anemone equinox

The Japanese anemone begins to bloom as summer turns to fall.

Two days before my mother’s funeral in April, our son Nathan and daughter-in-law Rachel made an announcement: Henry and I were about to become grandparents! It was the best thing we could have heard at that time, and it lifted us out of the depths of overwhelming grief. The baby would be due early in October, they said.

This week, we learned that the Universe had a different plan. Rachel went into the hospital on Sept. 23, the first day of Fall, and gave birth to our first grandchild, Olivia, that afternoon. It was also a day to remember my mother; Sept. 23 would have been her 93rd birthday. (There are some in the family who believe that my mother had a hand in this!)

Welcome, Olivia. We celebrate this new joy in our lives!

Olivia, ready for her first car ride, going home.

Olivia, ready for her first car ride, going home.

After the baby announcement in  April, my poet–friend Kory Wells asked how I was reacting to the news of becoming a grandmother. “I know now that it’s possible to hold great sorrow and great joy at the same time,” I said, “and they don’t necessarily cancel each other out.”

Three months later, I was honored to hear those words echoed in Kory’s poem, “In Praise of Our Numbered Days,” at a bookstore reading. With her permission, I’ll share an excerpt:


Food tastes better at the campfire.  

We warm our hands, our backs    

chill. This reminds us of happiness,

one turn, the warmth gone. How often    

is the forecast wrong? Clearing skies portend  

colder ground beneath our tent tonight.    


For all we’ve packed and planned,  

life’s more paradox than perfection.  

You tell me it’s possible to hold  


at once great sorrow and joy,  

that one does not cancel the other  

on some cosmic ledger. …

On this equinox, we celebrated a beautiful new life, and remembered a long life well-lived.

Late summer

Ornamental pepper

Tiny flowers peek out from under the leaves of the ornamental pepper.

By late summer, everything in the back garden — the vegetables, the flowers, the gardener — is worn out. The heat has taken a toll on all of us. Now, after a month-long break, it’s time to venture out back with a camera to try to find what, if anything, still lives. Today is still warm and hazy, but slightly cooler September days and nights are helping things spring back to life.

late salvia

A little patch of salvia that came up from last year’s seeds is thriving.

Marigolds… And more marigolds.


The okra keeps blooming, no matter what.

Snapdragons… And a lone daisy.

Rogue blooms: Self-seeded amaranth pushes out from under a patch of mums; celosia has the audacity to grow up through the gravel path.

late anemone

And here’s Japanese anemone, that aggressive but still appreciated late-summer staple, about to burst into full bloom.

Beach reading

Butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum) growing on the Florida gulf coast.

Vacation at a Gulf of Mexico beach is a great chance for a gardener from Middle Tennessee to see a range of tropical horticultural wonders — as in, “I wonder what that flower is.”

Browsing at Sundog Books in Seaside yesterday, I came across Florida Trees and Wildflowers, a pocket-size, laminated, fold- out guide that makes it easy to ID some of the most common roadside wildflowers. This morning, I set out from our rented house on Grayton Beach to take pictures and put names to some of what’s blooming at the beach right now.

Slender dayflower (commelia erecta). Flowers have two large petals above and one tiny white one

IMG_1520Partridge pea (Cassia chamaecrista). Flowers have brown centers.

Looks like black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia hirta) but the leaves are not the same.


Blazing star (Liatris spicata), has long spikes of feathery flowers.

Not everything is in the guide. Here’s one that’s still a mystery to me.

Tropical flowers and foliage grow alongside more familiar wildflowers. It’s good to have a guide.

The Ernest and Berdelle Campbell Land Trust Garden in Germantown. Photo by Tim Cope

The Ernest and Berdelle Campbell Land Trust Garden in Germantown. Photo by Tim Cope

Nice things can happen when different worlds come together. I teach classes in creative writing in Watkins College of Art, Design & Film’s Community Education section. It has nothing to do with gardening or garden writing, and usually the two are completely separate parts of my work week.

But this summer, a student in my Watkins class who knows that I also write garden stories that run in The Tennessean newspaper, announced one night before class that he had a story idea for me. Tim lives in Nashville’s historic but Land Trust sign cropnewly hip and heavily developed Germantown neighborhood, and he told me that one of his neighbors, Berdelle Campbell, is making sure at least one piece of land – the quarter-acre garden that her late husband, Ernest Campbell, grew and tended for 30 years – stays green. She has granted a conservation agreement on the property to The Land Trust for Tennessee, ensuring that the little plot of land next to their historic home, in the midst of ongoing development, will remain green space in the future.

To show me how special the place is, Tim pulled out his phone and swiped through several photos that he had taken in the garden this spring and summer. Trees and flowers bloomed, spilling out over the sidewalk. Bright tulips and daffodils stood out against a backdrop of green. Large trees all but obscured the mid-19th-Century home; delicate clematis draped over the wrought iron fence.

“Would you like to meet Berdelle?” he asked. “I can introduce you.”

A couple of weeks later, I had a delightful early-morning visit with Berdelle as she walked me through the narrow mulched paths and the luxuriant garden Berdelle cropbeds, talking about the six-foot-tall lilies, the native azaleas, the apple and peach trees, the naked ladies in bloom now, and the hundreds of tulips and daffodils and crocuses that Ernest had planted that bloomed everywhere in spring.

