Slow lane

 

Shifting to the slow lane is the best thing about Fall gardening. I’m no longer on a schedule generated by Spring and Summer’s pace – prep seeds, soil, and containers.  Now that it’s September, the harvest is mostly done, and the growing season is winding down. So let’s stop and smell the flowers and herbs and eat the bounty. It’s time to open our hearts and shift our vibrations to rest. Enjoy the plants that grew and the ones that are still growing.

 

 

 

 

Slow lane lessons

A slow lane lesson learned while living in quarantine: Every garden, whether big- a backyard or small – a window sill, patio, or roof deck- is a learning space full of mystery. There’s more to plants than you see. They are not silent, unaware beings sitting around making oxygen. Plants are like people. They have secret lives. They are sensitive and make decisions and respond to their environments. Some plants don’t like each other. As a container gardener, I had to learn about plant companionships. Yes, there are a few odd couples and happy accidents growing here.

 

Musical plants

September’s slow lane groove is definitely here. But there’s jazz up here on my re-claimed roof deck teaming with plant-filled containers.  Sometimes I hear John Coltrane’s rendition of ‘My Favorite Things’ playing in my head as I happily improvise and play in the dirt. Did you know that plants make music? On that note, this NPR article may interest you  – https://www.npr.org/2020/02/21/807821340/the-lessons-to-be-learned-from-forcing-plants-to-play-music

“The music sounds, at first, like it belongs in a power yoga studio: electronic and rhythmic, rising and falling like breaths. But then a higher pitch juts into the mix, and the strains of sound diverge, becoming faster-paced and a bit more like electronic dance music. The rise and swell fluctuate, not entirely predictable. The artists at work are, ostensibly, plants. Plant music is coming to you, or rather, it’s there if you seek it out — and there are plenty of musicians these days waiting to be discovered.” 

 Plant Art

Sometimes I see people in my flowers, vegetables, and weeds. Do you ever imagine your garden as an art supply store or an art studio? I do—a table and a mat function as my canvas. Various plant stems make a fun face outline. Asparagus ferns can add to a hairstyle. Dried and fresh flowers, berries, or beans can reveal interesting characters. I created a ‘Plant People’ art series from found items in the garden. I hope to self-publish a photo calendar one day.

Every garden is a creative space. Whenever I travel, the first thing I do is visit local gardens. I believe that we’re all born artists and that all gardeners are courageous artists. Planting a garden means that you have hope. Gardens help us reclaim our artist souls. Our hearts seek art, and art speaks to our hearts.

 

Pisces gardening

I learned how to ‘see and feel’ art from art teachers at the Brooklyn Museum. But being a Pisces person, it was always easy for me to understand how to ‘feel and see beyond’ music, art, and gardens. As a musician (piano and viola), I instinctively knew that plants were musical. Pisces is a water sign, and being the last sign in the zodiac, it combines all the astrology signs. So, naturally, a Piscean approach to everything is creative. Pisces’ water element and nurturing ways help plants to grow. But, of course, the Earth signs – Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo – are supposed to be the best farmers and gardeners because their zodiacs are ruled by planet earth! And Fire and Air signs bring a lot to the garden party too. My Sagittarius father and Cancerian mother taught me gardening!  We will get to more astrological gardening in future posts.

So, considering this water-earth sign zodiac connection, I was hoping you could take a listen to my favorite Stevie Wonder (a Taurus) cult classic, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.

Click herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2dDCUuJkPE

You will enjoy this swim inside Wonder’s songs, especially the title song, The Secret Life of Plants, Send One Your Love, and Power Flower.

Called a “psychedelic botanical masterpiece,” this mostly instrumental album was the soundtrack to the documentary film The Secret Life of Plants, directed by Walon Green, based on the book of the same name by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.

Climate change grief

Like the rest of the world, climate change affected my New York City roof garden this year. It was devastating. The crazy rainstorms and extreme heat took a toll on my baby plants. They were started from seed. A plant box nozzle got stuck and the box filled with rainwater overnight. Most of the plants drowned by the time I returned after the storm. I experienced true grief. A white-grey powder-like substance spread from the plant leaves stems to the buds and flowers. What was that? I moved the planter to an emergency zone. I needed to fix and adjust my plants and the soil a lot. It took all summer to remedy various minor and serious conditions. It’s all good now. But it was a rough summer.

