November 29, 2014

Lessons Learned Under the Cathedral of the Oaks

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Every autumn, after the Locusts, Maples, Ashes, and other deciduous trees have faded, the Oaks seem to form a "stained glass" canopy overhead when the autumn light shines through at magical angles. While those Oak leaves are now long-gone in my neighborhood, the "cathedral of the Oaks" effect seemed appropriate for this introspective post.

Welcome to the 15th installment of the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. I introduced this quarterly meme in June 2011, and looking back on all the entries amazes and humbles me.

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Each season is unique. Sometimes, my own garden lessons are very practical--things I want to try to remember for "next time." Other "lessons" posts include facts I've learned during the past three months. Still others focus on internal reflections.

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This post is the latter--a bit more introspective and personal (which tends to be more common for me in the fall and winter). This is in part because I was apprehensive about taking a break from blogging (my last post was more than two weeks ago). Turns out, the break was a healthy thing for me to do. It gave me a new perspective and a fresh focus for the blog going forward.

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I'll share some plans in future posts, but for now, here are personal lessons learned during the past three months:
  • It's fine to take a break from blogging. If you're like me, and you've settled into a routine of blogging once a week or more often, the idea of leaving that blank space of no posts for an extended period of time can be unsettling. I could say so much more about why I took the break and my reactions to it, but I'll simplify: I was busy, I needed an attitude-readjustment, and I'm refreshed and ready to begin again.
  • You don't have to rush out with your camera every time you see a beautiful scene, an item of interest, or a personal life event. Social media--and blogging in particular--has the power to both enrich and taint our lives. Enrichment comes through meeting new friends, staying in touch with old ones, and sharing more experiences than was possible in the past. But social media also introduces the risk only seeing the world through the prism of what would be a good tweet, share, or blog post.
For example, the other day after a fresh snowfall, I saw a spectacular scene of a Maple tree with clinging autumn leaves, framed by a powdered-sugar landscape all around it. I was driving home, and once I arrived I had a choice: I could run back out with my camera to try to capture that scene, or I could spend those extra minutes with my daughter who's home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I chose the latter and I don't regret it. I don't mean to preach, because I fail on this lesson repeatedly and frequently. Life is a series of choices, isn't it? All I'm saying is that I, personally, must remind myself to live life fully and not always try to write, photograph, and post about it.
  • Two weeks without blogging goes by very fast! Enough said.
  • Blogging about gardening, plants, and nature is one of my favorite "things" to do. I guess I already knew this, but the break confirmed my feelings. Blogging has truly become a passion. If, when I was a young person, there had been an Internet, digital photography, and the concept of "blogging," I might have chosen this as a career. Alas, these options weren't in existence. No regrets; I'm simply joyful in continuing to share in this amazing community of garden and nature bloggers going forward!

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Oh, and I did learn a few "practical" lessons:
  • The fruit of Fuchsia plants is edible. In fact, depending on the variety, the plump, oval-shaped "berries" are quite tasty. I learned this lesson from Helene at Graphicality-UK. She commented about it on my blog (and discusses it a bit at the linked post in the previous sentence), so I decided to try Fuchsia berries. My cultivars tasted sweet and refreshing, with a hint of pepper at the end. My only warning is that some potting plants are treated with systemic pesticides at garden centers, so know your supplier before you consume Fuchsia berries.
  • I found an eagle hangout near my home. I'll share photos soon, although I'll have to go back and hope the eagles will be there for better captures. The fishman and I saw two eagles through the mist in the distance when we were hiking, but they flew away before we got close enough. We believe they were Bald Eagles, but it was too foggy and we were too far away to tell for sure.
  • The top of our heated fishpond makes a great cold frame. The fishman created an acrylic winter cover over the pond that lets the sun in but partially protects the plants from the elements. (Don't worry, there are vents on the sides of the pond as air exchange for the fish. They survived last winter's polar vortex in there!) The internal temperature under the cover hovers around 32F during the coldest of days when the heater is on, and rises to the 50sF and warmer on mild, sunny days. The lettuce plants are still alive, and the scallions are just about ready to pick!

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What lessons did you learn during the past quarter? If you're in the Northern Hemisphere how was your autumn? For those in the Southern Hemisphere, how did your garden grow? Please share your lessons!

I'm switching things up again with this meme (I do hope you'll forgive me). As always, please write a post or share one you've already written about your "Lessons Learned" during the past season. Share your links in the comments to this post. I'll keep it up for a few days, and it will be available always under the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog.

One change: I'll forgo the "wrap-up" this time. Autumn and spring are long-gone for many of us already, and will seem like distant memories by the solstice.

