Up North

John and I are recently returned from an absolutely fantastic, picture perfect vacation with family in Northern Michigan. The weather was stunning, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect time with my family. No one was missing, not even my cat.

Above is a series of my nature photos taken during the vacation. Each is labeled with the location, if you’re curious. You can click on any one to get a closer look and a slideshow. We went fishing, we swam in the lake near my family’s cottage, we swam in Lake Michigan, we toured a family-owned sugar bush, we went hiking, we saw an artful garden, we went to Tahquamenon Falls, and we saw other sights.

My cat wasn’t excited about having to share a cottage with children, but he was happy to be on vacation with his people and didn’t mind the road trip.

me and my cat

Less than a week after we left Michigan my aunt died suddenly and unexpectedly. She had the cottage next to ours, and this summer there had been a lot of traffic across the peaceful space between the two cottages. The morning that we left for home, it had struck me how beautiful that little space was and I made a photo of it. I’m thankful for that glimpse of a memory of that time and place.

my aunt's cottage

 

Hither and Yon

I’m sitting here listening to roofers tear all the shingles off my roof during a heat wave and hoping they don’t do any damage to my garden. So far so good. My garden also needs a drink, but I’ll just get hit in the head with falling debris. Hopefully all the plants can hold out till this evening. It’s the end of a three-month saga of trees and storms and critters.

In the last couple weeks I’ve harvested my beets and carrots. They did much better than I expected and were tasty with a grilled steak dinner. The wild side garden continues to bloom with another fancy coneflower adding itself to the mix. And the caladiums are growing big and colorful and look great against the chartreuse “Sun and Substance” hosta.

It’s green apple season, so I made a batch of apple sauce. I should have gotten twice as many apples. There is only one orchard in town that grows the super tart, early varieties and by the time I decided I wanted more apples I couldn’t catch the grower at any farmer’s market. That makes my two bags of applesauce all the more precious.

Meanwhile, the hydrangeas have faded beautifully, I managed to get one sweet nasturtium bloom, and the blackberries are changing to purple.

We continue to fight the critters. I believe they have been investigating our wounded roof, so we don’t want them around. A few weeks ago we got another raccoon that we released at sunset at the nearby fish and wildlife area. John and I got to enjoy the view as consolation for our ongoing troubles.

Last weekend John and I trekked up to my hometown of Archbold, OH for its grand sesquicentennial celebration. There was a parade and a party in the park and a historical play. It was great fun! John and I drove by the farm where I grew up, and I enjoyed being back in the Northwest Ohio landscape.

Home

While driving through Northwest Ohio, an amazing yard caught my eye.

“Wow, John! Did you see that amazing place?” I said.

“Can you cram any more stuff into one yard?” said my brother-in-law in the car behind us.

Both statements were true.

What a yard!

We were running late for the parade at the time, so we couldn’t stop, but John and I made a detour on the way home so I could get a closer look. A guy was in the driveway grilling out.

“Hmm,” I thought. “How can I casually take a couple pictures. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about strangers gawking at his house.”

John stopped in the street and I hopped out of the car and started casually taking a couple pictures from the sidewalk. Then I heard someone greeting me warmly and telling me I could go inside the garden and walk around.

The woman who lived there had apparently been out front and had seen me. She was very nice, but had to go in to finish making supper, which was just fine with me. I wandered through their great garden in peace.

There were several kinds of bottle trees in styles I hadn’t seen before. And I loved the blue bottles suspended from the real tree on chains. There was also a kind of palm tree made from a 6 ft dead stump with kind of a chandelier on top (unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of it. Plus there were bowling balls and all kinds of other chotchkies, both handmade and found. It was fantastic!

Click on any photo below for a closer look and a slide show.

RAWR!! It’s a Bobcat! Critters in the Garden.

I’ve gotten behind in my garden postings…or summer is flying ahead of me.

My harvests have moved into the early summer sorts of things. I dug up my garlic a couple weeks ago and planted a variety of beans and cow peas in its place. The seeds are beautiful in their variations. The plants sprang out of the ground with just a little extra water.

I also harvested some carrots.  They haven’t done well for me in the past, so I’d given up on them, but then I got a pack for Christmas and the promise of multi-colored carrots was too much for me. I thought they hadn’t amounted to much, but on closer examination there were a few there. The pinkish-orangey one was particularly tasty.

My own tomatoes are still in the early stages, so I’ve had to get some from the farmer’s market. Still they taste great in a sandwich. Today’s lunch was a fried egg, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes on locally-made cheddar broccoli bread with an avocado/cilantro sauce.

I followed that with several handfuls of blueberries. I’ve been picking them for the past three weekends. Maybe I’ve got enough in the freezer now to get me through next winter.

Elsewhere around the garden, the hostas are blooming and things are generally looking good. Suddenly my elderly cat Shamoo has (for some reason) gotten it into his head that he needs to go outside and walk around, not just observe from a perch in the back door. Someone has to stay with him because, let’s face it, he has no survival skills. He’s happy, though.

