Tending My Own Garden

Tending My Own Garden

By 6:50 a.m. this morning, they were gone. My two students were off to the high school for another year. One was excited, and one was reluctant but glad it was the beginning of the end of high school for him.  He is ready for something more.

On the first of this month, I wrote about my wishes for this school year.  The post is filled with reflections, observations, hopes, and desires for the year that starts today.  The first week of September is always jam-packed for my family. Not only is school always scheduled to begin, we also have two birthdays to celebrate, back to back. One today and one tomorrow.  Luckily, we were able to do some celebrating over the weekend, so I feel good about taking care of that.

Now, it is my turn. I need to tend my own garden. I mean this metaphorically as well as literally. Over the last few weeks, I realized that I did not have to run over to school to weed the butterfly garden in an attempt to have it presentable for our students and their families on the first day of school.  I have not missed going, however much I will miss the students. It was a task that always made me resentful, for many reasons. This summer I relieved myself of this self-imposed duty for the first time in 13 years. It actually feels good!

Today, I can tend my own flower garden, not because I have to, but because I want to. Over the weekend I planted mums. Today, I will weed the front perennial bed. Later this week, I will have monarchs to release. And soon, there will be milkweed pods to collect.

Today, I will tend my mental garden. A new round of graduate classes start for me, one of which includes a research study which I am designing and need to prepare to implement by the holidays.  My time is freed up to attend to my own needs as a student, life-long learner, and community educator.

Today, there is much to be done. I have given myself time to do it. Today, while the house is quiet and my students are starting their own year, full of new classes, friends, and activities, I have time to tend my own garden. I am grateful for that.

Via TwoWritingTeachers Blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays

Why do I post about ……..

Why do I post about ……..

Due to our pre-holiday weekend away at our cabin, I missed posting my Silent Sunday Photos. Not only was I unable to post (no internet connection at our cabin), but I truly missed going through the myriad of photographs I have to choose a few to share.


Personally, I receive a lot of inspiration from nature.  Whether it is the colors in flowers or the miracle of metamorphosis, the nature experiences flow over into other aspects of my creative life. This includes writing curriculum, lessons for my third grade writer’s circle students, and making jewelry.  The photographs serve as a motivator and inspiration to create physical items or write words, as well as give rise to ideas. So, I asked myself, why do I post photography when this blog is supposed to be about student enrichment?

It is because students, just like all of us, have different sources for:

  • inspiration
  • motivation
  • creativity
  • perspective
  • exposure to new places

It is about enrichment! My photographs might jog a memory or a dream of a place or time for those viewing them and serve as a motivational source for others as well. My photographs might just be a source of enjoyment or pleasure in looking at a beautiful plant or incredible landscape.


We all need inspiration – why not share my sources? Enjoy!

Orchids, A New Obsession

Orchids, A New Obsession

As a semi-self taught horticulturist, I learned to stay away from orchids. It seemed everything I read warned that these plants were hard to grow, and the person attempting to grow them was doomed to failure. I took these warning seriously and went about my business growing other plants that interested me, but were “easier”.  Over the years, this meant cacti, succulents, carnivorous plants, milkweed, eggplant, and herbs. But, I grew bored.

Approximately, two years ago I purchased two orchids from our local Home Depot store. They were beautiful and affordable! One, I gave to the secretary at our school, who did a lot for me at the time. It was a combined holiday/thank you gift. The other, I kept for my- self. Both were blooming at the time. The blooms on my orchid faded and fell off, twelve months came and went with nothing but the stems getting longer. I did some reading and decided to cut the stems, as instructed, to force another bloom. This is described in a prior blog post.

Six months later, I was rewarded with thirteen flowers in the deepest shade of purple. My care of the orchid was not hard, it just took a little reading and a leap of faith. During the time the flower buds were developing, I bought two additional – smaller orchids at the Ikea store in Minneapolis. These were also blooming at the time. One has continued to bloom and the other faded to just have stems, much like the larger orchid. However, since these plants were much smaller, I left them alone until this week when I repotted them.

