Monday, June 23, 2014

A D V E N T U R E | Loose Park Rose Garden

I can think of a handful of people I've met throughout my life with whom I've had an immediate camaraderie - a closeness that feels strange and like it has been there forever even though we've known each other for only a few hours. 

I felt that way when I met Leora. She's got an incredibly beautiful spirit, but there is this authenticity about her that made me feel safe. When I photographed her headshots this past winter, we conducted Mozart together in my studio and both sang along to Le Nozze di Figaro. It was a blast and it was one of those sessions that had me inspired for days afterward.

I've thought of Leora often since our session, and I was beyond delighted when she asked if I'd like to go to a rose garden with her. I am a huge lover of gardens and flowers, and so I jumped at the chance to check out this free public garden in the heart of Kansas City.

It did not disappoint!

The Loose Park Rose garden is a wonderful place to visit. With pathways and benches, it is a lovely place to explore leisurely and to get to walk and talk with a friend. The roses smell amazing, and there are some incredible hybrid varieties! I was pausing to take photos but not to write down the hybrids. Luckily for me, I can go back! 

We chatted with several of the staff while there, talking everything from canning to deadheading to aphids. It was a blast getting to connect with people! That is one fantastic thing about having Leora with me. I am not as outgoing as she is. I might have missed out on these conversations if not for her friendly and awesome personality.

After we smelled the roses, we enjoyed an awesome Indian food lunch. And we ended up talking, and talking, and talking some more. I didn't want the day to end! It's amazing when a thread beyond shared interests pulls two people into conversation. We get to share something deeper than watching the same television shows or having shared political views. There is a basic understanding of the beauty of the world and the spirituality of art and nature and existence that kept Leora and I talking, and more than two weeks after our fun morning at the rose garden, I'm still thinking about our conversation and how grateful I am that God brings people into our lives in these ways.

I'm lucky that what I do puts me in touch with amazing people like Leora. I've made some really wonderful friends in Kansas City as a result of collaboration through photographs - and then through life!

And I'm sure I'll be back to the rose garden. You should go to Loose Park if you live in the KC area. The people there are passionate about what they do, and it is quite a luxury to appreciate the beauty of these delicate and short-lived miracles in such a volume as they have them there.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

G R O W | June 2014 garden update

I can't remember a time when I didn't spend at least part of my summer with my hands buried in the earth. Planting things was a family matter where I grew up; it was a way of life, and not just because we were Iowa farmers. There was no question: "Will we garden this year?" It was always a matter of when, how much, and what varieties we should try.

 In the spring, the warming of the air and the softening of the frozen earth yielded the smell of moist soil and inside of all of us something visceral uncurled. When I was a child, I am pretty sure most of the time I was in the garden I was there rather begrudgingly. Sometimes I really enjoyed harvesting, especially picking strawberries. Our patch was so large that no one every missed the many that I popped into my mouth along the way. But, I hated weeding, no matter if it was the easy-to-pull weeds in the raised beds or the incredibly difficult ones in our giant potato patch. I can't even remember who dug all of those potatoes at harvest. Planting them by dropping the sectioned, shriveled potato eyes into the earth off of the potato planter, which bounced along behind the carefully directed tractor, was a treat. In fact, I really loved planting when I was a child. I think it is that welling-up of hope, that endless optimism, the possibilities that you can imagine springing up from a tiny seed. Somehow that subconscious love of possibility has followed me into my adult life.

The older I get, the more I worry that I am a creature of endless dreams and possibilities, but the type who often finds it painful and terrifying to execute those dreams. I hate pulling the proverbial weeds out of my way, for fear of pulling up the roots of my ambition.

But I'm trying to adjust my focus. I'm learning to be okay with failure. You plant the seeds and show up to water them, you pull the weeds, and you know that some of them are going to do better than others. You might even fail completely. But you are left with no less than when you started, and you are almost certainly guaranteed to walk away with more. It's amazing what you can learn from your garden if you're only willing to open up and see.

As the years have passed, my love of the garden has changed, as many things do. When I went to college, I realized for the first time how sentimental I was. My heart yearned for all things home. In a time where growth, change, and possibility propelled me upward, things that were certain and familiar became a net that supported me.  Now I find myself dreaming of my garden almost as soon as the snow flies. When seed catalogs show up at my door just after the holidays, I already start to dream and plan. And as soon as I smell the earth warming in the spring, I am drawn to the soil, where I repeat the gesture of hope, trust, and reward over and over again. That act of burrowing in, scraping back just enough, placing a seed so tiny and often so dark that when it hits the soil you can't even see it at all, and gently heaping soil upon it, closing up your desire and waiting for it to burst out of the warm earth.

Summer 2014 marks my fourth garden away from home. My love and practice of gardening was born and learned under my parent's wing, so my heart will always pull toward that band of weathered, wood-encased 8'x8' beds on the south side of the house where I first saw the miracle of growth happen. But I got married, and have had to branch out and live my own life, which for someone who loved my childhood as much as I did is often painful. But God willing, I will someday carry the holy task of teaching small hands to put seed to the soil, this wordless act of prayer. And I know that regardless of where the plot of soil rests, the community, the family, the years stacked upon years are there.

