Approaching Autumn

Fall is coming to my garden. We’ve had a couple light frosts and many nights in the 30’s, though my thermometer has yet to register anything below the freezing point. Fall color has slowly sneaked into the foliage, and certain exposed flowers and leaves have been severely damaged by the cold. However, things continue to grow and bloom until a hard frost puts an end to it all.

The first serious cold air blew in two weekends ago. I went out on a beautiful day before the cold and collected all the lima beans I could find. They hide very well. I was sad that I didn’t find a single bean of prettiest ones I planted. They had brown stripes and were called “ping zebra.”

I also had fewer big Christmas limas than I had expected. They have fruited well for me before. Perhaps the problem was that I got the beans planted a little later than I should have. It was early July when I got them in the ground. Maybe bigger beans take longer to grow.

Other lima varieties did just fine, including one called “Alma’s Pennsylvania Dutch” that I got from a garden blogger in Eastern PA. She’d reported on her blog that it hadn’t been particularly prolific for her, but it’s done great for me.

I’d also planted some Native American beans that a friend had given me. One variety turned out to be a kind of scarlet runner bean. They were pretty, but didn’t produce many beans. Another non-lima that I grew was a pole bean called “Penndragon.” I ate several as green beans, but they seemed to quickly get too large to be good raw, and I let many of them dry. I’ll probably use a few of these beans to plant more next summer. I’m a sucker for a great plant variety name.

The photos below begin to capture autumnal changes in my garden, even though they only cover a week from October 20 through October 27. The changes are subtle at this point, but they are there.

Also subtle: the cats have begun to choose the spots where they will each stay warm for the winter. The Ladies have ignored their heated cat bed since spring, but suddenly on the first truly cold day, Lady Morgaine was seated upon it. It’s on a window seat. It’s been a regular nap location ever since.

Meanwhile, Lady Ygraine has been hovering at the furnace vent on the stairs. The blast of hot air is strong there. Sometimes she naps, but sometimes she plasters herself to the vent.

The Ladies also have been sleeping in noticeably tighter formations at night. Normally they join us in bed, but with the colder nights I’ve felt them squished close together. One night, I got up, grabbed my camera, and turned on the light in an effort to capture the cuteness.

Unfortunately for Perry, his behavior does not allow him to join us all in bed, but he has his own heated cat bed that he sleeps on at night. But, it is a minor heat source compared to his new favorite spot: the dryer just after it has completed a cycle! John added a little step stool so Perry can hop in and soak up the toastiness. He’s fierce and bitey, so he doesn’t let you put the next load in until he’s good and ready to get out.

Meanwhile, we continue to take walks outside. I’m not sure what will happen when it really starts to get cold. Maybe Perry will still enjoy it. We’ll have to see.

Maybe he’ll like snow.

The Waning Blooms

Autumn has begun, and with it the final blooms of the year are here. The toad lily is covered in its spectacular flowers. The marigolds are settling into their favorite season with fresh blooms. And the zinnias are fading gracefully into dry, silvery mildew. They are all wonderful fall blossoms that mark the close of the growing season.

Additional things to note in my garden: my patch of elephant ears. I rarely photograph them because they’re squeezed into a less-than-attractive spot between the air conditioner and the compost bins. They grow slowly and steadily all year and reach their largest size around now. They’re pretty, and I wish I had a better spot for them.

Also of note: Basil and more blooms from my bobcat orchid indoors.

With cold weather, we haven’t opened the door for the Ladies to sit and watch the world go by. I’m sure they miss it. Unfortunately the last week or two of warm weather was marred for the Ladies by an interloper cat. He’s been upsetting Perry as well and has interrupted several of Perry’s walks. Everyone is upset that he’s hanging around. You can see the problem in the funny photo below.

If he sticks around, I may try trapping him and taking him to the Humane Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program.