The smaller orchids were treated to a repotting with Orchid chips. Soil is not needed since Orchids are epiphytes, living naturally in the sub-tropical regions of our country and elsewhere in the tropics. Epiphytic plants do not need soil, but absorb their nutrients and needed water from the air! They grow on top of other things, like tree branches.

I must be feeling bold with my orchids since I am repotting them but, I am hooked on these fascinating plants. In fact, my mother’s day present was a yellow orchid and I treated myself this past week to a new white and purple orchid from Ikea.  I must be doing something right to be able to grow these plants that I thought were “hard” to have successful with nurturing. Before long, I might even have an orchid collection, not just an orchid obsession!  Happy Gardening!

New Orchids May-June17






Cheers to Summer

Cheers to Summer

Summer evenings are time to enjoy sitting in your yard, surrounded by beautiful flowers, enjoying a glass of wine from a local vineyard. Who wouldn’t enjoy this?


summer wine sippingWhat do you do to relax in the summer?

Waiting Patiently

Waiting Patiently

We have some large projects going on at our house right now. The siding is being replaced and a few of the gardens are being revamped, once the siding is finished on each section. My husband is handy, so the siding job is his.

side bed2017

My job, fitting for a nature lover and master gardener, is to spruce up the beds, once the scaffolding moves on to another part of our dwelling.  Last night, I was working on a long bed next to our garage. Among others, it holds my common milkweed plants. As I worked along on the border, replacing sand between bricks, I finally had to give in and look. The healthy green leaves are just waiting for a monarch visit. Were there any eggs, I wondered? Probably not, to have eggs, one must have butterflies. I have yet to see a Monarch this year.  So, I looked. I looked at the common milkweed. I looked at the swamp milkweed in another bed. And I looked at the rose milkweed, started by my garden club students from seed in 2015. Nada. Nothing, but healthy plants waiting to nourish a beautiful insect that depends solely on the verdant leaves to life.

Patiently, I’ll wait. For the alst 14 years I have raised monarchs, planted new and restored old habitats for this species that undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis and even more astounding migration. It is awe inspiring to be part of the process. It is that awe that I use to engage my students in learning about the environment, biodiversity, and human impact.


Hopefully, the monarchs will visit my gardens this year. The milkweed and I are ready for them. Patiently, I will wait. Expectantly, I will observe. Joyfully, I will welcome them once they arrive.

If you’d like to learn more about Monarchs and their plight, I would recommend these resources:

Monarch Life Cycle

Population Decline

How you can help

Milkweed Types

Creating Habitat for Monarchs

Creating School Gardens for Monarchs

My Story: Gardening with School Aged Students & Monarch Habitat Conservation

There are many, many other resources that I am aware of. If you need specific information, please let me know and I can provide it or direct you.  Thanks!

Plant Milkweed!



Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

Fruit Trees & The Weather: It seems to be all or none

For the last 18 years, we’ve had a home fruit orchard. I can’t call it a backyard orchard as it was at our first home in the mid-west, as our 30 trees are in our front yard at our current house. It’s been so long that we’ve had fruit-growing in our yard, I really almost cannot remember a time we didn’t.

Our orchard includes three varieties of plums: Kaga, Toga, and Italian Prune Plums. All are delicious, but I like the Kaga best. They are sweet, with a flowery scent, and so beautiful to look at. In 2015, we had a bountiful harvest, as you can see!

plums 2015

We have sour cherry trees, probably a half dozen of two or three varieties. Sweet cherries do not grow well in our climate, as we miss the milder winters that provide some protect for those varieties. We have Meteor and Montmorency and Kristen.  These are the names of the cherry varietals in our orchard. The Montmorency are great to make strudel and coffee cake. We haven’t quiet mastered a cherry pie, yet. They are always runny, so we tend not to waste using the cherries for those. Our harvest was great in 2015 and okay last year. Unfortunately, we missed harvesting most of the cherries due to a vacation and the birds got most of what we had in 2016.

