Sunday Dinner: From Your Point of View

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“The cosmos is within us.
We are made of star-stuff.
We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
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Carl Sagan

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“When you have once
seen the glow of happiness
on the face of a beloved person,
you know that a man can have no vocation
but to awaken that light
on the faces surrounding him.
In the depth of winter,
I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer.”
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Albert Camus

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“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
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Tim Burton

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“What we do see
depends mainly on what we look for.
… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop,
the geologists the fossils,
botanists the flowers, a
rtists the colouring,
sportmen the cover for the game.
Though we may all look at the same things,
it does not all follow that we should see them.”
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John Lubbock

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“Nothing is really work
unless you would rather be doing something else.”
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J.M. Barrie

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“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then
to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.”
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Bertrand Russell

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“It is a narrow mind
which cannot look at a subject
from various points of view.”
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George Eliot

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“If we are always arriving and departing,
it is also true that we are eternally anchored.
One’s destination is never a place
but rather a new way of looking at things.”
.
Henry Miller
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Where the “Wild Things” Are: TGBGH

 

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Personally, I think enough is enough.

Enough cold rain, already.  Enough frozen over puddles and stuck car doors when we get up and out in the early mornings.  Enough chill and windy afternoons that just can’t warm up despite the clear and sunny skies.  And certainly, enough winter damage to our marginal evergreens.

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After a long and frosty January, I’m ready to see a little actionHorticultural action, that is.

I want to see healthy, green growth and vividly bright flowers.  I want to see unfolding leaves and creeping, snaking rhizomes claiming fresh real estate for a wildly healthy fern.

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My patience with winter weather has grown a bit brittle and threadbare.  It was 18F when I arose this morning, and only a meager 28 when I pulled out of the driveway, wrapped in sweaters and a wool jacket and scarves and hat, for my journey through the countryside to my mother’s estate South of the James today.

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It was only 5 degrees warmer when I arrived, a little before 11 this morning; but she was game to head out adventuring with me while my car was still a little warm.  After wrapping her up warmly, I hoisted her rolling chair into the back end and we set off for Richmond’s treasure:  The Great Big Greenhouse.

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She was a little stir-crazy too, perhaps.  After a week indoors, she was ready for big sky and a change of scenery.

She was happy to ride around in the balmy warmth and brightness of the greenhouse while I examined every Begonia, Philodendron, orchid, Cyclamen and fern.  We chatted about cultivars we’ve grown over the years, examined the bonsai on offer, admired the bright and unusual pots, and watched all the special goings on to kick off Houseplant Month at the greenhouse today.

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There is no happier place for me to spend time, especially this first Saturday of February, than in a gorgeous, bright greenhouse.  The happiness was freely shared among customers, vendors, and the GBGH staff as we all basked in the exuberant energy of happy tropical plants.

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Mother found a gorgeous purple Oxalis regnellii var. triangularis ‘Mijke’ already in bloom.  She loves Oxalis, and I brought it home for her.

One of the staff gave me a tiny, seedling Tradescantia zebrina that he had just plucked out of the gravel under the fern benches.  I’ve potted that up tonight, and look forward to planting it out in a basket once the weather settles in spring.

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What wonderful ‘weeds’ the guys were plucking out of the gravel this morning. The Tradescantia I was gifted with was a miniature version of this one.

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If you need a little respite from winter, as much as I do, you may find it here.   Assuming a trip to warmer climes isn’t already in your diary, you might just stop in at a nearby greenhouse for a breath of spring.

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The ground was still hard frozen when mother and I got back to her place this afternoon, the grass a sickly shade of beige.  At least her evergreens don’t look quite as burned and harried as ours.  She has a good crop of bright green moss covering bald patches in her lawn.  Her Mahonias are covered in buds and the first green tips of daffy leaves have emerged in the barrel by her door.

A happy red Cyclamen grows in the middle of her kitchen table, now joined by a purple leafed Oxalis. 

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I drove home admiring bare branches against a sunset sky, dreaming of bud-break and the first breaths of spring.

