The stories African violets tell

 

My very much-loved African violet

My granny grew the prettiest variety of African violets on her kitchen’s windowsill. I could never keep one alive. Until December 2020.

          Dinner guests arrived bearing a beautiful basket filled with an arrangement of miniature perennials, the main attraction a light purple African violet.

As I placed the thoughtful gift on my kitchen table, I hoped the flowers would survive until Valentine’s Day.

          To my glad surprise, the two red mums and African violet bloomed through Easter weekend. I watered them just enough with our drinking water to keep the soil damp until frost no longer appeared in the forecast.

Then I said a little prayer and transplanted the mums under a French lilac tree in a sunny spot in the backyard.

The small, green pot I found for the African violet fit perfectly on the windowsill above my kitchen sink between two orchids—one pink, and one yellow. There, facing southward, the colorful companions thrived in direct sunlight, and humidity from the kitchen faucet.

Now, Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia experts say the violet prefers indirect sunlight. Yet, velvety leaves kept sprouting and growing into another winter. Stems, buds, and blooms followed. I never thought of fertilizing the plant.

Thankfully, I did know to clip off the spent blooms to cheer on new growth. Pruning seems a steadfast principle for all living things.

African violet experts also say the plant blooms in spring and summer. Not my girl. She’s in full bloom again—just in time for tea with my two friends Anne and Marilyn on a chilly, drippy November day.

Marilyn stood before the sink and counted five stems in full bloom. “My African violets always die,” she sighed.

“This is the first to survive in my care,” I replied.

“I don’t even try,” Anne said.

“Well, this plant came in a gift basket two Decembers ago. And for some unknown reason it’s flourishing.”

“There’s still some buds. She could bloom for another month,” Marilyn said.

“That would be wonderful.”

“I think of Gramma whenever I see a beautiful African violet,” Marilyn mused.

Anne and I waited for her story.

“I was visiting Gramma and wandered off and found flowers so deep and intense an iridescent purple they begged my naughty little fingers to pick them. So I did and carried them to Gramma.”

“What did she do?” I asked.

“She took the flowers from my hands and laid them on a table. We left the room and later returned. I sobbed when I saw the wilted blooms.”

“Did your gramma say anything?” Anne asked.

“Yes. She gently explained I must leave her flowers bloom for everyone to enjoy. She was the most wonderful person in my life.”

Dear Reader, I’m thankful my granny kept her African violets out of my reach for everyone to enjoy. The most wonderful person in my life had plenty experience with naughty little fingers.

Although my sisters and I banged her piano keys out of tune, we never touched her lovely African violets.

 

 


Gift from the egg lady

 

 

Our six Isa Browns ready to roost for the night

On these late autumn mornings, I wait for the fog to burn off before hen chores. This allows the ladies time to lay a handful or two of eggs for the freshest and most nutritious breakfast known to mankind.

            As I’d expected with the shorter days and cooler weather, our six Isa Browns have reduced production. No more ten eggs a day, nor a surprise dozen, handy for batches of summer’s potato salads.

Even so, half a dozen eggs a day are more than enough for meals and baking. The recipients of our surplus call me “The Egg Lady.”

The only friend who declined a carton said, “I’m sorry, Iris, but I’ve never been able to eat a brown egg.”

Astonished, I replied, “But they’re not brown inside! They’re the same as a white egg!”

She shook her head in all sincerity. “Give them to someone who will appreciate them.”

Very wise advice to a gift-giver.

Truly, when Andy, our late friend and handyman, built our henhouse, I had no experience with hen husbandry. Sure, my mother grew up on a farm and told stories about feisty roosters, broody hens, and fluffy baby chicks.

On summer vacations, when my sisters and I were young, we ran races and climbed apple trees where Uncle Herm’s chickens roamed in the McCoy Bottom. I knew hens didn’t need a rooster to lay eggs. Now, how the hen laid an egg with a chick inside remained a mystery.

However, Andy spoke frankly about the propensity of free range hens to do exactly that on a neighbor’s property.

“Keep it simple,” he said. “I’ll build an enclosed pen on wheels so you can move the hens around to range safely.”

He promptly delivered our “tractor pen” with “A Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. “All you need to know about hens and eggs is in this book,” Andy said.

On page 150 is this piece of folk medicine: “To treat a wound and speed healing, the protein-rich membrane inside the shell is peeled away and bandaged in place over a cut. Raw eggs are also used as beauty aids—whites in facials, yolks in shampoos and hair conditioners.”

