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.

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.

 

Yikes! I’ve been busy…

…And I haven’t been busy gardening (mostly).

I was out of town for work, then in town for several intense weeks of work, then a weekend of many friends and little sleep. In between all of that, I dashed around my garden doing some maintenance but mostly working on my new painting project.

You’ll hopefully see more of that project soon.

My life right now feel like this section of the garden: a bit of an explosion in all directions. It’s more than a little unruly.

Green blob

A lot has happened in the last month in my garden (as always, click on any photo for a larger view and a slide show)…

My harvests have been mixed this summer. I didn’t get into the berry bush often to pick berries, so the birds got most of them. My corn set ears but the kernels didn’t fill in well. And the tomatoes took a long, long time to get ripe. I’m not fond of many of my selections this year (choosing seeds is an adventure!), and the one variety that I really do like is getting devoured by baby grasshoppers. They’re apparently the squirrels of the insect world: taking a few bites from each fruit and leaving the rest.

bug bitesOn the plus side, my basil is finally taking off, the okra is doing well, and I have finally discovered the perfect melon for my space. It’s a little cantaloupe that’s the size of a baseball yet is packed with sweet melon goodness. I’ll definitely grow more.

this melon is greatAnd I had a fun adventure in my new garden out front. Soon after planting it, I noticed two tiny squash plants sprout. Now, I’ve given up on squash in my main garden because the squash vine borers have killed them reliably every time before they can fruit.

“Maybe my secret squashes will outsmart the borers!” I thought. “They won’t think to look for squashes out here!”

But what kind of squash would these become? Where had the seeds come from? I’d mulched the bed using leaves from our yard, and there’s a compost bin in the yard, but no seeds should have escaped.

I waited.

squash plants growing

Tiny squashes formed. Would they be tasty?

tiny squash

I waited (and saw a squash vine borer fly by one morning–drat!).

The vines became monstrous. My friend Jane reminded me that the only viney things that ever grow as volunteers are the stuff you don’t want to eat.

bigger vines

And then the answer was revealed:

baby pumpkin

Right…those baby pumpkins that the squirrels stole from me last fall. I’d discovered the squashes’ skeletons among the leaves months later…the leaves that I used as mulch.

Stupid squirrels.

The insects were having a wonderful time in all the squash blossoms, so I was a little sorry to kill the plants. But once I knew that it wasn’t going to be a particularly tasty variety, I decided I’d better sacrifice it before it annihilated all the plants I’d actually planted there.

bee in the blossomsThough I saved the few mini pumpkins that there were to eat for supper.

mini pumpkin

And finally, the caladium are particularly happy this year and add some nice color to my turning-to-late-summer garden. They make great photos:

Late Summer Harvests and Art!

During our Michigan vacation, I enjoyed shopping for a little garden art. I chose a glass globe from the amazing Gallery Garden that John and I visited, and now it’s joined the orange twist by my hydrangea. And some enameled flowers and a butterfly from another gallery are in the succulent pond with the turtle (hopefully a raccoon doesn’t steal them). And a big wind spinner on the top of my blackberry trellis (it was 25% off, so hopefully that doesn’t mean that it only works 25% of the time).

orange glass

enamel ornaments

the full effect

wind spinner

I also planted a small garden gnome that my friend Jane left in my mailbox at work and said was a gift from the universe. It’s kind of ugly, but is pretty good as a gift from the universe.

Gnomey Gift from the Universe

And the snails have been adding their own ornamentation to my concrete raccoon. I loved the warty look.

Wart Eye

Raccoon Warts

little snail

Meanwhile, my garden produce is looking a little downtrodden by the heat. The tomatoes are a little crispy around the edges and so many have cracked open this year. I’ve got ripe tomatoes, beans, and tomatillos. It’s also the time of year when I really start to notice bugs everywhere. There are cicada shells on the undersides of the mint, a praying mantis by the back gate, huge spider webs popping up everywhere, and tobacco hornworm on my tomatoes.

And the clematis on the fence bloomed, proving that autumn is not far away. It looked wonderful twined behind the sting of bells that hangs above the purple chair.

clematis

 

 

Time of Golden Light

The fall color has been particularly nice this year. I’ve enjoyed watching the changes from the back door as the silver maple in the back yard turned the light golden and the oak trees along the street behind us glowed a rusty red orange. The leaves fell gracefully over about a week and added their colorful accents to various places around the garden. The perennial garden started with some crisp, golden leaf edges and then added more to the warm piles of leaves on the ground. I harvested my lettuces and Asian greens and turned them into an autumnal spring soup. The back pavement was a yellow lake, and then I raked it all up before this week’s rain and lows in the 20’s hit. I’ll clean up the casualties this weekend.

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And no new raccoons for now, but I have gotten plenty of raccoon humor from friends. Here’s one:

be friends with raccoons

Raccoons’ Revenge

So that house I told you about…the one across the street that was a raccoon condo?

Ha ha ha. Maybe that really wasn’t a raccoon hole in the roof. Maybe?

It was torn down one day last week and that very night the homeless raccoons were everywhere around our house. Fiddling with things out front. Bashing down the “raccoon detector” newspaper panel under the porch. Fiddling with things our back. Walking across the side porch and looking in our window.

