Times of Change

I’ve been thinking lately that it is time to stop raising chickens. It seems a good time for me to make such a large change as it is fall. Fall is a natural time for letting go, for purging the unnecessary from life, for making room for something new. With the descent of winter, I will be spending less time in the garden. The rains will wash away the old detritus of the year. As I live more fully in sync with the seasons, I am able to recognize the ebb and flow of my life and allow it to unfold without getting in the way.

Y with chik 2_prbalancing chicken_prWe first got chickens when my son, Yo’el, was nine. A friend brought a pet chicken to school one day and he was completely enamored. Ofer and I had been wanting to get chickens for years, so it was finally time. In a short period of time, it became clear that these were more than pets, they were comforters. During times of upset, the first thing that Yo’el would do is run to the back yard and watch the chickens. Years later, I asked him why he did that and he said that their sounds were comforting and helped him feel better.

Now, it has been thirteen years of raising chickens. We’ve raised four flocks or so and had times of both abundance and heartache as they laid excessively or not enough to keep us fed, and over time, they died. It became a way of life for our family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt also became part of our public image. We have been known for our “urban farm” environment by people who come to our place for healing. I know a number of farmers and we do not have an urban farm. The life of a farmer is far more difficult and devoted to the ongoing process of sowing, harvesting, death and renewal.

 

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We have created a sacred space that includes animals. All forms of life are valuable and we want to share the healing benefits of nature with everyone who steps into our world. We are also devoted to the ongoing process of sowing, harvesting, death and renewal, in a broader sense, in terms of the spirit and the creation of a healthy lifestyle.

We, too, feel that the chickens are a valuable part of our sacred space. So, you may ask, why are you now getting rid of them? Well, the truth is that much as we sometimes resist it, things change over time. We are currently in times of change.

When we first got chickens, it was hard to find healthy, free-range eggs in markets. We have always been committed to eating the freshest foods, so raising our own chickens made sense. Since then, the farmers have responded and are now offering reasonably priced, free-range eggs in our local markets. And we love to support the local farmers, so one more way to do that is to buy their eggs.

y e (18)_pry e (35) pry e (65)_pry e (12)_prOur son is now almost 23 and he may fly the coop at any time. Over the last few years, he has been less interested in the chickens and helps with them only because I asked him to and he’s a helpful guy.

 

I, too, am changing and finding that without a child running around the place, there is less that holds me here. I am letting go of old dreams and looking at expanding my activities. I am stepping back out into the world which includes more frequent travel. In 2016, so far, I have six trips planned. That sort of travel hasn’t happened in many years. When I am gone, the animal care falls to Ofer, who wouldn’t have animals if he lived on his own. So, you see, there is a ripple effect as times change.

The ease with which I found someone to adopt the entire flock of chickens is a sweet validation that this is the right decision. A Big “Thank You!” to Heather Thomason of Goat Girl Farm for taking them and providing a good new home.

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As I said earlier, after the winter I will be ready to plant something new in this sacred space of the Sugi Garden.  I don’t know yet what it will be. Maybe it will begin to reveal itself in the darkness of my internal reflections this winter. Winter is the time of my birth so it is an especially auspicious time for me to pull forward a new direction to move towards.

Eggs are an age-old symbol of spring. We will continue to have eggs in our lives to feed us, inspire creativity and growth. And with the beautiful eggs raised by the organic farmers, you will still be able to enjoy our Sunday brunches and homemade ice creams. Spring will bring a feeling of freshness and renewal, a time for hope and possibility. Let’s let go of what no longer serves us and open up to the possibilities that lie ahead.


Healing Flowers

With all of the extreme fires that have been happening all around the state of California there has been a feeling of emergency throughout much of the summer. Even though the fires are at a distance from our lovely place, the heaviness of the destructive, cleansing forces of fire linger around us frequently. Just knowing that people, animals and nature are going through such a sudden and extreme change brings a combination of sadness, anxiety and anticipation.

