Monday, March 31, 2008

Subtle Signs of Spring

I was outside in the drizzle yesterday looking for signs of spring. We've had a few mild days, and that's all it took to jump start this errant spring:

There are maples budding,

Daffodils poking out of the soil,


Siberian Iris (maybe they'll finally bloom this year?)


and daylilies!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Memorable Water Features

Next month the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago's west side turns 100 years old. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960's, the conservatory was a popular spot for grade-school field trips.

Oddly enough, the thing I remember most was how few restrooms there were and how long my class stood in line waiting. When a kid's gotta go, she's gotta go, and apparently that trumps beautiful flowers and mini-rain forests, at least in this former kid's memory. Several decades later, other water features seemed much more memorable.

One of several water features in the conservatory.

And another.

Another view.

The Persian Pool, a lagoon in the Aroid House. The yellow lily pads were created for the conservatory's Aroid House by world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly.

I had a delightful day with Middle Child last Sunday. I'm grateful for her indulgence during the conservatory leg of our trip, as I took oodles of photos, some I'll share in future posts. I'm glad to say that during this trip to the conservatory, the restroom, home to some necessary but much less interesting water features, was not the most memorable part of my visit.

Friday, March 28, 2008

F U N E Gloves? S, V F Gloves!

Crafty Gardener
issued a challenge to dig out our gardening gloves and take a picture of them. She wants to know if we wear them. And she wants to know how many gloves a gardener really needs. Will these do Crafty? And yes, I do wear them. I would have added the impact-resistant gloves I use for the electric hedge trimmers, but I couldn't find them. And I could have missed another odd pair or two. And I didn't check the trunk of my car, where there are still some vestiges of gardening garb, tools, and probably a pair of gloves or two from last summer.

How many gloves does a gardener need? I can't have enough. Some are warmer, some are cooler, some are waterproof, some are leather and great for prickly things. The impact-resistant gloves really help. When I use the electric hedge trimmers, my hands don't hurt, and aren't still vibrating when I'm finished trimming. We have a lot of hedges here, and DH likes them nicely pruned, so I help him with that. I sure hope I can find those gloves. . .

I never used to wear gloves at all until I met DH. And then there was that little incident when the electric hedge trimmers tried to eat one of my middle fingers. . . but we won't talk about that.

Two Days, a Crew, and a Bulldozer

This is a slice of the (very private) north side of our back yard. Notice how nice and private it is? Our neighbor's shed is on the right. Notice how the shed, shrubs, weeping branches, and massive trunk of our neighbor's decades-old enormous willow combine to create an almost-solid wall of privacy?? Notice the view behind and between the two pines and the cool, deep shade. And oh, did I mention the privacy???

We knew for years it would come to this. The willow had been hit by lightning. Last summer I knew it was coming down soon when I saw how extensively the trunk had rotted and how rapidly it had deteriorated since the year before. I was afraid it would come down on our pines. I'm grateful it didn't. While we were sleeping one cold, windy January night, the proverbial tree fell in the forest. We didn't hear it. Did it make a sound?

This is all that's left of the willow. There's nothing left of our neighbor's lawn. The heavy equipment and the crew turned a lawn into a mud pit in two days. This tree was so massive, although it was already down on the ground, it took two days, a crew, and a bulldozer to remove it. I shudder when I think of the expense. I shudder more when I think of the loss of privacy.

Once upon a time we had a cool, green wall of trees, shrubs, and deep shade across the back of our property. Our back yard used to be our own private little oasis. We live out here in summer (Cicada summers excepted.)

When it fell, the willow took out everything in it's path, including another tree, a couple of mature shrubs, and our privacy. Although these pictures were taken in different seasons, it's plain to see the loss of privacy. I knew the tree coming down was imminent. I'm so grateful our neighbor's willow came down in their yard instead of into ours, sparing our three pines.

I didn't count on it taking the shrubs and our backyard privacy with it. It's time to wrap up the research and go shrub shopping. Maybe even today if I can talk myself into braving our lovely, frigid spring weather and fresh snow cover.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's. . . GEORGE!


George is our 7-year-old, 80-pound lab mix puppy. He's been visiting relatives for the past four months. Youngest Child has been 'borrowing' him. George grew up with her, and they miss each other. So he went for a long visit. I've missed him!

The last time I saw him, I cried when it was time to go.

It's ok Mom! Don't cry. I'm back now.

Let's play stick!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Grandpa's Contraption-Part 2

Now, a contraption is usually something no one has ever seen anything quite like before. It is usually, but not always, something you can't buy ready made. If you could buy something, it would be either way to expensive or wouldn't work quite the way you wanted it to work. It is created for some special use, a figment of imagination made material, a dream made real. Grandpa was wonderful at drawing. From the tip of his pencil flowed drawings of parts that somehow might fit together into some useful contraption. He could see the finished item in his mind, along with exactly how to get it put together.

Between 1909 and 1916, a very small automobile manufacturing company operated out of Detroit, Michigan. Kenneth Crittendon designed a car and provided financial backing for the company to manufacture it. The car was named the KRIT. It was a small, four cylinder car and its symbol was a white swastika on a blue background, (not related to the red swastika used by Germany). The accompanying photograph is of a KRIT car.

At some time Grandpa acquired one of these cars. He drove it as a family car for a number of years. At some time, probably in the late '20s or early '30s his oldest son, my Uncle Mike, inherited it. Uncle Mike thought it was a little too stodgy for a young man about town, so he made some modifications to it. After Uncle Mike stopped driving it, the KRIT wound up on the farm, housed in a large equipment barn with the tractors. It wasn't used for transportation any longer and the body was beginning to rust from disuse. Now, if there is anything anathema to a frugal person it is something that isn't being used. So, Grandpa got out his pencil and sketch paper and went to work. He dreamed and he sketched, and he dreamed some more and he sketched some more.

