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Ready

Last weekend, Fred did his annual ritual of putting the deck to bed for winter.  Smaller furniture is stored in the garage.  The larger furniture – the tall periwinkle tables he built a few years ago and the dining table and chairs – are all clustered under a heavy brown tarp in the farthest corner of the deck, all held in place with bungee cords.  Lots and lots of bungee cords.

Fred is an interesting man for many reasons.  First of all, he always thinks ahead.  Before bunching any of the furniture together in that farthest corner, he washes each piece, especially those periwinkle tables.  He doesn’t want staining, and he’d like to uncover them next spring and not have to wash or paint them before putting them in place.  But I know my husband – he will insist on putting on “just one coat” of periwinkle paint to freshen them up next March.

Second, my dear hubby tends to do things right.  Extension cords are always wrapped in such a way so they are easily unwrapped when needed.  He builds things to last forever.  There are 27 footings under our 900 square foot deck.  27.

And last, but not least, he makes sure that even in the depths of winter, we still have some opportunities to enjoy our outdoor haven.  The firepit and wood are brought up to the upper deck so that we can still enjoy a glass of wine around the fire should the weather be unseasonably warm.   We’ve been known to polish off a few bottles with neighbors as late as the weekend after Thanksgiving (neighbors, you know who you are…).  And who doesn’t want a grilled steak occasionally, especially in January?  The grill was hauled up to the upper level, too, and that deck will be shoveled to make sure it is accessible throughout the coming months.

Best of all, Fredo has our deck chairs and mushroom heater positioned close to the door to our dining room, ready for a cup of coffee or cocktails and a cigar.  Just for the two of us, should the mood hit or the weather cooperate.

It did last Saturday night.  The night sky was gorgeous, and the propane tank full.  Winter, we’re ready for you!

Neighbors

The best thing about spring, summer and fall in Minnesota is that we constantly get to see our wonderful neighbors.  We are all out and about, working in our yards, walking down to the coffee shop, just hanging around.  We’re able to keep up on the neighborhood news and socialize informally because we actually SEE each other during our breaks from the tedium of home maintenance.

The worst thing about winter in Minnesota is that we never see our wonderful neighbors.  There’s the occasional glimpse when everyone is out plowing out after a big snow, but everyone is so bundled up and anxious to get inside out of the snow and cold, there is never any time for chatting or catching up.  Unless you count the annual holiday progressive dinner.  But one night in December is not enough, even though we have a ton of fun with this party.

In our neighborhood, not seeing each other is a bummer.  Unlike so many neighborhoods in America today, we know our neighbors and really like them.  They’re fun, interesting people.  We enjoy each other’s company and care about each other.

Two neighbors in particular I will miss this winter – our little friends Delaney and Griffin.  Delaney lives next door with her parents, Doug and Becca, and is two years old. And adorable.  She is enamored with Fred (who isn’t!) and curious about everything.  Griffin, her little brother, arrived last spring, and he is really cute, too.  My favorite thing this fall has been watching this delightful little family as Doug and Delaney rake and play in the leaves while Becca sits on the front step, holding little Griffin, and watching them play.  Delaney follows her daddy around as he gets the house and the yard ready for winter.  It evokes a lot of memories for us.

Last year, when we saw Delaney for the first time after winter, she was so big!  Walking, talking – a real person ready to interact with us.  Next spring, when everyone and everything has thawed out, Griffin will be walking and talking, too.  And I have a feeling they both will be running their parents ragged.  And there will be two little people following their daddy around next summer.

Delaney and Griffin are in our garden as a frog with a tiny frog on its back.  They sit in the garden right by the firepit where we have our evening cocktails.  Several times during the summer, Delaney and Griffin have been there in the flesh with their parents, enjoying the evening.

We are blessed to have these children in our lives.  I’ll miss them over the next four months!

Negotiation

A garden needs color.  One of the things I hate about moving into late fall is that everything is a shade of brown.  Don’t get me wrong – I like brown.  But I need a little red, yellow, pink, white, purple to make my heart sing!

Color choice in our garden is something that was negotiated long ago.  The boxes on the front deck must have deep red flowers with green vines as accents.  For many years, the flowers were cherry red New Guinea impatiens.  After one mid-summer demise of all 27 red plants in the 9 boxes, we switched to the heartier reger begonias.  They bloom and bloom and bloom, and do very well, even with some neglect.

