Drying Up

Things have slowed down considerably in my garden. My gardening activities are cut down to watering and harvesting the few odds and ends still popping up. In contrast to the 12″ of rain we got in 4 weeks in June-July, in the most recent 4 weeks we’ve gotten about a third of an inch of rain. Especially with the ever-increasing herbicide damage, my whole garden looks tired and ready for the winter’s rest.

Without so much gardening to do, I recently took a tour of new, odd garden art discoveries I’ve made in my neighborhood.

There’s my friend Jane’s bottle tree with quirky bottles:

bottle tree

And the awesome squirrel garden sculpture that, from the angle I photographed it while I leaned over her fence, looks like it’s begging for food from the Greek goddess nearby:

please, can I have more?

(By the way, a parent in Patchwork’s children’s program gave the squirrel to Jane. I’m envious, but then this weekend at an art fair I claimed a concrete arm holding a solar light before Jane could get it, so maybe we’re even. Plus I got another bizarre raccoon sculpture at the same art fair, so it was a total win!)

Jane also has a row of massive sunflowers that are beautiful but too big for my garden. I’m envious of those, too.

sunflower 2015

And she has other nice flowers in a wild and weird garden:

flower combination

Then there’s this community garden not too far away from me with wonderful, healthy hops, unlike my sad specimens.

hops against the sky

hops hopping

And these wonderful, weird cat guardians that have popped up on Washington Avenue:

cats: you shall not pass


And this, that I happened upon while circling the block to get a better look at the cats. I’m not quite sure what’s all going on here, but it’s awesome:

Mary in a bathtub


Meanwhile in my garden, there are highlights, including the scent of autumn clematis, okra blooms, the last hosta blooms, a wonderful variety of white marigold that I love, a butterfly, and a monarch caterpillar:

This year has not been good for tomatoes. I chose all new varieties this year, and the ones I chose just aren’t my favorites. And then it just wasn’t a productive year for tomatoes, so we haven’t had many to eat. Here are the varieties I had:

tomatoes 2015

The stripey one is “Green Copia”, and I thought it tasted the best, but it’s a beefsteak and it cracked and the caterpillars dug into what was left, so I didn’t get many that were edible to me. The bigger yellow/orange one is “Djeena Lee’s Golden”, which apparently won first prize at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row. It has a spicy flavor, but isn’t very juicy, so I’m not fond of it. The little yellow ones are “Sunrise Bumble Bee”. I thought it was a tasty sounding name, but (alas) I don’t like the flavor and I can never tell when they were really ripe. I liked the flavor of the little pink ones enough that I might plant them again next year. They’re called “Blue Berries”, but were mostly pink. These also were difficult to discern when they were ripe. Another downside is that they are the ones where the insects ate half of every tomato all summer, leaving very few that were appetizing to me.

And then, my total disappointment: the death continues in my garden. Since it’s been so dry, the death due to herbicide blends in with the death from the dry weather (despite our inflated water bill due to my watering). Still, the state of the honeysuckle on the back fence clearly has nothing to do with water and everything to do with herbicide.

Here it is on September 7. Much more dead than my previous post about the poisoning, but still with some green hints of hope:

September 7 death

And September 13, with pretty much no hope left:

September 13 death

And from the inside: September 6 and things look happy and nice, though a little hole has opened up in the back corner (center of photo) because the vines are dying:

September 6

And the hole is considerably wider by September 13. (It surprised me how much of a difference I saw when these photos were side-by-side)

Sept 13 yuck

Here’s a closer photo. It took two weeks or more for things to really die. I think a lot of the slower death was on plants that got a drop or two of herbicide on them, not a direct hit.


Thanks, City of Evansville!

Michigan Getaway

John and I spent the last week of August at my family’s little cottage in Northern Michigan. It was nice to get away for a bit. The weather turned cold and rainy just after we got there, but that just meant we got to enjoy reading indoors by the fire instead of enjoying swimming.

We took our elderly cat with us again, since he seemed to enjoy his Michigan vacation so much last year. Again, I think he had a nice time, mainly because he had plenty of time with his people and didn’t have to sit at home alone. Plus then he can continue to receive his fluid treatments related to his kidney failure.

He does well in the car. Whoever isn’t driving is the official “cat wrangler”, although at this age (18 years in October!), he doesn’t need much wrangling.


Blue skies and open roads!

The cottage is near Crooked Lake, which is part of the Inland Waterway in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. During our vacation, John and I got out on Crooked Lake in the canoe. There’s a large island in the middle of the lake and a little bridge to take cars to the cottages and nature preserve on the island.

Another day, my dad took us by boat further down the Inland Waterway. We went from Crooked Lake down Crooked River to Burt Lake where we ate a picnic. One of the highlights was going through the locks on Crooked River. They’re a very small set of locks in a clamshell design. The gates lift up for the boats to come and go. That means water drips all over your boat when you go under the gates, something that was infinitely exciting when I was a kid.

