Maintenance projects in Millie’s garden

Oh what a difference a year can make.  Last year was a year full of planting, planting, and more planting.  Which meant watering, watering, and more watering.  

This year, we have resolved to make a couple of strategic plantings and invest our time in maintaining and observing the garden before making any additions.  We want to be intentional in what we add.  We want to pay attention to the details in order to help us inform future plantings.

It has been so wonderful to watch the spring bulbs emerge and bloom, and to watch in anticipation to see other plants reemerge after a winter’s hibernation.  On our daily walks, there’s always something new to find and discover.  Some new things haven’t sprouted, but have been surprise maintenance projects that Chou Chou has done while we’ve been out.  It started with a planting of about 20 hydrangea bulbs and “cookies” around the beds.

“Cookies”

For at least the first ten times Chou Chou or Mon Cœur mentioned cookies, I headed for the kitchen. I thought, “Great idea!  I would love a glass of milk and cookies!” only to remember that they were referring to wooden discs.

For the next few days, Chou Chou would cut the cookies and we would all arrange them around the raised beds. We moved on to the other beds of the garden and are still working on surrounding each rose, tree, or plant that is in the garden.

I love the definition it gives to the beds and that it marks other flowers throughout the garden so that they do not get mowed over by any well meaning helpers.

Mulch

After the cookies were in, Chou Chou got a truck load of mulch. Between weather and work schedules, MC and I were the first to get to the mulch and begin spreading. I have never been so excited to spread mulch.

I really didn’t want to spend the money on mulch, but it was so cheap, and…did you see the before and after?… This was definitely a worthwhile investment. One could argue it does or doesn’t look professional, but I think we can all agree that with mulch looks so much better than without!

Decorative additions

A work in progress

Above are some other photos from the garden – tulips, bugle carpet, and narcissus in bloom right now.  

Sometimes I look at the images I take in the garden and wonder, “Should I post these? Do I need to retake this? Maybe I just shouldn’t share? Look at all those rocks and dirt…”

I’m no professional photographer or stylist. This isn’t a professional blog.  This is me and my family, living our lives.  And these are raw pictures depicting the same.  They show the progress and growth of a garden which symbolizes both our daughter/sister that we won’t meet until God knows when and the abundance of love we have for her.

I’ll leave you with this image that Chou Chou shared with me a couple of days ago – a moment he captured while working out in the garden…Millie, enjoying the phlox.  We have seen many of these Tiger swallowtail butterflies, as well as smaller butterflies, and we have greeted each with the same greeting, “Hello, Millie!”  In fact, as I was preparing this post, MC said, “Mommy may I see Millie again?” She was talking about this picture…

What butterflies have you spotted this spring?

For previous garden updates, check out the links below:

  • You can read about three early spring addition to Millie’s garden here;
  • Early spring updates here;
  • Summer updates here;
  • Spring and summer additions here;
  • Our nursery haul here;
  • December additions here;
  • Fall additions here;
  • The end of week one progress here;
  • Check out the grotto in progress here;
  • Read about the chopping of our cherry tree here;
  • and see what we started with in our before pictures here.

Three Additions to Millie’s Garden

Oh, last week was a glorious, gorgeous hint at spring…Will she arrive early, or was this just a tease? Every year Chouchou and I start feeling the gardening itch as soon as the first beautiful days arrive. This year was no exception.

Originally, we had wanted to wait to add anything until we’ve seen what flowers came back, what bloomed and where we need to fill in. The other day was a wonderfully mild, sunny day, and I just couldn’t help it. We headed to our favorite local nursery, The Gardener Nursery, and I found a couple of early spring flowering camellias I wanted to bring home. We also gave a change of scenery to a few other plants. Read on to see what we moved around and the camellias we added.

Mom’s Rosebush

Mom had told me about a rosebush that she had in her garden that was starting to feel cramped. She had mentioned digging it up one phone call. The next time we talked, she mentioned it again and said she was going to dig it up and she wanted to give it to us for Millie’s garden. Then when I was visiting her a couple of weeks ago, she had already dug it up, and she had it ready to send home with us.

I am glad we have a rosebush for the garden, although I admit I have absolutely no experience in this arena. As with pretty much everything in Millie’s garden, this is an opportunity to learn. The only other rosebush that I’ve ever had is the one that came with our house, and although we’ve not pruned on schedule or like we should, it seems happy. It blooms for us throughout the year, so I hope this new one will be as low maintenance, too.

