Of love and late-summer flowers

Painted Lady butterfly on stonecrop sedum. Painted Lady butterflies are abundant this year.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and late-summer flowers. I’m not sure what brought on these musings, but I think it may have something to do with turning the big double nickel last week.

I’m a late-summer flower myself.

I’m also helping my mother sell her home and move into independent living, letting my children grow up and turning my mothering to Monarch caterpillars. I’ve watched the devastation of two hurricanes in the news with alarm, resignation and then love and admiration for those who helped. Plus, I finished listening to the S-Town podcast and read Y is for Yesterday (A Kinsey Millhone Novel), by Sue Grafton, on my birthday.

Whew! I have a lot going on. Please bear with me as I sort out my thoughts. It’s good this blog is called Red Dirt Ramblings, especially today. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and wander with me, okay?

Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed
Monarch caterpillar on butterfly weed.

Honestly, I was feeling kind of dismal about the state of the world last week until I steeped myself in prayer and cut more milkweed for my baby Monarchs.

The hurricane coverage and overall media misery were starting to get to me, and S-Town and Y is for Yesterday didn’t help either. As I listened to S-Town, I began to feel like a voyeur. The series took an especially dark turn in the last chapter which made me want to cry for John B. McElmore. I think this opinion piece by Jessica Goudeau in The Atlantic sums my dilemma up pretty well. It does contain spoilers so keep that in mind if you read it. One sentence from the poetry and letters she discussed stood out for me “Probe your own life and past if you must, but you cannot use another person’s trauma without permission for your aesthetic gain.” At the end of the podcast, only ashes remained, along with an icky feeling of crawling through one man’s private angst.

Y is for Yesterday cover.

As for Y is for Yesterday, I bought and saved it for my birthday. For me, it’s a kind of ritual because I’ve read all of her books from the beginning. I met Grafton, and I admire her greatly. After all, I’ve only written one book that’s been published. I don’t want to give anything away in the 25th installment of my favorite detective series, but the ending wasn’t the least bit redemptive. Grafton wrote another book in the series with a similar ending, and it wasn’t my favorite either. While life is messy, novels, especially detective novels, are all about setting the universe back to rights after something throws it into chaos. It’s why people read detective novels. Some of you might argue that things in fictional Santa Teresa, CA, were set right, but I didn’t think so. I did enjoy much of the novel and laughed out loud at Kinsey Millhone, who I’ve grown to love as an old friend.

With dismay, I began to wonder if we’d forgotten how to tell redemptive stories. In our society’s effort to become ever more secular, we have forgotten how to read anything that challenges us, including the Bible. Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible is a great piece of literature with extremely good advice. I would also argue we’ve forgotten how to immerse ourselves in Nature, another great teacher.

Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus, has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn't have.
Not a Monarch, but instead, a mimic, the Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus. The Viceroy has a smile on its lower wings that the Monarch doesn’t have. I think this is the first year I’ve seen a Viceroy in my garden.

After much prayer, I began to see my care for my Monarch caterpillars as a metaphor for God’s love for us. The caterpillars have no idea I’m watching over them. They just eat and poop and do their thing. They’re rather helpless. They can also be quite hard on each other so I sometimes separate them when they crawl too close. When I pick them up–after making sure my hands are clean–immediately, they curl into a C of defensiveness. It’s all they know. I gently place them near some milkweed, leave them alone, and soon they’re back doing their thing. I watch over these creatures as if each one is precious cargo because it is. Monarchs are basically endangered even if it isn’t official yet.

I’m not saying people are like caterpillars. Obviously, not, but being a woman of faith, I see God’s unconditional love to be similar to my care for these small insects that will eventually change into something much more glorious than when they first began. (Click on pictures in the galleries to make them larger.)

There’s a good reason why caterpillars and butterflies are symbolic of metamorphosis and rebirth.

My children, by the way, are completely grossed out that I have cages all over the dining room with caterpillars in various stages and sizes. I keep telling them caterpillars are not gross. In fact, if you run your finger gently across one’s back, it is silky to the touch. Plus, their camouflage coloring is quite beautiful. They blend in with the milkweed. Not so for adult butterflies who live for such a short and glorious time.