At that point, we'll be deep in the celebrations of year-end holidays--the perfect hand-off to Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View! Feel free to join in with a post that fits both memes, or separate posts for one or both of them.

Bye for now!

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48 comments:

  1. Oak leaves are lovely. Bright blue skies and brilliant orange leaves, very complementary.

    Not sure I'm in the right place.

    There are two lessons I want to remember this year:

    1) There is a difference between heat tolerant and drought tolerant. Heat tolerant plants can withstand the heat with their feet wet. These are usually plants from the south and tropics. Drought tolerant plants cannot always withstand the heat even with adequate moisture; but they do not wilt easily with dryness. These are generally from desert or dry areas. We had the hottest April, the hottest August, the hottest Thanksgiving this year. In April we lost a lot of new plants and aloes and agaves and phormiums. They burned. Who knew?

    2) Second thing, and this still infuriates me, I didn't know that nursery wholesalers and greenhouses, especially the large ones like the "big box" stores, use growth retardants on their plants so that they look good on the benches for a long time and don't get get leggy. For years I've bought vegetable starts and for years they have been in perfect health but stunted and unproductive and the flowers never grew into lovely tall ones. I searched the internet to find the cause and there was no consensus on that. I am still enraged and will never ever buy plants from those places again, but will need to look for organic starts or use seeds.

    It sure feels good to get that off my chest. Thanks for the opportunity.

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    1. Hi Jane: Thanks for sharing your lessons! Good point about the heat vs. drought tolerance. Unfortunately here in the Midwest heat and drought usually happen at the same time, when we do have severe droughts. We regularly have dry autumns, so our plants are adapted to dryness. But even native plants struggle when we have extended periods of temps above 95F without rain. Fortunately, that rarely happens here. I tend to buy my plants from independent nurseries, so I haven't encountered the growth retardant issue (that I know of). That's frustrating! Feel free to vent. That's what gardening friends are for. ;-)

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  2. Thanks for passing along the tip about fuchsia berries being edible! Wish I could grow some here. I understand there are some varieties hardy to zones 6-7, but none (as far as I know) that can survive Tennessee's heat and humidity... :(

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    1. Certainly! It was fun to try them, so I had the same "ah-ha" moment when Helene mentioned it to me. I grow Fuchsias as annuals. Obviously, they can't survive our severe winters, but they love my shady, warm, humid backyard in the spring, summer, and fall. Plus, they attract hummingbirds! I wonder if you could try some in a shady spot? You might have to water them every day, though, because they like humidity. Mine go a little dormant in the middle of the summer if it's really hot, but thrive from May through June, and again from September through the first hard frost.

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  3. These are a stunning array of photographs--I found myself going back over them several times to enjoy the beauty. On another subject, I was interested in Jane's observation about plant retardants. I didn't know that for a fact, but certainly see it in plain observation. I see it all the time with fall pansies for example. Now I go to a nursery that lets me go to the back greenhouses and choose plants. It is a pretty maddening situation and just seems part of our culture of tolerating fake beauty. Roses are the thing that make me crazy. For the most part, the ones in markets are awful! They never have the full, soft and fragrant opening of a "real" rose. I guess the best thing I've learned in my garden this year is the benefit of curing my winter squash for about 8 weeks after harvesting. (We just put them in the garage.) When I cut into them, their color knocked me out it was so bright and the flavor was the best ever. I remembered again: "oh yes, THIS is why I plant food." It just brings you to your knees--the miracle of it all.

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    1. Thank you, Susie. I haven't purchased Roses in years, but I'd want to be very careful with them in particular--sounds like you are. Curing squash for 8 weeks--wow! I'll have to try that next year. We used ours from the CSA right away--actually I made squash pies that taste just like pumpkin pies. And I froze some of the baked pumpkin for later. I agree--the whole process of growing and eating organic fruits and veggies is spectacular! :)

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  4. A big lesson I learned was that concrete stepping stones leach enough lime into the soil to change the pH and affect the neighboring plants. I also learned that growing tomatoes isn't always worth it when you can buy them at the farmer's market. Gorgeous photos! As for blogging breaks, I think they're vital. We all need a chance to recharge our blogging batteries and spend time with other parts of our life. :o)

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    1. Thanks, Tammy. I always grow a couple of Tomato plants, but the organic ones from the farmers' markets and the CSA are almost as good. I think this was the longest blog break for me--or maybe when we went to London last year. I felt like I had to sit on my hands and "step away from the computer." But it was a good thing to do. ;-)

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  5. I love oak trees, I wish we had a mature oak in our back garden, or at least that there were more of them in this neighborhood. There are far too many elms and maples. There are not a lot of cottonwoods, but a couple of cottonwoods go a long way.Oaks are one of the best trees for wildlife, of course. You're idea of taking a break from the blog is a good one. As for lessons learned, I'm going to think on that.