One day he called Grandma. "Dora, I think I have an idea for a contraption for the garden. What do you think of this?" And he showed her his sketches. Shortly afterward he got out his pipe, put it unlit into his mouth, and went out to the equipment barn. He hauled pieces of this and that to the machine shop, and then he closed the door. Grinding, banging, and pounding noises, interspersed with intervals of silence, came from inside the shop.

Later, he got my Uncle and together they brought out the old KRIT and got it down to the shop. Periodically, Grandpa would appear outside. He would have a drawing in one hand, and he'd look from the paper to that old car as if he was sizing things up. Then he would disappear inside and more banging and grinding ensued. This went on for several weeks, as he had time between other chores.

One day, at the end of summer, he told Grandma and all the children to go into the house and not come out, nor to look out the windows until he called them. Soon they heard the putt-putt of an engine coming up the road from the machine shop. In a bit they heard Grandpa call out, "O.K., come and see!"

There, in the middle of the remains of the summer garden, was Grandpa proudly seated on his latest contraption - the dandiest garden tractor anyone in the family had ever seen.

A new frame surrounded the body of what used to be the old KRIT car. There was only one front wheel, which he had scavenged from an old tractor.He had fastened a fuel tank to the back. Underneath the tractor was bolted a set of cultivating tines. Grandpa had added a tractor seat with levers for raising and lowering the tines, and a hitch on back for hooking up a cart or other equipment. He had replaced the floor board with a metal foot rest, and made the foot controls larger for booted feet to manage.

That fall the garden was duly manured and plowed. In the spring, Uncle Mike tilled the garden.
Through the next spring and summer, Grandma and her daughters planted, weeded, dusted for bugs, and picked the produce.The cycle of growing, harvesting and putting up began anew.

In the 1940s, as a little girl, I spent some summers on the farm. Grandpa's contraption was still running. He had replaced some parts as they wore out, but the last time I saw it, it looked much the same as it does in this photo. Grandpa passed away in 1952, but the stories of his contraptions, and especially of that old KRIT car that he transformed into a garden tractor, are still repeated in our family.

Spring Arrives in Chicago!

. . . Well, in the the conservatories it has, anyway! Yesterday Middle Child and I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory. We had a wonderful day together. This shot is from the Show House, where azaleas, stock, daffodils, and hydrangeas were blossoming profusely. The scent in the conservatory was thick, sweet, and delightful.

Tune in later this morning, when my mom will be guest-blogging with part two of Grandpa's Contraption, the true story of my Great-Grandfather's amazing home made garden contraption!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Changed My Mind. . .

First I want to say Happy Easter to everyone. I have a fun Easter planned: going to the north side of Chicago to hang with Middle Child. We'll go to Garfield Park Conservatory, and eat and window shop in Andersonville, camera in tow. Our Easter weather's not looking that great - high 38 degrees, 40% chance of snow showers, but I don't care, we're gonna have big fun. We always do. She's the middle child after all. . .

What are your Easter plans?

I hope it's not too late. . . I changed my mind. . .

Melanie at Old Country Gardens tagged me a couple of days ago. I played yesterday but didn't tag anyone else. I didn't want to be a bother. But then I was thinking about it. I didn't feel bothered, and it was fun. I met new bloggers, that was cool. And I changed my mind. It's my prerogative, right? So I'm bothering.

Here's how it works: I post ten weird or random facts about me that most people don't know. (I did that yesterday.) Then at the end I tag five more bloggers and state why I tagged them. Since I'm doing the tagging this time, I'm adding this caveat: Whomever I tag gets to decide if they want to play, whether or not to tag more bloggers, and if they do, they can be flexible in how many bloggers they tag. (Can you tell I'm not big on 'rules?')

Here's who I'm tagging and why:

Esther in the Garden I love Esther's blog - just came across it a few days ago, and had to go back and read every post. (Lucky for me Esther in the Garden is a new blog, so that didn't take too awfully long.) I'm sure I don't 'get it' all the time. I find I attach my own meanings to her posts, as I too am married to a Martian. (Never you mind that I come from a different planet too.) I love Esther's blog, from the continuing story to the excellent writing, the humor, the characters, her garden, her creativity, and her beautiful artwork. And I'm dying to see her ten weird or random facts.

The Life of the Garden Kimberley at The Life of the Garden is a new gardener as well as a new garden blogger. I love the excitement and enthusiasm of new gardeners. Kimberley will be transplanting her home-grown seedlings into her community garden plot later this spring. She and I seem to have a lot in common. I'm curious to see what her ten will be.

New Sprout Priscilla at New Sprout shows how even an apartment dweller can be a gardener. Priscilla is in college, going for her Associates degree in Landscape and Horticulture. She gardens on her balcony. I enjoy reading about her love of plants and nature. I like her photography too.

Lady Greenthumb's Garden A new garden blogger, Viooltje gardens in Croatia, a place I don't know much about. I feel like a visit to her blog is cultural geography lesson and a guided tour. Her country is beautiful. I love reading her blog and looking at her photos.

Heimdal Marie is a new garden blogger too. She lives with her husband on their farm in Norway, another beautiful country. She translates part of her blog into English, but I would visit even if she didn't, just for her beautiful photos. I love visiting international gardens.

Tag ladies, you're it! I hope you'll play. It was funner than I thought it'd be. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Turn!

Melanie at Old Country Gardens has tagged me. The last time I played tag I was in grade school! Here's how it works. I post 10 weird or random facts about me that most people don't know. Then at the end I tag 5 more bloggers and state why I tagged them. (I'll play without tagging - hope that doesn't make me a poor sport!)

