Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Late November GBBD

I know I'm very late for this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I do have a good excuse.  We've been away, visiting Daughter and Son-in-law in Texas, and by the time we got back home, this is what was left of any blooms I might have had before:

 It was a very chilly 12 degrees when we arrived home late Tuesday night; not even the pansies like it this cold!

We had a beautiful fall that lasted longer than usual, with the first killing frost not arriving until October 30.  But winter has definitely arrived early this year.  Late last week the temperatures dipped well below the November normal, and the snow and wind blew.  Thankfully, though, we had only a dusting of snow, not the avalanche of snow that fell on the Northeast.

 It seems there were very few places in the U.S. that escaped the polar vortex this past week.  Even in Dallas--no sitting by the pool on this trip, and no excursions to the Dallas Arboretum this time.  But we had a good visit nonetheless, and since Daughter and Son-in-law are expecting their first child in early January, I know there will be many more trips to Texas coming up soon.

With the holidays coming up, I am actually glad that garden work is done for the year.  And once they are over, I know that I will be soon be spending cold winter nights planning once again for that elusive "perfect" garden.

Thanks to our hostess Carol for sponsoring Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day every month.  And since I know I won't be posting for at least another week, I want to wish you all . . .

A Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review Club: V. I. is Back!

"Oh." The syllable is a soft cry of ecstasy.  She has never seen colors like those on the floor, red running into orange, yellow, green.  The purple is so rich, like grape juice, she wants to jump into it.  When she runs over to look, the colors disappear.  Her mouth rounds with bafflement: she thought Frau Herschel had painted the rainbow on the floor . . . In later years, Martina remembers none of [the rest of this experience].  She remembers only the rainbow on the floor, and the discovery that the cut glass in the nursery windows created it.

A little girl's discovery of prisms in 1913 Vienna seems like an odd way for the latest V. I. Warshawski novel to begin, since the tough-talking, persistent P.I. usually is embroiled in some kind of corruption in Chicago while solving a case.  But when she receives a call from her long-time friend Dr. Lotty Herschel to help a patient of hers in distress,  Vic soon finds herself in an investigation that involves almost as much research in the University library as in skirmishes with various bad guys.

Judy Binder, a hopeless drug addict, is not only Lotty's patient, but she is also the daughter of someone Lotty knew as a child refugee in London during WWII, so she feels especially duty-bound to help her.  Judy's desperate phone call that someone is trying to kill her leads Vic to a meth house downstate where she discovers a rotting corpse in a cornfield but no sign of Judy.

With few clues to help her, Vic goes to the home of Judy's mother, Kitty, a strange and paranoid woman, who like Lotty, escaped the Holocaust years ago.  There Vic discovers that Judy's son Martin is also missing, and Kitty hires her to find him.  Martin's mother and grandmother may have problems, but it turns out that he is also the great-grandson of Martina, a brilliant physicist forced to work on top-secret research on the atomic bomb by the Nazis.  Martin has inherited her gift for science.

What starts out as a hunt for two missing persons turns into a complex case for Vic, as she goes up against low-life drug dealers, the CEO of a major technology firm, and even Homeland Security. How a meth house, the Nazis' work on an atomic bomb, and research into cutting-edge technology today all relate to a single crime sounds implausible, but Paretsky ties all the subplots together in a logical and satisfying ending.

V.I. Warshawski has been around for 30 years, and I hope she's around for many, many more.  Unlike Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone--of whom I'm also a fan--who has been stuck in the 1980's for a whole series, V. I. has aged with time.  Now in her 50's, she may be a little slower and take longer to heal from the injuries she always seems to receive in her investigations, but she can still hold her own with anyone who tries to confront her.

I somehow managed to escape taking a single physics course during my school days, an omission I really don't care to remedy.  But despite my ignorance on this subject, the important role physics plays in Critical Mass didn't distract or confuse me in the least.  Paretsky has obviously done her research, but doesn't expect either Warshawski or the reader to understand complex scientific principles.  Rather, she presents Martina's and Martin's desire to understand the "harmonies" in nature and knowing how all the pieces fit together in a way that is makes us admire them.  I imagine that their fascination with natural laws isn't really that different from a gardener's or naturalist's fascination with a bee enjoying pollen.

I've read all the books in the Warshawski series, and I have to say that Sara Paretsky just gets better and better.  The plots have become more complex and deal with some timely issues.  V. I. may have mellowed a bit over the years, but she's still the best female P. I. in fiction today

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  I received no compensation of any kind for this review, and as always, I review only books I like.  I bought my own copy of Critical Mass, but being frugal I waited impatiently until it came out in paperback.

Note:  The photos here have nothing to do with this post; they are just a few pictures I like that I've taken recently.  For more photos of fall color in my area, see my previous post.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Farewell, October

Every year at this time I think of one of my favorite poems:
Nature’s first green is gold,  
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Robert Frost

Although it's true that "Nothing gold can stay," it certainly is beautiful while it lasts.  The month of October started out gloomy and rainy, but the last few weeks of the month made up for it with warm, sunny days that highlighted the colors of autumn.  Above, the old hackberry tree at the end of my yard doesn't look like much the rest of the year, but its golden leaves shine in the fall, especially backed by the orangey-gold maples of my neighbors.

