Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Notes from the Rain Garden

It's pretty lush out here.

There was rain in May, about 10 inches over average. My yard has taken on jungle qualities. The trees grew in feet, not inches. Everything is leafy and lush, including the rain garden.

The fountain continues to be a haven for birds. The sparrows have built a second nest in the lilac tree. I didn't realize how big a nest European sparrows build when they have the space. It's about the size of a volleyball. There are also catbirds, cardinals, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, robins galore, a bluejay family, redtail hawks, the occasional grackle, and goldfinches. So, it's a bird-loud space.
Bee friend on coreopsis.

Finally, as July set in, we are seeing bees. It was a bit too quiet in May and June. Now the rain garden is literally humming. If you sit or stand next to it and listen, you can hear the buzzing. It's pretty cool, really.
Hello, there!

Monarch on Asclepias syriaca

Along with bees, have come butterflies. As you can tell, I've let the milkweed go a bit. I can't help myself. On the few occasions it's been pleasant enough to open the windows, my whole house is filled with the fragrance of milkweed blossoms. We also have resident monarch butterflies. They've been laying a series of eggs, but the bird pressure is too high and we don't have caterpillars for long. I think the black swallowtails found the fennel finally. It's a happening place, the rain garden.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Purple Beech Sings of Seasons

Spring arrived. It showed up in a fury of thunderstorms and hot, windy days. We sort of skipped it, really and went straight to summer. I like temps in the 60s. It's great t-shirt and jeans weather. Oh, well, it's not to be.

So, instead the beech tree is singing a song of summer. It has leisurely unfurled its coppery pink leaves from its elegant stiletto buds and now is softly waving in the slightest breeze. Beech leaves are silken to the touch. This is a Riversii copper beech and its leaves will darken to deepest purple and then age to bronze. After puttering about for five years growing roots, it has finally joined the rest of the trees in busting out two feet of growth in a year. It's becoming a rounded, layered, lovely thing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Herculean Hellebores

Helleborus 'Peppermint Ice'

Will winter never end? That is the question Midwesterners are asking themselves on a snowy mid-April day.

There is such a sense of held breaths in the garden. Plants are just waiting to lift a finger off the pause button and leap into fast forward. I can almost hear the soil humming with anticipation. And then we plunge back below freezing again.

My five little hellebores are toughing it out in these conditions. They bow beneath the soggy snow and frigid temperatures, then spring back with the slightest hint of sunshine. Although they are small, they are mighty.

Helleborus 'Golden Lotus'

I have planted them under the redbud tree against the retaining wall, so they are a little protected, but not much. I've sited them so that I can see them when I pull in or out of the driveway. It gives me an excuse to trot down the drive and say hello as I wrap my scarf around my neck and shiver. I haven't cut back the old foliage because the weather is being a beast and I don't want to risk the crowns. Eventually, they will add more stems and be a beefier plant, but for now I'm just happy something is blooming with gusto.

If you've got a shady spot with some decent drainage, try a hellebore. They'd probably appreciate a top dressing of compost now and again. Bonus - the bunnies don't eat the leathery leaves. There's hundreds of cultivars, so give one a whirl!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Singing the Blues

They're called minor bulbs, the tiny flowers we scatter about in an effort to save our sanity after a long winter. Bulbs like the scilla pictured, snowdrops, crocus, muscari, anemone, and iris are tiny and fleeting. In my town, scilla carpets the lawns in the historic district, turning them into a sea of blue. Mine have decided that the flower beds are far easier to colonize. They brighten the ground layer for a few weeks and provide welcome treats for the hungover bees crawling out into the pale March sun.

We seek out the color blue in the landscape. Bluestone, blue spruce, blue glazed containers, bluebells, blue hosta, and more are all prized. Perhaps because a blue sky is a clear sign that all is well, the storms have passed? The implied distance of an open sky brightens our mood and makes us feel safe? At any rate, we do know that blue foliage gives us a sense of distance, which is why my Blue Cloak concolor fir is planted on the lot line. It definitely softens the view of my neighbors lawn.

The earth is warming and tantalizing signs of spring are popping up everywhere. This scilla just emerged and soon will turn its pretty blue flowers to the heat of the sun. What have you planted to sing the blues?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Small Moments of Spring

Snow crocus basking in the sun.

Early March brings the first subtle small moments of spring. We've had a run of 40s and 50s, enough to warm the top layer of soil and get the trees thinking about April. Years ago, I planted a handful of blue and cream snow crocus around the purple plum tree in the front yard. The tree didn't last, but the crocus have gradually spread so that they dot the front lawn and beds.
These tiny gems are scattered like a handful of confetti across the dusky turf. They form a faint fairy ring around the long-decayed stump of the plum tree. I've caught the neighborhood dog walkers smiling in appreciation as their pooch pees on the monster hackberry in the parkway. I look for them each morning as I pull out of the drive and hunt them up each evening after their petals close for the night. 

The lengthening days are my first sign of the long loop upwards into spring. The startled joy of leaving work and realizing the sun hasn't descended below the horizon, the sweet surprise of 5 o'clock rolling around and being able to feed the cats without turning on a light. Then come the snowdrops shouldering aside frozen soil to be the first banners of the annual renewal of warmth and growth. Then the tiny darling crocus open wide their petals in the slight sunlight as if to hold as much as they can until their cups spill over. These crocus are only two inches high and easy to miss. They are a silent signal to pay attention, take a few breaths, explore, and notice. 

