Welcome predators

I’ve been traveling (too much) lately, and all the coming and going keeps me more unbalanced than I’d like and makes me a neglectful gardener, too. This is not the time of year to ignore the garden or the pests it attracts. But every year about this time, there’s an infestation of aphids, and every year, I do very little about it.

A few days ago, I had been home long enough to start wandering around the garden to see what needed attention. One sad rosebush faces an extra barrage of aphids every year and was coated with the pests this particular day.

Aphid infestation

Now, I hate spraying plants with anything. I don’t mind sprinkling powders and fertilizers in the soil, but I have always hated sprays. I wanted this rose bush to do well, though, especially because this was the first year my husband mulched around the plant with proper mulch (pine bark nuggets, in case you’re wondering) instead of leaving the little pebbles the previous homeowners had put around the bush. The pebbles did nothing to help the rose flourish. After the new mulch, the rose bush put out more new stems and shoots than ever this spring, and I wanted to do my part to help it bloom.

A rare bloom on the besieged rosebush

On the other side of the house, where we have a number of healthier roses, the aphids had begun their assault, too.

I’d had it! Time to get some friendly predators in the garden.

Ladybugs as cold-hearted killers? It’s true.

I’m a slow learner when it comes to gardening, and, only in the past year or so have I learned about the benefit of ladybugs when it comes to getting rid of aphids.

I headed down to the local hardware store and bought a little plastic container full of ladybugs. The instructions said to release them at dusk after spraying the aphids with water, and so that’s what I did two nights ago along with several quick prayers: Please don’t let them be dead. Please don’t let them be dead. Please don’t let them be dead. I mean, how sad would it be to open a plastic container full of dead ladybugs? These were alive (most of them, anyway) and very, very happy to escape their plastic “home.”

When I checked yesterday morning, the rosebush was host to a ladybug extravaganza. They were happily chowing down on the aphids, and I was happy to see them do their work.

This morning, very few were left, and I fear other garden predators I enjoy and usually welcome (birds, dragonflies, etc.) had their own ladybug banquet yesterday. My hope is that, because surely those ladybug enemies couldn’t have eaten all of them, some of the ladybugs will reproduce to keep our roses safe all summer.

That slow-learner part of me I mentioned? When my husband and I moved out to California, we began trying new wines and quickly found an Old Vine Zinfandel we really enjoy: Predator. You’d think I would immediately make a connection between the name and the sweet little ladybug on the bottle. But I didn’t.

It took me reading about aphids and how to get rid of them to learn the delightful nature of ladybugs as welcome predators in the garden.

Do you rely on ladybugs in your garden? Have any other natural remedies that work on aphids?

The truth is, while I love rose blooms, I detest their neediness in general. All the thorny pruning, the vigilance against black spot and powdery mildew and rust and aphids and … I could go on. I’m not always sure they’re worth the effort. And while I’ll do my best to keep the ones that are already in my garden thriving, you won’t find me rushing out to buy more roses to plant. With my level of gardening knowledge, I need something lower maintenance and have no trouble finding plenty of lovely blooms that don’t require quite so much effort as the roses. Then again, the roses are forcing me to learn, and I will never complain about having the opportunity to learn something new.

Savor the idylls of March

I’m guessing at least some of you have already heard today the favorite warning about this date: “Beware the Ides of March.”

The weather has been stunning this week, and it’s too beautiful outside to feel cautious today. So I wanted to give you another way to think of this date. Instead of bewaring (honest, it’s a real word), how about savoring instead?

May I suggest you begin by savoring these “Idylls of March” photos? For a variety of reasons, they bring me joy and delight. I hope they’ll do the same for you this day.

My favorite bloom right now

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know my deep and abiding love for dark red snapdragons. Unable to find all red snapdragons, I settled last year for a flat of various colors to add to the garden. This red one is one of two that has already bloomed, and its flourishing presence is my happiest garden sight right now.

This next photo shows my second favorite garden sprout, even though it doesn’t look very interesting right now. For those of you who grow these, you’ll know immediately what they are. Because they die back each winter, I always worry a bit until I see the new spring shoots—even here where winters are much milder.


Do you know what this is? (It’s one of my garden favorites.)

As my husband and I were talking of garden plans last night, this particular plant came up in our conversation. He said, “You mean the dead thing?” Out of town when I cut away last year’s dead stems and leaves, he didn’t know new shoots had sprouted. I planted it just last year and so won’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom this year, but some day … some day it will be beautiful.

