I have been flipping endlessly through a mental catalog of summertime plants- Lavender, Calendula, Hibiscus, Rose, Tomato (that one almost won) and just couldn't decide on the one that best cried out, "Summer is finally here!"
In early June, I was driving one day and it suddenly struck me- it's hot, I have the windows open, there are birds everywhere, and it just looks like summer. I grabbed my phone and started snapping pictures whenever I was stopped in traffic. Not many were in focus, and they don't do the green shades and shading justice, but I did get a few shots that demonstrate our summer, and it was my fervor to document this landscape that led me to my answer for this prompt. Finally, I had hit upon the plant, or at least the category of plants, that to me at least best captures the essence of summer in my native Pennsylvania- the deciduous forest of the Northeast!
Years ago I was visiting my family in Florida late one spring, and I drove myself back to PA. Tooling along Interstate 95 gave me hours and hours of opportunity to observe the changing landscape of highway plantings. Somewhere through North Carolina, I think, there were long stretches of trees planted on either side of the road, almost encasing us in a tunnel of dark, endless green. As I got farther North and entered Virginia, I started noticing some major color changes happening.
I realized that in the South, where it's hotter, all the trees and really all the plants need protective measures against the sun. These include thicker leaves and waxy coatings to preserve moisture, and this gives a darker and more uniform shade of green to the forests.
As I entered my familiar North, I began to see many more shades of green, and many more textures in the leaves. And, as I formally left the South behind, I also left behind their early summer and returned to more late-spring activity. Some trees were fully leafed out while some were still getting there. In just one hour I could see an entire color wheel's worth of hues.
Since that drive up the East Coast, I have observed season after season that the trees mark time for me. And in the summer, they're beautiful. The dappled shade, the deep shadows and electric green that the sun creates- there's almost a glow that comes from inside groves as photosynthesis works its magic. There is something unique and specific in the quality of the light and the air that I can recognize as distinctly summer. Whether you're driving through it, walking through it, sitting outside in the shade at a family picnic, or looking at it through a window, you just know it's summertime
This also means that early in the season, when it gets hot too soon, I just don't count that as summer, but as an over-enthusiastic spring. And similarly, the 'dog days' of summer as September ends are the beginnings of Autumn, not a last gasp of beach vacation and summer camp time. It just doesn't look the same. Those trees tell us the truth.
Lantana is a bright, cheerful annual in Pennsylvania. Woody stems and sturdy leaves give one the impression that it could be a native of the Northeast, and then it flowers.
Clusters of small flowers, in exotic jewel- like colors, unmistakably mark Lantana as a tropical transplant, one that nursery centers have been introducing for several years now. Pinks, yellows, oranges, even lavender, all look battery operated.
Lantana is so bright, so very very tropical, that it should just about come with a sign, "Hi! I don't belong here!" Something about it hardly every blends well in the planters I often see. It has the perfect growth habit, low but not trailing as much as filling in those mid-height gaps, dark leaves that provide a great backdrop to its own flowers as well as its other neighbors in the pot. But it is so startlingly bright that it often seems out of place, a parrot that landed among sweet potato vine or ivy, grasses and begonias and impatiens- very pretty, but not quite right.
And yet, I love it! I love its brightness, its tropical-ness. Summers here are hot hot hot- 90's all this week and it's only the end of June- and Lantana thrives in this heat. You can gorge yourself on color. It feels like we're in the tropics, it looks like we're in the tropics... hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.
Lantana seems like a fad plant that hasn't found its place yet. Over time, nurseries will figure out how to showcase this summer beauty, instead of sticking it where it doesn't belong. I liken it to shea butter! (I know, but stick with me here.)
Years ago, it was a treat to find a product with shea butter- thick and rich and nourishing and special. Then, shea was 'discovered' and made the new big thing, and shea butter was everywhere, all over the place, in all sorts of weird products. I can't really see the point of putting it in, say, dishsoap. Pretty much defeats the purpose and cancels each other out, don't you think? But now, the craze has calmed down and while shea is here to stay, it's popular in uses that honor its own properties instead of in everything that wanted to use its name to move sales.
I think Lantana will also find its niche, especially as more tropicals become easier to grow in this area and become available for experimentation in our pots and planters. For now, I smile at the flash of bright, and try not to look too closely.
Landscapes are just so visual!
I have been struggling with this prompt for weeks. For one thing, I don't have many pictures of my own; I'm building a collection as I begin to blog more and develop an online presence for myself but there's not much too it yet. For another thing, I feel like I ALMOST live in my dream landscape, yet the 'not quite' is a constant reminder of of how much work I have to do yet, how far I have to go, so I've been avoiding facing that a little.
Today, I read in a newsletter that "We keep thinking that once we get to that next place, we'll be able to exhale. But the truth is, We never really arrive. We just get where we want to go, and then there's another place to go. And as the Buddhists say: there is no there, only here." This is both reassuring and frustrating! I want to get to live in my dream landscape, but will I every actually be satisfied?
For me, the physical world where I live is very, very important to my daily happiness and satisfaction. Right now I am a renter, and will be for the foreseeable future. I have very little control over the landscape around my house- there's a golf course, and a maintenance crew. This definitely has advantages, like getting a new roof without even asking! But I also can't grow much of anything outside- between the groundhogs and the maintenance guys, everything I've planted has disappeared.
However, it is pretty at my house. It's not too formal, yet the grounds are well cared for and there are trees everywhere. In considering this writing prompt, I realized trees are an absolute must have. So is grass, and hills, and water, and rather untouched nature. Rocks, deserts, extremes of height or sharpness or distance don't draw me as much as wondering what's around that bend, what's the story with that old barn or house, how can all those shades of green exist in the same patch of forest?