The stubborn witchhazel has decided at last that it might be time to bloom. It tentatively opened yesterday and will inevitably be downcast by the wintry mix that will arrive in a couple of days. Like the snowdrops and the crocus, it will shrug off the ice and snow, confident that the warming soil and lengthening days mean the world is once again rescued from winter darkness.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Sensuality of Seasonality

The first snowdrops.

These little beauties first poked leaves up in January. However, we had a couple of 50 degree days, so the snow is gone and the snowdrops are BLOOMING! Snowdrops, snow crocus, witch hazel, and hellebore save my sanity every year. How can you not love plants that flower in winter?

I was fortunate to attend iLandscape this year and found some common themes in the talks that got me thinking. It seems horticulture is going back to layers and garden rooms - more plants! Less mulch! More beauty! More bugs! Huzzah! 

I found myself pondering the whys of my fascination with plants and the natural world. I am head over heels in love with nature because of change. There is something new to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste every day. Every. Single. Day. Every time I walk out the door I learn something new. The earth is littered with delightful surprises.

While shoveling snow, I learned the call of a downy woodpecker, the satisfying scrape of the shovel on the pavement, the smell of fresh snow as it blankets the earth, and the taste of sky on my tongue. There is such breathtaking elegance in a fresh snowfall on the zigzag twigs of the katsura or the impeccable calligraphy of beech branches. 

And then it thaws and melts and you are rewarded with flowers. 

So, for myself, I will revel in the sensuality of the changing seasons. My gardens bloom from January to November which means I have a panoply of pleasures at my fingertips. Winter showcases the architecture of plants from the brown boats of milkweed pods to the soughing branches of the Norway spruce. I am greedy to devour it all, each tiny petal, buzzing wing, flagrant feather, and pungent herb.

Won't you join me - outside?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Janustory Wrap Up 2018

Another Janustory in the bag! I never really know where these stories will go until about midway through the month. I hope you have enjoyed my annual attempt to re-energize creativity and good writing habits. Because life is a journey with many twists and turns, I decided to include a photo of a staircase. Which way are you going? What will you find when you arrive?

  1. Walking.
  2. Bone-weary trekking.
  3. Blisters have popped.
  4. Sunrise lights boulders pearly.
  5. Rain at last has ceased.
  6. First farmhouse welcomes me with tea.
  7. Desperate for news, trinkets are swept aside.
  8. The family lines up to hear my tale.
  9. Acrid smoke stings my eyes from the smoldering fire.
  10. The baronial war is finally over, but not the famine.
  11. Their narrow faces mirror mine as we commiserate over the harvest.
  12. Mysterious fragrant blood-red flowers have been springing up where battles were fought.
  13. The farmer worries as cattle, sheep, and goats are sickening in the fields.
  14. His six children have been warned to stay close to the house and barn.
  15. I’ve heard strange rumors of weird sights in copses that saw battle on misty nights.
  16. The weary farmer confirms my growing fears and we discuss how to banish the troubled ghosts.
  17. As the twilight gathers in the corners of the kitchen, we line up the banishing spell ingredients.
  18. Jonathan, the young farmer, has rounded up some neighbors to assist in freeing their fields from these hauntings.
  19. The ancient wisewoman who gave me the receipt to dispel ghosts and evil beings promised me it would work.
  20. The oil-soaked torches are carefully lit as the men kiss their loved ones before we head to the ragged copse.
  21. While walking across the freshly harvested fields, the uneven footing is very treacherous and we slow down to a careful crawl.
  22. Hands shaking, I construct a small fire from broken ash, oak, and thorn twigs, managing to light it on the first try.
  23. Into a dented iron cauldron, I swiftly pour each pre-measured ingredient following the exact order hastily written on a scrap of old parchment.
  24. As the autumn stars begin to light the night’s darkness, I finish adding the last herbs, a thick greenish smoke pouring from the cauldron.
  25. As the smoke tumbled over the cauldron’s sides and rippled oily into the scattering of trees, my stalwart comrades took up banging pots and buckets.
  26. The spell fog purled through the tangled underbrush and swirled around our ankles as we shouted and pounded a fierce racket to scare the unquiet ghosts.
  27. As we hooted and hollered ourselves hoarse, hundreds of pairs of angry wicked red eyes flickered up into the air, dancing ahead of the creeping greenish smoke.
  28. The stalwart rustic souls continued with their motley cacophony as the twinkling crimson eyes sharpened and began to dash erratically through the trees ahead of the spell fog.
  29. In one perfectly choreographed fluid motion, the sparking scarlet eyes swirl and spin into a fiery red tornado and reverse course toward our determined band of weary, frightened defenders.
  30. The wisewoman’s treacherous spell smoke seemed only to deeply enrage the hideous tormented spirits as we fled bumbling and stumbling through the thin trees, running for our tiny precious lives.
  31. Now as a cloud-streaked dawn shimmers peach golden on the horizon, I lie stretched and broken on the cold rocky ground as a red-eyed demon devours me, beginning with my toes.