Volunteers of Various Varieties

I’m happy to announce our six itty-bitty redbud transplants have survived my shovel and winter. Momma Redbud is beside herself, her blooming branches spread in praise of her offspring.
There’s nothing more entertaining and economical for a gardener than plant reproduction right under her nose. Spring—the fecund season when trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers yield more than enough sprouts to share with like minds and trowels.
Volunteer is a common name garden folk give this abundance when a guest drools over a flower and asks something like this: “What’s the name of that beautiful orange blossom in your gardens?”
“Columbine,” the gardener replies, “volunteers from a plant I rescued along the DTE easement years ago.”
This kind of conversation begins with the first sighting of skunk cabbage in March, revs up in April when the white bloodroot blooms, and peaks with white and red trillium in honor of Mother’s Day.
May—flower fever month when perennial exchanges flourish throughout subdivisions and garden clubs. Yesterday morning, for instance, in a brief spell of congeniality the sun accommodated plant enthusiasts who were glad to swap their wealth with a neighbor’s.
My friend Kim dug up hostas from her yard and hauled them to the Troy Garden Club Perennial Exchange. “The weather was perfect, cool and sunny. I thought, who would want these roots?” she said and laughed. “People lined up for them!”
One gardener’s stone is another’s emerald.
Yet, swapper beware. There’s a plethora of hosta varieties from variegated to giant, some 70 inches wide. It’s a good idea to know what variety you’re adopting.
 All volunteers are not created equal. Horticulture plays by its own rules. Like hostas and bleeding hearts, some flower species know boundaries, others don’t. Plant Lily of the Valley and Solomon Seal in the same bed with your hybrid tea roses and you’ll gnash your teeth some fine day in May. Those lilies are eating alive my white rosa rogusa, a rather hardy bush.
I lift up my shovel and declare, “All’s fair in love and war!”
Invasive—a term I’ve learned after a good neighbor offered me liberty to dig up pink and white Lily of the Valley from her hillside. Naturalized is a kinder word for the lily condition that plagues my rosa rogusa, yet describes the perfect ground cover under my mother’s lilacs which are in full bloom.
As in any pursuit, learning is in doing. Making mistakes and correcting them. I cede. A lily must behave like a lily. A rose, a rose.
What about the deer, the damage to our gardens and trees? Is all my labor in vain? 
Hallelujah! I think Uncle Luke’s Feed Store in Troy has provided a natural remedy. DEER SCRAM. Yepper!
And me, dear Reader, an Appalachian offspring transplanted in Michigan?
I am a volunteer, a blow-in from Irish ancestors who must dig, plant, and bloom where I am rooted.
By the way, I found three Redbud volunteers while weeding my perennial island today. I’m beside myself. Shall I swap or keep?

Eyes to See

Our neighbor, Ron White, tills the soil for planting native grasses and wildflowers
Rained out, I hustled my electric hedge trimmers and extension cords downhill under the pavilion. Darn, all I needed was thirty more minutes to prune my last three rows of lavender shrubs.
I was much younger when we planted that west plot in 2008. What glorious work and fun it was to break new ground—to make a vision happen with tribes of women who helped develop my lavender farm.
Now my hinges hurt when I bend. And the old lavender plants aren’t as supple, either. They’ve grown woody and brittle, succumbed to neglect, Queen Anne’s Lace and other native seeds.
But I see signs of life, empathize with green leaflets in the shrubs’ crown, so I’ll give them another season in hopes they bloom.
For bees love lavandula angustafolia, commonly known as English lavender. My new bees will appreciate lavandula’s flowers come July. Talk about nectar flow.
I ordered only one bee package this year. After beekeeping three hives last summer and fall, I’ll avoid losing numerous hives again in one swoop.
I’ve learned it’s best to let go something you love in small portions, like we do belongings of a departed loved one. Sue, a good friend, lost a toddler son, then years later a teenaged daughter. A few weeks ago when I visited Sue, she led me upstairs to her daughter’s bedroom, freshly painted and decorated with new and old things left behind.
We stood on hallowed ground alive with memories, love, and courage. And profound sorrow.  
Every parent, pet owner, and grower of plants and food knows the disappointment in losing what we’ve nurtured with all our mind, strength, and spirit. Yet, we realize everything has a lifespan.
Iris waters Hidcote, 2008, now both older girls
In my neck of the woods, lavender seldom celebrates a tenth birthday. Of the three lavender fields we planted, only two partial plots remain.
After dinner featuring our fresh asparagus with cashews, I determined to finish those last three rows, rain or shine.
 Walking up the hill I waved to our neighbor Ron. His tractor clanked away tilling the soil where he had removed hundreds of Grosso shrubs a few days prior.  Yep, Grosso means “big”, so we hired a pro for the job.
Ron’s lost two sons, “boys” who worked by his side in their landscape business. I imagine he misses them most this time of year.
At the sight and scent of turned soil I envisioned a new field of Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass swaying in the wind—less maintenance in the long haul. That’s the plan.
Yet, one never knows what the future holds. As one dream is fulfilled and fades, another steps on stage in passing.

Dear Reader, the rain held off until the old girls stood shorn and delivered of dead wood. I have a feeling this is their last summer with us. I see Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass instead.
This I believe: for every loss there is a gain. God, grant us grace and eyes to see it.

