The Wrong Lilies

The Wrong Lilies

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Soft-nosed ivy can pry shingles apart;
A tree root plugs a pipeline.
Willow shoots, well-watered, 
can split a stone in two.
Then ... there are words.

By Lois Wilson

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Every year about this time we retrieve a card with this Thanksgiving meditation, which is of course not original to us:  "We are thankful for food and remember the hungry; we are thankful for health and remember the sick; we are thankful for friends and remember the friendless, we are thankful for freedom and remember the enslaved.  May these remembrances move us to service to our fellow inhabitants of this Earth."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Shared by Connie Schultz, thinking of Paris and so many other places: "The poem that I turned to was yet again from the amazing Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire":

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Saturday, November 14, 2015


On this November day, the garden is an amazing contrast of seasons.  The dear (I use the term loosely) bougainvillea waited on summer, and now it has decided to bloom and we have had to move it into the garden room.  And because of the very tardy blooms, we cannot cut it back and its thorny branches take up more room than we should give it.  But it is blooming!

The lemon tree has lemons on it; we do not know if they will ever ripen, but we will see.  Because very cool nights are eminent (and late, actually, for the season), we have moved it  into the garden room, also, and there they sit, side by side, two tropicals that perhaps are confused by the weather we have had, where it was in the low eighties about 3 days ago, and now we need a jacket outside. 

And outside, in the garden, the chrysanthemums are glorious, the marigolds are golden, the sedums are lovely, and leaves are turning yellow on the redbud tree.  And the Mexican mint marigolds are all tipped with clusters of small gold flowers.  Their foliage is very like tarragon, and can actually be used as a cooking substitute for tarragon.  My pot of purple periwinkles is still vivid, along with the purple asters and a pot of white pentas.  The begonia pots along the patio, red, pink, and white with a pink edge, are all doing fine, and so are the impatiens given to me unexpectedly, which have unexpectedly given so much color.  The impatiens are also on the edge of the patio; they are so good for enjoying up close.

On warm days, the basil plants, most of which sprang up from seeds from last year’s basil plants, give the garden a lovely herbal fragrance.  But even on very cloudy days such as today, they give a fullness to the garden and show off their blooms.

Our one dahlia, Orange Nugget, the only dahlia I have found to survive both our summer heat and my limited dahlia skills, has bloomed and bloomed, and looks to be getting ready for a long winter’s nap.

Like most gardens, there are many things that need to be done, such as setting in a few more violas, encouraging the planted pansies, trimming back the phloxes, and moving the pots of winter-vulnerable plants closer to the house, to make it easier to cover them if need be.  But as always, with every change of season, there is excitement in the anticipation of the coming winter season, and that grand payback for every gardener’s work:  thinking about spring.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


There are so many spiders everywhere, and this time of year, in fall, many of those spiders are busy building webs everywhere.  Once we had a home in a forest and when we would walk down the paths we learned to take a stick to wave in front of us to clear away webs we could not see because of the shade of the trees.  Where there is sunlight, the webs glisten as a breeze blows them, a magical effect.

My personal reaction to spiders is both fascination and fear.  They are many times beneficial in snaring harmful bugs, that is, bugs harmful to humans.  On the other hand, some spiders are themselves harmful to humans.  It’s one of those human versus nature situations.

 But there is another kind of spider that I love beyond all reason, a flowering bulb called a spider lily.  Their botanical name is lycoris, and oh, how exotic and lovely they are.    In addition to loveliness, the other great characteristic spider lilies have is that they are quite tough.  As with all other flowers in the plant kingdom, they have certain climate limitations of heat and cold, and requirements of shade or sun, but being bulbs, they have certain resources that mere ordinary plants do not always have, and if one is lucky and planting ‘spidies’ where they are happy, they come back to us again and again.    Not knowing what the exact perfect spot would be for my spidies, I have planted them in three or four locations in the garden. And according to differences of light and all that, they seem to bloom at slightly different times, which prolongs their presence in the garden.

My very favorite is the red spider lily, lycoris radiata, probably because it was the color I first saw.  Now we have a pink variety, the squamigera, that blooms in August, and a golden yellow color, lycoris aurea, that blooms right about now, too.  I love them all.  To paraphrase a song from “Finian’s Rainbow”, “when I’m not near the bloom I love, I love the bloom I’m near.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Folks all over the world have heard by now that a clever child in Texas built a clock and took it to school to share it with his teacher, and the situation exposed the level of xenophobia that is on many surfaces of our society.