Pears are another type of fruit we have growing in our home fruit orchard.  The varieties escape me, but they are delicious as well. Again, harvesting pears last year was slim. We only had a few. None to share.

Most of our trees are apples. We have many varieties – the beloved Honey Crisp, the versatile Cortland, a variety developed in Minnesota called Sweet Sixteen, another type called Honey Gold which is more of a yellow apple with a sweet taste, and a few Haralson’s which are particular to the mid-west. They are my favorite. We’ve had some over the years that got damaged by storms, Winesaps, Johnathans, and others that we’ve had to replace. But, in 2015 we overflowed with apples! We made over 40 gallons of cider! Do you know it takes a 5 gallon bucket of apples to make one gallon of cider? It does! This is probably part of the reason the stuff is so darned expensive when you have to buy it.

And buy it, we did in 2016. Our apple harvest was nil. The trees blossomed and then we got a cold snap. No insects, no apples. Not to mention no blossoms, no apples, and no fruit.  Again, this year, we had a warm snap, a few days to a week of 70 degree weather. The plum trees blossom, beautifully. Then, it turned cold. It has remained cold. The pears blossomed, and we are still cold. The cherries are just ready to blossom and today it will be in the 60’s. In fact, we are supposed to have a string of days in the 60’s. I hope so. I doubt we’ll have many plums or pears, but we still have a chance for cherries and apples.  Oh, and there is that one apricot tree we put in this spring – another fruit, another chance, another harvest of all or none.


Inspired by the Daily Prompt: none

Helping Bees, Helps Us

Helping Bees, Helps Us

Our garden club theme this year is on Pollinators, of which we have covered Bats, Hummingbirds, and Bees. They are all fascinating, but as I prepared for the bee unit, I learned many things I didn’t know.

There are solitary bees and social bees. The social bees are the ones everyone seems to talk about. You know, they are the bees that live in “hives”, like honey bees. They all have specific jobs and if the jobs aren’t done, the hive is put at risk for not surviving.  My students, composed of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, knew a little bit about social bees. They knew there was a “queen”, drones, and worker bees.  They knew, partially because of previous discussions, that we need bees to pollinate flowers so we have a variety of foods. One in every three bites of food is due to bee pollination! Wow! Essentially, without bees, our diet would not amount to much or be very colorful or interesting.

What both the students and I learned, however is that solitary bees, such as the Mason Bee or Orchard Bee, are better pollinators than honey bees! Up to 200x better! This was information I could use as we have a home fruit orchard featuring 30 trees in several varieties of fruit: apples, cherries, plums, pears, & blueberries.  With the exception of the blueberries, the fruit trees are all planted in one area on the north side of our yard. Some year’s we have had a robust harvest, once making 40 gallons of homemade cider and still having apples galore for other treats, as well as fresh-picked, out of hand eating. Plums that year were also bountifully produced and conducive to homemade baked goods, jams, dehydration, and of course, more eating and, lots of sharing with friends and neighbors.

Over the years, I’ve learned how mother nature works with the fruit trees. Last year, we harvested barely any fruit. But, we had a frost and freeze just after the bloom on the trees and lost most of the blossoms – hence, very little fruit. This has happened before, on occasion. Freezing and frosting, too much rain, or wide swings in temperature are things we can do little about in a small home fruit orchard.

But, we can try to do something about pollination! So, this year I was planning to order a Mason Bee House from Gardener’s Supply catalog. Just before I ordered, I saw some of these structures at our local branch of a large garden/hardware store. Orchard Bee houses were for sale for less than $13.00! We bought two, without hesitation.  Before hanging them in the garden, I took one to garden club to show my students.  They are still somewhat confused between social and solitary bees and I thought this might help. You can easily see it is not meant for a hive!


Over the weekend, my husband hung them in our orchard. It is not the ideal place for the houses, but it will have to do. Hopefully, providing a home for the solitary Mason Bees we hope to attract will help our fruit tree pollination this year. In any case, we are helping the bees. Maybe, they will help us back.