Favorite Perennials

A well-tended perennial garden has a beauty all its own, and thejoy of it is amplified in that it keeps coming back, and keeps coming back, and keeps coming back! Perennials tend to get ignored in the springtime fury of planting, since most people fall for the immediate gratification of copiously-blooming annuals displayed at the greenhouse. Perennials tend to bloom later and don’t get the showcasing that annuals do….Not until the middle or end of the summer when the annuals have all had their hayday and perennials are still shining or just starting to!

The ease and flexibility of planting annuals in a container is pretty appealing to a lot of folks, especially if they don’t already have a garden bed ready for plants but, if at all possible, perennials are the way to go and, tended well, will come back for years to come. It is really amazing to me that sometimes all that is left of a homestead from the late 1800s or early 1900s is a hedge of roses or a few lilac shrubs, still blooming joyfully 100 years later. In fact, the lilacs Brad and I have outside our house are transplants of some lilacs blooming about a mile and a half away on top of a hill. The lilacs and some irises are all that remain of someone’s life on that little piece of hill country.

I was able to get my perennials in the ground early this summer, shortly after Brad and I got married, and planted a few from seed later in the summer, but fall is actually a great time to plant perennials. So I thought I’d share a little bouquet of my favorites.

Catmint. Not to be confused with catnip, which is a completely different plant, this perennial is one of my favorites in the garden. It is hardy, basically grows without any effort, and is a wonderful filler! Unlike some perennials which bloom and then are done, catmint seems never to stop. It can also be sheared in the middle of the summer after its first bloom if it is starting to look scraggly, and will grow back fuller for a second round of blooming. I bought a few catmints in tiny 2 inch pots back in June and these plants are now generous 18 inch bushes. They tend to get wider than they do tall, so they kind of work just about anywhere in the garden, and as I said above they make a great filler. Absolutely beautiful. A bonus is that the pollinators love these flowers. Another bonus is that, due to their fragrance, deer generally don’t mess with them. (Deer proof plants are a myth. They don’t exist. But there is such a thing as generally deer resistant, and plants with a pungeant aroma are generally less likely to be munched on by deer.)

Salvia. This is another one I just love. The typical shade is kind of a violet blue, but lately growers have developed some really wonderful shades of pink. In general, I’m not a pink person at all, but some of the salvias are just delicious rich berry colors. This plant does best with regular deadheading. Each blossom spike can be snipped back when spent, down to the first pair of new leaves, and this will encourage reblooming. This is another drought-resistant and deer-resistant plant, but is less forgiving than catmint. Salvia doesn’t get hugely tall, so it works well somewhat offset from the edge of the garden, but not too far back.

Yarrow. This is an easily-recognizable flower, if you pay any attention to native wildflowers, and the domestic varities have been bred for some gorgeous colors. Wild yarrow is white with occasional pink, but I was excited to plant one variety that blooms red and fades to yellow, and another variety of more subtle shades of pink and white. This is yet another drought-resistant and hardy perennial, and it blooms forever in the later summer! It has some height to it, so it makes a great middle of the garden flower.

As much as I love the change of seasons, I’m bracing a little bit for that first killing frost we have, since I’m enjoying my garden so much this summer! But it will be just delightful to see how everything comes back in the spring. Gardening is possibly the epitome of hope and optimism!

Ranch Wife Musings: Evening

As I tidy up the kitchen as my last home task of the evening, I get a good view of my little flock of chickens down by their coop, chasing a few last bugs. Clearly they aren’t ready to be tucked in just yet. The horses are visible just on the other side of the barn, having been given their freedom for the night, and sometimes Charlie the Calf comes wandering into the barn yard for a drink of water or maybe thinking I’ll give her one more little scoop of calf creep.

The sky turns orange then pink then lavender as the shadow of our little ridge is cast further and further east, until the last little bit of sunlit prairie has been covered in the comfort of evening shadow.

What a peaceful sight.

