Golden Leaves to Snowfall

Two weeks ago, we were at the height of the late but brilliant fall colors. Golden light rained down on my garden. The marigolds and the toad lilies still bloomed. Leaves began to fall. Then came several nights in the 20’s and chilly days. Tender leaves froze, their water-filled cells bursting then thawing into pulpy masses. The leaves began to quickly leave the trees. Then came a light dusting of snow. Then a “wintery mix” that accumulated overnight and collapsed the broken plants under its weight. The progression is remarkable and beautiful. It is what autumn is all about as the natural world prepares for the dormancy and barrenness of winter. You can follow the process in this series of photos.

The Perfect Day for a Birthday

Because the fall colors were a little bit behind this year, I had the unusual convergence of a Saturday, my birthday, and the height of fall colors plus John wasn’t preaching on the following Sunday and we ended Daylight Savings Time so I had an extra hour to enjoy it all. John and I headed to Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. We took a picnic lunch and ate on the top of some cliffs before and after we did some hiking. It was a very beautiful day.

Approaching Autumn

Fall is coming to my garden. We’ve had a couple light frosts and many nights in the 30’s, though my thermometer has yet to register anything below the freezing point. Fall color has slowly sneaked into the foliage, and certain exposed flowers and leaves have been severely damaged by the cold. However, things continue to grow and bloom until a hard frost puts an end to it all.

The first serious cold air blew in two weekends ago. I went out on a beautiful day before the cold and collected all the lima beans I could find. They hide very well. I was sad that I didn’t find a single bean of prettiest ones I planted. They had brown stripes and were called “ping zebra.”

I also had fewer big Christmas limas than I had expected. They have fruited well for me before. Perhaps the problem was that I got the beans planted a little later than I should have. It was early July when I got them in the ground. Maybe bigger beans take longer to grow.

Other lima varieties did just fine, including one called “Alma’s Pennsylvania Dutch” that I got from a garden blogger in Eastern PA. She’d reported on her blog that it hadn’t been particularly prolific for her, but it’s done great for me.

I’d also planted some Native American beans that a friend had given me. One variety turned out to be a kind of scarlet runner bean. They were pretty, but didn’t produce many beans. Another non-lima that I grew was a pole bean called “Penndragon.” I ate several as green beans, but they seemed to quickly get too large to be good raw, and I let many of them dry. I’ll probably use a few of these beans to plant more next summer. I’m a sucker for a great plant variety name.

The photos below begin to capture autumnal changes in my garden, even though they only cover a week from October 20 through October 27. The changes are subtle at this point, but they are there.

Also subtle: the cats have begun to choose the spots where they will each stay warm for the winter. The Ladies have ignored their heated cat bed since spring, but suddenly on the first truly cold day, Lady Morgaine was seated upon it. It’s on a window seat. It’s been a regular nap location ever since.

Meanwhile, Lady Ygraine has been hovering at the furnace vent on the stairs. The blast of hot air is strong there. Sometimes she naps, but sometimes she plasters herself to the vent.

The Ladies also have been sleeping in noticeably tighter formations at night. Normally they join us in bed, but with the colder nights I’ve felt them squished close together. One night, I got up, grabbed my camera, and turned on the light in an effort to capture the cuteness.

Unfortunately for Perry, his behavior does not allow him to join us all in bed, but he has his own heated cat bed that he sleeps on at night. But, it is a minor heat source compared to his new favorite spot: the dryer just after it has completed a cycle! John added a little step stool so Perry can hop in and soak up the toastiness. He’s fierce and bitey, so he doesn’t let you put the next load in until he’s good and ready to get out.

Meanwhile, we continue to take walks outside. I’m not sure what will happen when it really starts to get cold. Maybe Perry will still enjoy it. We’ll have to see.

Maybe he’ll like snow.

The Waning Blooms

Autumn has begun, and with it the final blooms of the year are here. The toad lily is covered in its spectacular flowers. The marigolds are settling into their favorite season with fresh blooms. And the zinnias are fading gracefully into dry, silvery mildew. They are all wonderful fall blossoms that mark the close of the growing season.

Additional things to note in my garden: my patch of elephant ears. I rarely photograph them because they’re squeezed into a less-than-attractive spot between the air conditioner and the compost bins. They grow slowly and steadily all year and reach their largest size around now. They’re pretty, and I wish I had a better spot for them.

Also of note: Basil and more blooms from my bobcat orchid indoors.

With cold weather, we haven’t opened the door for the Ladies to sit and watch the world go by. I’m sure they miss it. Unfortunately the last week or two of warm weather was marred for the Ladies by an interloper cat. He’s been upsetting Perry as well and has interrupted several of Perry’s walks. Everyone is upset that he’s hanging around. You can see the problem in the funny photo below.