1. I'm left-handed. On the last day of kindergarten, the teacher told my mom to make me learn to write with my right hand before she brought me back to school for first grade. (Mom wisely didn't take her advice.) The only thing I do right-handed is cut, because they didn't have left-handed scissors in school. I even cut right-handed with a knife.

2. Two of my three daughters were born at home (on purpose.)

3. I'm a grandma. (Most people don't believe it when they see me.)

4. I have a 7-year old black lab mix named George who is currently visiting relatives. I'm missing him more and more, especially after that little incident involving the police a few weeks ago. . . but I still don't miss the dog hair on my floors. He sheds a lot. I mean, a LOT.

5. My great-grandfather was a singer in the NY Metropolitan Opera chorus.

6. My great-uncle was a Broadway actor. (he also did movies, commercials, off-Broadway, and industrial films.)

7. My family has a town named after us.

8. My middle daughter's first 'boyfriend' in preschool was the son of my on-again, off-again jr high and high school sweetheart. I knew about her little crush, but didn't realize whose kid he was until the last day of preschool. (And man, did that little boy look like his dad.)

9. I'm afraid of heights. Very. Especially bridges over water. Don't ask me to drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge! Never again. Ever. I don't know why I'm scared of heights, I just am.

10. I often feel I was born in the wrong century, or at least in the wrong decade. I feel that way less as I get older and it sinks in that if I'd been born when I think I should have been. . . . I'd be dead by now. and I'm glad I'm not. So I guess I was born at the right time.

Melanie, this was fun! Thank you for the nice things you said when you tagged me.

Tune in Monday morning everyone, for the rest of the story of Grandpa's contraption!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Grandpa's Contraption

I come from a long line of "Contraption Makers". In fact, one of the most enjoyable and satisfying activities my Gardening Buddy and I engage in is contraption inventing and building. As we stand back and admire our work, we congratulate each other on our ability to make something useful from bits and pieces of this and that. Sometimes we buy bits and pieces. Mostly though, we look around for the odd pieces of wood cut from some other project, a bit of fencing wire, or some leftover piece of conduit.

My Grandfather was a maker of contraptions. Born in the late 1800s, he originally had a career as a pharmacist. Later, he became a Lincoln motor car dealer. But then, fate intervened. My Grandmother inherited a quarter section of farm land when her parents died. Her brother, my Uncle Charlie, inherited the adjoining quarter section.

Grandpa called a family council, including his five children, and spoke about what it would mean for them to leave the city and move to the farm Grandma had inherited. The family conferred on what work would be needed, who might take on what responsibilities, how life would change from living in a city brick home, to a small, frame house in the country.
The family voted to move. They would raise cows, pigs, poultry, corn, milo...and have a garden. These activities would have to feed the family and provide income. Each of the children, of whom Mom was the third oldest at age 14, would have tasks. The boys would tend the larger animals and do the field work, the girls would take care of the poultry and the garden. To help with income, the girls would sell eggs, poultry and butter. With their plans laid, they moved to their farm in 1923.

The photo to the left is Mom with part of the flock of poultry. There were ducks and geese. and chickens of several breeds, such as Barred Rocks, White Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds.

My Mom liked the Reds the best. She had several pets from among the Reds.

In this picture she was about 15 or 16 years old. She was always very tiny for her age. When she was full grown, she was all of 4 feet 9 inches tall.

A quarter section of land is 160 acres. In addition to fields and pastures, there would be a garden. It would have to be large enough to feed a family of seven during the season, and yield enough produce to put up for the rest of the year. Equipment - tractor, cultivator, planter, harvester - would be needed for plowing, planting and harvesting in the fields. Grandpa and Uncle Charlie decided that they could share larger equipment and help each other with field work. But a garden of the size needed would be very hard for my Grandma and her three daughters to handle alone. The hardest work would be turning under the manure and garden waste in the fall, and loosening the soil in the spring.

When you turned off the main road onto my Grandparent's farm road, you went over a wooden bridge that crossed "The Branch", a creek that ran into a small, local river. On the right side of the road, past the bridge, was Grandpa's machine shop. I still recall the smells of oil, gas, and metal inside. Next to the machine shop was the windmill. In addition to the tools inside the machine shop, there was a bank of batteries. The windmill charged the batteries, which provided electricity before the county came through with power lines.

The machine shop was a magical place. I was never allowed inside without Grandpa or one of my Uncles. Most of the equipment Grandpa had was purchased used. Tractors needed repairs, parts needed welding - something was always needing maintenance and fixing up. Out of Grandpa's shop also came "contraptions".

To be continued...

Just Another Beautiful Spring Morning. . .

Our yard monkeys love the bark on our two cedars. This one looks like he's stocking up for winter.

Can you blame him?

Stay tuned. . . later this morning my mom will be guest-blogging here with part I of the story of my great-grandpa's garden contraption!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Winter Storm Watch

Would someone please tell Mother Nature it's officially spring? Snow is supposed to start tonight and keep going through tommorrow. 4-8 inches predicted. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MORE SNOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!

Meems, can I come live with you? Please? Pretty Please?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Preserving Family History

This is my grandma and me on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday in 1997. Before the age of the internet, we were a letter-writing family. In the picture, I'm reading Grandma a letter I'd written her in honor of her birthday.

Grandma loved to tell stories. Most of her stories revolved around her daily life and history. Grandma's stories were very much part of the magic of my childhood. During the summer, Mom, Dad, my four siblings and I would often pile into our Ford sedan to travel over the river, through the woods, and up and down the steep, rutted dirt country roads to Grandma's house.

