Barely Contained

Lime thyme

Lime Thyme

Last night I made a gallon of iced tea for Gypsy and I. I used good quality English Black Tea from Stash, and about ten leaves off of our Mojito Mint plant and the gallon did not even make it until noon today, and that makes me happy.

We do not have a house, we do not even have a yard, but I garden each year as if my life depended on it, and perhaps, in a way, it does.

Would you be amused to know that we are currently raising seven varieties of tomatoes?

Minibels

Napa Chardonnay Blush

Gold Rush Currants

Black Vernissage

Romas

Black Crimeans

And a rare Appalachian tomato called Bull Bloods.

We are also growing:

Mira Peppers

Fish Peppers

Violet Sparkle peppers

Jalapenos

Aji Dolce peppers

Carmen peppers

and a rare heirloom variety called Blunt Nosed peppers whose flowers and fruit are royal purple.

We have five varieties of European lettuce and Japanese Mizuna mustard greens.

Besides the veggies, we have two varieties of Datura, pennyroyal, three varieties of basil, two types of rosemary, chocolate, Corsican and mojito mint, lime thyme and cilantro. This does not count the small citrus trees, the ponytail palms, the African violets or the orchids.

Oh, and we have a variety of flowers, such as zinnias, columbines, forget-me-nots, salvia and verbena and a pretty heavy duty patch of hens & chicks (sempervivums)

Now here is the kicker for most people. We are growing it all on an elevated porch that measures ten by five feet and in a very small (5×3 foot) patch of landscaped earth in front of where we park our car.

Buckets

(Here is how it began back in April.)

Our garden is almost all in containers, and as of this writing on June 17, 2017, it is flourishing.

We have had two harvests of the lettuce already, the bull blood tomatoes as well as the romas and Crimeans are all over four feet and showing fruit and most of the peppers are at least flowering if not already showing fruit.

Almost anyone can garden.

As I have mentioned in this blog before, I start preparing for gardening season in December or January, requesting catalogs, making huge, sprawling master wish lists that I couldn’t actually pull off unless I had a couple of acres of plantable ground, making diagrams and counting my containers. That is a very important part of the equation.

This year I have seven kitty litter buckets, three 28x14x12 inch grow boxes and a variety of found, repurposed or dollar store pots, buckets and what have you, and all of our plants are thriving, blooming and beginning to produce.

How do we pull it off?

We are in love with the process.

Four of our varieties of tomatoes, as well the cilantro, rosemary, Pennyroyal and three types of peppers I started from seeds back in April and May, thank you Barbara and Margana for sharing the magic of seeds!

Mint

(Mojito mint)

Do yourself a favor. Find your local mom & pop garden center or greenhouse. I know, I know, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Hellmart or what have you is so convenient, but trust me, the satisfaction you will get, the joy you will experience from interacting with actual growers, real human beings that get their nails dirty, is immeasurable.

In the last year, we have discovered two such places and to me, they have been more than half the fun of this spring season.

The first is Mosside Greenhouse which is less than a mile from our place and my current drug (plant) dealer of choice. This is a family owned and operated business that has been selling veggie, herb and flower plants and seedlings for almost sixty years.

They are open from March through approximately mid June each year and are just packed to the gills with rare, beautiful, affordable and amazing plants. Anything from your most basic, garden tomato through the hottest peppers in the world, and more varieties of geraniums, marigolds, petunias, and begonias than you can shake a trowel at and the best part about the place? They grew most of it from seed. You go in and you ask them questions and they will not rest until you feel like you have the knowledge you need. They are about to close for the year and I am already going through withdrawal symptoms.

The second is Penn Hills Lawn & Garden and though this is a much larger place, there is still that personal feeling to it that sets you at ease as you wander the rows and get woozy from the smells and dazzling colors. They also offer classes at this location, they have a wonderful room up in their gift shop, outfitted with tables, chairs and a lot of natural light. We are planning on attending an upcoming class on vertical gardening.

From these places we have found amazing plants, a few of which I have never grown before (like the amazing Mojito Mint from Mosside).

So do as we do, find the local growers, even if it is a bit of a drive, it will be worth it because garden people are magical. Gardeners are fun, funny, spiritual, alive and filled with hope, even in the face of strange circumstances. They give, they share, they touch, taste, smell, caress and talk to their green charges and will tell you with the most joyous looks on their faces, that it does, indeed matter.

How do you become one of them, one of us?

By immersing yourself in the process, by ritualizing it, by being mindful of what you are doing and respectful of the fact that you are interacting with a living being. Plants are living, growing, communicating things and there is more to your time with them than just squeezing them out of a pot and shoving them into a hole in the ground, or into a bigger pot, it requires love.

When I bring a new plant home, typically it will need to be repotted. This will be for one of a couple of reasons. Firstly, plants from greenhouses are usually either close to or are root bound. Meaning that their roots have both filled the pot, leaving no room for further growth and used up the nutrients in the soil.

