Category Archives: Garden Writers We Love

The Goddess Flora as Crone

2020 The Goddess Flora as Crone_Lisa_Lister

The Goddess Flora as Crone by Lisa Lister

Several weeks (at the beginning of our Stay at Home Orders in Colorado) I “met” Lisa Lister, Flora as Crone’s creator, via email. This happened through friend/poet/mother/ librarian/more Jessy Randall. (Thank you, Jessy, for, as you put it, introducing one “green woman” to another!) Lisa and I corresponded, got to know one another. Aside from being taken with her painting of Flora (a perfect fit for a Flora’s Forum post!) I learned we had connections as far as our vision for the future of gardens. We were both at a place where we were more attracted to “re-wilding” than gardening! More on that later; for now, enjoy Lisa’s creation of a broader and wiser vision of Flora!—S.K.K.

The Goddess Flora as Crone

Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility is overwhelmingly depicted in imagery as a youthful, innocent-looking, yet voluptuous maiden. (Hmmm…I wonder how many of those artists were men?) As she represents spring, it is, perhaps, understandable that Flora has been primarily represented as young. But why, I wondered, shouldn’t she be seen as growing old, a natural part of life? Shouldn’t we uplift not only the radiance and energy of a youthful woman, but also the seasoned and vibrant being of the same woman, but aged . . . an elder, a crone?

I envisioned the woman in my painting “The Goddess Flora as Crone” as sage, with many decades of experience. She helps usher in and oversees spring, protecting blossoms and assuring the seasonal abundance of flowers. I wanted her to exude the confidence of a woman in her full power, yet with a slightly impish and all-knowing glint in her eyes.

In this context, I have also reclaimed the word “crone” which, unfortunately, has degenerated to mean a disagreeable and ugly hag with malicious supernatural powers. Not so! I choose to define a crone as a wise woman, ordinary and yet extraordinary, one who has absorbed the energy of the green and growing earth, season after season, and who uses that abundant energy for good.
—Lisa Lister

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Lisa with elf ear one Halloween

Lisa Fay Lister spent her childhood in Kansas, where vast open skies and wild thunderstorms soothed her soul, even as a young girl. In her gypsy-like twenties, her vision was to live in a peaceful, inclusive and egalitarian world. Her life journey has been joyfully circuitous, but she still holds fast to that utopian vision. Lisa is a retired academic librarian, and now paints in her backyard studio, surrounded by a yard that is slowly rewilding.

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Call Me Harry

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Frame from “Home Rose Garden,” via videoblocks.com, a website for stock video footage.

 

A boy learns about real men—and gardening.
—S.K.

Call Me Harry

Dad overheard me calling our next door neighbor “Harry.”

“Never call an adult by their first name!” Dad scolded me in front of Mr. Wright, “It’s disrespectful.”

I was six or seven years old and agreed with Dad. Yet Mr. Wright had insisted that I, his little gardening buddy, should call him “Harry,” like a friend. After my dad left, he asked that I call him Harry just when my dad wasn’t around. “It’ll be our secret, Tawn,” he said in his warm down-east New England accent.

More often than not, his name came out of my mouth as “Mr. Harry.”

Dad was a white collar man, well-versed in propriety. A Yale educated architect, he rode the train into the city and worked in a skyscraper in a corner office with a great view. On weekends, Dad did mostly the same sort of things that Mr. Wright did. He’d clean gutters, rake leaves, fix things around the house, and fiddle with our ’59 Rambler station wagon, which he’d bought simply because it had the smallest tail fins of any car available that year. (Dad didn’t care for tail fins.) For fun, Dad would listen to classical music on his HiFi tube receiver, play chess, or draw dream houses in his study.

Both he and Mr. Wright were members of the “Greatest Generation,” World War II veterans, but they didn’t think of themselves that way at all.  Now family men in their mid-30s, Dad had fought Hitler and National Socialism in Europe in his early twenties and he’d been in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Wright, a blue collar machinist, had been a machinist in the Navy and fought Imperial Japan in the Pacific. From there the differences between the two men, both good fathers, became more pronounced. Mr. Wright drank beer. Dad never did. Mr. Wright had mysterious tattoos that were earned, he said, in battles during the Pacific war. Dad eschewed tattoos and rarely swore. Mr. Wright sometimes swore, well, like a sailor.