This type of change is also an opportunity to rid ourselves of old patterns and to take steps towards a new way of being. I look to nature for support during such times and find that Flower Essences are a phenomenal form of therapy to soothe away these challenges. I’ve chosen just a sampling of the flowers that may be useful during this stressful summer/fall. Some of these flowers will help in the immediacy of the traumatic moment and others will address the effects of a trauma that can linger over time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABleeding Heart –  Intense feelings of brokenheartedness and loss often  occur with the loss of a loved one, including a place or animal that has been dearly cherished. The response can be an emotional dependence that is unhealthy and extreme. Bleeding Heart will help these people fill themselves from within by connecting to their own spiritual strengths and learn to love and honor others from a place of openheartedness and fullness.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABorage – Another wonderful remedy for the heart is Borage. I especially love this one in the garden as well as in my flower essences! It pulls up a feeling uplifting joy and courage, particularly during challenging circumstances. Borage will assist you in overcoming deep feelings of grief, heavy-heartedness and depression. Feel the lightness and optimism that fills you when Borage is your friend!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACalendula – When we are under a great deal of stress, our spoken words can become cutting and sharp. Impatience and self-protection influences our communications. Calendula will allow for a more balanced way of interacting with others through speaking. This flower will bring forth feelings of compassion, warmth and healing into verbal communications, especially within our personal relationships.

clematis closeup webClematis – This flower helps us become more fully present in life. When tragedy strikes, it is easy to escape by moving our awareness into a dreamy state, another world where life is better. Clematis can support the strength of the inner self to allow a deeper experience of being connected to ourselves as physical beings, the physical world and those around us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACosmos – Cosmos is another wonderful communication flower for times of crisis (or every day) when the thinking becomes overwhelmed and disorganized.  When we feel overwhelmed by circumstances and unable to process everything quickly enough the mind goes into overload; speech becomes rapid and unfocused. Cosmos will bring together the speaking and thinking aspects of the nervous system for fluidity and clarity in communication.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoldenrod – During times of extreme change we can discover that deep inside there is the desire for something different than what we have been living. Our lives are often profoundly influenced by those around us, through community or family ties. This can be difficult to break away from in order to create the true life that is desired. Goldenrod develops a more complete sense of Self, bringing into awareness the unconscious choice to conform. Individuation becomes possible with the help of Goldenrod. As a result, social pressures are not felt so deeply and balance is achieved between the needs of the individual and the group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALove Lies Bleeding – The experience that comes to a community when disaster strikes is often surreal. Love Lies Bleeding can pull us from the depths of despair into a place of consciousness that transcends the personal and offers a larger context for understanding suffering. This overpowering experience brings into focus the awareness that one’s personal pain is an expression of the human condition. When using Love Lies Bleeding flower essence, we can discover a heartfelt bond with all of life and feel the deep-seated compassion that is hidden in our hearts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMariposa Lily – Traumatic events exacerbate the patterns that we have developed for self-preservation. Many of us have never developed a clear bond with the essence of Mother. This can be experienced as a separation from Gaia (the Earth and environment), from our own feminine aspects, and from personal relationship with human females. Mariposa Lily is a flower that manifests feelings of nurturing that heal the broken bonds of mother and child. Being embraced by the maternal gives us a strong foundation for forgiveness that results in the ability to move forward in a state of grace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATansy – The chaos of a sudden, dramatic life change can trigger feelings of intense overwhelm, instability and confusion. When faced with this situation, many people withdraw to cope and are unable to take meaningful action to move forward in life. Tansy stimulates self-awareness which creates the ability to respond differently. The energy of Tansy brings forward decisiveness and purposeful action to reach goals.


Gaia will thrive, how will humanity survive?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll of the wildfires in Northern California this summer have me contemplating the serious situation we find ourselves in. It brings about a wide mixture of feelings. I’ve had a bit of worry for people I know who may be hurt by the fires; unhappiness at the hazy air that we’ve been having as a result; amazement at the gorgeous sunsets and relief that it isn’t happening closer to me. But, also, a feeling of relief that the land is finally burning and giving itself the opportunity for regeneration. This last is not the usual response, I know. Yet, it is a real effect. People have used controlled burning for generations to help revitalize the land. The problem is, that we value the land in its fully grown expression more than in its early stages of growth.

This is not a new topic for me. For over 30 years I have dedicated myself to learning how to take better care of myself in direct relation to caring for the earth and feeling the depth of our connection. As this skill has developed, I have come to understand that it is not that Gaia needs us to thrive, it’s that we need her. As we gradually ruin areas for human habitation, we move on and they return to nature. Gaia then swoops in and allows the gradual, organic process of rebuilding life to begin. Short of a worldwide nuclear holocaust, Gaia will continuously grow and change. Her exquisite life force is alive and well. The inherent adaptability of such a beautiful design is what will give her ongoing success.

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Our continuation as a species also depends on our ability to adapt. The more we ignore the overpopulation, overuse and poisoning of our lands, the less viable land there is for us to live on. The natural resources that are so important for our survival are dwindling due to wasteful habits. In addition, these habits are creating a world in which we are becoming sicker and sicker as our bodies were not designed to live well in such a polluted world.