Grandma lived with Grandpa on their 40-acre farm in the Missouri Ozarks. As a little girl, I was in awe of her. She was a mythical, magical, mysterious character in my life, and I could never get enough of her company. She told me magical, fantastical, memorable stories of our ancestors and of her childhood. As an adult, I've come to realize Grandma's stories were really of everyday, ordinary farm life. It wasn't the facts of the stories that made them magical. It was the way she told them.

Grandma had passion and enthusiasm for life that's hard to explain. If she'd ever lost it, by the time she was my Grandma she'd rediscovered the magic of looking at the world through the eyes of a young child. I have some theories about why that may be. One theory has to do with Grandma's diminutive size.

Probably due to a growth-hormone deficiency, Grandma stood 4' 9" at her tallest. I suspect by the time I came along, aging had rendered her an inch or two shorter still. By the time I was a teenager, I was a foot taller than my tiny Grandma. Being so tiny, she got away with being a little girl longer than most, and she never seemed to lose those too-fleeting child-like senses of presence and wonder. I'm grateful to have been a beneficiary of those qualities she had.

One story Grandma told was about a contraption built by my great-grandfather. Grandma told a lot of her stories many times over, but this was one I'd never heard before. The first time she told it to me was only a few years before she passed away. Her stories had always fascinated me. When she told me the story about the contraption, I wondered if it was true. I even found myself wondering about other stories she told. Wrapped up in the daily grind of life, I'd lost touch with my own sense of wonder and found myself impatient with another one of grandma's stories.

Years later we had the sad task of cleaning out Grandma's house after her passing. Preserved along with hundreds of family heirlooms including letters, newspaper clippings, trinkets and jewelry, were hundreds of vintage family photos, some of which document and verify many of Grandma's stories. Some of the photos go back as far as the mid-1800's. Among them was a picture of my great-grandpa and his contraption, which he built to make tending the family's huge vegetable garden a less daunting task.

When we came across the picture, I knew the story of my great-grandfather's contraption was true. I've always wanted to preserve some of Grandma's stories. I was never able to talk her into writing them down while she was still here, although I certainly tried. Before it's forgotten, I've wanted to save some of this rich oral history of family farms, family gardens, and family dreams. These stories and the ones later generations have lived have shaped my values and how I view the world.

From time to time I'll include some of the family stories that sprinkled my childhood with a a sense of the wonder, creativity, resourcefulness, strength, compassion, passion, and love that is my heritage and birthright. I hope you'll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy hearing and sharing them.

Friday my mom, who's also one of my best friends, will be my first guest-blogger! She'll be here to tell the story of Great-Grandpa's contraption.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Weeping For a Willow

This was our neighbor's 40' tall weeping willow. It was struck by lightning 6 or 7 years ago. It's been slowly dying since. The willow came down in the middle of the night during a blizzardy January snow storm.

It was behind three pine trees at the back of our property. and added substantially to our back yard's privacy. Although it's now lying across our neighbors' back lawn, it still screens the view between us. When the willow came down, it took another tree and at least two large shrubs with it - broke the tree's trunk in half and pulled the shrubs right out of the ground with it's own decaying roots. The losses are stark.

Because the willow was on the north side of our yard, the impact on our shade garden is minimal. The garden is protected under its own dense canopy of three mature maples and is sheltered on the west by a mature arborvitae hedge. The lawn on the other hand, will get more afternoon sun. This makes DH happy, since it's not easy growing a lawn in so much shade.

This is the bottom of the trunk. See the roots? There's a web of fibrous roots on the left in this photo, you can see the woody roots sticking out the bottom. This tree 'broke' far underground. There's a crater where a tree once stood.

This was a good spot for a weeping willow. That's become increasingly obvious as it's slowly declined. Each year the ground back there has become wetter as the willow declined.

This was the view of the back of our property between two of our pines. Notice the cool, deep shade and the nearly solid wall of privacy?

Since the willow fell in January, I've been mulling over what to plant to give us back our privacy. This area used to be deep shade, now it will be part sun, and boggy. We need tall shrubs that can handle winter and spring flooding and summer dry periods. I've never had a wet area like this to plant, and am looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. I hope to improve drainage in this problem area with the right selection of shrubs.

My short list includes red twig dogwood, willows, arrowwood viburnum, arborvitaes, and winterberries. We have a hedge of cornelian cherry dogwoods at the northwest corner of our property that puts up with wet feet. We could plant more of them. A weeping willow already thrived there for decades until being hit by lightning, and it improved drainage. Would other willow varieties fare as well? Arborvitaes would give us year-round screening. What conifers can deal with the water? The viburnums sucker, would they be invasive? Which willows are best suited to this boggy spot? Which varieties have the prettiest catkins? What combination of shrubs would provide the best bird food and sanctuary?

These are are the burning questions that boggle my mind. We have decisions to make, shrubs to purchase and plant, and outdoor living to do, so time is of the essence! Any ideas internets? sage wisdom or advice? I'm dying to hear what you think.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Requiem to a Willow

I sat beneath a willow tree,
Where water falls and calls;
While fancies upon fancies solaced me,
Some true, and some were false.

On this first fleeting day of Spring,
For Winter is gone by,
And every bird on every quivering wing
Floats in a sunny sky;

On this first Summer-like soft day,
While sunshine steeps the air,
And every cloud has gat itself away,
And birds sing everywhere.

Have you no purpose in the world
But thus to shadow me
With all your tender drooping twigs unfurled,
O weeping willow tree?

With all your tremulous leaves outspread
Betwixt me and the sun,
While here I loiter on a mossy bed
With half my work undone;

Slow wind sighed through the willow leaves,
The ripple made a moan,
The world drooped murmuring like a thing that grieves;
And then I felt alone.

