Mediocrity as Freedom

A few years ago I started a sort of “vision board” that I never finished. Photos and articles taped onto a canvas that has been moved from house to house for nearly a decade. Since I never finished it, I still don’t really know what it means for me. I don’t know what role I’m supposed to play at the intersection of the insect apocalypse, a native flower arrangement, and a hearty bowl of stew. But I remembered this vision board because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of mediocrity.

In the bottom right-hand corner is the essay, “In Praise of Mediocrity,” by professor Tim Wu. When I first read this essay I immediately cut it out and taped it to the fridge. I was about four years into a dry spell with my writing. I had also recently left a job with a long commute and finished grad school so I had some more time on my hands to get into other hobbies as well.

One problem at this time was that my blog didn’t feel safe anymore. I know it was just my perception, but it felt like my writing was under more scrutiny ever since a couple of blog posts had gone sort of locally viral years before. Up until that point this place had just been a sandbox for my ideas and observations without any pressure. I wanted to get back to that. But not only did the blog not feel as safe as it had before, social media had also gradually taken up more space as the venue for ideas and photos. While I did get joy out of sharing and seeing posts on social media, I had this feeling like my posts belonged to them because it was on their site. I also hated the idea that my posts would be forced into people’s faces on social media rather than just hosted on a blog where they could be found or ignored. I always said that the blog was for me, but I would be glad to know that any one else had enjoyed it as well. Social media was different. It started to feel like everything in the world, even my thoughts, existed for other people. To be shared, consumed, and evaluated (to “like” or not to “like”).

I still love this essay and enjoyed reading it again while writing this, remembering favorite parts and noticing aspects I’d missed. Rather than quote from it, I think it’s worth a read:

It feels like we have allowed the standards of financial value, capital return, and professional growth/advancement to invade our personal lives and pastimes. We are no longer content with ourselves and our own joy. We go from work to happy hour to dinner to sleep. Our careers are often what we talk about when we are getting to know each other and how we identify ourselves when we walk into a room. When we do have hobbies, I have felt personally, there is this pressure knowing that it could become something. There is a new generation of entrepreneurs who have made their success by perfecting a hobby. And often they do it while sharing every step of the way with all of us on social media. I support and celebrate them while also wondering if it could or should have been me.

During the fall of 2016 I finally decided to part ways with Facebook. I felt like the platform had become too contentious and I didn’t want it in my life anymore. Except that I did. I was addicted to checking Facebook, I was getting sucked into the dopamine hit of “likes” and the cycle of rage and outrage. It is weird to be able to look so closely at other people’s lives. Comparison is the thief of joy, but it can also be the giver of smugness. Criticizing other people on social media is definitely an undercurrent of the entire enterprise. But the criticism doesn’t give back joy. It makes us feel more isolated with less in common than we thought.

I can’t say I deleted my Facebook, but I did have someone change the password for me (along with the backup email and phone number) so that I wouldn’t have to fight with myself about checking in. At the same time, I decided to subscribe to the Sunday Times. I wanted a full, physical newspaper that I could fold and feel. I knew there was so much interesting and important news happening in the world below the fold that I was missing out on because it would never go viral or get shared. I wanted to escape “the passive, screeny leisure” I felt constantly drawing me away from the things in life I loved. I wanted to take in more art, culture, history, and book reviews. Another thing I love about the newspaper is that it is actually professional content rather than the aspiring-to-be professional posts on social media. I can admire, appreciate, and critique the articles and photos without having to feel jealous or make comparisons to my own life.

This introduction to an article about Japanese Washi describes our current era of software-mediated life and the reaction I have joined toward physical, tangible alternatives:

If social media is about comparison and consumption, I’ve begun to see it also as an instrument of surveillance. We willingly share and subject ourselves to the surveillance, but I feel like we are still losing control of our actions and thoughts just the same. Before we even share something on social media, we are aware of the surveillance, the panopticon of the social media world, and we allow it to rank or value our actual lives. Often the surveillance guides not only what we share, but the entire curated, shareable life itself. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had a fun thought then wondered if I should share it somewhere. I think about whether people would like it and what kind of statement it would make about me to share it. Rather than write it down and save the idea like a poet, I would often either share the thought or decide it wasn’t shareable (or share it then regret it and delete it).

