Finally I reveal the lake! I've been taunting and teasing you for months, I know. I feel like my last few posts have been nothing but complaints, and I absolutely have nothing to complain about! Hello, struggling human here trying to be better, bigger (but not in a physical way, please), complete-er, grateful, accomplished, healthy, wellthy ... it IS a struggle, for me, anyway. However, this summer I've come to realize a few things.
(BTW this is a long post BUT there'll be lots of nice pictures. Get your cup of coffee, or wine, or both ...)
One is that I just totally needed a break. This past decade I have moved from Maine to NY, lived in an apartment, bought a house, moved again, started a garden from scratch, worked in a library, worked with my husband, quit working the library, quit working with my husband, joined in the start up of a co-op, worked in the co-op, quit the co-op, joined a community garden, left the community garden, made more of my own garden, traveled to Florida six times, bought a house in Florida, moved the contents of a parents' condo to the house in Florida, installed floors, ripped out carpet, painted walls, painted more walls, bought raw land property, built a tiny 12x12 "fort," built a 12x12 shed, bought a kayak, learned to kayak, sold a boat, said goodbye to two wonderful dogs, said goodbye to an uncle and my in-laws, painted over a 100 paintings large and small, entered approximately 15-20 art shows, joined a plein air painting group, created the NNY Art Trail, built five websites, started a blog, became a master gardener, stayed a master gardener, started a gardening business, worked as a gardener, joined a gallery, joined a gardening club, became president of the gardening club, left the gallery, started my own gallery left the gardening club, left the gardening job and found myself back in my own garden in my own backyard totally ... burned ... out.
I've been beating myself up for not putting any effort into the gallery this summer but really, I just needed a break. Forgiven. I have learned to breathe again these past few months!
When we first moved into this house, a decade ago, there wasn't much landscaping: a barberry bush, a dogwood shrub, a few hostas and other random perennials. I had just come from the woods of Maine and I craved nature. Secondly, I have come to realize I am so a nature girl. My garden here, the Violet Fern Garden, is my manifestation of the nature I craved and needed. It is not a mistake. It is not a too big garden for one person to manage in a reasonable amount of time. It is a manifestation of nature and it lives! There are birds, bees, beetles, weeds, spiders, snails, slugs, dragonflies, weeds, vegetables, frogs, crickets, mice, flowers, weeds, berries, trees, weeds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, and recently a possum! It seems all the neighborhood cats come to hunt here, unfortunately, and a rant for another day. In my second blog post on October 9, 2009, I wrote this:
"Before moving here we lived in Maine where I left behind “a garden in the making” of three years and was just beginning to enjoy. We were blessed with lots of wildlife and scenic views. Oh, what I could have done with those two acres given more time! But, we made the choice to move to Northern NY to be closer to family and friends and a good choice it was. I now live in a village with a much smaller lot (as pictured in previous post) – oh, and a chain link fence – great, but consider it the best challenge – if I can create a garden here that attracts wildlife it will be quite an accomplishment!"
I can confidently say I have created a garden here that attracts wildlife. Mission accomplished. And so why the feeling of my loss of connection with my garden? I have come to realize that, too. The lake now feeds my craving for nature more fully than the Violet Fern Garden for it is nature — land, wild land where poison ivy and warblers and wild creatures roam. And although the Violet Fern Garden really is an incredible thing and still holds a prominent place in my heart, the lake has become my true love. My flame now burns there. The third thing I've come to realize is that the village is no place for a nature girl no matter how much work she puts into it. So let's get onto it and introduce the lake.
We (my husband and I), first started out just camping at the lake — yes, like in a tent. Then we built a platform 12x12 because that is the size limit before you need a permit to build, that would become our "permanent tent" or what we fondly refer to as the shack. (Oh, there's my dog Mojo now passed. It still hurts.)
We chose a relatively flat area to build the shack that happens to be in the middle of a Hemlock grove, a little ways away from the poured piers that came with the land and where we will eventually build a house with permits, of course. The plan is that the shack becomes our guest quarters once we have the house built. We are now trying to refer to our shack as our adult fort because, well, it's a little nicer than a shack.
The piers that will eventually hold up our modest but dream lake house. Perfectly set into the land for optimal solar power!
(Above) The beginning platform and frame work for the shack.
(Below) We just finished "siding" the shack, er, fort this summer. Next year we plan to screen in the little deck area.
Come on in. The inside is lavishly sided in white cedar. The floors are pine. I love the moth blanket I purchased from Society 6 — how I wish I could credit the artist, but no longer have my receipt. We are "testing" things with this small model. Solar will, hopefully, power a small refrigerator next year. Currently we have candles and led lights for lighting. We have a small on demand water heater for doing dishes and showering — both are located outside. The pump is run on battery. Propane is used for cooking and heating both the water and interior. We have a compost toilet from Nature's Head.
