Children's Fashion Workshop



I'm Erin.  Gardening addict, incurable maker, insatiable reader, closet author, chronicler of childhood, wanderer, wonderer.  I'm glad you've come to sit a while with me.

Instagram @ewatsonhowe


Offhand comments:

9.y.o.-"I have three ant bites.  Can I use this stuff I found in the first aid kit on them?  It's called ant-acid." 

9.y.o.-"It would be awesome if we had a 3-d printer because then we could print anything. a tiny little model of Angkor Wat!"


this is November


Dig, dig, dig.  Plant, plant, plant.  Actual flower count at five months since starting-zero.  Well, three if you count those that bloomed on the rosebushes before we planted them and cut them back.  And of course we do count them, cooing over each one as though we'd grown it ourselves, cutting it and carrying it inside to put in a vase in the bathroom and stare at for a week until all the petals drop off onto the counter.  Soon there will be buckets of flowers, too many to love each one so much. 

Planting, and the waiting that comes next, is showing me how patient I am not.  After hauling wheelbarrows of compost until my arms ache, I stand in the middle of the sea of black landscape fabric and fret about there not being any flowers.  Thousands of plants so far, but no flowers.  Months' worth of work, and no flowers.  I know in a theoretical way that there will be an avalanche of flowers in the spring, a steady stream of flowers until frost, but not having seen it, it's taking an awful degree of faith to keep planting.

My baby girl turns five (!) this week.  She is as enthusiastic a gardener as ever there was.  When we dug the first hole and put in the first gnarled peony root, she heaved a satisfied sigh and said, "Now we are farmers."  She is the self-appointed "peony master", (or daffodil master, seed master, etc.) her job being to gently disentangle a peony root from its sisters in the bag, brush off the peat moss, and hand it to me to put in the hole.  She takes her job seriously, and comes running to take up her post whenever I haul something out to be planted.  

Four big boxes of daffodil bulbs appeared outside the garage door this week.  I, knowing what they would become, opened and was exulting over them when the peony master came around the corner.  She was excited because I was excited, but when I showed her the brown bulbs I was so thrilled about she was baffled.  "Huh," she said, "onions."  Ah, but these'll be easier to explain in spring.

The only place the flowers that'll come from these onions exist now is in my head and on my Pinterest daffodil board, which is here if you'd like to see them.  For that matter, here are all of my boards, many of which are lists for the various plots in our flower field.  There are the rose beds, the dahlia selection, the peony plan.  Our whole garden, blooming only on Pinterest. 

There were a couple of light frosts in October, and only just this weekend was there the hard glittery frost of real autumn.  We bundle up and trudge out to dig new beds, only to throw off our jackets and scarves after 15 minutes of work.  "Can you believe this?" we shout at each other across the field, "This is November!"  Inside we're each thinking of the job we didn't take in Rhode Island.  Beautiful working weather, this. 

I'm having a fun time sourcing plant material.  Each time I think, time to order (phlox/alliums/dahlias) I think it'll be simple, I'll just order some.  But every flower opens up a door and there's a full-on party going on for each kind of plant.  There are varieties and shapes and colors and heights and each one has its fans and haters and specialty nurseries and websites devoted just to it.  We love phlox!  Dahlias are our specialty!  I feel like such a latecomer.  But I'm a latecomer who's fast getting an education. 

I'm also having to triangulate to figure out planting times and varieties for upstate South Carolina.  Vegetable information you can have buckets of, but flowers aren't such a well-peopled field, and I'm hanging on the advice of a handful of experts.  But, I think as I read, she's in Kansas.  She's in Washington state.  They're at Louisiana State.  What does this mean for South Carolina?  So we use the best available information, make a good guess, keep lots of notes for next year, and plunge in.  