While the internet has connected us in ways that are beautiful and life-giving, I think we all might agree it has also gradually siphoned away a measure of privacy and intimacy. I think about the quote below fairly regularly. It is more directly related to oppressive governments, but I feel it in my own life regarding the internet and in the context of social media especially.

Last November, I decided to take my social media cleanse one step further. I permenantly deleted Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. After a year, I honestly haven’t missed any of them for a single day. Instead, I have leaned more into friendships, family, and the things that interest me. I share photos and articles directly via text messages and GroupMe. I’ve enjoyed being a part of more niche social media like the local RVA gardening group on NextDoor and the fitness app, Strava. I’ve also written more on this blog. I started to care a little less about other people’s opinions and I especially stopped thinking about the moments of my life in terms of their shareablility. I stopped sharing my ideas in bits and pieces before they ever had the chance to mature.

Social media can be full of such beauty, stories that are remarkably interesting, and people that are impressive. I realized that in order for my blog to be enjoyable, I had to be ok with it not always being as remarkable. If I am enjoying myself, the mediocrity shouldn’t matter. Mediocrity like this requires safety, time alone, time away from preying eyes. Mediocrity also requires free time in general.

Within the last week I created a new LinkeIn profile. I’ve been told that this is required to be considered a legitimate adult. Even though I didn’t see the benefit, I went along with the advice and I already want to delete it again. What I have always disliked about LinkedIn is that from the first time I created my account in college I felt like I was strip mining my life for relevant experiences and transferrable skills. Everything that I had done out of enjoyment became a selling point for a job. Once I got back on the site, I immediately realized that it’s incredibly deflating for me to be writing a blog post about mediocrity then be reminded how well my friends and former classmates are doing professionally.

But this is my hobby. Why shouldn’t I write a blog post about mediocrity if I’m interested in it? Writing about mediocrity is not the same thing as being mediocre. Then, when I see the careers I could or should have attained it makes me think that my private time would be better off devoted to more school, training, job skills, and applications rather than writing just for the sake of it.

That’s because the more we feel our time is scarce the more we believe that it must be optimized.

In a recent edition of The New York Times Style Magazine, Adam Bradly picked up where Professor Wu left off with his essay, “Good Enough” which online was changed to, “The Privilege of Mediocrity.” He writes that mediocrity is something most available to the privileged because there are more opportunities, there is less scrutiny, and because failure for someone in the majority population won’t be held against everyone else of that race or culture.

He writes, “Mediocrity is…a way station on the journey to excellence, a space for radical experimentation and a momentary respite from the unrelenting tug of ambition. The right to be mediocre is also the right to psychic safety that, paradoxically, produces the conditions for artists to take risks.”

Mediocrity is the safe space that we create for ourselves in order to flourish. The flourishing can look like excellence, but it would be a mistake to assume that excellence had been the goal. Instead, it could be seen as a biproduct of someone who took back the freedom to enjoy the pursuit something and the time and space to do it. There isn’t always a “goal” when you’re lost in something. And the end product is usually not where anyone could have predicted at the start.

Mediocrity also doesn’t imply a lack of effort. It’s usually more difficult when you first start working on something, doing it somewhat poorly, than it is later on when you’ve mastered it. And those early days are when you need the privacy and safety the most. What is also true is that mediocrity (average) for one person can look like genius to another. Mediocrity is more about the attitude of experimentation.

This flower arrangement is, in many ways, excellent, but it is made up of elements that might be considered mediocre. It is the product of someone taking the time to appreciate native flowers, seed pods, and grasses rather than use material shipped in from elsewhere. These are cast-off plants.

From Bradley’s perspective, the ability to experiment and take risks is not equally available to all of us because of racism. I would add that younger people are also being disproportionately affected. Children are so stressed out and depressed right now. I wonder if they feel that they and their lives are just too devastatingly mediocre compared to the lives they see being lived online. Childhood and adolescence are the epitome of mediocrity. It is the time of life when people should be experimenting and learning the most. It’s the developmental stage when minds are already prone to insecurity and comparison. Social media takes that comparison and makes it inescapable.