As for God’s love, I think butterflies and late-summer flowers are good points of reference. There are many more efficient pollinators out there than butterflies. I’m not sure Nature needs butterflies, but humans do.

When the news, the podcast and my reading became too much for me, I wandered outside into my messy late-summer garden. My favorite flower of the moment is Autumn sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale. I planted smallish plants last fall, and they are glorious this summer. They, along with the still-blooming Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes,’ are much favored by pollinators, and the late-summer bloom is all about feeding the pollinators before winter sets in. I’m still waiting for the asters to bloom in a blue haze, but this year, I’m actually enjoying wild ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum, a/k/a mistflower, for the first time. I used to hate it because it is so prolific, but it’s a favorite nectar plant of adult Monarchs so I’ve learned to pull as much as I can in spring and enjoy the rest. The same is true for garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, which I can’t seem to eradicate. Don’t plant them if you don’t want them until the end of your days. Since I didn’t deadhead much in July, these plants are carrying the garden through early September.

Pretty soon, asters and garden mums will join the other flowers, and the garden will have a kind of rebirth before it dies in late autumn after a killing freeze.

We had a party last weekend, and several of my friends wanted to see the gardens. We walked and talked, and I pointed out butterflies and moths flitting amongst the blooms. My friends were amazed at the beauty of these small creatures like the Hemaris thysbe, hummingbird clearwing moth. These moths dart in and out of the phlox like hummingbirds hence the name. They are one of the best reasons to grow phlox. Need more good reasons? How about the Painted Lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, which are so abundant this year. Painted Lady butterflies also adore stonecrop sedum, Sedum spectabile, so plant it too.

Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata 'Bright Eyes' phlox.
Hemaris thysbe, Hummingbird Clearwing moth on P. paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’ phlox.

Speaking of hummingbirds, I have a couple of males that check me out every time I go out to get more milkweed. They love the zinnia patch this year and protect it fiercely. They are so cute but so naughty keeping all of the other creatures except wasps on the wing. Bill caught sight of them of them the other day and was charmed by their antics.

Butterflies and late-summer flowers both speak to me of God’s love and also the quick passage of time. Much was made of horology, the study of time, in S-town. It was the best part of the podcast. John B. was a genius who built and repaired beautiful timepieces throughout much of his life. Check out this sundial he built for his friend, teacher, and mentor, Tom Moore. I think McLemore loved people fiercely, but couldn’t accept their love in return.

Like the caterpillars and the late-summer flowers, we bloom and eventually fade away. I just hope we all experience metamorphosis and winged flight before our time is done. The late-summer garden beckons like a lover in the cool evening. Don’t forget to go outside and enjoy it before it too is gone.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden Book Giveaway

Benzakein with Julie Chai. Book Giveaway

Guess what!

I’m doing another book giveaway with the help of Chronicle Books and Erin Benzakein of Floret Farm I love Erin’s work. Don’t know Erin? Well, where have you been? She’s an extremely popular flower farmer, cut-flower style setter, mother, seed purveyor, and so much more. Erin’s Instagram account boasts 389,000 + followers. Can you say, “Wow!?

I was so happy to help out with her blog book tour. I mean, just looking at these photos is like taking a vacation to Skagit Valley, Washington, one of my favorite places on Earth.

“I have found tremendous joy in growing and sharing seasonal flowers and foliage. My hope is that my book will help others discover this joy and provide practical information to grow the garden of their dreams.” Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books and Erin Benzakein.
“I have found tremendous joy in growing and sharing seasonal flowers and foliage. My hope is that my book will help others discover this joy and provide practical information to grow the garden of their dreams.” Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books and Erin Benzakein.

Since my blog is very photo driven, I asked for a photo essay, and Chronicle Books sent me some beautiful photos of Floret Farm’s flowers and Erin, along with her quotes.

Sit back, grab a cup of something, tea, coffee, a cocktail and peruse the beauty. This is just some of what you can expect to see in the book which I have read.

Sit back, grab a cup of something, tea, coffee, a cocktail and peruse the beauty. This is just some of what you can expect to see in the book which I have read. Note: I was given a copy of the book for review from the publisher. 

