Friday, May 30, 2008

My Little Helper

The sun is peeking through the clouds today, and there is a threat of rain and possible storms later in the day. But I'm not going to complain even if I don't get much done in the garden today. Yesterday was such a perfect day with temperatures in the 70's, bright sunshine, and a gentle breeze. I accomplished a lot in the garden yesterday, thanks to my little helper.

He helped me dig holes to plant alyssum along the border of the sidewalk flower bed.

He enjoyed using all of Grandma's gardening tools, especially the "chopper" from Beckie.

We planted more flowers in the containers.

He dug out some weeds in the vegetable garden.

Then we picked some lettuce.

He thought Grandma's hosta worked nicely as a drum set.

And when he got tired of gardening (well, maybe it was Grandma who was tired), we found some of his Daddy's old toys in the barn.

And he took some time to spin around the yard to inspect Grandpa's mowing job.

This is my 3 1/2-year-old grandson who likes visiting Grandma's house. I am "the grandma who isn't old," his distinction between me and his other grandmother. I laughed at this, but can commiserate with his other grandma. His cousin--my 41/2-year-old granddaughter--once told me, "Grandma, you are the oldest person I know!" Ahh, out of the mouths of babes...

All in all, it was a perfect day. And when his mother picked him up after her day at work, Grandma lay down on the couch and took a nap.

"Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old." --Mary H. Waldrip

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Much Ado about Gardening

I can never resist quoting Shakespeare, but today's post should more accurately be entitled "Much to do in the Garden." Reading many of your blogs, I know you all have the same feeling. It's almost June, and there is still so much to be done! What's really frustrating here in my little corner of Illinois is that we have had so much rain. I should be thankful--and I am--that we have not had floods nor the horrific storms that have caused so much destruction in parts of the Midwest. The rain here, to be truthful, has just been a minor annoyance: a soaking rain one day, then just when the garden has dried out enough to work in it, it rains again.

It's hard to tell from the picture above, but the white streaks in the right of the picture are actually steady streams of the rain that fell all day yesterday.

I was hoping to get into the vegetable garden yesterday to till up a section again so that I could plant tomatoes. The tomato plants have been sitting on my patio for over week and are looking pretty puny right now. Of course, even if I had planted them they would have needed a blanket yesterday--the temperature went from the 80's on Monday to 50 degrees Tuesday. I still have two trays of flowers as well waiting to be planted. And, believe it or not, I still have to buy more plants! There are still some empty holes in some of my containers that need to be filled in, and the new roadside flowerbed is not finished either.

And once all the planting is done, of course the weeding must be done. All this rain has caused them to grow by leaps and bounds. I have been pulling the obvious weeds--some sort of grass that may be the ribbon grass some of you have described, dandelions, thistles, and a persistent vine I thought was bindweed, but thankfully isn't. My problem, though, with weeding this time of year is not knowing sometimes what is a weed and what isn't. I was looking at these "weeds" when they first popped up in the front of my main flowerbed, debating whether to pull them or not, and thought they looked like something else. Sure enough, Beckie confirmed my suspicions: they're actually echinacea seedlings!

When I cleaned up my flowerbed this spring, I sprinkled the seeds from the dried coneflower heads all over the ground, hoping I might get a few volunteer plants to fill in bare spots. It's worked before, but never like this. I am so glad I didn't buy that echinacea I put in my shopping cart at the garden center two weeks ago!
Then there are other projects. I have been wanting to plant some perennials for a permanent memorial for my late dog Roco. I found this small trellis recently and I have all the plants needed, but I'm waiting for the ok from my husband on the placement. Mr. MowerMan doesn't like to have to mow around things, so I want to make sure I plant in the best place so the flowers don't fall victim to his mower blades.