I was told by my master gardener instructor that a Hemlock with a trunk diameter of over 18 inches may be around 200 years old. I have yet to measure some of these Hemlocks but my guess is they are quite old. I plan to paint a large picture of these beauties, "My People."
Our fort sits atop a hill and overlooks what I call the "moss forest" and then the lake.
Last year we invested in having a dock built so it's easy to store and jump in our kayaks and go. When we first get to the lake we run down to the dock and put up our flag — let freedom ring.
And so this is to where my life is slowly transitioning. Here (below), is where I hope to have a small studio space — just up from the dock. We plan to side all our outbuildings just like our fort so there is some sense of cohesiveness. I envision holding artist retreats here someday, perhaps a workshop or two ...
Here is a peek at my new garden along our "driveway" complete with two ponds and vernal pools. I have been scattering seeds from the Violet Fern Garden: Rudbeckia Laciniata, Joe-Pye, Summer Nights Daisies, Purple Coneflower, Cup Plant. I have planted some starts of Lupine, Wild Bergamot and Milkweeds I grew from seed. I have transplanted Cranberry Viburnum and Trumpet Vine along the future paths from the house to the fort, from the fort to the dock. I hope to start Button Bush, Swamp Milkweeds, Cardinal Flowers along the shore. Add Dogwoods, Willows, Chokeberries, spring ephemerals, woodland plants. There is no edging, weeding, mulching here. I want it to very much remain wild and feed my nature crave. I want to very much let go of control.
I hope you have enjoyed this not-so-brief introduction. I now leave you with some views of the lake — enjoy!
This is an article I wrote for our Cornell NY Jefferson County Extension Horticulture Newsletter.
Merriam-Webster defines a garden as:
1. 1a: a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated
b: a rich well-cultivated region
c: a container (such as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants
... but maybe the definition of garden should be updated.
The new garden:
1. 1a: a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, vegetables and native flora and fauna are encouraged to grow in harmony, organically
b: a network of rich, life-sustaining regions
c: a container (such as a sustainable grow bag) planted with beneficial plants to humans and wildlife
Habitat loss is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or World Conservation Union) Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").
The new garden is perhaps a result of the increasing loss of habitat due to destruction (direct destruction of habitat), fragmentation (habitat fragmented by roads, development, damns and/or water diversions), or degradation (pollution, invasive species) as described by the National Wildlife Federation.
Our inherent way of thinking is that "nature is out there" in our wild, state and national parks, in the country, in the woods. This is not necessarily so as development increases and habits decrease. Nature is becoming more frequently forced to live right beside us. The new garden is important. It enables us to do something to help sustain life on our planet. Our new gardens offer a network of habitats that defragment habit loss.
Consider the Pollinator Pathway Project, a collaboration between Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy through YardMap.org, an online citizen science community whereby gardeners can map their gardens including information such as location, specific plantings, green practices, aiding in the study of backyard sustainable habitat. The site also offers tips and advice on creating habitat. A stop along this pathway created by our local master gardeners, can be seen in the front yard of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Watertown, NY. My own garden, in addition to my fellow master gardeners' gardens, is also registered on the pathway.
Consider national, not-for-profit environmental education and advocacy organization Wild Ones: Native Plants, Natural Landscapes, whose mission is to promote environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. Learn more at WildOnes.org.
"If you were to visit ecosystems all over the world and count the number of species in each, an unmistakable pattern would soon emerge from your efforts: ecosystems built from indigenous organisms would contain more species than ecosystems infused by non-native organisms." — Douglas Tallamy, The Living Landscape
While native plants play an important role in the new garden, it isn't wrong to mix them among your favorites or establish a planting that grows well together or rather "design a plant community" as author Thomas Rainer might put it.
"A designed plant community is a translation of a wild plant community into a cultural language. Why do plant communities need translating? ... The process of urbanization has entirely altered the environmental conditions. So a designed plant community may reflect these changes by incorporating a narrower selection of the most adaptive species." — Thomas Rainer, Planting in a Post-Wild World
What can you do to untame your garden and make it "new?"
1. Incorporate some native plants into your landscape. Native plants can be sourced online. PrairieMoonNursery.com and PrairieNursery.com are two great places to start. Amanda's Garden in Danville, NY outside of Rochester, and White Oak Nursery in Geneva, NY also offer mail order plants if you cannot make the drive.
2. Remove any invasive species from your landscape such as Barberry and Burning Bush. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden offers a guide, Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants as does Cornell, nysipm.cornell.edu.
3. Incorporate sustainable gardening practices: composting, leaving your leaves, water conservation, living mulches (groundcovers that replace mulch).
4. Learn to garden organically; do not use pesticides.
5. Design plant communities that are closely planted together. This reduces weeds and invasive plants taking hold, and also offers cover for wildlife. Imagine your yard as a series of islands for wildlife and connect those islands with safe "tunnels" of plants.
