A Time of Fairies

It’s the most beautiful time of year in my garden! Everything is green and fresh. Some things are newly planted. Some things are newly sprouted. Bright flowers are in bloom. The heat has not had an opportunity to dry things out too much. And, best of all, the honeysuckle is in bloom! It’s a wall of fragrance.

Now I have three varieties. One native variety on the shed (red, below), one unidentified variety in front (orange, below), and the invasive but oh-so-sweet variety on the back fence (white/yellow, below).

The honeysuckle on the back fence and its blossoms add a beautiful and magical backdrop to everything else going on in my garden. It’s a particularly enchanting. Every year at this time I feel like I should look for fairies.

It’s the time of year when it’s hard for me to stop taking pictures of everything. So here is my yard from all (or mostly all) the angles. I’d recommend flipping through them as a slideshow instead of simply looking at the gallery as a whole:

And here are some closer looks at everything in and around my house:

I’ve started on my garden art projects for the year. I’ve got plenty of plans. The first one I tackled was changing an old chandelier into an outdoor solar light. A friend of mine gifted me the perfect light fixture for the project. It was kind of wonky and bent up, so it wasn’t the best for indoor use, but it has a flower theme that’s perfect for a garden. I glued solar lights on in place of light bulbs and voila!

The other project that I’ve started is to invite some actual fairies into my garden. Last summer, I sculpted one of the two apple tree stumps in our side yard, turning it into a bottle tree with a raccoon on top.

This summer I plan to work on the second stump. So far, I’ve added the two apple pickers that came with the house for use in harvesting the trees’ apples. I thought it was fitting to work them into my apple tree trunk sculpture. I started adding bottles (including an apple brandy bottle to add to the theme) and will put plenty more on. Last fall, I’d begun carving a few little niches in the trunk and now I’ve painted the niches and added ceramic fairies created by the children in Patchwork Central’s children’s program. I’ll work on the tree all summer, but I like where it’s gone so far.

I’ve got a few more little fairy vignettes scattered around my garden.

Summer Too Soon

It’s been hot. Hot enough to have had the air conditioning on for well over a week. In the 90’s hot. Humid hot. And we’re only mid May!

It seems to be hard on my plants. They were in the tender, young stages of spring and hadn’t really hardened to the heat. Still, the garden moves along. This weekend was the magical, fairy garden stage when the honeysuckle is in bloom and the greens everywhere are varied and vibrant. But more on that later! With so much blooming, there’s a lot of catching up to do!

Way back in the middle of April, the later spring bulbs were blooming. That included the last few daffodils and my fancy tulips as well as a few more fritillaria, some less fancy red tulips, and wildflowers like trillium, wild ginger, and wild geranium. At the same time, the many varieties of fern were stretching out of the ground and unfurling.

I also had a fun little bird spotting. I looked out of the back door mid April and thought I saw a butterfly. It was so bright and it was flitting around the ground. Then I realized it was a Kentucky warbler. It was a little ahead of the rest of the migrating crowd, and extremely unusual for me to see in my yard. It must have been very tired, because it stuck around near the ground in my back yard for a few hours. It was great to get such a good look at it, and I was very glad to have all indoor cats so I didn’t have to fear that one of them would eat it.

As the bulbs and wildflowers faded, the time for the azaleas and irises arrived. The ferns developed further, and the redbud blossoms fell and were replaced by tiny heart leaves. Finally, it was the alums’ time to bloom. I love their lavender constellations of star-shaped flowers.

My lettuce finally took off. April was unusually cold, so it took a little while for my salad greens to decide that it was a good time to grow. In previous years, the squirrels have dug huge chunks out of my lettuce as they searched for their hidden food caches.

“Not this year!” I thought to myself. This year I put bird net over the greens to discourage the squirrels’ digging, but then the lettuce had a growth spurt and I couldn’t get the net off. I’ve decided it’s an idea worth fine-tuning, though. The squirrels were successfully deterred even though I had a couple salads that included plastic netting.

A batch of bluebells came with my garden when I started it more than 9 years ago. They originally were located in the area I turned into my vegetable garden and have proven difficult to eradicate. I pulled them and pulled them, and still they came back. I chucked them into the yard area under the magnolia, and they didn’t die. They don’t really get enough light, they don’t always bloom, and just get overgrown, so they haven’t particularly endeared themselves to me.

But this spring something happened to make me like them much more. A hummingbird happened through my yard. I saw him, and I apologized to him as I usually do for not having any spring food out.

I’ve attempted in the past to put a feeder out, but I just can’t keep up with the maintenance, even as much as I like hummingbirds. Making more syrup, changing it out every few days, cleaning the feeder. I just can’t do it.