We find ourselves in full-on winter mode again tonight.  We expect a cold rain to begin overnight, and tiny snowflakes still turn up in our AccuWeather forecast app.

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But I found the wild things, today; growing happily despite winter’s worst.  It was just the fix I needed to remain calm through the weeks of winter yet ahead.  There is a little ‘wild’ in all of us, perhaps.  We just need to know where to find our kindred spirits…

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Change Is in the Air

This morning dawned balmy, damp and oh, so bright across our garden!

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Brilliant autumn color finally appeared on our trees this past week, and we are loving this annual spectacle when trees appear as blazing torches in shades of yellow, gold, orange and scarlet.   We have been watching and waiting for this pleasure since the first scarlet leaves appeared on Virginia creeper vines and the rare Sumac in early September.  But summer’s living green cloaked our trees longer than ever before in our memories,  this fall.

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I remember a particularly beautiful autumn in the late 1980s, the year my daughter was born.  I went to the hospital in the second week of October to deliver, with the still summery trees barely showing a hint or shadow of their autumn finery.  When we drove back home with her a couple of days later, I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape.  The trees were bright and gorgeous, as if to celebrate her homecoming.

Once upon a time, I believed that first frost brought color to deciduous leaves.  Our first frost date here in zone 7 is October 15.  We haven’t always had a frost by then, but there is definitely a frosty chill in the evening air by late October here.

But not this year, or last….

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Bees remain busy in our garden, gathering nectar and pollen for the winter months ahead.

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The annual Begonias are still covered with blossoms in my parents’ garden, and our Begonia plants still sit outside in their pots, blooming with enthusiasm, waiting for us to decide to bring them back indoors.  Our days are still balmy and soft; our evenings barely drop below the 50s or 60s.  There is no frost in our forecast through Thanksgiving, at least.

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Our geraniums keep getting bigger and brighter in this gentle, fall weather.

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It is lovely, really.  We are taking pleasure in these days where we need neither heat nor air conditioning.  We are happily procrastinating on the fall round-up of tender potted plants, gleefully calculating how long we can let them remain in the garden and on the deck.  I’m still harvesting herbs and admiring flowers in our fall garden.

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Of course, there are two sides to every coin, as well as its rim.  You may be interested in a fascinating description of just how much our weather patterns have changed since 1980, published by the Associated Press just last week.  Its title, “Climate Change is Shrinking Winter in the US, Scientists Say,”  immediately makes me wonder why less winter is a bad thing.  I am not a fan of winter, personally.  Its saving grace is it lets me wear turtleneck sweaters and jeans nearly every day.

Just why is winter important, unless you are a fan of snowy sports?  Well, anyone who has grown apple, pear or peach trees knows that these trees need a certain number of “chilling hours,” below freezing, to set good fruit.

Certain insects also multiply out of control when there aren’t enough freezing days to reduce their population over winter.    Winter gives agricultural fields a chance to rest, knocks down weeds and helps clear the garden for a fresh beginning every spring.

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But there are other, more important benefits of winter, too.  Slowly melting snow and ice replenish our water tables in a way summer rains, which rapidly run off, never can.  Snow and ice reflect solar energy back into space.  Bodies of water tend to absorb the sun’s energy, further warming the climate.

Methane locked into permafrost is released into the warming atmosphere when permafrost thaws.  And too much warmth during the  winter months coaxes shrubs and perennials into growth too early.  Like our poor Hydrangeas last March, those leaves will freeze and die off on the occasional below-freezing night, often killing the entire shrub.

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By March 5, 2017, our Hydrangeas had leaves and our garden had awakened for spring.  Freezes later in the month killed some of the newer shrubs, and killed most of the flower buds on older ones.

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The article states, ” The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

” The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

“This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.”

Not only has the first freeze of the season grown later and later with each passing year, but the last freeze of the season comes ever earlier.  According to Meteorologist Ken Kunkel, winter 2016 was a full two months shorter than normal in the Pacific Northwest.

