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.

Remembering Shamoo

 

My final portrait of Shamoo taken on Christmas Day 2016

 

Shamoo was born in October, 1997 and died December 28, 2016.

He was a wonderful cat who had a very good life. He was aware of this, and stuck around for 19 years to enjoy as much of it as he could. He spent 18 of his years with his person Amy. John provided staffing for Shamoo for 17 years. Shamoo cared about them very much in the way that cats care about their people.

Shamoo worked hard to be dignified, clean, and proper at all times, commanding the title of “Sir”. As a younger cat, he was a little cheeky, but he mellowed with age. Often things happened around him that left him feeling concerned, but he tried hard to never let anything ruffle his fur too much.

To the very end, Shamoo was a handsome cat. He routinely positioned himself in locations that would complement his dapper black and white coat. He loved the camera. Amy enjoyed taking photographs of him. In the early days of the internet LOLCat, he enjoyed a measure of notoriety, being chosen to appear regularly on the website StuffOnMyCat.com. He was included in the pages of three Stuff on My Cat books and won a Stuff on My Cat online contest with his portrayal of the letter Z.

In his life, Shamoo lived in Evansville, Indiana; Archbold, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and (again) Evansville, Indiana. He had many roommates and temporary staff in that time who enjoyed his company. During his time in Archbold, Shamoo also shared the house with Josh the dog. The two enjoyed playing tricks on each other, chasing each other, and looking out the window together. Shamoo always felt a little sorry for Josh for being the family pet.

Shamoo enjoyed being petted while he ate fresh crunchies and watching birds. He often talked to the birds excitedly as he watched them. In his younger days, he enjoyed playing with string toys, aggravating his roommates, and jumping into window sills to look outside. In his later years, he enjoyed laying on top of his people, going on walks indoors with John, sleeping in his heated cat bed, and taking short excursions into the outdoors.

Shamoo found new experiences even as an elderly cat. He went on his first vacation to Northern Michigan at the age of 16 and returned to Michigan for two more years. He didn’t mind the car ride and enjoyed the relaxing time with his people.

Shamoo was a very good cat and he will be greatly missed.

 

Paw Print

German Adventures

Europe on the horizon

I’m just back from a week in Germany visiting my sister and her family. The occasion: my youngest niece was being baptized and my sister and her husband asked me to be the godmother. I also got to be part of everyday life for a short time and saw a few sights around Nuremberg. It was a good visit.

my sister's village

My sister and her family live in a village near Nuremberg. Her apartment looks out on a photogenic old garage and a wonderful bakery. The day before the baptism we picked some leaves off the garage to decorate the reception room at a church in a nearby town. Then my older niece and I had to wait together for a ride.

While we waited, she found a green leaf and a red one for me to use as flags. I was supposed to wave them to direct her to go or to stop while she was riding her bike in the driveway. Soon, she started to disobey the traffic signals and told me I needed to be the police and stop her.

Then it was our turn to go to the reception room to help decorate. Along the way we stopped for some pumpkins. I am so envious at the great variety of pumpkins at the little farm near my sister’s house. They were both beautiful and looked tasty. We intentionally chose mostly edible varieties so they could become dinner when they were done being centerpieces.

After setup was over, my niece and I had to wait together again. It was a gorgeous day. I was inspired by the church’s mosaic garden ball. My niece picked a bouquet of red leaves and weeds to give to “the best Mamma.”

The next day was the baptism service at the 600-year-old church in the village where my sister and her family live. The minister was very nice and knew some English, so he incorporated a few things in English to help make it meaningful for me despite my lack of German language skills. It was a nice service and a new experience for me.

At the end of the service a candle was lit for each of the three children who had been baptized. In addition, their siblings had been invited to bring back the candles that were lit at their baptisms.

After the service, we all went to the reception for a big meal, time together, and a walk at the edge of the town. On the walk, we passed an interesting tree with odd apples on it. There was an explanation for what they were, but I didn’t quite follow it.

The next day I had some time by myself, so I took a walk in my sister’s town. It was a misty and atmospheric day. I started at the church and church cemetery, which are located at the highest point in the town. German church cemeteries are interesting because most plots include a stone monument inside a small, personalized garden. I enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of plants. From the church, I walked through the fields just outside of town.

On my last day in Germany, the kids, my sister, and I visited a botanical garden in the town of Erlangen. The kids had voted to go to the zoo instead, but my sister and I were interested to see what the gardens were like. We were afraid that the kids were going to be super bored and would pick everything in sight, but were happy to find that the kids found plenty of interesting things to look at and enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Gourd-geous Music

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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.