We planted it near one of our granite rock features, giving it a little “company” as it grows. I am excited to see that there is already new growth on this rosebush and hope to see some blooms this spring or summer.

I always love to research the symbolism behind each plant or flower that we choose and plant in the garden. For pink roses, Bloom&Wild says they symbolize grace, joy, and gratitude, and they are perfect for those you “appreciate most, like your friends, siblings or teachers.”

Rudbeckia

We have been in our house for eight years now, which is crazy to imagine, because I feel like we just moved here. When we first moved in, Chouchou purchased three rudbeckia for the side entrance of our house. They are beautiful, fall blooming flowers, and as the years passed they became bushier, more cumbersome. We only have a few mums in the garden, and I wanted to add more fall blooming flowers, so we dug up, split and moved these – our three plants split into six, and we were able to add them in pairs around the edges of the garden.

They have beautiful white blooms with a yellow center, and although I thought that these are rudbeckia, as I search for symbolism, the pictures for rudbeckia (black eyed Susan) I do not see any images that match ours!

They look a little rough, cut back the way they are, however they are settling in to their new dirt and the new growth has stayed strong. I anticipate lots of beautiful blooms this fall now that they have been split and there’s more growing room for each plant. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to accurately identify the plant as well, so that I can share with you the symbolism of the flower.

Spring Blooming Camellias

Chouchou and I have a distinct memory of a large, twenty foot camellia in the backyard where we rented in Richmond. We were leaving the apartment in the middle of winter, after an ice storm, and there were flowers in full bloom encased in ice. It was such a beautiful sight and a symbol of beauty and strength despite the adverse weather conditions.

We want to add different features to the garden that will make the garden a lovely respite throughout every season. As we were planning we discussed the camellia, and planted two last winter. They were beautiful to watch bloom this fall into winter. Then, as we visited our nursery last week, I learned there are Spring blooming camellias as well.

Who knew? I am learning that as is true with most of the flower families, camellia varieties could be fall blooming, spring blooming, or even long blooming.

According to FTD.com, “With camellias, the calyx and petals fall away together, which is why the camellia also represents eternal love or long-lasting devotion.” How fitting, as we will always hold Millie dear in our hearts and this garden is a reflection of our long term devotion to her memory.

Early spring comebacks

Daffodils, Narcissus, and Tulips

Last year we planted a ton of daffodils and tulips, after they had already flowered for the season. We weren’t sure if they would come back, and we had forgotten where we had planted some of them! I am so glad that we made a garden key, that helped us as we walked around last week. To our surprise, the daffodils and tulips have already started breaking ground and some of the daffodils have even started flowering!

Peonies

In addition, we had planted peonies last spring. Every time we get a new plant, I research it, and I realized after the fact, it is suggested to plant them in the fall. I watered these little rootstocks all summer long. Some grew, others never broke ground, and we never did see a flower. I wasn’t sure what to expect this season. However, on a recent walk through the garden, MC pointed out where some peonies are coming back, and I am thrilled! We planted nine in all, and there are three so far that we’ve seen emerge. I feel like each day we find a new something that’s woken up and begun to show itself.

Butterfly Bush

Lastly, we trimmed up our butterfly bush. We were advised to cut it to about knee height at the beginning of spring, so Chouchou and MC did that as MA and I supervised. I saved a few of the cuttings – we would like more butterfly bushes for the butterflies, but I didn’t see any sense in buying a new one if we could propagate more for free. So, Chouchou and I are conducting an experiment to see: (one) if we can propagate butterfly bush, and (two) to see whose method is most efficient. I’ll keep you posted with updates in a few weeks! I am pretty confident that these will propagate easily, as the words “invasive species” were popular words across many websites describing butterfly bush.

Has the recent warm weather inspired you to garden?

For previous garden updates, check out the links below:

  • You can read about early spring updates here;
  • Summer updates here;
  • Spring and summer additions here;
  • Our nursery haul here;
  • December additions here;
  • Fall additions here;
  • The end of week one progress here;
  • Check out the grotto in progress here;
  • Read about the chopping of our cherry tree here;
  • and see what we started with in our before pictures here.

National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Day

October 15

Today, October 15, is National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Day. The whole month in fact is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness. I learned about this day last year, at a bereavement group meeting.  (See related blog post here.)  

Last year was different.  We were four months into living our new reality, missing Millie, and trying to continue on as a family with Mon Cœur (MC) propelling us forward.