Xenophobia is defined as an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.  And the incredible irony about the level of xenophobia exhibited in this country, America, at various times in our history, is that it is at conflict with so much of our country’s character and habits.  For instance, we love Greek salads, we love pizza and pasta, we love Chinese buffets, we love French fries, we love tacos and quesadillas, we have Thai restaurants and a long list of other cuisines.  And Americans love to travel; they are found all over the world, risking their lives on Everest, paddling down the Amazon River, on safari (hopefully photo safari) in Africa.

But let a gentle fourteen year old boy be so clever as to build his own clock, a device which was readily identifiable within minutes of being viewed, and a true mess erupts.   Now the world has seen that same fourteen year old child handcuffed and arrested.   The good news is that this young child has been offered a full scholarship at a well-reputed scientific-based school and has received encouragement from many different, local, and influential sources such as our President and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  The unfortunate news is that the school where this happened did nothing to protect the child, and the town where this happened is managed by a mayor and apparently a police chief who cannot admit that they erred.

This young man is of the Muslim faith, a fact which should make no difference whatsoever in how he was treated.  Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims all embrace faith in their religions.

Faith is defined in the dictionary as “a strong or unshakeable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence.”   Another young man, dealing with lack of acceptance by his own Catholic religion because he is gay, described faith this way:  “Faith is that hope for something better.”  We must hope for something better not only for these two young men, but for ourselves and our planet.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


The other morning a butterfly had found its way into the garden room and was clinging to the screen.  At first we feared it had died.  First we carefully opened the screen on the right side, but it didn’t move.  Then we gently nudged it with the finger of a garden glove and off it flew, but not before we captured it in a photograph.  We treasure the birds, butterflies and bees that come around our garden.  We put out bird seed, and we try to plant flowers that will attract butterflies and bees, because all of these creatures help our environment flourish.  And I expect that gardeners in so many parts of the world feel the same about the beneficial creatures that flourish around them.  In fact, gardeners by the very nature of their passion must care about the earth as they deal with plants and creatures and the weather.

Doesn’t that make it all the more strange that when human creatures encounter unbearable environments and seek to find sanctuary, some whole societies refuse to help.  Refusing to help is one thing, but abuse of desperate people as seen on the news over and over again, is inexplicable.   There have been so many instances in history of people having to leave their homeland because of so many reasons, but the primary reason is usually other people.  Our beloved country, the United States, cannot present itself as a sterling example of how to treat desperate refugees, but we must surely find it in ourselves to begin caring about and for the desperate of this world.

When I think of the fact that in all likelihood the old had to be left behind in war-torn places such as Syria and in the troubled countries of South America because they couldn’t endure the travel, and that the strong and the young have had to leave everything behind, endure the terrors of small boats on the open seas, endure horrific loss of life, endure bad weather and all that goes with walking for too many miles without food or water or anyplace to rest but the bare ground or the concrete of cities – when I think then that people who have endured all that and still find mistreatment instead of assistance – then I do wonder what is to become of all of the rest of us.

Because if we cannot summon the humanity to help each other, if we cannot summon the common sense to use negotiation to settle differences instead of using war, and if we cannot open our eyes and see what is happening to the climate of our planet, why, then, my photograph of a butterfly will become a rare thing indeed.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Having learned to read very easily (which nicely balanced my general lack of comprehension of mathematics), books quickly became a source of magic for me.  And when I discovered libraries, well … a great source of the richness of the world became mine.  The first library I had access to was a long bus ride away, so we, my brother and I, could only go there when our mother had time to accompany us, which was mostly in the summer.  There, in the children’s section, I found books such as Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey.   It’s about a doll with a hickory nut for a head that gets left behind by the child and how she adapts to a different life.  This magical book was first printed in 1946, and is still in print.  Then eventually along the line of time, our school established a library of its own and I simply started reading in the A’s and kept on going, Asimov to Maugham to Steinbeck and so on.  And with my first job at fourteen, earning perhaps 40 cents an hour, I joined the Doubleday Dollar Book Club, when books were really a dollar back then, and bought books of my very own, some of which I still have after all these decades.  Books become friends and ultimately old friends and very much a part of one’s self.

Then I eventually married a reader and between us we have enjoyed acquiring and reading so many books.  Some are mine, some are his, some are ours.   Inevitably, between us, at any point in time we have too many books.  We’ve thinned out the stock many times, giving some to libraries and some to charity, some to friends, and even sold a few, and now we have a firm policy of buying very, very few, and simply visiting our local and excellent library.  One of our summer projects was to sort, area by area, and find new homes for most of our books.  Of course we have not yet done so and summer is almost gone.
We have reached the stage of life when we feel weighed down by too many possessions, and particularly too many of our beloved books, and we realize we need to continue to thin and thin them until we are down to the essential ones. How to choose is difficult.  For instance, decades after I had last read Miss Hickory, I realized that it might be possible to find my very own copy and read the book again and so I did.  She will always be among the essential ones, as will some of the ones I bought at fourteen and still love.  We’ve moved here and there over the years, but there are some books that hopefully will always be with us.  But we still have too many.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Some folks think that manners are archaic, no longer applicable in a modern world.  Perhaps they do not understand the essential purpose of manners.  Every culture has a set of manners.  Although manners may differ from culture to culture, surely they are for communicating good will toward people we do not know.