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Coastal Oregon, in mid-October 2017, had seen no frost yet. We enjoyed time playing on the beach and visiting the Connie Hansen garden while I was there.  Very few leaves had begun to turn bright for fall, though many were already falling from the trees.

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I’ve noticed something similar with our daffodils and other spring flowers.  Because I photograph them obsessively each year, I have a good record of what should bloom when.  This past spring, the first daffodils opened around February 8 in our garden.  In 2015, we had a February snow, and the first daffodil didn’t begin to open until February 17.  In 2014, the first daffodils opened in our garden in the second week of March.  Most years, we never saw daffodils opening until early to mid- March.  We ran a little more than two weeks early on all of the spring flowers last spring, with roses in full bloom by mid-April.

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March 8, 2014

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Is this ‘shorter winter phenomena’ something we should care about?  What do you think?  Do you mind a shorter winter, an earlier spring?

As you’ve likely noticed, when we contemplate cause and effects, we rarely perceive all of the causes for something, or all of its effects.  Our planet is an intricate and complex system of interactions, striving to keep itself in balance.  We may simplistically celebrate the personal benefits we reap from a long, balmy fall like this one, without fully realizing its implications for our planet as a whole.

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February 9, 2017

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I’m guessing the folks in Ohio who had a tornado blow through their town this past weekend have an opinion.  Ordinarily, they would already be enjoying winter weather by now.

We are just beginning to feel the unusual weather patterns predicted decades ago to come along with a warming planet.  The seas are rising much faster than they were predicted to rise, and we are already seeing the extreme storms bringing catastrophic rain to communities all across our nation, and the world.  The economic losses are staggering, to say nothing of how peoples’ lives have been effected when they live in the path of these monster storms.

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Magnolia stellata blooming in late February, 2016

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Yes, change is in the air.  I’m not sure that there is anything any of us can do individually to change or ‘fix’ this unusual weather, but we certainly need to remain aware of what is happening, and have a plan for how to live with it.

My immediate plan is simple:  Plant more plants!  I reason that every plant we grow helps filter carbon and other pollutants from the air, trapping them in its leaves and stems.  Every little bit helps, right?  And if not, at least their roots are holding the soil on rainy days, and their beauty brings us joy.

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Newly planted Dianthus blooms in our autumn garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Making Our Blessings Count

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“Cultivate the habit of being grateful

for every good thing that comes to you,

and to give thanks continuously.

And because all things

have contributed to your advancement,

you should include all things

in your gratitude.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Happy Thanksgiving day to you.  I hope it has been a good day, spent in a way that makes you happy and with folks you love.   Thanksgiving is a gentle holiday, and one that I especially enjoy.  I try to avoid travel and keep the day as low key as possible.

Whether at home with family, or gathered elsewhere with family, I’m always one of the cooks.  And I find satisfaction in creating a warm and satisfying meal filled with the flavors and memories which knit our years together into a seamless fabric of loving.

While we celebrate gratitude and appreciation on Thanksgiving Day, most of us are also gearing up for Christmas this time of year.  For many, that means sharpening up our shopping skills and compiling a list of holiday plans and desires.  Ironic, isn’t it?

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August's white flowers are transformed to seed heads, ready to begin again the life cycle of culinary chives.

August’s white flowers are transformed to seed heads, ready to begin again the life cycle of culinary chives.

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“We should certainly count our blessings,

but we should also make our blessings count.”

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Neal A. Maxwell

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Thanks-giving is not a passive thing.  It isn’t about leaning back in our comfy chairs and thinking happy thoughts.

It begins with awareness; progresses to acknowledgement;  stops for a moment to express appreciation and love to others; and then gets down to the real business of using those blessings for the greater good.

Having a blessing isn’t enough.  We find ways to  make use of the goodness it brings to our lives, to make our lives count for something.

I’ve always thought of appreciation as an active thing; an investment in more joy and productivity.  What good are seeds left in an envelope?

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“Great things happen to those

who don’t stop believing, trying,

learning, and being grateful.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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Which brings us back to those holiday desires, which can wake us up and move us forwards.