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    1. Me, too! We have a forest of them in the backyard, and they really come into their own in late October/early November. Elms and Maples are great, too. Cottonwoods are fabulous trees for wildlife, but can be messy in a suburban setting--especially in June when the seeds disperse. A great tree for a country home with no neighbors, though. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, Jason.

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  6. Beautiful photos! Our oaks are just beginning their turn and drop. I like the idea of "lessons learned"--there are so many for each period of time. I don't have a post specifically for this, but will try to get one out, soon. I couldn't agree with you more that sometimes, it's just best to put away the camera and experience what is happening.

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    1. Thanks! Great--it would be wonderful to have you participate! Most of the time, I do enjoy running around capturing stuff with the camera--especially amazing plants and interesting angles in natural settings. But, yes, taking an occasional forced break is a very good thing.

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  7. What wondrous photos of leaves! I never tire of the scenes this time of year. Sometimes I take "camera breaks" so I can concentrate on the views or visiting with friends and family. But when I miss something truly special because I don't have my camera for no good reason - well, that aggravates me!

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    1. Thanks, Deb! Yes, I get aggravated about that, too. I try to take it in stride as a "for your eyes only" special moment, but my natural instinct is to want to share. I wonder if someday we'll be able to blink our eyes into attached camera glasses to capture beautiful scenes as we see them? Wouldn't that be interesting?!

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    2. you do know about Google Glass?
      OK Google take a picture.
      That is available (at a price) now.
      Apart from the flaky options it's a wonderful handsfree option for doctors and scientists.

      The blog break? Tomorrow will be my last post on my original blog. Then I will be thinking about starting all over again to draw readers to my new blog.

      I have been looking forward to walking the Boomslang aerial walkway at Kistenbosch for months. Last week we went. Forgot my camera and the cellphone whined flat battery - so I was free to be in the moment, the pictures all in my mind. Next time can be a blog post.

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  8. Fall went very quickly here in western NY.... I spent the fall especially working outside and in physical therapy to gain the strength back on my mastectomy side. I am not there yet, but was able to do some fall seed planting and a bit of raking... Michelle

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    1. It passed quickly here in the Midwest, too. The first part was very mild, the middle was unseasonably cold, and now we're having a nice stretch of "normal" December weather. I'm glad to hear that your recovery is coming along and you're able to work in the garden--always good therapy!

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  9. Beautiful photos of the Oak leaves....we all need a break sometimes, I get in a rut of trying to please my readers ! If I step away for a couple of weeks it dose me good and I can get back Blogging for me...
    Amanda xx

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    1. Thanks, Amanda. Yes, an occasional break is good. Refocusing on the point of it all makes for better posts, too. (Or, at least it makes the process of creating them easier and more pleasurable.)

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  10. Gorgeous photos of the oak leaves! We still have a few hanging onto the trees here. I'm glad you enjoyed your break from blogging, but even happier that you're back at it again, Beth. I have found myself seeing some beautiful scene at times, too, and thinking only about capturing it for a blog post or Facebook, and then realizing I was actually missing out on the moment itself. I think we all are too focused on social media at times; I know I am certainly guilty of this. I've been trying to think of just what I've learned this past season, but I know I will come up with something--I always enjoy participating in this meme!

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    1. Thanks, Rose! We have very few leaves left! Usually some of them hang on for most of the winter. I'm not sure what it means when they drop early. A mild winter? That would be nice, but that's wishful thinking. ;-) Thanks for your beautiful thoughts and friendship, Rose!

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  11. I've learned that hanging out with gardeners, whether virtually or in real life, is one of the greatest stress-reducers on the planet.

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    1. Hi Ricki: You are so wise and that is so true! Just thinking about my gardening friendships and gardening collaborations makes me smile. Thanks for those thoughtful words.

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  12. Great post. I too am trying to just savor the moments. It's much more difficult during inclement weather since I'm a lover of fair temperatures. But spring will be here soon enough. Love the autumn leaves, especially when back lit with the blue sky.

