Appreciating Spring

ground ivy swathI love the smell of the air in spring. It is so sweet, I just drink it in. It’s like honey, only lighter. I have figured out why the air smells better in spring than at any other time of the year. Every tree and bush that possibly can is blooming, some very inconspicuously and others with showy gusto. Maples have tiny flowers, and oaks have long catkins. There are ornamental cherries and apple trees, and lilacs and lots of bushes and trees whose names I don’t know. All of them are throwing their sweet scents into the air. Anywhere you walk, it smells good, and then every so often you pass a particular shrub, a certain tree, and for a minute the perfume intoxicates you.

The colors are amazing. I’m not even talking about the colors of the flowers, simply the colors of all the leaves and foliage that come back in spring, or that have been around all winter and get highlighted by newly juxtaposed leaves.

The colors of spring are not simply an undifferentiated new-leaf green, they are a subtle, wide-ranging palette of greens and browns and reds. Different shadings of yellow-green, green-yellow, mixed in with greeny-browns and true browns. Deep greens of rhododendrons and evergreens and firs, the latter two with light lime-green tips. Japanese maples, of course, start with red leaves immediately, but other trees and plants start in the red range. The leaves of pink dogwood are deep greeny-pink when they first emerge. Rose bushes have new leaves tinged with red around the edges. Peonies send up their red shoots that later turn green. Other plants start right away with dark green leaves, like the violets that begin with deep green shoots. Day lilies start sending up leaves early, though they don’t bloom until summer. The leaves are a medium green yellow, just a little lighter than iris leaves, which start emerging shortly after the daylilies do.

What also pleases me to see in the spring is the way trees and plants get clothed in their foliage. Driving along the highway this spring has given me a particularly good opportunity to observe this. Trees and bushes don’t come to life fully and thickly leaved. It’s a gradual process, which makes the landscape look like a sponge painting for a few weeks. It appears as if someone has taken sponges of different textures and densities and daubed on the foliage. Some of it is very airy and lacy, while other textures are thicker, richer, more opaque. This, with the wide-ranging palette of shades, makes me feel like I am moving through a living painting.


This is how I came to gardening – I wanted to put down roots.

Eight years ago, after I’d been in Salem for some months, and in my current apartment since Christmas, I decided I wanted to plant something in my yard as a way of physically symbolizing that I was putting down roots.

Coming to the North Shore of Boston was the first time that I had moved somewhere simply because I wanted to be there, not for a job or a man. This is not quite true; when I moved to New Haven just before my seventeenth birthday, it was because I chose to, but even then it was to go to school (an alternative high school) and my transition was made easier, possible at all actually, because I had friends down there that I knew from the Yale Summer School of Music and Art.

When I decided to move up here (to the North Shore of Boston), I decided that I was through with constantly moving, and I was going to stay put, I was going to put down roots.

The first place my daughter and I lived up here was two rooms rented from one of the Salem witches. I knew it was temporary, a place from which to find a permanent home, still, it took the prodding of a crisis worker to get me home-hunting when I was given notice to leave so that the witch’s boyfriend could move back in.

I believed that if I treated the two room temporary home as a permanent place, then the energy I put out into the Universe would result in a permanent home.

My youngest brother had been staying with me and my daughter for a couple months, and we finally decided (at the encouragement of the crisis worker) to find a place together.

I very quickly found the apartment we moved into that I’ve had for eight years. It had everything I had decided I wanted. We were still in the same neighborhood. My daughter could go to the same school she’d already been attending. We were right near the first friends I had made up here, including the girl who babysat for Heather. There were enough rooms so we could each have our own bedroom. The landlord had no problems with my being on welfare. And there was a backyard, though I didn’t know at the time how I would come to feel about it.

Where that apartment was located in a way saved my life in the next few years, because when I was deeply depressed and barely able to function, I was, literally, right next door to the grocery store, the drugstore, and the bank.

Later, I found I was on a bus route to Lynn and Boston. I could walk to therapy, and somehow get myself home after a difficult session. There were sub shops and pizza places within a couple blocks, when I couldn’t find the energy to cook. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not been where I was. When we got that apartment we’d moved, by my count, 11 times in Heather’s 10 years of living, more in her way of reckoning it. I wanted to finally stay in one place where I planned to stay, not just find myself in the same place after 10 years by default, as I had in New Haven (which I had to come to love a lot).

