December Here At Fernwood

Wouldn’t you think by now, after a long and busy growing season, that we’d simply be sitting fireside whittling wooden spoons and rubbing the dog’s belly? That would be nice, for us and our pups, it surely would. However, though the activity may be different than it is during those time-sensitive days of summer, our days are full. The work here is seasonal, a constant flow from one end of the calendar to the next. A rhythm of life that can be measured and accounted for. Right now, as we slide into the colder days of the year, the days are measured in firewood and hay and jars of canned tomatoes. We are not moving the sheep fence for rotational grazing, but we are making trips out to thaw frozen water buckets and cleaning stalls. We’re not dragging hoses and setting up the commercial sprinklers, but we are (already!) dropping trees for next year’s winter supply. We are not collecting seed and dividing plants, but we are going over our plant lists, scheduling talks for the 2019 season, and making room for new cultivars that we’ll be offering.
Yesterday went like this: Up at 5:00 to make coffee and stoke the fires… we heat the house using only wood and have at least two stoves going at all times ( there are three in the house not including the studio, which we also keep heated). Next, animal chores. Hay and grain and water the sheep, the chickens, and Hunny Bunny( Sally’s angora rabbit who winters here) and clean stalls. Back indoors to bake off eight loaves of sourdough bread, roast a chicken from the freezer, cook off a shepherd’s pie using ground venison, and bake an applesauce cake. Back outdoors to cut and split wood (next years), gather greens for wreath making, and then bring a load of firewood to a neighbor’s house who is already running a bit low. Indoors by mid-afternoon for some lunch and a cup of tea and a few rows of knitting (Noah’s Christmas socks). Late afternoon, back out to haul in firewood, sort through this past springs fleeces to try and send off for washing before the end of the month, then sand all the footpaths and driveways that are becoming quite slippery. Before dark, it’s animal chores again, being sure to tuck everyone in safe and sound and well fed. Dinner (with a glass of wine, yes, please!), some reading ( right now, Farley Mowat’s book, The Siberians), and a few more rows of sock knitting. Bedtime…8:30 ish, not kidding.
There you have it, a sample day during Fernwood’s winter. Oh, there’s also the vacuuming and the odd projects that we have a list for and the dishes and the rubbing of dog’s bellies. All that too, for sure. This is a good life. A busy, day to day, cycle. It often feels like the days are too short, regardless of the season, but I think most everyone would agree to that. We do the best we can with the daylight hours we have, we save the nighttime for activity that can be done without light, we are happy when our heads hit the pillow. I think my point in writing about our days this morning is to acknowledge how surprised I am, year after year, knowing full well the busyness of each and every season, that the winter months are not as sedentary as one would think. No, they are not. Is the pace different? Yes. Life does go round and round here, we visit the same needs and chores and expectations, month after month, year after year, over and over again. We know it and we know it well. Yet still, I ‘summer-dream’ of winter days spent fireside reaching for my brewing cup of tea and casually flipping the pages of a good book…and, of course, reaching out with my foot with a relaxed bit of effort to rub the dog’s belly. There are a few days in the throes of winter that will indeed center on the indulgent gift of warmth and hot tea and the captivating words of a good story. I’ll savor these, be glad for them, and they will help make the firewood slinging days more pleasurable. Of course, once those bitter days of February arrive, thoughts of green grass and swelling buds and tender shoots will creep into my mind. I don’t consider myself fickle, I am not a person who wishes time away or one who struggles with routine. Perhaps my mind is joyfully entangled and intertwined with the flow of this life, I know what’s coming and I know what’s been done. Most days, I try and just be in it. Inserted. A cog in the wheel. Hopefully, an integral part of the pattern. And that makes me happy and helps to bring reason to this life I’ve chosen.
Enough said, happy December to you all, I must go, there are things to do and dog bellies to rub!

Join Us This Holiday Season For Some Elf Magic!!