If he sticks around, I may try trapping him and taking him to the Humane Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program.


In other cat news, after ignoring her new cat tree for about two weeks, Lady Ygraine decided she loved it and spent a week rarely leaving the upper hideout. She and Lady Morgaine were extremely adorable. She’s already moved on to other sleeping spots, but Lady Morgaine remains convinced that this cat tree is the best thing ever. It’s over 80″ tall, and she loves to hang out at the very top on a cat paw-shaped perch. I thought the cat paw was a little gimmicky and lame, but she doesn’t mind at all.

As the weather has gotten cooler, the mice have started sneaking into our house. One came in and was hanging out behind the stove in the kitchen and in back of the cabinets. It stayed well away from where the Ladies could reach, and that really bothered them. Here they are being confounded:

And cold weather or not, Lady Morgaine is always up for some pats on the bed. She’s incredibly adorable, and I caught some of that with my camera last weekend. Here’s her little photo shoot. She’s a rare cat who truly enjoys tummy rubs. She has a very deep, very quiet purr, and you can just barely hear it at the start of the video.


A Very Augusty September

Because of my travelogue (thanks, again, to everyone who traveled along with me), I haven’t posted anything about my own garden for two whole months! Well, I decided I better rectify that situation before the month of September is over. I only have a few more hours, so let’s get posting!

My garden made it through my trip to Europe thanks to watering from the house sitter. When we left, there were zinnias blooming, surprise lilies, beans, and honeysuckle. When we came back, the zinnias were still going strong, squash were ripening nicely, the autumn clematis was blooming, and a few lima beans were ready to pick.

Overall, August was hot and unforgiving and things quickly moved into the crispy, tired stage. I hoped some relief would come in September, but we continued to have dry weather and highs in the mid- to upper-nineties. Now at the end of September, my plants are all ready for a winter’s rest. The heat, bugs, and mildew have taken their toll.

At the end of August, John and I prepared a meal of summer on a plate: corn fritters and tomato gravy. It was my mom’s favorite food, but as children my sister and I grumbled about having to eat it so she didn’t make it often. It also requires some fiddling around, so I guess that could be another reason she didn’t make it often.

At some point many years ago, I asked for the recipe and she wrote it down for me. I have no idea if she actually copied it out of a cookbook or if she just wrote it from memory. If it was from a cookbook, I’ve never found that book. Several years ago, I did another blog post about corn fritters and tomato gravy and found it interesting that one of my mom’s sisters commented that she didn’t remember this particular combination of foods.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m sorry that we were so overly dramatic about not wanting to eat corn fritters and tomato gravy. It’s really good! Though, it isn’t particularly photogenic.

Late summer is also the time of year when my most unusual and dramatic orchids bloom. One variety is called Miltassia Dark Star “Darth Vader”. The other variety is called Odontocidium Wildcat “Bobcat”.

And with that, we come to my own lovely cats. They survived our trip to Europe, but clearly missed their humans immensely while we were away. They didn’t seem angry, but when we returned they required more than 24 hours of constant reassurances that everything would be all right.

Things quickly were back to normal, though. The Ladies are lovely and Perry is a challenge. Perry does much better if he has a couple enrichment actives every day. Usually that’s at least one play session and a walk outside, although sometimes it’s clicker training or a puzzle feeder. It’s good that both he and I can easily spend an hour just wandering aimlessly around the tiny yard and looking at what’s new.

Perry tends to get all the good stuff because we’re working so hard to try to modify his behavior. He’s got two big cat trees and lots of toys and if John or I have only one spare minute to play, he’s the one who is most likely to get the play time.

But, the Ladies love to play, too, and they enjoy their little cat tree. So we finally ordered and assembled a giant cat tree for the girls. Lady Morgaine is absolutely enamored with it. So far, Lady Ygraine has decided that it’s just not her thing.

And finally, a postscript for our European trip. Here are all the goodies we drug home with us. We’ll probably be enjoying them for the next year! There are a wide variety of German gummies, German beer, German and British chocolates, British cookies, British drinks, and a German garden weasel. Plus two German flags handmade for us by my niece.

An English Castle

On our final day in England, everyone in John’s family had begun to go our separate ways. John’s brother and his family headed to Ireland. John’s parents headed a little further north to do some genealogy research. And we had one more day in the Cotswolds.

John wanted to visit a British castle. I wanted to visit a British garden. We found Sudeley Castle nearby where we could both find what we were looking for. In the end, we decided it was an even more interesting location than we had anticipated.

After a picnic lunch near the car park, we headed into the castle. We began by rushing through the grounds to make it to the church before it was temporarily closed to the public for a wedding. We wound our way backwards through the garden walking tour, turning a corner and happening upon a strange but beautiful royal collection of exotic pheasants. They were very beautiful birds. Even their names were exotic and glamorous. The exhibit made a point to say that the birds are part of a breeding program and not just the whim of some rich people.