One way to prove that I was putting down roots was by planting something. A perennial that would be there year after year, not an annual that died after one summer – that connoted impermanence to me.

I had met a friend, in my first semester at North Shore Community College, who loved gardening and really liked bulbs. She gave me a catalog for Dutch bulbs and I ordered a mixture of daffodils and narcissi. I also planted miniature crocuses.

The second year I ordered from that company I got my peony. I also got my daughter a royal crown imperial, a rather amazing plant that rises out of the ground suddenly in the spring and puts forth a crown of skunk-scented bell-shaped orange flowers, then dies back and totally disappears until next year, when I have again forgotten about it.

I asked my landlord if I could put in a rosebush. I got an inexpensive one at Heartland, but it didn’t take–it lived one year and died by the second summer. I was disappointed, but I felt I’d started to accomplish my purpose. I never did get around to finding another rosebush to put in.

Anyway, there was the rosebush that already lived there, and under which I planted the red tulip bulbs I’d gotten free with one of my bulb orders. And gradually I collected the plants I’ve got now.

So I put down roots. And I did good. I put my roots down deep and sucked up nourishment I’d never had before. Drank deep so that my parched being could begin to unwrinkle itself, unfurl its leaves and fill itself with light.

In turn I nurtured my daughter. I once read that baby plants do better if the parent plant is still alive, even if the two plants are separated by miles. I think my daughter has been like a baby plant, more alive because her parent is alive.

And now I’m pulling up my roots, transplanting them to new soil, a new piece of earth in which to let them take hold.

Moving from the North Shore to the South Shore of Boston. I wonder what will take hold and what will wilt, how my new garden and new life will bloom.

Spring 1994

Plant Allies: Garden Sage

Many people find that they are strongly attracted to certain plants. These plants feel like friends to them and often these are the plants they’ll turn to (or can turn to) when they have a need to be filled. These are plant allies.

One of my favorite plant allies is garden sage (Salvia officinalis). It is strong and hardy, and nothing seems to faze it.
SageIts leaves are grey-green which I find soothing and deeply satisfying. Some of the leaves look leathery and are textured like the surface of your tongue. The leaves and leaf-stem are faintly velvety when new.

Sage has a pungent scent when fresh, and also when the dry leaves are burned for purifying rituals.

I’ve observed how it grows–even branches that seem to be dead will put out leaves and continue to live.

If a stem is left touching the ground it will eventually take root. Cut off the end of a leafy twig or branch, and it will soon grow more.

A sage twig came off of one of the plants I was transplanting, and I stuck it in some soil.
A few weeks later, its green leaves telling me it was still alive, I dug it up with its fledgling roots to put in the garden.

With leaves from one of my sage plants I made a wreath: wired bunches of fresh sage onto a grapevine base and left it lying flat so that the leaves wouldn’t all droop towards the floor. The leaves dried into wonderful forms, twisting and turning and becoming a deeper shade of sage greeny-grey. It is exquisite, and stands alone as an art object.

One of the reasons that I like sage so much is that it is used for purification and protection. I feel, when I have sage in the house, that simply by its presence there it is providing spiritual protection.

My sage wreath especially seems to be blessing my house by being in it.

Sage is also an ingredient in the dream pillows I make that are intended for lucid dreaming and trance-work. And it is one of my spirit allies.

February 2004


Flower Salad

I love using flowers and herbs in salads and cooking.

They give me an involvement with the dish I’m making that is different – more intimate, more interesting, more exciting.

Making salads in the summer involves a little routine.Nasturtium
I take the flat basket I use for gathering herbs and go into the backyard.
In late spring there are chive blossoms, violet flowers, dandelion flowers. In summer there are nasturtium blossoms and leaves, lemon gem and tangerine gem marigold flowers, chives, wood sorrel, violet leaves, and purslane. Chickweed grows where it’s shady and cool and is unobtrusive in salads.

And there are more weeds to eat, flourishing where I let them grow in my garden.
A few years ago I discovered the tasty pleasure of adding a few leaves of herbs like lemon balm, bee balm, thyme, and basil. And oh yes! the johnny jumpups! They don’t have a lot of taste, but the flowers sure are pretty in with the other colors in the salad.