But the gruff, flinty New England machinist did something more. Something Dad had no interest in. Mr. Wright grew gardens. He husbanded bursting green vegetable gardens and riotous flower gardens all around his home. In this he took a young lad under his wing and introduced me to the wonder and positivity of growing things.

He taught me how to weed.

“Pull from the base, Tawm, and only when the soil is wet, so you’ll get it all.” And then in his dry, down-East accent: “No, not that!  That’s a daisy!” He also built his own greenhouse. Watching him work with the concrete and then the framing and glass, I was captivated by the thought of one man building a real structure by himself.

Mr. Wright had three daughters. Carol, the youngest, was a young teen and, to me, all grown up. I was waist high to her and she enjoyed my gullibility with some regularity. At Halloween, Carol made a dummy out of old clothes and soaked it with the hose. As I walked in deep darkness down the perfect ambush of Mr. Wright’s narrow garden path, barely able to see out of the eye slits of my Halloween mask, the sodden dummy swung out, wrapping flaccid clammy arms around my face and shoulders, nearly knocking me down! Before I could gather my wits to run, I’d done a little croaking dance to the god of adrenaline, then I took off like a shot! Behind me I heard the mocking laughter of hidden teens.

Gail, the middle girl, I never really knew. She always seemed to be out on some activity.  But Pam, the Wright’s eldest, I just loved. Pam favored corduroy jumpers and turtlenecks and played the folk guitar. Pam would reach down and hug me whenever we met. Mrs. Wright, being a school teacher, once had Pam come and play guitar for our third grade class. She sat in front of the classroom in her jumper and bobbed hair and sang ballads in a clear, sweet voice.

Pam had something wrong with her heart, I was told, a prolapsed or a deviated something. Fixable today, in those days it could not be helped, and so one day Pam died.  I was bewildered, deeply sad, and quite rattled by this. I hadn’t realized that people sometimes died, as in I’d never see them again, ever. How Mr. Wright felt, I never saw.  He kept it to himself. Turning inward, he seemed overly quiet and far away at times, but still almost always happy to see the little neighbor boy who took an interest in him and his otherwise solitary garden work.

Mr. Wright gave me a larger view of the world of men. Real men cared for their families and were dependable workers, sure. But sometimes real men would have a beer. Not all wore a coat and tie. Some men wore dungarees, just like I did! Real men, I noticed, sometimes would not shave on the weekends. They could be gruff and testy and slow to smile. Some such men had strange tattoos, and they weren’t circus people! These were tattoos that they’d “earned,” and I learned not to ask “too many questions, by gaw”! Real men, I saw, were tight-lipped and stoical at the death of their beloved child. And I learned that real men grow gardens. Vegetables, to be sure. Victory Garden holdovers maybe, but also flowers. Real men could grow marigolds, tulips, crocuses, and a rose bush or two so that now and again, for no particular reason they could bring their wife a subtle, sweet-scented bouquet of beauty from the side yard.

Some real men, never very good at talking, let their garden do their talking for them. And this Mr. Wright’s garden did through the years with more depth, affection and sincerity than any words could muster.

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Tom Preble is an essayist for many publications,  including the The Denver Post, Sierra ClubAg Journal, and many magazines and papers. Tom’s work has been nationally syndicated.

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The Way

File:King Ridge Road - Terry Morse.jpg

“Bicyclists wend their way over the rolling and twisting King Ridge road, on the ridge top above the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma County. Golden hillsides, dense oak forests, and row of immaculate vines make up the landscape.” Photo by terrymorse, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Way

The road may twist, though on the rise
I turn, the sun shines in my eyes,
But then a hollow drops before,
And so I see the sun no more.

Could we but know the way to go,
Straight as the furrows farmers sow.
With detours neither left nor right,
And childlike sleep into the night.

— Virginia Gambardella

Virginia_G

Virginia Gambardella lives in New York. She has one son, three grandchildren, and enjoys the following: people, holidays, antiques, nature, gardening, fishing, decorating, fashion, sharing knowledge, cooking, and baking. She’s a cancer survivor, a pancreatitis survivor, a widow, and the re-inventor of her life, “as necessary.”

 

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Ode to the Ginkgo Biloba tree and to her leaves

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Gingko biloba trio in Mariemont Park, in Morlanwels-Mariemont (Belgium). Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont, via Wikimedia Commons.