Berdelle and I talked for almost two hours that July morning, and I visited again later, when she showed me pictures of the spring garden on her iPad. From those visits, I learned Berdelle’s vision for her late husband’s garden: “This is not a display garden,” she said. “This is a wild space. We’re preserving a green space.”

The story about The Ernest and Berdelle Campbell Land Trust Garden is in Saturday’s Tennessean.

surprise lilies 2

Tomatoes 1

A table full of ripe tomatoes: ‘Solar Flair,’ ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Beefsteak,’ ‘Purple Tie Dye,’ ‘Black From Tula.’

These may not be the prettiest tomatoes you’ve ever seen, but I can tell you that for the past six weeks, we’ve had a steady supply of ripe tomatoes, most from the plants in our raised beds at Farm in the City. They’ve found their way into salads, BLT sandwiches, gazpacho, panzanella, pasta dishes, fish recipes. They’ve been cooked with okra and onions, tossed into gumbo, and sliced thick to eat with scrambled eggs, on tuna sandwiches and with mozzarella and basil. And they’re still coming.

I wrote here  and here about the 2015 Tomato Adventure. My daughter Anna selected eight different types of tomatoes to try this year: ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Black From Tula,’ ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Solar Flair,’ ‘Blue Berries,’ ‘Blue Beauty,’ ‘Pink Berkeley Tie Dye’ and ‘Purple Bumblebee.’ There was also a packet of ‘Beefsteak’ seeds left from last year. We started seeds at the end of February, set out transplants on April 29 in the community garden beds and in beds at home, and waited for the results.


Little ‘Blue Berries’ and larger ‘Purple Bumblebee.’

Here’s the report so far: My backyard tomato plants grew tall and rangy and produced very few tomatoes. There really is not enough sun back there to grow a healthy crop; plus, once the squirrels discover the green tomatoes, it’s all over. I think I got one good ‘Beefsteak’ off the backyard plants, a ‘Black Krim’ and a ‘Black From Tula,’ a few pretty ‘Solar Flair’ tomatoes and maybe one ‘Blue Beauty’ before the plants gave up.

But things have gone better at Farm in the City. The ‘Black Krims’ have been big and plump (though a little deformed), ‘Black From Tula’ seem to crack more easily, but they’re pretty and round. ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes are not as large as I had expected, but they’re that bright red-orange that you expect in a tomato.

The most prolific have been the ‘Blue Berries,’ pretty little tomatoes the size of large grapes that grow in clusters, dark blue at the shoulders fading to pink. ‘Purple Bumblebee,’ which somehow missed being planted in (or disappeared from) my garden bed, grows like a weed in Anna’s plot, loaded with cute, golf-ball size striped tomatoes.

What, then, to do with all these tomatoes? I’ve simmered the little ones and pushed them through a sieve, extracting about a quart of juice, which I’ll freeze and use to make tomato vegetable soup later this fall. Some of the larger ones are also headed for the freezer, peeled and cored and ready to use in soup or pasta.

And there are still plenty left to eat fresh, sliced on sandwiches, tossed into salads or cooked into meals.

This year’s tomato adventure continues. What do you do with a table full of ripe tomatoes?

August is aglow

Black eyed Susans

Here’s something new at Turning Toward the Sun: Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida).

Actually, they’re not new, just possible this year in my garden because I made the effort to protect the little shoots when I saw them coming up in the spring. I planted a pot of Rudbeckia last year in this spot in the sunny Great Wall bed, and the rabbits promptly chomped them down. But they grew back this spring, so I surrounded them with a chicken wire cage.

rudbeckia 2They are growing vigorously, straining to escape. A few long stems have grown outside the wire, and have, indeed, paid the price.*

rudbeckia 3I may have gotten more than I expected with this solution. A couple of information sources describe them as “freely self-seeding” and “somewhat weedy.” By next year, I may be glad for the rabbits to have them. Right now, though, when the late summer sun hits them at just the right angle in the afternoon, the cheerful blossoms practically glow.

*Note: I have also planted Gerbera daisies in that spot in the past, with the same rabbit situation. I never saw the flowers on these stems, but the size of the leaves makes me wonder if that’s what a rabbit has enjoyed here.

Feel the heat

The downside to growing vegetables in a community garden is that it’s not right outside the kitchen door. If you have to drive there to weed, water and harvest – even if it’s only seven minutes away – these 95-degree, triple-digit-heat-index days tend to dampen any enthusiasm for getting out there. Which is why, this morning, I came home from a long-delayed visit to Farm in the City with this:

okra bigWhen okra hits its stride in the summer heat, the pods grow so fast that daily harvesting is required. Some say you should pick it twice a day – in the morning, and then again in the evening to get those pods that were too small to pick that morning. Leave them too long and they turn into bludgeons that are so woody and tough you can’t cut them, and no amount of boiling will make them edible.

okra compareTo compare, here’s what happens when you go too long between okra pickings. On the left are pods that are a perfect size for cooking. On the right are the overgrown monster pods that threaten to bring down the whole plant.

okra tomatoesHappily, there were plenty of normal-size okra pods also ready to cut, along with ‘Beefsteak,’‘Black from Tula’ and ‘Purple Bumblebee’ tomatoes, carrots (not pictured here), and a couple hundred ‘Blue Berries’ tomatoes, pretty and sweet.

Any ideas for what to do with this giant okra?


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