December

December was a quiet month in my garden. Things had been frozen and flattened by the frigid weather in November, so there wasn’t opportunity for much to change in December. In December there were some fairly warm days (including Christmas) when the cats all came out to sun themselves, and there was a day with a dusting of snow in the week leading up to Christmas. There was an incredible sunset on Christmas Eve and a colorful sunrise on Christmas Day. I’ve also had some indoor blooms from my orchids and Christmas cactus.

John and I continued our tradition of heading out to the reclaimed strip mine land to find a good cedar tree to turn into a Christmas tree. We know our spot after having gone there with a group for years and years. Now we’re the only ones who go and we no longer get permits and permission, so we keep our search quick and leave before anyone knows we were there. As usual, we ended up with a pretty tree.

With the colder weather, I’ve been spending more time indoors and the indoor cats are ever-present. Perry is particularly noteworthy. We can’t explain it, but his behavior has been extremely improved as of late. We have been able to sit in his part of the house for extended periods of time without paying 100% attention to him and he does not bite us. It’s difficult to convey how violent he has been previously and how much he has previously not been willing to let us focus on anything but him. Often in the last month or two I have been able to work at the computer with him tapping me periodically for treats. Lately, that’s all he’s needed to be a good boy.

Hopefully 2020 will bring more good things for Percivale. Hopefully it will also bring more good things for my garden. I anticipate some new challenges in the coming year, but I need to remain hopeful that the good will overshadow the bad.

The Temple of Tolerance

On the way home from visiting family in Ohio over Thanksgiving, John and I decided to stop at another art environment: The Temple of Tolerance in Wapakoneta, Ohio. I’d heard about it before but then I forgot. It came up again in Thanksgiving conversation when we were all discussing my post about the Birdhouse Guy in Loogootee, IN.

The Temple of Tolerance is a very interesting place. It’s a very impressive and well done backyard construction. It was built by a guy named Jim Bowsher, and you enter by walking up his driveway. There are a few metal arches and gateways and then you’re in a maze of pathways and stone constructions that look like altars. You wind your way to the back of the property and find yourself in front of a giant rock pile/temple. Along the way you pass several hand lettered signs and a display of bullet casings that represent all the Ohioans killed in wars from 1812 to today.

You can follow a rough staircase to get to the top of the temple area. John found the contemplative spirit of the place particularly strong at the top of the temple. There is a fire pit and a series of stone carvings and a high altar kind of thing at the top.

Unfortunately it was a horribly drab and dull day, so my photos aren’t great. My camera battery was also running low, so I didn’t get as much documentation as I’d have liked. As a result, I don’t feel like my photos truly capture the wonderment of the place. Hopefully they at least give you an idea of what it’s like.

I would like to go back again, hopefully when the plants are all green and growing. You can read more about The Temple of Tolerance and Jim Bowsher here and here. We did not happen to meet Jim ourselves. I also found an interesting video about the place and you’ll find it below, after my photos.

November

If you’ve been following along, you might remember that October was unusually warm. Then came November. The first frost came on November 1. It was cold enough to begin to affect the plants. It warmed, then we went into a deep freeze of polar air and temperatures were in the teens with wind chills in the single digits. Then came snow. Then more warmth. Then cold.

All of these cycles altered my garden through the month of November. If you look through the photos below, you may recognize the same plants appearing repeatedly through the month. The green slowly bleaches away. The yellows descend from the trees onto the ground. Everything falls in on itself and flattens to the earth.

The changes are most evident among the hostas and variegated Solomon’s seal. I love the patterns and colors of the collapsing hosta leaves in particular. Their distress is beautiful. I also like the patterns in the oval scales of all the magnolia leaves on the ground as well as their mixture of greens and tans.

You can also see the progress of the ice and cold in my sweet potato bed. The first frost at the start of November did some damage, but the plants kept going until the deep freeze did them in. After things thawed again I decided to check for sweet potatoes and I was pleasantly surprised to find some. The plants had gone in late, so the potatoes weren’t large, but they look good. I’ll be eating them soon. They were an experiment, but they did so well in the limited time they had that I plan to grow them for real next year.

There’s always a week in fall when everything is the most beautiful, golden color, and this year that happened mid November. The snow came at the very end of this week, making gorgeous golden-white landscapes. I like fall snows because the colored foliage shines through the snow in interesting ways.

And, the cats.

I worried about the boys outside when the temperatures were set to plummet. There are plenty of places nearby for them to hide, and the guys who were outside last winter made it through a few Arctic blasts, but I decided to add more to their winter options. I bought two heated outdoor cat houses. Spike, the older gent with one tooth, moved into one immediately. I’d suspected as much. He now spends most of his day inside it.

He is always letting the other outdoor cats know he’s the boss, so he made sure he had the cat house to himself from the start. I hadn’t anticipated, however, that he would keep everyone else away from the second house. For a long time, they chose to sit ON it and not IN it. Or they slept in the more exposed cat bed in a box nearby. It wasn’t until December and over a month of this ridiculousness that I flipped open the second roof so it wasn’t so tightly enclosed and a couple of the other guys settled in.

Perry hasn’t gotten to go on walks very often now that it’s getting dark so early. We’re trying to keep him occupied with indoor play and clicker training. Overall, his behavior has improved dramatically in the 2+ years we’ve had him…but there’s so much further he needs to go.

The girls are perfectly lovely. Late November Lady Morgaine confirmed that winter is truly here–she started sitting on her heated cat bed on the window sill again. The girls also started sleeping curled up together at night to stay warmer. They’re super cute when they do, which is good because they take up half the bed.

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.