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

Tulip Time

My garden is coming alive and the impressive blooms keep coming.

The real show stoppers are the tulips. I got a wide variety of new bulbs last fall, so this is the first time I’ve gotten to see their blooms. It’s been exciting. First came miniature red ones called “Lilliput” that surprised me with how small they really were. Then some red and yellow ones with thin, pointy blooms.

And finally the showy parrot tulips called “Professor Rontgen” that were my indulgence. They’re like swirling flames and perfectly match the glass garden art behind them. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried! They’re so warm and brilliantly colored that they just make me smile.

Along with the tulips, the tiarella, daffodils, epimedium, and fritillaries are blooming and the heuchera leaves are new and brightly colored. The hostas are emerging in tight curls that are bright, new, and green. Even the dandelions and violets scattered through the lawn are brilliant and new.

My friends have wondered if I’ve planted anything new yet. I’ve got my greens planted in the raised bed in the middle of my back yard and everything is coming up. Arugula was up first, followed by Asian greens, then the salad mixes, then beets and carrots, and finally mache and cilantro. I like the varied patches of green that they already make and look forward to the variations becoming even more pronounced.

They’d be doing even better if the squirrels would quit rooting around in the bed looking for their hidden acorns. This year I remembered that I had some really old cayenne powder in my garden shed, so I’ve been sprinkling it liberally in hopes of discouraging the squirrels. I’ve told myself that it’s working. Mostly.

arugula

patches of green

lettuce mix

And finally, I went looking for wildflowers last weekend, and I found some nice ones: anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty, trillium, May apple, trout lily, violets, ferns, and more.

They always make me happy, too.

Magnolia Magnificence

Spring is starting to take hold of Evansville. The crocuses have bloomed and faded…

Then came the hellebores and daffodils with more of the later daffodil varieties and the tulips still on the way…

The sedums are perking up and getting extra color…

The Chinese ginger is putting out its alien blooms before the leaves begin to regrow…

P1380277 (2)

I’ve started the first of my garden produce for the year…

P1380991 (2)

P1380625 (2)

The honeysuckle that the city sprayed with herbicide last summer is showing signs of hope and regrowth…

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P1380773 (2)

There are other interesting things to see around my yard and the neighborhood as spring comes upon us…

But the real star lately has been the magnolia tree. It’s been in bloom for almost two weeks now and it’s been gorgeous. I’ve enjoyed the changing light and the changing sky behind it as the tree goes from buds to full bloom…

Gourd-geous Music

P1360537

Minnie Black’s Revival Gourd Band was the focus of an art exhibit for the past month at the Angel Mounds State Historic Site. It was in that unique intersection of gardening and weird art, so I thought it was wonderful.

Minnie Black was born in 1899 in East Bernstadt, Kentucky. At some point she started growing gourds, and somehow it occurred to her to use these gourds to create sculptures and musical instruments. She pulled together a band of people she knew who lived at the nursing home, and they performed together. She became famous enough to even appear on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”.

An Evansville musician/artist discovered Minnie’s daughter selling some of Minnie’s art and instruments at a flea market and was intrigued. He bought some and worked to restore and rebuild them, taking them from interesting art objects to very functional musical instruments. He got his own group of musicians together, built a few additional instruments to round things out, and they started to practice. In February and March they gave two concerts. The instruments sounded way better than any garden produce deserves to sound.

Here are some of the strange creatures and people–all made from gourds:

And here are some of the instruments. The ones that don’t clearly have strings are the ones with harmonicas, kazoos, and nose flutes embedded in them:

And here are a couple of the performances. The band’s version of I’ll Fly Away (the last of the three videos below) was particularly wonderful.

Sensing Spring

Despite a couple snowfalls last week, springtime is starting to make subtle hints that winter will be on its way out soon.

February dusting

I’m refilling my bird feeders daily, looking out for the goldfinches who swarm them. Specks of bright yellow have begun to appear among their feathers as they switch to their flashier summer plumage. Slowly the sunny yellow will take over the drab.

Indoors, my fig trees decided that it was time to come out of dormancy.

little figs

I’ve tried growing figs for the past three years after tasting a fresh fig straight from the tree in a friend’s garden. It was a wonderful flavor and they are pretty trees. The first winter killed my figs. The second winter I wrapped the trees in burlap and put them in a protected area, but they still died back to their roots and had to put all their energy into regrowing.  This winter I brought them indoors just before the first time that temperatures dipped below 20 degrees. I’d hoped they’d remain dormant longer, but suddenly leaves emerged a couple weeks ago and now they are fruiting. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, so we shall see. I’m making it up as I go.

Meanwhile, every variety of snow crocus has now bloomed. It’s an outbreak! The yellow ones, the blue ones, the white ones, and the purple ones. They are all particularly early varieties. Other bulbs can’t be too far away from flowering now, can they?

And solitary bees are hatching indoors! I brought in a wind chime that needs to be repaired. It’s made of bamboo. For the past week or two I’ve heard odd little sounds coming from its general direction. Then there were a couple bees on the floor near it. Maybe I should install a solitary bee nest this summer.

solitary bee

And I’ve experienced my first moment of being overwhelmed by all the seeds I’ve ordered. I tried to organize them last week, strategizing which to plant when and where so everything is staged correctly to maximize the little space I have.  Looking over the four seed orders that have arrived in the past couple months plus older seed packets I still have filed away, I wondered (as I do every year) what was I thinking? How will I possibly cram all of this into my little garden? So many beautiful plants for me to plant!

The first round of seeds is now in little planting cups staying warm in my kitchen. Spring had better be here by the time they’re ready to go in the ground!