Join Denise and her friend Sally in the studio at Fernwood Nursery on Saturday, December 22nd, from 1:00 to 4:00 for an afternoon of elf making! Spend a wintry afternoon among friends crafting your own festive Christmas elf. Delightful little creations that are sure to brighten your holiday table! A collection of elf wear and accessories will be on hand for the finishing touches.So fun! Sally and I will provide the materials and instruction, as well as an assortment of holiday goodies and festive drink. Yum, yum! Denise’s handspun yarn and felted creations will also be available for order or purchase. Class size is limited, so please call to reserve your spot. Call (207)589-4726 or email us at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net Cost: $50.00 materials included.

Hay (Hey) Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Yes, as I was out throwing hay to our flock of woolies they did seem to be commenting on the briskness of the day! The chore of covering the nursery was completed in just the nick of time. Whew! Today, (Sunday) after our first snow of the season, the sun is out and the temperature hovers around 30 degrees. Not so bad, not so bad. A good day for wood splitting, a little deer tracking ( without the rifle today…Sunday), and some knitting. I am scurrying to finish a pair of wool socks as requested by our son, Noah. His birthday just past and since he’s not here on his home turf at the moment, a box of goodies that remind him of his roots was what he ‘wished’ for… a case of Moxie, some homemade whoopie pies, and a new pair of hand-knit wool socks. As one might say, there’s no taking the country…or the love of home…out of this boy.
So that’s our day here, perhaps I’ll end it with a cup of earl grey tea and some almond biscotti. Fireside, that is!

Gifted

These are the remains of a sewing basket that belonged to a dear and special friend of mine. Her name was Alva. She hemmed all of her own pants and fixed the holes in all of her older brothers work clothes. The last brother was Charles but everyone called him Peanut. She never married and she outlived them all. She sat on Saturday evenings in an old rocker who’s cushion was pieced together with collected remnants of cloth and she watched (religiously) the re-runs of the Lawrence Welk Show. She had also outlived her teeth, but her smile was the best most honest grin of anyone I knew. Her favorite foods were 35 cent ice cream sandwiches, fresh strawberries, and cream of wheat. She was kind, undemanding, and enjoyed life. She carried a huge old fashion pocketbook that was filled with essential things, like safety pins, and matches, and small notebooks for recording important information. She tucked a small wad of Kleenex up her sleeve just like my grandmother did. She remembered the dates of birthdays and deaths and weddings but never learned to drive, didn’t own a microwave, had never traveled out of the state of Maine, and didn’t own a cell phone. She wore two headscarves, one on top of the other…I don’t know why. When I sort through her little sewing basket, carefully and tenderly examining each little trinket, each little needle case, each little prize, I smile and feel glad and sad and privileged. Perhaps the thread will be used to make baby Violet a new pair of leggings. The fabric pieces will patch a pair of holey jeans. I’ll sharpen the scissors and line up her collection of thimbles on the sewing table. Maybe I’ll sit quietly in the evening, hand sewing and eat ice cream sandwiches.

Late Season Blooms

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’

While most of the gardens die back, a few very late season blooms are looking rather splendid. Tucked among the now golden leaves of hosta and ferns, Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’ and Tricyrtis hirta alba are in full bloom. Aconitum carmichaelii is also just beginning to open as well.

Tricyrtis hirta alba

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘A

Hey, why not wait until the last minute? Why not let all those early ephemeral and mid-summer opportunists march right along and take center stage. The fall beauties we are enjoying now waited patiently for their moment of glory just before the curtains closed. The last finale. They are surely getting a lot of attention from their audience! Bravo, bravo! Very soon, all of these botanical performers will be taking a bow and will bid us adieu, retreating underground for a much-needed rest. And, how lucky are we, the gardeners, to have season tickets and amazing front row seats! We wouldn’t dare demand an encore. No, we understand that just can’t be. Instead, we applaud, take a deep breath, and say goodbye until the next season’s performance.