What’s still growing

Lots of things are still growing in the garden. I feel gratitude. I see bees, butterflies, and birds. My husband Byron and I are well, safe and happy. We see Sunflowers, Marigolds, Echinacea (Coneflower), Black-Eyed Susans, Mandevillas, blueberries, okra, tomatoes, peppers, alliums, shrubs, and trees. The herb garden seems invincible with thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, and marjoram.

 

Purple food

My best achievement this summer was growing Peruvian purple-blue potatoes in cloth bags. It’s true what they say about home-grown veggies. Those purple potatoes were so tasty. I roasted them with fresh thyme, rosemary herbs, seasonings, olive oil with purple cauliflower, radish, red onion, and peppers. I like to play Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ in the background while preparing my purple food platters!  Do you like purple foods too? I usually post photos of my cooking and garden scenes on my Instagram, silvera88, with hashtags #blackgirlgardening, #roofgarden, #growsomething, and #purpleveggies.

Here’s the link to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryT-ltTDCko

Being flexitarian

Gardens teach many life lessons. Being flexible is an important lesson. Living a plant-based ‘flexitarian’ lifestyle truly motivated me to grow food. I re-activated my ancestral farming genes. My grandparents in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, ran a dairy and truck farm. Actually, my husband Byon started it when he designed the roof. It used to be so windy and hot up there. I avoided the space. He had no plans for a ‘garden’ per see. His architects fortified the roof with a steel beam platform to create an urban roof deck. The platform gave us more flexibility and protection regarding roof weight restrictions. I think a whole new building could be built on those beams. He hired a gardener to plant hardy evergreen trees. Besides year-round color, the trees provide wind protection. After a while, I felt the call of my ancestors to do more. Stretch out. Be flexible. There are so many possibilities, no matter what your garden space may be. I started easy by adding flower bulbs, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables. Then I began searching for new containers and plants to put in them. Before I knew it, I was obsessed!

Gardening addiction

Is gardening an addiction? What are the telltale signs? Stories and photographs about Elenor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama’s ‘Victory Gardens’ inspired or kickstarted my gardening addiction. Covid19 pandemic definitely revved up a gardening obsession. I already amassed a collection of ‘rescue plants’ from local deli counters and grocery stores! I love garden centers and seed catalogs. I canceled a Martha’s Vineyard vacation one year because I didn’t want to leave my ‘Three-Sister Garden’ project. I grow herbs, beans, berries, and greens. I composted my food scraps and joined a local CSA. I became active in the urban gardening movement and considered myself an environmentalist. I attend online classes and conferences. I eat mostly plant foods. These include vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains. Sometimes I eat fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. But I choose mostly foods from plant sources.  So, I’m a true flexitarian who mixes it up with Creole Soul, Afro-Asian, and Caribbean cooking. That’s a spicy Bhindi Okra Masala in the pan (above, left); a Palestinian Caribbean Afro-Asian #Globalbowl with Falafel, Vegetable Biryani rice, Trinidad Curry Channa, Szechuan Green Beans, Jamaican Callaloo (below, left); and fresh-picked speckled lima and cranberry beans from the garden (below, right).!

 

Urban sanctuary

Evergreen trees, Japanese maple trees, and shrubs in large plant boxes add a sense of serenity, beauty, and wilderness. Most of my edible and medicinal plants grow in several plant containers of all sizes and shapes. A pergola frames part of our outdoor urban sanctuary and creates a sense of height and privacy. We still live a semi-quarantine life because of the Covid19 Variant. We are blessed to go up to our roof to spend daily time outside to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. With this change in seasons, I usually do mini plant makeovers. For more winter colors, I’m exploring small bulbs to bloom in January and February. I am mentally preparing for the winter. But I’m not there yet. Right now, I’m affirming how everything is interconnected and interdependent.

More bloom time

There are still more blooms to come. The Fall season is a lovely spiritual time that represents harvest time. Our lives go through growth cycles and seasons as seen in nature. I’m still trying to decide on some cool weather crop options. Should I plant spinach, kale, greens, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts again? What new perennial flower bulbs will I plant for Spring?  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

My Year-End Reflections

 

My year-end reflections are all about thankfulness. I felt my light rekindled by sparks from so many people known and unknown to me. That is why I must express my gratitude to everyone for a wonderful year.