This year, we are 16 months missing Millie, carrying on as a family with MC keeping us on our toes, and we are 14 days from an induction to meet our baby boy.  This year is harder in many ways than it was last year, perhaps precisely because we are expecting, and in just two weeks.  I believe it is the home-stretch anxiety, knowing how close we are, and also knowing that it could all slip between our fingers.

Throughout this pregnancy, we have had our ups and downs of emotions – excited, skeptical, hopeful, anxious, excited, scared.  We are all anticipating his arrival, and yet some severe anxiety clouds our joy.  We know the potential outcome.  We know we aren’t in control, and little things can trigger thoughts or feelings of “what if?”

Gifts and conflicting emotions

Our village exudes enthusiasm for us – they don’t see or feel the apprehensions that we do.  We have had more people shower us with gifts prior to baby boy’s arrival than Millie’s, which is confusing from my perspective. I hate to sound ungrateful or ungracious, I simply can not mentally process the gifts that have been given us…We are scared.

When it’s just us, and we aren’t putting on a face for others, we are in fact very aware of what could or couldn’t be. I have hid all of the gift bags away and out of sight until we are back home with baby in arms.  I would rather be exhausted, have my hands full, and have to process gifts and write thank yous once I know he is here instead of looking through them now, getting hopes up, and maybe not be able to put these gifts to use. Silly? Maybe. I am trying to be strong while also protecting our family from potential emotional anguish, and it’s a fine line to walk.

Every time we receive a gift, I flashback to the day that I received a gift from my sister, and then Chouchou came home that same afternoon and had forgotten a quilt at work which had been made by a co-worker.  “It’s no big deal, baby – you can get it tomorrow,” I told him.  

That day was the day before the morning I woke up and didn’t feel Millie, that I naïvely believed that although I wasn’t feeling any movement, since I felt contractions, everything was okay.  Everybody kept saying, “Babies move less and less right before labor.” “Okay, she’s ready then,” I incorrectly thought.

The morning I woke up and Chouchou was busy preparing a dinner feast in the kitchen, and MC was running around laughing.  The morning I planned on “just running up to the hospital for a quick check-in” while Chouchou felt much more ominous about the situation.  The morning we placed my hospital bag and the car seat in the car, expecting to come home with a baby bundle and at the doctor’s office learning that would not be the case.

Managing this pregnancy

Although I feel like we’ve managed well throughout this pregnancy, the one thing that we have refused to do is set up anything baby related or open any baby gifts.   We just can’t bring ourselves to do it.  Instead, I have begun a wish list of things for my mom to do when she comes up.  I am grateful for her help, support, and understanding. What gets done, gets done, and what doesn’t get done, we’ll figure out once we get home. Anything is better than coming home and having to break down a no-longer needed nursery, and reallocate no-longer needed gifts.

Everyone keeps saying that this time it will work out, this time will be different. While I want to believe them, I can’t help but know that it might not work out, it might not be different this time.  When I hear those phrases it makes me itch inside, like there’s a rash that can’t be soothed. When I hear that, I just want to hit fast forward to the day when we are reassured by his arrival, his cry and his physical, squirming presence.

Remembering Millie

Today especially I am reminded of Millie Bonheur, our darling who did not come home with us.  I think of her every day.  I remember her every day.  MC sees a butterfly and says, “Hello, Millie!” She is remarkable at her timing to notice Millie’s urn and ask to hold her or speak to her. Just this past Tuesday, she asked to hold Millie. She talked to her, held her, then we put her back.

Today I am remembering our Millie, and all the moms whose hearts ache for their baby angels.

To read more about our pregnancy journey, check out these previous blog posts:

Measuring up: 28 weeks

This week is the 28th week of pregnancy for us, and that means just 10 more weeks to go. We’ve been counting down for a while, however, now that we’re about to hit single digits, and we can feel the finish line in sight…it’s become really real for us.

If this is the first time you’re reading, you may be wondering why just 10 weeks? That’s only 38 weeks and not the full 40 weeks. Check out our backstory here.

28 weeks: Which fruit or veggie this week?

It may feel like I’m carrying around a baby watermelon, but that’s not this week’s veggie!

Recently I discussed the apps that I was using to track this pregnancy, and depending on which app I reference, Baby Boy is either a large bok choy (14.75″) or as large as a head of lettuce (romaine, perhaps?) and approximately 2.25 pounds. It’s not a watermelon, but it’s still sizable.