I love my little jaunt down to the chicken coop to do the very last of my chores for the day. Pearl comes with me, since she takes her chicken chores very seriously, and usually one or more of the cats run down to the coop with me as well. With an actual pounding of little feet, Yellow Cat (who probably slept all day until five minutes ago) races by, then Grey Cat (who probably worked all day), tearing around, then stopping suddenly and staring at absolutely nothing in the uncanny way cats do.

The chickens chatter contentedly amongst themselves and maybe greet me quietly when I come in to make sure everyone is accounted for. Yep, there’s Amelia, and Alice, and Audrey, and Goldie, and Little Red, Little Red, Little Red, and Little Red. And seven black chickens, including Henrietta, the only one who gets a name because she looks like a vulture. I close the coop windows or open them a crack, depending on the evening temps, and scratch one or two of the friendly birds on their backs before collecting my egg basket and closing the girls in for the night.

Pearl reluctantly joins me on the little walk back up to the house. The cats run and pounce on each other, occasionally scrapping and working out a few feminine feline differences. Rocket the Horse says something sarcastic to Jargon the Horse, or maybe that was Chip putting Rocket in his place.

And everything is still. I love an evening on the rim of the prairie. A distant coyote yelps. A nighthawk calls out high up and out of sight. Maybe there’s the soft roar of the nighthawk’s wings as he swoops and dives. The warmth of the last days of summer melts away and cool night breezes shift around gently, resiny, fresh, and sweet.

This is home.

Chicken Math

My husband is a very patient man.

Somehow two chicken fatalities several weeks ago strongly suggested an immediate need for a whole new flock of chicks, so two weeks ago that exciting noisy box came to the post office and eighteen chicks took up residence in our spare bedroom. Much to my delight, and to Pearl’s, who was overwhelmedly thrilled to have baby chicks to stare at for hours at a time. We actually caught her perched on top of the brooders, absolutely fascinated by her chicks, and without any intent to injure them. My husband says she and I watch the chicks with the same expression on our faces.

I steered away from Buff Orpingtons due to their apparent lack of healthy fear (they were the two fatalities) and instead leaned heavily on Ameraucanas and Light Brahmas, and also added a few Delawares. McMurray Hatchery threw in three freebies for the total of eighteen chicks. What fun. I split the Brahmas and three Delawares off from the Ameraucanas after the first day or so, since the latter were all on the smaller size and I wanted to avoid picking. I used the same brooder setup as before, made from large Rubbermaid tubs with screen inserts in the lids, but was able to get by very easily with one heat lamp for the two brooders, rather than one lamp each.

The chicks have done really well over the last two weeks, without any losses. One chick, who has been named “Little Betsy,” or “Little Bee,” for short, one of the seven Ameraucanas, got some hand feeding for about five days due to her small size. She took readily to the egg yolk on a Q-tip and loved feeding time. She’s still petite and does have a slight cross beak, which doesn’t seem to be affecting her ability to eat, and gives her the funniest quizzical expression. She’s a gentle little bird.

Today was moving day and the chicks, just starting to reach their awkward adolescent stage with pin feathers and scruff, were graduated from the nursery brooders to their grade school brooder, made of an old Lumix feed tub, about 4×8 feet in size, with plenty of room for them to spread their little wing stubs. The two mini flocks had shown a little schoolyard hostility over the last few days, when one chick would manage to get into the other brooder, but they combined rather well this afternoon, without any issues. The warm summer weather will be to their advantage, only needing supplemental heat at night, and they will enjoy all the extra room. It really is amazing how fast chicks double and triple in size!

At least now Pearl can do her chicken chores without running back and forth from the house to the barn and back again. Maybe she’ll even take up her old hobby of bunny hunting. Meanwhile, I can try to figure out how it is that 18 chickens – 2 chickens = 34 chickens. Math never was my strength anyway.

Pearl’s Chickens

The chicken farming business has gone remarkably well, I’d say. The little chicks have very quickly turned into adult chickens and are an endless source of amusement.

