October

I’m starting to settle into a routine of one blog post per month. Maybe if I get less busy, the number of posts will increase, but it seems like a decent plan to recap each month. So, on to October!

October was strangely warm. There was never a freeze or even a frost, so the plants continued to grow and mature. Many of the perennials were ready for their winter dormancy, growing crisper and browner, but others reached their best form. Among the latter are the toad lilies. They are definitely not what I would think of if someone asked me what a “fall” bloom would look like, but they only start to bloom mid-to late-fall, so they would definitely qualify as fall flowers. I think they look way too exotic to be a typical “fall flower.”

With no freeze to stop them, the zinnias also continued their perky blooms, which brightened many a day for me. Also, the sweet potatoes really took off, filling the raised bed with a sea of leaves. They provided a great setting for my found metal predator and prey. I have yet to see if they actually had time to produce sweet potatoes, since I planted them so late. So far it’s looking like the answer is no.

Oh, and I planted a little garlic. It was late to be ordering it, and I’d kind of decided I didn’t have room this year since you plant it in the fall and it takes up space until you harvest it late June or early July. Then I decided I might have the perfect little spot for a few plants. I took one head of each variety I harvested this summer and planted its cloves. I’m not sure if it will be enough of a supply for an entire year, but it’s something.

While there was no frost or freeze, temperatures continued to get colder. It was enough that both the indoor and outdoor cats found warmer spots to frequent. The Ladies are back to toasting themselves at the furnace register on the stairs. The outdoor cats found new sleeping spots on wood chips and dirt, which are clearly warmer. And I decided to get Perry a new walking jacket that better matches his personality. It has skulls, daggers, and roses on it. I think he looks very good in it.

While there weren’t dramatic temperature changes to help the fall color along, there was plenty of gradual fading from green to yellow and orange. You can see that happening in the photos below.

On a separate note, October began and ended with some great food experiences. The first full week in October is always the Fall Festival. It’s a stunning week of excess in Evansville when four city blocks are lined with well over a hundred food booths. There are also carnival rides, talent shows, and bands. I absolutely love it for its glorious excess, but many people around town hate it for the same reason. John and I went to the Fall Festival three times together and then I went once by myself to soak up more atmosphere. In the slide show below you can see a sampling of what we found to eat on our final trip. It was stupendous.

At the end of October, John and I rented a cabin at Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky for an early birthday weekend for me. The forecast for the weekend included a lot of rain, and I was one of the few people in the area who was really hoping that that forecast would be correct. In the end, it was a rainy weekend that John and I celebrated with a lot of good food and a fire in the fireplace. Saturday evening as the storm clouds rolled out we went into Henderson to try a relatively new restaurant, Hometown Roots, which was also great.

Artistic Inspiration

Occasionally I have heard about the guy with all the birdhouses who lives near Loogootee, IN. It kind of sounded interesting, and finally at the end of the summer I decided to make the trip to see it myself.

It absolutely exceeded exceeding my expectations. It was incredible. Below are a few photos. I hope they begin to do it justice. From the minute you drive up, it’s an explosion of color packed on top of color. There is a little geodesic dome house surrounded by row after row of birdhouses accompanied by painted rocks and wildly assorted yard art. Much of the yard art is arranged by theme: people, dwarves, cats, dogs, etc. The entire yard dips down to a creek with small foot bridges crossing it. It is an extraordinary art environment that envelops you. I walked around, taking photo after photo and trying to soak it all in.

I was about halfway through my walk when I heard someone. The owner of the place, Bill, had noticed me. Normally, I’d like to look and not visit, but Bill is a very friendly fellow. He invited me into the ground floor of his house where his studio space is located.

He said he was in the middle of painting a round of birdhouses, but he was ready to take a break. When he looked out his window, he’d seen some movement and realized he had a guest. He had at least 50 little birdhouses that he was working on painting. He also had a selection of larger birdhouses nearby. Part of his hospitality is to offer a birdhouse to every visitor, so I got one, too. I picked out a bigger house because I told Bill that it would fit well into my garden.

Then he took me on a tour of the rest of his house. I’m not normally someone who would go around taking home tours from strangers, but it was really worth it. The interior of BIll’s house is as extraordinary as the exterior. Every bit of the ceiling under the dome is covered in something. There are bird houses and butterflies and Christmas lights that he turns on for guests. It was a magical fairy tale bubble.