In America, we are especially guilty of this wasteful way of living. It seemed normal to me as a teenager to throw trash on the streets, keep water running, throw away leftover materials and foods along with other types of wasteful behaviors. It was the attitude of privilege that came from living in a middle class suburb in the Midwest. Disrespect was not a word I understood in relation to the earth and its resources. The idea of limitation to gas, water, food and other resources that I used on a daily basis never even crossed my mind.

Slowly, in my late teens – early twenties, I came to know the ethereal strength of the Sonoran desert through hiking and camping.  Being completely surrounded by and fascinated by the elements of nature in the desert gave way to spiritual experiences. Visions and insights into the natural world and my personal relationship to it were commonplace. The feeling of privilege, gave way to awe.

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“Show gratitude to every living thing” is a concept from the Reiki Principles that I only became aware of through those experiences. It is an intellectual concept that is currently common in our modern lives, yet largely it is misunderstood. The focus in the world of environmental activism tends to exclude ourselves as part of the “living things”. Instead, we are intent on “healing the planet”.  Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the benefits of the “Green Movement”, and have been an active member for over 30 years.

The problem is leaving ourselves out of that picture. I will repeat what I said earlier, Gaia will be fine! She does not need us for her survival. She will simply continue to make adjustments to bring about future equilibrium. Can we make adjustments in our way of living to survive with her? That is what is left to be seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARegeneration is an important part of our own survival. There are many ways to regenerate our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our lives.

If you are interested in learning how to thrive along with Gaia, come to my Sugi Way: Seasons training and get reconnected with the earth and your natural well being.

 


Cycles of Life

In the past week, I have been experiencing a lot of grief due to the loss of two family members and a dear friend. The feeling of grief is a familiar one for me, and though it isn’t my favorite emotion, it is one I am comfortable with. This is not true for so many people in the world, as our communities, families and educators teach us that it is a forbidden feeling, something to hide away from the world. In deeply experiencing the letting go that comes with the loss of a loved one, mental and visual clarity arise along with a profound feeling of gratitude for all of the loved ones within my community, both close and extended.

Dragonfly on Poppy seed head

Dragonfly on Poppy seed head

In nature, the cyclical process of loss is tied intimately to renewal and birth. In my early years of gardening, I didn’t understand this connection and was very linear in my thinking about the garden. Plant seeds, water, watch seedlings grow, pick fruit, watch plant die. Repeat. It was a completely uninformed and disconnected way of viewing the world of living beings.

As I have learned to observe more closely, the actual cycles of life have revealed themselves to me throughout the seasons. I’ve come to recognize the interim stages of growth. For example, a seedling is a tender new growth that requires great care and attention to grow strong. Plenty of nutrients, water and gentle sunlight will support healthy growth of a seedling. Too much zigzagging of temperature, poor soil or inconsistent water will compromise the growth and the plant, if it survives, will produce less.

Once the plant is strong, it will grow happily, adding new stems and leaves as it expresses its joy of living. The addition of flowers comes in preparation for the apex of its growth – the ultimate purpose is in creating the next generation through the production of seeds. When the fruit is ripening, the supporting elements begin to droop, yellow and wither putting all of the life energy into the fruit. At first, when I saw this happen, I thought there was something wrong with the plant. Then, I came to understand that this place between the height of production and the end of life is a natural juxtaposition.

It is interesting to walk around the garden in summer and observe this dynamic of death and birth that is happening even in the midst of what is usually considered the season of vibrant living! You can see in the following photos an array of plants that have formed seed heads that have already dried in the hot weather and are beginning to spread their seeds for the next round of growth.

Mallow seed heads

Mallow seed heads

Lambs ear with seeds

Lambs ear with seeds

Feverfew seed heads

Feverfew seed heads

Fennel seed heads

Fennel seed heads

Chard seeds

Chard seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wondrous process of nature is that its ultimate purpose is continuation of life. So, as the plants dry out, become OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbrittle and seemingly lifeless, that is exactly the time during which they are most valuable. When the seed heads dry out, the pods burst or the seeds get released from the rotting fruit, they drop to the ground below. From there, they may get carried by an animal or perhaps the wind to another place to germinate. Some will stay in the original spot and wait. Many of these seeds are food for the wildlife in the area.

 

Borage seeds

Borage seeds

Calendula seed head

Calendula seed head

 

Some of the plants take on an ethereal nature when dry and ready to spiral into the next stage of life.