Here are two quotes about gratitude that I believe:

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Dr. Maya Angelou, from Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer

“Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you value or appreciate into your life.” – Dr. Christiane Northrup, women’s health expert

I chose eight reflections on thankfulness in honor of my maternal Chinese grandmother, Violet Chan Keong. Eight is considered a lucky number. Eight is pronounced as ‘Ba,’ in Chinese and sounds like the word ‘Fa,’ which means to make a fortune. Included in the definition is abundance, prosperity, success and high status. Since Grandma Vi really loved this number, I continue her legacy by doing things in series of eights too!

1. Abundance. I am grateful for abundance in many areas of my life especially for my loving husband, dear family and friends. Some years ago, I lost everything. To start over, I uncluttered my life. I let go of all negative thoughts, people and broken things. I focused on gratitude, self-love, and hard work. Slowly, I found peace and a sense of gratitude about simple things like air and water. Prosperity began to return to my life. It was not easy. I rarely slept. I worked and studied day and night for many years. I never took vacations during those times. Today, I feel grateful for the light, strength and courage to have reinvented my life several times by now. And, I give daily thanks for basics like health, shelter, clean water, air, food and freedom.

2. Civil Rights Movement. I am thankful for growing up during the Civil Rights era. The timing of my birth, at the end of Jim Crow racial segregation laws and colonialism, allowed me to witness astonishing change in my family and the world. Affirmative Action laws opened doors for me. “Put on your rhino skin and be grateful you woke up this morning,” my aunt often advised me. As a child of activist parents, I did not realize that I was learning how to be a leader. I participated in boycotts and lead protest marches. I organized strategy and held fundraisers. We survived terrorism, exploitation, racism, sexism, degradation, and marginalization. I may be thankful, but I am not satisfied with today’s unfair world. There’s still so much to do.

3. Family. I am grateful for growing up with two caring parents and an extended family and community. I wish more youth grew up like me. I had responsibilities and great expectations placed upon me. Family dinners, meals at neighbor’s homes and everyone’s stories fueled my life and career. I am grateful for the memories of all elders –Jewish, Chinese, Africans etc.—as they passed down their culture, history, language, music, dance, arts and religion. Through family stories from Africa, South American, China, Caribbean, Europe, Louisiana and Mississippi, I inherited an open mind, valuable advice, and a thirst for knowledge.

4. Food. I am thankful for my family’s food legacy. Everything I learned about life was learned at my family’s kitchen table. As a child of Southern migrants and Caribbean immigrants, conversations naturally turned around on poignant observations about American life as well as knowledge about the production and consumption of food from the South, Caribbean islands and beyond. My parents kept a garden and a large pot of beans and rice and some baked treats ready for visitors. It was considered good luck to save the last drop for unexpected guests! We never knew who was coming although we had some regulars. But if a spoon dropped, it meant that a woman and child were coming; if a fork dropped, our surprise guest would be male. These superstitions and spirit stories over meals with friends and strangers were part of a daily routine.

5. Creativity. I am thankful for my left-handedness that developed creative abilities like playing musical instruments, writing, and ‘thinking outside of the box.’ You really do need creativity to re-imagine and re-invent yourself. Thinking the unthinkable to transform your business or life is hailed today as ‘disruption’ or creative business strategy. Our ancestors who made a way out of no way were creative. Creative people possess improvisational, ingenious, and adaptability skills. How many of our mothers ‘improvised’ in the kitchen to create feasts out of leftovers?

6. Soul. I am grateful for my soul. I am thankful for soul as it relates to music and Black people as well as it relates to our spirit. In order to create and improvise anything you need to be in touch with your soul. You must look deep, beyond your physical self to find your soul, heart, faith and perhaps religion. Although I am not a church member, I am very spiritual and find myself at altars often in churches and temples. I am thankful for my family exposing me to many faiths. I grew up as a Buddhist, Catholic, Candomblé, Pentecostal/Holiness, Baptist, and Methodist in a Jewish-Hasidic neighborhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I was born in Harlem.

7. Gardens. I am thankful for the herb garden on my kitchen counter, a sleeping winter garden on my roof, and gardens everywhere. I love gardens for flowers, bees, butterflies, flavor, fragrance, spices, seasons, nourishment, empowerment, and beauty. Mostly, I am thankful for everyday life lessons to be learned from gardens.

8. You, the reader, current and future clients. I am thankful that you paused here to read and look at my pages. I started the year of 2014 with plans to simply collaborate and post more. I am proud that we produced stunning results and received global recognition for our projects in NYC, Brooklyn, Ohio, the UK and Japan. Because of you I have work and purpose. I hope you continue to find joy and reasons to stop by. Happy Holidays!