I took a million more photos inside Bill’s house while Bill talked to me about his home and garden and life. He asked where I am from because he keeps track of where everyone comes from. He talked about his garden and birdhouses and his knee issues that lately have been keeping him from working on his outdoor art. He actually began his art environment with plants, not rocks and birdhouses, but then there was a drought and he didn’t like how much he had to water everything. The next year he switched to things he didn’t need to water and everything grew (so to speak) from there.

I tried to express how much I genuinely loved his art and how incredible I thought it was. I hope he understood that.

This video captures a lot of what it was like talking to him. I highly recommend visiting the place yourself. Don’t miss out on the house tour if you go.

When I went to see all the birdhouses, I had recently finished painting my revamped blackberry trellis (I had also painted several cats in the process). I brought my birdhouse home from Bill’s and decided it looked good on top of the trellis. Then I, like Bill, decided that I needed more going on on top of the trellis. I bought a bunch of fence post toppers, painted them, and added them along the top of the trellis. I really liked how it looked.

I also built a second trellis for the raspberry plants and painted it to match. After that I re-strung my tree jewelry and hung it back in the magnolia tree. Somewhere in the middle of all that I got a burst of inspiration and ringed one of my apple tree stumps with upended wine bottles.

It wasn’t what I’d really been planning for the wine bottles I’d been collecting for a year, but I’d been looking at the weird circles that the EPA contractors had left around the two stumps and I thought of my friend Jane, who had done it around all of her trees, and I knew it would be a great thing to do. It looked great, so then I spent several weeks searching for enough wine bottles to do the same thing to the other apple tree.

With the help of some friends and a Posey County Solid Waste Management recycling center, I got the second ring done and added more bottles to the front bottle tree. There is still more to do, though. The project will be ongoing for a while.

You can get a tour of all this garden art below.

September

Every fall, my garden reaches a point when it’s just brown, tired, and crispy. It always feels like the plants are simply ready for it all to be over with. However, the weather this year has left everything crispier than usual.

My rain gauge registered a paltry 0.18 inches of rain for the entire month of September. Even though I’ve spent the month watering everything, there’s no way I can make up for that much lost rain. It’s also been incredibly hot. As a result, everything looks especially rough.

However, my giant bed of zinnias is sunny and happy, despite the crispness. They’re a little brown and mildewed, but the effect is what I’d hoped for–a whole bed of blooms to celebrate the end of the EPA’s work. Plus the butterflies love them, so I’ve had more winged visitors lately. I’m really tempted to grow a similar mass of zinnias next year, but that won’t leave much room for vegetables.

Other things you’ll see in the photos below:

  • All the soil that the EPA subcontractors brought in had a few weed seeds embedded in it. I was curious what would grow, so I left a few to mature. I got a few rangy varieties of morning glory and a strange wild-ish bean variety.
  • This is the time of summer when my elephant ears really mature. I’ve got two varieties that have overwintered for years now. One is the fairly standard type and the other is a little smaller and darker green. I picked up another variety at a greenhouse this spring, and it has a dramatic, cream-colored stripe. I believe that it will not survive the winter, but it’s been trying hard to reproduce. It’s pretty weird and interesting.
  • The hardy begonia is blooming. Previously, I hadn’t really liked begonias’ fleshy blooms, but after a few years of having these hardy begonias, they’re kind of growing on me. It’s really interesting the way the blooms transform as they age, drooping and extending lower and lower as they turn from pink to a beautiful pink-ish brown. The bumble bees also love them.
  • Our neighbor’s sod finally came! There was over a month of the yard next door being a barren wasteland, but now it’s a weird, synthetic carpet. I’m sure the critters are all happier.
  • Cats. They’re everywhere. They’re cute, but they’re everywhere. I do admit that I enjoy the outdoor dudes’ company. I feel more at peace when I look around and there is a sleeping cat…or two or three…nearby. I also enjoy Perry’s walks, but it’s getting more and more difficult to get out with him before dusk. And the Ladies sitting at their window in the back door are simply floofy perfection.
  • Oh, and the raccoons are back. Spot the photo with the raccoon up a tree and Scrappy the cat acting like he’ll take it on. John’s convinced that the raccoons are officially evil geniuses and have figured out how to stuff the bait marshmallows under the trip plate on the traps so they can waltz into the trap without setting it off and steal all the rest of the marshmallows.

 

August

Much of my August was spent in Northern Michigan, but still my garden grew at home. The effects of the EPA lead remediation in my yard are everywhere.

Before we left for vacation, I had one more set of plants still sitting in temporary pots: my raspberries. I knew that they would hold up better in my absence if they were in the actual ground instead of in a pot where they would dry out much more quickly. As a result, I rushed the project and didn’t do things in the order I would have if there had been more time.