 

 

 

When the colder and quieter season of winter has passed and early spring has arrived, the dormant seeds begin to awaken and grow deep underground where they are not visible. Much like a young fetus, life begins in a vulnerable way, with enthusiastic, hidden growth. Suddenly, it seems, the new plant bursts forth from the ground, revealing its presence. A baby’s presence is felt through the thrumming of the blood flow and revealed in the sudden kick of a tiny foot.

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mushrooms peeking out

Amaranth

Amaranth

If you were looking closely though, you would see that there are tiny indications of life coming up before most people are aware of it. This happens inside of ourselves, too. When observing ourselves closely, looking for the tiny hints of change and growth, sometimes it feels sad and other times exciting. These little trickles can be felt and influenced even when they are deeply underground and newly forming. These revelations offer an opportunity to live in an aware, mindful way allowing for recognition that each phase is continuously moving toward the next one.


Dragonfly Summer

As the summer is moving into being, we are witnessing the awakening of the life that we invited during the slower months. The flowers are bursting all around us and the addition of the element of water in this dry land is beginning to show its value. There are lots of little ripples in the pond that show that life is moving in. We found the larvae of a drone fly wiggling around and researched it to find that it looks similar to a bee in its full form and is a beneficial pollinator. What an amazing discovery!

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The change from full spring blooms to the slow transition into summer, brings an energy that is hearty and full. The abundance of the native volunteers, both plants and insect life, opens the heart and creates a feeling of gratitude. That feeling is reflected as we observe each new plant blooming and every new buzzing insect that is working for us to fill the garden with food.

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Tub fountain

mini-fountain

Mini-fountain

Pool to stream

Pool to stream

From stream to pond

From stream to pond

The sound of water trickling through the various fountains, dripping down the rocks and dropping over the edge is music that inspires us all day long. In the dusk of evening, when we linger after a meal on the patio, we are able to enjoy the yellow-bellied finches tasting the early sunflowers, as the hummingbirds flit over to say “Hello”!

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One of our most exciting discoveries recently was the appearance of a large red dragonfly. At first we only saw it once in a while. Now, we see it every day and there have even been sightings of more than one. The favorite landing sight is a golden, dried up California poppy that I hadn’t taken out of the ground yet.

It is interesting to note that though there are a large variety of plants near the water, with flowers, without flowers, green and tall, short and dry…the dragonfly repeatedly chooses the dry California poppy. It’s satisfaction with this perch allowed for a photo session as it posed for me.

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The symbolism of the dragonfly is steeped deeply in a variety of traditions. Especially visible in Japanese and Native American lore, the dragonfly is a representation of the unconscious, the illusions that exist in life. Both wind and water are elements that are associated with dragonfly as it soars on the wind and listens for deeper meaning. Through water the dragonfly is born with the ability to perceive the underlying messages of the unconscious.

The dragonfly is often seen as an agent of change and the awakening from illusions. Adaptability, wisdom and transformation are essential qualities of the dragonfly, along with prosperity and good luck. So, dragonfly summer is a great time to tap into the potential that this totem represents. Take a moment when you are here to take a look around the pond and absorb some of the dragonfly’s energy for yourself!


Internally Blossoming

There’s something magical happening at our place. As the earth is allowed to design the garden’s landscape, we are finding more and more signs of life. Sometimes, the signs are large and noticeable, like the sound of more birds singing, larger and more frequent butterfly sightings, more robust plant growth. Other times, the signs are small and hard to notice. Tiny wildflowers blooming in the driveway, ladybugs on plant stems, mushrooms growing under the lower plant canopies, bulbs peeking up through the soil….

native pineapple chamomile

pineapple chamomile

flowering unknown native

flowering native

popping up

mushroom heads revealed

visible bulbs

visible bulbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

The garden is such a wonderful analogy for our human condition. In my early years as a gardener, I would rush out at the first sign of spring or in the last days of nice fall weather and put new plants into the ground. What inevitably happened was that the plants would die – because they weren’t strong enough to survive through the inconsistencies of the season, and I wasn’t aware enough of their needs to provide the nurturing they needed at this early phase of their lives. This is also something that’s easily done in our daily lives – jumping into action before an idea is fully formed often causes its immediate demise. When this happens it is because of our inability to perceive and care for the tiny bud that’s forming inside.

