Germany!

I was traveling for a good part of the month of August. My sister lives in Germany with her family and John’s sister lives in England with hers, so we spent one week in Germany with my sister’s family and then met up with John’s entire family in England.

It was wonderful, much too rare family time. In addition to all the visiting with our family members, we saw some great sights. We spent plenty of time in historic locations and beautiful natural environments, which everyone enjoyed.

I’ll do a series of posts here that focus on all the beauty I photographed, starting with some general shots of Germany.

Our home base was the small town where my sister lives. It’s just outside of Nuremberg, Germany. There is farmland around it, and plenty of nice German gardens surrounding everyone’s homes. John and I stayed in a guesthouse that had a nice variety of plants growing around it. From our room, we also had a nice view over the town. It’s particularly good on Sunday mornings when all the church bells ring together.

The guest house also had some sweet kittens. We would greet them every day as we came and went, and they were often getting into some kind of trouble or another. You could tell that the kittens were German because they played with beer bottle caps. 🙂

Many mornings, our breakfast came from the bakery across the street from my sister’s apartment, partly because my sister decided that it was too hot to want to turn her own oven on to bake breakfasts. Germany had been experiencing a heat wave and a drought for several weeks before we arrived, and it was in the upper 90’s for almost all of our trip.

With such high temperatures and no air conditioning, we spent a couple days enjoying German pools. One that we visited was a “natural pool”. The pool used plants and aquatic animals for filtration rather than chemicals like chlorine. The water was very green in color and the entire pool was lined with algae. It also had a stream area where kids could wade and play by using rocks to divert the water’s flow. It was a neat place, and I’m realizing now that I should have gotten a photo of the entire thing. You’ll have to make do with a photo of the waterlilies at work filtering the water.

Despite the heat, it was a very good trip.

 

July

My garden hasn’t taken a break yet, despite the hot weather. There are still plenty of interesting things to observe and new blooms happening. There are also some dry spots and brown edges that reflect the intensity of the summer sun.

The slide show below shows my garden’s developments during the month of July. I added captions to give you an idea of what you’re looking at. It includes:

  • The beautiful beginnings of bean plants. I got them started a little later than is ideal, but hopefully I’ll still get some beans.
  • My precious red raspberry harvest. They are one of my favorite foods, but I can’t find anyone around here who grows them so I decided to grow them myself. They were delicious.
  • Spreading butternut squash and ripening tomatoes.
  • Blackberries. I picked an absolutely perfect berry that had been heating in the sun. It had baked its own sugars and each little bead exploded with flavor in my mouth.
  • Humidity!
  • Blueberry picking. I’m stocked up for the winter! I probably picked at least 25 pounds in 95+ degree heat. It’s a test of my willpower.
  • Bugs, birds, and blooms.
  • The whole of the zinnia patch that I highlighted in my last blog post.
  • Video of one of the many hummingbirds that are visiting my garden. For me, growing plants is so much easier than trying to keep the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder fresh. I’m OK with that.
  • A video panorama of my garden at the end of July.

Early July was the time for Lodi apples. They make deliciously tart applesauce that’s just like my mom used to make. “Nosh-stalgia” is what one friend has heard it called. I’m thankful that there is one orchard in town that grows them.

Several years ago when I discovered the secret to my mom’s applesauce was June apples, I also discovered that I could purchase a cheap approximation of the Squeezo Strainer that she used to make the sauce. My new strainer worked pretty good, but I always wished for the real thing.

Last year, the cheap plastic crusher that pushed the fruit into the strainer folded in on itself, and I knew it was my chance to get a new strainer. I ordered a brand name Squeezo Strainer on Ebay and hoped it was going to be a good investment. It came in time to make applesauce. It wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined, but overall I think it’s a better product. There are a couple design details on the cheap knockoff that I miss on the real thing, the particular Squeezo I got had a couple pieces that were bent ever so slightly so it leaked a little, and for some reason it really made the apples oxidize, but look at that wooden smoosher! It gave the apples a pounding and it didn’t break. I think it also did better at extracting more pulp. Plus it’s like mom’s.

I’ve also been working on more garden art. My Fairy Tree is starting to shape up. I painted the apple pickers, I added faces in them that were inspired by some garden art I saw last summer, I added another fairy created by the kids at Patchwork Central, and I added all the empty bottles I had on hand. I like where it’s going. I’ll add more fairies and more bottles and decide on what to place atop the two former trunks of the tree that don’t already have apple pickers on them.

