You’ve Peaked, Evansville.

Every fall in Evansville there is a beautiful moment when the leaves have changed gloriously and enough have scattered across the ground that we are surrounded by a world of autumnal color. The streets are lined with reds, rusts, pale oranges, and yellows. My back yard is bathed in golden light filtered through the maple leaves, and it’s the color of happiness. But, the moment is always brief and an instant later the branches are bare and the leaves on the ground are dry and grey.

(Click any of the photos below for a bigger image and a slideshow of the changing leaves.)

My garden has fully embraced autumn. We didn’t have freezing temperatures until a few days ago, so most things were still growing though they seemed to anticipate the killing weather. Many leaves were tinged with orange and yellow and seed pods were prominent. I picked the last of my beans and brought my house plants indoors for the winter. The Ladies enjoyed adventuring in their new jungle in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, a few photos of the cats. We keep working with Larry to improve his behavior, though he’s still a challenge and very bitey. One thing that we’ve discovered he loves: clicker training. So far he can touch a target with his nose, stand on a mat with all four paws, and sit. He seems happy to do it and happy to have very positive interaction with John and me.

Of course, the Ladies are simply delightful, as always.

All three have the following advice as winter approaches:

Find a warm spot…

 

Enjoy your warm bed…

Wrap your tail around your nose to keep it warm…

And enjoy the changing seasons.

 

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Turning to Fall

Now there’s the promise of cooler days mixed in with the warm ones. Last night was cold enough I needed to bring my houseplants inside. They’ll go back out tomorrow for more direct sun and fresh air, but it won’t be long before they’re in for the winter.

I’ve got some final tomatoes still ripening. The Atomic Grape variety has been getting nice and ripe and I’ve decided I like them better than I thought. The color still isn’t as dramatic as it was in the seed catalog, but they’re still pretty, especially in big clusters.

I’ve been picking my lima beans. A couple weeks ago I got a nice collection of both fresh and already dried. They’re tasty and beautiful. It usually takes all summer to get a nice crop ready to pick. The hearty begonia flowers are gracefully descending into seed pods and the toad lilies are blooming, so it must be time for fall. The zinnias and marigolds continue to bloom and add nice autumn color.

A big, fat, orange cucumber is hanging on a dying vine with drying beans nearby. It is the image of early fall. And the corn has been pulled and sits by my front stoop looking festive. A few weeks ago I was sitting next to someone at a gathering of nonprofit professionals and he kept talking about going out to his farm to get some corn to decorate his nearby nonprofit. In Patchwork Central style, I got my fall decor from my yard and not from my second home.

And finally, the cats are enjoying the changing seasons from the back door. We’ve been trying to try to prepare for merging the household, so Larry has even gotten in on the garden viewing action. The merger hasn’t gone great so far, so keep us all in your thoughts. About a week ago we let them all meet, but Larry just got excited and chased the Ladies around the house. He just wanted friends to play with. The Ladies didn’t like his game. John and I continue to try to train him not to communicate with us using his teeth, but it looks like that work will be ongoing. He’s a much tougher to than average cat to figure out. Meanwhile, the Ladies continue to be their usual lovely selves.

Another Not-So-Famous Garden in my Neighborhood

Walking around my neighborhood, it’s fun to get glimpses of interesting gardens that other people have created in their back yards. There will be a sunflower here, a rose there, and a tomato plant over there. Actually, there are some fantastic gardens hidden here and there near downtown Evansville.

One such garden belongs to Dee. She works at Patchwork and has lived in this neighborhood for a very long time. I saw a small part of her garden earlier this summer and wanted to see more of it so I stopped by last week with my camera.

Dee’s back yard is a lot like mine in that the Victorian family that built her house paved the entire thing. As a result, Dee has narrow raised beds along the edges of the property that are densely packed with vignettes of plants and art.

I love Dee’s quirky combinations of figurines and garden art. I envy some of the weirder pieces in her collection. Some spots in her yard are elegant and then there are the places where her fantastic sense of humor shines.

Here’s a tour:

2017 Tomato Round Up

My tomatoes didn’t do great this year, but I got to try at least one fruit from every variety. I always have fun picking new varieties from the catalogs when they come in the mail mid-winter. The descriptions always make my mouth water, so it’s interesting to taste to see if I think they live up to the hype.

Here’s what I grew this year:

Chadwick:

This one I’d mislabeled. I thought the plant was a variety I’d grown before that is called “green grape”. It was a terrible green grape tomato, but once I realized the mix up, I decided it wasn’t that bad of a tomato, but it isn’t a new favorite, either. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy about it other than the fact that it grew pretty well.