6. Plan for blooms spring through fall. Early spring daffodils will not feed newly emerging bees but the flowers of a native Serviceberry tree or shrub will. Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod feed pollinators in late summer and fall.
7. Plant host plants (plants that feed the caterpillars of certain species, i.e. Milkweeds for Monarchs, Dill or Parsley for Black Swallowtail Butterflies). Learn more about host plants: nativeplantherald.prairienursery.com.
8. Garden in layers: tree, shrub/vine, perennial/woody plants, ground cover. This will create an overall rich, biodiverse landscape.
9. Save clean up for Spring. Many living organisms overwinter in leaf cover and in the stems of plants. Want fireflies next summer? Leave your leaves and woody stems! Many of our native solitary bees use plant stem nurseries.
10. Observe and learn. Taking note of the bees, butterflies, and birds in your landscape can be a wonderful learning experience. Begin a nature journal or join any of the citizen science projects out there such as Project Feeder Watch, Nest Watch, or The Great Sunflower Project.
People make progress but do not reach perfection because imperfection is the nature of the beast. — Idiom
This morning it is straight to coffee, not my usual glass of lemon water, as I eye a tentacle of bindweed growing inside?! ... yes that beast is inside! ... our "Board Room" the name we have given our five-six-seven?-year-and-counting back porch renovation project. The coffee because I didn't sleep very well wondering just what it was, or is, scratching in the bedroom wall because it sounds much larger than a mouse. It is a dark and stormy morning and there are new leaks in the yet to be renovated roof. All the gutters are clogged and water is falling like Niagra from their rims. There is a tiny trickle running down the rain chain that is, when the gutter is not clogged which is perhaps 1% of the time, a wonderful sight to behold when it rains. And so it goes.
I had such high hopes for this summer. I was going to spend beautifully North temperate summer days toiling in the garden for which I would be rewarded for my hard work with flourishing blooms and tasty vegetables. I would open my gallery and occasionally receive the stray curious-cat-of-a-customer who might just buy a piece of art. I would enjoy the sighting of a new bird or butterfly visiting the garden because I would be present and immersed.
SFX: Lightning flash. Thunderous boom. Scratched vinyl.
It is not so. I am embarrassed by the state of the garden, in spite of my toiling, and afraid to hang my sign for fear of extremely disappointed customers. My neighbor has grown a field of sunflowers, literally, at least a 100 among straw and I should think any potential customer of mine might be confused as to which property is the art studio and garden and to just where the property lines even are since my neighbor has planted right up to the line. The sunflowers I attempted to plant? Eaten by ants that I've resorted to feeding sugar and boric acid on more than one occasion. I spend my days stressed in the garden swearing like the ancestral sailor I must be. The basil and cilantro seeds I've sown like a thousand times must be eaten by snails as evidenced by the holy chard and kale. Ironically, I remember the day I was so excited to find a, as in one, snail in the garden taking it for a promising sign of the wilderness I was trying to build at that point. Ha! The bindweed grows a foot a day. The rudbeckia and cup plant refuse to die. The perennial sunflower and Joe-pye are walking all over me. Susan is unabashedly flaunting herself, the whore! If bindweed isn't bad enough, there is bishops weed which has mysteriously appeared just about everywhere. And once that is hacked down, and the bindweed pulled, then there are grape vines to wrestle from the trees and saplings to mow down that I (fluently) swear grow overnight. Once all is clipped, I circle about and repeat. I could do this dance five times a day and ... well, such is the nature of the beast. Progress is very, very slow but alas everything is progress. Still, I'm afraid that instead of claiming creator of a beautiful wildlife garden, I've made a rather large jungle of a mistake as I eye the grackles swarming the bird feeder. Not the wildlife I had hoped for either. I secretly admit to myself (and you) — that it would be so much easier to hack it all down and grow grass that is simply mowed and become the very thing that I have admonished for so long!
There are some things that redeem themselves. The morning glory that has finally taken off is absolutely true to its name, glorious. The clematis that has finally wound its way through the Dogwood shrub is quite a looker. The last ditch effort to thwart the bishops weed with some native plants is working — Doll's Eye is rising above and is quite eye-popping or, er, will be. The trumpet vine is gorgeous in bloom. When Joe and Susan start flirting it will be so romantic. I love watching the trees grow even if they grow more slowly than the grape vines. Queen of the Prairie! — I don't need to introduce her. The winterberry shrubs, when revealed, have grown considerably. Miss Spikenard has risen from ashes and I promised her I wouldn't ignore her this year but I have so far because she is in the back nine and I haven't quite gotten past the bindweed barrens. Black Lace is growing unbelievably large this year due to all the rain I am assuming. The common Milkweed masses, still growing out front because that is where they want to be, were beautiful in bloom and smelled delicious even if I have yet to see a Monarch in the garden. The back patio in the Potager with the backdrop of Red Elderberry, is a peaceful place to sit and list all the things that need doing in my spinning head. The bursting red berries are now completely stripped, indicating the birds did enjoy them even if I didn't witness their dining experience. (Red elderberries are not edible for us.) So, there are a few rewards but mostly it has been all out war. Tomorrow, given a bit of sunshine and dryness, I will don my camo and weaponry and send myself into battle once again. I feel like I should pick up some kind of bugle to announce the attack.
