Friday, February 7, 2014

Butterfly Gardens and Wild Strawberries

            Just north of the perennial bed, right behind the garage, is our new butterfly garden.  We put this in last summer as a project for my oldest son.  My other three sons love strawberries, so they got a little alpine strawberry bed right behind the house.  But my oldest hates berries of all kinds (unthinkable and tragic!), so he got a butterfly garden.

            As I said, I have a hard time even letting the kids breathe on my vegetable garden, but I really wanted them to have a patch of garden that they can call their own.  Sure, they are only 13 years old, 11, 7, and 4, but I like the idea of giving them ownership over something, giving them something to tend to and be responsible for. 
            Most kids might do this with a pet, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to get a dog yet.  I already feel stretched thin and like I fail at too much as it is.  I don’t need to add a dog to my list yet.  (Although, I do pray that if God knows we can handle a dog and afford one that He would bring one obviously to us.  I don’t trust myself to know what I can handle right now, so I’m asking His help in that.  So we’ll see.)    
            We do have a tankful of fish, though.  But that’s my project.  (And they are sorely neglected.)  And we have two cockatiels.  That was an unexpected blessing because my mom owned these and asked us if we wanted them after my 7-year-old fell in love with them.  Free birds, with a free cage, and free food, and the option of giving them back if it doesn’t work out for us . . . I’ll take it.  And they have been with us for a few years now. 
            But I do have to say that I’m not a fan of seeds everywhere, or mornings when the birds start chirping before I wake up, or feathers and dust flying over our kitchen table when they flap their wings.  But they bring my kids a lot of delight.  They like feeding them seeds by hand.  They like watching the birds watch them.  They love it when something spooks the birds and they take off flying all over the room, and then they get to catch them and bring them back to the cage.  And they like having the company when everyone else is in a different room.  I guess I do, too.  The birds still shiver like leaves when I get too close, but they are still a delight.
            Anyway, I can’t yet bring myself to get a dog for the boys and I can’t seem to let them too close to the big garden, so I’ve given them little patches of their own.  Wild strawberries for the three boys and a new butterfly bed for the other. 
            One year, I planted a packet of alpine strawberry seeds.  (You can find these with the herb seeds usually.)  They lined my spring bulbs in the front of the house.  And these got to be beautiful, large plants.  But they were getting crowded by other plants, so I let the boys move them to a separate spot, just for them.  They helped dig and plant and water.  It was a fun time. 
            The good thing about wild strawberries is that they can grow in light shade and they don’t need to be tended to too closely.  (Just keep the weeds from taking over.)  And they provide the most delightful, tiny, flavorful berries all season long.  They are like miniature strawberries, but they are very soft and delicate.  Almost mushy, so that they melt in your mouth.  But I really like them.  And the birds don’t seem to notice them as much as the big berries. 
            (Birds have an amazing radar for the regular ripe strawberries.  I’ll find a berry that can use just one more day of ripening, and I'll say to myself, “Oh, I’ll just wait till morning to pick that one.”  But the next morning, all that’s left is a stem.  It’s plucked clean off, like it was never there.  The birds always wait for perfect ripeness, too, but they get there right before I do.  I guess the early bird gets the . . . strawberry.) 
            Another great thing about wild strawberries is that if you don’t get around to picking all the berries, they just dry up and fall off.  No rotting berries on the ground.  And the plants are beautiful.  They make great edging plants that are green almost all year.  They are much prettier than regular strawberry plants. 
            I’m sure none of this matters to the boys; they just love that they can go out and pick their own strawberries.  They love the hunt, searching among the abundant foliage for a ripe berry.  I love it that they are learning to identify ripe and unripe berries.  And to identify and pull weeds.  And to walk carefully among the plants, to be gentle with God’s creation.  But mostly, I love seeing them be proud of their little gardens. 
            I love the way they excitedly ask company if they want to see their gardens, and the way their little chests puff up as they show off their own little patch of earth, how they teach their friends to find berries and how they share a few with them.  There’s almost no greater feeling as a parent than to know that you are inspiring your kids, that they are becoming passionate about God’s creation and excited about something they have done.  It touches my heart deeply.  And maybe someday soon I’ll let them help care for the big garden.  But until then, strawberries are perfect.
            And then there is the butterfly garden.  As I said in another post, we had a really dry, drought-like summer a few years back.  And it decimated the butterfly population.  The first summer we were here, there were tons of butterflies swarming my newly planted butterfly bushes.  We would eat dinner and watch from the window as dozens of them danced all over the garden.  It was poetic. 
            And then the next year was the drought.  And for the last 2 years, I have only seen 2 or 3 butterflies and a handful of moths all summer.  It’s sad.  But we hope to help change that.  There was a patch behind the garage where I initially put a vegetable bed, but it wasn’t a good spot for vegetables, so I tore it out.  And that left a patch of dirt that I was going to turn back to grass.  But since my oldest didn’t want a strawberry bed, I decided to give him this patch for flowers.  Flowers for butterflies. 
            As a homeschooler, I liked that this little project had an educational component.  We researched which plants attract butterflies (and hummingbirds and songbirds), which can survive with part-shade, and which come back every year and grow without much help.  If I can make anything a little educational lesson, it’s all the better.  I love being able to teach him to identify plants, to learn about their characteristics and growth habits.  I love saying, “Better water your garden,” and then being able to say, “See how good your garden is doing because you took care of it.”  (Love it even more when I see him watering without being told.)  And I love the way his eyes light up when he shows the garden to others. 
            This is still a newly planted garden, so I’ll be interested to see what pops up again this next summer.  (The only problem that I can think of with our plan is that we want to attract butterflies, but the little birds love some of these plants, too.  And birds eat butterflies.  So we’ll see.  We may be doing more harm than good.)  But what we have so far are cosmos, orange butterfly weeds, and purple coneflowers, all started from seeds.  A couple garlic chives that had nowhere else to go.  Mums, salvias, stonecrop, daisies, and bee balms that I transplanted from other parts of my yard.  And a butterfly bush that was a volunteer seedling from my other butterfly bushes.         
            It’s my goal with these gardens that the boys learn to delight in God’s creation, to know the plants by name and how to care for them.  To appreciate them and enjoy the beauty.  To enjoy putting in the hard work so that they can reap the rewards and to feel the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing you did a job well. 
            And I want them to understand our role in taking care of the earth.  God gave us this earth to manage, to be responsible for.  And it saddens me when people (including myself) show a lack of appreciation, a lack of thanks, and when they take His goodness and blessings for granted. 
            If we don’t care for our gardens, they will degrade into a weedy, unproductive mess.  Like our lives.  Like our minds.  Like our spiritual lives.  Like friendships.  Like our homes and jobs and families.  Like anything worth having.  If we don’t take responsibility for these things – if we don’t monitor their condition, and nurture the good, weed out the bad, and do the hard work now, knowing that the rewards come later – they will become weedy, underproductive messes. 
            We will miss out on experiencing how glorious they can be.  We will miss out on the rewards and blessings that come with a job well done and with putting our best effort in.  And when we don’t take our responsibilities seriously – when we don’t do everything to the best of our ability, in honor of God and out of thankfulness to Him – we’ll miss out on bringing Him the glory He deserves.  We miss out on being the light that we can be. 
            Whether it’s cooking meals for your family, washing dishes, doing your homework, going to the same boring job every day, loving your neighbors, running a country or a company, growing strawberries, or just maintaining a butterfly garden, let’s do everything to the best of our ability, for God’s glory, so that we can one day hear those amazing words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”