A Round of Robins Eating

We’ve seen them before but from inside the building. There’s one day every winter when we look out the main office window and comment, “Wow. There are a bunch of robins out there. The holly berries must be ready to eat.” It’s impressive, with robins filling the trees and bumping into the windows. I thought I’d truly appreciated the spectacle, but last week I experienced it from the center of a robin tornado. It was pretty intense.

I was walking back to work after lunch when I realized that the holly tree in front of Patchwork was flapping and fluttering. It looked like a monster. It was full of hundreds of robins and hundreds more were waiting in the trees. They’d dive in, flap their way to some berries, and then they would explode out again whenever a car drove by or they were otherwise startled. I wouldn’t say I was afraid of birds, but it was creepy getting close to the tree.

Holly berries have to go through a series of freezes and thaws before birds can eat them, and apparently they were finally ready to eat. Just prior to that, they’d made really lovely photos in the snow! As the birds ate, holly leaves fell all over the ground. Eventually there was a thick blanket of them that other birds picked through to make sure no valuable nutrition was left behind. When the birds were gone, so were all the berries.

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.

2016 Christmas Tree Procurement

teasel

I’ve struggled to be in the Christmas spirit, so it was tempting to skip a Christmas tree and any other kind of decorations. This year has been tough and next year promises to be more so. However, there have been one or two other Christmas tree-less years, and those years I’ve felt regret after the holidays were over. So a few weeks ago John and I went on a tree poaching expedition.

rural scene

Our friends at Patchwork used to organize tree gathering, get permits, form a convoy. As everyone grew older, John and I were the only ones who still went. Now he and I still go to “The Spot,” but it’s spur-of-the-moment, permit-less, and just the two of us. The red truck with a bright evergreen bouncing along in its bed is the same as always, though.

We were committed to avoiding the usual tree gathering mistake: choosing something that requires every inch of our 12′ ceilings. The trees always look so much smaller outdoors!

dramatic tree

We drove by several and stopped at one that was right on the road and a perfect size. Unfortunately, it was composed of 4-6 trunks all bound together into one tree.

We moved on, not seeing anything sufficiently small.

We stopped again. On closer inspection, that tree was not very attractive.

We stopped again. John walked over to a possible option and stood next to it for reference. He thought it looked good. I thought it was too tall.

Finally, we sighted something up and over a rise.

Maybe?

Up a bank filled with tall thorns and suddenly we beheld: the land of the little trees.

Land of Little Trees

We found one we liked and John stood next to it to confirm that our eyes weren’t playing tricks on us. We cut it, hopped in the truck (Hooray! It actually fit all the way into the truck bed this time!), and drove away before anyone knew we were there (though I doubt that anyone cared).

The Perfect Size

We set the tree up, and it looks lovely, as usual. Out cat helped John assemble the new tree stand (I’m not sure why. He’s getting a little weird in his old age). Then the decorations. I’m starting to get a great collection of handmade raccoon ornaments. John put one at the back of the tree so it looks like it’s being sneaky. This year I added a squirrel, too. On the tree, the squirrel has an owl watching him from behind.

I Helped!

The 2016 Tree

Moving Ever Onward while Staying in One Place

Every year it is the truth: April through June are kind to my garden. The colors are never brighter. The leaves never fresher or fuller. Plants bloom one after another. Everything is new and energetic.

The last of the daffodils have finally faded, their dying greenery now covered by the expanding mounds of hostas, heucheras, and tiarellas. There are wonderful little vignettes happening across my garden–wonderful color and textural combinations.

There’s the section of orange and yellow heucheras mixed with white hostas and pink tiarella flower spikes. It’s the section of my garden that was included in the book The Perennial Matchmaker by garden blogger Nancy Ondra (Yay! It was super cool to have one of my photos included in a gardening book! With a photo credit!).

Then there’s the woodland vignette of Solomon’s seal, sweet woodruff, wild ginger, and astrilbe at the base of the maple tree. And the cluster of iris, astrilbe, coral bells, tiarella, and alums only halfway through its blooms.

Mix in some heart-shaped redbud leaves, blazing azaleas, dewdrops, and awesome garden markers by the kids at Patchwork, and I’m a happy gardener.

We almost got through the month of April without a tornado warning, but then last week a severe storm hit. A tornado touched down in the north part of Evansville and there were 60 mile an hour winds all around. It was too much for the frontmost of our two apple trees. I came home from work to find its branches very definitely in the wrong place.

crunch

We called the tree removal people right away and they were out to take care of it a day and a half later. Since the tree was resting on our house, they brought a truck with a crane on it so they could lift straight up. It was very interesting watching them work.

Here’s the before photo of the side yard as they assessed the situation:

Before

And then the guy way up in the tree connecting straps to use for lifting:

guy in tree

And then before my eyes, the entire tree being hoisted over my house. It was a very impressive sight:

the whole tree

I asked them to cut down the second apple tree, as well. In the time we’ve lived here, the second tree’s apples have never been large and it was equally old, so it was a good time to remove it. Maybe now that we won’t have heaps of apples on the ground our house will be less attractive to raccoons and other critters. Maybe.

Here’s the final piece of trunk being readied to be lifted away:

the final piece

And the empty space left behind:

empty

There are plenty of new possibilities here now. It’s sunny, so I’m hoping to build a raised bed to expand my vegetable gardening space. I had the tree guys leave stumps so I can transform them into garden art. Happily, the house seems to be OK.

