I am an utmost beginner. I walk around the new property – overgrown with years of neglect – and seek out the plants. They’re all in half stages of growth: much past their humble April beginnings and not nearly in their full on July-August glory yet. I walk around, plant to plant, wishing I could know them – not just to identify them, but to really know them – as Rosemary Gladstar does, Helen Ward, Susun Weed, Lora Kroll… just some of my teachers. I want to touch a plant and know it’s inherent qualities instead of ripping up these “weeds” blindly – unknown to the medicines and properties they contain – and then replacing them with herbs bought with my hard-earned cash; when I could be using these plants dubbed weeds all along. Making teas and tinctures, healing my ails – visible and invisible; helping my friends and family. This is how I’m feeling toward the “weeds”.
The only way to know is to learn and experience. Come along with me and learn too. Begin at the beginning. I will share what I learn as I learn it.
When the months of March and April roll around, nearly everyone in New England (even a winter lover like me) is ready for some warm weather. It’s true we do get the occasional 70 degree day in springtime, but mostly it’s just in-between-limbo weather: not too warm to enjoy being outside and not cold enough to be snug in by a fire. This March was particularly cold. On one really raw and rainy day, almost freezing, my husband and I decided we needed some air that felt tropical, so we headed down to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA. We are enormous fans of butterfly conservatories. Just sitting in the warm air watching the butterflies flit by is so calming. For our 3rd anniversary last year we chose to take a day trip to another butterfly conservatory in Massachusetts: Magic Wings in Deerfield. Both conservatories offer tropical plants, warm air, exotic birds, little quails running around (the quail are the “clean-up crew”), soothing background music, small ponds with fish, and of course, butterflies of all kinds. The photos in this post were taken from the two separate visits to the two separate locations.
Overall, we enjoyed Magic Wings a lot more than The Butterfly Place, although, being in Deerfield, it is a much further trek from where we live. Magic Wings is much bigger then The Butterfly Place in Westford, and offers more secluded sitting spaces. It also has a wider variety of flowers; it is literally a large indoor tropical botanic garden. While both places have a pond, the pond at Magic Wings is larger and has a bridge over it, where one can perch and watch the huge, multi-colored koi fish swim. I’m not trying to downgrade The Butterfly Place, but Magic Wings is just a truly special experience that can be made into a day long adventure. When we went there last fall, Ethan and I sat under a plant covered arbor for nearly two hours, just soaking it all in.
So if you need an escape into 80 degree air, and want to feel like you are in a tropical paradise for a couple of hours, look no farther than either one of Massachusetts’ beautiful butterfly conservatories. While Magic Wings holds a special place in our hearts, The Butterfly Place is worth a trip also. You might even have a butterfly land on you 🙂
As winter storm Stella rages on outside, my mind is drifting towards warmer thoughts. It’s mid-March already and I am itching to get outside in the garden. Just the other day there was bare ground and I could see all the garden and yard clean up work that needs to be done. I love work like that. Clearing the leaves and preparing the beds with compost; all the while thinking of ideas for new plantings. I am definitely an amateur gardener. It wasn’t until just last spring that I even really got into flower planting (and when I say “got into” I mean “mildly obsessed”). We’ve had veggie gardens every summer since we’ve been married, but now that we’ve built our apartment at my mom’s house, I know we will be sticking around- for a few years at least 😉 This gives me quite a big yard to work with, and a very supportive landlord (my mom! haha) who loves flower gardening as well. With our combined efforts, we were able to plant quite a bit last spring. With a new yard, and being a beginner gardener, I started a garden journal to help me keep track of what I planted where, and how the plant did in it’s first season.
With a lot of things in life, I often assume my memory is better than it is. I put off making my gardening journal for weeks (I don’t think I actually made it until late fall–I can’t remember! ha!) I almost didn’t even do it, thinking I would be able to remember all the things I planted and the lessons that I learned. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my own faulty reasoning. Just flipping through the pages quickly today showed me a variety of things I never would have remembered otherwise. So having a lousy memory alone is a good of a reason as any to make a gardening journal. I also wanted to have the ability to see how things do year after year. That way, I can stop investing money into plants that fail repeatedly. For the journal itself, I used a few empty middle pages of a big sketchbook I’ve had for years. I wish I got a new fresh book as a designated gardening journal, because there are not a whole lot of empty pages left in that sketchbook now. Oh well, next season I will make another one 🙂
I started by making a basic sketch of our yard from above, and added some loose watercolor to differentiate sections of our space. I didn’t spend too much time making that page a work of art, the point of it is to be a key for the journal. I then numbered the areas in my yard where I planted something, and numbered the corresponding descriptions.As you can see, I cut out the pretty seed packet illustrations and plant photos on the markers to add interest and decorate the journal. When I could remember, I would record where the plant came from. When I planted seed mixes, I cut out the list of varieties included in the mix and taped that in the journal. I also came to the conclusion that I will not use seed mixes anymore until I really learn how to differentiate weeds from flowers. I foolishly planted 3 different mixes on a hillside covered with weeds, so now, this spring, I generally won’t be able to tell what is a weed and what is a flower until the plants are big and established. Darn. Lesson learned- and recorded in my garden journal 🙂Along with lessons about the plants themselves, I also noticed trends as far as where the healthiest and weakest plants came from. All across the board, the plants we got from Amazing Flower Farm in New Ipswich, New Hampshire performed the best. We will definitely go there again. After describing all my flowers, I also briefly described my veggies. It was a really tough year for vegetable growing. We had the drought to contend with for one thing. We also had a really late start on our seeds and got the very last available starter plants because of traveling the majority of last spring.
The last section of my journal describes the bulbs that I planted this fall, which I am eagerly still awaiting to come up! Garlic, Tuips, Daffodils, Crocuses, Narcissus… I hope they all do well! Time will tell. They are all still sleeping under a bed of white snow. I am itching to get out and use my old gardening tools and plant new things! Alas, I am going to have to be patient… as this is the current scene…