I think we need to take the fear of mediocrity seriously. Social media isn’t the only source, but we know that it’s a major one. With the looming Metaverse and steady growth of online life in general, I’m sure we will have plenty to talk about in the years ahead.

Garlic

Last year, my younger sister came and stayed with us to help watch our toddler while daycare was closed. She also gardened a lot. At one point while she was here she planted garlic, just the regular kind from the store. It came up quickly and grew all winter long until I pulled it out looking like this:

After harvesting it, I dried it in the basement over the summer. I am not sure this is the right way to do it, but I finally brought it up today to take a look.

I’m pleased to say it all looks and smells like garlic! I appreciate how magical growing food still feels.

I’ll probably plant half of this in the next few days, roast the garlic scapes in spring, hopefully harvest the rest when it’s ready, then do it all over again. It makes me think about whenever it was that garlic was first spreading as a food. One person harvesting a head of garlic and planting it all that fall. Then, with several heads of garlic the next year, sharing a clove with close friends and family so they could start a crop of their own.

NIMBY petition in the Fan backfires

I have to share this for reference before it gets lost in the ether. It’s not a personal attack on the OP, it’s a neighborhood defending itself and what makes it great. Now I just need to go charge my phone …

Back to the office

I did something yesterday that I haven’t done in over a year: I washed the ceramic bowl that I keep in my office for lunch. I used the hand soap in the bathroom and I dried it with paper towels from the dispenser while florescent lights buzzed overhead. It felt familiar, bizarre, and kind of depressing at the same time.

I’ve been coming into the office one day a week for over a month, but I am only just now settling into it. The clothes, the routine, the drive, the lunch, the snacks. I have a list of things to buy that, in addition to dish soap, include Band-Aids and a new phone charging cord for the car and my desk. I already have a few other items that I brought with me from my last job including a mug, water glasses, a bottle, Dayquil, fingernail clippers, a razor (for emergencies), and two slightly-embarrassing, inspirational books I bought during a particularly difficult time.

But this bowl has really got me thinking. As soon as I started washing it I had a really vivid flashback to a meal over four years ago. It involved “forbidden rice” I had purchased at Tan A Supermarket in Richmond. It looked beautiful, but it tasted disgusting. Had it been artificially dyed to look black? Did I mess up the seasoning? I remembered it so vividly almost like the object had woken up to tell me it was also still traumatized by that lunch as well.

The significance of this bowl goes one level further. I bought it during what was basically my first real/hard job. Several months in, I realized that I would be spending a significant portion of my life at this place including long days, some late nights, and weekends. I decided to make my life there as comfortable as possible. I would drive to the nearby Walmart on my lunch break or after work and just walk the isles looking for things to make me happy or more effective at work. I decided I was tired of eating lunch with disposable products so I purchased this ceramic bowl, two water glasses, a fork and two spoons. I also bought a Brita filter and the dish drying pad we still use at home today. I was basically just trying to take care of myself and my needs while being true to my values. This ceramic bowl, compared to the stack of paper plates I’d been using, was a good improvement.

At this point in time, I’m gradually remembering what it is like to go in to the office regularly. The work for me is exactly the same, but the location, environment and my appearance all have to change. Even though I can’t stand the buzzing lights and the theater of it all, I am also remembering how nice it is to have a psychological work/home disconnection. I’m settling in to this familiar, but new (and probably also temporary) normal.

Fall forage

I admire perennial, wild gardens that have been cultivated to bloom throughout the growing season. When I see most of my perennials have gone to seed, I especially notice examples of flowers that that are still or for the first time in full, glorious bloom. I don’t have the time or energy to add anything to my garden right now, but I hope to eventually bring in the first and third on the list. I know it isn’t going to save us from climate change and mass extinction, but it is still so encouraging and sweet to see bumblebees floating from flower to flower this late into the fall.

Canada goldenrod, Tall Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) – this flower has been planted as a companion to fruit trees in the Fonticello Food Forest near my house. I am a little worried that the goldenrod is actually crowding out the trees at this point, but I don’t care because it is incredible on its own and appears to be attracting all kinds of insects.