So, I’m glad to have plants around that can do the hummingbird feeding better than I ever could.

The beginning of May brought the annual Master Gardeners’ Plant Sale. I don’t need any more plants, but I love going so much that I went anyway. It’s a huge room full of interesting plant colors and textures. This year there was a special preview sale and I made sure to go at the very start of that to get first pick, like usual.

The next day, I drove to one of the local plant nurseries. I have fond memories as a kid of riding 45 minutes in the car to get to my mom’s favorite greenhouse. My sister and I would spend quite a while looking through all the greenhouses. We’d pull our shopping wagon behind us and fill it with some plants for our gardens. Mom spent even longer picking out her plants for the year.

This year at the greenhouse I got a bunch of succulents and annuals for several planters around my garden.

By this point, things were really starting to shape up in my garden.

Finally it was time for the peonies, baptisia, and the honeysuckle to bloom. I love the way the honeysuckle buds contort into such interesting shapes, particularly the honeysuckle variety on my front fence. Unfortunately, that plant tends to be plagued by aphids. On a few lucky years, the plant is almost finished blooming before the bugs appear. But not this year. See if you can spot the photo below that includes the aphids.

The baptisia is on the east side of the house, so it was beautifully backlit in the morning sun when I went out to get the paper with Perry. He didn’t really appreciate it, but did love to watch the starlings.

Meanwhile the cats are their usual selves. The Ladies are as lovely as ever. They continue to enjoy sitting at their window and looking out on the back yard. They love to watch all the goings on but have zero desire to actually go outside. They enjoy each others’ company. I love the exchange I caught below in which Morgaine seems annoyed by her mother’s public kisses.

And Morgaine continues to show her love of burrowing into things. Here she is burrowing into a bunch of receipts that I laid out on the bed for her and burrowing into the bed upstairs. She’s everyone’s sweet girlfriend.

Meanwhile Perry is still…Perry. He has made some improvements but is still difficult and bity. He also continues to be a goofball. While the weather has been nice I’ve been trying to take him out for walks more often. It was nice during lilac season. I could smell my neighbor’s lilac tree and Perry could nibble on my neighbor’s grass. He’s playful and goofy, and John and I think he enjoys being an indoor cat.

 

 

 

St Louis Road Trip

A little over a week ago, John and I took a long weekend and traveled to St. Louis. It’s the kind of trip that we always say we should take more often. It’s always so good to make ourselves take a break from work and get away for some time together. Then we come home, get sucked into work, and another year passes without a simple weekend away.

This time we went to St. Louis. On Friday, we met up with our friends Ruth and Jesse who live in Kansas City. For years we’ve all said we should meet halfway and see each other in St. Louis. Finally we did it!

It’s very good to spend time with old friends. We met for lunch, then went to Citygarden. It’s a great little sculpture park in the center of the city. From there we walked to the arch and soaked up some sun.

Then Ruth decided she felt like ice cream. A Google search resulted in an intriguing ice cream shop: Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery. The ice cream there was amazing. The “naughty” part was the section of the ice cream case devoted to flavors that incorporated alcoholic beverages. The two flavors I chose were “Cup of Sunshine” with turmeric, ginger, and tea flavoring (among others) and “Lion’s Tooth” with Dandelion Liqueur. The ice cream was so good John and I went back the next day to try different flavors.

John and I also checked out the St. Louis Graffiti Wall. It’s a flood wall against the Mississippi River, it’s more than a mile long, and it’s covered in graffiti. It was fun to see, and it managed to make our new little car look cool. It didn’t really make me look any cooler, though.

I also had the fun of being a guerrilla photographer for an engagement that happened in a park near the ice cream shop. John and I were walking around, and a group of people asked me if I planned to be in the park for a little while.

I cautiously said that, yes, I was, and they explained that they were hiding in the bushes because a man they knew was about to propose to his girlfriend. [I realized that that explained why they were lurking in the same spot next to some bushes.] They were hoping that I would take one of their cell phones and photograph the proposal as it happened. If I did it, they could remain hidden in the bushes and the girlfriend would suspect nothing.

It sounded fun, as long as I didn’t spend all night waiting for the guy to arrive, so I agreed. They fussed way too much about which phone to give me. The guy’s mom was afraid the girlfriend would recognize the phone case. She didn’t believe me when I said I was a totally random person and the girlfriend would never connect “my” phone to anyone she knew.

Then they got a text from the man in question that said he and his girlfriend were about five minutes away. The family gave me a description–the couple was walking a golden retriever and the guy was balding and wearing a pink shirt. John and I got in position by the gazebo where the magical moment would occur, and we waited.