I rose to go, and felt the chill,
And shivered as I went;
Yet shivering wondered, and I wonder still,
What more that willow meant;

That silvery weeping willow tree
With all leaves shivering,
Which spent one long day overshadowing me
Beside a spring in Spring.

Excerpted from "In the Willow Shade"
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My First Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

How exciting! My first GBBD! This is the only thing blooming at Garden Girl's place on this March 15th. The cyclamen was saved from a yard waste bag this fall during clean-up at a gardening client's house. Something headed for a municipal compost pile is the only thing blooming here today!

See the buds?

Adding this sheaf of wheat probably doesn't count for GBBD. Wheat hasn't really been on my radar much. But the table the wheat is sitting on, well that's made of willow. And willow has been very much on my mind since January. On Monday I'll explain why.

Kudos to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for dreaming up GBBD!

Friday, March 14, 2008


Being new to blog reading and publishing, I had no idea there was a flourishing garden-blogging community on the internet. Soon after starting this blog I looked for other garden blogs, came across a few, started reading and soon started commenting.

Blog writers I'd visited stopped by and visited here. I've been enjoying the unexpected surprise of meeting and getting to know other gardeners through the internet. In the comments on a post here, Mr. McGregor's Daughter suggested I join Blotanical. "Hmm," I thought. "What's Blotanical?" I googled it, checked it out, and joined. Thank you Mr. McGregor's Daughter!

Through blogs whose writers live south of here I've enjoyed watching spring spread slowly north, closer and closer to where I live. I've been inspired by the beautiful gardens, photography, and wealth of experience and knowledge I've found throughout the garden blogging community of Blotanical.

Discovering the wide variety of garden blogs across the USA and throughout the world has been eye-opening. Blotanical's Picks section lists the most recent 200 posts by its members. If I had to pick my favorite part of the site, Picks would it. I've discovered a number of excellent blogs through Picks.

Kudos to Stuart Robinson for dreaming up Blotanical and for all the work he puts into maintaining and growing it.

Now Blotanical is welcoming non-blogging gardeners. If you're a garden blogger (blotanist,) or a non-blogging gardener, and you haven't joined Blotanical, what are you waiting for??? Go on, you know you want to! Head on over to Blotanical, and sign up!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lisa at Greenbow's Book Meme

Since moving in with DH four years ago, I've tucked books into every available corner of this house from the built-in bookcases in the den to our bedroom's walk-in closet. The books I couldn't find places for are in boxes in the basement. Next to my desk there's a small bookcase with. . . you guessed it, more books. I have a collection of vintage and antique books I use as accessories in a few strategic spots just because they're so darned beautiful and interesting. And yes, in case you're wondering, they're not just pretty. . . I have actually read all of them. (The little gift in the left corner of the chest is something I picked up for my daughter and son-in-law to celebrate their pregnancy announcement!)

My desk has a book case hutch, four cabinets, and a drawer. Every space in the desk is crammed with, yep, books again! The 'coffee table' in my living room isn't a coffee table - it's really an antique piano bench. There are books in and on it, books on the den coffee table, and books in the drawers of the antique desk in the living room. So I guess you could say I read a little bit. No matter what room I'm in, there's a book arms-length away or no more than a few steps away. Next to gardening, reading is my greatest passion. What's your greatest passion besides gardening?

Here's the meme: (Like Lisa, I'm not tagging anyone.)

1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Here in the office the nearest book is The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust:

"In a large garden, there is more room to play! You can afford to use more plants with a short season of interest than is usually the case with a small garden. Of course, the purposeful use of plants and various materials is still a requirement to be able to get away with a bit more frill."

She considers a large garden to be one more than 3,000 square feet. My main bed is about 1,000 square feet of dry shade, not large by her standards. After a day of planting or preening or pulling maple seedlings it gets to feelin' pretty large to me!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cicada Summer

Last summer was a real live backyard horror movie titled Return of the 17-Year Cicada. The sequel was Revenge of the Itch Mites.

I haven't forgotten the horror that was last summer . . . the piles of shells at the feet of the maples, flocks of gulls swarming the streets and front yards of the neighborhood as they feasted on the bugs, stray cicadas smashing into your eye, or nose, or arm, or head. The ones that got kinda stuck in your hair were the worst. And the noise. It was deafening.

From May to the end of August, the outdoors in our area was essentially uninhabitable. Just as the cicadas were finally dying off at the end of July, the itch mites came and stayed for a month to feed on cicada carcasses and eggs. and us.

The worst part about the itch mites, beside the itch, was they were so small they were invisible. They'd get under clothes and bite all over your body. Not to mention your face. The bites didn't start to itch until hours later, after the damage had been done. One night when DH was slathering me with benadryl cream, he counted over 20 bites just on my back.

Determined souls as we are didn't so easily give up our summer outdoors lifestyle. The last straw finally came one weekend after we were covered with insanely itchy itch mite bites. We waved the white flag and retreated to the house for the rest of the summer.

This is a new year. The coast should be clear and I can hardly wait to get back outside. I'm daydreaming of lazy Saturdays preening and watering while something wonderful is slow-roasting on the grill. Cicadas and itch mites are NOT invited to the party.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Chip, Chip, Chipper!

Chipper was a baby blue jay my dad found at a friend's house being stalked by a cat when I was about 14. His parents were nowhere to be seen. With the cat so near and no parents protecting it, Dad decided to bring home another bird baby rehab project.

He gave the little guy to me to raise. He was older, stronger, and easier to care for than some of the other babies we'd fostered. He was my constant companion, riding around on my shoulder or perched on my finger. When I was asleep or away from home, I kept him in a parakeet cage we had on hand for just such a situation. But the rest of the time he was free. I let him fly around my room. Even better, he liked to be outside. I spent hours outside with him every day. He'd hop around the garden, or sit in trees whose branches were low enough for me to reach. Gradually he started making short flights, at first taking off from my finger but later he was able to fly from my shoulder or even my head!