Sweet peas are up, standing in rows like little 4" tall soldiers.  Snapdragons, icelandic poppies, and pinks are all set into their homes for the winter.  We're halfway to our goal of 60 beds by March.  This week anemones and ranunculus should come, getting in line to be planted and believed in until spring.  I made a calculating error and ordered twice as many as I meant to.  I'm sure the ranunculus master will be thrilled.  



future farm


This gardening thing.  This farming thing.  It won't go away, won't clear up, won't leave me in peace to walk around on top of the ground without wondering, if I dug it up, what could it grow?  And so here we are again, building another iteration of The Farm.  The plan for this chapter involves a ton of cut flowers, and the farmer's market, and pennies and dollars clinking into childrens' bank accounts to plant the seeds for their own futures once they've flown from here.  

So we have cuttings rooting everywhere, curly willows, hydrangeas, forsythia, pussy willow.  Sweet William and snapdragons under lights in the basement, soon to be joined by Icelandic poppies.  Then, later, in the field, sweet peas, larkspur, Queen Anne's lace, anemones, ranunculus, bupleurum.  (Don't ask me to pronounce that last one.)  We have a slowly-growing number of beds with soft amended soil.  A fuzzy rodent-control crew.  Sore hands, dirty jeans, tired backs, and a vision of a farm full of growing food, flowers, and futures. 



autumn ditch lilies

Every morning I go for a walk.  Down my long driveway and past the mailbox, up to the neighbors' mailbox and back.  

Sometimes I have company.

Usually though, it's just me, and the wet morning air, and next to my path, the ditch and the fencerow.  Which things are unexpectedly, endlessly fascinating.  

At first, in late spring, they burst forth with wild roses and honeysuckle that made my walk smell like I'm sure heaven must.  Then it was hard green blackberries that turned red, then black, and stained my fingers (and those of my little company) purple.  They weren't very good for the goal of actually exercising my legs and heart, since I had to stop to pick them, but surely the little shots of vitamin C made up the difference?

The power lines run along the fence too, and mockingbirds, mourning doves, eastern bluebirds and cardinals always watch and gossip about me from that safe height.  

When the blackberry canes turned black and died I thought maybe the fencerow was done for the season.  Surely now it's just going to sit, dry and brown for a while.  

No no, the stage has a new act for me.

There are tiny clusters of rosehips.  I'll be back for sprays of you when you turn red closer to the holidays.

And precious little bunches of wild grapes.  I don't know whether these are wild scuppernongs or more akin to the wild tiny purple grapes that grew in our woods in California.  Those were gone almost as soon as I saw them color up, to squirrels and birds and who knows what else.  Maybe these will stick around long enough for us to taste one when they're not hard as marbles. 

And completely unexpectedly, the ditch is full of these white trumpet lilies.  I thought maybe somebody had misplaced a garden lily, but there are dozens of them in the ditch, and growing on the unkempt roadsides everywhere.  Who knew a ditch and an untidy fence would be so much fun to watch?  And what will they serve up next?



we've all still got it

"Oooh, here's my classroom building!" I told my children.  "And here's Daddy's! He spent hours and hours of his life in there!  And here's the apartment building where we lived when we met!  And here's the library! The bookstore! The statues!"  The more I tried to recreate the enthusiasm I'd felt when I was going to college so that my little friends could understand, the more I realized that I really, really couldn't.  

We were walking around the campus of our alma mater, having stopped there for a little while on the way home from back-to-back family reunions, exulting over all the little places where things had happened, the places we remembered so well.  It's been fourteen years now since we left town, and campus, and we, have changed a bit since we parted.  I was aware that we're no longer the backpack-wearing proto-adults we once were, striding around in our native environment, but visitors, surrounded by a crowd of statue-climbing, flowerbed-trampling hooligans with a couple of gangly half-grown humans thrown in just to prove our age.  I saw the spark of excitement in the faces of the students everywhere, and I wondered whether they had something that we, outsiders now, had lost. 

