Views from the Shade

By Mimi Hedl

Shady path through the Cottage Garden.

Still in the midst of the dog days of summer, I rise early and complete my rounds by noon. Walking into the gardens at 5:30, enough light comes through the horizon to show me the way. This morning, a breeze came up, moving the bottle brush and Canadian rye grasses as if autumn had arrived. I stand still, close my eyes, and revel in the coolness, soon to become a distant memory. These early hours trigger the bees and butterflies. I’ve found bees sound asleep, attached to a blossom, as if they crashed in a moment of ecstasy.  And then I see the bee roused, looking for the first nectar of the day. The pipe vine swallowtails go high into the mimosa trees that seem to bloom forever. After those initial caterpillars the boys and I watched go into chrysalis (and hatch) I see hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars doing just that. Luckily, two enormous mimosa trees will give the newly minted butterflies unlimited nectar. The garden phlox comes on now too, plus the zinnias, so they will continue to feed in good style, the drought not affecting their food source.

Pipevine swallowtail emerges.

After checking for squash bugs and picking the cucumbers and tomatoes, however sad they may look, I next fill the bird baths. The poor birds, wasps, frogs, all the critters, feel desperate for fresh water as the resident chipmunk will attest to, jumping up to the bird bath as a bird in flight. The deer come at night and drink from the bird baths in the Park. I push a wheelbarrow out to the Park with a full watering can and a 5 gallon bucket as full as I can safely deliver it those 200 feet. Of course I’m down on my hands and knees many times as I deliver water or check for bugs, so by the time I come back to the house to do my tai chi, make coffee, have breakfast and write in my journal, my knees are covered with soil and straw. No wonder I can never get either my fingernails or elephant knees clean.

Willow leafed sunflowers from my shady perch.

Each day I set one task I want to accomplish. If I make this job something I’ve wanted to do for a good while, I’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and the heat and humidity won’t affect me. I try to find chores in the shade so I don’t wilt too soon. These paths I excavated with a hoe, and then smoothed with a rake, became essential this year. The American holly tree has grown so large I can’t easily push my wheelbarrow through the south border of the Cottage garden to the compost. The garden has spoken. We need another way. Plus, the Cottage garden covers so many square feet we’ve felt overwhelmed when we try to weed it all. Small victories seem important. If the job’s too big, like detassling 5 acres of corn, we lose hope and feel done in before we even begin. Dividing the garden into smaller, recognizable plots, with paths running through, helps organize the plants in the various plots and we’ll feel more satisfied with weeding one plot then another. (At least I hope we will. The head gardener has gone on vacation and will come back to several changes…)

Gingko tree from a distance.

Now as I stand in the shade where these paths have been carved out, I see a new scene, a different way to enjoy both the Cottage garden and the Medicinal garden where the gingko tree grows so majestically. A bench, a small bench, just enough for one person, will go here, in the shade. Such a quiet spot, perfect for spying on birds and butterflies, even that groundhog that likes to hide under the sauna. The site lays far enough away from the gingko tree to give perspective, some distance, and that changes everything as any new point of view can do if we relax and absorb the change. In this unrelenting heat and oppressive humidity, I seek out these shady retreats and ways to enjoy them even more. Sitting for a few minutes, listening for the call from some brave bird, makes me breathe deeper and feel renewed.

Last week neighbor Patrick called. He said he had rocks for me. I’d admired some along our county road as I rode with him to look for telephone poles Ron and I had stashed in the lower pasture. (Patrick needs posts for a project.) He had one HUGE rock I’d declined, but then wished I hadn’t. I confessed I’d thought about that rock since he’d shown it to me. He said he’d bring it too. His tractor has a king-sized bucket and he ended up bringing 3 bucketsful of impressive rocks, enough to create this short-cut path past the mimosa tree, into the Sycamore garden, to the path to the house, plus extra for the paths in the Cottage garden. He hand delivered each rock, except the two humungous ones and used the hydralics! as Petra would say, to move those two into place.

I hadn’t conceived of rocks that size for the barrier between the Sycamore garden and the garden phlox. I wanted a riprap wall from rocks I’d pick up along the roads, driving slowly in my Honda, with all the windows opened, pretending I was in our ‘62 International pickup, driving the back roads like we used to, one of us throwing rocks onto the bed of the truck, the other driving and scouting out more rocks. Well now I had a new perspective and would have to change my vision. I’d collected smaller rocks with the boys down at the creek. They mostly have holes in them or ledges or something that caught my fancy, as rocks will do, as we played in the creek. They’ll sit on top of the big guys and maybe a collection of even smaller ones will get flipped onto the big ones when I find a rock I can’t live without. Whatever, I continually look out the window at the new wall or when it’s not so blazing hot walk out and try adding a rock here or there. It’s more than I imagined but it will definitely tell the phlox it needs to keep in its space. Of course like all plants, it will find a way to slip across the boundary, and I will dig them out, give them to Petra or another eager gardener, and maintain my discipline over who grows where. Such a funny notion, that we can control the plant world, but most gardeners deal with that illusion until they can’t fight the plants anymore.

The crab apple tree Barbara painted came down during a storm this May. Jeremy cut it up while I was gone and when I came home I saw the souvenir he’d left. He told me, “You’ve rubbed off on me!” I liked that and I like the mare or the elephant or whatever you see in the carvings. Summer moves along and before you know it, I’ll be out at that pile of branches, making little ones out of big ones.

Do you know how hard it is to capture a butterfly? As soon as I had two in the frame, they flitted away. I took a dozen pictures, missing the butterfly by a click. Settled on this one. You can see the iridescent blue on the dorsal side, a sure sign of a pipevine swallowtail. 

5 thoughts on “Views from the Shade

  1. Sbaskitchen, you’ve braided hard-necked garlic. Looks beautiful and not easy. Can you grow the soft neck where you live? It’s such a pleasure to braid.


  2. Rain came last night Barbara. Soft and gentle. Enough to make me cry as the crippling heat felt like a death sentence. Sometimes it’s difficult to find hope and to hang on. The gardens amaze me. Those mycelial creating webs under the earth are the magic-makers. I’m in awe of what the earth can do if we treat her properly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Over the last couple years I have enjoyed getting to know you and Barbara – more and more. I must say to begin with I had you stuck in the mid 60’s, but “elephant knees” brought you right up to date.
    Thanks, John


  4. I’m still laughing John. Good to know I’m up to date now. I just have to remember to brush the soil off my elephant knees before I go to town!


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