As he got better at flying, he'd be gone for longer periods. Sometimes I'd lose track of where he was. Yet every time I wanted him to come back, I'd call him. "Chip, Chip, Chipper!" and he'd fly back to me and land on my finger or on the ground at my feet. I'd reach my hand down and he'd hop right up. As he grew he wanted to be in the trees longer and longer. He seemed to especially enjoy the mulberries!

Soon it was time for the agonizing decision: Would it be wrong to keep him? If I let him go would he make it? I knew he was finding food and as the weeks went by he was less and less hungry for me to feed him. My parents were against keeping a wild thing in a cage, and I felt the same way. Still it was terribly hard to think about letting him go. Finally we decided he should have a chance to be free. He had such strong instincts I believed he would be alright. Since there were no blue jays in our neighborhood, we decided to take him to a nearby forest preserve nature area where we'd seen and heard blue jays before.

He took off from my finger as he had so many times before at home in our back yard. This time he seemed to sense something was different. He flew into a pine tree and sat there for a long time. He seemed to be watching us for a while. As I watched him with mixed emotions and tears in my eyes, he took off from that tree and flew away. I watched him until I couldn't see him anymore. My mom was with me. We waited, but he didn't come back. We got back in the car and drove back home.

I thought about him often in the days the followed. I wondered if he was ok. I realized I'd never know if he'd make it or not.

About two weeks later, in a tall elm outside my bedroom window, I heard the call of a blue jay for the first time since we'd let Chipper go. I thought it was odd, as we'd never heard a blue jay in our neighborhood before. That bird was out there for at least 15 minutes calling his blue jay call. And the same thing happened every morning for the rest of the summer and into the fall.

I'd go outside and look up in the tree where he was, looking very 'chipper.' He seemed to get more active when I came outside, hopping around in the branches. But he wouldn't respond to the old call that got Chipper back on my finger or down at my feet.

The following spring, the morning ritual began again. Every morning between 7 - 7:30, a blue jay would fly into an elm tree - the closest tree to my bedroom, and call his blue jay call for 10 minutes or so. Then he'd fly away and we wouldn't hear another blue jay in the neighborhood until the next morning when that solitary jay would come back to the same tree and repeat the same ritual. This happened for several years, until one spring he didn't come back.

It was once again quiet in the neighborhood at the 7:00 o'clock hour, except for the more polite sparrows, finches, cardinals, and other birds who sang their happy, but softer morning tunes. I can't prove it was, and no one can tell me it wasn't. I still believe it was Chipper coming back to say good morning and let us know he hadn't forgotten us.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Take these daylilies, for instance. They don't look like much right now, do they? Daylilies are resilient plants, hard to kill even. They thrive in this hot dry spot, even planted in rocks. They're self-sufficient. Sure, they need to be divided every few years. OK, I know, their foliage is messy. I didn't say they were perfect. Clearly, they don't look great in winter. But they really don't take much, and in June they'll be glorious. And they'll survive most droughts even if you never water them. They need a little attention to be their best, but even without care they come back every spring.

Some plants struggle no matter how well you care for them. You can tell from the start they don't like it in your garden. No matter when you plant them or how much you water, they're wilting by afternoon and soon wither and die.

You consult your books, go on Amazon, buy a few more. You wrack your brain and burn up the internet searching for answers. Not much will thrive in the hot dry shade tangled in 40-year old roots.

One spring day the Johnson's Blue you carried from gardens ago just up and disappears. A resilient plant, you're convinced it will make it. You find just the right spot, just enough sun. You amend the planting holes and divide it, and water in well. Then you have lunch. By the time you come back your geraniums are gone, dragged away by evil yard monkeys who steal more of your plants than the maples kill.

Unexpected storms come out of nowhere. Some are more predictable. There's an ominous feeling when sky turns green. You gather lightweight items and head for cover. On days like this you miss your screened porch.

No matter how hard you try, no matter how well you plan, no matter how many evil yard monkeys you swear at or how well you amend your soil, no matter how much you think you know or how well you tend your garden, there are forces of nature outside your control. You wonder sometimes if this garden is worth it. In spring you begin again.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I didn't care how cold it was or how frozen the ground still is, I HAD to be outside yesterday. The sun was shining. It was 34 degrees, and with no wind I didn't even need to zip my down jacket. It felt good.

There are lots of heucheras holding onto their leaves, although all look worse for the wear of winter. Brushing leaves away from the crown of one of my favorites, I accidentally broke off a small side shoot. With so many blank spots yet to be filled in my young garden, I brought it to the basement where my tropicals are overwintering, made a fresh cut, dipped it in some rooting hormone, plunked it in a pot, and watered it. I hope it roots. I only have one of this variety, called Guardian Angel, and it's a pretty one.

The lawn, patio, and garden were looking sad. There were blizzard-blown maple sticks and branches all over the place - not a pretty sight from the kitchen window. I swept the patio, and picked up most of the sticks lying on the garden and lawn.

Getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air was just the therapy I needed. And even though today the sun's hiding behind a thick cloud cover, when I look out our kitchen window, everything looks fresher, neater, and just a little less forlorn.

LOOK! The sun came out! Isn't that so much better?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I've Never Been So Scared in My Life - Epilogue

So much happened yesterday in a short period of time, there were a couple details I'd forgotten. So here's more of what I remembered after having time to calm down, breathe, and get more oxygen to my brain. As I remembered these details, I formulated a theory about what was going on on the other side of my front door yesterday. Because at first, I could make no sense out why the devil these people were loitering at my front door messing with the door handle for so freaking long. It's just a theory, and I may never know what really happened during that short but terrifying experience. I needed some sort of explanation to make what happened make sense, and at least to me, my theory makes sense.