And if you want to find a perfect illustration of the lack of manners in modern society, drive on the road.  Any road will do, a local road or a freeway or an interstate highway.  Every time we go out and about, we never fail to gasp at least once, because of the bad manners exhibited by way too many drivers.

Or watch a political debate or just an interview with a politician, while they accuse their opponents rather than stating their own positions. 

In far too many instances, rudeness and arrogance have become admired and encouraged and labeled as competency rather than what they are.  And this is true whether the individual is a driver of a vehicle who ignores the safety of all others on the road, or whether it is a candidate for higher office whose ambition is greater than their honesty and their sense of courtesy.

If an individual holds a door open for someone behind them, if a driver signals their intent to turn or change lanes or exit, if any kindness is shown to a perfect stranger just because …, these acts do not show weakness, they show good manners, they show an understanding of the basic glue that holds any society together. 

And manners can be extended even further:  to negotiations with other nations that will help those nations prosper as well as our own, and build toward peace rather than war. 


Because if we cannot indeed use mannerly behavior to make our travels safer, to show courtesy toward those with whom we disagree, to work toward peace and a better world, well, then, my original question stands:  “What are manners for?”

Monday, July 27, 2015


The last two summers past, and now this summer, leave me wondering seriously why would anyone go to the trouble of gardening?  It isn’t that we have an elegant or extensive garden.  It is fairly small, and problems with the soil make it easier to grow some plants in pots.  Other plants are grown in pots because they are too vigorous for a small garden and can literally be contained by being pot-grown (did I mention crinums?).

And that’s another thing I’ve found:  either plants grow almost too well and too vigorously, or they don’t grow at all.  Or if plants do grow a bit, then they are not happy and stop growing and eventually just give up, about the same time I do.

But all of that is part and parcel for gardening, just the experiences of what plants will and will not do.  No, the concerns we are finding now have to do with the total environment in which we garden:  now, in the summers, for so many days it is 100 degrees or close enough; plants are supposed to need at least an inch of water a week and we haven’t had any rain in over three weeks and no rain is expected; we have to put sunscreen on, even on cloudy days because the earth’s ozone sun filter is thinning; for the past few years, the West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes, has prevented us from sitting outside in the evenings and if we do venture out, we must use a bug repellent to ‘save our lives’.  Because it is so hot, we must rise before sunrise to get tasks done outside, and the rest of the day we are exhausted.


So I look out the window at flowers blooming.  I stand in the garden room with the screen doors closed against bugs and smell the scents of summer phlox and crape myrtles.  And, like every other gardener, I think about what needs to be done next in the garden, and I dream that next year will be better.  Without that dream, why would we, or anyone, garden?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Babysitting is probably an odd term to apply to experiences with drivers one encounters on freeways and interstates, and indeed sometimes local streets.  But ‘babysitting’ is the word I learned to apply to driving experiences many years ago when my job sent me to work in the downtown area.  At first, for a year, I drove the slow way with many traffic lights, because it had been many years since my work had taken me that far away from home.  After awhile, my courage increased and I began driving into town on the freeway, which is an inaccurate term if I ever heard one.  Free, maybe because there is no toll, but definitely not free of movement.

Anyway, at first I was truly shocked at the behavior of so many of the drivers on the freeway.  Carelessness with speed limits and changing lanes and signaling had certainly multiplied in the previous decades.  Ah, but eventually I developed the philosophy of ‘babysitting’ many of my fellow drivers:  trying to figure out if they were going to change lanes even if they did not signal; trying to move out of their way if they insisted on ‘tailgating’ (following me way too closely); in effect, being ‘motherly’ toward them, because goodness knows they needed it.  Foolish behavior was not limited to the very young; it included all ages and all sexes.

