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.

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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.

 

Rare Harvests

I have figs! I have figs!

Perhaps six years ago, I got to taste a fig straight off a friend’s fig tree. It was the most unique and amazing flavor. I decided I wanted to grow my own, and so the saga began.

The winters here are borderline for growing figs. The first winter mine all died. The second winter I wrapped them in burlap and moved them to a protected corner of the yard. And they still died. I thought.

After I planted new ones, the roots of the previous years’ sprouted fresh. That winter I brought them inside when it got below 20 degrees outside, but then it stayed cold and they stayed indoors and came out of dormancy. They leafed out and sprouted fruits but didn’t get enough light and the tiny figs fell off.

Last winter I brought them inside when it got below 15 degrees outside, but got them back outside quickly. The winter didn’t have too many cold snaps, and they happily started growing at the first signs of spring. Like every other year, this summer they were nice and green and leafy. Unlike other years, I saw figs forming!

I held my breath, ready for the figs to drop too early, but, no! They turned dark and heavy with sugar. Would the flavor be as extraordinary as I remembered?

Yes indeed.

Another rare harvest is the butternut squash. I got four small ones off of that volunteer vine! It looks like it’s true that the squash vine borers don’t like butternut squash because the vines never succumbed. I will definitely plant more in the future. The only problem came when we brought Larry the cat inside after he’d spent a month roaming my garden. It only took a week before the squirrels were making a mess of it.

I’ve also harvested a couple melons (one too early, sadly), the corn is looking good from a distance but aphids have damaged the ears, the okra is blooming (really the flowers are the main reason I grow okra!), I’m collecting one blackberry at a time in the hope of having enough to make jam (though with Larry the cat outside, the birds and squirrels left me more berries this year), the beans finally started to amount to something, the flowers are blooming, and tomatoes continue to ripen (although I have yet to taste some of the most intriguing varieties including Dragon’s Eye and Cosmic Eclipse).

Larry the cat has been doing OK in his life indoors. He is a difficult cat, which we anticipated when we brought him in. He has tons of energy, he is a gawky teenager, and his brain seems to short out regularly which results in people being bitten. He’s loving, too.

This morning I felt like I bargained for his soul. It turns out that he belonged to the relative of a neighbor but had come to live with the neighbor when the relative lost her apartment. No one at his new home could stand him indoors, so they put him outside. Then he disappeared for the last week and everyone was worried.

I told them we’d taken him to the vet and were treating him for problems that the vet had found. I told them I could tell that he’d been cared for. I offered to take over caring for him and said I had been planning to see if we could work him in with our other cats. His previous caretaker seemed a little relieved and agreed.

She did make sure I knew his real name is Raja and that he’s part Bengal. She said if she could find them she’d drop off his vet records.

He always turns to look when he hears voices across the street. He still considers her his person.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are a little stressed about another cat being around, even though we can’t officially introduce them all until Larry’s intestinal parasites clear up. The one good thing for them now that he’s indoors: they can sit uninterrupted at their back door once more. They can’t complain too much about their life of leisure and luxury.

Just Look at this Goofball…

Just look at this goofball and try to ignore him…I bet you can’t.

He showed up in our back yard about a month ago. It didn’t seem like anyone was feeding him, so for a few days I shared some of the Ladies’ food on little squares of aluminum foil–I wasn’t going to make too strong of a commitment. But the squares of foil became Shamoo’s discarded travel cup, and I found reasons to spend evenings sitting on the side porch so he’d have company. And then he got some of the Ladies’ flea treatment, too.

He quickly became my little gardening buddy, following me everywhere, observing everything, and convincing the bunnies to invade other gardens (added bonus: I can say, “No, no, I wasn’t talking to myself, I was talking to the cat!”). He also enjoyed “helping” me with my garden art projects.

I’m just not so sure about the company he keeps. 🙂

He loves laps and cuddles, he’ll give you kisses if you let him, and he always purrs. He’s also got a massive amount of energy and he’ll zap your arm or leg good if he gets overstimulated, which happens regularly. He’s a goofball and he’s definitely trouble. He also seems starved for a family to love him and for him to love. Every night for weeks, I’ve had to remove the soundly sleeping cat from my lap so I could go inside to bed, and then he’d sit on the doorstep and stare sadly at the door.

So John and I talked. What do you do. Neither of us wanted three cats. And the Ladies are an absolutely, positively perfect duo. But if we don’t look out for him, who will?

So he got checked out at the vet. No microchip. No infectious cat diseases.

What do you do.

We rearranged the house and made a space for him and a space for the Ladies. Two litter boxes. Two feeding areas. Another set of toys. And two giant cat trees. Today is his first day inside. We’ll see how it goes.