It really is nice to have a patient husband who actually gets a kick out of me and my chickens, and who has generously facilitated the project. The last couple of weeks, our big afternoon and evening project has been getting a permanent chicken coop built, but for now, the chickens are in a “waste not, want not” sort of establishment. It has worked. Quite well. Brad thinks it is hideous. I think it is rather charming, in an eye-sore sort of way.

We pieced it together from an old coop that used to house a few guineas, back when my man was a kiddo, and which has definitely seen better days. We added a few roosting bars and a way to hang a feeder indoors, and scrapped together a run from some old panels of fencing. My sister in Illinois scavenged a few 3 gallon waterers from a client of hers, and some old bedsheets provided the needed shade in the heat we’ve been having. I will admit the bedsheets added an extra flair of hideousness. But they work.

Brad’s little cow dog, Pearl, has taken an intense liking to the chickens, and Brad says we get the same look on our face when we go down to “check the chickens,” which is Pearl’s cue for fun. Her bunny-hunting has taken a bit of a back seat to her new priority, which is chicken watching. They’ve been doing a little free-ranging and grasshopper management, when Pearl doesn’t obsessively round them up and put them away. I think she likes to have them all where she can see them, since on multiple occasions I’ve caught her flushing them out of the coop itself. She would sit and watch them for hours if she could. Actually, I think she really does sit and watch them for hours. I think she thinks they’re hers.

Yep, Pearl and I have a lot of fun with our chickens.

And Then I Became a Ranch Wife

It was seven and a half weeks ago that I said “I do” to my now husband in front of 350 witnesses and under a light rain shower, and then the weeks blinked by. They say rain on your wedding day means good luck. If I believed in luck, I’d agree. But rain on my wedding day was a reminder of all of God’s goodness and faithfulness, providing rain and also providing sunshine, providing both through storms and through breaks in the clouds, providing in each changing season, and in each season of life, providing in ways I couldn’t ever have thought possible.

Our wedding was a beautiful, handmade get-together, literally thanks to our families, our churches, and our ranching community, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. We were blown away by how many people wanted to help, and are so thankful for the people in our lives who bring such richness and meaning.

And then the wedding was over and our life began.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be coming up on two months of being married, I really would have thought you were crazy. I had honestly resigned myself to being a single woman and was throwing myself into a new career as a firefighter-paramedic with a busy urban fire department. That tall, lean rancher who had caught my eye years before on the volunteer fire department had caught my eye again, but I never imagined we’d be husband and wife ten months later. I never imagined that God would so quickly satisfy those longings to be a wife, those longings for companionship, or satisfy that loneliness. I never imagined that the very real contentment God had given me in my singleness would so quickly turn to joy in marriage. So take heart, single friend…Take heart, knowing that there is a God who sees and hears your quietest prayers. He even hears the longings you never had the courage to fully acknowledge.

What a whirlwind of newness and joy and growth and busyness these last almost two months have been, with a husband and partner I don’t deserve and whom I love with all my heart.

Spring and into summer is a busy time on the ranch, and we’ve had a few additional projects in the works as well, keeping us extra busy, but we took some time last weekend to celebrate. We celebrated our “we saw the light” anniversary, the one-year anniversary of our first date. It is absolutely astounding what God can accomplish in the span of what amounts to a few short months. But then again, why should it be surprising? The same God who brought about His Creation plan in six days can accomplish whatever He wills whenever He wills it! But I’m still amazed.

The companionship He can bring to loneliness, the peace He can bring to sorrow, the healing He can bring to hurt.

The dreams He can realize out of the blue.

The amazing answers to prayer He can bring about in the blink of an eye.

So this firefighter-paramedic became a ranch wife. Muck boots have replaced tactical boots. Jeans have replaced Nomex. Leather gloves have replaced nitrile ones. Carhartt replaced 511. Coveralls replaced turnouts. Old dreams have reawakened. Early morning coffee, evening devotions, cow work, building fence, gardening, digging in the dirt, chasing chickens, cutting weeds, keeping house, doing dishes, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. A friend asked me a few days ago if anything has particularly surprised me about marriage. I told her, “How much I absolutely love being a wife.”

Life is sweet.

God is good.

The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!