I’m not always a big fan of salads, but adding in these flowers and herbs makes the salad more appealing and flavorful, so I eat it much more readily.


Learning From Plants

I’ve learned a lot from plants over the years.

I’ve learned really basic, simple stuff, that you’d think would be obvious, like that plants need to fed and watered. Who knew? That plants in our care need us to do these things for them?

patio garden 1

Some of my plant friends

As I’ve worked with plants and gotten to know them as complex beings, I’ve started thinking about the similarities between us humans and plants, and what plants teach us about ourselves and what it is to be human. Sometimes when I think of myself or other people, I think in terms of an analogy to plants.

For instance, one book I read talked about how some people are like spring flowers, early bloomers who give their gifts to the world at an early age. I think of Jimmy Hendrix and other musical prodigies, and the tennis-playing Williams sisters.

There are people who are remarkable and able to make contributions during their young adulthood and middle age, maybe petering out by the time they become senior citizens. Then there are people who don’t come into their own and discover what gifts they have or start sharing them until they’re in their fifties, sixties, even their seventies or eighties. These are the late bloomers, the plants that don’t bloom until the end of the summer or fall, or sometimes even early winter. The folk painter Grandma Moses is an example – she didn’t start painting until she was in her seventies!

When I get discouraged about how long it’s taken me to get to where I want o be in this life, I find it comforting to think about late bloomers and how important it is for there to be flowers that bloom at different times of the year, and equally, how important it is for there to be people whose gifts ripen into maturity at different ages.

When we look at plants and what it takes for each of them to bloom, we realize that what we see is only little bit of what the plant is and what it goes through to give us that blossom. How long has the plant been preparing for its blooming? How much growth has it had to achieve, how many nutrients stored and used, how many changes has it had to endure? All of these take time. For some plants they happen in a very short period of time, other plants take longer, and some plants take an extraordinary amount of time. There is an agave (a relative of yucca plants) that is blooming in Boston, for the first time in its life, I think about 60 years.

I feel I am finally starting to bloom, at age 52. It feels good!

September 2006

Flower Friends

Flowers and plants have always been part of my life.

When I was a young girl, living in South America, I would make garlands of flowers to wear in my hair.

When I was a bit older, I would take the local kids and introduce them to plants in the neighborhood gardens.

Iris WeaverIn my late teens, when depression became a frequent visitor in my life, flowers and plants became real sanity-savers for me.
I was living in New Haven and didn’t have a car, so I walked everywhere.

I would walk with my head down, which meant that I got a good view of the ground. I found myself one spring noticing the first crocuses, and then the daffodils and tulips and other flowers coming along. Across the street from the house where I rented a room was a magnolia tree that blossomed gloriously. I got such pleasure looking at it through the window while I sat working.

Seeing the first flowers and plants coming up gave me joy and somehow lifted me out of my pain for a while. I don’t know what spiritual chemistry plants have to do this, but I have experienced it ever since.

Some years later I was living in Salem and again dealing with deep depression. As spring came on (I was now in school and again without a car), I found where on my everyday routes the crocuses and daffodils were, later the violets and then the roses.
That’s when I realized that I’d been looking for the flowers every spring wherever I lived.

As I got to know a great many more wildflowers and wild plants (commonly known as “weeds”), as well as their cultivated relatives, I would watch for the appearance of all these friends as well.

Now I watch for their arrival in summer and fall as well, and watch the plants that keep some greenery throughout the winter.

I have found a few flowers that bloom in late winter or early spring and I especially adore their color when all else is still so bare.

This spring look down at the ground and around you to see what flowers are coming up. Watching the process of plants grow and change is a wondrous experience. Bring some fresh flowers into your home, either cut flowers or blooming plants. If those are beyond your financial means, learn to identify wild flowers which are free for the picking and just as beautiful in a vase as cultivated flowers. As a matter of fact, many of our weeds are actually plants that once were grown in gardens and escaped to become common roadside sights.

Plants have given me companionship and joy and helped me through dark times. I hope you find your own form of that connection.