These flowers will soon turn to white berries with deep purple "pupils" resembling dolls eyes, hence the name.
It is a battle for me, this jungle of a garden that I've burdened myself with. Admittedly, it has become a burden and less a source of joy with each weed I pull. Another battle of mine, this "entrepreneurialship." I struggle with the fact that I barely contribute to our income. Among friends I jokingly comment that "I work for free," only it really isn't a joking matter for me. It is a running commentary in my head on a daily basis. ... I need to get a "real" job. I need to contribute more. I will do all the cooking and cleaning since I "don't work." I need to produce. I need to be more disciplined. I need to improve. I need to change so many things perhaps including accepting myself. Am I really embarrassed of the garden or just afraid? I need to put that sign out there regardless. I need to make more of an effort to do business. My husband is a natural entrepreneur and it easily comes to him. He gives me advice that sounds so simple and I think, yes, but when I try to implement something, I fall apart. I know that I belong in a cube — again, the very thing that I've admonished for so long! — in a 9 to 5er, being told what to do and completely happy with my steady check, complaining about overtime with vacation time that is actually spent vacationing and an office/job to leave behind at the end of the day. It's safe, it's compartmentalized, it's scheduled and I imagine I would probably be happier day to day and feel more accomplished. But this lifestyle, this freedom to work in our own way on our own schedules is really what we strive for. It's creative. It pays in different ways. It's just that one of us isn't so successful at juggling it or the income level and well, such is the nature of the beast. I take blood pressure pills. I continue to gain weight.
So, as I sit here in the Board Room with the bindweed growing through the walls, I contemplate. Ticking off the new career paths I shan't begin because it will limit our freedom. Sighing with the already depleted energy of beginning yet again. Staving off dangerously depressed thoughts and attempting to remain positive. Spiraling, landing and eventually relaxing into a transitional state of mind whereby we sell the house-of-a-1000-projects in the 1000 Islands with our (my) 1000s of problems and mistakes, and retreat to the sanctity and simplicity of the lake where our next project is to build a studio/meditation/guitar room (the midas touch hubby is learning to play the blues and believe me he will probably become a rock star) close to the lake and dock with maintenance free materials. I look forward to more time expended painting watercolors, creating, cooking instead of weed pulling and house renovation. The mantra is keep your eye on the prize.
It is bitter sweet communing with the garden. I've already decided that I won't be adding any more plants — a little too late if I do say so. Ha! I am giving up on bringing it into any type of glory and simply managing it into something presentable. Presentable as in PUT OUT YOUR SIDEWALK SIGN and chin up! The art is there. Simply don't garden tour the back 9 (until you finally get to weeding it). Presentable as in HOUSE FOR SALE with private, well-landscaped back yard. It seems so sad to reduce the Violet Fern Garden to this. I have whispered to the Pin Oak to please shed acorns so that I may plant your sister at the lake. Do I dare try to dig up and transport the Tulip Tree? Sigh, it is too large and I don't dare dig, transport and plant at the lake for fear of also bringing bind or bishops weed along for the ride. Yet in this bitterness, this stubborn gardener is already making new plans. And believe me I have learned from my many mistakes. Vegetables, ornamental flowers and herbs will be grown on the wrap around deck of the yet-to-be-built lake house in containers close to the kitchen and far from deer. I reiterate, there will not be any "gardening" per say at the lake, only enhancing the landscape with native plants. No weeding, no mulching, no mowing. The house will NOT have any gutters. The rain chain? Well maybe from a tree limb because I love that thing. The heron sculpture and other "ornaments" will come along. The greenhouse stays with the house. The wine garden (bottle border) stays. I take comfort — this is not really good bye. A simple tray of water at the lake on a stump attracted four chickadees, two black-and-white warblers, two cedar waxwing and a bird I've yet to identify all within the span of 20 minutes. The Violet Fern Garden divides herself and roams about as freely as I do. The Violet Fern Garden moves in spirit and transplants, transitions to the lake, to Cedar Kottage, to a remote, more generous and frightfully dangerous place in which she can grow wildly out of control. This is truly exciting and worth living.
The place is wild and beautiful and also dangerous – that's the nature of the beast. — Idiom
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Author Kathy Sturr
In this blog I may write about the garden, flowers, plants, and the garden ... mostly the garden, but also new art and inspiration.