Another project that has me puzzled is this birdbath pictured below. I bought this two years ago, waiting patiently until it finally went on sale. I love the cobalt blue accent in the shade garden. But I hadn't had it more than a month before something knocked it over, eventually breaking the top of the base, as you can see. Last summer I carefully placed all the broken pieces back, using superglue. Once it had set for a few days, I placed the top back on, and in a week it was knocked over again! I have no idea what might have knocked it over--it's too heavy for the cats or our Pomeranian. I thought it might have been a deer or a large stray dog, but we do have raccoons and opossums, too. Whatever it might have been, I would sure like to fix this again. Any ideas? If it can't be fixed, I might fill the bowl with pebbles and water, using it as a butterfly bath, as suggested at gardening workshop. But, darn it, I really want to use it as a birdbath.

As I walk around my garden I see so many other things that need to be done, too. But I really need to look on the bright side. After all, it's only the last week in May, and I am so much farther ahead than what I normally would be. A year ago at this time I was busily grading papers and averaging final grades, completing inventory and book orders, and cleaning out my desk and thiry-four years' accumulation of files and teaching paraphernalia. Last year I had barely started gardening by the first of June!
Looking at the garden in a positive light, I realize I have accomplished quite a lot. The roadside flowerbed expansion was tilled, and most of it has been planted. The spinach and lettuce I planted later than intended has appreciated this cool weather and is almost ready to be picked. Green beans and summer squash are popping through the soil. I also have most of my containers planted.

Later this summer, when they have filled out, I'll show them all to you. I've also experimented with a couple new planting projects--some hanging baskets and a living wreath, both of which I'll post about later, as well.
I also finally got around to a project I've been wanting to do for ages. This old buggy seat belonged to my mother-in-law, and since she always left it outside, I thought it would be the perfect accent in the main flowerbed. Unfortunately, I neglected to bring it inside last winter, and rain and snow took a toll on it. I wanted to refinish it to protect it from the elements, but preserve its original look. My mother-in-law had painted it a dark green, and you'll notice if you enlarge it, that she added some yellow trim, including painting her and my father-in-law's names on it. I gave the seat a very light coat of paint, including some Rustoleum on the metal parts, and then a couple coats of an exterior polyurethane varnish. Trying to touch up the yellow trim and re-copy her inscription was not an easy job, but from a distance I think it looks ok. I am hoping that this will keep it preserved for my children, who have fond memories of their grandmother. And I will take it inside this winter!

And while I have been complaining about all the rain, my plants have loved it. I have killed more astilbes than I can remember, but this one, planted just last year, looks like it might be a keeper. Astilbes need lots of moisture, and I tend to forget to water them during the hot, dry spells of summer. I am resolving right now to do a better job this year of keeping this beauty alive.

Too often I am a glass half-empty kind of person. As Carol of May Dreams said in an earlier post, it's good to sit back sometimes and think about what you have done rather than what you have to do. Now that I look at all I have done this spring, I feel much better.

On a final note, I want to thank everyone who left a comment on my last post about Empty Wallet Syndrome. Apparently, the condition that causes this problem--plant addiction--is running rampant among all gardeners. I don't know if it can be transmitted through cyberspace, as Cheryl suggested, but it is good to know I belong to such a great support group. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that gardeners are among the nicest people there are. Who else is so willing to commiserate with you about your problems? Who else is so willing to share their possessions (plants) with you? Who else has just the right advice for you in a sticky situation?

And it's not just bloggers who are such nice people. Last week I was searching for a particular plant when a total stranger also looking at the annuals struck up a conversation with me and recommended a couple of her favorite annuals that stand up well to Illinois summers. Later that afternoon Beckie and I were standing in the check-out line at Meijer's when the woman behind us started commenting on the cleome in my cart. We began to talk, and not only did she give me some advice about growing the cleome (it doesn't like fertilizer), but it turned out she belonged to the local chapter of the Master Gardeners. By the time Beckie and I left, we had plants as well as tickets to the Master Gardeners' Garden Walk to be held in June.

And finally, last week Beckie brought me a gift when it wasn't even my birthday--this tool that I've seen on so many other blogs. Sure, she only paid a dollar for it at the Dollar Store, but it's the thought I appreciate. It's amazingly substantial for that price, and I've used it so much already I don't know how I got along without one before.
So to all my gardening friends, I thank you for your support, and I wish you sunny days to work in the garden and a few rainy days to sit back and appreciate all that you have accomplished.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another Gardening Affliction

My husband thinks I'm a hypochondriac. He claims that when I read an article about a newly identified disease or condition, I think I have it. That's not true, although I have to admit after watching a TV commercial recently that showed a carload of gentlemen stopping every 15 minutes so that one of them could use the restroom, I exclaimed, "That's me! That's what I have!" The only problem was that it was an ad for a new drug to treat prostate problems. Well, maybe I don't have that, after all.