At the beginning stages of growth, it is good to go slowly, looking closely at the potential – is it strong, is it in balance, what does it need to nurture further growth? Underneath the surface is a continuous, minute process that is perceivable to those who develop the ability to sense deeply the changes that are happening internally. When we look closely, there are always tiny pieces of growth happening. At first, hidden deep inside, the hints of possibility can be invisible. Then, as the potential grows, visibility improves for those who are paying attention.  Much as the newly planted seed is beginning its germination deep underneath the soil, it is invisible to us above the soil, and then, suddenly, the first signs of life are revealed above ground! This new growth is vulnerable and requires regular attention to fully form. Sometimes it is possible to see the shell of the seed attached to the new growth. A clear indication of the newness of what is forming.

blackberry flowers

blackberry flowers

pepper flower

pepper flower

baby purple cabbage

baby purple cabbage

evening beans

evening beans

early grapes

early grapes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a process that happens inside us as well. Moving through life we are often unclear of the path we are walking with the wind blowing us to and fro. Many opportunities are presented, seeds are sown, yet only some of them take root and grow. These seeds are not always consciously planted. Many times, a seed is thrown out in our surroundings and an unidentifiable part of us swoops up the idea and stores it until the ground is fertile for germination. As the idea develops, we may forget the original seed that was – its origins, characteristics or purposes – to focus on what the seed is becoming.

We can consciously nurture those seeds, set them aside for later or ignore the possibilities and blindly follow the whim of the day. “Allowing nature to take its course” doesn’t mean that we wander aimlessly. A small amount of attention on a new direction or idea, when coupled with waiting time for the possibilities to form, opens up unexpected directions to act on as the next step. A clear goal may or may not be in sight. The process of following the subtle movements of change will reveal the ending eventually – even if it is only a pause as the chapter completes.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

 

With practice, as each step unfolds, it is easier to feel and trust the endless process of internally blossoming.

 


A Naturalized Garden

During this time of drought, people are bringing their attention back to the amount of water taken by a suburban sized yard. By the way, drought is a natural state here in California. I remember moving here in 1982 and being in the middle of a seven year drought. The ebb and flow of water in the state of California is its natural condition. No need to panic when there is drought if we already have in place a natural garden.

Having grown up in the Midwest where our large yards were green with grasses, trees and bushes aplenty, I understand the expectation of green in the suburban landscape. What isn’t valued is the fall and winter landscapes of lighter greens, golds and tans. Winter white is exceptionally beautiful and full of potential.

There is an emotional component, as well as a social one, of green being wealth and abundance. This wonderful imagery doesn’t have to be changed when living in different areas – our view of beauty and what defines green, does. In the West, we  have a large variety of colors and hues all year round. If you take the time to look closely, the immense beauty lies in the subtlety.  The less vibrant colors are peaceful and serve as the perfect background to the patches of brilliance that pop out in front. The whole effect is intoxicating to the soul.

yarrow

yarrow

black sage & yellow blooming sage

black sage & yellow blooming sage

gorgeous sage

gorgeous sage

blooming cleavers

blooming cleavers

seeding miner's lettuce

seeding miner’s lettuce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years, we have diligently created a garden that reflects the beauty, waterwise, and edible elements of a natural California landscape. Think about it, every spring you go up into the open space areas to absorb the lovely vistas of the native landscape at its best – full of spring foliage, bugs and life!

The naturalized garden has many advantages. One of them is the gorgeous, prolific green growth that appears each spring – without watering! People look around our garden admiringly and then ask, “Are you changing anything to cut back on water with the drought?” And we say emphatically, “No!” We have established a drought resistant garden many years ago. People just don’t recognize that it is drought tolerant.

feverfew, pacific pea, california poppy, lavendar

feverfew, pacific pea, california poppy, lavendar

green filled yard

green filled yard

mallow

mallow

mustard

mustard

wild fennel

wild fennel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we first moved onto our property 16 years ago, there was one lonely California Poppy, one small patch of Miner’s lettuce and one Feverfew plant way in the back. We started by getting rid of all of the grass; then, we brought in chickens to give us eggs, eat the weeds that we don’t want and fertilize the land. We have filled the garden with flowering natives that attract and feed the birds, bees and butterflies. We spread the seeds of mustard, cleavers, mallow, wild fennel and other natural herbals that fill our bellies with healthy greens each spring without watering or planting.

With the use of wood chips (see my previous blog for more info), the soil is happier every year and requires less water, too. The plants are healthier and more abundant, especially the beneficial volunteer natives, and it’s easy to remove whatever doesn’t belong.