One thing I didn't mention - when I opened the door for the officers, after I pulled the pamphlets from the door handle, I noticed the witnesses' car parked right in front of my house. I also noticed two people were getting in the car, and there were, I think 4 more plus perhaps a small child - 2 across the street, and two several houses down across the street. The ones with the child were further down the street, and I think it's likely timing-wise, that they were the ones at my door.

I don't know if the officers talked to any of them before knocking on my door. They were nice but all business when they came in. I was too rattled to think of a lot of questions that I'd now like answers for. I suspect the officers DID talk to them, considering the situation. (If they didn't, they should have!) From the time the 911 dispatcher said the officers were here and walking around my house, until the time she told me they were coming to the door, seemed like a long time. It was certainly long enough for them to walk all the way around the house AND talk to the witnesses.

So here's my theory. Maybe the people who came to my door were so absorbed in conversation that they THOUGHT they rang the bell, but actually forgot to. When no one answered, they opened the storm door to leave their pamphlets. Still absorbed in conversation, they are at this point officially loitering at the door.

Since I think I remember seeing a small kid, it might have been the kid, bored as hell, fiddling with the door while the two women were standing there absorbed in conversation with each other and not paying attention. OR, maybe the kid had the job of finding a spot to stick the pamphlets. That might explain the excessive and prolonged fumbling noises.

Especially if it was a bored, mischievous, and maybe a bit obstinate kid. I've seen kids take for freaking ever to do something like clean their room if they don't want to. What kid wants to be going door-to-door in 25 degrees while their mom ignores them and talks to some other adult. I can think of lots of different kid responses to this kind of scenario, such as mischievousness and mindless boredom.

I heard a bang right before the storm door FINALLY closed and it suddenly got quiet. That's when I told the 911 dispatcher I was afraid someone might have gotten in. Now I'm thinking if my theory is correct, maybe the kid tripped and fell into the door. Or maybe the kid's mom grabbed the kid and the kid banged into the door, or maybe she even smacked the kid for messing around and kid lost his/her balance, banging into the door in the process. Jarred out of their conversation when the kid's behavior either gradually or suddenly came into their awareness, they finally left, the storm door closed, and all became quiet as they moved on to find their next victim knock on the next door.

I'll probably never know what was going on on the other side of my door yesterday. This is the best theory I can come up with to make what happened make sense. Making sense of it seems strangely important to me. Maybe it's all those Nancy Drew books I read as a kid. So there. That's my theory, and I'm stickin' to it. It makes me feel better, even if it's not really what happened!

Surprisingly, I slept like a baby last night. (Maybe it was the three beers I drank in the evening to try to finally calm myself down. They helped.) I even slept in this morning. (6:30 a.m. is sleeping in for me.)

I'm terribly grateful that whatever was going on out there on the other side of my front door yesterday only shook me up, instead of rocking my world or worse. I'm feeling very lucky today. Surprisingly exhausted, devoid of energy, but very lucky and very grateful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I Have Never Been So Scared In My Life

I'm still shaking and can't stop crying yet. It's been about 20 minutes since the police left.

I was sitting here reading Eckhart Tolle when the front storm door opened. Huh, I thought. It's a little early for the mail. UPS usually comes later too. I'm not expecting anyone. Just the storm door opened, then nothing. for about 30 seconds or more.

Then the door handle starts jiggling. and keeps jiggling. for way too long. ok, now I'm starting to get scared. Hmmm. . . keep a calm head, don't panic, I say to myself. Deep breathing. . . door handle still jiggling.

Alright, what is going on??? What should I do? The phone, grab the phone. I'm sitting in the office, and the office is right next to the basement door. Down the stairs. Heart pounding. Breathing heavily. Dialing 911 as I quietly go downstairs to the basement. Oh, light. not good. Unplug grow light sustaining my tropicals over the winter so I have darkness on my side while talking to the lady at 911 dispatch. Hide behind storage boxes.

Door handle still jiggling. Ok, now I am starting to panic. I mean I am scared. Funny the things a person thinks of in a moment like this. Still talking to 911 dispatcher who assures me officers are on their way. I'm thinking to myself how grateful I am that I've never had this experience before. How lucky I am that I've gotten to be 50 years old and this is the most terrifying moment of my life. I'm thinking I've lived a very sheltered life and will I be able to handle it if something bad is really about to go down? I'm getting pissed. I'm thinking if this is really something bad happening, they better be careful messing with me because I plan to do everything I can to make sure I'm gonna be around a few months from now when my oldest daughter gives birth to her first child.

I come out from behind the boxes and grab a hammer and a screwdriver out of the antique desk that's been in our basement since I moved the last of my stuff from my beloved Georgian after marrying my husband. Sh*t!!! What was that bang??? Did they get in the house????

The dispatcher is telling me to calm down. Yeah, right. YOU hide behind boxes in YOUR basement with a screwdriver and a hammer in your hand while it sounds like someone's been trying to break into your house for the past 3 minutes at least, and let's see you stay calm. Anyway, it's not like I'm totally freaking out. I'm not crying (yet.) I'm talking softly, I'm still thinking clearly. So what if my voice is shaky, very very shaky in fact. SOR-RY, but this is the best I can do right now.

You, lady, who knows better than me that situations like this one don't always end well - I'd like to see how calm you stay if you were in my shoes right now. I know, they probably always say that, "Calm Down Ma'am." I'm sure the reminder to stay calm probably did help me stay focused, but it irritated me anyway. But not as much as it would have irritated me if something really bad had happened. So I am grateful. I'm grateful I had her to talk to me and hold my hand over the phone, even if she did irritate me a little.