We got to the church just in time to enjoy it. It was beautiful, and there was a fancy grave right by the altar. I hadn’t read too much about Sudeley Castle before we went–I’d simply seen it listed on a list of good gardens–but I remembered something about King Henry VIII’s wives. And, yes, this was the grave of Queen Katherine Parr, King Henry’s final wife, the one who managed to outlive him. Additionally, the stained glass windows of the church depict all the famous kings and queens who have been associated with Sudeley Castle over the centuries.

We were shooed out of the church by a stressed out wedding planner, and from there we took a more leisurely tour of the gardens and grounds. You can enjoy them, too, in the photos below. There were several gardens among various sets of ruins, plus some more formal spaces. The most stunning area was around the Banqueting Hall Ruins. These were ruins of one section of the castle that was destroyed during the British Civil War when Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentarians fought King Charles I and the Royalists.

After viewing the gardens, we walked through the various exhibits inside the castle. They were done in a way that traced British history through the lens of Sudeley Castle. It was very interesting to learn how history had buffeted the property. Th property was awarded to one person after another as the people in power shifted through the centuries. There was royal intrigue, there were many dysfunctional families, and there were wealthy eccentrics.

The story begins with stone tools from prehistoric people who inhabited the area and moves through the castle’s humble beginnings. King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Gray, Queen Elizabeth I, Richard III, and King Charles I all appear in its history. There was also a 200 year period following the Civil War during which the castle lay in ruin.

Overall, the gardens were beautiful, there was a great castle to look at, and the history was presented in a really interesting way. We were glad to have visited.

To learn more about Sudeley Castle, visit its website.

Ancient Horses and Eccentrics

One day while in England, John’s entire family ventured into the Oxfordshire countryside together. Our final destination was Faringdon, the town where John’s sister and her family will soon be moving. On the way to Faringdon, we stopped to see the Uffington White Horse.

The White Horse is by far the oldest of the horse figures like it that were cut into British hillsides long ago. It dates to somewhere between the Iron Age and the late Bronze Age. It was created through a process of digging trenches and lining them with crushed chalk.

We caught a glimpse of the horse from a distance as we approached its hill, but even then we couldn’t see the entire figure. Apparently there are hills across from the figure where you can see the whole thing. We got to the parking lot and took the path to get a close look, but even then there was not a lot of horse to see.

What I thought was even more remarkable, however, was the view of the countryside. Vast panoramas spread from the entire hilltop, and we took them all in by walking to the horse and then around the accompanying Iron Age fortification called the Uffington Castle. It was a clear day and an infinitely beautiful view.

After visiting the White Horse, we continued on to Faringdon. It’s a quirky town that was made all the more unusual by the wealthy and eccentric Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson 14th Baron Berners (1883-1950).

Lord Berners dyed local pigeons bright colors. He scattered a series of useless signs across the town of Faringdon. He dressed his dogs in pearl necklaces from Woolworths. His Rolls Royce contained a small clavichord that could be tucked under the seat. He drove around his estate wearing a pig head mask to scare the locals. His list of friends included Igor Stravinsky, Salvador Dalí, and H. G. Wells.

Lord Berners also built the Faringdon Folly and gave it to his lifelong companion Robert Heber-Percy on Heber-Percy’s birthday in 1935. The Folly is located at the center of a circular woodland on a hill at the edge of Faringdon. When the town planners asked Lord Berners what exactly the point of the tower would be, he told them, “The great point of the Tower is that it will be entirely useless.”

Lord Berners commissioned a friend, Lord Wellesley, to build the folly for him. He knew Wellesley hated Gothic architecture, so Berners demanded the tower be in the Gothic style. Then Berners left the country, so Wellesely took it upon himself to construct the tower in a classical style. With 10 feet of tower to go, Berners returned home…and so the top of the tower doesn’t match the rest of it.

The 4 acre woodland where the tower is located began with Scots Pines that were planted in the late 18th century by Henry James Pye. Pye has the dubious distinction of being called the worst British Poet Laureate ever.

Scattered throughout the woodland are many sculptures. They’re all hidden and take some searching to locate, although a ring of directional mushrooms help guide you somewhat. There is a giraffe’s head sticking out of the tree and blackbirds perched everywhere. There’s a silent piano that you can plink on. There’s a hare and a canon and a mole and a troll. I didn’t come anywhere close to finding them all!

I encourage you to read more about the Folly Tower and Lord Berners. It’s really fascinating. And if you’re keeping track, yes, this is the second tower built by an artsy eccentric that we visited in our European travels.