I’d bought the raspberries at the Master Gardeners’ sale a few years ago because I absolutely love red raspberries and I can’t find anywhere local that grows them. I hadn’t realized how much they would spread, and I was surprised at how quickly they overwhelmed the space.

I’d planted them once in my raised bed at the side of the house, then moved them temporarily to my former vegetable garden when I knew it was all going to be dug up. I figured they grew like weeds, so they could handle being dug up and moved around and then moved around again.

Now that it was time to put them in a more permanent space, I tried to figure out how to contain them somewhat. I don’t know that it will really work, but I attempted to dig a trench, line it with weed barrier, then plant the raspberries inside the barrier. I still need to complete a trellis for them. You’ll see the start of it in September.

Meanwhile, I got a little more of my art out, including my German garden weasel, but a lot of my garden art remains in storage where I put it for safekeeping during all the work in my yard. Next year there will be more that makes it out of storage and back into my garden.

Also an effect of the EPA work is the fact that the only vegetable garden I have this year is in my central raised bed, which was created with soil I purchased so it didn’t have to be removed. It’s a pretty haphazard garden. There are a couple tomatoes (all of them are volunteers), a few beans, and basil. Hopefully there will also be a few sweet potatoes later in the fall.

The main planting of vegetables in my yard have always been on the west side, but this area took time for me to remediate the remediation because I needed to turn and loosen the soil before I could plant in it. I decided there wasn’t enough time to grow any vegetables in it this year, and I was still recovering from all the EPA stress myself, so I emptied packet after packet of zinnia seeds into the bed. I hope to have a mass of flowers before the frost. The blooms are already quite happy.

And yet another EPA impact was the tiny, new azalea I planted in front of my house this summer. It was one treat for myself that I’d gotten when all the digging work was done. I’d wanted one to fill an empty gap between the other two by the porch, but I’d known the EPA digging was coming and I didn’t want to subject a tender little plant to that. The existing azaleas are white and pink, so I got one that’s white swirled with pink. I didn’t realize until it surprised me with blooms that it must be one of the new twice-blooming varieties.

I also knew when I left for vacation that I would return to a very different view in the neighbor’s yard. His back yard was up for remediation. It has gotten a little overgrown over the years, but all the critters from the cats to the birds have loved it as a little sanctuary. It had become a nice, green wall.

I knew it was likely to be gone when I returned, and it was. Since our return, it’s been a barren wasteland of compacted dirt. Maybe someday there will be some green returned to it. I keep watching for the EPA subcontractors laying new sod.

And of course, the cats. There are a lot of them. We have our three inside the house and now there is a motley crew of neighborhood cats hanging out around our house. At the moment, there are five who stop by for food every morning and evening: Jazzy [Jeff], [Captain] Scrappy, Spike, Mark [Mc-no-Balls], and Junior with Balls. I think the outdoor guys missed us while we were gone on vacation almost as much as the indoor cats missed us.

Aside from having their people gone for an eternity, the big news for the cats is that it is cicada season. Cicadas are everyone’s favorite plaything. One evening I was out walking Perry and we heard some raspy buzzing in the street between my car and the curb. Perry went over to investigate and the next thing I knew, he had a cicada buzzing angrily in his mouth. For a moment, I thought perhaps it was stuck there. To me, it seemed like it had to have been painful. But Perry carried it up the sidewalk for a good distance before spitting it out. Below is a video of him surveying it. Just imagine it buzzing like that inside his mouth.

I wasn’t sure what he thought about the whole experience. Was it frightening? Painful? Unpleasant? But the next night during our walk, Perry and I heard another cicada in the trees next door and Perry bolted in their direction, hopeful. I guess he enjoyed his close encounter with a cicada.

Michigan Adventures

A big part of my August was spent in Northern Michigan vacationing with my family. We had lots of fun and I got to spend some good time being Aunt Amy. Much of the time was spent on Crooked Lake, which is in the upper part of the Lower Peninsula. It’s a relatively small lake but is connected to a series of lakes that together are known as the Inland Waterway because (with only a small portage) it connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Activities included:

  • Watching the Top O’ Michigan Outboard Boat Racing Marathon. The boats are small and loud and they speed by, so the kids were excited to see them. My sister and I remember being the kids’ age and running down to the beach to see them.
  • Swimming in the lake and jumping off the dock.
  • Taking the boat down Crooked River, going through the locks, stopping in Alanson for donuts from the Dutch Oven, then boating back home.
  • Looking for Petoskey stones in the secret place nearby.
  • Taking the boat to Pickerel Lake to go fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but on a second night of fishing on Crooked Lake the kids caught a really big bass!