I was very happy to hear great news from dian today. She’s signed two book contracts in less than six weeks! Congratulations, dian! This is her favorite ode from her book of “odes to common plants,” honoring an ancient and beautiful tree that embodies romance, mystery, and magic for so many of us. ENJOY!
— S.K.

 

Ode to the Ginkgo Biloba tree and to her leaves

Now it comes to me that you fan-shaped leaves right in front of the Hermann’s house, in Brooklyn on New York Avenue next door to my old house cause we had a parking sign pole instead of a tree and there were those leaves now I know were from a Gingko Biloba tree—fell yellow. I didn’t know your name then or why your golden fall lobed leaves, like tiny Japanese paper fans, fell differently than the Giordano’s maple tree. Now feeling the fresh fall air just reminiscing about you. You are not like the maple, the sycamore, or the sweetgum tree. Thinking of always seeing you in yellow fall on the avenue with your parted cleavage scattering in sheer fall camisoles with one missed blouse button and though you are classy, you are from a street tree, a living fossil 350 million years old making you the oldest tree on earth from the era of dinosaurs. You are the earliest of my leaf-time memories of not thinking you were really a leaf.  You Ms.—silver apricot—maidenhair tree, every leaf brings me right back to you.

— dian parrotta

 

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Ginkgo biloba Fallen Leaves, taken at Tyler Arboretum, Media, Pennsylvania by Derek Ramsey, 2007 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Dian is a proud alumnus from the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University which had taken her for the first time away from Brooklyn. She also holds an M.A.T degree from George Mason University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Lindenwood University. She enjoys writing about the health benefits of eating delicious dandelions, broad-leaf plantain, purslane, garlic mustard, common nettle and the very tasty pigweed.  She harvests words into odes that celebrate the common plants, trees, shrubs and roots. She does dream to retire from teaching after 30 years at a local high school within the next year or so to join her two sons, who are both living in Prague and in Madrid, Spain. She says she wouldn’t mind spending her retirement writing garden, flower and plant poems.

 

 

 

 

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Ode to the plantain weed

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) by Bob Embleton, England, via Wikimedia Commons. “On the grass verge on May Day. Also known as fighters, soldiers, hard-heads (as they can be used in a game similar to conkers), fire-weed and fire leaf.”

 

I was so happy to “meet” dian this last week. We’re birds of a feather, interested in literature . . . and eating weeds! Ha!
— S. K.

Ode to the plantain weed

a Brobdingnagian broad leaf
plantain
a circular universe

this round leafed plant
low circles of leaves,

low-growing pressed
close squatting real low

with flower stalks 12-18 inches tall
spike shells like firing silver bullets

cone-shaped bloom
bending its stem tight

arrow heads fly
You are your own macrocosmos

an intercontinental ballistic missile
control facility center

with medicinal properties with edible leaves and seeds
appreciated from far back

Anglo-Saxons remedies for scapes, wounds, burns, sores
bites and bee-bug stings.

a wide rosette spread
a common weed with wide, oval leaves

by Roman armies
on conquests

You, so remembered as the white man’s
perennial foot print

— dian parrotta

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“Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Essex, England” by sannse, via Wikimedia Commons

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dian_parrotta_August_2019

Dian is a proud alumnus from the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University which had taken her for the first time away from Brooklyn. She also holds an M.A.T degree from George Mason University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Lindenwood University. She enjoys writing about the health benefits of eating delicious dandelions, broad-leaf plantain, purslane, garlic mustard, common nettle and the very tasty pigweed.  She harvests words into odes that celebrate the common plants, trees, shrubs and roots. She does dream to retire from teaching after 30 years at a local high school within the next year or so to join her two sons, who are both living in Prague and in Madrid, Spain. She says she wouldn’t mind spending her retirement writing garden, flower and plant poems.

 

 

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Summer Performance

Virginia sent me a charming poem this morning via email and I found a photo that seems to fit just right. I hope you enjoy both!

— S.K.

Miscanthus_sinensis_Graziella_Photo by David J. Stang. First published at ZipcodeZoo.com., WC

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella.’ Photo by David J. Stang. First published at ZipcodeZoo.com. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

Summer Performance

I watched the tall slender grasses
Dancing to the beat of the wind.
They gracefully dip and twist
Ballerinas in green tutus
Swirling silver-tipped curving heads
Nature’s Corp de ballet
A summer performance.