John spotted the couple first. They rounded a building and headed our way. I held up the phone. We were no one. We didn’t matter, and that was perfect. The guy got down on one knee, the woman said yes, they kissed, and the dog did jumping jacks behind them because he was so excited. The family cheered and jumped out of the bushes, and I passed the phone off to them before disappearing into the park. The guy and his new fiancee never knew I was there. As John and I headed off, we heard champagne corks pop.

As an added bonus, the guy’s family handed me $10 in tips as I handed off the cell phone. Later, I considered starting a new business of secret wedding proposal photography as I sipped a $10 cocktail.

The next day, John and I went to the Missouri Botanical Garden. It couldn’t have been a more perfect time for a visit. The trees were all in full bloom as were the majority of the spring bulbs. The weather was warm but not too hot, and the sky was blue.

We wandered through several of the gardens before arriving in the formal Victorian garden with studding tulips surrounding a sculpture of Juno. It was clearly the spot to get your picture taken! Actually, the botanical garden was understandably packed with guests. It was a fun challenge to get photos that highlighted the plants and landscapes and not the random people walking through them.

We also stopped in the Climatron on the way to the restroom. The Chihuly glass in one of the ponds was definitely some garden art goals to which I could aspire!

 

In the middle of taking photos of all the tulips, daffodils, fritillaries, flowering trees, and Persian buttercups, John and I ran across the iris display garden. I began to photograph my favorite blooms. Then we started reading the names of each variety and it got really fun. I overheard a garden staff member telling another visitor that the people developing the different varieties of iris had weird senses of humor.

There were quite a few of the irises that weren’t blooming yet, and their names really made me curious what they might look like. Some of the names that struck me included:

  • Troublemaker
  • Fission Chips
  • Gag Gift
  • Gnuz Spread
  • Force Field
  • It’s Amazing
  • Honey Money
  • Outspoken
  • Enoch
  • Cat’s Eye
  • Cliche
  • Exotic Blend
  • Done Me Wrong
  • Cuddle Up
  • Lady Friend
  • Devoted
  • Photon
  • Honey Cat
  • Naughty Nights
  • Sammie’s Jammies
  • Dusky He-Man
  • Spiderman
  • Grindelwald
  • Ninja Turtles
  • Somewhat Quirky
  • Quite Quirky

Later in the morning, we made our way through a woodland area to arrive at the Japanese garden. The views all along the way were spectacular, but it was in the Japanese garden that the variations in color in the trees and bushes were absolutely stunning. There could not have been a better day to visit!

Catching Up Again

Our computer is finally up and running after about two months of a busted hard drive. So here I am, catching up on over a month. It’s still early in the gardening year, so the pace has still been slower. Highlights include:

  • My orchids did not disappoint this year. There were a couple fewer bloom stalks than last year, but I still got an impressive show. Three different varieties were blooming at once!
  • My many varieties of crocus put on a colorful show scattered across the lawn. Most years I’ve added a few new colors and I love all the variety that I have now.
  • The hellebores are blooming. They are really interesting as they emerge from the ground. I first got them because I thought the name was interesting, but now I love them for their complex flowers.
  • Snow! I love the way the snow looks on the daffodils and crocuses. It’s such a pretty combination. The flowers are tough, though, and pop back after the snow melts.
  • Everywhere there are signs that spring is well on its way.
  • The poor magnolia has been waiting and waiting for the perfect blooming weather. It’s been holding back on a full bloom for weeks now. Today it started a halfhearted bloom in the middle of a swampy, rainy day. I miss its usual magnificence.
  • I have some beautiful tomato plants that are eager to get in the ground! It’s the best looking set of seedlings I’ve had since I lost access to a greenhouse. This year I found grow lights at Lowe’s. I should have bought some sooner. These are cheaply made, but that also makes them really light and portable, so I tucked them away in a corner of our upstairs bedroom.

So there you are, caught up on my garden at least. I’ve got a whole bunch of cat pictures, too, though they will have to go in another post.

 

You’ve Peaked, Evansville.

Every fall in Evansville there is a beautiful moment when the leaves have changed gloriously and enough have scattered across the ground that we are surrounded by a world of autumnal color. The streets are lined with reds, rusts, pale oranges, and yellows. My back yard is bathed in golden light filtered through the maple leaves, and it’s the color of happiness. But, the moment is always brief and an instant later the branches are bare and the leaves on the ground are dry and grey.

(Click any of the photos below for a bigger image and a slideshow of the changing leaves.)

My garden has fully embraced autumn. We didn’t have freezing temperatures until a few days ago, so most things were still growing though they seemed to anticipate the killing weather. Many leaves were tinged with orange and yellow and seed pods were prominent. I picked the last of my beans and brought my house plants indoors for the winter. The Ladies enjoyed adventuring in their new jungle in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, a few photos of the cats. We keep working with Larry to improve his behavior, though he’s still a challenge and very bitey. One thing that we’ve discovered he loves: clicker training. So far he can touch a target with his nose, stand on a mat with all four paws, and sit. He seems happy to do it and happy to have very positive interaction with John and me.