Let them go to seed and they will come back each year in new areas with delightful abandon. As a result, every year there are more of them spread around the yard, providing green foliage to host all the wonderful insects and spiders that serve us in the garden. Not to mention the amazing health benefits for us when we make spring greens broths. Now, each spring we are greeted with an abundant sprinkling of all of them throughout the garden. Nature’s design is gorgeous!

fountain decor

fountain decor

pond island beauty

pond island beauty

yellow flowering native

yellow flowering native

orange flowering native

orange flowering native

flowering native

flowering native

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the wildflowers have simply volunteered to join us. Feverfew, California poppy, Pacific peas, Vetch, and others that we don’t know the names of have created a lush beauty around the yard and our new pond. Many of these, I have seen on hikes in our surrounding open space. How delightful it is to wander around there in the spring. After 16 years, I feel that walking through my garden gives me the same benefit. Native wildflowers are popping up everywhere, gorgeous butterflies (hard to catch on camera, but I saw a light yellow swallowtail this year that was 2″ long!) and each year more lizards, snakes and newts.

wild fennel blooms

wild fennel blooms

milkweed

milkweed

mugwort

mugwort

penstemon

penstemon

penstemon bud

penstemon bud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve found that there are so many beautiful natives. During hikes in the area, I make a mental note of a plant I enjoy and then research it, find a local plant person to buy it from and put it in my garden. One of my favorite places to find natives is Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville. What have I planted? Yarrow, all kinds of sages, mugwort, milkweed (the monarch’s home plant), penstemons, and more! Some people worry about plants like mugwort that will spread when happy. Natives that are accustomed to a limited amount of water can definitely become difficult if given too much water. Some of them will actually die out because they don’t like it. Others will thrive and spread too much.

I find that if I give plenty of water until the plant is established, then nature will take care of the rest. Many natives I only water once a week or less even when the weather is hot.

sweet peas

sweet peas

native pineapple chamomile

native pineapple chamomile

borage

borage

Every year, I see new volunteers in the yard somewhere that I have seen while hiking in the hills around us. This year, I found the wonderful pineapple chamomile that sends up the loveliest scent when stepped on. It tends to grow on the trail and is impossible to avoid! It’s currently growing in my driveway. Who’d a thought?

 

 

Since eating our yard is a favorite activity, I am always on the lookout for edible natives. I’ve mentioned a few above, but one of my favorites is the Bay laurel tree. I keep mine in a pot so it doesn’t get huge. Of course, many herbs will naturalize in the garden, too.

bay laurel

bay laurel

blooming parsley

blooming parsley

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blooming borage

bolting chard

bolting chard

pacific peas, fennel

pacific peas, fennel

Plant them, let them go to seed and they will come back for you year after year! One of the herbs I like to allow to naturalize in my garden is Calendula.

calendula stages

calendula stages

Calendula provides winter color and will pop up in unexpected places to show its happy face. Even in the spring when it is starting to die back and go to seed, its beauty is out of this world! If we accustom ourselves to seeing all stages of the plant’s life as having a natural beauty, then the garden will look good in our eyes all year long. Green is not the only color in the palette of nature. The huge array of colors and their varying shades are apparent throughout the year. So, walk slowly through the world. Open your eyes and look closely to see and appreciate the wondrous hues of nature.


Garden Mushrooms

From the time I was an imaginative child immersed in my experience of the world as a magical place, I have been attracted to mushrooms. My love of Alice in Wonderland, though I didn’t understand the references at that time, endeared me even more to the mystical mushroom. I love their taste and unusual textures, their mind-altering potential, the danger of their potency and the hidden mystery of the way they grow.

Fairy Mushrooms

Fairy Mushrooms

When I became a home owner 16 years ago, I was enthralled with the first mushrooms I found popping up in the late winter. As I was crawling around on the ground, weeding the yard for the first time, I unexpectedly came across a patch of mushrooms. As with everything that I saw for the first time in my new garden, I was excited, exhilarated and ran for the camera and my family to document it.

It felt like I had stumbled upon a secret fairy garden. This hidden world that is not usually visible to the human eye was revealing itself to me. I felt honored to be privy to this secret place, my heart opened and accepted the privilege, and the responsibility, of caring for their well being.

 

The Mighty Mushroom_pr

The Mighty Mushroom

As the years have passed and the property has become richer in its effervescent life there have been more and more mushrooms popping up.  I realized recently that I have seen a wonderful variety of mushrooms all around the yard. Sometimes they are large, and other times they are tiny, and usually in between.

