During my quest for social media content yesterday, I found myself searching for the term "staycation" within Google News. That's when I realized that my version of both staycations and vacations differs greatly from what's being promoted. Perhaps that's because my husband and I are not in the market for a marble-clad outdoor kitchen or an in-ground pool with accompanying cabana. We have never included Belize in our vacation rotation. Lying somewhere in the sun for hours while sipping $20.00 cocktails and receiving pedicures is not part of our fantasies or realities. I suspect we're not alone.
Our vacations look more like this...
...and I wouldn't have it any other way. What brings us peace and relaxation is a reprieve from our daily routines. I'm not referring to tasks pertaining to our basic needs. Obviously, camping provides no relief from that. I'm talking about the reduction of stressors and purging of mental clutter that can only take place when we allow it to. We don't have to leave home to find relaxation and peace, but that certainly makes it easier. The question I'm left with, is how do we create our own oases at home? What types of spaces wall out tensions and encompass peace of mind?
It's amazing what a view can do. When we go on our annual camping trips, we find ourselves struggling to find balance between capturing beauty on film and actually experiencing it. We've learned, when we take too many pictures, we take away from those moments. Some of them require us to really zoom in and focus for just a bit on one, perfect little thing or vignette. The tiny bits of complete perfection that are right before our eyes induce a meditative state, forcing us to ignore everything but our awe. I think that's why people really embrace the Fairy Gardening trend. The minute fantasy worlds that can be achieved with finely textured succulents and adorable resin statues can actually transport us to a more carefree world. We have the ability to build our own diminutive utopias!
Of course, views from afar are also impactful. They are just harder to influence. Staring off into the distance at a soothing abyss of woods and waters is extremely peaceful. While that might not be what we see when we look out our living room windows, we can still bring the beauty closer to us. Planting a majestic Oak in a prominent place is one way of doing that. Building a soothing backdrop of evergreens along a lot line or converting a portion of yard into wildflower meadow can completely change both view and state of mind. When we gaze at the natural beauty that surrounds us in state parks and forest preserves, we don't bemoan the lack of organization or the absence of rows. We embrace the perfection that lies within imperfection. That's something we can try to emulate in our own spaces as well. While we have to organize our desks and clean our rooms, we can throw a little bit of blissful chaos into our garden designs and truly embrace it.
While I contemplate backyard retreats, I also think about the activities we engage in on our vacations. Barry and I love to kayak and hike. We're lucky to live on a lake and near a trail, so that helps with our staycation goals. We also love to observe wildlife on our soirees. Knowing that and being somewhat of an ecological hobbyist, I keep planting more pollinator candy and bird food. That really makes a huge difference during the winter months. Our backyard environment provides food and shelter for a variety of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. Their presence sooths us and makes us feel connected to the magnificence of nature. I've certified our yard as habitat with the National Wildlife Federation and we're also on the Monarch Joint Venture Map. I'm really proud of those accomplishments and that pride brings me peace.
While we also love to cook and daydream about those outdoor kitchens, we have focused on growing some of our own foods and the herbs to season them with. Grapes, cherries, apples and currants on our property are often transformed into wines and ciders. Wood that we prune out of our trees tends to end up infusing delicious smokiness into meats. We simply roll our trusty Weber to whatever area of the yard we feel like staring at, jab a couple of Avon drink holder stakes in the ground and do our thing. Our cocktails may not have umbrellas, but they are often derived from the oasis that we have created and that makes them taste really, really good.
As I sit here at my desk today, I'm cold. I have the heat cranked, a space heater pointed at my feet and I'm wearing four layers on top and two on the bottom. It's about 13 below with a "feels like" of 29 below...yet, I'm thinking about plants. I don't know that there is ever a time when I'm not. Since love is in the spotlight this time of year, I'm pausing to reflect on my affair with flora and the joy plants have brought into my life.
I grew up here ^^^. My parents still live on this 75-acre farmstead, between Detroit Lakes and Callaway, MN. "Here" didn't used to have any trees; at least not many. The farm was known by our neighbors as, "The Old Swante Coleman Place" and had been vacant for seven years before my parents occupied it. Dad spent countless hours planting thousands of tiny spruce trees around the perimeter of our maintained yard. Each day, he would haul five-gallon pails of water to his little babies and tenderly nurse them along. Competing weeds and browsing deer were his nemeses, yet he never compromised his, "live and let live" philosophy." I talked to him two days ago. His voice was gleeful as he talked about fat Partridges in the crabapple tree and how they knocked down fruits for the deer to eat.