Hmmm. . . the rattling stopped. And I hear the sound of the storm door closing. I hope that doesn't mean whoever is messing with my front door has gotten into my house.

"The noise stopped! I'm scared! What if they're in my house?"

"Calm down hun." (There she is with that 'calm down' again!) "The officers are there. They're outside now, and they're walking around your house. If they come into the house I'll let you know first."

I feel a little safer now. Help is here. I'm able to take some deep breaths again, and it helps. I'm still shaking like I've never shaken before, and here it comes. The tears. Great. Now I'm crying.

"Ok hun, the officers are coming to the door. Go ahead upstairs and open the front door."

Up the stairs I go. My whole body is shaking. My legs feel like rubber as I climb the stairs and go to the front door, which is still closed and locked. As I open the door for the officers, you won't believe what I found:

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Well, I'm already crying, so problem solved. Ok, now I am P*SSED! I let the officers in. We're all glad that it was nothing more serious than it was, and they reassure me I did the right thing by calling. Just as a matter of routine, they go through every room to make sure everything's cool. They leave. I've never been so happy to see police in my life. Thankfully this little nightmare is over and it was a false alarm.

And I am still P*SSED! I hope I don't offend anyone here. I have nothing personal against Jehovah's Witnesses. They have a right to practice their beliefs. And they've come to my door many, many times before. But they always ring the bell or knock. This time they didn't. And I never remember them messing with the front doors for the excessive amount of time they did this time. Normally, they stick their stuff in wherever they can get it to stay in the door handle or between a storm door and the door frame, and they go on to the next house.

I don't know WHAT the heck they were doing screwing around at my front door for that long. I'm sure they meant no harm. I'm glad I live in a country where people are free to practice their religious beliefs. But one thing I can tell you for sure. When someone does something as stupid as what they did at my door this morning, loitering for far too long and screwing around with my front door and almost literally scaring the sh*t out of me, I'm not going to be quiet and suck it up.

So at the risk of offending someone, I'm putting this out there for the internets. Please Jehovah's witnesses, next time you're out going door to door, probably busily and obliviously sharing pleasantries with your door-to-door companion, remember me. Because I'm sure these people at my door this morning meant no harm. I'm sure they didn't intend to terrorize me. But for a brief 5 minutes this morning, probably because they were absorbed less in what they were doing than they were in themselves or their conversation or whatever, Jehovah's Witnesses, you scared the hell out of me. And knowing a little bit about your beliefs, I'm sure that was not your intention, especially since you don't even believe in hell.

So please, be more considerate and aware of what you're doing next time. Because there might be someone behind that door, like me, and if you loiter too long, you might be scaring them. And I'm sure that is not what you mean to do.

Still, you should know, it will make a difference in how I respond to the next Jehovah's Witness who comes to my door.

And whether it makes any difference or not, the Kingdom Hall in our area will be getting a friendly phone call from me today. I hope this never happens to you. Or if it ever does, I really hope it's the worst thing that has ever happened to you. I feel so lucky. A few weeks ago some women shopping at Lane Bryant one morning were not so lucky as me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thank You For the Warm Welcome!

Well I de-clare! Gardeners are just the nicest people. I've been discovering that as I've been connecting with gardeners and plant people here in my area, and continue to discover it as I've discovered garden blogging. Authors are right up there with gardeners in my book. It makes sense since gardening and reading are two of my greatest passions.

Thank you to everyone who's visited my blog. As you can see I'm a green, wet-behind-the-ears blogger. I'm having fun with it, and I'm tickled you decided to visit. I had no idea bloggers reciprocated like several of you have done by checking out and commenting on the blogs their commentors (commenters?. . . where are you spell check, when I need you????) have. It's really nice.

I'm not over feeling honored each time a blogger I admire stops by and comments here. I feel honored that you take the time to read something I didn't expect to have readers for. I thought this would be more like 'talking to the void.' Meeting new people and having readers though, is fun!

I had no idea there were blogs all over the internet - author blogs, garden blogs, sports blogs, and pretty much every other kind of special interest blog a person can possibly imagine, not to mention all the journal blogs, and then there are the hoax blogs. . . oh my goodness! I didn't know there was an active, passionate garden blogging community here on the internet. I'm not only new to keeping a blog, I'm new to the entire concept of blogging.

My husband showed me Dooce a couple of years ago, and every so often, I'd check out her site. Then my daughter started a blog. Then she didn't do anything with it for a while. Then she started posting again. It was kind of funny, but you all with kids probably will know exactly what I'm talking about. She and I hadn't talked for a week or so. The day after she'd posted to her blog for the first time in about 6 or 7 months, I happened to check it for the first time in 4 or 5 months. Does this happen to you with your kids? It's a connection sort of thing that causes 'coincidences.' I get it alot, ever since my kids were babies.

I read and I think commented on my daughter's first new post in months. I noticed her blog roll. I checked out a couple of the links. I think that was November or December, and since then I've become a regular reader of a few of them, and found a few more.

Then I started this blog. It was an impulse, almost an inspiration. (I hope that doesn't sound sappy or overblown, but it really was kind of an inspiration.) It's not even like I woke up one morning and decided to start a blog. It was completely un-premeditated. It almost felt like the blog started itself, and when I 'woke up,' there it was. I hope some of you may know what I'm talking about and that I'm not getting weird here or new-agey, cuz I'm not really new-agey. (I'm more like old-agey.)

Thank you to everyone who's stopped by to read and comment on my new blog. It makes me feel excited to continue it, to continue reading yours, and to fit this fun new thing into my life.