Mushrooms are a wonderful indication of the health of the soil. Plants and trees rely on the reproductive function of fungi to enliven the soil they live in. There are even soil amendments that are made from composted mushrooms.

button-head-mushroom

button-head-mushroom

round-head-mush

round-head-mush

mushroom

mushroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this is interesting and valuable for the avid gardener like myself. Ultimately, though, my infatuation is more of an emotional one than a practical one. I don’t trust my knowledge of mushrooms well enough to actually identify them and eat them from the garden or the wild.

popping up

popping up

mushroom heads

mushroom heads

stems revealed

stems revealed

standing tall

standing tall

 

As you can see here, they happily grow in composting wood chips. In a happy garden, though, anywhere is just fine. When they appear, I know that the garden is becoming more alive.

 

 

spring-shroom

spring-shroom

upright-mushroom

upright-mushroom

top-view

top-view

 

 

Each one is unique. Their beauty is out of this world.

 

 

 

mystery-mushrooms

mystery-mushrooms

Garden Mushrooms

Garden Mushrooms

fairy grove

fairy grove

How can I not run for the camera and then observe them in awe.

mushroom forest

mushroom forest

forest canopy

forest canopy

 

 

 

 

 

Striped-black-and-white

Striped-black-and-white

delicate-black-and-white

delicate-black-and-white

black and-white-trio

black and-white-trio

striped-duo

striped-duo

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know their scientific names, but it doesn’t matter. They speak to me in other ways. Every time a mushroom reveals itself in my garden, I am fed deeply in a place inside that is touched,

wooly mane, inky cap

wooly mane, inky cap

 

somehow,

wooly mane

wooly mane

 

 

wooly mane closeup

wooly mane closeup

 

by the truly wondrous world of nature.


The Sugi Way: Seasons

When I started acupressure school, I was introduced to a book called Staying Healthy with the Seasons by Elson Haas, M.D. This book discusses the Five Element theory of Chinese medicine and explores the influences of the natural world on our whole health. The quote at the beginning of the book still has a strong affect on me when I read it:

“Whoever wishes to investigate medicine should proceed thus:

In the first place,seasons banner color

consider the seasons of the year and

what effect each of them produces.”

Hippocrates

 

I was 25 years old, a budding gardener, an avid hiker, a newbie at meditation, a health conscious vegetarian, an enthusiastic martial artist and a young woman who was passionate and determined to live life differently. I had some professional accomplishments through my B.A. in Psychology and Oriental Studies and three years of work at Pima County mental health facilities (both in- and out-patient).

I had already discovered that I was in great need of personal healing and had begun pursuing that end. Recently introduced to A Course in Miracles, metaphysics and meditation, I understood that in order to change the world I needed to change myself. I had spent so many years learning to defend myself that the ideas of forgiveness and harmony were very enticing. I had learned through martial arts how to harm, now I was ready to learn how to heal.

Amy with baby colorGardening (and motherhood) became a great teacher for me. At the very beginning, I couldn’t even get a house plant to survive. Over the years, through trial and error, I found that as my heart healed and opened, the plants began to thrive, too. In the most stress-filled times of young motherhood, founding a school and running a business, the garden was my sanctuary. When people asked me “How do you do it?” I would tell them the secret of putting my hands in the soil, listening to the birds and watching the vegetables grow, flower and give me food.

 

summer garden 2013Sometimes, I just wander around with my camera and take pictures of the glorious life that reveals itself to me. It becomes a time of reflection and meditation, not of doing or list making. This type of observation allows me to see the seasons unfold. The budding plants that peek up over the soil in early spring, the leggy growth that leads into summer, the transition from flower to fruit in the summer, the slow wilting of the leaves as the fruit matures ready for harvest and the retreat underground for the contemplative and rejuvenating time of winter.

baby purple cabbagepepper flowerfeverfew trioborage closeupbasil beauty

 

 

 

 

Over a period of 40 years, I have watched the garden grow, sometimes to fail, and then grow again. I, too, have grown, faltered and grown again during that time. The symbiotic relationship that we have with the garden is reflected in the way our human lives unfold. The usual comparison with the seasons of nature lists the passages of life that occur sequentially over many years – birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and elder years. This approach denies the variance that occurs in our personal lives. Our actual experiences influence how we change and the process of maturing.

