Holidays Happen When They Happen
After a week of snowy gardens and icy roads, the rain comes as a very welcome relief. After stir crazy days of not being able to safely take a step outside without slipping, just walking peacefully in the gentle drizzle feels like a lovely luxury. Though various weather events once again prevented our family Solstice and Christmas celebrations, everything remains ready for the time when we actually do get together as a family. For now, there’s lots of gleaning to do, especially of firewood; broken branches are everywhere, even here in town. My tucked-away little neighborhood is littered with blow down from the recent wind storms, which also scattered fir cones by the thousands. The roof is not far away in a vintage mobile home, and the fir cone barrage just a few feet above our heads woke us up with a start each time the wild winds roared through.
As the ice melts off, the birds are thrilled to be able to find seeds and bugs again, tossing leaves and shreds of former flowers about as they hunt for tidbits. As I pulled out spent kale and broccoli plants, robins fluttered down to find sleepy worms left exposed by my uprooting. Usually I leave the greens a lot longer, but this year, the wild swings of temperature, drought and moisture left plants unusually vulnerable to pests. As I tugged up the tilting plants, whiteflies scattered like tiny snowflakes from the tattered foliage, which was already studded with eggs. Little flocks of chickadees were on it in a flash, hopping cheerfully about and gobbling down the pesky whiteflies with relish. To give the garden plot a rest, I’ll plant more herbs to make a pollinator patch that won’t offer whitefly or cabbage moths any support. Lavender and bee balm, chives and dill, cilantro and rosemary, catnip and catmint, thyme and basil are all beneficial for lots of pollinators and repellant to whitefly, besides being beautiful, fragrant and useful.
I’m also making room to develop a patch of sweetgrass, which is or used to be native here, among many other places. I’m seeking starts to make a little colony which I’ll be able to share as the clumps spread. Native gatherers pull tufts from the outside of thriving clumps, a practice which has been shown to stimulate new growth in sweetgrass. That’s not too surprising, as it’s also a good way to get many types of clumping grasses and various ground cover plants to proliferate; tug off bits of New Zealand Brass Buttons or Creeping Jenny, etc. and replant them elsewhere, and the original plant will soon thicken up and spread once again, even as the new plantings do the same thing.
Once my sweetgrass patch settles in, I’ll be able to share starts with basketmakers from my Suquamish Tribal neighbors, who can put the silky strands to good use. That plot’s still in the dream stage but I’m enjoying clearing the way for a healing and useful crop by removing the weary and refreshing the soil with compost. I’m leaving mats of various oreganos in place, removing the excess bits that are tumbling into the pathway and planting them into street-side beds that are available to passersby as well as bees and bugs. The catmint can be divided too, again pulling off outside bits and resetting them a good three feet apart. Pulling up sodden lily stems, I found a generous handful of plump bulblets which were also tucked into new homes. Clumps of chives are also easily multiplied and dotted about where the blossoms will be appreciated by pollinators and people. I also planted some of the plumpest cloves from this year’s garlic harvest, as the bigger the clove, the larger the heads tend to be, and planting garlic around the Solstice is a long standing tradition in many places.
Tussie Mussie Making
For decades, I’ve searched my gardens at year’s end, hunting for surviving blossoms and buds. The recent ice and sleet reduced the number of candidates but as always, a few brave buds may be found in sheltered spots. When the supply is bountiful, it’s fun to make little tussie mussie bundles to share with neighbors and friends. When only a few oddments are available, as they are this year, I eke them out with colorful Liquidambar leaves which I find in profusion under melting snow piles. Dusky purple hydrangea leaves also make good backdrops, as do hardy geraniums gleaned from a nearby sheltered porch. A tiny rosebud, a last blossom of River Lily (Schizostylis), a lone calendula, a sprig of feverfew, all gain importance when nestled into a frill of kale or a velvety red maple leaf. I tie my little bundles with coppery strands of Pheasant Tail grass and leave them on porches, as they last much longer in the cool moist air outside.
This quiet pause as one year trickles away and a new one approaches has always been a favorite time of year for me, and not because of the holidays, really. Yes, the skies are low and grey, the days brief and dim, the nights long and dark, yet now the darkest hour is past. Each day is already a little longer, just a few seconds more at first, then minutes, stretching steadily into hours of warmth and daylight that contrast beautifully with this chilly grey stillness, woolly with clouds and fog. This contrast and many others are great fuel for gratitude, or so I find, more and more with each passing year. Onward, right?