What I do have, though, is every disease identified by some very knowledgeable gardeners lately. Carol at May Dreams has written about GADS (for which she won a much deserved Mousie award, by the way); Jodi at Bloomingwriter has described UPSM; Gail at Clay and Limestone has MGP; and Beckie at Dragonflycorner has added DIPT. I have all of these conditions plus at least one more that no one has mentioned: EWS, otherwise known as Empty Wallet Syndrome. Before anyone accuses me of plagiarism (the evil deed I preached against for so many years) or taking advantage of the creativity of others, I need to explain that EWS is actually just the effect of a prolonged case of one or more of the other well-documented conditions, and so you will never find it in the Physicians Reference. The diagnosis is easily made, and its cure seems simple enough, but in order to alleviate the symptoms, one has to first determine the causes.

The causes may vary from one victim to another, but in my case I can easily identify four causes, the first being, of all things, blogging. Yes, you garden bloggers have contributed to my problem. Since I first became addicted to reading blogs a few months ago, my desire for this plant and that plant has increased at least tenfold. After two months of looking at countless photos of hellebores, I don't think I can live without having some next spring. Gail's perfectly pink phlox are next on my list, followed by more spring bulbs and poppies. I hate to think what my want list is going to look like by the end of the summer! But I don't want anyone to feel guilty for enabling me, because some good has certainly resulted from the enticing photos and helpful comments you've posted. For example, I've been looking for something to plant in my pet memorial, and thanks to Kylee's recommendation, I bought this lovely Rozanne geranium.

One reason I've spent so much this year is a logical one: I expanded two small flowerbeds last fall, so, of course, I had to buy more plants for these areas. I purchased another Walker's Low nepeta and some Oranges and Lemons gallardia for the roadside bed, and still need a few more plants to fill it in . But I have tried to be conservative here and in the shade garden expansion by sowing some seeds, ordering smaller plants from a mail order company, and dividing a few hostas. This means being more patient: the plants below are labelled "waterfall petunias." The label says they will grow to 5-7 feet, and in the catalog they were pictured as lush flowers cascading down a rock wall. Hmmm, we'll see in September if they are flowing over my porch planter.

I also ordered some coral bells and monarda from the same company. I had visions of a full border of coral bells around my shade garden this summer, but it may take a few years before these 3 inch plants develop into a "border." And the petite monarda were, well....petite.

My finances have also been stretched by a problem that most of us share, I would guess, and that is impulse buying. This is the first spring of my retirement, so I have had so much more time to dream and plan and go on plant shopping excursions with my friend Beckie (and even a few by myself). As Carol says, though, you have to leave a little room for impulse or spontaneity when buying plants. Otherwise, where's the fun? And I have been pretty good about this, though I couldn't pass up this heuchera, "Dolce Creme Brulee." I mean, with a name like that, how could you? I don't feel too bad about buying it, because it's going to do double-duty for me: filling in a container during the summer, then going into the shade garden for good this fall.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how this scabiosa got into my shopping cart. I don't know what I was thinking. Don't get me wrong; I love these pincushion flowers, but I've planted them before and they never come back the next year. So this one may be just an expensive annual.

Then there's what you might call the impulse caused by serendipity. I used to have cleome in my garden before we moved, and I tried to save some seed to plant here, but it never grew. After a couple years of looking for another plant, I found not one, but two different varieties last week, so, of course, I bought them both! I'm hoping they self-seed as my old ones did so that I can have a group of these eventually (away from the house--as bewitching as they are, they don't have a very pleasant fragrance).

And I just have to sneak in this photo--it's an impulse buy from two years ago. Last year this clematis (the tag is lost so I have no idea what its name is) surprised me with a few blooms on a single runner. This year, its third summer, it is covered with buds, one of which opened fully just this week. This is an impulse buy I will not regret.