Panicled aster, Lance-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) – also at the food forest, I noticed this aster completely buzzing with activity. They have it planted in a wet, low lying area of the property and it has thrived. When I got home, I was kind of thrilled to realize that I had two clumps of it growing in my garden also (last picture), a surprise gift from the native wildflower mix that I spread in 2020.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) – I was at the Barboursville Vineyard last week for a wedding and noticed for the first time the Allegrante Meadow just below the tasting patio. Its acres of flowers had clearly faded from their peak summer color, but the blue mistflower was thriving. It’s color pops brilliantly against the browns and blacks of fall.

Sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) – Another gift from a seed mix in the past, Sulfur cosmos have started to take over a corner of the garden. This summer I saw one bloom and go to seed. Then I saw several more. Now there are dozens of these flowers adding a really nice pop of orange. It does scare me a little how prolific this flower seems to be so I may add in some other flowers that will start to compete for space. Or just let the cosmos completely take over and be happy about it.

Update (10/25): yesterday I walked by a lovely mound of Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), probably ‘Raydon’s Favorite,’ and realized it needed to be on this list. It was already somewhere in my garden plans, but seeing this example in person was an extra dose of motivation to include this plant some day.

Arcosanti

One night in the spring of 2018, a friend of a friend told me about a place called Arcosanti. Her husband at the time was an architect and they had visited a few years before. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but I may have told her that I love visiting interesting places that are trying to do something completely new. I’m not surprised the conversation landed us in the desert of Arizona.

American migration being what it is, my grandparents moved to Northern Arizona years ago and I got the chance to visit Arcosanti not long after this conversation. It’s right off the highway so I stopped with Nina and my brother on the way to the airport in Phoenix.

My experience of the visit was overall positive and inspiring. Arcosanti is a place completely of its own invention. It is a monolithic, Tatooine-like, concrete village on a ridge overlooking a valley just minutes off the highway. The walls of the room where we ate are enormous, with massive round circular windows and expansive high ceilings to provide space for hot air to rise. The photo below is from the patio off of that room.

The closest thing I can compare the buildings to is the Bangladeshi National Parliament House by Louis Khan. Construction on that complex began just nine years earlier in 1961. As the photos below show, they are both monolithic Brutalist structures, but unlike other brutalist buildings they also have these large round windows that give the structures a lightness. Rather than looking like fortresses, they open to the outside world, draw eyes upward like temples, and let in diffused light while protecting from harsh, hot climates.

Wikipedia image of the Arcosanti cafe
Wikipedia image of the much larger Bangladesh National Parliament House

When we walked in, we stopped by the bookstore first. It was full of books and booklets written by Soleri to promote his vision of the city in the future. His main theory is called “arcology,” merging architecture and ecology to create cities with minimal impact, in close proximity to nature, and in a style that mimics and compliments nature.

I bought one of the recent editions of his Quaderno series titled Lean Linear Arterial City. I’ve added some photos below. When I bought the book, the guys behind the counter joked that the place was started by some Italian guy who planted friendship trees everywhere to make it look like Tuscany, but they have to be watered every day because they aren’t native to the desert. I think that’s a good analogy for most of Soleri’s ideas and maybe Soleri himself. He had the vision, but it would require daily work by other people to make the dreams a reality. He was also unrealistic and in the context of reality some of his dreams seem to contradict.

I love the drawings and the ideas in Lean Linear Arterial City. I love the idea that cities in flood-prone areas could be built on ridges in order to protect inhabitants as well as the areas inland. I also really appreciate the idea of a city that is self-sustaining, energy-producing, efficient, and beautiful. My main critique of this particular idea is that in order for cities to really be resilient I think they need to be more modular. When one structure in a traditional city gets too old for repair, it can be replaced. But if the entire city, miles of steel and concrete, reaches obsolescence, it would disrupt an entire society. I might compare this to The Loop at Apple Headquarters, a building that many have said cannot be split up or retrofitted for many purposes after its current use. For the city below to be constructed and inhabited, there would also need to be a mass relocation of people and abandoning of existing cities. That feels like a waste compared to retrofitting existing cities. But it’s true that eventually we may need to give up on some of our cities. At that point, we will have wished we had started construction on this lean linear city decades earlier.

