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Summer Starts

Summer is officially here. We have had the longest day of light. I think summer might in actuality be here, as well. I have been enjoying the special quality of light that has been falling on me, as I wash and slice freshly harvested strawberries at my kitchen counter. This light reminds me of being on holidays or of filtered light through frosted windows in Southern California. Both fill me with a sense of relaxation. Both with feelings of ‘those lazy days of summer’.

My children have started their end of school holidays. Suddenly, at the same time, I have been able to increase my flower, berry and veggie harvesting. In September we will begin what is a family’s natural start of the year. January, of course, is the official start of the year, and instinctively a self-reflective moment after the indulgences of winter holidays and because of dark, quiet days. But I feel that summer, too, is a sort of beginning. There are all sorts of opportunities for rebirth as a family since we are together so much more at this time of year. Experiences to grow new skills, as a gardener and wildcrafter, are plentiful.

It always amazes me when I break down the math, to find out how few times an experienced gardener, or even farmer, has grown any given vegetable or flower. If I have been growing my garden for six years in the Pacific Northwest, that means it has been only six times that I have planted and nurtured cucumbers in this garden environ. If I were a dahlia farmer who founded my farm twenty years ago, this would amount to planting, caring for, and dividing dahlia tubers a total of only twenty times. This is a little mind bending. After all, within three weeks, I have prepared lunch for my children twenty times, and I am still trying to figure out how to sneak both more joy and more health into what I feed them. I wouldn’t call myself an expert at making kids lunches. If a new dressmaker puts in the time and effort, she could make twenty new dresses in six months time. But gardeners, farmers and foragers are restrained by the cycle of the seasons. This is a testament to how much effort goes in by those stewarding and gaining from the land. Necessarily, to have success, the learning curve needs to be extremely steep. We need to gather as much information, practically apply every drop of that research, and work as smartly as we possibly can. Alongside this determined exertion, we must practice patience or else we will be done in by the stress. Much is outside of our control. (Look at this year, alone. I admire the farmers in the Pacific Northwest who have kept on going with their heads up, maintaining a level attitude, in the face of knowing that this is the year that could do them in. The weather of this planting season in particular might result in the tragic losses of small farms because they will not be able to afford to keep going).

I am a passionate gardener. The passion drives me on. I would say that a good deal of my green thumb results from liberal doses of determination. This fortitude is what I rely on to make up for all that I still don’t know or haven’t yet experienced. I have massive amounts ahead to learn and to refine. This excites me. Because I love it when there is more to come.

I learned last year that I thrive on working with dried flower. Consciously diving into the preparation stage is likely my most important new start this year. I remember listening to an interview of a nature artist in the UK who accidentally fell into a career of designing with dried flowers. My interest had been whet already before I listened, but still I found myself thinking quite loudly that creating from dried flowers seemed awfully tricky and perhaps it would be best to leave that off my life's to do list. I was growing flowers that are typically grown especially to dry. For years I have been attracted to these types of blooms. However, while listening to this interview, I found I was resisting the strong internal nudge to follow through. She made it sound so difficult. But then, in spite of this, on a whim I started drying other flowers from my garden as well, experimenting with where and how to hang them, so that all my windows were eventually filled. This summer, my bright windows are bare - we can see through them clearly. This time around it is all about being intentional and methodical. I prepared strings that cross my studio ceiling and they are already filling with many varieties of flowers, and with no end in sight. This year I plan to be surrounded by many mistakes. There will certainly be many. That is where the fun will arise, too! I am sure that I have flowers hanging that won’t work in the least. They will lose all colour, shatter, not hold their shapes. But there will be others, not conventionally dried, that will turn out to make magic. This year I am drying everything that doesn’t make it into a bouquet. I am drying stray plants between my garden rows. I am gathering grasses from my roadside. I am sampling and trialing to my heart's content. (And this really does make my heart content! I know it must, because I feel guilty if I spend too much time at this activity. Yes, sadly, I am like that. Love equals guilt!) These assorted picks are in addition to the blooms and seedheads I have planted solely for the purpose of late summer and autumn wreaths and arrangements, such as statice, strawflowers, starflowers, nigella and more. As the season unfolds, I will add dahlias, chrysanthemums and cosmos to the mix.

Last year, I sold every wreath I made. I am entirely grateful for your special orders and impulse buys that encouraged me to keep going and gave me the space in my studio to keep on designing. If the studio is filled with that which is not purchased I must stop, and I suppose, maybe admit defeat. Thank you so much for saving me from that fate. Thank you. Stringing up so many flowers now, taking the time to grow and to gather, fills me with joy, but also makes me nervous. This effort is for an endeavour where the result is still unknown. Will my wreaths and additional arrangements continue to be so appreciated? The fear that goes alongside creativity, coupled with being a business owner, can be crippling if this voice is permitted to take the lead. Fortunately, the excitement is the real drive, louder and clearer and propelling me to leap into this love this summer, learning all that I can as I embark on this new venture.

As a mother, the situation is quite the same. After eleven years of experience under my belt, I should be a professional parent by now. However, I am still learning as I go along. Nothing can provide the mother of a ten year old with everything she needs to know to progress on to being the mother an eleven year old. The skills and strategies that might eventually be teased out of the experience of caring best for one eleven year old will rarely transfer effectively to the next eleven year old in the family. Effort. Patience. Determination. It all comes down to the same qualities as in the garden. What is the parenting equivalent of a green thumb?

All school year long, we are frequently on the go, rushing through the morning tasks to prepare for the school day, spending time apart due to school and work and perhaps some socializing, running to and from organized activities such as gymnastics and soccer, and attempting quick reconnection through dinner and bedtime routines. There is a great deal to fit in and we can’t always give each other the attention we need. When we can, it is not necessarily at the moment that each family member needs it most. Summer holidays are the moment to take a breath and do just that. Be together. In the busy-ness of school-year life, certain unhealthy reactions and routines become entrenched. But now we might be able to push a reset button. In one of my favourite children’s books, after the protagonist child has been naughty and impulsive, she is terrified about going home and contemplates running away to Tibet, as far away from here as she can get. She expects impending doom. Instead, her mother surprises and delights her daughter by proclaiming: “Let’s Reset!” Now that my children and I have more time, this is just what I am attempting to do. The less than lovely patterns that we created this year are pretty easy to spot. Well, actually, they are blaring. In response, I am trying out some mantras with which to feed my children's psyches. These will be summer-long reminders for me, too. I have one statement for my oldest and two for my youngest. I am hoping beyond all hope to keep my cool and to repeat these deepening lines over and over, after each difficult scenario, until they stick and are absorbed. I hope beyond all hope that these can transform our relationships as we journey through this summer and then move back out into the world come autumn.

Summer has begun. We are just starting now. As in every garden, and as for every mother, my hopes are high. There will be stumbles. No harvest ever goes entirely according to plan. But I have never yet found myself empty handed at the end of the season. So here is a toast to everyone’s plans for growth in the months ahead! To you and to me!


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