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.

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:

Not-So-Famous Bike Tours of Evansville

I was inspired to go on another oddball neighborhood garden tour last weekend, and I figured that the best way to do it was on my cute 1968 Schwinn Hollywood bicycle.

I started at my friend Jane’s new garden. Recently, she and her husband have become part of the landed gentry by obtaining a couple lots next to their house that were empty due to the city’s urban blight reduction through empty house demolition. Jane has a great yard aesthetic, and she has applied it to her new yard. My favorite part is that she’s used bouncy balls as garden art. She just tosses them out to ornament her lawn.

Bouncy Balls as Lawn Art

I also like her wild front gardens, especially her bowling ball gazing balls.

Front Right

Front Left

Bowling Gazing Balls

Next on our tour, my friends Phyllis and Anitra who have a great, grass-free lawn out front filled with lots of interesting bits of art and plants including a branch riding a bike. I was sorry I didn’t get better photos of the many points of interest up there, since that was what I’d originally gone to photograph.

Grass-less garden of art

Out back, they have a great little garden space that includes several things that I wish I had in my own garden including okra (if only for the beautiful flowers), fully blue/purple tomatoes, and giant sunflowers. I got some stunning photos of the sunflowers.

Sunny Sunflower

Blue Tomatoes

Sunflower and bee

From there, I stopped to wistfully gaze at an amazing piece of garden art. It’s a huge windspinner that I happened to notice in someone’s lawn. It’s at least 6 feet tall and has all kinds of moving parts. Here it is for you to enjoy:

I was almost at Evansville’s waterfront, by this point, so I detoured there for a photo.

Evansville

Next, I stopped in Patchwork’s garden for some more plants I wish I had growing in my own garden: zinnias. They’re so bright and cheery and the butterflies and goldfinches love them.

From there it was a quick jump over to another of my favorite neighborhood gardens at my friends’ Billy and Tom’s house. Tom’s cultivated a loose, wild garden whose color matches their house.

Yellow sparkles

Jerusalem artichoke

Finally, I stopped by my friend Alan’s house where there are more zinnias and Mexican sunflowers. There is also a great ground cover that squeezes itself into the cracks in his walkway. I tried to transfer some of it to my garden last summer but I was disappointed that it didn’t work.

Desirable crack plants

Mexican SUnflower

mass of flowers

And finally, there is the most amazing tree that can be seen from the alley between Alan’s house and my own. I’ve tried to capture its immense beauty, but so far I haven’t quite done it. It’s a box elder and the trunk has to be 5-6 feet across. It’s knobby and lumpy, it spreads beautifully, and it has a wonderful spirit about it. It’s back behind an empty house.