That is precisely what Saudia Arabia appears to be planning to do with The Line. The comparisons are striking: a linear city built out of nothing, an idealistic vision of the future, powered by clean energy, connected by a sub-structure of futuristic mass transit. Who will live there? What will they do for work? Will there be poverty? Where will the dead be buried? Many questions may go unanswered as they develop The Line. But obviously the city of the future doesn’t have to be a line. In the nearby UAE, a much smaller development called Masdar City is already thirteen years old. Just outside Abu Dhabi. Masdar City is planned in a more traditional grid layout with similar goals of sustainability, innovation, and car-free lifestyle. Unlike The Line, Masdar City is more modular so construction has started and various aspects of the project have been completed while others are still being planned. Even with the seemingly bottomless finances of these oil rich nations, incremental growth still seems like the most realistic approach between these two competing visions of the future.

One thing that sets Arcosanti apart is that it wasn’t commissioned by a nation, aristocrat or corporation. It was the vision of one person, Paolo Soleri. Like many male visionary/architect types, Soleri seems to have had a lot of self-confidence. He doesn’t tether his theories to reality in the sense that most of them were never accomplished. You realize pretty quickly that Arcosanti is just a fraction of what he intended it to be. The writings he left behind are the legacy to another generation that he hoped might carry the torch.

These two developments appear to do just that. They are driven by grand visions and they have received all kinds of criticism, especially The Line. And, as with Arcosanti, even if they don’t accomplish everything, I am excited to see what is left and I hope that it survives in some way. We can’t go on in the way we always have, we must try new things, and it takes visionaries with deep pockets to actually give it a shot. Even if only 10% of the vision becomes reality, it will still push us to reevaluate our lives and our cities they way they are.

Making Limoncello

I’ve made limoncello three times that I can remember. The first time was with my mom when I was on break in college. We had gone to Italy for a week and tried some for the first time at a restaurant then a homemade batch at a friend’s house in Milan. That sounds a little more glamorous than it was, but it was very fun and memorable. My recipe is based on whatever I found online, but I’ve also tried variations. I wrote them down on a piece of paper with field notes so it looks authentic. I make traditional limoncello and a ginger, turmeric limoncello that packs a punch.

Since I live in Virginia, this limoncello journey started with my brother bringing a bottle of Everclear from North Carolina back in April. Step two, put the Everclear on a shelf for four months and think about how you are planning to make limoncello. Zesting the lemons into the Everclear is satisfying; the smell is incredible. The ginger and turmeric are chopped finely. I’m told these ingredients should be organic especially because of the infusion process.

After the Everclear has infused for a month, strain through a sieve. I think it’s cool that the lemon zest is white because the flavor and color have all drained away.

To avoid any sediment (a mistake I’ve made before) do another filter through a t-shirt placed on the sieve. In a former job, I wore undershirts every day. Now, I never wear them so I have a pile to use for stuff like this. They are washed I promise 🙂

The final step is just to mix the infused Everclear with simple syrup in a 1:1 ratio. I used to try and pour the ingredients to mix them but I ended up spilling way too much. I also used to mix the two ingredients into a third bowl before bottling, but that step is unnecessary. This time I used cup measures, going back and forth, pouring straight into the bottles, and it worked really well. Put back on the shelf for another couple of weeks to mellow then store in the freezer.

One time my older brother was visiting and had a terrible stomach ache. The only thing that made it feel better was homemade limoncello.

From left to right, leftover simple syrup, four small bottles of the ginger turmeric limoncello and three large bottles of the traditional limoncello. The one on the far right is a belated birthday present for my mother-in-law by special request.

Benissimo 👌🏼

First the location, then the vendor

The City of Richmond might soon have a casino. Unlike other localities in Virginia, Richmond took more time for input and competition. I generally think it was a good-faith effort, but one aspect of the process seems flawed in retrospect. Six proposals were submitted by different vendors for casinos and entertainment venues connected to different sections of the city. For example, one piece of property was near a fairly dense urban node, another on a forest/wetland in a suburban area south of the river, and a third on a brownfield near I-95.

To me, the vote between the different proposals was more a vote on land use than a real good faith comparison of the different vendor proposals. This to me seems like bad land use policy. We shouldn’t find a use (casino!) and try and plug it in somewhere. We should look at our land as a limited resource connected to infrastructure and communities and decide what it’s highest use with minimal negative impact could be. Then, developers can maximize that pre-determined potential. That should have been the first step of the process: vote on the parcel of land. Regarding the final decision, I’m pleased that it ended up being on the brownfield near I-95, but I don’t care about the vendor at all.

