be digging up and what I might want, so the girls and I popped over for a tour. She told me the names of the plants, what kind of flowers they had (if any), what environment they liked. I learned that she is mainly self-taught, having gathered a lot of her gardening knowledge online (I still think to a large degree that gardening is a talent, rather than a skill and she clearly has that special something).

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Digging up Solomon’s Seal.

After our walk-through, she instructed me to get potting soil and any soil mixture that said “compost”on it and a couple days later, she called me over again. She had already pulled up several hostas, which are perfect for a shady yard like ours, and sedum, which is great for ground cover. I loved the Solomon’s Seal (in the hosta family) for its height and simple lines, so she dug some of it up and I added it to the pile.

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Transplanted Solomon’s Seal in our garden. I spaced them a little too far apart, but next year they will have lots of room to grow and multiply.

Shirley’s garden gets a lot more sun than we do (thanks to our two huge maples, birch and other large trees), but I decided to try some sun-loving plants anyway. She dug up a bunch of daisies….

IMG_1285 (768x1024)cranesbill (aka wild geranium)…

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The cranesbill in our garden

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Example of a large, thriving cranesbill plant. Image via chaletnursery.com.

dianthus, a low-growing shrub with pinky-purplish flowers…

IMG_1314 (1024x989)and a bleeding heart, which produces tiny rows of pink heart-shaped blossoms in the spring.

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Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Pink)

Close-up of bleeding heart blossoms. Image via michiganbulbs.com

After an hour or so (she did all the hard work!), I had a wheelbarrow full of perennials. She also threw in a pair of gardening gloves when I mentioned that I had none.

IMG_1294 (1024x1024)She walked over with me to our backyard, so she could show me the proper way to transplant, and I also wanted her opinion on where to put everything. She made a comment that she’d never been in our backyard, which I was surprised to hear (she and her husband have lived in their home for 12 years and the people we bought the house from lived here for over twenty).IMG_1293 (1024x778)

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Sedum before and after photos. You can sedum them along the border (haha).

We started with the garbage bag full of sedum. I watched as she planted the first clump. Use a shovel (she let me borrow hers. It was waaay easier to work with than our large man-sized one and a few days later I bought my own) to break up any roots and dig a hole for the new plant.

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Close up of the sedum.

After placing the plant in the hole, add a handful of potting soil and a handful of compost mix and cover up the roots with dirt, being careful not to pack the dirt too much (Shirley reminded me that plants need three things: water, sun and air). I asked if I needed to replant all the plants that day. Yes, I did and the quicker the better.

Three hours later, I was done. Towards the end, I was being less and less careful, throwing leaves and flowers into the dirt with the roots. I just wanted to get them in the ground.

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Transplanted daisies, monarda and evening primrose (the yellow flowers), in front of a lily plant, which we already had and which I later moved to another spot.

I’ve always loved the idea of gardening, but I haven’t done much of it. I come from a family of ridiculously green thumbs (my grandpa always had the heartiest fruits and vegetables, my grandma the most beautiful roses and orchids and my mom is a natural as well), so I hope some of those genes will start showing up in me.

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More daisies next to our dogwood tree.

Initially I was hesitant and overwhelmed about where to begin. But where do I put everything? Shirley told me to think about what I wanted to see when I looked out onto the yard from the patio. What did I want it to look like? And go from there. Can the daisies go over here? Try it. If something dies, you pull it up and try something else. No big deal.

I’m glad she gave me the responsibility of decision-making because ultimately my sense of ownership and pride is that much stronger. About a week after the big planting day, our lawn guys came and trampled over a bunch of my new plants and blew dirt and debris onto many others. I cried. Hard.

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The rhododendron I was so worried about (I thought I may have over-pruned it) is slowly coming back.

When we first moved to Grosse Pointe and were living in our rental apartment, my girlfriend Ingrid told me to buy a plant to take care of. She said it would help ground me. Maybe I was so emotional because after a year of feeling so unsettled, I was finally starting to feel rooted to this place.

The beauty of gardening is that if something doesn’t go as planned, you can always start over. That’s also what I love so much about living with seasons – everything is constantly changing, renewing itself, reminding us that life is cyclical. You watch things thrive and die and come back to life seemingly right before your eyes and there’s something so profound about that.

Lately, I’ve been spending at least an hour a day (sometimes hours) weeding, trimming, watering, planting and envisioning our garden in the years to come. And it all started with a chat across the fence. How does your garden grow?

A New Tree and a Transplant

IMG_1390 (768x1024)In early Spring, we pulled up a bunch of bushes that were blocking the view from the kitchen window. We finally decided on a serviceberry tree (formal name, amelanchier) to help cover the utility boxes and make them less of a focal point.

Other options were some type of lattice covering (which I’ve never liked, at least not as a focal point) or an evergreen. An evergreen probably made a little more sense in terms of coverage, but we (meaning me, and my husband let me have the final say) really wanted a flowering tree.

IMG_1388 (919x1024)Here are the guys unloading the tree. ..

IMG_1392 (768x1024)…and putting it into place.

IMG_1396 (768x1024)Initially the tree was slightly crooked, so someone came back a week later to straighten it. Two weeks later (today), the tree looks a tad unhappy, with yellowed leaves, many of which have fallen off. One of the landscape owners came by to look at it and assured me it still looks healthy, and that it’s trying to adjust to its new environment. We do have a one-year warranty on the $400 tree, but we would like for it to survive, of course.

IMG_1387 (938x1024)While the guys were here installing the tree, they also transplanted one of our Pieirs japonica trees free of charge. I felt the plant was competing with the rhododendron for sun and space, and I also wanted a plant with more foliage that would cover the drain pipe when looking out from the dining room.

hydrangea (941x978)I bought a $50 hydrangea with light purple flowers (the flower in the photo is faded after weeks of being in bloom) and planted it in the pieirs japonica’s spot. Hydrangeas love water and do well in the shade, so I’m told. This plant should grow to about three feet high and five feet wide.

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before

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It’s hard to see in photos, but the Pieirs japonica was moved next to another shorter Pieirs (on the left), that seems to be doing well even in a shadier spot. I’ve been told by several plant people that it’s an old plant, so it is especially vulnerable to being transplanted, but it seems to be doing fine in its new space. I lopped a few hanging branches of the evergreen overhead to give it more sun.

The serviceberry is supposed to produce actual berries in the spring. One of the landscapers told me (after I asked) that the berries aren’t edible (he seemed uncertain), but Mil the gardener says that they are and I’ve found several online sources agreeing with her. I also read that birds often devour the berries as soon as they are ripe, and there are a lot of them around here. Hopefully our tree will survive winter and I will be writing about its beautiful red berries next spring.