Can You Hear the Corn?

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My strongest memory of our garden is not how it smelled, or even looked, but how it sounded. It might strike you as fantastic, but you really can hear plants growing in the Midwest. At its peak, sweet corn grows a whole inch every single day and as the layers of husk shift slightly to accommodate this expansion, you can hear it as a low continuous rustle if you stand inside the rows of a cornfield on a perfectly still August day.

—Hope Jahren, from Lab Girl (Alfred A. Knopf 2016)

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A Seed Knows How to Wait

A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. … A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. … [When you go into a forest] you probably don’t look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting.

When the embryo within a seed starts to grow, it basically just stretches out of its doubled-over waiting posture, elongating into official ownership of the form that it assumed years ago. The hard coat that surrounds a peach pit, a sesame or mustard seed, or a walnut’s shell mostly exists to to prevent this expansion. In the laboratory we simply scratch the hard coat and add a little water and it’s enough to make almost any seed grow. I must have cracked thousands of seeds over the years, and yet the next day’s green never fails to amaze me. Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.

After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (nelumbo nucifera) and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell. And then one day this little plant’s yearning finally burst forth within a laboratory. I wonder where it is right now.

—Hope Jahren, from Lab Girl (Alfred A. Knopf 2016)

When we dug up the colorful-but-aggressive houttynia cordata, we planted it in this hanging pot—in beautiful black soil from our compost bin. As a result, we have a volunteer tomato plant and two … cantaloupe? cucumber? … plants keeping it company. Seeds that were waiting too. :)

When we dug up the colorful-but-aggressive houttynia cordata, we planted it in this hanging pot—in beautiful black soil from our compost bin. As a result, we have a volunteer tomato plant and two … cantaloupe? cucumber? … plants keeping it company. Seeds that were waiting too. 🙂

Now I Am in the Garden …

Now I am in the garden at the back, a very preserve of butterflies, as I remember it, with a high fence and a gate and paddock; where the fruit clusters on the trees, riper and richer than fruits have ever been since, in any other garden, and where my mother gathers some in a basket, while I stand by, bolting furtive gooseberries, and trying to look unmoved.

—Charles Dickens, in David Copperfield (pub. 1849)

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Fledgling Failsafe

The sound of birds screaming—yes, screaming—in the backyard means only one thing: There is a baby on the ground!

It is early morning and I am using the screen door for that hour or two we can enjoy fresh air before the heat takes over. I’ve lived in this house long enough to be familiar with the backyard sounds. There’s always lots of ambient bird noise (we have lots of bushes and trees), and I can tell the difference between normal and screaming. Something is up.

I immediately hustle out there and bring Laddie the cat—who does not have a nestling in his mouth, but was simply strolling through the yard doing his unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster—inside.

… an unintentional impression of a Big Black Monster: Laddie.

… an unintentional impression of a Large Black Monster: Laddie.

When Gerry and Suzy the dog get back from their walk, I caution them to keep an eye out and naturally Suzy finds the baby pretty quickly. “Suzy!” we shout, and run over.

The baby is on its back, wings spread, eyes closed, neck bent. Oh no. Such a beautiful little thing, gone. A precious life. I bend over to scoop it up; a last gentle touch is all I can give it.

And I would have, except just as I touch its little head, it opens one eye, squawks, leaps to its feet, and takes off running across the yard. Who knew baby robins had a play-dead failsafe instinct?

We bring Suzy inside, keep the cats in all day. The backyard is, at the moment, safe for baby birds. All is calm.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

Baby robin on our backyard bird table with Mrs. R.

 

Good Grief, It’s Cold!

And it’s freakin’ May!

Thank goodness the lilies-of-the-valley are hardy. They’ve had to be this spring!

Thank goodness the lilies-of-the-valley are hardy. They’ve had to be this spring!

This spring we are getting a good look at little cold snaps that the old-timers (and gardeners) label “winter” … like:

Redbud winter
Dogwood winter
Blackberry winter
Locust winter

But wait! Here in Tennessee we’ve been through all four of those and are having yet a fifth. A friend of mine—a farmer’s wife—tells me this rare fifth spring winter is called—wait for it—

Cotton britches winter

Isn’t that fabulous? I’d never heard that phrase but a little bit of googling indicates that it is, in fact, a thing. The Tennessean tells us, “The cotton britches winter is … an old-fashioned term for the removal of the long underwear and the time for cotton pants.”

Now, if we have another cold snap after this one, it, too, has a name: Whippoorwill winter (late May, early June).

We shall see. Summer doesn’t officially arrive until June 20. 🙂

 

Spring Is Bustin’ Out All Over (Finally!)

Actually, it’s still a bit chilly here in Middle Tennessee, but the things that are supposed to be blooming are, in fact, up and at ’em—

I love my iris bed. Thanks, previous homeowner!

I love my iris bed. Thanks, previous homeowner!

Early morning sunlight on the dogwood in early April.

Hosta, Solomon’s seal, and lily-of-the-valley. Hard to believe this little forest of Solomon’s seal started from one plant in one two-inch pot about five years ago.

Hosta, Solomon’s seal, and lily-of-the-valley. Hard to believe this little forest of Solomon’s seal started from one plant in one two-inch pot about five years ago.

Foam flower peeking through a low branch of the Japanese maple.

Foam flower peeking through a low branch of the Japanese maple.

One day it was nothing to look at, the next, this. Crazy!

One day it was nothing to look at, the next, this. Crazy!

Three different kinds of coral bells.

Three different kinds of coral bells.

—and I have put together the first “found bouquet” (sometimes I call it a scavenged bouquet) of the season.

I love fresh flowers, but the budget doesn’t allow for store-bought. So I make do with what I can find in the yard. Between the herbs and the perennials, there’s always some greenery and color to fill a vase every few days from April to October. Have a look at my first scavenger hunt.

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First scavenged bouquet of 2015! Peppermint, marjoram, leaves from hosta and coral bells, Solomon’s seal, lilies-of-the-valley, foam flower, and iris. Presented in a beautiful Depression glass pitcher, one of my favorite pieces of glassware.