And speaking of critters, we’ve had even more in our live traps. We’ve been concerned that they have a renewed interest in possibly living in our house, so we’ve been motivated to move them along. Unfortunately that has included a whole adorable family of raccoons.

I found an old, beat-up marble in my garden, so I gave it to my concrete raccoon. I also dried my alum blooms and then spray painted them. I liked the way that they made the concrete raccoon look like he’d been to a wild party. I also like the way the ugly garden gnome behind him looks aggravated and irritated by his presence.

Also sort of related to little critters, I’ve got the coolest plant blooming indoors. It’s an orchid that I picked up at a Master Gardener Plant Sale a couple years ago. It’s name was listed as “Bobcat” from the Wildcat series.

Huh, I wondered. How does this resemble a bobcat?

Now I’ve got my answer and it’s really neat.

The flowers look like they have little cat muzzles at their hearts, complete with rows of white teeth and little cat noses. Every time I walk by it makes me smile.

And in other generally pretty blooms, the garden I started last year at the side of the house is happily blooming with abandon. I’d filled it with plants I knew would spread, so it’s not really a surprise that things over there are kind of wild. There are a couple things (like the black hollyhock that fell over in the wind) that really are too big, but I’ll let it go for a little more before I pull anything out.

The Tastiness Continues and the Critter Count Goes Up

Lots of things are blooming and growing in my garden. I tried alums this year and I like them so much I’ll add more next year. They add some nice sparkle among the other plants. For anyone unaware, they are the globes of purple flowers set on long stems that are in the first two photos in the slide show below.

I’d always resisted them because they were something I always thought was cool when I was 5. I’d look through the seed catalogs my family got in the mail and cut out my favorite plants and alums were always among them. So, I’ve been avoiding them as an adult as being too gimmicky (along with with rainbow ponies and magic talking cats). It turns out that they’re great!

They bloomed along with plenty of other things including the Asian greens that we couldn’t eat fast enough (yellow flowers below) and hydrangeas everywhere including my pink one and my neighbor’s blue ones. My cone flowers out front are blooming. The cilantro grew into a forest before I cut it to turn it into cilantro pesto. And the garlic has grown scapes. They are beautiful when cut.

I also added some new garden art which is an original painting by Billy Hedel that I found in the alley behind his gallery one day. It’s not a spot I frequent, so I guess it was meant to be. I confirmed that the art was really available for the taking. It goes great with my yellow wall.

P1410161

We’ve had many recent meals that celebrated produce from my garden and from nearby farms. They’ve included tuna with black garlic sauce, tomatoes, cilantro and a side of asparagus; strawberry tart; salad with strawberries, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds; and fresh cherries.

While I was photographing my neighbor’s beautiful hydrangeas, I happened to notice…evidence…of critters. We got the trap loaded and in position and caught two possums and a raccoon last week. Blech. It was evening by the time we could transport the raccoon elsewhere, so because of it we did get to see a beautiful sunset over Bluegrass FWA.

And here’s a cute, non-invasive critter for you: Shamoo continues to live out his happy little life with me as his person and John as his staff. He has arthritis and we recently started him on new medication and that may be why he’s been a little perkier as of late.

P1410341b

 

P1410352

The Good, the Bad, and the Unfortunate

Spring is rolling onward in my garden. The weather has been cool and rainy, which all the spring plants enjoy. The blooms keep blooming, the greens keep growing, and things are beautiful. I managed to find more color shift paint to touch up my purple chair, I’ve gone to the plant nursery and Master Gardener plant sale, and the blackberries are in bloom.

 

looking east

looking west

Unfortunately there have been setbacks. Among them: the longer-term damage from the herbicide that the city sprayed onto my garden is becoming apparent. I’m moving on; I’m not dwelling on it, but it’s there lurking.

One corner of my garden got more drenched than I’d realized. This spring, the shaded corner by the street and my brick fern bed have been bare with the few plants that are there emerging stunted. Here is the spot as of this week:

stunted corner

missing ferns

And here’s what the same areas looked like at this time last year:

more plant mass

this year's fern garden

The only things that seem to be happy are the weeds! I’ve never seen so many poison ivy and Virginia creeper seedlings. So far I’ve done pretty well at avoiding the poison in these guys.

poison ivy and Virginia creeper

I was contemplating whether to wait to see if the plants coming up now will survive or whether I should call them a loss and plant new ones. Then a gardening friend pointed out that the soil itself appears to be poisoned. So I’m thinking I’ll let everything go for this year and hopefully the soil will become fruitful again with time. To try to help it, I decided to start adding new soil to the corner bed. In the bricked area, I dug out as much soil as a could and replaced it with fresh potting soil before planting some new ferns and begonias. Earlier this year, I even applied fertilizer to my mint. Yes, mint.