I’ll miss these trees. They were yellow transparent apples. Their shade was wonderful, and I’d discovered years ago that that they were the secret to making deliciously tart, green applesauce that was just like mom used to make. Luckily, a few years ago I discovered a local source for applesauce apples.

They were old trees, planted almost 40 years ago in an effort by the early folks involved at Patchwork Central to be modern day Johnny Appleseeds. Trying to bring healthy, local food to the residents of inner-city Evansville, everyone planted fruit trees and berries in their yards. These trees thrived where apricots and blueberries failed.

Calvin and Nelia, previous residents of our house who are two of the founders of Patchwork and the trees’ planters, had this tribute to the trees: “They produced lots of apples! We would pick as many as we could & then take bags of them up & down the street asking our neighbors to ‘adopt’ some apples. We made lots & lots of applesauce, fried apples & other inspired concoctions. I still remember the sound of the overly ripe fruit crashing down for the too high top branches with a great ‘splash’. The bees loved the squishy, sweet nectar of these rotten apples! We give thanks for the faithful produce of these determined trees.”

Here’s a photo from Calvin and Nelia that shows the trees just after they were planted:

young apple trees

In the last 2-3 years, the trees have been too tall for me to pick any apples, so I just let the apples fall to the ground. They were so fragile that they would turn brown and shatter with the smallest impact, so the ones that fell never tempted me. I thought they had a horrible, sour flavor when raw, anyway. It always astounded me that many, many people passing by would stop and pick one up to eat. From time to time, I’d hear the clink of the gate latch dropping as someone quietly let themself into the yard to get a particularly large and (relatively) unblemished apple.

So the apple trees really have provided local fruit to hundreds of neighbors for decades. They were a wonderful thing.

The Season’s Feast Begins

I have a very small garden, but it can still pump out way more produce than John and I can possibly eat. Already this summer I’ve treated my friends to salad after salad at potlucks and gatherings. I’ve made pots and pots of spring soup with sausage, cream, and any kind of green that was growing in excess. And yet the arugula, cilantro, and greens are still growing so fast they’re going to seed. The garlic is almost ready and the first tomatoes aren’t far off.

Meanwhile, my favorite fruits will be coming into season in quick succession. Cherries are ripe now, blueberries are imminent, and then there will be lodi apples and peaches. I’ll be traveling for the next couple weeks, so I’m worried I won’t be able to get enough of the good stuff stored up in my freezer for the winter! There is so much to harvest, so much to cook, and so much to eat!

cherries so fresh they haven't lost their shine

strawberry cherry pie

I’ve created a new piece of garden art. It’s inspired by some that I’ve seen online. I love the piles of kitsch and glitter. I realized that I could make my own and decided to put it in a corner of the garden where it can add color all year long. It’s made from odds and ends, a metal vegetable steamer, Mardi Gras beads, rally bells from an Evansville Otters baseball game, and a suet feeder that the woodpeckers didn’t seem to like.

new garden art

I’ve discovered some tiny leaves unfurling from the fig trees that I thought were dead, and that the tunnel of blackberry leaves is inviting.

tiny fig

green blackberry tunnel

My cat has enjoyed watching it all and even got to feel the earth under his paws when he “escaped” for some supervised time in the great big outdoors.

Shamoo enjoying the view

Shamoo outdoors

And I’ve begun on a new and ambitious garden art piece that will probably take me all summer. Can you see what’s different in the photo below?

the new color

I’ve been eyeing the back yard for a few years and wondering what additional art I could add. I thought perhaps a mural on the little shed, but I like the way its dark brown is a nice canvas on which to showcase the plants. Finally I realized that I’ve been pretending that the ugly grey of the metal fence doesn’t exist. I knew it would be perfect for some art. Phase one is to paint it all yellow (after sanding and priming–argh!). Phase two will be to add some more colors. I love it already!

yellow wall

paint spatter on the hostas

My newest plants are blooming at the front of the house. I’m enjoying seeing them for the first time. As an added bonus, they should do a good job attracting butterflies, which is the theme for the summer at Patchwork where I work.

There is yarrow:

yarrow

Coneflower:

coneflower "Julia"

Veronica:

Veronica

And coreopsis:

coreopsis

And that’s not all! Here’s just a sampling of the other things happening around my garden in the last couple weeks:

 

 

Happy Garden of Rainbow Unicorn Dreams

This time of year is perfect. My garden looks beautiful, in part because everything in it is so fresh and new and excited to be alive. I bought several new plants at the annual Master Gardener Plant Sale a few weeks ago (held, funnily enough, on World Naked Gardening Day (no one was naked)) and I shoehorned them into my stuffed perennial bed so it’s an even bigger and fuller mass of colors and textures. The whole garden is a chartreuse land of rainbows and unicorns, and I’ve been spending all my spare minutes in it.

There are no death zones where plants have decided that I pushed them a little too far and they really don’t like where they’ve been planted. The raccoons haven’t held a kegger in the middle of the perennial bed. Nothing is deflated in the summer heat. No bug or slug infestation has wrecked the place. No single plant has decided to crowd out its neighbors until they die. The neighbor hasn’t lobbed bottle rockets into the yard. The next door landlord hasn’t killed my honeysuckle with Round-Up just because he blames the world for his shortcomings.

It’s a paradise that will fall soon enough. I’m just trying to enjoy it while it lasts.

Early May Garden 2015

bits of color

The plants have all emerged from the ground and most are nearing their full size. You can click through the slide show below to see what’s going on in more detail. See if you can spot my cat surveying his domain!