These Farmhouse Bookshelves

Today, I am not giving you a peek at the bookshelves lining the walls of this old farmhouse.

Instead, I am giving you a peek at what you’ll find spilling out of baskets and boxes. What you’ll find stacked beside my bed and by my armchair near the fireplace. I’m showing you my pile of dreams. My paper stack of wishes.

I am recommending plant and seed catalogs.




Why now? Why now as I put my vegetable garden to bed and watch for the first hard freeze?

Because gardens are born in winter. And this is the perfect time to sign up for at least a few (free) catalogs. They’ll be the guides to your dreams come December.

A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry. – Michael Pollan

The vegetable and flower seed catalog from Seed Savers Exchange is always a glossy, full-color treasure trove. This one is perfect for winter browsing, almost as good as a collection of short stories. You’ll read about the real “Grandpa Ott” behind “Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glories,” and the fascinating history of the “Moon and Stars” watermelon. Even better, by ordering heirloom seeds from the exchange you are also supporting the biodiversity of our planet.

The supermarket produce shelf offers a tiny slice – not even that, perhaps a pin drop – of the variety of creation. If a blight shows up this year favoring the (tasteless) grocery-story tomato, it will be the home-gardening seed savers and networks like Seed Savers Exchange who save tomatoes for future generations.

I don’t save many of my own seeds beyond a few dried flower heads. I’ve listed that activity under things I’ll do when I no longer have children underfoot. Until then, I do my part by ordering from Seed Savers.

Gardening is akin to writing stories. No experience could have taught me more about grief or flowers, about achieving survival by going, your fingers in the ground, the limit of physical exhaustion. – Eudora Welty

If you ever buy bulbs through the mail, especially daffodils and tulips, your mailbox will be flooded with catalogs claiming direct links to Dutch tulip fields. They will have phrases like “fine purveyors” on their covers. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a family operation based in Virginia, is pretty much the opposite of that. And I love them.

Brent and Becky (yes, they are real people) offer excellent service, quality bulbs, and fair prices. You can buy all the classic varieties, and you can find homegrown varieties they have named for a favorite relative or friend. Their catalog is full of advice and inspiration, and you can enjoy it at least twice a year. They send out separate catalogs for spring and fall-planted bulbs.

I buy my daffodil and tulips bulbs here every year. Last year I filled a bed with their lily bulbs. And I’ll soon be planting a few of their purple alliums.

I am intrigued by writers who garden and gardeners who write. The pen and the trowel are not interchangeable, but seem often linked. – Marta McDowell

The Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, Texas is a magical place. I grew up visiting it with my father, a farmer-turned-gardener, yet I somehow never dreamed of growing roses myself. Until, I came to Maplehurst.

Our little corner of Pennsylvania was once well-known for the roses Quaker farmers grew here for city markets. That heritage is still evident in street names and in long memories. Last year, it seemed important to me to bring roses back to Maplehurst. Of course, now I’m hooked.

I used to hear “antique roses” and imagine fussy, hard-to-please plants. If caring for antique furniture was more complicated than dusting a piece from IKEA, then surely plants were the same. Strangely, the opposite is true. If you are looking for a rose that is easy to grow, less susceptible to diseases and insects, and (bonus!) highly scented, then it is an antique rose that you want.

You can also find them described as “Old Garden Roses,” and the catalog from the Antique Rose Emporium is one of the best ways to learn about these wonderful plants. Thanks to this catalog and other books published by its founder, I have gorgeous, cabbage-y pink roses still blooming in my garden today. In the middle of October. Yes, you can call me a fan.

Also, I think it very important to support any business with “emporium” in its name. Just a personal pledge of mine.

I love my garden, and I love working in it. To potter with green, growing things, watching each day to see the dear, new sprouts come up, is like taking a hand in creation, I think. Just now my garden is like faith – the substance of things hoped for. – L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

I grew dahlias for the first time this year, and I am hooked. My gardens all look a bit shabby by October, but the flower bed across from our front door has exploded with beautiful, bouncy, mop-headed dahlias. You can find a million pictures (approximately) of my dahlias on instagram. Like this one. And this one. I can’t seem to stop taking their pictures.

I’ve done little dahlia comparison shopping, but Swan Island Dahlias was recommended to me, and I will be ordering from them again. Their catalog is beautiful and extensive, and every one of the tubers they sent grew and thrived. My favorite bit? They stamp each tuber with the name of the variety. This made it easy to remember what I was planting and where.

Dahlias always intimidated me because I knew they weren’t cold-hardy. The thought of planting something only to dig it up again in the fall seemed ridiculous. Why would I do that? Well, now I know exactly why. (Also, here’s a tip. If you aren’t sure you can handle that amount of effort: plant them anyway. No one will ever know if you just leave them in the ground. And if it’s a mild winter? They may just come blooming back again.)



However many years she lived, Mary always felt that “she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow.” – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Now I’d love to know, do any of you garden? What are your favorite sources? Please share them in the comments!

The Surprise of Coming Home

I recently discovered that my house is surrounded by azaleas.

I came to this brilliant conclusion because spring arrived (our first in this new home), and the bushes I’d never really noticed turned brilliant pink and flowery almost overnight.


dandelion_blue sky

Next to the extravagance of these azaleas the flower beds in the front of our house suddenly looked sparse. There were big empty spots, and I worried about finding time to purchase and plant perennials. My days are overfull as it is just making snacks for children. In the small spaces of time when I am not making snacks, I am trying to get the new vegetable garden planted.

That’s when I noticed the fiddlehead ferns. Well, not the ferns, just the fiddleheads, really. It looked as if bright green violins had begun sprouting all around the azaleas.

I vaguely remembered seeing ferns when we moved in late last summer. I realized I could probably hold off on planting. I could wait and be surprised. Who knew what else might emerge.

blueberry blossoms!

Like the dogwood tree. Also, a second dogwood tree. Apparently, I can’t identify most trees unless it’s spring and they are flowering. There’s also a crabapple in the corner I’d never noticed. And roses. So many roses are tucked along the fence line, but I had no idea how many there were until I went around inspecting every square inch for poison ivy.

For me, this first spring is all about surprise. My eyes are wide-open, and I have begun expecting hidden wonders to reveal themselves at every turn.

It has reminded me of the birth of my fourth baby, Elsa Spring. When I first looked at her she felt both familiar and utterly surprising. I loved her, she belonged to me, but I did not know her. She would reveal herself to me only in time. Anticipating that slow revelation carried me through so many heavy, hard newborn days.

I hardly know this place, but it is home. We are planting trees and putting down roots (quite literally), and the horizon of our dreams is farther out than we have ever seen it.

When I imagine teenagers, they are slipping through these bedroom windows to sun themselves on the roof of the porch. When I imagine weddings, I picture them here beneath the avenue of maple trees. When I consider grandchildren, I see them playing beneath the apple trees that are, today, more like apple sticks.

Until this spring, home meant familiar and comfortable. The place you know so well you no longer see it.

I’m discovering that home might be familiar and surprising. Our true home is not the place we no longer see, but the place (or state of mind?) that keeps us wide awake with wonder.

Home is where we expect good things. Home is where we say, with shining eyes and hope in our hearts, What next? What next? Is there more?

And there is always more.


“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!”

– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

bridal wreath spirea

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