Cimicifuga ramosa ‘James Compton’ still looking magnificent

Our days are shifting now. The nursery will remain open for just a few more days and then it’s by appointment through the month of October. Each garden has its signs of decay and impending dormancy. The vegetable gardens are looking tired and we are finally ready to shift our daily eating habits from fresh green beans and yellow squash to roasted beets and potato leek soup. Knitting in the evenings are more likely and a long walk in the morning is possible. The sheep are still grazing, though it won’t be long before they are brought home from their summer pasture and will switch over to their winter diet of hay and grain. As of yet, we have not had to light the woodstove, but we know those cool mornings and nippy evenings are just ahead of us. We still have a large flock of meat birds to process in October (50 or so) and about 7 cords of firewood to finish splitting and stacking. I feel like I can take time to bake bread again and dye wool and make pumpkin butter without the feeling of urgency to get back outside and weed or mow or pot plants. A change in routine is good, I do declare!
This summer, we have had a wedding to pull off, a long visit from two little kiddos with tremendous (and delightful) energy, and a fast and furious and super busy nursery season. Yup, I’m tired. I’m feeling a bit whooped. So let the shift of this Fall season begin. Let the days grow shorter, and yes, a bit darker. I’m hoping that the steps I take don’t cover ground as quickly as they do during the hay days of summer. Let there be time to pause, to collect thoughts, to establish a quieter rhythm. It’s time. How are you all feeling? Ready to let go of summer or wanting it to linger a bit longer? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this melancholy transition from summer haze to fall crispness. In the meantime, with an intention to nurture a stillness of heart, I’ll mozy out to the gardens and start pulling onions for winter storage.

A Morning Walk Into The Bog

After tending to the sheep, I took a little walk in the bog. I love how the dew settles into that natural depression and creates a silken drapery over many of the plants. In the early morning, the bog still feels silent and still, though you can easily detect the night time activity that has passed through. Deer trails criss-cross through the spongy sphagnum moss that carpets the entire area. A fox leaves gentle footprints along the shore. Spiders have crafted their delicate webs among the branches of the larch. There’s a lot to investigate…the Labrador tea, the cranberry, the tawny cotton grass, Rhodora canadense, and so much more. Such an abundance of plant and animal diversity! You can read more about the different types of bogs and how they are formed here: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/bog/
Do you ever have the chance to wander into a boggy area to investigate the unique habitat it provides? There are plenty of bogs in Maine to explore, many that have public access and often providing boardwalks that have been built above the sphagnum to protect the plants growing there. Bogs are fairly delicate habitats so there are some thoughtful guidelines to practice while exploring them. The bog that is close to us is not a public bog and we are very careful to walk primarily along the edge (slightly elevated from the bog itself) and occasionally along the deer paths that travel through it.
There is a bog open to visitors located in Orono and you can find information here: https://umaine.edu/oronobogwalk/bog-faqs/
Our own little bog is a canvas of red, gold, and orange hues at the moment and will continue to intensify as we head towards winter. Really beautiful. Here are a few photos from my morning excursion…

Retreat

I took a day off and went to the ocean. A quick retreat. Hardly more than 24 hours. I did, however, have the opportunity to hike a secret footpath along the shore. Glorious, glorious. I did sit looking out at the lobster boats coming in with their haul and was able to begin knitting little Violets sweater. I did have a meal of scallops and fresh tomatoes and homemade goat cheese. All in just a mere 24 hrs! Soul soothing.

