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  • Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place


Sacred Datura, AKA Jimsonweed or Loco weed - Datura wrightii, Butte County, CA

August. It's hot. And long.

And there've been terrible fires throughout California and Oregon. Everyday, I am sending prayers to the people and places and plants in harm's way.

And we've had days and days in the 100s. With smoky skies.

And the daily news seems to bring more fear, terror and bad news.

And my beautiful old yellow lab of a companion in this garden life, Sonny, aged 14 died last week.

Sometimes we all feel out there in the weeds.

Which is the good news.

Because every day that I bring myself to get out there and in amongst the roadside weeds within a short walk of my house, I find lessons waiting for my gardener soul. Lessons which, at the risk of exposing myself for the kindergartener-at-heart I actually am (or at the risk of becoming a simplistic positive affirmation poster - which I have mixed feelings about, but may actually tend toward...), I thought I'd share.

Because in the weeds we are offered lessons in resilience, in the magic and the medicine of the everyday right in front of us, in strength and individuality, in collaboration and generosity.

Lessons from the Sacred Datura, above: bloom whenever you can and are ready - if that means in the middle of the night because that's what works for you, great. The pollination moths and your intended best people will find you. And when you bloom - stand tall and bright as you can.

Dove Weed - Croton setiger, Butte County, CA

Lessons from the Dove Weed, above: Adapt, reflect the light and heat the world offers, conserve your resources and use only what you need. Also, prickles are completely fair to protect your boundaries against those that would harm you and an unshaven (hirsute) nature helps to protect your skin and retain moisture. So that's a plus.

Vinegar Weed - Trichostema lanceolatum, Butte County, CA

Lessons from the Vinegar Weed: A strong scent is an effective strategy to deterring your foes and attracting your friends. And, late bloomers have their day in the sun just like early bloomers. Creative color and bold form are a winning combination no matter where you live. (Vinegar weed emits a pungent vinegar-like scent when its leaves are brushed against even lightly; as a late summer bloomer, it is an important forage source for pollinators in our region and you can see from the bloom structure above that it has co-evolved to exchange nectar for pollination services from bees and hummingbirds, especially.)

Butterfly Weed - Asclepias speciosa, Butte County, CA

Sometimes surprising lessons in generosity comes to us from all our weeds, particularly though the Butterfly Weed, who shares not only nectar, pollen, foliage and seed with the community - but also toxicity - its strongest tool for defending itself. In so sharing, the Asclepias species strengthens others - most specifically the Monarch butterfly larva for whom Asclepias sp. foliage is their only food source. The larva ingest the toxins of the milkweed's sap and this in turn makes them less palatable to would be predators.

I like how the common names of "weeds" often refer to the creatures whose life cycles they support: Butterfly weed and Dove weed specifically refer to the other species these native plants support. The dove weed is low growing mat-forming plant whose seeds disperse and provide forage for seed-eating, ground feeding birds and other species.

One additional lesson offered to us by the wild weeds (aside from patience) is this: wilting. A common tendency of plants (native and non-native) in exposed areas is to pull all of their reserves down into their roots in the heat of the day, thereby reducing evapotranspiration through their leaves and visibly wilting as a result, which is in fact a form of RESTING. In the heat of the day (or the year, or a life) go ahead and rest it conserves resources and improves your ability to thrive and keep going in the long run.

With that lesson in mind, Cultivating Place (read: Jennifer and Sarah) are taking the month of August to both rest a little and think BIG about the future. For your listening and thinking pleasure in the interim, we've curated a series of 4 Best Of episodes for their timeliness and for their evergreen resonance with us as gardeners and humans - small parts of the larger, greater whole.

Thank you as always for listening, for your comments and emails, and for your support.

Cultivating Place is a deeply grateful - heart-full - community-and-listener-supported endeavor.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: for those of you who have written, texted, sent IG or Facebook messages regarding how you might help the community of Redding just north of us in the wake of the devastating Carr Fire, please consider donations to the Shasta Regional Community Foundation. They are on the ground and in place to help in all the ways.

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In a world that can sometimes seem barren, look for the oases. Be the oasis, for that matter.

In a world that can sometimes seem barren, look for the oases. They are there - in the weeds. Be the oasis, for that matter, cause that's often what it takes. Happy August from Cultivating Place.

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