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.

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.

*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!

Shades of Winter Falling

For some reason, this year I’ve been more aware of the changing beauty of my garden as the plants respond to colder weather, then are touched by frost, are finally frozen, then thaw and refreeze.

The colors deepen, mixing across single leaves while the damage from the cold is still mild. Then the sharply expanding ice crystals break structures, change shapes, and leave plants with a watery translucency. Then the plants dry, darken, and shrink back.

Maybe this year it’s taken longer from the first fall weather and falling leaves to the first frost to the first freeze. Maybe this has given me more opportunity to observe the autumnal changes in my garden. Whatever it is, I’m glad to have noticed them. It’s the inverse of the garden slowly unfurling from the ground in the spring–the slow and beautiful dying back and drawing back into the earth.

For instance: one day I was admiring the combination of yellows and greens of a hosta against the reds and purples of the hydrangea behind it and the oranges and yellows of my glass garden art, and the next day the hosta’s leaves had frozen, the color was gone, and the leaves had collapsed. Similarly, one day I was admiring the bright red glimpses of zinnias still blooming among the piles of leaves I’d heaped in my vegetable garden, and a few days after the freeze, I realized the zinnias were transformed into brittle, rusty stars.

Looking back over the month of November, I’m surprised at how clearly I can see the changes. Here is my garden on November 6, at the height of the fall color:

11_6_15

Then a couple weeks later after some light frost:

11_21_15

And finally a week later after a freeze:

11_27_15

 

And here are the changes from closer up (click any image below for a bigger image). They’re in chronological order from the last couple weeks.