Scenes From Fern Class

It was a perfect day to have our fern class out on the deck of the studio. We set up the teardrop trailer for serving tea and scones and chocolate croissants. A lovely Sunday spent looking at green fronds and fern spores. A walk around the gardens and then into the woods for a little exploration. As we ease our way into fall and cooler days, the ferns continue to grace the landscape and the woodlands with their waving tendency and emerald hues. Lovely, lovely, I must say. There is a natural swath of New York ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis) leading over to one of the cabins we have. In the spring the forest floor is covered with a blanket of false lily of the valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) and the combination of these two plants is quite extraordinary. Of course, in May, the false lily of the valley is in bloom, their fragrance sweetening the forest air. Divine. Nature surely has the patent on landscape design, don’t you agree? We are still plenty busy at the nursery with late-season chores and plantings. Customers are continuing to come knowing that they have time for changes and additions to their gardens. It is this time of year, however, that I feel a pull to roam…to roam the woods, to roam the rocky seashore, to roam the footpaths and mountain trails. I think it’s an attempt to catch my breath. A busy summer, a wedding to plan (and still to pull off), visits from our kids and grandchildren, and, also, of course, the day to day work that keeps the nursery afloat. The urge to slip into the woods, to go deep into the wilds, to sit still among natures green growth and tree canopy, is fierce at the moment. Lately, regardless of how late it is, I’ve been driving over to the lake ( just a mere mile, thank goodness) to a little-undetected spot and swimming. Sometimes it’s just before bedtime. The lake is quiet and the night sky reflects on the surface, I don’t see anyone else. It’s nice, it’s serene, it’s really quiet. I slip into the water like a seal and let the coolness soothe my soul. So restorative. Perhaps this is all the natural progression of a season winding down and I myself feel its influence. Many plants are leaning toward dormancy, the leaves on the trees are losing their chlorophyll, the deer are in the corn fields fattening their bellies for what’s to come. My own inner clock is searching for a different rhythm. I like that. I like the space in the day to be a little more reflective, I like wading into that big beautiful body of water, floating on my back, looking up at the night sky, and being able to hear the beat of my heart. Again, restorative. Hope you are all finding those moments to soothe your soul with an activity or a space that allows for stillness. It’s worth the search and for me right now…essential!

As The Weather Turns…

The heat seems to have subsided. I think we are all thankful. I know the gardens are thankful. I am not convinced that New Englanders, particularly northern New Englanders, are built for hot and humid weather. After a winter of 20 below and a snow that lasts until mid-April, we are often heard making reference to the ‘hot and hazy days of summer’. We make these comments as if we can’t wait for the near 100 degree days, as if we’ll all lie bare and prostrate into the beating sun and love it. This isn’t quite the reality or our response to the baking sun. Once those brutally hot days appear, once the thermometer readings travel into the nineties, we start moaning. We whine and then comment on places like Texas and Arizona, “how do they stand it”, we say. It scares us. It is way out of our comfort. We complain. Most people in Maine don’t have air conditioning. Most will still roll their windows down while driving to capture a breeze before they would ever consider turning on the AC. I’m not sure if our Subaru even has air conditioning. I know the old 1-ton dump truck we drive doesn’t, it has windows you actually have to roll up or down. Very old fashion.
Since the humidity has passed, Maine people are smiling more now. We have resumed the spring in our step. We’re back to our old selves.
So, yes, the days are shortening and the temperatures are cooling. The weather is tolerable. We still may get some Indian summer days when the temps rise, but they probably won’t be so oppressive. We’ll welcome the continuation of sunshine and gentle warmth. The worst of the heat is probably over so we’ll stop being babies and get back to facing our days without complaint. Afterall, we still have tomatoes to ripen and the eggplants wait for the deep heat to grow plump and turn that amazing hue of purple. The winter squash is relying on a long growing season to mature before harvest. The second cut of hay still needs cutting and days of good drying. And, we don’t have all of our firewood split and stacked into the woodshed yet. Yesterday, after collecting seed and working on propagation in the greenhouse, we did manage to haul some firewood as well. Cooler days will soon turn to colder days!
Certainly, everyone is familiar with the quote from Mark Twain, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Luckily, this ‘wait a few minutes’ for the scorching heat to pass us by has come and we are feeling relief here in the northeast. Thank goodness!!