But by far my biggest expense this spring has been annuals. I believe in the virtue of delayed gratification, but when I walk into a nursery filled with overflowing hanging baskets and blooming supertunias, super verbenas, million bells and all the other colorful annuals, I lose all self-control. I'm getting woozy just thinking about it now. Couple that desire for immediate color with all the containers I have, and you have a recipe for financial disaster. Container plantings are great for adding pizzazz to patios and spots where you can't plant, but I think I have gotten a little carried away. Every year I seem to add another pot or two to my collection, including a pink fiberglass one I showed in an earlier post that I just had to have. I spent a lot of time envisioning just the right combination of plants to fill this pot, but then I couldn't decide where to place it. Every day I would set it in another corner, trying to select the perfect spot. Toby was not so indecisive; he knew exactly what I should do with this planter.

Filling the containers can be an expensive proposition since I usually rely on annuals. I started out very organized, making a list of all the plants needed for each pot and carrying my notebook with me every time I went plant shopping. The problem, though, is that I couldn't always find every plant I wanted at the garden centers I visited, so I would come home with 3 plants for this pot and 3 for another, but never everything needed for each container, necessitating yet another shopping excursion (and then another and another...). And when the impulse shopping kicked in, I would buy something that didn't go with anything else. For example, these yellow fusion impatiens were so unusual I just had to buy a small pot. They were rather expensive so I only bought one. Now I need to buy more to fill in the container.

Like any addict, I have resorted to deception to hide my addiction from my family. Before setting off on another shopping spree, I try to plant as many of the flowers that I already have before bringing home another few flats, and I unload the minivan only when my husband isn't around. Amazingly, he doesn't seem to notice the proliferation of trays and pots on the front porch, but my daughter does. She caught me unloading the car one day last week and scolded me. "Oh, MY gosh! How MANY plants are you going to BUY? Can you AFFORD all of these?!" I just smiled and replied sweetly, "It's ok, honey. I'm just spending your inheritance." She was not amused.

I've even had to resort to some creative financing to support my addiction. I found some gift cards from Lowe's and Meijer's I'd never used, so I bought some basic annuals there (interestingly, that's where I found the two cleomes). But to show you how desperate I have become, last week I even agreed to substitute one afternoon for an English teacher, knowing full well that the job included teaching " the class from hell." During the hour I spent in this class filled with every troublemaker in the sophomore class, I kept my calm by inwardly repeating this mantra: "more flowers, more flowers..."

I'm afraid it's too late to try to cure me this year. I'll make it through the season somehow, even if I have to resort to serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner three nights a week. But next year things are going to have to change. As I said earlier, the cure is easy enough: stop buying plants. But the patient has to be ready for such a drastic cure, and I'm not. Before I seek debt counseling or my family checks me into plant rehab, I'm going to try some other less drastic measures.
First, I'm going to try to plant more seeds in early spring. My experiment with seedlings was less than successful this year, but I think I've learned from my mistakes. Secondly, I'm going to try saving some cuttings from this year's annuals. Several of you have already given me some tips on how to propagate plants I didn't know you could keep, and I am going to read every single tip on propagation in your posts this fall. And finally, I am going to welcome any and all passalong plants. I already have the hollyhocks my mother gave me, and Thursday Beckie and I swapped some extra plants we each had. A year ago last fall my aunt divided her irises and lilies and asked if I'd like some. This stand of irises is the result of that windfall. Maybe she'll do some more cleaning and thinning in her garden this fall.

Yes, I'll find a way to beat this affliction/addiction. But first Beckie and I are planning one final (?) plant shopping trip this week. But this time I am STICKING TO MY LIST!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Two good reasons to spend the holiday weekend in your garden

1. Watching the first iris bud..

...unfurl and bloom.

2. .........

May you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.
(If you are having trouble loading the title, as I did, the whole point is lost. The title is "Two reasons to spend the hoiday weekend in your garden." #1 is the iris.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ABC Wednesday and Another Game of Tag

ABC Wednesday: R is for....

....Rose, what else??!!

