Spring, a Balloon, and Cherry Blossoms

Posted on March 31, 2017 at 11:24 am

Balloon

BY JONN KARSSEBOOM

We were huddled at the outdoor coffee bar on an early spring morning shivering while it rained and rained. The three of us were grateful it wasn’t the winter cold but because spring for gardeners tends to bring with it rising expectations of sun and warmth, we looked to the sky for any indication of our expectations.

“I see a clearing in the clouds about ten minutes away.” Explained T-Rex. (Trevor’s Garden Corner nickname that seemed to stick.)

I drafted the gift certificate of $25 and then penned a quick note to what we thought would be to the “intrepid explorer”. This mysterious person might, by a slim worldly margin, find it and return it to us. In my excitement I forgot to put a date on it.

I licked the envelope and then dropped the gift certificate/letter along with a lucky penny (for ballast) into a Ziploc freezer bag. A clumsy slice with my pruner into the bag’s upper corner and I tied a quick knot through the hole with the dainty, brightly colored ribbon. Our mission was set.

“This time, let’s avoid the trees and let it loose in the upper parking lot.” directed Sting as he eyed the previous failed mission tangled high up in a nearby Douglas fir.

The gift certificate, the lucky penny and the Ziploc bag were being sent away, for no particular reason, tied to a Mylar balloon filled with helium. The balloon was just the right shade of bright yellow, at least we thought, with a large, smiling “Have a Nice Day” emoji.

I’ve noticed when talking with fellow gardeners there comes a point in our gardening life that some unusual plant befuddles us with mystery. Is it alive or dead? Will it make it? What might it need? What shall I do with it?

During those trying, questioning times we have a common last resort response: Dig it up, plant it in the ground somewhere else and just see what may happen. I think it’s that absolute last point of no return that makes gardening the most rewarding. It’s a do or die, live and let live, against-all-odds kind of feeling. As gardeners we hope all will go well. Often times we’re wondrously surprised that it does.

And yet, sometimes it doesn’t. Gardening is also a full story of heartbreak and loss and disappointment and frustration and lost potential and through that hardship and work we learn: “oh well, tomorrow comes another chance.”

The balloon captivated us as we watched it gain altitude. It quickly cleared the trees and through the short sunshine it sparkled and then the wind carried it away. We wondered how far it would go and of course, we took bets. Wind speed, altitude, temperature, weather, googled stories of balloons flying thousands of miles kept our conversation going throughout the day.

A few weeks later picking up my daughter Abbi from Tualatin High she pointed out that she could see the first pink in the cherry trees that surrounded the school. (In my adult rush I hadn’t stopped to notice.)

“Do they start out pink and change color along the way?” she wondered out loud.

It made me think of the importance of cherry blossoms here and in faraway places like Japan. The blossoms represent both the vulnerability and the beauty of life. Because they appear astonishingly enmasse but just as quickly disappear they help us to remember that life can be amazingly beautiful and yet can also be sadly short.

I have yet to hear from the intrepid explorer that presumably has found the now deflated balloon and zip locked note. It’s possible (and likely) I’ll never hear how far it travelled. Meanwhile, with that same spirit of fleeting immortality I’ll keep planting in the garden. It never fails to surprise me.

Jonn Karsseboom
Jonn Karsseboom
loves the science behind, under and around and in the garden. You may email him for no reason at all too: jonn@thegardencorner.com.

Linda’s Inspiration

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 10:28 am

Garden Corner

BY JONN KARSSEBOOM

It’s funny I suppose that after selling so many varied hummingbird feeders and nectars for close to two decades that I’d actually try hanging a feeder myself. I swear I’ve seen them all. I’ve traveled to far away places like Birmingham England and Guangzhou China and Baltimore and Boston and Chicago to visit with company reps (full grown men and women by the way) that do nothing but create, and produce and sell hummingbird feeders for a living.

I’ve even been to a garden show in Las Vegas (of all places) and in the deep recesses of a giant temperature-controlled casino, in some great hall, I found myself at a ten by ten booth lit with Vegas neon lights and giant video screens of a continuous loop of just hummingbirds feeding. The virtual reality screens were impressive but somehow just not enough inspiration for me to survive the flight home.

That is, until a recent mid-winter visit to Linda’s house here in Tualatin while delivering of all things-hot coffee. (Insert here a longish story of gardening, friendship, and family, baked goods and well, dog training.)

Without a hint of exaggeration, the moment Linda answered her door one, then two, then three hummingbirds came to join our conversation. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t ever seen a hummingbird in the garden before. It’s just that I had never been so close or experienced those birds so unafraid. (Apparently I was standing in the way of their favorite feeder.)

I watched each bird intently. The winter sunshine lit them with a magical fluorescence around their collars. They had an intricate dance routine around the feeders. They moved with easy speed. They buzzed…and quite loudly hummed. I was filled with curiosity.

I left Linda’s inspired. I decided that Linda was the Pied Piper of Hummingbirds and I, who had been gardening for decades, who had spoken with so many company reps, who had sold feeders for years, wanted to be her apprentice.

I found out quickly though that its one thing to be inspired but it’s an entirely different thing to change that form of energy into direct action. The reason? There are so many things that can interrupt even the most determined.

It was Linda who lent me my first two feeders “These,” she shared “Are the ones that really work.” She gave me the recipe of their favorite nectar too.

Yet for two days the feeders sat on a counter empty. I had meant to mix the nectar and hang them but routine got in the way. As time wore on Linda sent me a small Mason jar’s worth to get me started. It was the push I needed.

As I hung each one I couldn’t help but doubt that even one stray, completely lost hummingbird would even find them. These were “Linda-certified”, proven feeders filled with their favorite nectar, but they were tiny, unremarkable and the world in comparison seemed too big.