— Virginia Gambardella

virginia_gambardella

Virginia Gambardella lives in New York. She has one son, three grandchildren, and enjoys the following: people, holidays, antiques, nature, gardening, fishing, decorating, fashion, sharing knowledge, cooking, and baking. She’s a cancer survivor, a pancreatitis survivor, a widow, and the re-inventor of her life, “as necessary.”

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Happy Birthday Charles Mraz

Oh, those “old wives tales”!
(Translation: female wisdom gained from connecting to Nature and used to help humanity over hundreds of thousands of years.)

Although it’s not Charles Mraz’s birthday today, I wanted to share this post from Sassafras Bee Farm.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

–S.K.

Beekeeping365

Charles Mraz, Advocate of Therapeutic Bee Sting Therapy

Obituary as published in the New York Times

cmrazCharles Mraz, an inventive beekeeper who since the 1930’s had been the country’s leading evangelist for the therapeutic use of bee stings, a still unproven treatment, died on Monday at his home in Middlebury, Vt. He was 94.

Mr. Mraz was widely known among beekeepers for developing a hardy strain of bees well suited to survive in the chilly Champlain Valley in Vermont and for figuring out how to get cranky bees safely out of the way so honey could be harvested more easily.

But many thousands of people with chronic diseases knew him for his campaign to have bee venom and other bee products accepted as medical therapies in the United States — a quest that began when he deliberately bared his own arthritic knees for bee stings. His proselytizing…

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Give Them Nature

One of my favorite Luther Burbank quotes.

— S. K.

 

Luther-burbank

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Pola Vortex

A badass poem about the polar vortex, defined as “a low pressure area—a wide expanse of swirling cold air—that is parked in polar regions.” We know it as the force that wreaked havoc here in the U.S. last week.

Tricia Knoll first published Pola Vortex as part of a “poetry marathon” put on by Tupelo Press, an indie press that publishes books of poetry. It was part of a 30-30 challenge—30 poems in 30 days.

The poems will be up through February here.

Thanks, Tricia, for sharing this one with us.

— S.K.

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“Bodypainted Snow Queen” by by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensing agreement can be viewed here.

Pola Vortex 

am the witch’s tit.

You people never get me right. My bitch bra is made of silver, not brass. I make mirrors and hand you froth. I go by many names, but call me Pola. The lusty wind diva. Cringe all you like.

Be warned: Jail break! I am no longer stuck to the cloverleaf of north. I swoop down to kick ass on your sad little towns, clog your straight-arrow roads, shiver your timbers, and kill your weak. ICE? You ain’t seen nothing yet. I lock you homebound.

I rub you raw. Push me with plows? I keep coming. I’m higher than your kites, clouds, skyscrapers and drones. My slip shows – flakey lace. White and quite long-wear-you-down. Hah! I’m a swirling hurl-a-girl layback spin, skating your way every chance I get on ice-sharp blades. Flashing my flowing skirts – silver thaw and midnight blue.

You ignored me. You favored rant-chants about warming. While the sea beneath me went soft. We are going to dance, you and me. Like it or not, I lead. Buckle up your boots. Snowshoes. All-wheel drive and all-weather coats.

You don’t have time to tame me. I’m counter-clockwise. Pola revolutionary.

Fools unlocked the gate. I’m no more stay-at-home dame. Good times Pola Mama. You get what you deserve.

—Tricia Knoll

 

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Tricia Knoll’s latest poetry book, “How I Learned To Be White“, delves into how ancestry, childhood, education, and more form a concept of white privilege . . . and what work is required to see through that privilege and live in this multicultural world. She lives in Vermont and you can read more about Tricia and her books at her website.

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Please Don’t Piss on the Petunias—a Memoir

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My memoir is coming out this month!

Yes, I know. I announced that it was coming out “soon” in JUNE (over six months ago). This baby is late, very late. As some of you know, I’m a self-taught publisher. Over the last eight years, I’ve published six issues of Greenwoman, a YA novel (Zera and the Green Man), a book of short stories (Fifty Shades of Green), a few e-books, and many articles and posts. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with many talented writers of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. I’d published so many things, but I’d never published a memoir—so here, once again, was another huge learning curve.

