Sights and Sounds of Michigan

We’re just back from a vacation in Northern Michigan. This 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.

 

 

 

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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. The 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.

Just Look at this Goofball…

Just look at this goofball and try to ignore him…I bet you can’t.

He showed up in our back yard about a month ago. It didn’t seem like anyone was feeding him, so for a few days I shared some of the Ladies’ food on little squares of aluminum foil–I wasn’t going to make too strong of a commitment. But the squares of foil became Shamoo’s discarded travel cup, and I found reasons to spend evenings sitting on the side porch so he’d have company. And then he got some of the Ladies’ flea treatment, too.

He quickly became my little gardening buddy, following me everywhere, observing everything, and convincing the bunnies to invade other gardens (added bonus: I can say, “No, no, I wasn’t talking to myself, I was talking to the cat!”). He also enjoyed “helping” me with my garden art projects.

I’m just not so sure about the company he keeps. 🙂

He loves laps and cuddles, he’ll give you kisses if you let him, and he always purrs. He’s also got a massive amount of energy and he’ll zap your arm or leg good if he gets overstimulated, which happens regularly. He’s a goofball and he’s definitely trouble. He also seems starved for a family to love him and for him to love. Every night for weeks, I’ve had to remove the soundly sleeping cat from my lap so I could go inside to bed, and then he’d sit on the doorstep and stare sadly at the door.

So John and I talked. What do you do. Neither of us wanted three cats. And the Ladies are an absolutely, positively perfect duo. But if we don’t look out for him, who will?

So he got checked out at the vet. No microchip. No infectious cat diseases.

What do you do.

We rearranged the house and made a space for him and a space for the Ladies. Two litter boxes. Two feeding areas. Another set of toys. And two giant cat trees. Today is his first day inside. We’ll see how it goes.

With the Ladies, we visited the Humane Society three times. We met different cats. We thought long and hard about which ones were the right cats for us: two cats would be perfect. Friends who wanted to stay together. Not too young. Not too old. We chose carefully and thoughtfully and shared some heartache over the ones we didn’t choose. It was emotional when we brought them home and let them out of their carrier. We hoped they would grow to trust us and to consider us their people.

And now here’s Larry (that’s what we’re calling him for now). He carefully and thoughtfully chose us.

There is one major obstacle, however, and her name is Ygraine.

She. Is. Not. Amused.

Growth

Looking over photos from the last month in my garden, I can clearly see its mid-summer expansion. My new raised bed holds corn, okra, edamame, and red raspberries. Just when I’d doubted that the corn would produce anything, it shot up and started to tassel. Hopefully it doesn’t fall over before it’s all said and done. I harvested my soybeans this week. The okra is just now starting to think about blooming. All is good.

Expanding even more are my mystery vines. This spring, I spread compost on a section of my garden before planting melons, one squash, and cucumbers. Lots of little volunteer vines of some kind popped up from that compost, and I was curious to know what reminders of good food past they would become. I kept a few and clearly they were something big. The plants headed out of the official garden space (partly due to my attempts to steer them away from the plants I’d meant to plant).

I went out of town for a short vacation at the end of June and when I got back, I got a note from the person garden-sitting for me that marveled about how well my squash plants were doing. So, that was the grand reveal. I checked the backyard to see what she was talking about and found a beautiful little butternut squash forming on the vines.

I haven’t intentionally planted winter squash for years. I tried it twice and had the heartache of watching them wither and die as squash vine borers burrowed into the heart of each vine and did their dirty work, pooping sawdust-like excrement where the plant met the earth. I looked for remedies, but there was nothing that seemed like it would work for me. It was also a heartache that after the plants died I had a big hole in my garden that represented the missed opportunity to grow something else that would have thrived in my space. With not much space to grow things, that lost opportunity is huge.

The first little squash on the vine has been joined by several more. I’m sending positive thoughts their way and hoping to get at least one ripe one before squash vine borer or some other disaster strikes. It will be a great achievement to eat a squash meal grown in my garden. [Though while working on this post, I saw an article that said butternut squash is less susceptible to squash vine borers, so maybe my happy compost accident will lead to future years of fruit!]

The one squash I intentionally planted this year was a quick-fruiting summer squash. I hoped that it would be able to stay ahead of the squash vine borer and produce some fruit for me (the borers have to have a certain number of warm days before the larva stage that burrows into squash vines becomes active). I did manage to get a couple mature summer squashes from the plant, but then the borers swooped in and killed it.

The melons and cucumbers are doing fine, but I knew they would. They aren’t bothered by the borers. Actually, I’m not that fond of cucumbers, but they grow so well. And their flavor has its good points.

And there is a lot of other great growth and bounty to be had around my garden and kitchen:

  • June apple season came and went. I managed to get enough lodi apples to make a batch of applesauce, although I’m ready to upgrade my squeezer and may go online to get a vintage one like my mom used to use.
  • I also picked and froze gallons and gallons of blueberries. By now, the people at Wright’s Berry Farm in Newburgh know me by name.
  • My “Bobcat” orchid is blooming again. It looks like a bunch of roaring cats’ muzzles.
  • I have a couple planter areas where I add annuals every year. I use similar types of plants, but each year’s arrangement unfolds differently and I enjoy the subtle variations. One such spot is my brick pile garden. Another is my mosaic planter.
  • I harvested my carrots and I’m enjoying some blackberries and the first of my tomatoes.

Note to Self

At the end of June, the Southwestern Indiana Master Gardeners hosted their biannual garden tour. Fifteen gardens (14 private gardens plus the Master Gardeners’ display garden) were open to the public. I was glad to be able to go this year. It’s always fun to see what other people come up with and to get ideas from them.  I don’t go to be critical–after all, it’s nice of people to open their personal spaces up to the rambling, judgmental hordes. However, I can’t help but think my own garden is at least as good as at least some of the gardens and I don’t have professionals to do the tough stuff for me! In fact, I decided to start this blog 6 years ago after that year’s garden tours made me think I had something worth sharing.

