Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Bit of Earth

Lilacs, lilies of the valley, and bridal veil spirea.  The white flowers are my favorites.  Some, like the lilacs and lilies of the valley, were already here.  Others, like hydrangeas and white climbing roses, we are adding.

I have been longing to write a post about our gardens here at the new house, but as I told my friend Robin recently, I have found myself silent in the face of how much it means to me to have gardens again. It is the single most important change in our lives since we moved, and I've needed time to process just how significant this change is. People who don't garden, or those who occasionally putter in the petunias, will think we're crazy, but Mr. Magpie and I can (and do) easily and happily spend entire days doing nothing but digging, clearing, weeding, planting, hauling, and digging some more.  When we're not doing our jobs or spending time with family and friends, you can find us in the garden.  Beware if you come to our house: chances are we will hand you a shovel, rake, or hoe and tell you to get going.  This may seem rude or presumptuous, but we're not entirely lacking in social graces; we'll provide the sunscreen and the lemonade.  

I love discovering mushrooms in hidden spots in the garden.

I know my friends who garden understand completely, especially those who have been deprived for a few years (or more) of even a small "bit of earth" (as Mary calls it in The Secret Garden) in which to plant a packet of seeds and a paper bagful of bulbs.  Sure, if you are a gardener in your heart, you'll muddle through with a pot of thyme on the kitchen windowsill, a tomato or two on the balcony, an African violet on the coffee table, but as lovely as these are, they are all just a kind of making do until the day when you can once again dig into actual earth in all its wormy, loamy, dirty goodness.

And I love all the moments that make up gardening--the joy of the first radish tugged from the ground in spring (just had our first ones over the weekend) the glory of a perfect dahlia in August, the backbreaking work of preparing a brand-new bed for planting.  I even love the failures, for from them I learn.  And I learn from books, too, and videos, and websites.  I study them for hours, researching the best plants for our acidic clay soil, looking up endless methods of staking indeterminate tomatoes, and scouring seed catalogs for native plants that the bees and butterflies and birds will love.  I'll share a few favorite sources for knowledge and inspiration at the end of this post.

A favorite corner against a stone wall in of one of the new beds: astilbe, goutweed, and heuchera in front of a venerable weigela that was already here, and that we love for its arching shape in the border.

Mostly, though, I love watching the changes through the season.  So many of them are measured in millimeters and inches over the course of several weeks, while others are show-stopping surprises, like a rose bud suddenly opening overnight to reveal a shade of coral I'd never known existed in the whole wide world.  I wake up early with the cats in the morning, often before the sun has risen, and I sneak outside to watch the lawn turn silver in the first rays.  Yesterday that meant I got to see the carpet of viburnum blossoms that had fallen during a rainstorm overnight.  The front yard and steps were covered with lacy blooms, and truth be told, at 5 o'clock in the morning, I could have sworn they'd fallen just for me.  Of course that was just an early morning fancy.  In reality, I know they were making way for the red berries that will form and feed the birds, and thus the cycle will carry on with or without me, which is a fact that brings me an odd comfort.  I'm just a caretaker, a watcher, and a waiter.  I wait for the next seed to sprout, the next bud to form.  

Salad made with fixings from our garden and the farmers' market.

With each change in the garden, I am changed, too.  No ruler could measure it, but I sense it just as I do the nearly imperceptible shift in a row of lettuce from one day to the next . . . and then the next . . . until one day, before the dew has even dried, the leaves are ready.  

Sending you all warm thoughts today.  I know I have been away a great deal, and I've loved the emails from friends who've wondered where in the world I am.  I promise, I'm right here in my garden, and I have much more to share.

xo Gigi

P.S. Here are links to a few inspiring people and places (I have lots more that I'll mention in future posts):

Alys Fowler's Edible Garden (6-part series)


Seed Companies:



  1. So lovely, as always, Gigi! Claire and I are reading The Secret Garden; the first time for her, and probably the 10th for me, but it has been so long, it is like discovering it all over again. A joy. We are trying a new seed company ourselves this year, the name escapes me at the moment, but if we like the results, I'll fill you in. Love to you.

    1. Oh, Patti, that book was--and is--so important to me! I read it over and over again as a kid, and I taught it in Children's Lit classes for years at UMass Lowell. I think of it so often when I'm gardening. So excited to hear that you and Claire are reading it.

      Please do let me know about the seed company!

      Todd and I so want to get up your way this summer. If/when we do, I will contact you in advance in case we can meet up! xoxo

  2. perfect.
    sitting here sipping a tall glass of water ... dirt under my nails, sandals over wool socks, pants that don't quite reach the socks, an old discarded b.u.m. sweatshirt with my dad's holy (as in holes ; ) quilted jacket, hair in some windblown knot, muscles in tired but feel-good knots ... the last seed popped into the garden just minutes ago ... and i am 'happier than a duck in a muck hole' as my mom's cousin marjorie used to say, bless her dear soul.
    perfect beyond that i come straight in and see your post ...
    your 'speak straight to my heart' post. : )
    s i g h
    i am over the moon how happy you and todd are digging in your dirt and discovering all the wonders of the earth. when i come to visit some day, i would be oh, so delighted to be handed a trowel and help you both work in the garden ~ there is just no place i'd rather be : )
    i will be thinking of you at 5!

    1. Oh, pg, of course, of course you understand completely. And I can picture you in all your gardening glory, grinning from the joy of it. For me, the gardening uniform is usually something like beat-up sneakers, old jeans rolled up, whatever t-shirt was close to hand, and a baseball cap, if I remember to wear a hat, which I really, really always should.

      'happier than a duck in a muck hole' is a new one for me, and I love it.

      I'd be happy to hoe beside you any day, my sweet friend. That sounds a little naughty, but you know how I mean it!!!

      I'll be thinking of you at 5, too. xoxo

  3. Thank you - PG and Gigi- for describing for us, what you wear in the garden! Now I can picture the two of you and that makes me so happy~

    Of course I've been smiling since I started this post, images of you and Todd playing in the dirt for hours on end...thoughts of you digging quiet because you are kneeling on holy ground, Your gratitude for your garden is contagious. I find I'm thankful too...thankful that you are tending and growing things in your garden and in your heart sweet friend. And Hand me a shovel I'll plant right along side you (& PG) :)
    Sending so much love and please tell Todd that I'm so happy he likes to garden too :)

    1. You are the sweetest, Robin. Thank you. Gardening with you and pg--what a treat that would be!!! The garden is definitely sacred ground for me--as is the compost heap. I am endlessly fascinated by and in awe of the cycle of life.

      Todd will love that you said that. He has become an avid and passionate gardener, which fills me with more joy than I can say. xo

  4. That is a perfect place to be in the garden, sweet Gigi! I haven't had my hands in the dirt enough this year - I definitely need to get out there and get to work! Glad you and Todd are healthy and happily enjoying the outdoors! Much love to you! xxoo

  5. Loooooove the garden post and seeing just a bit of your earth. I do love our garden, but I am mostly the weed detail. My live in gardener makes the plans and does a lot of the work along with puttering. Now I love just about any garden link, so it looks like I will be busy for awhile with the links. The salad, oh my does it look wonderful. Happy Gardening!

  6. Such sweet pictures! I rreally wish we had a garden but we don't even have a balcony :(

  7. You make me long to toss aside our vacation plans to Oregon and head for Maine. I want to sit and sip lemonade with you in your garden as the sun begins to set. I know we'd talk and laugh till the chill drove us inside.

  8. What a wonderful post and beautiful images...


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