Throughout this COVID situation, Dad has maintained his sanity outdoors. Since he can't plant or tend anything right now, he's been clearing and burning and generally cleaning up the property. It's such a blessing that he can do that as an octogenarian. Nature has been Dad's constant companion, making isolation tolerable for a very social man.
My love of nature was fostered by my parents. Mom was a homemaker who always made time for nature hikes with me around our little pond. The two of us would pick chokecherries in the road ditches and plums from the thicket. Then we would spend way too much time transforming them into jellies. Mom is probably less outdoorsy than Dad. She's pickier about temperature and less enamored with the more physical aspects of gardening, but she's cleared her share of Caragana and put up plenty of veggies. Mom prefers to view plants and wildlife from a comfortable place, but she is no less inspired by the beauty around her. Last year she painted a mural involving a window basket full of brilliant, red Geraniums. While not botanically accurate, it's absolutely beautiful and depicts a clear picture of the lovliness she sees. Mom is definitely more of a stereotypical lady than I am, but that didn't stop her from having a Praying Mantis as a pet and mourning its loss when she attempted to introduce a spider companion.
I grew up making mud soup and watching Monarchs transform. I learned at a very young age how to snap off asparagus below the ground and hunt for potato bugs on the undersides of leaves. I nibbled on the lobes of Columbine and the basal petals of red clover and revelled in their sweet nectar. I learned to whistle through a blade of grass. An aquarium on the porch usually had a couple of snails and some leeches in it, just for observation. Every now and then, I would take a walk up to "Pooh Hill" (so named after the bear and the enormous oak tree that resided there) to poke a giant ant hill with a stick. While this seems rude in retrospect, I loved to watch them work. Activities like these formulated my interests in biology and horticulture, but they were so integrated into daily life that I just didn't realize it.
As an adult, it took me a while to rekindle my passion. I lived in Minneapolis for a little bit while attending school for Radio Broadcasting. After that, my boyfriend (now husband) and I lived in an apartment in Victoria for a considerably longer bit. Our building was relatively small and we had a great relationship with our kindly landlords, the Schusters. I just Googled their last name to make sure I spelled it right and stumbled upon Shirley's obituary. I suppose it's been a really long time. I never really saw her as elderly and was surprised to learn how shortly she died after we lost contact.
The Schusters allowed me to do some planting in front of the building and dig out a small veggie garden in back. I welcomed our co-tenants to share in the bounty. Annuals were my thing at the time because they made such an impact. Fragrant herbs were also a favorite of mine. The soil was pick-axe hard in these little beds and each year I fought to incorporate peat moss and compost. My efforts were a labor of true love and through them, I found my purpose. During that same period, I enrolled in the Carver/Scott County Master Gardener program. Core courses and volunteer opportunities taught me a great deal and that gave me the confidence to apply for jobs in the horticultural field. In March of 2002, I began working at Nature's Bounty Garden Center for the Kahnke Brothers.
About a year and a half later, my man and I ended up buying a home in Silver Lake, Minnesota, and embarked on a whole new adventure. We were quite young and very comfortable in our cozy apartment. Taking on the responsibility of a home was daunting at first. However, it didn't take long for me to begin messing with the yard. Once I started, I opened a can of worms that could not be re-sealed. Perennials became my thing. They were just a better investment. Boss Man gave me a really good deal on plants, which enabled me to plant more and learn more. My observations helped me make better buying decisions and translate more accurate information to our customers. When I got comfortable with perennials, my next assignment was shrubs. When I mastered shrubs, it was time to learn trees. I cared for houseplants, started vegetable seeds and tended the greenhouse. Watering, planting, weeding and culling were regular activities. I loved it all.
That's when I realized that I would never know all that there was to know about horticulture. I learned that I could take the flowery path wherever I wanted to go. In winter, I enjoy my houseplants. In spring, I get to look forward to the emergence of daffodils and crocuses. In summer, there are weeds to pull and holes to dig. By fall, the apples and grapes are ready for harvest and preservation. There is always something to do! At home in isolation during the pandemic, all I had to do was go outside for entertainment. Plants have always been there for me. They're no fair weather friends. They are out there beneath the snow, just waiting to say, "hello". That's why I love them so very much.
Back in the office after my seasonal layoff, I am preparing for another busy year at the farm. Last year was certainly interesting in a variety of ways. Adjusting to a global pandemic certainly kept us all on our toes. The crisis had an interesting effect on our industry and that really got me thinking about a lot of things. During the growing season, I honestly didn't have time to think. Now that I've had time to reflect, it seems appropriate to share a little positivity.