Whether we’re formulating birthday wishes, sharing a Christmas list, planning a Christmas celebration, or pondering new year’s resolutions; we harness our imagination, our desire, and our personal energies to create a new reality for ourselves.

Gratitude and growth go hand in hand.  We appreciate the blessings we enjoy already, and then multiply that sense of happiness and well being into the next step.    We express appreciation to a loved one, in hopes they will use that good feeling as fuel for their own growth and evolution.

There is always more to accomplish, more to experience, more to learn, more to do for the benefit of others.  We just have to imagine it, and then fuel it with faith and confidence until it materializes in our lives.

Wisdom teachers tell us that our gratitude and appreciation attract more of the same into our lives.

But the reverse is also true:  when we complain and focus on what is lacking, when we criticize loved ones and take them for granted; we lose that rocket fuel called ‘love’ which feeds our happiness.  When we overlook the tiny miracles and blessings of each day, we put blinders on our hearts and imagination.  Eventually, we close ourselves off to the possibilities around us.

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“You probably have the ability

to get what you want.

And you likely have everything you need

to be completely satisfied.

But do you also have the ability

to want what you’ve got?

That just may be one of

the most important questions you will ever answer.”

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Steve Goodier

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But we all find obstacles in our path from time to time.  Perhaps a loved one’s illness or depression makes us put our own lives on ‘hold’ for a while.  We lose jobs we need, see the storms of chance change our lives in unexpected ways.  Things just don’t go according to plan….

Obstacles become detours, but the path stretches before us for as long as we live.  And meeting every obstacle with an open mind, a grateful heart, and determination to find the most benevolent outcome in each circumstance is how we keep moving towards a brighter, happier, more fulfilling life.

“Attitude is everything…”  We learn this as children, but practice it always.  Our attitude of gratitude serves us well, as we appreciate each and every day of our lives.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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A Forest Garden 2017 garden calendar is now available

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“Thankfulness is an attitude of possibilities,

not an attitude of liabilities.”

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Craig D. Lounsbrough

Love Offering

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The day I began this ‘Forest Garden Blog‘ we were still a bit in shock.  Our front garden was filled with three fallen oak trees.

Chainsaws whined hour after hour, cutting them apart into smaller bits, drowned out only by the grinder pulverizing piece after piece of our beloved trees.  Heavy orange earth movers made trip after trip into the yard, completely obliterating the little sapling Mountain Laurel shrubs we’d planted the year before.  But who could possibly see them under the tons of branches and leaves fallen in an instant during a summer thunderstorm?

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It was late afternoon when it happened.  A sudden thunderstorm had blown up off the James River and it was raining hard.  Bright white lightening flashed, thunder clapped and the wind blew sheets of rain across the yard.

I stood at the window, trying to understand the changed landscape before me.  It took some time for me to make sense of the towering walls of wet red clay and mangled roots risen in front of us, blocking our view of the upper garden.

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While we counted ourselves blessed that the trees went down away from our home and cars, we were not quite sure what to do about our trees now filling, and blocking, the street in front of us; lying neatly in the opening of our neighbors’ driveway.

The storm was still thundering around us as we inspected the damage.  Neighbors showed up with chainsaws, rakes and offers of help.  An arborist, checking on a nearby customer, saw our distress and pitched in to help clear the street.  Help was there that evening when we needed it most, and each day following, until the clean up was handled.

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But the garden left behind was shockingly different.  The hot summer sun beat down where once we enjoyed deep shade.  Deer happily explored the new breaches in the fence, discovering full access to the garden we’d worked so hard to cultivate.  In all, five trees were completely gone and many more left severely damaged.  Shrubs were shattered, our light post crushed, the drive caked in mud, and everywhere lay browning leaves, small branches, and pulverized bits of our beloved trees.

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This was the second time oaks had fallen in our garden in our four years in this home, leaving some portions forever changed.  I was feeling very edgy the day “Forest Garden” was born; at loose ends to do something constructive inside, away from the mess; away from the crews of strangers wielding chainsaws in my garden.