Of course, the Ladies are simply delightful, as always.

All three have the following advice as winter approaches:

Find a warm spot…

 

Enjoy your warm bed…

Wrap your tail around your nose to keep it warm…

And enjoy the changing seasons.

 

Turning to Fall

Now there’s the promise of cooler days mixed in with the warm ones. Last night was cold enough I needed to bring my houseplants inside. They’ll go back out tomorrow for more direct sun and fresh air, but it won’t be long before they’re in for the winter.

I’ve got some final tomatoes still ripening. The Atomic Grape variety has been getting nice and ripe and I’ve decided I like them better than I thought. The color still isn’t as dramatic as it was in the seed catalog, but they’re still pretty, especially in big clusters.

I’ve been picking my lima beans. A couple weeks ago I got a nice collection of both fresh and already dried. They’re tasty and beautiful. It usually takes all summer to get a nice crop ready to pick. The hearty begonia flowers are gracefully descending into seed pods and the toad lilies are blooming, so it must be time for fall. The zinnias and marigolds continue to bloom and add nice autumn color.

A big, fat, orange cucumber is hanging on a dying vine with drying beans nearby. It is the image of early fall. And the corn has been pulled and sits by my front stoop looking festive. A few weeks ago I was sitting next to someone at a gathering of nonprofit professionals and he kept talking about going out to his farm to get some corn to decorate his nearby nonprofit. In Patchwork Central style, I got my fall decor from my yard and not from my second home.

And finally, the cats are enjoying the changing seasons from the back door. We’ve been trying to try to prepare for merging the household, so Larry has even gotten in on the garden viewing action. The merger hasn’t gone great so far, so keep us all in your thoughts. About a week ago we let them all meet, but Larry just got excited and chased the Ladies around the house. He just wanted friends to play with. The Ladies didn’t like his game. John and I continue to try to train him not to communicate with us using his teeth, but it looks like that work will be ongoing. He’s a much tougher to than average cat to figure out. Meanwhile, the Ladies continue to be their usual lovely selves.

My Least Favorite Season

I love the changing of the seasons. I love snow in winter and the stark brown of the landscape. I love the emerging greens in the early spring and the lushness of the new plants after they fully emerge from the ground. I love midsummer when the garden is still expanding to fill the space and the vegetables and fruits are fresh and new. I love the crispness and deep colors of autumn.

However, late summer into early autumn gets me down every year. The lush expansion of my garden is over and things are starting to sink into themselves. The jewel tones of fall have yet to appear. Everything is simply brown and crispy. When rain comes, there isn’t the fresh, green rebound that happens earlier in the year. Everything seems tired and ready to quit, but it’s way too hot. The last fruits hang on the plants. They’re not ripe and may never get a chance to ripen before the frost. It’s now clear which plants were failures. They’re the ones that are crustier than the rest or are simply represented by empty spaces filled with my hopes for what could have grown.

Right now I’m ready for fall and not eager to be out in my garden.

Nonetheless, there is beauty to be found here and there. There was my one perfect ear of shoepeg corn (along with several imperfect ears), finally a few morning glories and sunflowers, one zinnia that managed a happy bloom, the sweet autumnal clematis in bloom, interesting bugs, my favorite hosta blooms, and, indoors, four flowers on my spectacular orchid.

Of special note is my okra. I grow it mostly for its beautiful flowers. We’ve eaten some of the pods, but most have quickly grown too big to be tasty. I’m trying to dry those pods to make okra-sicles for this year’s Christmas tree. With three young cats, I have a feeling that all our usual the glass ornaments will stay in storage this year.

And finally, the cats. The Ladies have been spending as much time as they can sitting in the back door and surveying their domain. They carry themselves with the grace and decorum of royalty.

And then there’s Larry. He’s sweet when he’s giving us hugs and kisses and when he’s playing. But then he attacks us and it’s brutal. He doesn’t understand that RAWR! is not the best communication technique.

From what we’ve read, bengals love heights so we got him another cat tree. He helped us assemble it then added a couple RAWR’s for good measure. He loves it and sleeps on the highest platforms. While we were setting it up, he also did another thing that I’ve read bengals do: he was intrigued by the metal parts and started to carry one away with him. He was foiled by an evil box flap that he thought was solid but that collapsed under him.

He’s finally been cleared of his parasites, so now we can work to try to integrate him with the Ladies. We’re very cautiously optimistic. Wish us luck.