Here’s a video that someone else made of the experience:

There is an organized effort by the Little Traverse Conservancy to set aside much of the land in the region in nature preserves. Many of these preserves have very nice trails on them, and John and I enjoyed exploring both new and more familiar preserves. The terrain is varied and always beautiful.

We also revisited Sanctuary Island in Alanson. You get to it by traveling 20 feet on a hand-powered ferry. Once you’re on the island, no one can join you unless you use the ferry to pick them up. It’s a fun trip.

One day, John and I rode bikes along the bike path built on the old railway that used to carry vacationers north, including my great grandparents. We rode all the way from Ponshewaing, where our cottage is, to Bay View, Petoskey, and Bay Harbor–about 36 miles round trip!

Another day, we went to the Lake Michigan shore at Sturgeon Bay and stopped by an art gallery with a great garden and garden art.

We also spent plenty of time sitting in the cottage with the cat and enjoying peace and quiet by a warm fire. My grandpa built our cottage in the 50’s and has a great, classic cottage appeal.

And on our last morning in Michigan, we were treated to a spectacular foggy and still morning on Crooked Lake.


My Garden Has Been Killed by the City of Evansville

I anticipated that this week I’d be posting happy photos of my recent vacation to Northern Michigan. Instead, I’m mourning my garden.

It was my artwork, and I’ve been creating it for over 6 years.

It was my sanctuary.

It fed me.

It fed the birds and insects.

It provided a secure shield for our back yard against random passers by.

And now it is dying because the city sprayed poison in my back yard and in other back yards up and down my block.

The whole alley was treated the way they would treat the edge of a forest that’s encroaching on a freeway.

Except this is a residential area with small houses packed one on top of each other on tiny lots. The alley is small and was brick-lined until the new house construction and the water department tore it up.

There was no warning.

They poisoned any green, living thing that wasn’t grass and that was more than 6″ tall and was within 4 feet of the alley.

The green wall at the back of my garden got completely drenched in poison.

If the spray shot over the top of the fence  or through the chain links, then the poison landed on the other plants in my back yard.

They even sprayed through my fence and killed the sunflowers planted more than 4 feet from the alley.

And I’d maintained my little stretch of alley. I’d just cut back some mint that was creeping under the fence and had just cut down the weeds along the alley.

It makes me sick to think of my neighbors who also got poison sprayed into their back yards. I’m not the only person with food plants in a garden near the alley.

We’re just in the undesirable section of the city where apparently you can just spray poison everywhere.

Here’s the damage along my fence on the alley.


And a view that shows the other side of the alley and dead plants there as well:

the whole alley

Here’s a closer view of the neighbor’s trees. There are yellow leaves several feet inside his fence and crispy, silvery, dead leaves and chopped off branches and more of my dying honeysuckle:


And inside my gate?


Here’s the sunflower. You can see how the parts facing the fence have been sprayed and are dried and dead while the parts facing further from the fence are still alive (for now).

dead sunflower


But it’s been hot and dry, right? Maybe this is just lack of water? Here’s a cross-section of the honeysuckle that you can see when you open the gate. The difference between the alley side and the yard side is dramatic:

good and evil

Inside my fence, the plants within the spray zone have begun to die.





And the lima beans that I’d been looking forward to? They’ve vined into the honeysuckle and may be showing signs of poison, as well.


And additionally, I have eaten produce out of my garden in the last few days–before I had any idea it had been poisoned. Clearly the poison was applied liberally and with no regard for my garden or my safety.


And it was up and down the block. There is death everywhere. It was difficult to fully capture the way that the entire alley has a brown lining now. It contrasts with the green that starts a few feet back from the alley and makes it clear that this was not routine summer dryness affecting the plants.





Postscript: The morning after I discovered the destruction, John tracked down the city department that was responsible. Want to venture a guess which department it was?

The Department of Urban Forestry.

I credit Evansville’s arborist, though, for coming out to talk to me. He confirmed that this was the work of his department. Apparently when city utility workers decide that an alleyway has gotten too overgrown, they request that the Department of Urban Forestry go in and clear it out. What I experienced is the standard procedure.

The arborist explained that 99% of the time, the overgrown alleys are the result of property owners who don’t care, and because they don’t care, they won’t respond to letters asking to clear the alley or warning that the alley will be cleared. So the city does nothing to inform anyone that the alley will be cleared because they assume no one cares.

And truthfully, many of my neighbors probably don’t care and probably will not notice that anything happened in the alley. The landlord for the property next door will even celebrate this clearing. It’ll save him the trouble of spreading his own weed killer for a time.

Several friends on Facebook suggested that at least the city could post it in the newspaper. They do at least that much when they spray for mosquitos so people can keep their children and pets indoors.