And finally, cats. They’re all good. Perry continues to be a challenge, but with play time and regular walks he’s doing better. He’s a little like a 2-year-old in that he gets tired and cranky. He can’t leave me alone while I work on the computer, even though I know he would be happy to take a nap. But he likes his carrier and is content sitting in it next to me while I write. And don’t worry. When he’s had enough of the carrier he lets me know.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are quite lovely. In one of the photos below I managed to catch Ygraine at her most floofy and cute. She’s a queen. And I love to sit and read the newspaper while the Ladies look out the back door in the mornings. It’s a relaxing way to start the day. When they get tired of that, they play. Morgaine does lovely dances while chasing her tail.

Garlic, Beans, & Cats, Oh My!

A couple weeks ago marked the biggest switchover my garden sees every year. It was time for the garlic to come out and the beans to go in. The garlic harvest was good. I always get a small garden sampler from one organic garlic supplier or another. This year it was four varieties from Southern Exposure Seed Catalog. Their garlic has always done well for me.

Since I have such limited garden space, swapping garlic for beans is one thing I have discovered to maximize what I have planted. Ideally, I could plant the beans sooner, but it’s workable putting them in now after the garlic gives up its spot in the garden.

I’ve found lima beans do well for me, so I plant several varieties of them. This year I also added one variety of pole bean and some Native American beans that a friend gave me. I love the beauty of their varied colors and shapes.

Names of each variety of garlic and bean are noted in the following slide show:

Meanwhile, as promised, the cats. They’re all doing well. The Ladies are delightful and floofy. They are sweet and can get pretty much anything they want because of it. There have even been some summer days that were cool enough for the Ladies to sit in the back door and watch the birdies and whatever else is going on. And I’ve kept the bird feeders stocked for additional entertainment from their cat tree.

Perry continues to get marginally better, but he still has a long way to go. He’s funny and interesting and smart. It’s just too bad that his primary language is bites. We continue to work with him, even though it can be frustrating and disappointing.

Here he is showing off his clicker training skills:

And finally, some photos from the alley. Alleys are always very interesting places. In back of our house is a wounded stand of junk trees. One is a dreaded Tree of Heaven that is constantly invading my garden with its suckers. The others are relatively weak varieties of maple. They’ve grown forgotten for years and are quietly consuming the urban detritus around them. Their contortions are beautiful.

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.

 

 

 

Second Chances

I sit outdoors on the second step

and watch this cat eat his food.

He is not my cat

and cannot be my cat,

so he has no bowl and eats

from a folded silver square of aluminum.

The air is close and heavy in our lungs.

The neighbor’s air conditioner

slams to life. Mine echos

a moment later and their rusty

fans spin hard into the gathering dusk.

In this moment, the world

is as thin as the piece of foil

that crinkles lightly at each pass

of the cat’s tongue.

Everything bends along with it.

Lost. Found.

Thin kindness. Sanctuary.

The balance of a life starting over.

Perhaps.

I look down at the cat

as we spin through this darkening universe,

and I am left to answer:

How will we sustain

this small and insignificant life?

 

                                             –Amy Rich

An Update for the Cat Fans

The Ladies Ygraine and Morgaine continue to be absolutely lovely and delightful.

One of their favorite pastimes is to watch the birds at the feeders outside. In January, I got them a bird feeder that would attach directly to the window, and finally the birds have found it. The birds will put up with the cats, but they prefer to eat at the other feeders that are not within paw’s reach. So, this feeder only gets busy when the other feeders are empty.

Sometimes Lady Ygraine gets so excited she hops up on the ledge formed by the top of the lower window. She balances there for a surprisingly long time before hopping down again.

It’s meditative to watch their tails wave as they concentrate on their birdwatching.


Meanwhile, we continue to work with Squire Percival. We’re trying hard to teach him how to be a better cat and how to communicate with us without using his teeth. He’s making incremental progress, and we’re starting to understand him a little better, too. Still, it promises to be a long process.

We continue to try to take him on walks. We think he enjoys them–at least he is agreeable when we’re putting his walking jacket on him–but he gets overstimulated quickly and starts hissing and growling at the world as he’s exploring it. He can only be out for so long before he starts getting too foul-mouthed and attacking us.

We also continue to do the clicker training. His skills now include sit, stay (kind of), touch, weave (between beer bottles), go in (his carrier), mat (as in, sit on it with all 4 paws), go through (a tunnel), and jump. A lot depends his mood.

When he’s doing well, he can be super sweet and goofy. You can get a sense of that in the videos below where he’s doing his usual greeting at the window and when he’s running after his favorite sparkle poof toy.