But developing the ‘babysitting’ philosophy somehow makes the two of us more observant, more polite and patient, more resigned to sometimes ridiculous or aggressive behavior.  And it works, whether we deal with those driving local roads on the phone or running red lights, or on the freeway, driving too fast or not signaling lane changes.  “Poor things,” we say to ourselves, “they don’t know how to use their turn signal.”   Of course they do, but we pretend, in order to explain their idiocy.  In fact, pretending is a good way to get through a lot of concerns and problems, and not just on the road.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


So when we married, many years ago, we had very little money, so little money that after paying for a small bakery cake and assembling the ingredients for a wine punch, we had to save what money was left for a brief wedding trip, and could not buy fresh flowers for the cake table.  So the mother of my husband’s best friend picked all the flowers in her flower beds, which were Shasta daisies, and that was what the wife of the best friend used to decorate.  Ever since then, I have been particularly fond of daisies.  Daisies are so cheerful, so sturdy, so encouraging and generous with themselves.  We have always tried to have some daisy plants wherever we have lived; some years they have bloomed profusely, other times not, but this year they are exuberant. 


And then there are dahlias.  Dahlias were plants I only heard of once in a funny, silly TV series where one of the characters grew them, but no one I knew grew them, and I never really saw a dahlia in person until the orange dahlia I planted as an experiment bloomed.  I had had a weak and/or wild moment while reading a bulb catalog and spotted this particular dahlia’s photo, and it looked much like a zinnia, and I love zinnias, so I ordered the dahlia.  Since then I have also tried dwarf dahlias and, this year, a miniature heirloom dahlia. 


Yesterday I was strolling around the garden with some brand new small pruners I recently acquired, deadheading here, pulling a weed there, and there were the daisies and dahlias all abloom.  So I cut some and brought them in for the dining table, just a few in a small budvase.    Looking at them in the vase, it occurred to me that they more or less represented both the real beginning of my life as an adult and the life I’m grateful to have had since the beginning of our marriage.   The daisies represent the innocence and ignorance of my youth; the dahlias could represent a lot about the years since then, the expectations and errors, and ultimately the willingness to accept life as it is and see what beauty I can find.  And there is always so much beauty we can find, if we look.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


We have been very fortunate to have a bird feeder for the last several years.  Where we live now, we have a back garden and a birdfeeder that is squirrel-proof.  That means that one of the many squirrels who live around us, all of whom we call ‘Sid’ because one squirrel looks pretty much like another to our uneducated eyes, anyway, ‘Sid’ cannot get birdseed from the feeder.  It is cleverly designed so that Sid can climb all around it in a very funny (to us) way, but if he tries to perch on the little bar in the front of the feeder, it drops down and the feeder area is closed.  The squirrel will try sometimes to climb up the pole from the ground, but there’s a baffle there.  The best a squirrel can hope for is to glean seed fragments that the birds drop.

So the little chickadees, which look like little bandits, the titmice which are proudly crested, and the finches which are very cheeky little birds, all enjoy their meals , except of course for not wanting to share with each other.  And when the cardinals and jays come along, they reign supreme and the smaller birds simply move to a nearby tree or bush and wait.

What is such a wonderful luxury is, on mild mornings and mild evenings, and even the occasional mild mid-day, to be able to sit and watch the antic behavior of all the birds, including the doves who come to glean what falls from the feeder, and even, yes, the squirrels, who can defy gravity and fly from the crape myrtle tree to the feeder but who cannot find a meal there.  The feeder is for the birds!

Sunday, May 17, 2015


There was a time in my life when I knew, just knew, that if and when I had a lemon tree, I would be happier than happy.  As a gardener, I would have arrived.  Because I am a curious gardener, I have grown, or tried to grow, a vast range of plants from ‘A’ (alstroemeria) to ‘Z’ (zephyranthes), with results varying from fabulous to ‘oh, well’.  But a lemon tree – that was the supreme goal.  Of course lemon trees can be expensive, so I waited and waited until I could finally find a lemon tree locally, from a reliable source, and that I could almost afford. 

We brought the lemon tree home, and then I did a massive amount of research, and, yes, only then.  We potted the tree up.  I visited it daily, observing, learning.  Its first year it produced a few lemons; my husband didn’t like the taste.  Rats.  Last year it produced even more lemons.  During the past two winters, we have rolled it in its pot and on a caster thingy into our garden room to protect it from very low and freezing temps.  The first year I even pruned it to make it more balanced, and it responded well, a huge gamble on my part.  This last winter it somehow really liked how we placed it in the unheated garden room, and bloomed all winter, even without bees to pollinate; have no idea how.  Because we had an erratic winter, it was rolled out, back in, and out again from the garden room; because it is thorny, my husband and son were less than thrilled with the efforts. 

Now it is back in its place on the patio, simply covered with tiny lemons and blooms that perfume the whole backyard garden.  It has produced small crops, great fragrance and beauty, frustration on the part of those who move it around, and great delight for the bees, which makes us feel better about the whole experience.
Did the lemon tree completely fulfill my gardening dreams and make me a supreme gardener?  Of course not.  Is the lemon tree wonderful?  Of course it is.

