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Amanda's Garden Agenda

 Amanda's Garden 

 Words to guide, inspire and entertain  


Old Farmers

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

My husband [he’s Max] and I have a big black Yamaha motorcycle named Rita, which we’re addicted to, and ride as much as we can, especially in the summer. Yes, we wear all the gear. Even when it’s stinking hot.


We had gotten pleasantly lost way down South Jersey, where the farm country remains untouched. We were very thirsty and cranky with hunger; there was a cute little farm stand; we stopped. Now we thought that likely we would scare the farmers [black gear, black bike, and some tattoos] but no… the old man came limping out and talked about a german bike he’d stolen in the Big War. The old woman waved, we went in and bought home grown apples, water, and a muffin to share. We talked about everything, talk you can only have with folks with no agenda. These people grew food, had a stand, sat in lawn chairs, sold the food, and talked to strangers. They were so, I don’t know… they looked like Idaho potatoes. That sounds unflattering, but it’s hard to say what I mean. They were dirty. That doesn’t sound nice either…. They had worked their whole lives with soil and plants. They were permanently stained with the earth they lived on, they were the color of their land and were as wrinkled and peaceful as two figs. Their produce was ordinary and very pretty, and they farmed very small scale. When I went out back to use the port-a-pot, I noticed six odd plants there in the dirt. In a minute I realized they were cotton, and the bolls had opened. I’d never seen cotton in person before. With a little guilt I picked my way in and stared closely; it’s an amazing plant. Where did it originate? Why don’t I know all this stuff?

I went out front and said to the old fig: is that cotton back there? She nodded and grinned. Isn’t it neat? she said. We’ve never grown it before and so we thought we’d see what happened if we did. Her smile was so childlike and lively, and she got such a kick out of those six plants. This is the tradition we keep whenever we get dirt under our nails and kneel in earth. This is what keeps us where we ought to be in the cycle of everything. Bless them both; when I get old I want to be a wrinkly old fig.

Amanda Bennett

photo: Amanda Bennett,

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Horse Corn

Monday, June 23, 2014

When my husband and I were young, we were unemployed for more than a year. We also still could sleep on the ground, drive all day, eat anything… ah well. This is likely why I ache so much now.

We traveled the country, everywhere but the Deep South, and having survived a very surreal 3-day run through Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois, came into the purple hills of Nebraska. Who knew that the Midwest was hiding that gem in the middle of all that beige? Max was driver and I was map-reader, which gave me the job of finding stopping spots for the night. In Maxwell, Nebraska, there was a horse ranch that advertised a wide, grassy campground and trail rides into Indian burial mounds. It seemed perfect to me, although Max was doubtful of the horses.


The owner’s name was Les Beebe, and he had a thousand acres and four teeth. He was reserved when we met him, since we were Easterners, until Max said ‘my name is Max, and I’m pleased to meet you’, stuck out a hand, which Les grinned and shook, and we were no longer sleazy people from Jersey. He said, ‘you know, I had some other folks from New Jersey here last year. Found ‘em in my cornfield stealing corn. I’d have give it to ‘em if they asked. Corn’s nearly free anyhow. But these poor thieving souls didn’t even know that they was stealing horse corn! You can’t eat that. Now if they had asked I’d have give ‘em sweet corn, and not chased ‘em off. What’s with you Easterners anyhow? They don’t even know enough to stake down a tent. Last folks I got here from the East set up a tent in a field and went walking; tent blew away directly.’

The hills were purple and the fields were green, we were camped in a tent in a herd of camper-trailers, we’d had a hot shower and some dinner, and I was thinking about those fools in the corn, sneaking around. It still makes me giggle.

We had also, incidentally, staked down our tent.

Amanda Bennett

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Frost Date

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

My brother-in-sin gardener said to me the other day, "I found out the frost date. It’s April 7th."

Interactive Plant, Tree and Gardening Maps

(click the link above and enter your own zipcode to see your local average last frost dates)

His eyes took on a positively feral gleam when he said this, although nobody would know he was a green vampire unless you trapped him about plants and planting. He’s the fellow with the 7’ okra…

For those of you who are not possessed by Old Split foot when it comes to gardening, frost date is sort of the bellwether for when one might start planting if one were nonchalant. In fact, why not just plant? We could buy hardy things that resist cold and damp, right?

Anyway, Gary already has seeds that he’s started, from Lambreth's seed company. Apparently some of these are rarities; we are sharing some odd kale varieties to be sown in with some lettuces for early spring eating.

I, a lazy impatient gardener, am one for plants that I can put in all ready to produce. I think of all seed planting as being carrots. You put the seeds in a shallow trench, cover them over and water them, wait till they appear, thin the tops so you can get sizeable carrots…. Etc., etc., etc.