I was baffled by my lack of ability to hand over my college experience wholesale to the crew.  We walked through empty buildings, peeked into empty classrooms with rows of desks and blackboards, and I began to see that what I was pointing out, pretty and formal as it was, was just a container. The whole huge imposing place is set up to hold something else. 

I began to think, what was it that made this place, this time spent in this big container of a college campus, so magical?  And, as is usually the case, I realized it was me.  Well, judging from the goofy, dreamy grin on my husband's face, not just me. 

I am a plant person, might as well own it.  My default flowerpot for picking metaphors from is decidedly botanical.  And I thought, the reason that I loved this place and time so much was that it was a meristem for me.  On plants, meristems are the growing points.  The bundles of undifferentiated cells at the ends of stems or roots that could become anything, a flower or leaf bud, more stem or root.  What's between the meristem and the rest of the plant has already been decided, is now a twig, and must now perform the function of a twig forever.  But out there at the end, where the plant is pushing outward into unknown space, anything could happen.  

Those years at college were just such a time for me.  And maybe that's why college itself becomes a magical place, because so many people are having those meristem experiences in the same place at the same time.  All the questions are being asked.  What will I study?  What friends and more-than-friends will I make?  Where will I live when this is over?  Who am I?  Where do I fit?  And so on, endlessly.  We're each a ball of green and growing cells, waiting to burst out into whatever directions we can find.  And this, unfortunately, is something that has to be experienced to be understood.  It's at this point that adults have to retreat behind phrases like, "You won't understand until you do it yourself," and children are frustrated, thinking they're deliberately hiding something.  Not so, I find now.  It just can't really be described adequately, and this is the surrender of someone who realizes it's futile to try.

While musing on this, I saw a picture my sister posted on Instagram.  It showed her little dog in her empty and cleaned living room, in the final moments before she said goodbye to her home to move away to California.  I clicked on the heart, and tried to say something.  "I'm glad for your adventure but sorry you're moving away from me," I wrote, and deleted it.  No use bringing her down when she's already probably pretty tender.  "Best of luck with everything!" I wrote, and deleted that too.  That sounds like I don't care that she's abandoning the east coast for the west, and I really do.  So I closed Instagram and thought.  What do I really mean to say?  What is it that would help most both to say, and to hear said?

Now I have to pause to teach you more about how amazing plants are.  When you prune a plant, say, a fruit tree, or a bush next to the front steps, you've cut off all the meristems.  There they are, lying in a pile next to your feet, slowly dying while they wait for you to haul them off to the burn pile.  For a while the plant is shocked.  Oh my, it thinks, (in the way that plants do, which is not like you and I do, don't forget that or you'll never prune anything again) all my growth points are gone.  I can no longer grow.  For a few days it seems to be sulking, but things are going on that you can't see.  In no time at all, every tip where you cut off a branch becomes a meristem.  Now the plant can get on with its life.  The twigs will almost certainly grow in a different direction than they did before, but they'll grow, and chances are, if you're a good gardener, and have chosen carefully what to prune off, the plant will be stronger and more useful (beautiful, productive, shading, or whatever you need it to be) than it was before.  

Finally I realized that all of that was what I was thinking as I looked at the picture of the little dog in the empty living room.  Leaving a home, and a community, feels in a way like dying.  It certainly feels like someone has taking the pruning shears, sharpened them up (or not), and lopped off a good deal of your already-completed growth.  But, shocked though you may be, remember that the meristem is coming.  After the pruning comes the ability to grow in all kinds of directions you hadn't before.  Maybe in directions you couldn't before.  It is very tough to type all of that on the frustratingly tiny keys of my phone.

Meristems, I wanted to say to her.  The growth happens at the meristems.  

Maybe this is why we find children so fascinating, and feel instinctively that they're so precious.  Every day is a day that could determine a new direction of growth for them.  They're all meristem, no woody growth behind them at all.  Maybe we watch with a hint of jealousy, or regret about some of our own old growth.  Maybe we watch them to learn, because really, our growth points never die, no matter how brushy we get with age.  Even venerable old trees, having reached their ultimate height, will send out new shoots if a branch is torn off in a storm.  