This year’s tour included some great garden views…

It also included some interesting plants.  There was one little garden full of really interesting miniature hostas (I always love the clever variety names!). There was also a garden that was predominantly day lilies. They’re kind of sprawl-ly for anywhere in my garden, but that garden definitely made me look at them more favorably than I had before…

There were also some nice vegetable support ideas…

My favorite garden surrounded a house built to conserve energy and had the most garden art of all of them. It also had chickens and a long, artistic fence enclosing them. There was a children’s play area above the chicken’s house. And the chickens had a green roof on their house. And many exotic-looking plants. Overall, I really enjoyed the feel of the place.

Warming Up to Summer

The seasons are changing in my garden. The garlic is out of the ground. The lettuce is getting bitter in the heat and I should pull it. The beans are in the ground (and I love the many variations in color and shape and great names). The cucumbers, squash, and melons are starting to explode (particularly the surprise ones that popped up from the compost I emptied into the garden this spring). The tomatoes have green fruits forming.

Soon I’ll be tasting summer coming from my garden!

Summer flowers are also starting to bloom next to my summer vegetables. The hostas have started blooming along with hydrangea, lilies, coneflowers, yarrow, and butterfly weed.

And the weather has been [mostly] lovely lately. I’ve rediscovered our side porch, how easy it is to take a quick break in its shade, and its great view of the garden.

Here’s a view with my wind spinner, sun catchers, and wind chimes all in action:

And one in the evening with the fireflies, night insects, and my sprinkler (I know it’s not best to water plants in the evening, but you’ve got to go with the opportunities that you get). The sprinkler makes nice rain sounds:

And with the weather being so nice, John and I have taken many sunset walks to the Ohio River. Here’s a nice one from a time when I thought to bring my camera:

And it was particularly great to have brought my camera this particular time because we passed an actual human being carrying her cat in a baby carrier.

She told someone as we passed by that it was a standard Walmart baby carrier. She said she’d tried to put her cat on a leash but he didn’t like it at all. He seemed pretty chill. It was only later when I looked at my photo that I noticed the woman’s shirt. The shirt is as awesome as taking your cat on a walk (click the photo to get a closer look).

My only complaint at present is in regard to the bunnies. Recently, I noticed a bunch of my plants slowly shrinking in size. Hmmmm. Did they look nibbled?

Then one afternoon Ygraine went on high alert in her doorway window:

She definitely saw something. What was it?

Dun, dun, dun…

Notice the sad flower heads all over the ground on the right where the bunny already nibbled away their stalks. Apparently these flowers are extremely dee-licious. So much so that they’re only a few inches tall now. And the bunny started eating my beans, too! I’m hoping I can still salvage everything, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. I suggested to Ygraine that she hand the bunny some threats of physical violence, but she’s too sweet for that.

Plus, if the bunnies were gone, she’d loose a serious source of entertainment:

Updates and Visitors

I’ve been working hard to get several updates made to my garden and yard before a couple groups of friends were scheduled to visit. On top of the usual cleaning, weeding, organizing, and planting, this spring I started on a new raised bed, a new set of perennials on a new side of the house, and a new piece of garden art.

It was a lot of work and things aren’t finished yet, but some new vegetables are already coming up in the raised bed and I’m  enjoying the way it all looks. The highlight is the new bottle tree taking shape on the stump of the apple tree at the front of the side yard. I’ve been thinking about this sculpture for a little while, and I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect piece to go atop it. I found a fantastic concrete raccoon holding an apple. I shaped the stump somewhat so it would look less stumpy, I carved space on top for plants to grow, and I started adding bottles. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what it looks like now:

I was so excited to find such a trashy good raccoon sculpture. I found it and the rotary hoe blade under it at a local architectural salvage store. The paint job when I found it was pretty uninspiring, so I repainted it. It has such a perfectly gleeful raccoon look on its face that reminds me of the meme:

It’s always great to have garden visitors in real life in addition to my virtual garden visitors, even though I always pressure myself to try to make everything look perfect. If you’re ever in my neighborhood, feel free to stop by, too! Among the things my guests brought was this photogenic magnolia bloom:

For those unable to visit my garden in person, here’s a quick tour of many of my garden beds and plants. The overview: my other concrete raccoon now looks classy in comparison, I added more tree jewelry, the hostas are happy, a hollyhock is blooming, I added a little flapping wind spinner, I’m trying to grow Alpine strawberries, the red hydrangea is blooming, and I picked the garlic scapes. (As always, click on any photo to see the larger version.)

Another bit of art that’s now out is my collection of goofy garden markers created by the kids at Patchwork as part of Art & Company. They learn how to make art and then sell it and get a “company” dividend based on their investment of time and good behavior. I love the misspellings.

Here’s a collection, along with some ceramic fairies and a real fairy from my garden:

And finally, the cats. The back door is their happy, happy place. Lady Ygraine has been enjoying it for well over a month, but it’s been less than two weeks since Lady Morgaine decided to join her. They are very sweet together and even had their tails entwined the other day. Not pictured: the occasional times Ygraine puts her arm around Morgaine, growls, and pushes her daughter off the chair so mommy can have some “me time”. In Ygraine’s defense, Morgaine does tend to get a little too excited sometimes. Twice she’s been so engrossed in what was going on outside that she attempted to jump with all four feet onto the 0.5″ strip of wood framing the window and then fell off it with a bang that scared everyone.