This seems like way too much work. Tapping my foot, I am.

But he explained to me about ‘broadcasting’. This, by the way, is where they got the TV term. One takes one’s talented hand and, artfully flinging seeds into soil, rakes lightly, and walks off. Apparently you can also do this close-cropped in a pot (my ears prick like Spock); it will turn out as a mass of mixed stuff that you can pluck for salads and stir fry’s…

Well I never thought of this before, but that’s how plants grow in the wild. Nobody is thinning them as far as I know. Why am I making this like algebra instead of like soup? Soup is way better than a quadrilateral equation. Oh god, I hate math.

Well I’m going to try it. I want to see something growing out of my beds so bad that it’s starting to imbalance me.

Pale Green Lichen on Pine Tree bark 

I took a walk in a nice local park, and I got pictures of things that are already growing, budding and blooming. There was a lovely wild cherry just starting; little snowdrops; plain old daffodils alongside a very strange gnome; something shrubby that was budding out leaves (I don’t know what this plant is) the familiar pile of mulch on a tarp like the one that graces my driveway for entirely too long, sometimes into July ... and a beaver’s recent chewings.

Fuzzy Green Moss, Spring

I looked over the whole park and saw not one place that seemed good for a beaver, but that’s neither here nor there, since a beaver obviously ate part of that tree and then gave it up as a bad job. It did my heart good to see the little blossoms and leaves… and I saw a great grey heron, a woodchuck, a black sort of duck with a brown toupee, (if anybody knows what this duck is please tell me) mallards, the ubiquitous Canada goose, and a lot of folks walking dogs.

Do you know what a Shiba Inu looks like? My orange cat looks weirdly like one.

Amanda Bennett

photos: Amanda Bennett,

Crocus, Spring Flowers, Purple 


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I Can't Wait 'Til Spring!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014









photos: Max Kline,

photos: Amanda Bennett, 

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Cow Manure and the Blue Food

Monday, May 27, 2013

George Carlin said that there was no blue food [blueberries are purple, and blue hard candy was fake, and it might be blue glass] and so, blue food promotes immortality, and therefore was being hidden from us by THEM. You know, the guys with the black phones. Who control our lives.

I was raised amidst, shall we say, horse and cow flop. Prairie pancakes. Farm Frisbees. I slipped in it, and with a very cross-grained pony, sadly ate a lot of it at about 35 mph. He was a great pony. Really.

Natural fertilizer in the form of manure, some sort of waste, has been the method of feeding crops with nutrient forever. The Chinese and Japanese save their urine and feces in great big urns, and water rice with it. Don’t get squeamish. If diet is clean [I am not suggesting most American diet is] then it’s the same chemicals: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, some calcium, and ‘goo’ that are all the trace minerals and enzymes for plants to get big and green on.

I love manure, manure ‘tea’, which is just diluted, and all the lovely composted stuff that makes black soil and fosters earthworms and such.

Now the purists should close their eyes and not read any further.

Ok, the rest of us are left.

Miracle-Gro® and sundry other commercial fertilizers are the same stuff. If they don’t have a pesticide or weed-i-cide in them, they are the same chemicals, in very specific ratios dependent on what’s being planted, as manure. I know it’s blue. They dye it [with nothing nasty] to make sure nobody makes a mistake and thinks maybe its water.

It’s the same chemicals. Don’t mistake me here, because I am not saying it’s manure, composted organic matter or peat, loam, clay, sand… it’s food. Plants get food from light, and food from dirt. And foods from watering cans of blue chemicals.

As a professional I have gone through countless gallons of ‘blue food’. Epsom salts are also magnificent [the same you soak in, which as a rehab therapist I am constantly prescribing] since Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, a very important mineral for growth, green-ness, and sturdy stem development. The trees thrive, the plants thrive, they make fruit, or blossom, or leaf, and THEY DON’T CARE.

Don’t touch the fertilizer. This goes for manure as well as the blue food: phosphorus is a very deadly substance. It’s the stuff in matches and road flares, and it eats bones and flesh. Wear gloves for everything.

Your peppers might feel more righteous about manure [who am I to say what a plant feels?] but I am more concerned with happiness and production for the plant. If I planted it and talk to it and pull out weeds and take fruit or branches, I have the obligation to them… I have never taken them to McDonald’s, at least.