The arborist did apologize. He said that my honeysuckle was not a plant that his crews would have had to poison. It’s not massively invasive and was clearly serving a purpose as a privacy screen for my garden.

He was hopeful that everything that is going to die had died and that most of my garden, including the honeysuckle, would be OK. He said that his department does not use a systemic herbicide (like RoundUp). He told me to call him again if anything more started to die.

He apologized that there was nothing he could do to reverse the damage already done, but that he’d add my address to a list that should not be sprayed in the future.

I am the 1%.

The arborist was not a jerk, so I didn’t feel like arguing with him. I probably would have started crying anyway. But, it still seems crazy to make it a policy to assume that every plant lining the alley is unwanted and untended. It seems crazy to not differentiate between my clipped, green privacy fence and the mass of weeds and saplings growing with abandon among trees on an empty lot. It seems crazy to me to spread so much poison on a neighborhood without any warning.

Second Postscript: After telling many people about what had happened, my friend Jane realized that her alley had also been sprayed with poison. Her Jerusalem artichokes had looked really bad and she hadn’t thought anything more about it till she heard my story. She lives further down Adams Ave. I checked it out.

It illustrates the city’s policy. The city crew apparently recognized that she was gardening and spared everything except her Jerusalem artichokes. The other side of her alley shows the contrast: nothing was spared.


Meanwhile, my fence continues to look worse as the honeysuckle dies back further. Hopefully the garden side of the plants will pull through.


Songs of Summer

The summer is winding down. It’s a time of corn and tomatoes. There’s still plenty of heat and humidity weighing down the air, but somehow there’s a touch of fall now, too, hovering just above the treetops.

My garden continues to be a green oasis that’s still full of summer goodness. Whether I’m weeding, watering, clipping, or buried in my blackberries, The Garden Song will pop into my head from time to time. It’s a great accompaniment to all garden work.

A few weeks ago, a big group of old friends was in town, and we sang many favorite songs including The Garden Song. I was happy to record it in the version I first learned and have sung many, many times at Patchwork Central.

The Garden Song


A friend named Randy Pease adds another great song to the soundtrack of late summer.

This is usually the time of year when John and I look at each other and realize that if we don’t get to an Evansville Otters baseball game soon, they’ll be over for the year, so we rearrange our schedules and go.

The Otters are part of the Frontier League and play at Bosse Field, which is the third oldest ballpark in the U.S., behind only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. It turned 100 this year.

It’s a great location, and the games can be interesting, too. You might see odd errors, triple plays, stealing home, or a great performance by someone who is a few games from getting called up to the major leagues. For $5 you can sit 30 feet from the action, and there are goofy crowd participation games on the field or in the stands between each inning.

John and I went to an Otters game last week. We got our burgers, fries, and beer and settled in for the first game of a doubleheader. It was a Wednesday and a school night, so the crowd was thin, with only a couple hundred in attendance. There were a few good plays, but it was a pretty unremarkable game until the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Otters were behind by one.

The sky darkened.

They summoned “all interns to the tarps immediately.”

Rain started to fall.

The Otters were at bat and were two outs away from losing.

Rain fell harder.

Another out.

The rain was falling in sheets, and still the pitcher kept pitching. The interns waited at the tarp. Why not roll it out now?

And then a cheer went up (a much greater cheer than you’d imagine for so small a crowd).

The ball was hit out of the park, and two players crossed home in the pouring rain. The game was over. The Otters won.

I Love This Game

Great Guerrilla Art

Two or three weeks ago, odd items began appearing in an empty lot I pass on my walk to work. A smiling face on a post. A bamboo pole anchored in concrete.

They weren’t just appearing randomly. No. They were appearing on the concrete sculpture pads that had been poured a few years ago for sculptures competing for $25,000 prizes (mentioned previously).

Then things started getting REALLY interesting. The odd post and bits of driftwood coalesced into a full blown sculpture. A wonderful, quirky sculpture that I loved.

A 12

A 13

And then a second full sculpture appeared.

B 11

B 07

And the next time I passed by, the parts had moved around and multiplied.

B 19

And looked amazing against the sky.

B 17

And a third sculpture appeared.

C 01

And rearranged itself within a few hours.

C 56

I heard through the grapevine that people were asking the organizer of the big fancy sculpture competition if she knew who was making these sculptures.

But she had no idea.

Someone asked the Arts Council if they knew who was making the sculptures, but no one there knew, either.

I went out to take photos because they’re awesome and because I wanted to make note of their construction. (You know, something like this would look FANTASTIC in my garden!)

I looked further down the block where I knew another sculpture pad is located, and there was another fun sculpture. This one had been augmented by the cicadas.

D 26

And on the way home there was another sculpture. It photographed beautifully.

E 02

A few days later, another sculpture popped up by sculpture #3.