And where are we in all of this?  Seeing others growing lushly around us or having just been pruned, where (it always comes back to this) do fit?  Having been fairly recently pruned back rather hard myself, along with my family, I am pleased to see new and healthy growth in all kinds of directions, some of which I could never have predicted.  Plants, and people, will thrive if given half a chance.  So I suppose that those fresh-faced college students don't have something we've lost.  Although it may look different now, and certainly not like we expected, we've all still got it.



I really needed that laugh


You look at house values. You look at crime rates.  You check how far it is to the grocery store, the library, the church, his work.  You look at schools, whether or not you intend to send your children there because so will anybody who eventually buys the house from you.  You spend hours finding activities the kids could do if you moved there.  You check the weather, averages and records, the frost dates, the hardiness zone.  You check whether there's decent internet available.  You check, and check, and check, and check.

And then, with a prayer, you sign the papers and make a leap.

Because there's so much you can't know.  You can't really go meet the neighbors and say, "We're thinking of moving here and we want to know if you're nice or nasty."  Long pause.  "So?  Nice?  Nasty?  Say."  You can't go live in that precise community for a while and see.  You could rent, I suppose, which we did, but we ended up finding the perfect home 45 minutes away from our rental home.  45 minutes puts you in a different community entirely.  So even doing that is tricky.  

But the beautiful thing about there being a gap between what you know and what you'll eventually find out is that there's room for delightful surprises.  

There was a list of things I hoped for, clutched in the sweaty palm of my heart.  I wanted rain. (check: it's raining buckets right now.)  I wanted proximity to work and church. (25 minutes to the former, 5 to the latter.) I wanted land.  (11 acres should do it.)  And, oh please, I wanted people.  

This last want is so hard to measure.  Rainfall charts, maps, specs on a property, can all be had easily.  But how can you know whether the people you need are in any specific place?  And as much as I just want to be a person whom other people need, as much as that would assuage my ego, I know that I need other people just as badly as they could possibly need me.

And, to add impossible specifics to my list of demands, I didn't need just any people.  Of course any people are wonderful, and all can enrich your life.  But your people, people who get your particular madness, those people are comfortable to your soul.  I wanted women people.  Mom people.  And...maybe, if I could have them...homeschool people.  This is a very specific type of people, I knew, and hoped but tried not to hope too hard.

I looked up this morning, in the middle of a hysterical shared laugh with a circle of homeschool mom people in my living room and thought, this.  I didn't know how to predict this.  If I had known a place where this could happen existed I would have moved there regardless of the rain or the acreage.  This, in other words, was not my doing.  It was a straight-up blessing, a gift I hoped for, prayed like crazy for, and am blown-away astonished that I've received.  It's early days yet, they've only been coming once a week for three weeks, but I can feel them beginning to fill an empty place that I've had for a long time, a place that isn't always filled.  This can be so lonely.  I pay attention, and am intensely grateful, when it's not.

Oh, also, the kids are having a pretty good time. 

We have no special agenda for the kids, on our Tuesdays when friends come.  They play in the creek, they fish in the pond, they fly kites, feed the neighbors' horses, play board games, create complicated character games around a table full of playdough, and cover every hard surface with sidewalk chalk.  They make friends.  They wander around in tribes or pairs.  They come to us for lunch and bandaids, or justice for some wrong done.  And for the change of clothes the moms have learned to bring if they don't want to cart dirty wet kids home in their cars.  

None of this is to say that I have forgotten, or will ever forget, those of you who have filled this place for me in days past, who continue, though from afar, to fill it in your own way.  But not to notice when a desperate desire is fulfilled is ingratitude, and I'm loath to be guilty of that.

Because man, I really needed that laugh.