February 2003

Before Weeds


Before I ever think of plants as weeds, I think of them as friends, companions. When I go into my backyard or out walking, I greet different plants that are my friends. So many plants that grow wild, or should I say “naturally” (i.e. not cultivated), that many people consider to be just weeds, I see as helpers, friends, allies. I use the term “weed” only because it’s convenient, but I think to call a plant a weed, meaning it’s worthless or useless, is an insult, inaccurate and untrue.

garden bouquet 5-25-13

Bouquet–Geum, Kale, Comfrey

When I see a plant, I always have to identify it to myself, which can get to be annoying when I’m walking and passing one plant after another. It’s sort of like a Firesign Theater sketch where the character is driving on the freeway and speaking, but behind him you hear a constant verbal litany of the signs that he’s passing on the road.

This mental plant identification is a constant, sometimes distracting, undercurrent. I do think of an occasional plant as a weed, when it is where I don’t want it or has no use that I can think of. (My boyfriend Al says to me: “What about poison ivy? Do you think it’s a weed?” And I ask myself, do I consider poison ivy a weed? What use does it have? I seem to remember something about birds eating the berries, but I’m not sure.)

Some plants I get annoyed at for being aggressive or invasive or (I’ll admit it) ugly, and I may refer to them as weeds. But even then, I don’t believe that those plants are of no use. Some of my plants I grow in the yard and some in pots on my porch. Certainly some of my favorites are the ones I’ve chosen to cultivate, even digging them up from where they grow wild. Others I’ve gotten to know grow where they grow wild and a few have come into my yard on their own to be with me. They surround my house and my life.

I get help from plants and use them for many things.
Beauty for my yard and my home, healing work, protection, flavoring food, eating them, making things with dried plants, dyeing fabrics and yarns. They are an integral part of my world.

Spring 1994

Beauty is in the Eyes (and Heart) of the Beholder

I’ve been doing a lot of gardening this summer, and a lot of standing around and admiring plants.

I get such pleasure from seeing plants and their flowers. So many of the plants I see are my friends that I am always greeting any number of them by name: “Hello, Clover. I’m so glad to see you! I’m so glad you’re in my garden! Hello, Lavender. You look gorgeous today with your purple buds, and you smell so delicious!”

One of the most wonderful things plants can do for us (and it doesn’t cost a cent!) is to offer the healing of their presence. Their beauty, forms, colors, scents, their feel, all can give us delight and sooth our spirits not only at a surface, physical level, but also at a deeper, heart level.

When I was in my late teens and living alone, I was very depressed (though I didn’t realize it at the time). Many times of the year were bad, but one of the worst was the end of the winter, because of the darkness and the cold, rather bleak landscape. I discovered that walking down my street and watching the crocuses and then the daffodils and tulips bloom soothed a hurt inside and would lift my spirits at least a little.

I walked everywhere, and over several years got to know many little nooks and crannies, as well as large swaths of lawn, where the spring flowers bloomed.
I made a point of looking for them, and would be cheered by them. It became my spring habit to look for the first blooming plants wherever I lived.

Each street around my home, in whatever city I was living, would have its little areas that I would map out and check on to see what was blooming when, and to linger over my favorite spots.

Why did simply seeing flowers bloom cheer me so? Why did they help to lift the pain in my heart? I’ve never quite been able to figure that out.

I have thought of the colors and the effects they have on the human brain and psyche.
There are theories of what colors represent and I’m sure studies have been made of how people’s brains react to different colors. I know that at different times I crave certain colors in my life, and they can make me intensely happy.

Another really important aspect of flowers is their spirit.

I believe, as do many indigenous and spiritually connected people, that plants have spirits of their own. They are beings with awareness and connectedness to a universal all.
The spirit of a plant can touch our own and have a profound effect.

Plants, at a basic level, are energy. Each plant has its own unique energy, as do we. That energy can touch us and interact with our energies to change our moods and our perceptions.

I believe much healing happens when we are simply around plants, whether we have a geranium on a windowsill, a few potted plants on the patio, or a whole garden. The spirit and energies of plants, as well as their colors and scents, can affect us deeply, even without our conscious awareness.

So take a walk around your neighborhood or around a public garden, come home with a few flowers to put in a vase and cheer up yourself and your home.

Learning How Plants Heal Me

When I’ve been most depressed in my life, I’ve turned to flowers. They could reach inside my darkened spirit and touch my heart. They lifted me up just a little, enough to help me carry on.