It was a tough switch, even with all those dead impatiens.  My dear husband believes in tradition and history, and believes that it is necessary to always have the same plants and the same color red, no matter what.  But he’s a believer now – reger begonias it is.  But they must be that deep cherry red!  “It defines the house…the neighbors expect it.”  He’s right.  We get a lot of comments through the summer.  And, is evidenced by the photo, they look great when we fly the flag on July 4th.

I can pick whatever flowers and colors I want for the back window boxes (there are 6) and the many pots and baskets on the deck.  Plant and color choices are big decisions.  I try to be creative each year, but after getting burned by less than lovely, late season arrangements, I tend to go with the tried and true – various coleus, white petunias, pale green sweet potato vines, dusty miller.

I’m already making plans for next spring.  The front is decided – it’s Fred’s choice of red all the way.  That’s okay – I have enough to decide with the back yard.

Blooming

I went to bed last night and woke this morning with the same thought in my head – life is funny.  And unpredictable.

I think that is why I see my life through my garden.  My garden can be funny. And unpredictable.  And glorious.  And depressing.   And a lot of work.  And worth the work.

This summer, the garden was the best its ever been, mostly because I took the time to really enjoy it and see its value in maintaining my mental and physical well-being.  We planted a few special plants, moved a few things around, added a few new surprises and delights.  But for the most part, it was what it always has been.  An overall lovely picture with imperfections that could be overlooked and even cherished because they contributed to the whole.

The hosta continued to rule among their more flowery and showy neighbors.  Aging, good and solid, they never disappoint, and their delicate little light purple flowers are some of the last ones standing, even after the first frost.  The barberry bushes stood up nicely against all that Mother Nature threw at them this year – a drenching May, a cold and wet June, a July heat wave, no rain for weeks and weeks and weeks through September.  Now, they are bracing for the winter, still standing tall with their gorgeous red leaves and pricky branches.  And that lovely old grapevine.  I love it, even as it clings bare to the fence, with a few remnants of the orange leaves that graced it a few weeks ago.

As I quickly put the garden to bed a few weeks ago, I remembered how long it took last spring to plan it and buy it and plant it.  Days, even weeks!  In a few hours, it’s yanked up and tossed on a compost heap.  How does that work?  Why is it so hard to get things going, but so easy to dismantle?  It astounds me every year.

But even as I marvel and wonder at the predictability of the garden war horses and the garden process, I am equally intriqued by the unpredictability of my haven, how the lilies can thrive one year and not even blossom the next.  How the tomato plants can produce bounty one year and just one batch of salsa the next.  How the catmint can invade every portion of real estate one year and forget to even pop its little head out of the dirt the next.  Nature keeps you guessing.

And so do the humans that either visit your garden or have an impact on it.  People change.  They are good one year and not so good the next.  The family dynamic ebbs and flows, and we’re just happy when half of our kids are in a good place on any given day.  There are some people that don’t really fit in our life, just like there are flowers that don’t really bring a lot of joy to my garden.  They don’t hurt anything, but something isn’t quite right and no matter how hard you tend and water and fertilize and try to make them fit, it doesn’t really work.  And so, you let them go.

And then there is the human element outside of our lives, which can produce surprises and consternation with no exact person to blame.  My friend, Lisa, planted cucumber seeds in spring only to find pumpkins in her garden in August.  A fun surprise, yes, but she was planning to make pickles.

And this is why I say, life is funny.  Just like the garden.

Madeline Man

The temperature is 65 this morning, which means we could have our coffee in the garden.  Yahoo!

As the plants wither and die, it opens up spaces that have been long covered by the green foliage.  The Madeline Man is standing alone beside the antique headboard, no leaves or flowers tickling its nose, knees or other parts.

The Madeline Man found his home in our garden last June.  Freddy and I took a much needed break and visited Madeline Island for a long weekend.  It was heaven!  The lake, the sunsets, the cottage, the wine.  We reconnected and savored every moment of being by ourselves away from home.

A lot of people don’t understand how my husband and I work together.  They think because we run our business side-by-side, every moment must be filled with meaningful talks, romantic moments, knowing glances.  Not so!   We have the same inter-office squabbles, fights for resources and equipment and disagreements over strategies and tactics as any other work environment.  The difference is, we go “home” at night and sleep with our co-workers.   Getting away for a bit allows us to forget the business, and concentrate on us.