The old oak tree's leaves gradually turn brown, but its grand stature makes up for any lack of color.

Warm autumn days are meant to be enjoyed, and so we found ourselves one sunny afternoon visiting the local forest preserve with youngest grandson and Sophie in tow.

A rare moment of stillness for Sophie, who preferred to pull me along while she tracked squirrel and other strange scents.  Taking photos with my phone while she tugged at the leash wasn't easy.

Meanwhile, Grandpa and Grandson looked for fish.

Except for this lone canoeist, we seemed to have the park to ourselves.

Driving through town the last few weeks, I often wished I had brought my camera.  Our small town really is a blaze of oranges, golds and reds this time of year.

The not-so-pretty side, though, is also revealed in fall.

Trees aren't the only plants providing splashes of color this fall.  Here, Japanese Blood Grass provides a vivid shade of red at the Nursing Home Garden where I volunteer.

Next to the Blood Grass, a variety of Muhly Grass hardy in our zone 5B adds some airy color.

Back at home, I am greeted by the brightest red of all as I drive into our lane, provided by three large burning bushes.

Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy' still hasn't provided any "candy" for the birds, but its leaves are beginning to make an impact.

The small Serviceberry shows promises of beautiful autumns to come.

'Little Henry' Itea has started its fall transformation.

There are still some colorful blooms as well--the 'Radsunny' Knockout rose appreciates the cooler temperatures.

A not-so-welcome plant even gets in on the color act (poison ivy!).

My favorite tree each fall has to be the maple in the center of our yard.  Like Cinderella donning her ballgown, it begins its transformation at the top, slowing adding color downward each day.  This was taken on October 14.

By October 23, leaves at the top had turned a blazing orange.

Full view, Oct. 23.

A week later, the change is complete.  Today, most of the leaves are still clinging to the branches, but strong winds yesterday blew off a few,  and conveniently for me, blew away almost all the leaves on the ground!

"So dawn goes down to day..." Thursday's dawn brought the first killing frost of the season.

Though the frost brought an end to all but a few hardy annuals, I will not "sink to grief"--this was one of the latest frosts in my memory.  

And despite the poem's theme, there is still some gold in my garden--Amsonia Hubrichtii is one of the prettiest perennials for fall.   

Farewell, October--you were beautiful!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday: Mystery Aster

Why am I always late for Wildflower Wednesday?  I don't mean a couple days late: our hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone celebrates wildflowers all month long and isn't fussy about deadlines for her monthly meme.  No, I'm talking about being a whole month late.

Back in late September I had planned to show off the New England asters that have taken over were blooming in the small butterfly/native garden.

In September these purple and various pink blooms were covered with all kinds of bees filling up with nectar for the long winter ahead.

There were also butterflies a-plenty back in September in this little backyard garden, including the late-arriving Painted Ladies, sharing the goodness with the bees.

Most of the goldenrod was also blooming back in September, its bright yellow blooms covered with all kinds of little critters.

Oh, I could have done a nice little post just on the asters and goldenrod blooming in September.  But you see, I was waiting for something else.  Two tall plants had suddenly, or so it seemed, emerged at the very back of the butterfly garden.  Earlier, I had mistakenly thought they were Obedient Plant, because the stems and leaves looked somewhat similar.  But as they grew and grew, reaching five feet, and began to show small little buds on the top stems, I realized they were something entirely different.  But what were they?

This would make an interesting addition to my Wildflower Wednesday post, I thought, and so I waited as September turned into October.  The buds turned a pinkish cast, but still did not open.

While I waited, I tried to figure out what these two plants could be.  I didn't remember planting anything in this corner, and I searched my garden journal for native plant purchases in the last year or two, with nothing noted that would look anything like this.  I consulted my two favorite wildflower references without much luck either.  Perhaps it was an Aster tataricus,  a tall, late-blooming aster.  But the leaves are alternate, and one source said this aster's leaves were opposite.  Could it be a Vernonia, or Ironweed, which does have alternate leaves?  I began to hope it was Ironweed, a plant I've always wanted to add to this area.  Only time would tell .  . .

While one week turned into the next, another flower suddenly burst into bloom at the front of the butterfly garden.  This wildflower is no stranger here, usually appearing in the fall in various places around the outbuildings.  Some time ago  I identified this as a Aster pilosus or Frost aster, also called a Hairy Aster, though I'm not 100% positive that is correct.

This is definitely a weedy wildflower and not to everyone's taste.  I usually pull them when they appear throughout the garden, but I was too lazy didn't have time to pull this one before it bloomed, and I'm actually glad I left it alone.  The bees don't care whether it's some fancy type of aster or a weedy one.  Meanwhile, back to the mystery plant . . .