Another thing that’s fun to do near our cottage is to go hiking in any of the nearby Little Traverse Conservancy nature preserves. The Conservancy works with all kinds of people to protect the beautiful natural environment in Northern Michigan. The preserves include all sorts of terrain and ecosystems. Quite a few of the preserves have hiking trails. They’re some of my favorite places Up North.

A few of the Little Traverse Conservancy preserves have beaches on Lake Michigan, and that’s always extra fun. We have several different beaches we like to visit. This time we went to the Woollam Family Preserve. There’s a nice little hike to get to the lake. It was a little cloudy, but we all jumped in the cold Lake Michigan water to swim. Then the kids built a sand castle and attempted to protect it from the destructive waves.

Another activity was visiting the Oden Fish Hatchery. It raises brown and rainbow trout to stock streams across Michigan. When we got our instructions for joining the tour, the woman at the information desk told us excitedly that it would be an extra interesting tour because they were doing an egg take.

It was interesting and a little weird, but the hatchery staff all seemed enthusiastic about their jobs, so that made it fun. We saw how they anesthetized the fish then squeezed them just right and a whole bunch of eggs came spewing out. Then they tossed the fish into the recovery tank. I didn’t get a very good photo, but my niece drew a very accurate picture of what the egg collection looked like.

The grounds at the fish hatchery are pretty, with lots of native plants and a below-water-level stream viewing area. There’s a train car there to tell the history of transporting fish by rail many years ago.

Yet another activity was miniature golfing at the Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf Course. It’s really campy and corny and there are huge waterfalls and gimmicky holes and fake pirates everywhere (I’m surprised Disney hasn’t sued for copyright infringement), but all of that makes it fun. My sister and I have had fun there since we were kids ourselves. I mention it here because among the fake pirates and generic Jolly Rogers there were some of the nicest flower beds I saw on the trip. It was a weird juxtaposition.

My family has vacationed along Crooked Lake for my entire life, so my sister and I have gone about everywhere there is to go in the area nearby. One place that we had not seen before was the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. We all wanted to go camping, so we collected tents and camping supplies and headed there during the last few days of our trip.

We found a nice state campground located on a small lake near Pictured Rocks. It was rustic, with only pit toilets, but our campsite was very scenic and peaceful. From it, we could easily explore the sights. It rained as we set up camp, and when we took a short hike past Sable Falls to the Lake Superior Shore, the lake was incredibly gusty, steely, and cold.

By the next day, the weather had cleared. We saw Miners Falls and Miners Castle before hiking to Lake Supeior at Miners Beach, and it was a completely different lake. Everything was an incredible azure blue. We enjoyed the scenery and a nice hike.

The next day, our last in the U.P., we decided we could do the 6+ mile hike to the quintessential spot at Pictured Rocks: Chapel Rock. We knew it would be a challenge for the kids, but they persevered and we were successful! It was a beautiful spot and a great hike. The whole way, the forests were varied and impressive. The trees were incredibly tall and dense. There was a magical quality in the air.

While camping, we got to eat good camp food. I’d taken a hobo pie maker, thinking we’d use it one night to make pizzas and dessert pies in the fire. We made the pizzas using the standard white bread and pizza toppings, but then it was too late in the evening to make dessert. The pizzas were a hit with the kids, though.

The next night we made extra gourmet dessert pies using a fancy recipe from Traverse Magazine. Traverse had a photo spread of fancy, happy people making their gourmet hobo pies, which I have reproduced for you below–just kidding.

The gourmet pies used Pillsbury croissants in a can for their dough. I made it even fancier by using a jar of American Spoon Foods cherry Fruit Perfect rather than plebeian cherry pie filling. There were also chocolate chips sprinkled in–I used Ghirardelli dark chocolate. The croissant dough was more difficult than white bread to cook correctly, but it was worth it. I took pride in besting Traverse Magazine in the gourmet department.

The next morning, we wanted to have a simple breakfast before hitting the long trail to Chapel Rock. The adults were going to have pancakes. The night before, a couple of other campers tipped John and I off to where we could find gobs of wild blueberries, so we’d done some twilight picking and were looking forward to especially wonderful pancakes.

But then we realized we didn’t have a griddle to make the pancakes. No worries! We’d use another pan. But then the gas for the camp stove ran out. What to do? We’d been looking forward to the blueberry pancakes.