Here’s the new planting in the brick garden:

a fresher start

And then there’s my privacy fence built from honeysuckle. You can see how that’s doing behind the brick bed. My lush garden walls are mostly gone. But, last weekend I was out working in my garden when a scent came to me strong and lovely. I looked up and realized that it was the remnant of my honeysuckle blooming with abandon. There is hope.

honeysuckle blossoms

Moving Ever Onward while Staying in One Place

Every year it is the truth: April through June are kind to my garden. The colors are never brighter. The leaves never fresher or fuller. Plants bloom one after another. Everything is new and energetic.

The last of the daffodils have finally faded, their dying greenery now covered by the expanding mounds of hostas, heucheras, and tiarellas. There are wonderful little vignettes happening across my garden–wonderful color and textural combinations.

There’s the section of orange and yellow heucheras mixed with white hostas and pink tiarella flower spikes. It’s the section of my garden that was included in the book The Perennial Matchmaker by garden blogger Nancy Ondra (Yay! It was super cool to have one of my photos included in a gardening book! With a photo credit!).

Then there’s the woodland vignette of Solomon’s seal, sweet woodruff, wild ginger, and astrilbe at the base of the maple tree. And the cluster of iris, astrilbe, coral bells, tiarella, and alums only halfway through its blooms.

Mix in some heart-shaped redbud leaves, blazing azaleas, dewdrops, and awesome garden markers by the kids at Patchwork, and I’m a happy gardener.

We almost got through the month of April without a tornado warning, but then last week a severe storm hit. A tornado touched down in the north part of Evansville and there were 60 mile an hour winds all around. It was too much for the frontmost of our two apple trees. I came home from work to find its branches very definitely in the wrong place.

crunch

We called the tree removal people right away and they were out to take care of it a day and a half later. Since the tree was resting on our house, they brought a truck with a crane on it so they could lift straight up. It was very interesting watching them work.

Here’s the before photo of the side yard as they assessed the situation:

Before

And then the guy way up in the tree connecting straps to use for lifting:

guy in tree

And then before my eyes, the entire tree being hoisted over my house. It was a very impressive sight:

the whole tree

I asked them to cut down the second apple tree, as well. In the time we’ve lived here, the second tree’s apples have never been large and it was equally old, so it was a good time to remove it. Maybe now that we won’t have heaps of apples on the ground our house will be less attractive to raccoons and other critters. Maybe.

Here’s the final piece of trunk being readied to be lifted away:

the final piece

And the empty space left behind:

empty

There are plenty of new possibilities here now. It’s sunny, so I’m hoping to build a raised bed to expand my vegetable gardening space. I had the tree guys leave stumps so I can transform them into garden art. Happily, the house seems to be OK.

I’ll miss these trees. They were yellow transparent apples. Their shade was wonderful, and I’d discovered years ago that that they were the secret to making deliciously tart, green applesauce that was just like mom used to make. Luckily, a few years ago I discovered a local source for applesauce apples.

They were old trees, planted almost 40 years ago in an effort by the early folks involved at Patchwork Central to be modern day Johnny Appleseeds. Trying to bring healthy, local food to the residents of inner-city Evansville, everyone planted fruit trees and berries in their yards. These trees thrived where apricots and blueberries failed.

Calvin and Nelia, previous residents of our house who are two of the founders of Patchwork and the trees’ planters, had this tribute to the trees: “They produced lots of apples! We would pick as many as we could & then take bags of them up & down the street asking our neighbors to ‘adopt’ some apples. We made lots & lots of applesauce, fried apples & other inspired concoctions. I still remember the sound of the overly ripe fruit crashing down for the too high top branches with a great ‘splash’. The bees loved the squishy, sweet nectar of these rotten apples! We give thanks for the faithful produce of these determined trees.”

Here’s a photo from Calvin and Nelia that shows the trees just after they were planted:

young apple trees

In the last 2-3 years, the trees have been too tall for me to pick any apples, so I just let the apples fall to the ground. They were so fragile that they would turn brown and shatter with the smallest impact, so the ones that fell never tempted me. I thought they had a horrible, sour flavor when raw, anyway. It always astounded me that many, many people passing by would stop and pick one up to eat. From time to time, I’d hear the clink of the gate latch dropping as someone quietly let themself into the yard to get a particularly large and (relatively) unblemished apple.

So the apple trees really have provided local fruit to hundreds of neighbors for decades. They were a wonderful thing.

Fields of Green

I’m about to be overrun with garden produce! Yes, this produce will be measured by the cup-full and not the bushel, but who’s counting when you can’t eat it fast enough.

Here’s my little lettuce field.

the field

I love all the variations of green and all the variations in flavor. Can you identify the produce? Match the following photos with the plants:

A. Tatsoi

B. Salad Mix

C. Carrots

D. Cilantro

E. Asian Greens Mix

F. Mache

G. Arugula

H. Beets

 

1. 

P1400245

2.

P1400328

 

3.

P1400277

4.

P1400375

5.

P1400309

6.

P1400265

7.

P1400306

8.

P1400324

 

Answers…

 

1 G, 2 B, 3 F, 4 E, 5 C, 6 A, 7 H, 8 D