After weeks of waiting, the blooms on my tall mystery plant finally appeared.  Definitely not Ironweed!  The blooms are those of an aster, but what kind?

Perhaps it's an Aster tataricus, but it doesn't quite look like the images I've found.  I have trouble distinguishing one aster--or Symphyotrichum for botanical purists--from another.  Its tall, sturdy stem sways in the breeze, but doesn't bend; it's nice to have a tall plant at the back of the garden that doesn't need staking.

The asters in the early photos have long since faded to brown, but after two weeks, this maybe-aster is still blooming, and I am no closer to solving the mystery of its identity.  I also haven't solved the mystery of how it came to be in my garden.  Perhaps it's just another of the many gifts I receive each year from the birds sharing seeds with me.  Whatever this plant is, I'm enjoying its late blooms in my garden.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by Gail of Clay and Limestone.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October GBBD: Still Blooming!

For the last two weeks, I have awakened many mornings wondering, is this the day? What I have worried about, is this the day we will be hit by the first frost and all my pretty annuals will turn to mush?  Many years we've been hit by a frost before October's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but fortunately not this year.  We've had a few cold nights, but so far we have escaped the kiss of death for tender plants.

The downside to this is that I keep putting off many of the fall chores on my long to-do list.  I have planted a few bulbs, but I need to pull out some annuals to make room for many of the rest.  But with the zinnias and cosmos still blooming alongside the asters, I can't bring myself to pull any of them out just yet.

Can you blame me for wanting to enjoy this beauty as long as I can?

Although I took this photo two weeks ago, there are still a few butterflies enjoying the 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias, including a few late Monarchs making their way south.  

They're not the only ones enjoying the late-blooming annuals.  Frank and Coconut enjoy making the rounds of the garden with me in the morning and checking out how many cosmos are still blooming.  And no, I couldn't get them both to look at the camera--my only photo with Coconut facing forward also had Frank lifting his leg to "water" the cosmos:)

There are bulbs to plant in the lily bed border, but heat-loving lantana is occupying that space right now and is looking so good, despite the cooler temps.

One small chore accomplished--the Dragonwing begonia has been repotted to bring in for the winter.  This plant did so well in a container this year that I am going to do my best to save it for next year.

The nasturtiums apparently like the cooler weather--they've doubled in size in the last few weeks.  They're on the edge of the veggie garden and not in the way of any bulbs, so they can stay for as long as they last.  Another chore I haven't completed is cleaning up the veggie garden now that the tomatoes are done, but we've had so much rain lately I haven't been able to.

There are a few new blooms this October Bloom Day.  For a couple of years I bemoaned the fact that the Japanese Anemone I had planted must have died, but apparently I needed to be more patient.  It's had a few blooms the last year or two, but this year it has really come into its own, growing to nearly 5 feet tall with masses of blooms.  A newer pink Anemone has a couple of blooms, so I hope it will also take a growth spurt next year.

And the appropriately named 'October Skies' Asters are covered with masses of lavender-blue blooms.  They can be partially seen alongside the zinnias and cosmos in the first photo as well.

But most of the other perennials are ready for their long winter's sleep.  A few stray coneflowers have decided to bloom, however.

And this Rudbeckia is a virtual Energizer Bunny--it just keeps going and going.

The cooler weather has encouraged the Knockout roses to put out a fresh flush of blooms. 'Radsunny' looks better now than in the summer.

If you read my earlier post on Lessons Learned, you might remember that I was waiting to see what this plant was.  Earlier in the spring I thought it was some volunteer Amsonia and shared some starts with my good friend Beckie.  Fortunately, hers didn't make it:)  The Switchgrass behind the goldenrod, by the way, is Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah.'  I love the burgundy hues of this grass.

A surprise latecomer to the garden is this Cleome next to the 'Vanilla Strawberry' Hydrangea.

The hydrangeas are more typical of what is going on this October as most of the garden is putting on its fall color.  The 'Vanilla Strawberry' blooms have turned a deep pink, finally more Strawberry than Vanilla.

The blooms of the 'Limelight' Hydrangea, on the other hand, have turned a much softer shade of pink.

Fall is when grasses really shine.  The plumes of Miscanthus 'Morning Light' can be seen waving in the wind at the back of the Arbor Bed.

Another lovely example of foliage is the Amsonia hubrichtii turning to gold behind the Beautyberry.

One example of colorful fall foliage I'd rather not have is this. Mr. Procrastinator got a little carried away this summer with the weed-killer around the outbuildings, but somehow he missed this poison ivy.

The leaves have just started to turn in our area in the last week or two.  This ash tree in my front yard is always the first to turn.  I'm not looking forward to the first frost and its effect on my garden, but I am looking forward to the fall color show transforming my front yard to a display of red and gold very soon.

What's still blooming in your garden?  For a look at what is blooming around the world, check out other Bloom Day posts at Carol's May Dreams Gardens.