This morning, Mon Cœur (MC) happened to be right beside me when I was checking the app for this week’s updates. So, I read all the little snippets of the growth milestones for this week, and she watched the What to Expect video for the week. Then I shared Baby Boy’s approximate size.

Of course, as a three year old, telling her 15 inches doesn’t really explain much, so we got out a measuring tape so I could show her. She loves the measuring tape – we’ve been using it a lot recently around the house for various projects, and she always has to help, so she was eager to hold the tape measure and help size things up.

After she saw the tape measure, I realized this was an opportunity to make things really tangible to her, and find objects in the house that were comparable in size. We decided to look through her stuffed animals and measure them to try to find an approximate size match. We went through bunnies, bears, baby dolls, and unicorns looking for a match. This was a great exercise for her to compare size, and for us to make her baby brother’s current size real.

Hopeful…and anxious

“I want to see him now!” MC said after we were finished measuring.

“Me too, baby, but he’s not ready to meet us yet. We’ll see him very soon. Ten more weeks.” I said.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but as we enter our “home stretch” of the pregnancy, the anxiety has amped up again. I start feeling hopeful, like things will definitely turn out this time, then I remember that I just have to wait because nothing is guaranteed, and I’m not in control.

I cringe inside every time that I allude to the fact that Baby Boy will be here soon. I used to say similar things to MC about Millie being here soon, and then we had to explain that she wasn’t coming home. I want to say this time will be different, although I won’t know until I have safely delivered him and we are all home as a family.

This pregnancy, MC has been a lot more “hands-on.” She will literally come up and put her hands on my belly and enthusiastically say, “Baby Brother is moving!” She will talk to him, give him hugs, kisses, and her favorite, raspberries. She will tell me how much she loves him and can’t wait to meet him.

She also asks about Millie more frequently, “Where is she?, Can I call her?, Can I visit her?”

“She’s in heaven. You can’t call her, but if you want to talk to her, you can. I’m sorry, we can’t visit heaven.”

Chouchou and I are both feeling these contradictory feelings of optimism and angst as we approach these last few weeks. I’ve been cleaning and organizing, we’ve been discussing our plans and our fears. We are preparing for the best, and remaining all to aware of the worst-case scenario. To an extent, I see these same conflicting emotions in MC, too.

Early next week will mark the beginning of the 29th week and we’ll have some reassurance at another prenatal, too. As we are biding our time, waiting for the arrival of Baby Boy at the end of October, I will continue to make his weekly milestones and measurements as concrete as I can for MC, as she along with the rest of our family and friends are excitedly and anxiously awaiting his delivery.

On patience…and garden updates

On patience

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

 Gertrude Jekyll 

Growing up, I was always told by my mother, “Good things come to those who wait,”  or “Patience is a virtue.”  As a teenager, all I heard was, “Blah, blah, blah.”  I was impatient for so much.  It was difficult to see past my immediate wants to see what I really needed and what was sustainable.

As an adult and mother, now I [try to] practice patience much more freely and with a deeper understanding of what it means to be patient.   I try not to immediately respond to a comment perceived as hurtful, and I try not to reprimand Mon Cœur (MC) without giving myself wait time. Just a moment to reflect before saying something that may be thought in haste, or while feeling less than patient.  

I realize that immediate gratification is just that – immediate.  It fades away in the time that passes and does not endure.  However, words said in the moment linger far longer in people’s memories than we like to admit.

Millie’s garden has stretched our patience muscles, as we have planted seeds, bare roots, bulbs, and other plants, and had to wait for them to break through the ground, grow, bud, and flower.  

Sometimes we’ve been pleasantly surprised by a quickly sprouting seed, other times we wait for so long, and either are disappointed in the end, or are amazed as we watch a plant make its appearance.

We have filled in so much of the garden since we’ve begun almost a year ago, and yet we have so much more to do.  It has been difficult not to go out and buy flowers for every inch of the garden, and yet with the daily watering, I am reminded why we are going to fill it in slowly.  

We have fought our want for immediate gratification for a garden full of blooms, instead opting to grow it over time. It has made every day a new adventure, looking for summer bulbs to break through the ground, watching for buds, smelling the flowers in bloom, and enjoying each small display of progress within the garden.  It has given us something to look forward to, to hope for, and to invest in each day.  