The real problem with this process is that it discouraged competition. It should have been realized ahead of time that neighborhoods might oppose the idea of a casino. We could have guessed that it would end up where it did. But all the other vendors lost their opportunity to have a fair chance, and we lost our opportunity to possibly have the best final outcome, because we were voting on land use and the casino was an afterthought.

Reading through “Time of our Lives”

A couple of weeks ago I finished the essay, “Time of our Lives,” by Mark Harris. The online version is titled, “A Cautionary Tale for the New Roaring Twenties,” probably because that title seemed more clickable. It’s rare that an essay can entertain me in the way that this one does, with sentences that take you much further than you could have expected, with a twist, a play or words, or sarcasm that actually works. The essay is about the poem, “The Wild Party,” written by Joseph Moncure March. The general sense of the poem appears (especially in hindsight) to expose the rotten core of a culture that seemed to only live for pleasure written at the end of the 20s just before the inevitable, harrowing morning after. Included with the essay online is a reading of the poem. At over an hour, I’m ashamed but not surprised that I tapped out a quarter of the way in. But not before the poem, like the essay, managed to make me smile. As an appreciation, some quotes from the essay below.

“There are few things more glamorous than the belief that we are living through the end of an era — and there are even fewer times in recent history when we haven’t believed it.”

“The Wild Party,” Joseph Moncure March’s book-length 1928 narrative poem about the end of an era — the end of a long, louche, bacchanalian night of bodies twining together in lust and in violence; and the end of a life — is drama in it’s coolest, coldest form.”

“In just one eight-word run:

Eyes flashed,
Glistened:
Everyone talked:
Few listened.
Crash!

March seems to summarize with uncanny precision the entire year that followed his poem’s publication.”

“‘Kindred’ may have been wishful thinking; March’s voice in ‘The Wild Party’ is that of a well-bred young man with a reporter’s eye who stood slightly off to one side with sardonic sang-froid, filing away all the excess he saw for later use.”

“March and his contemporaries were aware of the dazzling-party-being-upended-by-brutal-reality trope as narrative — the narrative of their parents and grandparents, who still mourned the demise of the Bell Époque, the age of sophisticated, elegant European culture spreading its bejeweled wings across the globe before the war ruined everything.”

“Willed optimism can be a powerful thing; the song ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ made its debut one month after the crash of ’29.”

“It would be a mistake to sentimentalize the Roaring Twenties as a time when all classes, ages, and races could converge and mingle if the party was right; it was more a moment when white cultural tourism became easier and more available than it had been.”

“As vivid and evocative as March’s language is, he is less interested in animating his characters than in showing them to us under glass. ‘The Wild Party’ is an autopsy performed under a flickering light by a wisecracking coroner. Perhaps its characters can’t be embodied, only witnessed.”

“As I write this, things are getting worse, or is it better, or is it just different, in New York and across the country. With every new whim of the .001 percent (Tired of the protocols? Consider flying into space on your own rocket ship!) the nightmarish economic inequities of our age are characterized anew with a misuse of the phrase ‘late capitalism,’ as if capitalism were reaching it’s long-scheduled death throws right on time and would then politely disappear.”

“It also doesn’t matter what March knew. His poem knew. And it still reads as a dangerous time-capsule bulletin — something that emerged from a melting ice cap yesterday, or perhaps tomorrow, and bobbed into the sea, waiting to see if, once its bleak tidings reach our shores, we will pay attention.”

A walk around my early fall garden

Just some photos and thoughts to remember early fall, 2021. The first winter we lived in our house, I terraced and seeded the side of our yard to create a wild edge. I have received so much joy from the plants that have come up now two years in a row in this section of the yard. I keep filling in gaps, but the bulk of color and life come from the seeds planted on turned soil a year and a half ago.

New England Aster has taken the place of first coreopsis then coneflower in the wild edge. Bumble bees and other insects have enjoyed this late summer bounty.

Russian Sage that struggled this summer, but I hope will thrive in the fall and come back with full strength in the spring.