So, while up in this northwoods, island paradise early this summer, Fred found a piece of driftwood that he thought was pretty cool, and I thought should be left on the beach.  Imagine my surprise when the piece of driftwood was in the trunk of the car when we got back home.  “What exactly are you going to do with this?” I asked.  “It’s going in the garden,” he replied.

As I argued that our lovely garden was no place for a piece of driftwood, Fred wandered among the hosta to find just the right place to stick Madeline Man’s “legs” into the soil.  Freddy stood back and asked, “What do you think?”  And I had to admit, it looked pretty good.

Then Fred asked, “What do you see when you look at this?”  I moved in and side to side to get a look for all angles and said, “I see a crane with its head up.  Or maybe a face with a long nose and a big open mouth.  I can’t decide.”

Fred said he saw a body of a man, named it the Madeline Man, and the rest is garden history.  Madeline Man is here to stay.

Now, whenever we have a party in the garden, particularly if conversation has stalled a bit (which is rare), we ask people to look at the piece of driftwood and tell us what they see.  My mother sees something that reminds her of a Native American carving she saw once in the Black Hills.  Others see human figures or birds or animals.  It really doesn’t matter what one sees – it’s just a great conversation starter and a lot of fun to get people’s unique perspectives.

What do you see?

Inspiration?

I’m in search of inspiration these days.  I have a lot going on, and most of it is pretty good.  But I wake every day, wishing for something to thrill me, energize me, give me a rush!  Lately, there haven’t been the regular doses of surprise and delight that I need in my life to keep me going.

The fading garden isn’t helping.  It’s hard to be inspired by the wonder of creation when everything is dying.  I take that back – I came across a new little dandelion yesterday, ready to explode with all of its yellowness.  Lovely.  If only the rest of the garden could be so resilient.

I shouldn’t be so hard on my beloved garden.  It can’t help it that it must follow the natural course and die.  But I blame it for not being the wondrous sanctuary that gives me a jolt of energy every day, and a place to just take in beauty.  Right now, it is pretty ugly, and I don’t like it.

I must admit, though, that when I intentionally look for it, even in all this death and decay, I do see beauty.  And some of my plants, like my new bright red bee balm, have managed to add a spark of excitement in an overall drab pallet.

One of my philosophies in life is that the key to happiness is low expectations.  I’ve been forgetting that these past few weeks.  I have to remind myself that excitement, surprise and delight need to be sought out sometimes.  It isn’t always there, ready to hit you in the face.

This weekend, I will probably clean out my boxes and baskets and pots, and will have my own version of a memorial service for all these beauties, now gone, who have made my summer absolutely delightful.  And I will probably find one or two blooms that, even at this late date, will be struggling to survive, eeking out their last few moments of glory.

And I will say, “This is so cool.”

Time

I need time in my garden!  Between the cold and the rain and our work, I’ve spent precious little time in my sanctuary.  And add to the mix an indoor project of stripping wallpaper in the front hall, and I’m just never out there anymore.  With September bringing back regimine, it gets harder and harder to just carve out the time to find some peace.

Summer has been blissful.  Freddy and I have started every day with our pot of coffee, spending one full hour taking in the beauty, talking and calming our minds before getting to work.  It was beautiful, it was romantic, it was spiritual, and I will miss it in the coming months.  Such a simple routine, and  yet, it was my favorite part of the day.

My mind becomes a little frantic sometimes when I think about the long months ahead, when my garden, and my soul, it seems, lay buried.  I’ve lived in Minnesota all my life.  You would think that, by now, I would be used to this pre-winter anxiety, but it appears that it is getting worse with age.

Beginning on Friday, we have a full week of sun and 70+ degrees.  I must eek out every bit of time I can in the garden, storing up the warmth and the beauty like our chipmunks are storing up their food for the winter.  I will need to reach into that store in the darkest and coldest months ahead.  I need to create an indoor sanctuary and train myself to believe it’s as good as the real outdoor deal, and convince Fred to join me there.

And I’ll need to plan a vacation in the Caribbean in February.

But most important, I need to make the time to take in the simple wonderfulness of nature, even when it is all white and frozen.  Perhaps if I remind myself that we need the cold and snow to appreciate the budding of spring in six months, it will be easier.