The first of my grown-up gardens was on two community, organic plots in Bloomington, Indiana. We shared them with our friends Bonnie and Adam, who had never gardened but were eager to learn. I had incredible kale and chard that year, more peas than I could eat, huge bunches of lettuce, a few tomatillos, and plenty of zucchini. I even had some tasty french breakfast radishes - I haven't had any like that since. Our tomatoes weren't so great that year (life got busy and we didn't water them enough or tie them up early enough), but I had a lot of basil that I turned into pesto.

My best garden yet came the second year my husband and I were married, and it was at the home of a dear friend from work. In exchange for some senior photos for her daughter, they tilled a huge spot on their land for me to cultivate. My friend Ashley and I planted it together, and the garden was incredibly successful. It was a blessing to get to garden with one of my dearest friends! I wasn't able to come close to eating all of its amazing bounty, but my first homemade pickles came from it. Several loaves of zucchini bread, many stir-fries, and lots of tasty zucchini fritters were eaten, cucumber-mint cocktails were enjoyed, and the tomato harvest was crazy. I moved in July that year, just as the garden was about to unleash its true potential. I missed out on canning, to my great sadness, but others enjoyed the garden long after I left.

Last year, my third garden was tilled into our backyard at the house we call home in Independence, Missouri. I opted to test out the natural soil in the yard with a bit of peat. I was dealing with harder to till soil that had tree roots, much less sunlight (probably part sun is the best way to describe my backyard), and lots of critters. Despite the cool and very wet spring, I planted lots of things, but I really only had success with cucumbers, peppers, and herbs. I had a few tasty carrots and some eggplant, too. But of my 23 tomato plants, the neighborhood squirrels stole almost every tomato. Never having lived in a place with a large urban squirrel population, I found this both incredibly frustrating and also nearly unbelievable.

Destined to be stolen by greedy little rodent hands.

Luckily, last year my parents and friends shared tomatoes & other garden treasures with me. I started around 50 tomato plants, and I gave over half of them away, so those who had my plants shared their fruits.

This year, I worked to improve the soil quality by creating somewhat raised beds, adding better soil and more peat. So far, it appears to be working. Here's what I have planted this year. For reference, I have two 4'x8' beds and two 8'x8' beds, as well as tomatoes in two beds in my front yard (trying to hide them from the squirrels), and a little squash experiment....more on that later.

Squash: Acorn, Turk's Turban, Butternut
Watermelon: Sugar Baby
Pumpkins: Connecticut Field Heirloom, Jack Be Little, and Lumina (white)
Tomatoes: started from seed, many different varieties, mostly heirlooms
Kale: Red Russian & Dwarf Blue Scotch
Brussels Sprouts: Long Island
Beets: Detroit Dark Red, Early Wonder
Swiss Chard: Bright lights hybrid
Lettuce: Black-Seeded Simpson, Red Ruffles, Green Ice
Basil: Sweet, Thai, Lemon
Cucumbers: 60+ plants....uh oh...  Lemon, Picklebush, Straight 8
Zucchini: Black Beauty, Golden
Peppers: Jalapenos, Red Bell Mercury, Chinese Giant, Thai Red
Onions: Red & Yellow
Potatoes: Yukon Gold, Pontiac
Radishes: Sparkler
Misc Herbs: Lemon Thyme, German Thyme, Pineapple Sage, Cilantro, Chocolate Mint, Apple Mint, Dill, Rosemary
Beans: Kentucky Wonder, Yellow Wax, Blue Lake, Purple Queen
Spinach: Baby leaf, Bloomsdale Long Standing
Eggplant: Black Beauty, Listada de Gandia

My squash and melon "hills" are in pots this year. I have a makeshift a-frame and some stakes sketched out around them, but if these plants do well, I think I'm going to need to build a big a-frame trellis out of 2x4s and 1x2s. Keeping it real: our backyard needs some serious work. More weeds than grass dwell there...

I needed a last-minute marker for my squash pots...I reached inside the backdoor and these clothespins did the trick!

Potatoes & onions.

In my mind, one can never plant enough basil.

My first round of planting, I had only one bean come up! When I took this photo, he was towering above the rest of the second-round seedlings. 

Red Russian Kale.

Baby leaf spinach. Our rains have been intense and heavy - I took this photo the day after a big shower. 

The monstrosity that is my cucumber, zucchini, and pepper bed. I wanted a lot of cucumbers this year. My refrigerator pickles are enjoyed by my friends, so I'd like to make extra jars this year to give away. Well...I was having one of those planting days, where I was trying to get all the seeds in the ground with stormclouds looming over me. I was rushing, so didn't mark where I was planting cucumbers, and I thought I had planted just two 8-foot rows, staggered so I can put up bamboo fencing. It turns out I planted 3 and a half 8-foot double rows! Oops. That means I have over sixty cucumber plants. I could have thinned them, but I figure, waste not, want not! But I don't know how I'll keep up with the harvest should they do well.

Little zucchini!

Peppers are the first plants to bear fruit this year!

 Also, I didn't remember planting cilantro. Somehow that snuck into the pepper/zucchini/eggplant bed. Hey, I'll take it!

My eggplants are flowering already!

And a peek into the Kruse method of gardening. We always use 5 gallon buckets with the bottoms cut off to shield our tomatoes, keep the roots cool and hydrated, and protect the young plants. My tomatoes are a little close this year, so I'm bamboo staking & tying them up with fabric scraps!

Soon they'll be peeking out!

I love to plant flowers, too. I love anything that blooms!

Happy Gardening, friends!