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    1. I agree about the fair weather preference! I have a much higher tolerance for heat than for cold. But I must admit, a bright, sunny 25F winter day has its merits. Not too many of those, though! I'm ready for spring along about Feb. 1. ;-)

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  13. What gorgeous pictures of oak leaves! I must admit, I've never thought of oak leaves being pretty in the fall at all, since they mostly turn brown instead of a pretty yellow or red. You've changed my outlook!
    Sometimes we all need a break to do something different and recharge. I think it is hard to know our passions when we are younger anyway, and it's fun to develop new ones. The only problem is finding the time for everything sometimes :)

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    1. Thanks! We have at least 20 Oaks on our property (and more up at the cottage). They often look brown and dull, but when the oblique light hits them (or they're backlit with bright sun), they're amazingly vibrant. I always knew that plants were a passion, but the blogging thing--couldn't have any idea until it came into existence. ;-) Yes, I'm glad to discover new passions every so often. And I totally agree: Time is the main handicap.

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  14. Beautiful oak photos, Beth. I didn't know fuchsia berries were edible, and until my last guided walk for the year at the Arb (too cold for that now!) I did not know that oaks only produce acorns biannually.

    You're right about the need for taking a break once in a while. A few weeks ago I missed a couple of my regular weekly posts and at first I felt bad about missing, but then I thought: NO. You've been sick, you're allowed time off to rest and do nothing. I've also been known to go entire weekends without turning on the computer.

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    1. Oh, sorry to hear you've been sick, Heather. It sounds like you're feeling better--that's good! I need to try to go a few days without a computer or a smartphone. Maybe sometime in the summer--it's too hard to be that disconnected in winter when I feel that way, anyway. ;-) Yes, you are allowed time off! Rest is the best medicine when you're feeling sick.

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  15. Hello Beth, how lovely to see all the beautiful pictures of autumn leaves – really pretty. I must admit I didn’t think about pesticides when I gave you the tip about eating the berries, I buy all my new fuchsias as tiny seedlings from specialist nurseries and grow them on myself, the rest of my fuchsias are cuttings from my own plants so I haven’t really had to consider pesticides, thanks for mentioning that.
    As for blogging and breaks, in January I proclaimed that I would only be blogging once a month for a while as I had too many other things I wanted to do – it turned out to be hard to follow up as I wanted to keep up with some of the memes I have been doing for a long time. I have ended up with at least 2 posts a month, occasionally a few more and I am happy with that. I am just finishing book number 8 these days, and I am already planning book number 9 so I won’t be having problems filling my days in 2015 either!

    Lessons learned this autumn? So many – as usual, gardening is a long string of lessons learned for me! My box of rock hard green cherry tomatoes all ripened in my cupboard, I have eaten all of them except 5 or 6 that had to be thrown away. That’s probably the most surprising lesson I have learned. I never thought they could keep on growing and maturing being severed from the plant and put in a warm dark cupboard for weeks on end, with no water. Here I have been fussing about with getting them enough water and tomato feed every week and making sure they got enough sun and all that, and they went on in my cupboard, happily with nothing! Why did I bother at all? Next year I won’t be cutting off flowers like I did this year, must have cut off more than 300 flowers because I was afraid they would not ripen in time. Next year I will just leave them to it and take inside the rest when it gets too cold.

    And speaking of too cold, my chillies are still growing outside, still developing new chillies. I didn’t know you could grow chillies in December. I have never grown chillies before either so I have certainly learned some lessons this autumn.

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    1. Hi Helene: I didn't think about the pesticides either until I was researching Fuchsia berries. Every source said they were edible, but several mentioned being careful to make sure the grower/nursery doesn't use systemic pesticides on their plants. Maybe they don't do that as much in the U.K.? It's been kind of an issue of concern here in the states lately.

      Blogging once a month would be hard for me, too, I had enough trouble holding off for two weeks! ;-) Wow, sounds like you've been very busy with your book-making! And I'm impressed with your plentiful harvest! I've found cherry tomatoes to be especially prolific in the past, too. They grew back from seed and were too plentiful in my sunny garden at my old house. They are tasty, though! I'm surprised you still have Chilies growing!

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  16. Just coming off a "blogging break", one that was not necessarily of my choosing, I did have a time to refresh and get healthier. I then thought it should be yearly with one month where GWGT "goes dark". A few of the professional photographers do that where they pick a month and stop posting. One picks August every year, where mine was September. It actually included October though. If it was something to keep yearly, I think it should be announced and have a set time so readers do not disappear and wonder. Bloggers don't always understand why regular readers stop visiting and it may be as simple as during the blogging break not visiting their blog. What I learned from my health break, was not to care about that. If they are true readers, they return, if not well... Also, rather than a blogging break, reposting old articles for a month works too. Another photographer does a month of "top hits". This works great if traveling a lot. The blog stays active and with over 1000 posts it is easy for readers to find ones they never saw. Just a few suggestions.