Amanda Bennett

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Attack of the Tomatillos - The Poster!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inspired by the last post from Amanda, Max created this fun poster! Feel free to share it or print a copy.


credit: Max Kline,


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Oranges and a Mexican Man

Saturday, February 09, 2013

In the last post I was talking about Sequoias. We were on the same trip in California, except driving back to the coast from the mountains. We had to cross Death Valley again; it was boiling hot; the AC on the poor little Mazda kept us from actually boiling too, and we drove through a very bizarre landscape:

Flat dirt, grey and dusty, the Sierras on the horizon, also grey and dusty, and patches of GREEN AND ORANGE [they were such loud colors that I had to capitalize] that hurt to look at after all that peaceful dust. Well, were in orange country, which of course on the West Coast is gigantic, and makes the Florida groves look silly. There were miles of them, all carefully watered by drip hoses, the foliage deep, deep green of magnolia leaves. And the fruit was the perfect contrast, the deep, deep orange of…well… oranges, I suppose.

California orange grove with mountains in the background

We motored through and stared and talked about how marvelous the trees were; it was like seeing a pineapple plant with the pineapple on top, not just buying a pineapple in the grocery.

Oh, but it was hot.

Suddenly we passed a small ramshackle fruit stand. Were they selling oranges? Was it worth it to turn around in that broiler of land to find out?

It was.

It was a tiny wooden building [let’s glorify it by calling it a building] with a tiny little Mexican man and a whole lot of oranges. There was a lady in front of us, a fancy person with expensive shoes, buying big, juicy oranges. She bought a lot and it came to 6 or 7 dollars. It’s hard to read the face of someone who’s been in the sun all his life, but I thought the man was not impressed with her expensive shoes.

So we are next, and I start to pick up some of the gigantic gorgeous oranges, and he slaps my hand. It wasn’t just a tap either, so I looked up and he said ‘no.’ then he pointed to some little, greeny-orange speckly oranges and said ‘better’. I like brevity in a person.

We picked up some of the littler oranges, and he said ‘no’ again, so I looked up and waited for advice. No need to get slapped twice!

He gave us a mesh bag [I think it was 3 or 5 pounds] of the orphan little oranges and held up two fingers like a peace sign. This can’t be right? Two bucks? I gave him the money and we left in the car.

Fruit tree branch loaded with beautiful ripe oranges.

Now, we were going to eat these oranges if I had to gnaw through the mesh, which I didn’t, since I carry a pocketknife everywhere, but the skins wouldn’t come free without juice exploding all over the car. What to do? We decided to try and eat them with the skins on.

The skins were sweet, soft, and pretty much melted, and if we swallowed while we chewed we got most of the juicy innards. We didn’t have any napkins, so we wiped our hands on our pants and our sticky mouths on our sleeves. It was a fabulous mess. We made yummy noises.

We ate all but 6 or those oranges on the way back to the coast. They were ambrosia; they were sublime; they are on the list of the 5 best things I’ve ever eaten.

We got back to the cottages on the cliffs, and we looked so disreputable and sticky that the owner backed away from us; we had orange pith, juice, and pulp in our hair, ears, hands, and all over our clothes.

I’ve eaten sunshine in the desert, and the only problem is, I’ll have to go back to Death Valley to have more oranges. The ones in the stores are just plain nasty.

Amanda Bennett

photos, Mountains: Rawich Liwlucksaneeyanawin, Oranges: Erdin Hasdemir

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Friday, February 01, 2013

A couple of years ago, we took a vacation to California. This sort of started as a species of mild revenge; we had tried on a previous trip, to stay in a lovely little town called Cambria, which is on the coast between LA and San Francisco, and were foiled (drat!) because there was some huge classic car show there and there was no room at the inn, as they say. This time around we did stay there, and it is so indescribably beautiful that I’ll just post a few pictures and let it go.

We were cruising, happily and aimlessly, and decided to take a hike and go to the Sequoia National Forest. You have to go across Death Valley to get there, and let me tell you, the name is spot on. It was 140º on the flats, and with the AC full on in our tawdry little rental car we managed to keep the interior at about 90º. Better than nothing, by a bit.

We came out of Golgotha and started to climb into the Sierra Mountains, and climbed, and climbed. We went past Three Sisters, a confluence of 3 very strong rivers

A river running through the Sierra Mountains.

(these are rivers that you would not dream of putting a foot in) and shortly after got to the entrance to the park. We thought we’d climbed before, but we were ignorant of what ‘mountain’ really means. I live on a sandbar, ok? Not in my lexicon.

Anyway, we wound around and around, switch-backing up one of the stonier landscapes I’ve ever seen, and all granite. These are young mountains, craggy and sharp and stunning, with little trees and bushes that can’t possibly have found anything remotely like dirt to live in. They found something I guess, or maybe they were just air plants masquerading as trees. Mountain bromeliads?