And so I sat before the computer and began this blog.

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My purpose was mainly to reach out.  I wanted to connect with other gardeners, and hopefully share a little of what I had learned with others who felt as frustrated gardening in a forest, filled with unplanned surprises, as I was feeling.

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I had this list of plants I’d been compiling for a few years already, and I wanted  to publish it for others whose yards are grazed by ever-hungry deer.  Friends and I had been keeping records of what the deer didn’t eat, and I hoped someone else might find that useful.

And I wrote about what it means to me to garden in this historic place near Jamestown Virginia, in woods once belonging to the great chiefs of the Algonquian nation.

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I used this blog as a ladder to help myself climb back up from sadness and self-pity over what we had lost, and were losing, that June of 2013; towards something brighter and stronger and more useful than I was feeling in that moment.  And eventually I used ‘Forest Garden’ to help define my own philosophy and style of gardening.

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And never once did I entertain any thought of trying to turn a profit from it. 

Now please understand, I’m a child of the 60’s, coming into this world along with the early Peace Corps and Beatle Mania. I was born in the era of man’s first flights into outer space.  Maybe if I’d been born in the age of Reagan or the Bushes I’d have a different outlook on things.

But the work I do on this blog I do for myself, primarily.  And I’m happy if what I write is helpful to others; but I do it in a spirit of sharing, not of seeking profit.  You may think I’m hopelessly naive.

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‘Real’ artists and writers expect to profit from their work.  Photos sell for hundreds of dollars.  Maybe I need to wise up, and publish an e-book rather than publishing each day, freely, on the world-wide-web.   But I get the greatest feeling of warmth and connection when I see comments left by fellow gardeners and seekers. 

I love to respond to others facing similar challenges and thinking similar thoughts in England or Australia, Brussels or Massachusetts,  Oregon or Florida, Indonesia or on an island in the Mediterranean Sea.  I take great pleasure in watching others’ gardens grow through the photos they publish, and finding new ideas in their experiences.  That is priceless experience to me, and I would never risk alienating my fellow bloggers by suggesting they should donate to support this joyful work I do.

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Do you see this differently?  If you have a blog of your own, have you considered asking for financial support?  How do you feel when you see a ‘donate’ button on someone’s blog?

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Perhaps if I truly needed to ask for financial support I’d see this question through a different lens.  But I am blessed, and have achieved a stage in life more focused on giving to others than on ‘earning my keep.’  And every photo that I take and prepare for publication is an act of love, a meditation on the beauty of the world around us.

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I am deeply grateful for our garden, for the creatures who share it with us, for the changing seasons and the endless opportunities to learn.

I am deeply grateful to the staff of WordPress for this online platform, and for the technology which makes it possible to share thoughts and photos with the world each day.  And I am grateful to have the time, the energy, and the ability to make a little contribution to the online conversation.

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I hope that everyone who visits ‘Forest Garden’ feels enriched in some way by that experience.   I am ‘enriched’ through the process, too.  And that is all I need to keep going with this blogging adventure.

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It has been a little more than three years now since the day our oak trees fell in a summer storm.  In that time, I’ve published well over a thousand posts, returning to the writing that was once such an important part of my life.  I’ve had motivation to read and study, to experiment and observe.

I’ve found great joy through photography, maybe gotten a little better at it; and I’ve discovered scores of ‘expert’ bloggers ready to help me learn about any subject I can think of.  All I need do is search them out and click freely through their many pages of instruction, insight and advice.

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That is the magic of this ‘blogosphere’ we love.  It is inspiring.  It is always fresh and new.  It offers endless opportunities to learn and to explore.  It harnesses human creativity in so many novel and uplifting ways.  And it is free.  It costs nothing but time, once we have the technology to access the world wide web.

I sincerely hope our blogging community remains a non-commercial exchange of ideas and a not-for-profit love offering to humanity.  If it can, then we have found a way to elevate human society; to evolve a more peaceful and interconnected community which benefits us all.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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