Secondly, many garden wholesalers and retailers do not use good quality soil to start or maintain plants in, as it is just not cost effective. Now this isn’t always the case and I found out that both of the garden centers mentioned above use way better than average soil, but I always like to err on the side of caution and plant welfare.

With a little time and some mindful effort, you can grow fresh herbs to add to recipes, flowers to dazzle and enchant your loved ones (and seduce butterflies, moths and hummingbirds), fruits and veggies that came from the work of your own hands and a bunch of other really satisfying possibilities.

Growing things, even when you have no outdoor space at all is possible, using grow lights or windowsills, it can be anything from a minor pastime to a full on addiction like it is with me. I could go on about this all day but my tomatoes need watered.

tomatoes

(Bull Blood, Crimean and Roma tomatoes)

Take care of each other, and grow something.

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Beauty in the Dark

datura1

This is a Datura, blossoming on our back porch. Its Latin name is Datura metel and it is known by several common names, including Devil’s Trumpet, Thornapple or Horn of Plenty. It is a witch’s plant. I don’t just mean that we, as witches own it, I mean that it is one of the most storied, mythologized and whispered about herbs in the world of paganism.

Datura is highly toxic, every bit of it. Roots, leaves, flowers, stem, all of it, yet it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful flowering plants on earth, smells like a ambrosial combination of honeysuckle and black locust and its scent is most potent at night when it shows its most breathtaking self to the world brave enough to grow it.

Its hallucinogenic properties are legendary but its lethality stands behind it like a dare, challenging those willing to venture into those lands with possible death.

That is the nature of darker magic. It is beautiful, seductive, elegant, addictive and deadly.

Why am I telling you this?

Because these days I am walking in an odd place of one foot in the light, one in the darkness and trying desperately to lean into the light while the universe insists on the other choice.

I am living the life of a juggler’s ball, constantly moving, unfixed, spinning between hours of near perfect giddiness, joy and laughter and periods of soul crushing fear, depression and anxiety.

I am better when I am among the plants.

When I am out tending to our tomatoes, peppers, herbs and orchids, I am green, sacred, powerful and towering above the hurt and human problems that plague me otherwise.

I grow deadly plants like the Datura for their beauty and the tradition, as my mother grew them and I remember my time in the garden with her to be among my happiest.

Often, when I am working outside, weeding, watering, trimming or staking our growing jungle, one of our many serpents is around my neck, their powerful coils holding them to me like roots, and there you can find me, serpents and moonflowers. The symbolism is rife with possibilities.

I am better when interacting with the snakes.

But the time comes when it all must be put aside and I have to face the more greedy world of daily life and then, then the darkness is all I can see.

My prolonged illness from 2010 to 2015 cost me everything. I do not say that flippantly. I came away from it with the clothes on my back, furniture given to me by friends and a second hand laptop. That was it. There I was in my mid 40’s with nothing but a tiny one bedroom apartment, a mystery illness that looked incurable to every doctor on the Eastern seaboard and forced to start over, again.

This time, I was not alone. Gypsy, Jaryd and Erych were there and I could focus on them. Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, making them laugh, trying to establish myself as a writer and getting back into the business of educating the world about snakes which I had done since I was a child.

My illness was so bad that I was given disability. The major concern was and still is my compromised white cell count. I have an immunodeficiency with no knowable cause. And so it is a threat for me to go back into the workforce where I would be subject to every virus and illness that came down the pike. But the state, in its wisdom decided that since I was able to cook, do my own laundry and help out with the family, then I must be okay and they cancelled my disability.

So, I had been left in a situation where I was contributing next to nothing. But the absolute terror of going through the cycle of illnesses, hospitalizations (28 months in hospitals and rehabs over four years.) has left me in an emotional limbo.

So I redoubled my effort to find work I could do from home. Freelance writing and speaking, snake educational programs, almost anything. But so far it has been too little, not often enough.

And thus the darkness.

And so I sit, working, constantly trying, ear to the ground, nose in the wind, hopeful but growing ever more scared.

“Get a bicycle and lose weight. It will help.” At my weight, a bicycle that will hold me costs around $600 dollars.

“Raise and sell plants. You’re so good at it!” To buy the light tables and other supplies I need, about the same as the bicycle.

“Breed snakes, you made good money at that before.” And the list goes on. Needing money to make money and the money, all that I saved, all that I earned, all that I got from selling off my newly gained things, gone… And still, the bills come in.

I hunt bargains, I find them too. I am brilliant at it. I can cook good, healthy food inexpensively, I am growing eight varieties of tomatoes, six types of peppers, herbs and maybe cucumbers but it will be a while.

I have put the word out that I need to make money, I need to feel useful. I need to be a part of making the darkness come back into a manageable twilight. But so far, all I hear is my voice echoing off of the distant hillsides, with no other ones replying.

And so, I grow things, I commune with serpents, I make people laugh, I think in gorgeous poetry and I try to lift up everyone I encounter.

That is the truest form of magic. The act of trying to lift people into the light, even when you are in the darkest of shadows.

Datura2

Here, at the moment it is night, but at least the flowers are beautiful.