I filled half a “supercan” with weeds from this dog run a week or two ago. I let it go to seed last year and paid the price. I plan to put down cardboard and mulch to turn this into a walking path around the side and down the hill to the back of the yard.

I have already seen one small, extremely fast bird feeding on these spent purple Echinacea/coneflower seed heads. I’ll leave all of this up through early spring.

Agastache has been a fun, repeat blooming, addition and now is home to a Yellow Garden Spider, building the perfect place to lay her eggs. I remember when I was six or seven we had a “zig zag” spider web like this outside the window of the kitchen of the house where I grew up and I have loved them ever since.

On a recent visit to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens I saw large sections of chives blooming and it encouraged me because I thought I had just been lazy not harvesting the herb. I plan to add more of these for next year.

The blue basil in the front of the house was inspired my dad’s pollinator garden. It has been a summer-long source of entertainment for me as a steady parade of wasps, bumblebees, and honey bees have spent hours floating from one flower to the next.

Another garden spider in between the sedum Autumn Joy. It’s devastating that the second search result for Orb-weaver spiders is a page on the Orkin website. Why anyone would fear, hate, and kill this insect is truly beyond me.

My mother has connected with her birth families over the past several years and we learned that her birth father’s last name was Fothergill. This plant is Fothergillia Gardenii (dwarf Witch Alder) and I feel like I have a special connection because of my new-found heritage. This one is looking great, filling out and nice and green, but the next one is not doing well, possibly struggling because I planted it in partial sun instead of full sun (it’s on the transplant list).

I can’t wait to see these Rosemary bloom in the spring. They were both maybe 5″ x 5″ x 12″ when I planted them in early 2020.

Achillea/yarrow that has naturalized well and continues to bloom.

This third bloom of the Verbascum (wedding candles) is not as glorious as the first and not nearly as much of a bee magnet, but still gives me joy and nice visual interest.

Liriope in full bloom has been making this circle pop for the last few weeks. The purple Irises in the middle are divided originally from my mom’s childhood home in Dallas. They were transplanted to California by her step mom, then again to Arizona, back to Texas, and finally flew on a plane to Richmond. It is a constant battle cutting back the suckers on the Crape Myrtle in the middle, but I finally feel like I have it in a good place. It shows off the evergreen shape of the Iris which is also a nice backdrop for the Liriope.

The newest flower bed has thrived for the most part. Roses and Hidcote lavender in bloom along the fieldstone path and near the peonies that I hope to see more from next year.

An impulse buy near the cleaning supplies section of Lowe’s, I have really enjoyed watching these Elephant Ear stretch out and claim their piece of territory.

I had dozens of volunteer tomato plants sprout this year to affirm me in my lazy composting methods. Here is one I left to grow along the ground. Newsflash, you don’t have to trellis your tomatoes! I watched a YouTube video once of an Italian family harvesting piles of tomatoes from their yard, none of them were staked. Of course there are benefits to staking, but this is a reminder to me to relax. Here are three perfectly good tomatoes grown near the ground near some faded Anise Hyssop.

Volunteer tomatoes on a trellis between two trees.

I had some extra sprouts so I tried out some different sections of the yard for tomatoes and will definitely be doing more up the deck next year.

Late summer bounty:

I believe this is a Praying Mantis egg case on this fig tree containing dozens or hundreds of eggs that will turn into those amazing predators of the garden.

Insects tucking themselves and their babies in for bed all over the place.

Parsley ravaged by Yellow Swallowtail caterpillars that I watched over the past week. I haven’t seen a crysalys yet, but hope to see the butterflies when they emerge.

Something, I think underground, is destroying what was for months a beautiful white-blooming salvia. I’m depressed about it, but will probably post this picture on a local NextDoor gardening group and see if anyone has suggestions.

When I planted this butterfly bush it was tiny, maybe two feet tall. It grew all winter long with shiny green leaves and bloomed for most of the summer until the main trunk wilted. I cut it and pulled the side trunk to the middle, but as you can see below, it is also dying. I think I have root rot and will have to remove the entire plant, but for now I’m leaving the branches that are still alive to bloom while I cut out the dead.

I don’t know what this is. It’s beautiful, but also invasive? TBD …