Rose Blush:

This one is a new favorite. It had a sweet, strong flavor that lived up to its wine-inspired name. The small fruits were abundant, attractive, and delicious. I’ll definitely grow it again.

Atomic Grape:

The photos of this one in the seed catalog were so cool with swirls of red, orange, green, lavender, and silver. The description said the flavor was incredible as well. Mine didn’t turn out so well. They have stayed very green with streaks of orange until the squirrels made them disappear completely. The flavor was also kind of fleshy and green. They never seemed to get luscious and ripe.

Blue Berries:

These were a returning variety. I had two plants and one of the two plants had strayed a little from the traits it was supposed to have. I was less impressed with that one, but wasn’t sad that I’d planted it again. The flavor is nice and it’s a pretty fruit with touches of dark purple on it.

Green Grape:

This is one of my all-time favorites, but I haven’t grown it for a little while. I missed it, so I brought it back. Unfortunately it didn’t grow well and I only got one or two fruits to enjoy. It’s a variety that stays mostly green, but the flavor is complex, a little sweet, and citrusy.

Mystery Compost Tomato:

This one popped up in the spot where I’d spread my compost, and I let it grow just to see what it would turn into. Surprise! It’s yellow and pretty. But it’s really bland. I remember a tomato like that from many years ago. I didn’t like it much then, either.

Cosmic Elcipse:

This was another one with a very pretty picture in the seed catalog, a great name, and assurances that it tasted great. I only got two fruits off of this plant, and they were good but I think I picked them a little early. They definitely were pretty.

Dragon’s Eye:

I’d tried growing this one last year but didn’t get any fruit. The description of the fruit in the catalog was intriguing, so I tried it again this year so I could see what it looked like. Wow! It was pretty. And it tasted good. I just wish there had been more.

My Least Favorite Season

I love the changing of the seasons. I love snow in winter and the stark brown of the landscape. I love the emerging greens in the early spring and the lushness of the new plants after they fully emerge from the ground. I love midsummer when the garden is still expanding to fill the space and the vegetables and fruits are fresh and new. I love the crispness and deep colors of autumn.

However, late summer into early autumn gets me down every year. The lush expansion of my garden is over and things are starting to sink into themselves. The jewel tones of fall have yet to appear. Everything is simply brown and crispy. When rain comes, there isn’t the fresh, green rebound that happens earlier in the year. Everything seems tired and ready to quit, but it’s way too hot. The last fruits hang on the plants. They’re not ripe and may never get a chance to ripen before the frost. It’s now clear which plants were failures. They’re the ones that are crustier than the rest or are simply represented by empty spaces filled with my hopes for what could have grown.

Right now I’m ready for fall and not eager to be out in my garden.

Nonetheless, there is beauty to be found here and there. There was my one perfect ear of shoepeg corn (along with several imperfect ears), finally a few morning glories and sunflowers, one zinnia that managed a happy bloom, the sweet autumnal clematis in bloom, interesting bugs, my favorite hosta blooms, and, indoors, four flowers on my spectacular orchid.

Of special note is my okra. I grow it mostly for its beautiful flowers. We’ve eaten some of the pods, but most have quickly grown too big to be tasty. I’m trying to dry those pods to make okra-sicles for this year’s Christmas tree. With three young cats, I have a feeling that all our usual the glass ornaments will stay in storage this year.

And finally, the cats. The Ladies have been spending as much time as they can sitting in the back door and surveying their domain. They carry themselves with the grace and decorum of royalty.

And then there’s Larry. He’s sweet when he’s giving us hugs and kisses and when he’s playing. But then he attacks us and it’s brutal. He doesn’t understand that RAWR! is not the best communication technique.

From what we’ve read, bengals love heights so we got him another cat tree. He helped us assemble it then added a couple RAWR’s for good measure. He loves it and sleeps on the highest platforms. While we were setting it up, he also did another thing that I’ve read bengals do: he was intrigued by the metal parts and started to carry one away with him. He was foiled by an evil box flap that he thought was solid but that collapsed under him.

He’s finally been cleared of his parasites, so now we can work to try to integrate him with the Ladies. We’re very cautiously optimistic. Wish us luck.

 

Sights and Sounds of Michigan

We’re just back from a vacation in Northern Michigan.┬áThis time around, we took a side trip on our way up and stopped in Grand Rapids, Michigan to see the Meijer Sculpture Gardens. They were amazing and there was so much to see. We focused on the main sculpture trails, and I thought they were really well done. The art was interesting, I loved the setting in natural meadows and forests, and I loved the groupings of art and glimpses of pieces through the trees that were clearly well planned. The botanical garden parts were also fantastic. There was so much to do that we left a lot for our next visit.