Ofer lifting Yo'el closeup. webIma and Yo'el.croppedAmy holding Yo'el.webbeckoning emailflowerchild01Yo'el with ducks

 

 

 

 

In the Sugi Way: Seasons, there is a deeper exploration of how we move through the seasons internally, not in any particular order, rather in a way that is fluent with our personalities and our life experiences. Sometimes, we are stuck in a deep winter even when it is summer outside. Or during the darkest days of winter, our sunny selves are shining brightly. Ultimately, we learn to match our rhythms to that of nature, while still respecting our internal process and allowing fluid movement between our inner seasons.

Our modern world has created a deep divide between humanity and the earth we live on. In order to reconnect with those natural rhythms, it is necessary to begin to feel and trust again. In truth, trust for me was found in the garden and the eyes of the young children in my life. Reclaiming our own innocence, finding the beauty of that hidden Self, and having safety to bring that person into the open in daily life is done gradually.  Just like the growth of a new plant, the beginning is vulnerable and fragile. As the seasons progress, that tenderness blossoms into prolific strength, resulting in fruits to share with the next generation.

spring bouquetapples closeupOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAblooming duopersimmons

 

 

 

 

 

As I’ve come to understand these rhythms in my own life, I’ve found that it becomes easier to share with others, to articulate, to offer tools for self discovery and to create community with others. My current offering for you comes in the form of The Sugi Way: Seasons training program that begins March 29, 2015. Join me and discover the joy of living with the seasons.

 


Wood Chips as Forest Floor

For the last few years, we have been experimenting with wood chips in the garden. It’s been a gradual process of increasing use over many years. Here’s the story:

wood chip pile

wood chip pile

Originally, we were told by the previous owner of our house, that wood chips are a great ground cover or mulch. And they’re free! So, we started getting them delivered to cover areas of the side yard that tend to grow lots of weeds and to cover weed cloth that I put down to make weeding easier.

Fast forward a few years. I’m potting some plants and run out of soil to use. At that time, we were making our own soil – a mix of kitchen compost, horse manure and sand. I was desperate to finish my project, and didn’t want to pay for soil, so I started looking around for anything I could use in the yard. Ofer suggested that I take a peek under the silver maple (the large tree in the side yard). The wood chips had been sitting there for years, quietly composting. Well, imagine my joy, when I found beautiful composted soil right there in abundance! There was enough for me to finish my project and I was a happy camper.

Not long after, we visited the large Home and Garden show in Santa Monica. It was an interesting experience, but the most important thing we gained was an inspiration. There was a landscaper there who was demonstrating an instant garden idea – he put out straw bales, added a layer of soil and planted directly in the top soil layer. From that, we decided to create what we call instabed or layered gardening. I’ve also heard it referred to as lasagna gardening.

spring beds layered

spring beds layered

 

Good bye planter boxes, soil turning and double digging! This is what we did. We laid out 4 inches of wood chips, added a 2 inch layer of manure, and then repeated the wood chips. The final layer was our homemade soil, about 2 inches deep. We made long beds about 4 feet wide for easy weeding and harvesting. Remember our soil has so much clay that we were able to make a pond and not put in a liner. Take a look at the previous post for more info on our pond.

layered beds with seedlings

layered beds with seedlings

 

We’ve done this for a few years now and the soil is great. Our very clay soil is responding slowly. Then, we found out about the film Back to Eden. It features a man in the northwest who has been gardening solely with wood chips. And the results he has are astounding. The film gives amazing descriptions of how to do it, why it is beneficial and what results to expect. Wow!

Here’s the link to the filmBack to Eden.

So, we have now started to fill the yard with these glorious wood chips. Our insight many years before, which has been reinforced by the video, is that we have been creating an environment to mimic nature. The forest floor, as nature has created it, has purpose beyond a soft place to walk. The leaves and branches that fall underneath the mature and adolescent plants create the perfect environment for life to flourish. As it gently composts over a long period of time, it is providing the perfect combination to support life. As a result, new plants take root and grow on their own – what we call volunteers in the garden is actually the natural order of things in the wilderness.

wood chip beds

wood chip beds

fall potato sprouts

fall potato sprouts

fall garden

fall garden

Over the years, we have observed this phenomenon in our garden. The spontaneous growth that has resulted makes it feel more and more like we live in the country, in an environment that isn’t landscaped, wild. We see different mushrooms every year and mushrooms are a great indicator of healthy soil. (More on mushrooms another time.) Just don’t eat the ones you find unless you are an expert!

 

In addition, there are more birds, more “weeds” many of which are edible and have healing properties and more peace has entered the garden.

Already this fall, we have seen the spontaneous eruption of leftover potatoes in the garden. They are peeking their heads through the wood chips and showing us that they are growing the spring harvest for us to enjoy!