Monday, April 6, 2015


No one would say that squirrels are intellectual  or wise.  But they must know something because they have altered what we recall as previous behavior.  We have had several years where acorn production was amazing, where there were areas where we simply walked on a carpet of acorns but this last fall was not that outstanding in acorn production.  Nevertheless, for the first time in our recent memories, the squirrels seem to have planted every acorn they could get their little paws on, because we have so far found hundreds of new little oak trees sprouting up everywhere. 

We have pulled up little oaks in flower beds, mowed them in the lawn, and found them sprouting up even in the potted plants that summer outside but which winter inside our garden room.  We laugh that if we stopped pulling up the little sprouts, we would very quickly be living in an entire oak grove.


Aside from all that, our resident squirrel, who we have named Sid, seems to have lost all fear or inhibition when we are around.  He boldly comes to glean fallen bird seed from the bird feeder.  He cannot access the bird feeder, but there’s all those lovely bits the messy birds drop.  The other day we were sitting on the patio, looked down, and there was Sid, apparently eavesdropping on our conversation.

So what with all this unusually intensive planting of acorns and this lack of caution around us, we cannot help but ask, “What do squirrels know?”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

And the wild mustard stalks the land

In this part of the world, there so many wild flowers that, with the right amounts of rain and the right ranges of temperature and the right locations, simply burst upon the landscape in spring, with fall bringing its own varieties.  But what happens in spring is so significant simply because after winter, particularly some difficult winters, all these swaths of color which present themselves absolutely free and glorious. 

Right now the wild mustard seems to be everywhere.  Driving along a freeway access road this morning, I glanced over at the freeway embankment on the other side and there was this glowing yellow from top to bottom for quite a long distance, absolutely startlingly brilliant.  And that same color, that same glory, is showing up everywhere a wildling can go.


Sometimes I write because I am overcome with concerns or serious thoughts, but sometimes it just seems necessary to describe something really very ordinary that is simply no less spectacular and welcome just because it’s ‘only wild flowers’.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


As a young mother, dealing with the demands of a toddler and an infant while their father worked full-time and also went to college, I found so much comfort and pleasure in the stories of the original Star Trek series.  When I had to defend my appreciation for these stories, I simply found the words:  “They explore the human condition.”  Many people looked at the strange aliens and the strange alien environments and the strange alien situations, and did not realize that there were many metaphors for the way that we as humans interact with each other.  Everything was explored in those stories, from religion to lifestyles to gender attitudes, but that exploration was done in a way that taught, for those who would learn.  And one of the most interesting aspects of all the explorations, for me, was Spock’s logic, particularly as he was half-Vulcan and half-human, and therefore had the dubious pleasure of having human emotions and Vulcan requirement for logic.    And over and over, it seemed to me that human emotions were shown to be both blessing and curse and that pure logic was shown to be blessing and curse as well.  As Mr. Spock said many times, “Fascinating.”


And here is something that Leonard Nimoy, the wonderful human who gave Mr. Spock a type of reality, said:  “A life is like a garden.  Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

Friday, February 6, 2015


There is a tendency I have to try to grow too many things in pots.  First there are the pots of plants such as crinum that are simply too vigorous to find a place in the garden beds, and the pots help to restrain them.  Then there are the plants which are not winter-hardy in our area:  ixoras and a lemon tree, and wax begonias and pelargoniums, all of which grow happily outside in all but the coldest winter months.   Then there are the agapanthus, plural, which I have found do so much better with winter shelter in our unheated garden room.  And the many (too many) amaryllis for which we do not yet have garden bed space.  Finally there are the small pots of various plants that were looking poorly and were either lifted and potted and kept where they could get special attention, or the bits and pieces that have remained when plants were trimmed back and which were potted because I could not bear to simply discard what would be excellent future plants.


Every year I promise myself, and my mate, that there will be fewer pots to winter over, to either move into what is a fairly small garden room or to pull up close to the house on the patio and cover for protection.  That is the promise I make, but the reality is that there seem to be more, not fewer, pots, and it gets more and more exhausting to move plants around, to water and feed the inside pots and to cover and uncover the outside pots when our winter temperatures go down and up and down again.

Ah, but my resolve seems to be strengthening.  I have managed to find homes for four of the five pots of butterfly amaryllis, and already I am looking squinty-eyed at the many small pots of plants, planning to squeeze them in amongst the spring bulbs of daffodils and tulips and crocus.  There’s got to be some more room out there somewhere!