Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

27 June

Photo Journal, June 17,2022. My Garden Report Card. I’ll Take a B. Off To A Good Start, Best Flowers Yet To Come. And I know All The Names

by Jon Katz

My four-garden bed garden is off to a good start. I have eleven different flowers growing in several places, and the fantastic thing is that I know just about all of their names.

That’s quite a change from knowing none.

I love gardening so far, but the real test is yet to come.

I’ve learned a lot and take scrupulous care of my four garden beds, watering them daily, but not overwatering them,  weeding, and planting where I see openings. I can now tell a weed from a flower.

I have a rich, exciting, diverse bunch of flowers growing, and I wanted to show each of them in order to share the progress I am making. So many of you have helped me along.

The garden experiment has inspired me to confront my Dyslexia and learn the names of the flowers I am growing. With the help of the Gardeners of Good, Maria, one or two erratic plant apps, and some new techniques for writing things down, I’m bulling my way past the Dyslexic wall that has blocked me so much over the years.

It can be lived with, and I’m doing the work.

Thanks for your help, encouragement, and wisdom. I give myself a B. I’m doing well, but the real test comes when my flowers bloom, and I’m taking them out into the world. Too soon for A’s. I don’t want to get cocky.

Good gardening is not simple.

I admit it; I’m proud of my gardens and the work I’ve done. This year I think I have a good chance of becoming a natural gardener. I’ve made enough mistakes for five people and struggled to learn the names of the flowers I’m growing. I’m making a few mistakes now and learning the words.

Good progress. I might be a better student than I thought I was.

The flower above is a lobelia, a flowering plant in the bellflower family. I have these growing in a hanging plant on the black porch. Maria says we can eat them in salads, but I couldn’t.

 

I am very proud of my nasturtium garden, a memorial to the children killed in our classrooms. This is the first plant I’ve brought back from the dead and is beginning to thrive. I knew it wouldn’t fail those children. We can’t seem to protect our children, the least we can do is remember them.

 

These are my primrose seeds, starting to come in my new raised bed Primrose garden. I planet them less than a week ago.

I have a nice mix of colorful flowers that will come up at different times throughout the summer and early Fall. Everyone who knows me here will get a bouquet now and then, all summer. I’ve got a whole primrose garden going and sprinkled some primrose seeds on the other three beds.

 

I’ve got petunias growing in three different places, two in hanging baskets right next to my garden beds, and others planted in the beds themselves. This old basket came with the house; we found it hidden away in the woodshed.

 

I’ve planted zinnias in all three beds since I did so well with them last summer. They will make beautiful flowers for the bouquets I’ll be handing out until the Fall, and they are starting to bud.

 

 

More petunias, I love these flowers; these are hanging in a basket on the back porch. The colors are rich and deep.

 

 

I’ve planted two packets of marigold seeds in my garden beds. They, too, are beginning to pop up. I’m a month away from the flowers I most want to see, but it’s good to know they are coming. I’m excited about the mix.

 

I’ve finally identified these very young flowers as Begonia’s, a different strain than we usually see. I can’t wait to see them unfold. Begonias come in many different ways. These flowers should be gorgeous.

 

 

I love poppies (above); they are bright and transparent and graceful. They should blossom in a couple of weeks, but they are growing fast and strong in two of my beds.

 

More begonias, I planted a dozen bulbs I got at Country Power Products; they are unusual but beginning to open.

 

I planted a score of gladiola bulbs, which are shooting up. Gladiolas are beautiful flowers and perfect for the bouquets I’m planning. Flowers are two or three weeks away.

And last but not least, my campanula’s or Peach-leaved Bellflower. They were my first flowers to bloom in the raised beds this summer. They are coming on strong.

Thanks for coming along on this tour. I love gardening; I feel like a proud papa. Stay tuned if you are so inclined, it will only get better.

 

 

27 June

Me And The Amish. The Power Of Thumb Wrestling, The Pull Of Friendship

by Jon Katz

This afternoon, I was challenged by the Miller children to thumb wrestle with them for the first time in six months right in front of their food shed, where I had stopped.

I accepted the challenge and  (making excuses to be safe) said I was a bit out of practice and still weak from my virus (they didn’t care), but I couldn’t say no.

I lost the first round and then won the other two. Our friendship lives.

It was a joy to see those laughing and smiling faces again. Genuine love and connection were going back and forth both ways. Thumb wrestling might seem like a small thing, but today’s matches were a big thing.

I realized these past few months, when my dealings with my Amish neighbors, the Amish family headed by Moise, my friend, were scaled back, that what I missed the most were the children in the family.

We had connected, and I missed the connection. It was an important, necessary, and healthy experience. But it was also painful.

Our times are fraught and fearful.  Older people’s friendships with children, which used to benefit them and the kids themselves, are awkward and often difficult now. There are so many real and perceived dangers out there.

Men tell me they won’t even go into a men’s room if a child is there, and older people say they rarely have any contact with children who are not family.

In my work with refugee children, I am never alone with any child under 18 for my protection and theirs. I have never been alone for a minute with any of the refugees we help. I never seek that or even think about it.

Whenever I speak with them, which is often, there is a teacher present.

I was never alone with the Miller children, but we became friends during my visits there. They loved looking at my pictures on my Iphone, to the discomfort of their father, I think, who disapproved of English technology.