I’ve always been connected with plants.  My earliest memories include plants: smelling gardenias (we lived in South America), eating mangoes and tangerines right off the tree, watching a miniature-cucumber vine twining up the side of my house. I adored the way tomato plants smelled. By the time I was five, my mom had taught me the European tradition of making flower garlands to wear in my hair.

All of this was really good, and important, because in the midst of what might have seemed a semitropical paradise there was very nasty abuse going on. I lived in a community that was ostensibly Christian, but their version of Christianity was authoritarian and punitive, and hid a deeper, very damaging cult within it.

Growing up as a young child in this environment was hellish. The plants that grew all around me were a saving grace. They were safe, hospitable, beautiful, and undemanding. They couldn’t hurt me (even if they had thorns) the way humans could. Their energies and their spirits were a haven for my soul and spirit.

I wasn’t consciously aware of this, of course. I just gravitated toward plants, any and all, and spent time with them. I loved walking in woods and fields, down city streets, greeting the plants and looking at gardens. I always knew the names of some plants, and in my teens I started teaching myself about them, getting to know them better.

In my teens I became aware of the power of flowers to reach inside me and change something fundamental. I didn’t even know I was depressed, I just could barely function and get about. When I walked down the street from my house I would look at all the flowers popping up in the spring; I knew where all the crocuses were, the daffodils, the tulips and forsythia, the budding magnolias. I cannot give you an explanation, but seeing them was vital to my continuing to struggle on.

In my thirties, in another city, I again would note where all my plant friends grew, following the succession of plants, flowers, seeds from spring to fall. They were dear to my heart.

When I moved to that city 26 years ago, I wanted to put down roots, both figuratively and literally. I planted a rosebush in the yard next to my building. It didn’t make it, but my gardening chops did. Well, they developed, let’s say, with a lot of coaching from the plants!

Along the way I learned how to do all sorts of wonderful things with plants. How to get colors for my yarn and fabric, how to make medicines, what wild plants are good eating, how to decorate my house with wreaths and bouquets made from my favorite plants. And I learned to listen to what the plants have to tell me, by their colors and form, by their whispers in the wind, by the energy they share with all of us. I learned how to let them bring their healing into my heart and body and life.

The ways that connecting with plants have helped me are myriad. Sometimes it’s been just lifting my spirits by seeing a plant friend. Sometimes it is the taking myself out of myself while working with the plants—preparing a dye bath, making a tincture or oil or vinegar, putting plants to dry for later use, making up a tea blend in the morning.

Other times it is the involvement with the plant world and nature. Walking in the fields or woods or down the street, greeting my plant friends, collecting flowers, leaves, roots, for medicine or dye or wreaths or my dinner-plate.

Digging in the earth in a garden is life-changing. It puts you in touch with the earth and earth energy, and brings you into your body.

When I first began gardening professionally, which meant a lot of time with my hands in the dirt!, I was terribly uncomfortable in my body while gardening. I hadn’t spent much time connecting with my body in my 40-plus years of living, and the connection with earth brought me into my body. It took time for me to get comfortable being more in my body and aware of it. I’m glad I allowed myself to do that, because I am much more comfortable in my body now, and I really love having my hands in the dirt and feeling that very visceral connection with Nature.

I feel like plants helped save my life. They certainly helped rescue and maintain my sanity. I am deeply grateful for the gifts of the plants in my life. I hope that you may find a way to bring their healing presence into your life.

Plant Friends–Banana

banana tree in an atrium

A banana tree

Yesterday I was so excited because I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 50 years! Well, about 48 to be more precise. Maybe I’ve run into him at a greenhouse or two without really noticing, maybe even this greenhouse, but this time I really saw him. A banana tree.

The last time I remember seeing banana trees was in Paraguay when we lived down there in the 1950s. I remember the banana trees–they looked sort of like palm trees and had bananas growing on them.

Hand of Bananas

A “hand” of bananas


What was so interesting about the way the bananas grew was that many bunches grew together in what is called a “hand”, and all the bananas pointed upward! I’ve always loved that about bananas.

The encounter was sweet not so much because it brought back memories of childhood, but because it brought back memories of having seen this particular plant friend many times.

Love knows no bounds of time.