Another Not-So-Famous Garden in my Neighborhood

Walking around my neighborhood, it’s fun to get glimpses of interesting gardens that other people have created in their back yards. There will be a sunflower here, a rose there, and a tomato plant over there. Actually, there are some fantastic gardens hidden here and there near downtown Evansville.

One such garden belongs to Dee. She works at Patchwork and has lived in this neighborhood for a very long time. I saw a small part of her garden earlier this summer and wanted to see more of it so I stopped by last week with my camera.

Dee’s back yard is a lot like mine in that the Victorian family that built her house paved the entire thing. As a result, Dee has narrow raised beds along the edges of the property that are densely packed with vignettes of plants and art.

I love Dee’s quirky combinations of figurines and garden art. I envy some of the weirder pieces in her collection. Some spots in her yard are elegant and then there are the places where her fantastic sense of humor shines.

Here’s a tour:

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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.

Growth

Looking over photos from the last month in my garden, I can clearly see its mid-summer expansion. My new raised bed holds corn, okra, edamame, and red raspberries. Just when I’d doubted that the corn would produce anything, it shot up and started to tassel. Hopefully it doesn’t fall over before it’s all said and done. I harvested my soybeans this week. The okra is just now starting to think about blooming. All is good.

Expanding even more are my mystery vines. This spring, I spread compost on a section of my garden before planting melons, one squash, and cucumbers. Lots of little volunteer vines of some kind popped up from that compost, and I was curious to know what reminders of good food past they would become. I kept a few and clearly they were something big. The plants headed out of the official garden space (partly due to my attempts to steer them away from the plants I’d meant to plant).

I went out of town for a short vacation at the end of June and when I got back, I got a note from the person garden-sitting for me that marveled about how well my squash plants were doing. So, that was the grand reveal. I checked the backyard to see what she was talking about and found a beautiful little butternut squash forming on the vines.

I haven’t intentionally planted winter squash for years. I tried it twice and had the heartache of watching them wither and die as squash vine borers burrowed into the heart of each vine and did their dirty work, pooping sawdust-like excrement where the plant met the earth. I looked for remedies, but there was nothing that seemed like it would work for me. It was also a heartache that after the plants died I had a big hole in my garden that represented the missed opportunity to grow something else that would have thrived in my space. With not much space to grow things, that lost opportunity is huge.

The first little squash on the vine has been joined by several more. I’m sending positive thoughts their way and hoping to get at least one ripe one before squash vine borer or some other disaster strikes. It will be a great achievement to eat a squash meal grown in my garden. [Though while working on this post, I saw an article that said butternut squash is less susceptible to squash vine borers, so maybe my happy compost accident will lead to future years of fruit!]

The one squash I intentionally planted this year was a quick-fruiting summer squash. I hoped that it would be able to stay ahead of the squash vine borer and produce some fruit for me (the borers have to have a certain number of warm days before the larva stage that burrows into squash vines becomes active). I did manage to get a couple mature summer squashes from the plant, but then the borers swooped in and killed it.

The melons and cucumbers are doing fine, but I knew they would. They aren’t bothered by the borers. Actually, I’m not that fond of cucumbers, but they grow so well. And their flavor has its good points.

And there is a lot of other great growth and bounty to be had around my garden and kitchen:

  • June apple season came and went. I managed to get enough lodi apples to make a batch of applesauce, although I’m ready to upgrade my squeezer and may go online to get a vintage one like my mom used to use.
  • I also picked and froze gallons and gallons of blueberries. By now, the people at Wright’s Berry Farm in Newburgh know me by name.
  • My “Bobcat” orchid is blooming again. It looks like a bunch of roaring cats’ muzzles.
  • I have a couple planter areas where I add annuals every year. I use similar types of plants, but each year’s arrangement unfolds differently and I enjoy the subtle variations. One such spot is my brick pile garden. Another is my mosaic planter.
  • I harvested my carrots and I’m enjoying some blackberries and the first of my tomatoes.

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.

The Usual Drama

Hard to believe, but my garden has been around for about 8 years now! Every spring it unfolds itself in such a beautiful way. By now I know what to expect and the beauty to look for, but its predictability doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

The daffodils have only now stopped blooming. I was inspired by a friend to get a couple new varieties every year and in no time I’ll have a wide array blooming throughout the spring. Already it’s a successful strategy.

I loved my dramatic orange tulips last year, so I ordered more for this year. Again, they were fantastic. This year, I noticed the beauty as they changed. First they were green buds with a hint of orange around the edges. Then they were oranger buds whose tight petals held interesting shapes. Next came brilliant blooms that looked great with the curvy green leaves of the hostas, and finally the fading blooms fell open but continued their color variety.

Every year it is also amazing to see the ferns appear from the ground as small knots that slowly unpack themselves and expand into the form they will keep throughout the summer and into the fall. It’s another process that carries a different beauty in each of its stages.

And there are many other things emerging, growing, changing, expanding, and blooming.

And the hostas are slowly reaching toward their final height. They are reminding me that summer is just around the corner despite the continuing spring blooms from the bulbs I’ve planted. Looking at their leaves, I think of July when they dominate my shade garden.

And for good measure, here are some photos of the cats. They’re wonderful ladies.

With the nice spring weather, I’ve been thinking of Shamoo and how much he enjoyed spending mornings sitting on a chair at the open back door while I read the paper. So far this spring we’ve had several days that he would have thought were perfect.

I still like to have the door open, and Ygraine in particular has been drawn to it. I tried putting a chair in front of it to boost her up like Shamoo, and though she looked at it with interest she seemed to repeat to herself, “No! I must not get up on the furniture. I must not get up on the furniture.”

Last weekend, the bird sounds were too much for her and she launched herself at the screen door, first climbing up it and then bouncing off of it. She seemed to know that this was bad kitty behavior, but I could also see that she couldn’t help herself.

I got the chair and put her on it.

She jumped down in horror: “I must not get on the furniture!”

I picked her up again and held her there. I tried to point her toward the screen window, but she turned to try to leave.

I patted her and told her she would enjoy looking outside from the chair and that I knew it was what she really wanted.

Still she fought me.

Then she saw a little bird motion behind her and she turned to the door and was entranced. It’s been her happy morning spot ever since.