The first day, I checked on the feeders often. As the evening set, a cold lonely remoteness of the two dangling plastic flowers in the winter wind only brought more self-doubt. Could I be doing something wrong?

I had to remind myself this was much like planting a seed or a bulb or a small tomato plant. It was going to take some time and patience and a good dose of faith.

By day three I had undergone a few trials of freezing feeders. And while I learned from Linda the hummers like to feed first thing in the morning it was often mid-morning by the time I had them ready. I hung the newly thawed feeders in the cold winter air and then briskly turned around to find work comfortably inside. Perhaps I didn’t have the consistency it takes. Was this something I had the wherewithal to keep up or would it be something that would eventually wear me down? That day I didn’t even glance back once towards the feeders.

By Day 6 I began arguing with my crew. A few thought the feeders were too close to us for the birds’ comfort. (I insisted I wanted to see them up close.) Some thought the sight of Mocha (our Australian shepherd) was too risky for them. Perhaps we should move them? I felt like it would be a sign of defeat and I didn’t want to start over.

The constant hope of experiencing a hummingbird’s daily visit was beginning to wear on me.

So on the verge of switching my thinking to the long game, tired of strategizing on the possibilities of why nothing was happening it was on the morning of the seventh day that we got our first quick visit.

There were four of us to witness it. Our morning conversations suddenly stopped mid sentence and we stood frozen watching the tiny bird. It found the feeder, paused, hovered, took a quick taste and darted away. The rush of satisfaction came over us immediately. It was like finding the first growing tomato, or a new bud on an early petunia. Or smelling the fragrance of Daphne on a warm spring day.

We couldn’t wait to tell Linda.

Of course on the day she visited us we suddenly had three hummers chasing each other, taking turns at the two feeders. (It’s as if Linda brought hers along.) I beamed with satisfaction. Linda had inspired me and added another lovely dimension to my garden. In a different way altogether though, she taught me the subtle difference between years of just knowing and actual doing. To that I’m eternally grateful.

Jonn Karsseboom currently enjoys hummingbirds almost every morning. He now sells more confidently feeders and shares Linda’s recipe freely to anyone who will listen. Email him at Jonn@thegardencorner.com.

A Tree Remembered

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm

a tree remembered

BY JONN KARSSEBOOM

I cut down a big tree on our property just the other day. It was a once magnificent Douglas fir that stood just short of 100 feet tall. It was the kind of tree that when I hugged it with my arms outstretched and my face smooshed against its rough bark my hands still had no chance of touching.

I actually didn’t cut it down myself. I’m not that brave. I did however watch intensely as a called-in expert Tom climbed fearlessly and almost effortlessly upwards. He cut limbs as he climbed and then dropped them expertly with pinpoint precision to the ground below.

As he neared the top I could see the tree sway with his added weight. He stopped for a short moment and looked around. The view Tom and the tree had must have been beautiful.

On the ground, watching the scene however, I was overcome with a sick sense of vertigo. My palms began to sweat. “How isn’t he crying with fear right now?” I whispered under my breath. I sipped again on my latte.

Less than 20 minutes later though Tom was finished. The tree lay strewn about in large ten-foot sections and the last bottom trunk of it sat defiantly now just the height of a lazy boy chair.

“I’ll do the cleanup and I can chop and use the wood.” I told Tom. I shook his sweaty hand, said thanks and gave him his check.

It was a few days later during the quiet of a winter morning that I revisited the fallen tree. I couldn’t help but notice the remarkable deep color of the wood and the thickness of its protective outer bark. In my curiosity I counted the rings.

Turns out to my surprise that my tree and I were of the same age.

Did someone long ago plant it purposefully there or did it sprout from a seed? My birthday is in April and I knew it couldn’t have sprouted during the cold winter months. Could it have sprouted that spring while my Mom and Dad brought their fourth child home?

And while I was learning to walk, the tree must have grown to be a determined seedling.

I counted to its sixth ring. That was the birthday when I got my first transistor radio. I remember it vividly because while my birthday landed on a Thursday we celebrated it on the following Sunday. It was a dry, cool day, that I know, because it was also the first time I was able to go to church. I felt like one of the big kids that day. From the looks of the strong, easily pronounced ring, my tree must have had a good day too. It, and I really grew that year.

And so it went. One day following another. Season by season. Year by year.

In seventh grade I had taken an ad out in our local newspaper. I’d help garden for $2.50 an hour. My mom stayed busy answering the phone and keeping my schedule. My dad did some quick math and offered a deal of lifetime. For every dollar earned he would contribute an equal dollar. If I saved enough I could use the money for a trip to Holland. I remember every detail of the trip, (including a girl named Inge.) I counted my tree’s rings for his year while I was away.

And of course I counted the ring where my tree and I met. Where I first discovered it from afar but then after cutting away wild berries, where we met up close. And I thought about how I dug just under a root of his to sneak in an irrigation pipe.

And I thought of just a few years back how that tree helped me design a bracket to hang a hanging basket. I pondered how to attach a bracket without drilling into it and also allow my tree to grow and expand without being constricted. We created a YouTube video together to celebrate the moment. (Complete with David Cassidy’s song “I think I love you”)

I’ll be renting a backhoe here shortly to pull up its mighty trunk and roots and besides a small sliver of the tree for remembrance, my tree won’t be any longer. I’ll definitively plant another however. It’s another start. A new beginning perhaps for someone else to meet and contemplate and maybe make the world a better place. For me now, I won’t be able to see a tree in the same light.

Jonn Karsseboom
Jonn Karsseboom
gardens and then writes, blogs and produces videos of his experiences to anyone willing to listen. Sign up for his newsletter at www.thegardencorner.com.