I cannot remember Mom using egg membranes for bandages or for her beautification. After years mucking their house, feeding, watering, doctoring, and gathering their eggs, I cannot imagine sacrificing an Isa Brown’s labor for my beauty.

However, that may change as my skin wrinkles and hair thins.

Meanwhile, I find my captive companions waiting at their chute, thank them for their food, and let them loose into their pen. They run to kitchen scraps and a head of cabbage they peck to the core.

Dear Reader, when I saunter back up the ridge these concluding, golden days of falling sugar maple leaves, I look to the west—wave to the long-legged shadow of the Egg Lady cast upon the bright red landscape.

“Keep it simple,” she says. “Give this goodness to someone who will appreciate it.”

  


To Country View and back

 

Northern Spy and Mutsu apples, two of many varieties you'll find at Country View

My husband aimed north for Country View Bulk Foods in Snover. We don’t keep a deep pantry, which concerns my friends who’ve dehydrated vegetables and fruit in preparation for a long-term food shortage.

            We’ve heard the repeated predictions since 2020 due to the broken supply chain due to Covid.  

Now we’re told to expect more empty shelves and higher prices this winter due to wars, rumors of wars, and fuel shortages that impact the price of fertilizers and packaging.

Thus, I considered the bounty of squash my husband grew now stored in the basement for soups and casseroles. Yet, Mel’s tomatoes failed again this past summer. Since man cannot live on squash alone, we needed canned tomatoes for spaghetti and soups.

And potatoes, Mel’s favorite vegetable he is yet to grow.

We drove further into farm country, past familiar farmsteads, some forsaken, and a few in the joyful condition of revival. The cloudless, blue sky shined down upon a new homestead’s freshly tilled furrows and a burn pile of expired vines and plants. We passed through the wafting smoke that reached the road.

Is there a more blessed scent upon this earth?

Oh yes, fresh apples! And Country View’s selection included Mutsu (Crispin), a cross between a ‘Golden Delicious’ and the ‘Indo’ cultivars of Japan. The Mutsu and I share the 1949 birth year, which I plan to celebrate with apple crisp flavored with NestlĂ©’s butterscotch chips.

Faithful to my mother’s favorite pie apple, the Northern Spy, I put a bag in our basket next to the Mutsu. I’ll test their compatibility in crisps, pies, and cakes.

For generations, my Appalachian folk have dried strings of sliced apples by hanging them from the roofs of their porches. My granny loved a Dried Apple Stack Cake, which took days to complete the six layers, fillings, and glazed topping.

Although I’ll most likely never bake the labor intensive Dried Apple Stack Cake, the dehydrated apple is a tasty compliment when tossed with salad greens, toasted pecans, red onion, fine olive oil, white wine vinegar, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper.

Hmm…why not dehydrate a few Mutsu and Northern Spy? Perhaps success will lead to delicious scalloped dehydrated potatoes like my mother baked.

I scanned my list before checking out at Country View. “I forgot organic rolled oats for crisps and granola,” I said to Mel. “Would you ask an employee where to find them?”

He sped off, yet didn’t return post haste as expected. I found him waiting by a door in the back of the store.

“A guy’s looking for your oats,” he said.

The owner of Country View emerged from the storage room with two bags and passed the oats to me. “Sorry for the wait.”

“Thank you!” I said. “This was well worth it.”

Dear Reader, we drove home between fields of harvested and standing stalks of corn glittering in sunlight. And the new homestead lay prepared for next spring.

The rhythm of love for seedtime and harvest unbroken.


Gold and silver benefits

 

Marilyn's cookbook inherited from her mother

On a sunny October day, the Townsend Tunnel shines like gold—one benefit to living on a former cow path that intersects Townsend Road, sometimes impassible due to ditches and potholes from rain and thawing snow flowing downhill.

However, whether descending or ascending the mile lined with ancient maples, the same awe catches me by surprise mid-October. Truly, who could not praise this remarkable biological miracle?

No matter the hours I invest in creating lovely landscapes, I cannot turn a maple leaf from green to gold—and I cannot stop frost from blanching my hostas overnight.

Now, no offence to hosta lovers, but my gardens and I would be entirely content without one plantain lily, another name for hosta. Their greedy leaves soon overcome peony blooms and low growers like primrose; and their puny blooms aren’t worthy of real-estate or a vase.