Last year was the busiest year we have ever had at this location. All of us struggled to keep up with the unexpected demand. We went from fearing that we might have to shut down to worrying about how we were going to keep up. I don't think anyone in the plant and landscape business was prepared for what we encountered. I find that really intriguing and encouraging.
After the first shutdown, I think people were just looking for things to do at home. Vacation plans were put off and home improvement projects were prioritized. As more and more people started working from home, neighbors began to notice each others eccentricities. "Karen" had to look at "Bob's" pile of junk every day from her office window. That pile of perfectly useful things that Bob accumulated began to occupy more and more space in Karen's brain. Karen's chi was all out of whack and something had to be done. Pretty soon, a perimeter hedge of tall Arborvitaes appeared in the space between adjacent yards. Bob appreciated the noise barrier that the new evergreens provided between his tender ears and Karen's four, screaming kids. Bob was so delighted with Karen's efforts that he reimbursed her for some of her planting expenses. I think you get my theoretical drift.
But what did those investments really do? They made Karen and Bob's homes and yards more enjoyable for them to spend time in. Oxygen producing entities were contributed to the suburban environment. Karen gained a new, relaxing hobby by adding more living things that require care to her landscape. Bob and Karen's relationship is better than ever before. Do I have a "Bob" in "Karen" in mind as I spin this yarn? Well, no; but these scenarios are very familiar to me.
COVID has had some desirable side effects, despite all of the horrible statistics and numbers we hear on the news every day. Many people re-established their bonds with the great outdoors. Families planted and gardened together. New generations learned from older ones. People became conscious of the need to become more self sufficient and started growing more of their own food. Everyone had to look at their immediate surroundings with fresh eyes and renewed gratitude. Life slowed down to a snails pace for some and accelerated to somewhat stressful levels for others, but everyone was forced to look at life in a slightly different way.
What I hope lasts, is our increased appreciation for home and family. I have my husband, my cats and a few close neighbors in my COVID mix. We celebrated the holidays with enthusiasm and hope and lots of goodies. However, I haven't been able to see my octogenarian parents since last Christmas. I miss them terribly and can't wait for our reunion. I have a new great nephew whom I have yet to meet. Boy will that be a special moment! I hope we never lose this increased appreciation for the special people in our lives.
Hopefully, all of the people who found or renewed their passion for the outdoors stay connected to it. Being actively involved with the environment fosters respect for our lands and waters. That's precisely what we need to keep our planet healthy. I can't imagine not being moved by the views I've seen on my hikes and camping trips. For those who experienced that feeling for the first time (or the first time in a long time) I hope it was memorable and magical.
eEveryone is always so damn busy these days. I remember when the internet was new and everyone thought we would have so much more disposable time and freedom. Boy were we wrong! All that new technology really did was make it possible for us to work anywhere, anytime. While slowing down has been a bit uncomfortable for some, others have finally had time to relax and enjoy life. Kids and parents have been able to make lasting memories of camping in the backyard and planting apple trees together. That's so much more meaningful than texting each other memes from different areas of the living room.
The last thing that I hope we hold onto from these "unprecedented times" is our renewed focus on mental health. All of our scrambling and obsessing seldom brings joy. There is something to be said for living in the moment and that moment can't always be fleeting. As things slowly return to our "new normal", I hope we can hold onto some of the lessons we've learned from this spherical foe. Roses were put here for us to smell and we must smell them as often as possible while we are able to do so. What's more important than that?
My name is Connie Kratzke. I have worked with Kahnke Brothers for 16 years. During this period, I have done everything from watering the plants to designing our website. My role at the nursery involves selling stock, managing inventory, marketing plants and overseeing the production of shrubs and perennials. Sometimes I sit at a desk and other times I can be found in a Bobcat. During my career here, I have become a MNLA Certified Professional. I am also an at large member of the Minnesota Grown Promotion Group/Minnesota Grown Advisory Committee. Currently, I serve as City Arborist for Silver Lake, Minnesota, and a member of their planning commission. My focus is on helping our clients succeed with their landscaping efforts. Education is a huge factor influencing that success. Keeping it real is my strategy. Through sharing my experiences at the nursery and at home, I hope to debunk myths and eliminate concerns. At the same time, I want people to be aware of what doesn't work. Living things are somewhat unpredictable, but they all have basic needs. Understanding how to fill those needs while simultaneously achieving landscape goals is a process that I want to share with as many people as possible, because I truly enjoy it.