 

In other cat news, after ignoring her new cat tree for about two weeks, Lady Ygraine decided she loved it and spent a week rarely leaving the upper hideout. She and Lady Morgaine were extremely adorable. She’s already moved on to other sleeping spots, but Lady Morgaine remains convinced that this cat tree is the best thing ever. It’s over 80″ tall, and she loves to hang out at the very top on a cat paw-shaped perch. I thought the cat paw was a little gimmicky and lame, but she doesn’t mind at all.

As the weather has gotten cooler, the mice have started sneaking into our house. One came in and was hanging out behind the stove in the kitchen and in back of the cabinets. It stayed well away from where the Ladies could reach, and that really bothered them. Here they are being confounded:

And cold weather or not, Lady Morgaine is always up for some pats on the bed. She’s incredibly adorable, and I caught some of that with my camera last weekend. Here’s her little photo shoot. She’s a rare cat who truly enjoys tummy rubs. She has a very deep, very quiet purr, and you can just barely hear it at the start of the video.

 

A Very Augusty September

Because of my travelogue (thanks, again, to everyone who traveled along with me), I haven’t posted anything about my own garden for two whole months! Well, I decided I better rectify that situation before the month of September is over. I only have a few more hours, so let’s get posting!

My garden made it through my trip to Europe thanks to watering from the house sitter. When we left, there were zinnias blooming, surprise lilies, beans, and honeysuckle. When we came back, the zinnias were still going strong, squash were ripening nicely, the autumn clematis was blooming, and a few lima beans were ready to pick.

Overall, August was hot and unforgiving and things quickly moved into the crispy, tired stage. I hoped some relief would come in September, but we continued to have dry weather and highs in the mid- to upper-nineties. Now at the end of September, my plants are all ready for a winter’s rest. The heat, bugs, and mildew have taken their toll.

At the end of August, John and I prepared a meal of summer on a plate: corn fritters and tomato gravy. It was my mom’s favorite food, but as children my sister and I grumbled about having to eat it so she didn’t make it often. It also requires some fiddling around, so I guess that could be another reason she didn’t make it often.

At some point many years ago, I asked for the recipe and she wrote it down for me. I have no idea if she actually copied it out of a cookbook or if she just wrote it from memory. If it was from a cookbook, I’ve never found that book. Several years ago, I did another blog post about corn fritters and tomato gravy and found it interesting that one of my mom’s sisters commented that she didn’t remember this particular combination of foods.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m sorry that we were so overly dramatic about not wanting to eat corn fritters and tomato gravy. It’s really good! Though, it isn’t particularly photogenic.

Late summer is also the time of year when my most unusual and dramatic orchids bloom. One variety is called Miltassia Dark Star “Darth Vader”. The other variety is called Odontocidium Wildcat “Bobcat”.

And with that, we come to my own lovely cats. They survived our trip to Europe, but clearly missed their humans immensely while we were away. They didn’t seem angry, but when we returned they required more than 24 hours of constant reassurances that everything would be all right.

Things quickly were back to normal, though. The Ladies are lovely and Perry is a challenge. Perry does much better if he has a couple enrichment actives every day. Usually that’s at least one play session and a walk outside, although sometimes it’s clicker training or a puzzle feeder. It’s good that both he and I can easily spend an hour just wandering aimlessly around the tiny yard and looking at what’s new.

Perry tends to get all the good stuff because we’re working so hard to try to modify his behavior. He’s got two big cat trees and lots of toys and if John or I have only one spare minute to play, he’s the one who is most likely to get the play time.

But, the Ladies love to play, too, and they enjoy their little cat tree. So we finally ordered and assembled a giant cat tree for the girls. Lady Morgaine is absolutely enamored with it. So far, Lady Ygraine has decided that it’s just not her thing.

And finally, a postscript for our European trip. Here are all the goodies we drug home with us. We’ll probably be enjoying them for the next year! There are a wide variety of German gummies, German beer, German and British chocolates, British cookies, British drinks, and a German garden weasel. Plus two German flags handmade for us by my niece.

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.