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. ūüôā

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.

All the Zinnias

This year was finally the year for zinnias in my garden. For several reasons that I won’t get into now, I decided to buy packets of as many types of zinnia as I could and dump them into nearly a third of my garden. I’ve always admired mass plantings of zinnias–I’ve envied them in friends’ gardens–but I’ve never done it myself because previously I hadn’t wanted to sacrifice valuable vegetable-growing space.

But, here they are and they’re making me happy. I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of photos of them blooming. They’re beautiful as they start as the tightest buds, grow feathery extensions and tightly curled petals, then expand to full flowers. I’ve also enjoyed viewing so many different varieties with their variations in color, petal shape, and petal structure within the flower. They’re also attracting a wonderful variety of insects and birds, adding even more to the beauty of my garden.

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.

*Sigh*

In just a few short weeks I’ve gone from fairy sightings to a few melancholy sighs. I’ve reached the point in the year when it is clear which plants didn’t like the spot where I planted them and aren’t going to make it. I’ll never see the really cool flowers that were promised or the full, mature foliage. It’s also the point in the year when the Tree of Heaven growing just beyond my garden relentlessly sends a forest of suckers up into my garden. They get in the way of everything I’ve planted and look terrible as they die. I use extremely limited chemicals in my garden, and the Tree of Heaven is just about the only thing that gets herbicide treatment. If you simply pull it, one sprout turns into two then four then six. It’s a terrible, invasive plant.

As much as I notice the holes and weeds in my garden, I’m sure most anyone else wouldn’t see any problems at all. Really, there are many, many, many things that are growing happily and healthily, and my yard is a mass of green. I guess there are still plenty of fairies hiding here and there.

I’ll start a little garden tour with the space on the east side of the house. This spot has a lot of sun-loving plants and some native plants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get an attractive photo of the whole garden. It looks like a kind of a shaggy, straggly mass with peeling house paint behind it. Focusing in on the plants, though, you’ll find orange butterfly weed, dark lilies, and several echinaceas blooming right now.

I only began building the little strip on the west side of the house last year. It’s a difficult spot because it only gets afternoon sun. I thought that it would be a little less sunny than it turned out to be, so I used plants that like shady sun. Some are just fine with it, but others that I really liked haven’t been able to manage the harsher light. My first hostas to bloom for the year were located here along with a blooming astrilbe. There’s also a nice little clump of hardy begonias surrounding a tassel fern that is happy in this spot when it wasn’t happy elsewhere. Again, the photo of the strip doesn’t really do it justice.

And there is a lot of great stuff happening in the main part of my garden. Let’s start with a snake! A couple weeks ago I spotted this black rat snake. It’s the first one I’ve seen in my garden, so it was pretty neat. Last week, Squire Percivale and I were out for a walk and Perry almost caught a mouse in the same spot, so I guess the snake knew where its supper was.¬†On the same night I saw the snake, I cut the scapes off the garlic. When I was looking through my photos, I liked the similarities between the two things.

Also in bloom are the hydrangeas. In my yard I’ve got a variety called “Lady in Red”. It was the big statement plant I got to serve as a centerpiece back when I first started my garden. Just across the fence from my vegetable garden are my neighbor’s hydrangeas. They’re very nice, and I’m glad they serve as kind of an extension of everything blooming in my yard.

This year I’ve got red raspberries lining my side of the same fence. They look great with a birdhouse created last summer by a kid at Patchwork Central. I managed to string up bird netting over the raspberries. The birds got almost all of them last year. I know I’ll only get a few handfulls this year, so every one is precious. They are one of my absolute favorite fruits, but I’ve never found anywhere around here that grows them. That means I have to grow them myself.

There are plenty of other things growing and blooming in my garden, too. I encourage you to flip through the photos below as a slideshow. I’ve labeled them so you know what you’re looking at.

People who have seen my garden only through my blog are often surprised how small it really is. The best angles for photographing everything tend to be the ones that offer a broader panorama. I stick to the ones that show off my garden well. You would never know that to get them I’ve backed all the way up to a fence or my neighbor’s yard. I realized that this photo taken from all the way in my neighbor’s yard gives you more of a sense of just how narrow the space is between the back door and the shed. The alley fence is on the other side of the shed.

And here are a few final sights and sounds from my garden: rain out the back door and my cool wind spinner.

I’ll do another blog post soon that will star the cats!

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.

If You Don’t Like the Weather in Indiana…

So much has been changing in my garden and it’s doing it so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Then the weather changes dramatically around it. One day I see an interesting leaf pattern or color combination. The next day it has changed and developed in a new and interesting way. All this makes it a time of every-changing beauty.

I haven’t been able to keep up.

At this point, my garden is now through the mid-spring blooms. The magnolia has put on its brilliant show, though it was a little muted by cold-damaged petals. Still, there was beauty in their brown freckles and spots. The peony has stretched its tentacles up and out of the ground. Soon it will look like a pretty unassuming green, leafy plant. My many varieties of daffodils have bloomed. So have my favorites, the fritillaries and epimedium. And the ferns have unpacked themselves, uncoiling cell upon cell.

Then an April snow fell on it all. Then rain. Then sun.

It’s a beautiful time of year.