A plant that blooms without fail every spring is this Clivia. Because it’s one of the first spring plants to bloom, I always watch it eagerly to see when it will open.

Orange Clivia

The azaleas aren’t far behind. Given all the rain we’ve had, I can’t wait to see whether they bloom more profusely this season.

The start of the azaleas

The tulip magnolias are especially beautiful, despite windy days and flitting birds knocking off lots of petals.

Tulip magnolias in the early morning light

Beautiful under full sun or full clouds, these petals danced in the breeze as I photographed them.

Closer up

The flowers aren’t the only things of beauty in the garden. This Anna’s Hummingbird is a frequent visitor to my feeder.

The final photo delights me for a reason different than all the others. I’m not a fan of squirrels (aka tree rats), and they’ve raided several squares of seed from our feeder this winter. My husband solved the problem by moving the feeder, successfully confounding the squirrels for a couple of weeks now. I don’t even mind the blue jays that come now to the feeder. Seeing the squirrels try—and fail—to get to this feeder provides a good laugh.

A joyful heart is good medicine. —Proverbs 17:22

Thanks for savoring the Idylls of March along with me, friends!

Healing in the Hiding Place

There are some books you shouldn’t read in public unless you don’t mind crying out your eyeballs in front of strangers. Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is one of those books.

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Four weeks ago, I invited you to join me in reading The Hiding Place and planned to read it myself on a cross-country flight. Even the first two chapters forced me to stifle tears, and I only dared read part of it on the plane, stopping after I pressed against the window to sob quietly. I saved the rest of the book for home, reading it only in daytime, as if the only way my heart could absorb what I was reading was to have the sunlight as company for the dark pages.

Continue reading

A virtual Easter basket

The last two weeks have brought some dark days for me. I’ve struggled with “Love thy neighbor” and the call to forgive. Wrath, fear and sadness have threatened to overwhelm me. Maybe you’ve been going through dark days of your own?

Holy Week marks Jesus’ darkest days but also His greatest triumph. Our messed-up brokenness nailed Christ to the cross but could not keep Him there. God’s grace is stronger than our greatest failings in ourselves and with each other.

Because of that first Easter Sunday, we are heading through the dark with a promise of light and an empty tomb on the other side.

I’ve been clinging to the beauty of Easter and its cheerful celebrations. Growing up, we always dyed Easter eggs and then hunted for them and for baskets full of delightful goodies.

Today, I give you a virtual basket of Easter goodies. There are no dyed eggs or foil-wrapped chocolates, but these Easter colors are vibrant and worth savoring. May they bring a bit of light into whatever darkness you’re facing, and may they remind you of the unconquerable Light in the garden of the empty tomb.

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Peace, blessings and joy to you this Easter, my friends!

When rain is grace

Today is joyful for me because it has brought a gentle rain. For more than five hours now, the cloudy skies have let their rain fall on the drought-parched land.

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Even with the rain today, the grass likely won’t survive the summer. The soil is already cracking.

I wasn’t the only one celebrating the rain. I went to a favorite coffee spot and sat outside. Several others stared out at the rain instead of looking down at their phones, a good humor showing on their faces. While no one sat in the wet, uncovered chairs, few rushed to their cars. None carried umbrellas. Most wore no raincoat. We were all of us thirsty, trying to soak up the lovely, rare raindrops.

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A rare sight here: rain-covered chairs, rocks and streets

Moving from a place where summer afternoon thunderstorms are the norm, my husband and I have found this drought especially hard. Not that we’ve never experienced drought. We have. We’ve just never experienced such a deep, abiding drought in a place known for scorching summers and wildfires.

I’m nervous about July and August (and probably September, too, if I’m admitting the truth to myself). Heat and relentless sun can turn me cranky and impatient. There will be little rain—and therefore little respite—to quench that ill temper.

Today is different, though. I don’t know when it will rain again, and so I am delighting in this day. The flowers and fruit and trees in our yard are, too. The rain brings a drink that no bucket from the kitchen sink can imitate. The rain brings a cleansing, a renewal, a needed rest from the sun and the heat.

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Parts of the country have been devastated by too much rain, by roaring floods. My heart aches for their losses. But here, for this special day, rain feels exactly like grace.

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John Updike was right: Rain is grace. And I needed both today. How about you?