So I put together a Pinterest board to showcase what draws me, what I love to see no matter how many times it's been painted and displayed in small town art galleries. My favorite landscapes are pretty, at least to my eye, and working on this prompt has shown me how much I crave pretty in my world. Eventually I'll have my own home where I can make all my own decisions, but even now I wake up most days and just let the beauty around my home soothe my soul, and I will have to find a way to continue that in my future.
I love summer! Long days, warm evenings, fresh from the garden food, drinks with friends in the breeze, bare arms and loose hair. It's a happy time.
Summertime comes with its own challenges, though. Here are the top 5 remedies you can easily find in and around your home and garden to help you navigate sunburns, bee stings and other not-so-fun experiences.
1. Calendula Calendula officinalis
Calendula is a bright, cheerful flower that does wonders for your skin. Infuse the flower heads in oil, like olive oil, and you will have an ointment that works on cuts, scrapes, bruises, hangnails, dry cuticles, and other wounds that need healing.
Half-fill a jar with flowers, cover with oil, and give it a stir with a clean chopstick to let air bubbles release. Now label it, and let it steep for at least 4 weeks, or up to 2 months. Strain through a clean cloth and store in a dark, cool place. If you want a more solid ointment, beeswax will give you a spreadable salve- just remember this will melt in a hot car, purse, or beach bag! In general, melt about 1 tablespoon grated beeswax in 1 ounce warmed oil. Test for hardness by cooling a drip of the mix on a plate, and add more oil or wax to reach your desired state of spread-ability.
(This isn't a great remedy for fresh burns, however, because oil will trap heat and you need to let burns cool. More on them later.)
Calendula also moves lymph, so it's great to add to teas for stuffed-up summer colds, and to foot baths when you want a spa treat.
The flower heads produce a resin at their base that is the source of their healing properties, so it's not just a matter of using the petals but rather the entire top of the flower. Calendula is a pretty garden plant, and it readily reseeds itself every year, spreading around and filling in between your perennials. There are many varieties, but many are bred for color and not medicinal quality. Horizon Herbs offers several kinds that are both colorful and useful.
2. Lavender Essential Oil
Keep a bottle of this in the kitchen, and near the grill. Lavender EO is an analgesic- it takes away pain- and it stimulates cell repair, both VERY necessary for burns! It is also antiseptic, should you develop a blister. Use sparingly, a drop at a time, until the whole burn is treated gently.
A drop massaged onto your temples is also wonderful when headaches strike, from too much sun or too much fun.
Buy the good stuff, from a reputable company that doesn't cut their oils to make them cheaper. Mine is from Peace Valley Lavender Farm.
Daily meditation is a practice. Practice means work! This is one of the simplest and yet most eye-opening lessons I learned in my first year of Advanced Herbalist training, and really it happened near the very end of the year.
I was supposed to be sitting with a question, What would make my soul happy?, and noticing what came up in order to let the Universe show me direction. And I realized that all this time, I'd been expecting answers like this to just spontaneously 'come to me', thinking that they're floating around nearby and if I just quiet down and clear my receptors, they'll Pop!, attach themselves to me.
Not so, it turns out. Yes, I need to quiet, but that's only to clear the way for the real work to begin. Digging and probing and working.
Because of this experience, I've come to understand meditation not as a chance to relax and rest, but instead as an exercise for my brain, as important as physical exercise. Just like physical exercise, though, I'm not inclined to be perfectly consistent! Predictably (of course) regular exercise does provide great results.
My meditations of choice have been Dr Deepak Chopra's 7 Laws Spiritual Laws of Success. (One for each day, get it?!) I set my timer, read today's Law, and pick a sentence or phrase that resonates with me. I say half of it to myself on an inhale, and the other half on an exhale. 15 minutes, in the morning, setting a tone for the day.
I've been noticing that the tone that I set, however, doesn't really seem to carry forward. Earlier this week, for example, I meditated on conscious choice making, and asking myself what the consequences of my choices will be (Witness my choices/with conscious awareness. Will this choice bring/fulfillment and happiness. 2 breaths, this one.) And then I walked right out of my house without half the things I was supposed to bring with me. Forgetfulness is a Form of Resistance, I get that, but shouldn't I have consciously decided to leave my house after thinking about the day ahead and its needs? Yes, I should have but I didn't. Ah, life.
Sometimes the meditation really hits home, though. Yesterday the statement "When Actions Are Motivated By Love, Energy Multiplies and Accumulates" made a big impact on me. Think this through- if actions are motivated by love, you must love what you're doing, right? And that allows energy to both build up and be stored, implying that you don't have to be the source of all the energy it takes to do what you're doing! This simple idea gave my tired self a hard smack because I've been pouring my OWN energy out for far too long. I need to change how I think about what I'm doing, or change what I'm doing.
This concept stuck like an ear worm all day. While teaching my pilates classes, while running extra errands, while having a 'problem' at the grocery store about an advertised sale and leaving without my groceries, all day long I just kept realizing, "I love what I'm doing! I really do! This is great!" And I had such a good day.
Your mind is a powerful place, and you really create your own reality through its lens. It does take practice and work to polish, focus, or adjust that lens, but it's a simple matter to actually meditate. The more difficult part is giving yourself permission to take that time away from all your other responsibilities, and then to forgive yourself the 'other' stuff that comes up to distract you. But it really is worth it to begin your practice today, right now. One single minute of calm inward focus, of checking in with yourself and letting go of whatever's between your ears that got there without your permission. Add time to that as you grow. I'm up to fifteen minutes, some people can do an hour, some people can only grab time at red lights or when waiting in car lines. We do what we can.
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
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This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.