Recent Additions

Despite wanting to not fill the garden in completely this year, we have had many additions since our last garden update, and I have needed to redo our garden map, as the original was getting quite cramped and hard to decipher.

As I thought about how best to draw the map this time, I decided that I would color code plants by their flowering season.

We are striving to fill flower beds with flowers and plants for each season so there’s always a feature to marvel at. This has been more difficult than I had originally thought, since we are filling in as we go, and didn’t plan before planting. We are making it work, and have seen where we can fill in the gaps- the color coding is definitely helping with deciding locations for future plants.

Bee balm was transplanted from our vegetable garden to Millie’s garden and has been a nectar source for both butterflies and honeybees.

We have transplanted bee balm and milk weed; Chouchou gave me some bare root peonies, Asian lilies, and phlox for Mother’s Day; he’s also added some sedum and succulents; we received a petite butterfly bush from friends for Millie’s birthday; a neighbor gave us a few hostas and some lambs ear which have helped fill in under our cedar trees; and Sissy sent us some mixed peonies for Millie’s birthday. I also planted a few dogwood saplings and a Washington Hawthorne sapling.

Cultivating the soul

A butterfly bush in full bloom reminds us of the dear friends who offered it to us before Christmas this past year.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Alfred Austin

It has become routine to go out to the garden early, before the Virginia heat and humidity set in, to water and observe each plant.  

Every day, when we go out, we are surrounded by the plants, bees, birds, and butterflies. Most of all, though, I feel the love of friends and family as we make our way around the garden.

Seeds, plants, or manual labor offered by friends and family make us think of them as we visit each plant. Every time I see a butterfly, I think of Millie, and with each plant I water, I think of the friend that offered it, showing their love for her and for us.  

Or, I may pass a hill or section of the garden, where family grabbed a shovel to dig holes for plants.  I can’t wait to see all the spring bulbs next spring, and I will think fondly of my moms who helped to plant them. 

When I sit at the bench drinking morning coffee or I watch MC playing at her tea party table, I think of Chouchou and our cousin who helped set the stones for these features.

I enjoy going out in the morning dew of the day to look at the growing garden with MC. She is a willing helper, and has learned essentially all of the flower names.  This has made her an excellent tour guide to those who come to see the garden.  

She also loves to give her opinion on the flowers – the gardenias smell like chocolate; the butterfly bush is gorgeous; her daffodils are sleeping. She keeps a look out for the hummingbirds, checking our homemade feeders every morning to make sure they are full. Seeing the garden through her eyes, and hearing her talk about it brings me such delight.

Homemade hummer feeders – made from recycled pimiento jars, with four holes punched in the lid.

Beyond patience – learning opportunities

I have also been patient and perhaps too nurturing with some of the bare roots that were given to us – our phlox and peonies are struggling and the liatris mix have remained hidden from view for over two months.  Each day for the past month, I have been hopeful to see them emerge from the earth and begin to grow in our view.  

After giving them ample time to break through and begin growing, I began researching online and reaching out to the companies that sold the plants and bulbs.

I had a really promising experience speaking with the Netherland Bulb Company, who guarantee all of their bulbs. She said give it a few more weeks, it may take some time for the liatris to break ground, but it grows very quickly once it does. If we don’t have any luck, they will send us replacements next spring.

The other company that sold the peonies and phlox were only reachable by email, and are sending replacement plants next spring.

I have learned recently though, through internet research that peonies [bare roots] should be planted in the fall, and phlox bare root planting is more complicated than the overly simple directions that were displayed on the box.

I consider myself an accidental gardener, and we are learning about flower care and symbolism as we nurture the plants within Millie’s garden.

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

May Sarton

The garden has become such a respite from the stresses of the world, all the while cultivating a calm, a patience, and a hope within us for all that is to bloom. Additionally, it teaches us to accept with grace the ebb and flow of life, watching with anticipation for buds to bloom, and understanding that when a flower has wilted and dropped, that another will appear soon, and at the end of the bloom season that next year, that we will be blessed with more beauty from the same plant.

Millie’s garden has allowed us to slow down, enjoy the little successes, learn from our mistakes, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.


For previous garden updates, check out the links below:

  • You can read about our Spring and summer additions here;
  • Our nursery haul here;
  • December additions here;
  • Fall additions here;
  • The end of week one progress here;
  • Check out the grotto in progress here;
  • Read about the chopping of our cherry tree here;
  • And see what we started with in our before pictures here.