Yet, I left a pair of hostas by my front porch which frost claimed several drizzly nights ago. Afterward, Marilyn, a high-school friend, arrived at my door for lunch. “I cut back my hostas already. Was I supposed to wait until they turned color?” she asked.

“I don’t think it matters,” I said and gave her a long hug. After all, I hadn’t seen her in three years. And that was in Big Boy “for old time’s sake.”

I led her into the kitchen. She surveyed the room as a friend who spent many hours at my table, and stood by the sliding glass door. “Your yard looks so different.”

“It’s amazing how trees grow,” I said, the sugar maples in succession of peaking red and shedding leaves. “Do you like asparagus soup and spinach croissants? Apple crisp and ice cream is for dessert.”

“I’ll eat anything,” Marilyn said. “The boys love my pumpkin Blatchinda, similar to a croissant. It’s a German dessert my mother made. The boys asked if I could bake Blatchinda with apples.”

I’ve never met Marilyn’s twin grandsons, for their family lives near Kalamazoo. Several years ago, Marilyn and her husband Mike sold their home in Romeo and moved nearby their daughter, son-in-law, and boys Ben and Charlie.

Marilyn and I viewed the hill she once mowed for another lavender field soon after she retired from teaching. Later, she drove away to visit her baby brother who’d suffered a stroke. I remembered Jerome as a teenager whose siblings called “Varmint.”

I also recalled Marilyn’s mother, Rose, cooking in her kitchen. My friend uses the same Blatchinda recipe from her mother’s cookbook published by The North Dakota Historical Society of Germans from Russia.

That evening, I strolled down to the hen house in the dark. A star glittered in the east. Jupiter? Venus? Then the Big Dipper caught me by surprise in the north of heaven’s dark vault.

Dear Reader, I praised another benefit of living on a country road in October. As Joseph Parry wrote long ago, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other’s gold.”



Praise the color pink

Thirteen buds begin to bloom in succession in my backyard boulder garden 
My heart sank this past spring when I first noticed my nibbled pink Japanese anemones. Then experience reminded me to be patient. In this particular botanic situation, the timing of the deer’s munching was positive. It’s akin to the principle of pinching off the first buds on annuals to produce robust roots in a young plant.

            Buds eventually emerged again on the stems of Eriocapitella hupehensis, commonly known as windflower. And if distracted by other food, the deer might leave the anemones alone to flower. Exactly when that would happen also depended upon weather conditions.  

            To encourage healthy roots, I mixed the ingredients of my favorite, never fail foliar spray. As windflowers are prone to propagate, the deer had disbudded every offspring I’d transplanted throughout my backyard gardens.

            Therefore, roses, butterfly bushes, peonies, lupines, and other plants and shrubs neighboring windflowers received the benefit of a nutritious shower.  

            Then came two months of drought. I watered and watched for the promise of a bud on my dark pink anemones. Instead, a red “drifter” rose bush sprawling in my front yard perennial island never ceased blooming during growing season. Going on thirty years. I planted five. Two survived. One thrives. If only anemones grew thorns.

Early this summer I imagined cutting nosegays and bouquets of windflowers and roses throughout the fall. No matter how often I fed their foliage and roots, my rosebushes, even the hardy, prolific white and pink bushes in a boulder garden, floundered.

Be sure I whined about this when my daughter visited from California in August. Now, if you’ve ever visited San Francisco’s Japanese Garden and sipped tea with your grown child under the shelter of the outdoor teahouse, you might understand my disappointment.

For my heart desired to enjoy a cup of Earl Grey and lavender lemon currant scone with her under my wisteria-covered pergola—the Japanese anemones nodding amiably. Although the florets have no scent, “daughter of the wind,” as “anemone” translates in Greek, attracts the eye like a beautiful bird flitting by.

To my delight, buds swelled, and at last deep pink petals unfurled mid-September. Even the offspring now bloom. More to transplant come next spring.

And to my utmost surprise, as if for her grand finale, my favorite light pink rosebush planted in the lower garden grew a stem three feet long. Thirteen buds formed at the stem’s end. They now blossom in succession. With cooler days and nights, the petals remain vibrant for several days.

And the white and pink drifter have bloomed for two weeks! It’s as if all the roses and anemones conspired to produce this marvelous pageant.

Dear Reader, while I praise the color pink, I must mention the dusky blush of tall sedum outside my study window. After deadheading plants and removing invasive roots, vacancies in my front yard gardens cry for color.

Perfect sites for the “daughter of the winds” to nod prettily. To remind me to be patient when disappointed—the principle to feed their roots.