Our vacation in Northern Michigan was much needed and the weather was fantastic. As usual, we enjoyed the beautiful views of Lake Michigan, time on Crooked Lake near our cottage, and hikes in the wonderful Little Traverse Conservancy nature preserves.

The nature preserves are scattered everywhere and include trails through forests, along rivers and lakes, and Lake Michigan beach fronts. I’m thankful that they mean that the beautiful land is preserved from development. I think they also highlight the role that undeveloped land plays in helping to keep the water and the air cleaner for everyone.

John and I found nice spots along Lake Michigan…

And in forests…

And around Crooked Lake, which is near our cottage…

And this year we went to a place I’d never actually seen before: Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was very beautiful…

I found some good inspiration for future garden art and flower plantings. We just happened to drive by an awesome yard in Cross Village that included the pyramid thing and the rocks with faces below. I think I’ll incorporate the art in an apple picker into my own yard. Cross Village, in general, is full of quirky art, including the Legs Inn, which is where the tepee with weird totems is located.

And we enjoyed good food, from a fresh lunch on the deck of the cottage to a picnic lunch that John and I enjoyed in one of the of the nature preserves near Petoskey. We’d seen that we could get a pre-made picnic box from Petoskey Cheese and it sounded fun and tasty, and it was indeed!


Another new place to visit during this trip was the International Dark Sky Park that is located on the Lake Michigan coast at the very tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is an area with very low light pollution, so you can get a very good look at everything in the night sky. We got there for a beautiful sunset and an impromptu presentation by one park staff member. We got a good look at the sky, but were limited by the moon, which was at least half full. Now that we know where it is, we can look forward to going for a darker night in the future.

 

 

 

Rare Harvests

I have figs! I have figs!

Perhaps six years ago, I got to taste a fig straight off a friend’s fig tree. It was the most unique and amazing flavor. I decided I wanted to grow my own, and so the saga began.

The winters here are borderline for growing figs. The first winter mine all died. The second winter I wrapped them in burlap and moved them to a protected corner of the yard. And they still died. I thought.

After I planted new ones, the roots of the previous years’ sprouted fresh. That winter I brought them inside when it got below 20 degrees outside, but then it stayed cold and they stayed indoors and came out of dormancy. They leafed out and sprouted fruits but didn’t get enough light and the tiny figs fell off.

Last winter I brought them inside when it got below 15 degrees outside, but got them back outside quickly. The winter didn’t have too many cold snaps, and they happily started growing at the first signs of spring. Like every other year, this summer they were nice and green and leafy. Unlike other years, I saw figs forming!

I held my breath, ready for the figs to drop too early, but, no! They turned dark and heavy with sugar. Would the flavor be as extraordinary as I remembered?

Yes indeed.

Another rare harvest is the butternut squash. I got four small ones off of that volunteer vine! It looks like it’s true that the squash vine borers don’t like butternut squash because the vines never succumbed. I will definitely plant more in the future.┬áThe only problem came when we brought Larry the cat inside after he’d spent a month roaming my garden. It only took a week before the squirrels were making a mess of it.

I’ve also harvested a couple melons (one too early, sadly), the corn is looking good from a distance but aphids have damaged the ears, the okra is blooming (really the flowers are the main reason I grow okra!), I’m collecting one blackberry at a time in the hope of having enough to make jam (though with Larry the cat outside, the birds and squirrels left me more berries this year), the beans finally started to amount to something, the flowers are blooming, and tomatoes continue to ripen (although I have yet to taste some of the most intriguing varieties including Dragon’s Eye and Cosmic Eclipse).

Larry the cat has been doing OK in his life indoors. He is a difficult cat, which we anticipated when we brought him in. He has tons of energy, he is a gawky teenager, and his brain seems to short out regularly which results in people being bitten. He’s loving, too.

This morning I felt like I bargained for his soul. It turns out that he belonged to the relative of a neighbor but had come to live with the neighbor when the relative lost her apartment. No one at his new home could stand him indoors, so they put him outside. Then he disappeared for the last week and everyone was worried.

I told them we’d taken him to the vet and were treating him for problems that the vet had found. I told them I could tell that he’d been cared for. I offered to take over caring for him and said I had been planning to see if we could work him in with our other cats. His previous caretaker seemed a little relieved and agreed.

She did make sure I knew his real name is Raja and that he’s part Bengal. She said if she could find them she’d drop off his vet records.

He always turns to look when he hears voices across the street. He still considers her his person.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are a little stressed about another cat being around, even though we can’t officially introduce them all until Larry’s intestinal parasites clear up. The one good thing for them now that he’s indoors: they can sit uninterrupted at their back door once more. They can’t complain too much about their life of leisure and luxury.