Gack!

tell-tale prints

(shadowy footprints in the porch dust)

They were back the next few nights…but maybe not since. It’s hard to tell.

I spent last weekend on a retreat with some friends who suggested that I speak to the raccoons and tell them to go away. OK, so they’re right. I’d actually try it at this point.

MEANWHILE, my garden is closing itself up for the year. The tomatoes are dying. So are the cucumbers. I got a couple last melons off the vine before it died. A few weeks ago things were still looking good.

melonBut then the mildew set in. The melons are nice–green and crisp and not very sweet. The good thing was that I’m pretty sure that the plant survived the squash vine borers that wrecked havoc with several other things earlier this summer. I might try this plant again next year.

cut melon

In place of the things that died I’ve planted some greens and lettuce. Hopefully I get some tasty things before the cold comes. So far it’s looking good.

Asian greens

There’re also more interesting insects to be found. One of the big garden spiders spun an egg case on our trash can and guarded it for a few days.

spider and eggsAnd then there is the praying mantis who’s been living in one of my fig trees. I’d thought it was kind of cute until one of my friends reminded me about the time a praying mantis living in her back yard grabbed a humming bird mid-air and ripped its heart out. Ew.

hello there, killerAutumn is starting to feel present in the back yard, from the changing leaves to the blooming mums to the last few butterflies visiting late blooms.

mum

fall leaves

final butterflies

And during that retreat last weekend I got to enjoy early autumn in the country. I remembered to bring my binoculars, so I could look for birds. Migration seemed to be in full swing. I saw some warblers, kinglets, and rose breasted grosebeaks, among others.

early autumn

Bugs and Basil Roundup

Wow! What a beautiful weekend! Cool fall weather has arrived!

I continue to get bowlfuls of tomatoes–so many I’ve had to freeze several gallons because I can’t use them fast enough. They should be wonderful mid-winter. This week, I added a few tomatillos to my bowl. Unfortunately, there isn’t an overabundance of them because the tomatillo plant hasn’t looked too healthy all summer and I haven’t had time to look up what the cause might be.

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I’ve noticed lots of bugs around the garden this summer including particularly large clouds of mosquitos. I was also surprised at how many unusual little guys I started to see when I looked more closely.

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There have also been a bumper crop of spiders including an adventurous orb weaver whose web stretched from the peak of our roof to a high branch of the magnolia tree. I spotted it one night when I was out with a flashlight checking for raccoons. Then there are these guys who make picking tomatoes a challenge. I don’t want to disturb them!

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I have one final hosta blooming and it’s an interesting one at that. I like the extra little flares under each flower bud. The variety is called “Rockets Red Glare” and it has fairly erect leaves with red stems. It’s a nice one!

rockets red glare

And finally, a round up of basil varieties. Basil is one thing that grows well in my garden, so I grow a lot of it and turn it into mass quantities of pesto. I’ve had fun trying different varieties over the years. I’ve discovered that I don’t like the super licorice-y, super spicy varieties like cinnamon basil or Thai spice basil, though a little bit of it is great and a whole bunch of different flavors together make really good pesto. Like the tomatoes, these seeds came from Baker Creek. They are:

Persian

My new favorite. It’s got a little spice and solid flavor, but isn’t overpowering.

From the catalog: New! Really interesting and flavorful! Known as Reyhan throughout the varied nations of southwestern Asia. Has a distinctive aroma, both lemony and spice like.

Persian

Lime

I’ve done lemon basil in the past and this is very similar, but I think I like it better. John also liked it a lot with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. It’s very citrusy and adds some nice flavor variety if I mix it in with leaves from other basils. I think it tastes more lemony than limey. The small leaves means it takes longer to get a nice pile.

lime basil

Corsican

This one has pretty green and purple leaves and a nice flavor. I tried growing a purple basil a couple years ago and the dark color seemed to mean that it got fried in the sun before it amounted to much. With this basil, I can get a little color variation. It’s spicier than the Persian, but pleasantly so.

From the catalog: New! Mediterranean heirloom type from Napoleon’s island birthplace off the French and Italian coasts. This versatile type comes in varying degrees of green to purple, often spectacularly mottled in both. A competent culinary type that makes a scintillating contribution in the border as well. Recommended!

Corsican

Lettuce Leaf

Genovese

Both of these have been staples in my garden for several years now. Lettuce leaf has bold, sweet, citrusy, mildly spicy flavor while Genovese is smoother, flatter, and blends well with others. They’re not this summer’s absolute favorites, but they’re good to have as part of the mix.

lettuce leaf

Genovese

Blue Spice

This is the one variety that I definitely won’t do again. The flavor is a sweet, fruity (but not completely citrusy), spicy (but not completely licorice-y) blend that’s wonderfully complex but I just don’t like it. The leaves are thick and fuzzy. It looks like the same type of basil that my friend Jane brought to work last week saying that if you eat the leaves it’s supposed to improve your mood.

From the catalog: New! (Ocimum basilicum) Vigorous plant with dense spikes of light purple flowers enclosed in showy deep purple bracts, making for an especially fine appearance in pots or in the garden. Heavy fragrance with spicy vanilla overtones that makes a pleasant contribution to both fruit salads and savory dishes.

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