I thought I had all the material, all the stories I’d written over the years, and it could be easily put together. Oh, ha ha—wishful thinking! Luckily, my daughters (thank the heavens for them, always bringing me back to reality and keeping the bar set high) told me that the first draft was too incomplete and too inconsistent.

Those were not words I was hoping to hear.

My daughters urged me to rewrite several of the stories in past tense. A significant undertaking.

Then I discovered that the book, about our menagerie of pets over the years (among other things), really needed a story about our dog Chancho.

More importantly, the book needed an “origin” story.

That story took another month of writing, but first I had to time-travel back twenty-five years. (And let me tell you, time-travel is not easy!) The process was difficult emotionally, reliving those days, the tough times back in the early days, before all the fun started with raising kids, chickens, and a garden. Andy and I were just starting out in business and in parenthood, paying student loans and the mortgage on two houses for an entire year, living paycheck to paycheck (having to borrow money at times from his brother Danny to keep the utilities on), as Andy worked seven days a week to fix up a beautiful yet humble home with (finally) a space to garden . . . Oh, and did I mention I was pregnant with Lily and we had no health insurance?

I wrote the origin story. We went over the manuscript, again. And then again, reading it aloud this time and making over 600 more editing changes.

Two days ago I received what I hope will be the final proof. One more fine-tooth comb reading and a only a few (I hope!) minor edits.

I was reminded: Anything worthwhile takes time and thought and care. More than you imagine!

But today, finally, a sneak peek! Here she is. Almost born!

(Consider this an invitation to the baby shower.)

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Now for the backstory on the title, because some of you might remember that it was going to be titled The Chicken Chronicles. A good friend alerted me (thank you, V. G.!) that there was already a memoir with that title, by the illustrious Alice Walker (the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Color Purple). Her book was also about chickens. So . . . I had to think of another title. Not easy, as that was my “working title” for years.

For a while I was stuck on Mother Hen . . .  but no one seemed thrilled about that one, and the only male beta reader (hello, Geno!) gave it a thumbs’ down in appeal to male readers. A clever friend (again, G. V.) , suggested a few alternatives. Her favorite was Chicken Scratches, which had its charms, but as I always prided myself on good penpersonship, it didn’t connect with me the way it needed to.

Sidenote: Wow, while writing this, I just thought of another title . . . Clucked Up. Ha ha! Maybe that will be the title of the sequel! Goodness knows there have been many more challenges and harrowing adventures this last decade— and especially these last two years!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: One day I was rattling off title suggestions to Lily, including “Please Don’t Piss on the Penstemons,” the original title of one of the stories about our dog, Broonzy, and his destructive puppyhood. The back story on that title is that it’s a play on the old book/movie title Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, a work I’d never read, but I remembered vividly from childhood.

Lily said, “I like that one.”

Image result for please don't eat the daisies

I said, “I do too, especially the alliteration, but . . . I don’t know. It has a swear word. And I think there are a lot of people who don’t even know what penstemons are!”

Lily said that readers could look up penstemons—and that it wasn’t a big deal about “piss.”

I still thought it could be a dangerous move, a title with both “penstemons” and “piss,” so I decided to change penstemons to another “p” flower. What would sound best? We asked friends their preference: poppies, pansies, petunias or peonies?

“Petunias” won.

Now, to take a look at “piss” (ha). I researched: “book titles with swear words.” It seems that it can actually help sell a book these days!  Who knew? I brought it up to a media-savvy friend (hello, Mary Ellen!) a decade older than I am. She was, to my surprise, very enthusiastic. She said, “Our book club chose to read The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu  because of the title. Do it, Sandy!”

Still searching for a bit more reassurance (this was a big move!), I brought up the subject of swear words in book titles in Facebook-land. My mother immediately commented that she would never have a book with a swear word in the title on her coffee table! (Protecting the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you see. I didn’t even disclose what the colorful word would be, but she was against it.)

So “Piss” it was!

The book is very sweet (and only slightly pissy). More than anything, it is a love letter to our home and garden, our family, and Nature.

I hope you’ll make a note to buy a copy this month. I’ll let you know when she is born!

With much love and appreciation to all who have helped bring yet another dream to fruition,

— Sandy

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