“In the book, I share all my tried-and-true techniques for growing great cut flowers. Whether you want to grow flowers for pleasure, as food for bees and pollinators or as a potential side business, you’ll find step-by-step instructions alongside beautiful photos from my garden for inspiration.”
“In the book, I share all my tried-and-true techniques for growing great cut flowers. Whether you want to grow flowers for pleasure, as food for bees and pollinators or as a potential side business, you’ll find step-by-step instructions alongside beautiful photos from my garden for inspiration.”

The book does give detailed instructions for growing your own cut flower garden. The instructions are clear and concise, and I loved the photos. They are scrumptious as you can see.

A summer day full of zinnia harvesting at Floret Farm.
A summer day full of zinnia harvesting at Floret Farm.

I’ve bought zinnia seeds from Erin several times and other beautiful flowers for my own cut flower garden beds. I am especially fond of the ‘Oklahoma Salmon‘ variety. I love cutting gardens. They are such fun to create and grow. Just don’t forget to cut your flowers and bring them inside to enjoy.

About zinnias

Erin says, “No cut flower garden is complete without these versatile, easy-to-grow blooms. Just be sure to look for cultivars that are made for cutting gardens (versus bedding plants) such as the appropriately named ‘Benary Giant’ series, the massive magenta ‘Uproar Rose’ and the ‘Persian Carpet’ mix.”

About dahlias

Erin is also a big fan of dahlias as am I.

We grow more dahlias than any other flower here at Floret.  Dahlias come in a rainbow of colors and are nearly unmatched in terms of flower production. I’ve been bitten by the dahlia bug and have so many favorites that it would be impossible to narrow it down to 20, much less three.”

Dahlia 'Golden Scepter' Floret Farm
Erin holds an armful of Dahlia ‘Golden Scepter.’

Erin also suggests that you let plants do double duty in your garden.

About foliage

“A lot of beginning gardeners focus on growing flowers with big, showy blooms and forget to plant enough foliage to round out your summer bouquets. If you already grow herbs and vegetables in your garden, many of your plants can serve double duty.  Here are a few favorites that can be used for food or foliage in a summer bouquet:

“Mint: I was advised to never plant this vigorous spreader but am so glad I ignored them. Mint is available early in the season, has a great vase life and adds a lovely fragrance to bouquets. My favorite varieties are Apple, Peppermint, Pineapple (white variegated) and Spearmint.

Basil, especially one with red or purple foliage is great in bouquets too. Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.
Basil, especially one with red or purple foliage like ‘Aramato,’ is great in bouquets too. Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.

“Basil:  Easy to grow, fragrant and abundant, basil is great for both cooking and floral design.  With deep purple flowers, glossy foliage and a fantastic scent, ‘Oriental Breeze’ has been a favorite of mine for years. Other great varieties to grow include ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Lemon’, ‘Cardinal’ and ‘Aramato’.

Dill makes an excellent filler in flower arrangements.
Dill makes an excellent filler in flower arrangements. Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.

“Dill: With big yellow umbel shaped blooms, dill flowers add an airy textural element to any summer bouquet.

“Shiso ‘britton’ (Perilla frutescens): Common in Asian cooking, this plant also is popular among floral designers who love its contrasting colors.  The serrated, bi-colored leaves of this culinary herb are green on top and a pretty burgundy-purple underneath.

Book giveaway details:

We’re giving away a copy of Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms along with a bunch of Floret goodies: a garden day planner, calendar, and seeds! For a chance to win, just leave a comment in the comment section below. The contest ends at Noon on March 20. I’ll pick a winner on March 24, 2017, with a random number generator. You have to leave your name and email address (unpublished) to enter. I can’t contact you if I can’t find you. Please note this giveaway is only open to continental U.S. residents.

Also, don’t forget my other garden tool giveaway is ongoing. Please feel free to enter it too. It’s an exciting spring!

If you follow along with the whole tour, you will have multiple chances to win!

Visit the other participating blogs below to learn more about the local flower movement and Floret Farms; plus, each blog post will offer a chance for you to win.

Participating blogs:

 

Buy the book here: www.floretflowers.com/book
Follow Floret:
Instagram
Pinterest
Facebook  

UPDATE: Denise Whitehead is our winner. I’ve contacted her so Floret can send her the goods. Thanks to everyone who played along.