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    1. Good advice, Donna! I hope you're feeling better now! I'm not sure I could handle a month off--not at this point, anyway. It was hard enough to take a two-week break. ;-) I felt like I was sitting on my hands--almost like holding myself back from spending time on the blog, even though I knew I needed the break and didn't have enough time to create a decent post. But if I ever need to take a month (or longer) off, I can see how some of those techniques would be great ideas! Thanks!

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  17. Dear Beth, I enjoyed this post, especially the bit about blogging, since my blogging has become less and less frequent, yet I'm reluctant to close the blog. I found Donna's suggestions above about blogging breaks useful too. I didn't know fuschia berries were edible, either. I must say I like the inclusion of personal thoughts as well as practicalities. My main lesson this season was re-learning and appreciating the importance of patience and faith that little plants grow into big ones, and a boring garden scene will change in time.

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    1. Thank you, Sue. Your lesson rings true for me, too. I'm working on adding some native plants to one of my garden beds, and it's taking longer than I expected for them to become established. Patience, patience ... Regarding the blogging breaks, I've found how beneficial it can be to take a breath here and there. This last one is the longest I've taken, and I returned to the blog refreshed and enthusiastic. Please keep blogging! Your blog is one of my favorite links to the Southern Hemisphere!

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    2. thank you, Beth, I really appreciate your encouragement.

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  18. Beautiful leaves and colors! I agree with you that there are moments when taking a break is a good decision, even if it's from something that one likes. Distance helps re-focusing and brings a fresh view to what one is doing and living other experiences is a must to refresh the work. And I agree with you that blogging is a fantastic endeavor, in my past couple of years due to many changes I had to stop blogging and the moment I restarted I was feeling really great. I really enjoy your posts, so I hope you continue blogging for a long time!

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    1. Thank you, Lula. Yes, you said it perfectly--"even if it's something that one likes." It's amazing what a fresh perspective can do. It's kind of a "big picture" refocus that can bring new life to the project. Thank you for your kind compliment. I have enjoyed following you, as well. Your travels and adventures, and your amazing photography are highlights of my blog visits!

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  19. I love your writing, Beth! Totally agree with your thoughts about blogging. I remember spending 5 days without the internet, and I survived! I considerably slowed down my blogging to spend more time with my family. The blog's statistics also went down, but I'll survive it too.
    And now I am going to try fuchsia berries! I was curious, but now, I'll do it! Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Tatyana! Five days without the Internet seems like a long time! I wan't so much worried about the blog statistics as feeling like I wasn't part of the flow of the garden blogging world for a while. It's that "fear of missing out" feeling that people get sometimes. But it's so beneficial sometimes to take a break, step back, and look at the process from a little distance. Yes, the Fuchsia berries are refreshing and tasty. I didn't have enough to make jam or anything, but it was fun to taste them. :)

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  20. Your pictures are gorgeous, and really capture that stained glass quality.

    You found an eagle hangout near your house?! We used to frequently see bald eagles when we would visit Jordan Lake when we lived in Chapel Hill, and my husband once saw a migrating bald eagle fly overhead on our farm, but I haven't seen one in years.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, and thank you for the reminder--I need to head down there again to see if I can get better photos of them (we saw two while we were hiking). There's a town not far from here, along the Wisconsin River, where you can go to watch them and learn more about them. Here's a link, if you're ever in the area: http://bit.ly/15OOezI.

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  21. Thinking back over the past season, I realized how much I learned from volunteering. My post is up at http://www.prairierosesgarden.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Rose! Excellent lessons! I can tell the nursing home garden where you volunteer is a labor of love. It shows in the beautiful photos that you have shared.

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  22. OK, here's my lesson: if you want butterflies, plant Mexican Sunflower.
    https://gardeninacity.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/the-year-in-butterflies/

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    1. I loved your post! And I now intend to plant Mexican Sunflowers next spring. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  23. Well I am finally linking in

    http://www.livingfromhappiness.com/life-long-learner-in-the-garden/

    You certainly have learned quite a bit this past season Beth...I especially love the oak leaves. I have yet to take a break from blogging instead adding another blog...but I will back off of the 2 times a week for each blog. I agree a break from our routine does give us a fresh perspective...perhaps when I finally take a real vacation again I will take a break. I think I would have been a professional blogger too if I was a youngster now...oh and enjoy that eagle spot. I am trying to branch out and visit a few new spots nearby we rarely visit.

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    1. Thanks, again, for linking in Donna. I enjoyed your lessons! I've been meaning to post about the eagle spot and the hike we took that day--too busy lately, but it will come. So many post ideas and photos, but so little time. We celebrated Christmas early with my side of the family, so ... craziness throughout the month! Love it, though. Happy Holidays!

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