The hobo pie maker came to the rescue! We separated the two pie maker halves and used them like mini cast iron skillets. We heated them well in the fire, then added batter and blueberries before cooking one side, flipping them, then browning the other. It was slow going, but it was a fun innovation. I felt even more like I’d bested the happy, ritzy people in the Traverse Magazine photo shoot. And, yay for the handy, dandy hobo pie maker that we ended up using every day in a different way!

 

July in my Garden: Wild America

I’ve been busy with work, a couple extended garden projects, picking blueberries, fun, and cats. July began with a whole lot of blueberries. I went to pick them three times and I hit blueberry jackpot twice by coming upon overloaded bushes and massive quantities. Most are in my freezer now and should last through the winter.

Near the beginning of July I also found myself with an empty raised bed, so I took my friend Jane’s offer and adopted some of the sweet potato starts that were at Patchwork and were looking for their forever homes. I wouldn’t normally have tried them, but I had space and it’s really late to try to start anything, so I took what was available.

I have the smallest of gardens this year. In addition to the sweet potatoes, a few volunteer tomato plants came up in the one garden bed not affected by the EPA soil remediation. I let them go and added a few bean plants and a small patch of basil. It’s minimal, but I’m thankful to have anything this year.

Between the soil remediation and the time it’s taken me to remediate the remediation, I decided there wasn’t much hope for getting any real produce from the spot that had been my main vegetable garden. At the beginning of the year when everything was uncertain, I’d gotten almost a dozen packs of zinnia seeds so I could sow some flowery joy where there was sadness. Sewing them still seemed like an appropriate response to the melancholy after the remediation, so that’s what I did. I’m hoping that by late summer I will have a mass of their blooms. I’m starting with three volunteer zinnias that I found surviving despite the soil replacement.

Also, I worked to make a new blackberry trellis. I tried to take my time and incorporate what I’ve learned in the last 10 years of gardening. My old trellis was removed in all the EPA soil remediation. It was pretty rickety with weird additions to make up for me making it too short at first, some of the cross beams were starting to rot, and the whole thing was held together with disintegrating caulk. The new one has taken a while to put together. Most of that time was devoted to painting it. It took three coats of paint everywhere, including each polka dot. Of course the cats had to help! Two got painted.

And all the while the neighborhood cats have kept me company while I garden. I like having them around. They’re goofy and fuzzy and always interested in what I’m doing. Perry takes almost daily walks, and the Ladies have surveyed all the goings on from their window.

Meanwhile, July has marked the return of Wild America in my yard. Raccoons! Possums! Hawks! Oh my!

First, hoards of raccoons returned. With all of John and my experience, we have a zero raccoon policy. If they are in our yard and fiddling with our property, we assume our furnace ducts are next and the vandals must be relocated. We trapped several at the end of June and the beginning of July. Here’s some wild footage from the cat cam I left out to capture their comings and goings:

There has also been a lot of hawk activity. There is a nest in the alley across the street from us. There are about four babies and they have been very active in the last couple weeks. They are starting to fly around the block and they call to their parents constantly. It’s a little unnerving. I tell the outdoor cats to be very careful. I don’t think the cats believe me.

And then there are the wild antics of Captain Scrappy. I think I could watch this cat play for hours. His favorite toys are dirt clods. He jumps around with wild abandon. We all need to be more like Scrappy.

2019 Tour de Fleur Garden Walk

At the end of June, the Master Gardeners held their bi-annual Tour de Fleur Garden Walk. You could buy a ticket and tour “10 Spectacular Gardens in Evansville, Newburgh, and Mt. Vernon.” I went on the tour because it’s always fun to see how other people do their gardens. The Master Gardeners try to include a nice variety of gardens–small, large, formal, informal, wild, cultured, expensively landscaped, and grassroots.

All of the gardens were fun to see, but some were more my style than others. There wasn’t any super-quirky garden that stood out to me, but the one that came closest was full of funky garden art and all kinds of angels including a couple cat angels. It completed the experience for me to see that there was an actual cat in the garden, but he swatted at me when I attempted to make friends, so he was definitely no angel.

There was a lot to see and it was a fun weekend, but as I looked through my photos I didn’t feel particularly inspired to do a blog post about it. But then I looked through everything again and decided that I have some fun flower photos, and I could post them for anyone who would like to see flower photos.

So here you are. Some random flower and garden photos. There’s no real storyline or clear delineation between the gardens, just a random smattering of the beautiful things I saw.