With the Ladies, we visited the Humane Society three times. We met different cats. We thought long and hard about which ones were the right cats for us: two cats would be perfect. Friends who wanted to stay together. Not too young. Not too old. We chose carefully and thoughtfully and shared some heartache over the ones we didn’t choose. It was emotional when we brought them home and let them out of their carrier. We hoped they would grow to trust us and to consider us their people.

And now here’s Larry (that’s what we’re calling him for now). He carefully and thoughtfully chose us.

There is one major obstacle, however, and her name is Ygraine.

She. Is. Not. Amused.

Warming Up to Summer

The seasons are changing in my garden. The garlic is out of the ground. The lettuce is getting bitter in the heat and I should pull it. The beans are in the ground (and I love the many variations in color and shape and great names). The cucumbers, squash, and melons are starting to explode (particularly the surprise ones that popped up from the compost I emptied into the garden this spring). The tomatoes have green fruits forming.

Soon I’ll be tasting summer coming from my garden!

Summer flowers are also starting to bloom next to my summer vegetables. The hostas have started blooming along with hydrangea, lilies, coneflowers, yarrow, and butterfly weed.

And the weather has been [mostly] lovely lately. I’ve rediscovered our side porch, how easy it is to take a quick break in its shade, and its great view of the garden.

Here’s a view with my wind spinner, sun catchers, and wind chimes all in action:

And one in the evening with the fireflies, night insects, and my sprinkler (I know it’s not best to water plants in the evening, but you’ve got to go with the opportunities that you get). The sprinkler makes nice rain sounds:

And with the weather being so nice, John and I have taken many sunset walks to the Ohio River. Here’s a nice one from a time when I thought to bring my camera:

And it was particularly great to have brought my camera this particular time because we passed an actual human being carrying her cat in a baby carrier.

She told someone as we passed by that it was a standard Walmart baby carrier. She said she’d tried to put her cat on a leash but he didn’t like it at all. He seemed pretty chill. It was only later when I looked at my photo that I noticed the woman’s shirt. The shirt is as awesome as taking your cat on a walk (click the photo to get a closer look).

My only complaint at present is in regard to the bunnies. Recently, I noticed a bunch of my plants slowly shrinking in size. Hmmmm. Did they look nibbled?

Then one afternoon Ygraine went on high alert in her doorway window:

She definitely saw something. What was it?

Dun, dun, dun…

Notice the sad flower heads all over the ground on the right where the bunny already nibbled away their stalks. Apparently these flowers are extremely dee-licious. So much so that they’re only a few inches tall now. And the bunny started eating my beans, too! I’m hoping I can still salvage everything, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. I suggested to Ygraine that she hand the bunny some threats of physical violence, but she’s too sweet for that.

Plus, if the bunnies were gone, she’d loose a serious source of entertainment:

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.

Moving through May

Between plant sales, cold and rainy weather, a new garden sculpture, and preparations for some friends’ annual visit to my garden, I’ve not had time to post in my blog. I figured I’d better post something before too many good photos built up on my computer!

I hope to have a grand reveal of my new sculpture sometime soon, but there’s still lots of work for me to do on it. Here’s a teaser:

The honeysuckles have been blooming and blooming and blooming. It’s a treat to work outside because I get to smell them. And they were spectacular in the cold rain a few weekends ago. Plus, I was working on my sculpture and I caught a glimpse of a hummingbird drinking from them. That’s so much better than the feeder I tried last year and never could quite keep fresh enough!

And there are other blooms in the back garden and in the garden on the east side of the house. It’s not blooming yet, but this year I added plants on the west side of the house as well. All came from the Master Gardener’s plant sale at the beginning of May. Actually, some had come from last year’s plant sale and then waited in pots because of all our roof troubles last summer.

At this point, I’m pretty well out of spaces for plants, so maybe I need not to go to the sale next year. But it’s so much fun to admire and choose from so many plants!

I had oodles of rose breasted grosbeaks when everyone else in Evansville was inundated with them, the hawks are still around somewhere, I spotted a prothonotary warbler in my neighbor’s trees, a family of wrens is trilling about the back yard as are a cardinal couple and a family of downy woodpeckers, and every morning for at least a week I’ve heard a Swainson’s thrush trilling in the background. I think I’ve even seen it a time or two.

And finally, The Ladies continue to delight. Ygraine is sweet and floofy and she will sit at the back door all day if I give her the opportunity. She loves watching the outdoors but seems pleased with her life of luxury indoors. Meanwhile, Morgaine is sassy and dreams of taking over the world. One day John caught her studying my cordless drills and a mini butane torch as if she was plotting something. She likes to sit on the front table to watch the outdoors through glass, and when she sees us approach, she stands up and inadvertently sticks her head inside the lamp sitting there with her. It’s funny. She looks like a party girl with a lamp shade on her head.