We did get up to the crest after an hour or so,

Sierra Mountains

and we started to see sequoias here and there. If you’ve never seen a sequoia, they are not like the redwoods down south. They are not like any other species of tree, because the geologic period that this plant is from is 60 million years gone. These are not numbers I can think about. Whatever, it was a very long time ago.

They don’t have bark, not as I know it. They have orange sponge. It’s soft and very deep and thick. The foliage doesn’t begin until about 75’ up; I craned my neck back till it hit my neck to see it, and got dizzy. The surface roots are immense, and the deep structure isn’t known. Want to guess why?

No sequoia has ever died of natural causes. They’ve never cut one down (gods, what a task that’d be!) and other than lightning strikes, which only partially damage the tree, they are all as they have always been. As they have always been.

Nobody knows how old they are. They’ve stood there alone on the top of those mountains since the mountains were born. They are still and silent, and they’ve witnessed everything. They don’t move. It’s eerie to be in the presence of something like that, to touch something so mysterious and ancient and deeply, I’m not sure how to write what I mean… immune to time.

Maybe the most belittling thing about being there was that you couldn’t actually look at a whole tree. They are just too big. Even from a distance, they fill fields of vision… my periphery was full of plant. We took a picture of one of the smaller, younger trees, standing outside the visitor’s center.

Giant sequoias

The photo looks like an enormous tree with a doll’s house next to it. The building is three stories high. It’s not reconcilable to one’s brain.

I cry when I am in places that give me perspective on my real size, brief breath, and complete unimportance. It’s not a sad or frightening thing; there’s majesty, and a kind of music.

If you get a chance, go there, and put your hands on some permanence.

Amanda Bennett

photo: Amanda Bennett,

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All Hail the Black Thumbs!

Friday, January 18, 2013

I know, this is a gardening blog, meant for gardeners, those who can tell a euonymus from a cotoneaster. But I want to say a few words in defense of the folks in apartments [or houses] that just want something green to look at, to ‘spruce the place up’ no pun intended. And maybe these are ordinary folks that don’t know from a potted plant. Why should they be barred from the happiness of green growing things? At best, they’ve tried and failed; at worst, they’ve tried and everything died. Well, buck up there. Anyone can grow a plant.

Here are a few kinds of houseplant that, with just a little effort and some sunlight, will grow and not take offense at a bit of neglect:


The Philodendron

Famous in Italian restaurants as the plant whose sad vines are tacked up by staples to the eaves, yellow, dry and dusty, these things really can’t be killed. And they are beautiful, and come in hordes of varieties, will tolerate moderate light, poor soil, bad handling, and kitchen grease. All nurseries have them. Look for a tag that starts out with ‘philodendron’ and has another name after it. Pick a kind that looks pretty: variegated [streaked with white or yellow] tolerates the lowest light. I will say that you cannot grow a plant in the dark, but you can grow this in pretty dim conditions. It likes to grow long vines, but it also likes to get a haircut. Don’t be shy; whack it. Leave some greenery and it’ll grow fatter than before and be healthier.


The Ficus

I have to say that this is a favorite of mine. What a nice plant! So many different varieties, shapes, and colors! You can buy a little one and in a year or two it will be a pretty respectable indoor shrub; if you keep it for years it will be a small tree. The striped varieties tolerate lower light, but really, if you water it and tell it how handsome it is, all the kinds just grow. They are an elegant, pretty addition to any room [any room with a window nearby].

The Aralia

This is a little less known but very fun. A doctor I love [who moved to Costa Rica to get away from the Healthcare Nightmare] had a houseful, and turned me on to them. I have a ‘Ming’ Aralia, but there are other kinds. They are slow growers, very deep green, and look a bit like a very dense parsely plant. Curly greenery, thick, strong stems, and a nice disposition make it a winner. It’ll grow in any light from bright to pretty dim; Bill had his in his inner sanctum with his oriental rugs and his steroidal Bose stereo system that made the walls shake and the plants shiver. I guess they liked the music since, although I was deafened, the Aralias were quite healthy. Beethoven’s symphonies really can work wonders.

Amanda Bennett

photo, ficus: Maksim Shebeko, philodendron: Judy Lami

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Seed Fever

Friday, January 11, 2013


Oh, I’m starting to get the virus. I can feel it… isn’t it time to plant yet? When I go to the grocery they have that demonic rack of seeds out. Do they do this to taunt the planters? I have a friend who is as tormented about this as me, and this time of year we have to go out and dig holes. Just with my trusty English trowel. Just to keep sane. Isn’t it time to plant yet?

Amanda Bennett

photo: Denis and Yulia Pogostins,

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