F 01

F 02

F 05

And then there was only one sculpture pad left.

A concrete barrel appeared.

It sat alone for two days.

It wasn’t very interesting.

And then a new sculpture blossomed from it.

G 01

With a note.

G 03

UPDATE: Ha! I was thrown for a loop when the note above appeared. I’d thought I saw someone working on the sculptures one Sunday afternoon and I thought I recognized who it was. It was someone no one would expect. Someone no one knows. Someone unknown among artists in Evansville, and that’s why it was SO GREAT. It was only by luck that I knew who this particular person is.

But then this note gave another address, not one where the person I thought I saw lives.

WELL, I found out that I was right all along! The mystery person’s wife was apparently out of town and he was bored. Mystery solved!

Yikes! I’ve been busy…

…And I haven’t been busy gardening (mostly).

I was out of town for work, then in town for several intense weeks of work, then a weekend of many friends and little sleep. In between all of that, I dashed around my garden doing some maintenance but mostly working on my new painting project.

You’ll hopefully see more of that project soon.

My life right now feel like this section of the garden: a bit of an explosion in all directions. It’s more than a little unruly.

Green blob

A lot has happened in the last month in my garden (as always, click on any photo for a larger view and a slide show)…

My harvests have been mixed this summer. I didn’t get into the berry bush often to pick berries, so the birds got most of them. My corn set ears but the kernels didn’t fill in well. And the tomatoes took a long, long time to get ripe. I’m not fond of many of my selections this year (choosing seeds is an adventure!), and the one variety that I really do like is getting devoured by baby grasshoppers. They’re apparently the squirrels of the insect world: taking a few bites from each fruit and leaving the rest.

bug bitesOn the plus side, my basil is finally taking off, the okra is doing well, and I have finally discovered the perfect melon for my space. It’s a little cantaloupe that’s the size of a baseball yet is packed with sweet melon goodness. I’ll definitely grow more.

this melon is greatAnd I had a fun adventure in my new garden out front. Soon after planting it, I noticed two tiny squash plants sprout. Now, I’ve given up on squash in my main garden because the squash vine borers have killed them reliably every time before they can fruit.

“Maybe my secret squashes will outsmart the borers!” I thought. “They won’t think to look for squashes out here!”

But what kind of squash would these become? Where had the seeds come from? I’d mulched the bed using leaves from our yard, and there’s a compost bin in the yard, but no seeds should have escaped.

I waited.

squash plants growing

Tiny squashes formed. Would they be tasty?

tiny squash

I waited (and saw a squash vine borer fly by one morning–drat!).

The vines became monstrous. My friend Jane reminded me that the only viney things that ever grow as volunteers are the stuff you don’t want to eat.

bigger vines

And then the answer was revealed:

baby pumpkin

Right…those baby pumpkins that the squirrels stole from me last fall. I’d discovered the squashes’ skeletons among the leaves months later…the leaves that I used as mulch.

Stupid squirrels.

The insects were having a wonderful time in all the squash blossoms, so I was a little sorry to kill the plants. But once I knew that it wasn’t going to be a particularly tasty variety, I decided I’d better sacrifice it before it annihilated all the plants I’d actually planted there.

bee in the blossomsThough I saved the few mini pumpkins that there were to eat for supper.

mini pumpkin

And finally, the caladium are particularly happy this year and add some nice color to my turning-to-late-summer garden. They make great photos:

Torrents in Summer

Finally it has stopped raining and maybe I can get further into my garden tomorrow for a little maintenance. We’ve had over 12″ of rain in the last 4 weeks. I’ve got gangly, overgrown masses of tomatoes in one place and dead tomato plants in another. I’ve got vines and weedy plants growing unchecked. I’ve got questionable corn and kohlrabi that never really formed good bulbs. I’ve got great sunflowers that are crowding my peppers. I jumped into my kinda-still-damp garden as soon as I got home from my art residency, so I’ve just barely gotten my garlic harvested and my beans planted.

That’s the definition of summer in my garden.




Meanwhile here are a bunch of bees and flower blooms (click on any photo to enlarge it)…

And other things from around my garden…

My favorite fruits are ripening so fast I can’t keep up. I picked almost 50 pounds of blueberries a couple weekends ago. I’ve got a giant bag of ripening plums to cut and freeze. And I haven’t even gotten to the peaches yet.

My big disappointment was buying two bags of what I thought were lodi apples to turn into sauce. They weren’t. All I got was some sad non-sauce. Boo.

clearly these were not lodi

And then there’s my new ugly raccoon art object from my friend Jane. It’s truly hideous. Maybe hideous enough to scare actual raccoons away.



I put it in the kitchen next to the adorable raccoons I was given by other friends last summer. Maybe enough raccoon talismans and the real raccoons will stay away…


Or maybe not…