They loved talking to me, joking with me, listening to my stories, and most of all, thumb wrestling with me.

Thumb wrestling is the only sport I ever excelled in; I was the unofficial thumb wrestling champion of my high school, I wasn’t strong or muscled in any way, but for some reason, I have always had solid thumbs and was rarely beaten.

The Amish children – Joe, Fanny, Little Sarah, and Delilah in particular, loved to thumb wrestle with me. The game is simple. We clasp our hands together, thumbs up, and the first one to pin the other’s thumb and count to three wins. They would line up to challenge me and win or lose, get in line for another round.

There was no tiring or boring them or wearing them down. They laughed when they lost, and they laughed when they won.

I can’t tell you how much this game delighted these children.

Their parents, Moise and Barbara, would often gather around with the other children to watch and laugh and root on their children. Sometimes the older brothers would join the line to take me on. At first, I mowed them all down, hooting, “here’s one for the old man.”

But Amish children are big and strong, and it was just a matter of time before they figured out how to beat me.

Don’t let anybody tell you the Amish are not competitive. These kids wanted to win; they returned for rematches again and again when they lost until my thumbs were red or blue.

When I pulled into the door outside their house, they would come rushing out with their fists clenched in the thumb wrestling position. Over many months, I held my own, but these are strong and determined children, and I am, in fact, an older man, as I often complained to them.

As it happened, I won more than I lost. But the margin was always shrinking.

They showed me no mercy, but somehow in these games, a genuine friendship and connection were born. Fun and laughter are essential bonding elements. These children work hard, and they love to have fun, but I’m not sure how often they get the chance. Amish families the Millers have a ferocious work ethic, that is how they survive.

About six months ago, I worried about my relationship with Moise and the family, and I think he was worried also. I am a writer and photographer, and they are a family that thinks photos are evil and doesn’t want to be written about. It’s not a formula for a lasting friendship. In order to be close friends with them, I had to stop being me.

I’ve worked long and hard to be me, and I don’t give me up often or without a fight.

When one of the Miller sons pulled into the driveway to ask me to copy something for him, I asked him if I could take a photo of his horse. He said no, and we both ended up in tears, telling each other that we loved the other but also realizing the friendship was causing a strain.

I said it was best if he stayed away for a while, I couldn’t abide being told what photo to take in my own backyard.

But you’ve been so good to us, he said. And you’ve been so good to me, I answered. But we have to step back and figure out how to do this. I haven’t seen him since.

I miss him, we really did have love for one another and I miss the long talks we had as I searched online for train or bus tickets for him and his family.

For the next four or five months, they stayed away. And I stayed away.

I don’t know what the children heard or sensed or were told, and I didn’t ask them. This wasn’t their problem, I could see they were uncertain about me, there was no thumb wrestling or chatter or jokes.

I wasn’t sure if we could ever get it back. I stopped bringing books, lollipops, and gummy bears.

We had a close bond, and we all cherished it. I think something sweet and good is happening.  Bit by bit, we have been re-connecting.

I’m bringing Barbara and the girls flowers from our garden – they love flowers but don’t grow them, perhaps thinking them frivolous – and I am stopping by regularly to buy fruit and vegetables from their stand.

The fruit is sold on tables and in baskets that I found for them; it always touches me to see them, and they have thanked me many times.

I’ve only seen Moise once or twice in that time; we always wave to each other and catch up when we can. But there is an awkwardness between us, not that we are trying to work through.

I think we are; I think we will. Friendships with the Amish are, by nature, transactional. They can’t survive without people to drive them and shop for them, and friendships with English people outside of that frame are rare and difficult.

Always friendly but never friends, one former neighbor of an Amish family told me.

Today was a real breakthrough for me. On the way home, I went to the gym and pulled into the front of their food shed to buy some strawberries.

They were sold out, but before I could drive away, Joe and Fanny, Delilah, and Little Sarah came running down from the house to talk to me. They told me to come by first thing in the morning, and they would have some strawberries put aside for me.

They were all smiling, and there was a sparkle in their eyes. They all asked me about Maria’s magnets, which I stick to the side of my car. Then Fanny could not contain herself, she stuck her first out in the thumb wrestling position.

Oh, so that’s it, I said. Without even getting out of the car, I took them on one by one and was delighted to see those broad smiles on their faces. They love the game, wildly beating me while I tease them about losing to a rickety older man.

Our connection, I see, was genuine, and they were reaffirming it for me in the way of the Amish – no drama, no conversations, just life as usual and connections as they occur naturally. Neighbors are important to them, and they never want to cause harm or pain.

After a long cold winter, I see my friendhip is real and can outlast even the foibles and confusion of human beings and the gossip of small-town yentas. Friendship is precious to me, even though I have had a lot of trouble with it.

The children asked me if I could bring flowers from the garden and told me the kind of potato chips they most love.

They were asking me to return without asking me to return, and I agreed to return to their lives a bit more without saying so. It felt good, a small thing that was a big thing.

My expectations are small and narrow, my patience is growing and depending. We’ll move slowly and see.

Next week, I said, I will start bringing a weekly bouquet from my garden. “That is wonderful,” said Fanny, “we all love flowers.” And I’ll get some fresh strawberries in the morning.

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