For the Beauty of All the Earth

Magnolia tree at Yule Love It after a wind storm
I hear the drone of distant traffic before dawn, 18-wheelers shifting gears to birdsong.
The first ray of sun illuminates the dew and green earth freckled with dandelions. Our flowering magnolia tree stands as pink as it can be in a moment of glory.
After a good night’s rest, I’m refreshed enough to sense the blessedness of a new day, allow memory to carry me where it will—Aunt June and Uncle Lou, childhood neighbors, for instance.
My sisters and I adopted the childless couple in recompense to their multitude of invitations to their backyard picnic table. They also welcomed the kids on our end and side of the block on Wagner Street.
On our knees weeding her spacious gardens one day, Aunt June introduced me to Jack in the Pulpit. Since I loved playing in dirt, I asked Mom if Aunt June could adopt me every once in a while. There wasn’t one flowering shrub or blade of grass to clothe our new, naked home.

Jack in the Pulpit
        I would pedal my blue bike past Aunt June’s porch in hopes to see her outside. If I spied her sleeveless white shirt and dark shorts, I’d brake for conversation and gardening. One summer day she popped us corn in her kitchen. Just Aunt June and me.
When Dad’s lawn grew in, he built a kite and a reel for string and launched his kite-flying hobby. I preferred racing my bike up and down the smooth sidewalk with my playmates.
For relaxation and good luck, my Irish father hunted four-leaf clovers in our front and backyard. In all earnest, he displayed his harvest on the mirror behind his barber chair for his customer’s commentaries. He believed in those clovers.
He’d roll his manpowered lawnmower out of the garage and give his turf a haircut. Once, while removing wet clumps of grass from the blades, he accidentally cut his fingers. I remember blood pouring from the wounds. He refused stitches and barbered with a bandaged hand.

 As robins gather scraps from my gardens for nests, I reminisce opening track season, freezing fourteen springs in bleachers with other parents. June of 1987, the year our firstborn won the 200 Meter Championship in Class D, seems like yesterday. And a century ago.
I traverse the perennial geography of memory and know this peace is fleeting. Soon, machines of various styles of man’s invention will emerge from garages and barns, lubed and tuned to tackle soil, shrubs, and trees.
Dear Reader, long before gas powered lawnmowers and electric hedge trimmers appeared on our American scene, a young Englishman named Folliot S. Pierpoint wrote a hymn that sums up my sentiments.

For the beauty of the hour
Of the day and of the night
Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light

For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild
For all gentle thoughts and mild

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise

Spooning Up Surprises

Uncle Tab and I make breakfast in his new home
Before we left for the Smokies, I baked a batch of currant lemon lavender scones for Uncle Tab. He’s fond of bread and coffee in the morning. I hoped the scones would comfort his broken heart for his late and beloved bride of sixty-six years.
           “Come out of the rain!” he hollered from his front porch in Lexington, Kentucky.
He served us a delicious salad. “Do you like it?”
            “Very good,” Mel said.
I nodded with my mouth full and noticed a stack of opened envelopes on the table. Sympathy cards, I supposed.
           After a good night’s rest, we lingered at the breakfast table. My uncle read his mail again and wept at the tender words for his loss. Never was it harder to leave him.
           “Don’t forget your scones in the freezer,” I repeated.
“I won’t. Stop by on your way back.”
           Regretting every word, I explained our schedule didn’t allow it. Truly, “stop by” to my southern uncles translates “stay the night.”
           The trees greened and Redbuds bloomed as we drove south to Berea in search of Boone Tavern. For years, my aunt and uncle raved about the historic hotel’s food and service.
           No weary traveler could miss the white pillars two stories high and the America flag waving before Berea College Square.   

           A sign with a semblance of 
Daniel Boone, a dog, and scout pointed to the tavern. I remembered Mom’s legend of this American explorer who marked the timber of the Cumberland Gap on his way to the western frontier.
“Dan’el Boone killed a bear on this tree,” she’d say as if the hero had walked her McCoy mountain.
An oil painting of the woodsman dressed in buckskin hung in the entrance to the dining room, a spacious hall fitted with chandeliers, linen tablecloths, and Chippendale chairs. No wonder Uncle Tab and Aunt Alma Leigh dined there. The rustic and elegant have held an appealing balance of southern hospitality since Berea College built the hotel in 1909.
Mel and I hightailed it to their Sunday brunch buffet. I resisted the biscuits and gravy in preference to the salad bar. When we returned to our table, my self-control caved at the sight of bready lumps on plates.  
Wide-eyed, I lifted my fork to Mel. “Taste this.”

A waitress carried a pan and spoon around the dining room. She stopped by our table. “Would you like more spoonbread?”
“That’s what you call it?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am, a Tavern tradition.”
Well, dear Reader, why had I, a cornbread lover, never laid eyes on spoonbread before?
Because my granny, mother, and other kinfolk preferred cornbread and gritty bread.
Commonly called Awendaw by Native Americans, the Cherokee introduced spoonbread to Appalachia. I imagine Daniel Boone found the dish steaming over Cherokee fires he befriended during his explorations.
Next time we stop by Uncle Tab’s, think I’ll surprise him with a batch of spoonbread. I’d like to celebrate our 1% Cherokee DNA with him.


1 ¼ cups cornmeal
3 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 ¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk

Stir meal into rapidly boiling milk. Cook until very thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The mixture will be very stiff. Add well-beaten eggs, salt, baking powder, and melted butter. Beat with electric mixer for 15 minutes (not a minute less). 

Pour into well-greased pan and bake for 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees. Serve from pan by spoonful with butter. Delicious with honey.