ABC Wednesdays are brought to you courtesy of Mrs. Nesbitt's Place.
Before you marvel at my beautiful rose, I have to confess this is not in my garden. I sneaked this picture at a local garden center while on yet another plant shopping spree. I wanted a photo of a rose to fulfill the ABC Wednesday meme, but I also thought it provided a nice segue into the rest of this post. As I said on Monday, I been tagged several times in the last several weeks, and I want to respond to them today. Suburbia tagged me eons ago, and VP last week; since they're somewhat similar tags, I thought I could do both in one post.
Suburbia, who writes clever and witty posts about everyday life, gave me the assignment to answer the following questions:
1. What were you doing 10 years ago?
Ten years ago I was in a constant state of motion: teaching all day, attending my girls' activities most nights of the week, and squeezing in grading papers and doing housework in the little time left.
2. Name 5 snacks you enjoy.
Dark chocolate, cookies, crackers, doughnuts, and more dark chocolate. (And I wonder why I can't lose weight!)

3. Things I would do if were a billionaire.
That's a tough one: Give some money to each of my children to help them pay off college debts and make their lives easier. Set up pre-paid college accounts for each of my grandchildren. Travel (definitely!). Buy season tickets to the Cubs' games and Illini basketball games. Hire someone to landscape my yard, complete with a fountain and pond. And with the 999 million left, set up a foundation for charity.
4. Five jobs that I have had:
Filing clerk at a bank, fast-food worker, cafeteria worker, clerical assistant to a professor--all of these were summer or part-time jobs before I finally started teaching, which I did for 34 years.
5. Three bad habits:
According to my children, I sigh a lot.
Procrastinating (not good when you're married to Mr. Procrastinator!)
Spending way too much time blogging!
6. Five places I have lived.
Actually, other than two years spent at college in Minnesota, I have lived within a 10-mile radius of the same small town my whole life.
7. Five people I want to know more about:
William Shakespeare
Barack Obama
Zora Neale Hurston
Cheryl at My Wildlife Sanctuary
You, Suburbia!

And now from VP, who writes about gardening on an allotment, as well as numerous other topics. Her assignment is shorter: to list 6 random facts about yourself.

1. I don't believe in astrology, but I am a true Gemini. This may explain why one day I have a serious post about gardening, and the next something silly or satirical.
2. I can't swim.
3. I am athletically challenged (read: klutz)
4. I have been married for almost 39 years ( to the same husband).
5. My secret ambition is to be a novelist. (Another one is to be the lead singer in a rock band, but I think my voice, or lack of one, will prevent this from ever happening.)
6. This one's embarrassing: I voted for our Governor Blagojevitch the first time he ran, but soon saw the error of my ways and did not vote for him the second time. (For all you not living in Illinois let me just say that he will probably be spending his retirement in a prison cell near our previous governor!)
7. I am addicted to dark chocolate.

You know the rules--I am supposed to tag 5 or 6 people at this point, and I really was going to. But the more I thought about it, those of you who are primarily garden bloggers are very busy right now in the garden and would probably prefer to show off your flowers in bloom. And the rest of you have already been tagged, I think, so once again I am going to break the rules. If anyone would like to respond to this tag, feel free to share some personal insight with us. If not, the tag may stop here; I've broken many a chain letter, too, and haven't suffered any dire consequences yet.

If you can bear with me, though, while I am on the subject of revealing myself, I wanted to add just a little bit more that isn't part of the tag. As a child, I wanted to be a princess like many other little girls. I even went so far as to fantasize that I had been switched at birth, probably with Prince Charles and was the rightful heir to the throne of England. No matter how ridiculously improbable this was or that we didn't even have the same birthdays. Of course, I did think my ears stuck out too much when I was little.

Over the years I admired the sophisticated poise and beauty of Princess Grace of Monaco and later that of the the lovely Princess Diana. But a princess I could never be! It's not just my lineage, but my lack of grace that completely rules that out. Let me explain.

I care about my appearance and rarely go out of the house without at least a little bit of make-up and some primping of my hair. But no matter how hard I try to look nice, something frequently happens to remind me I'm no movie star. There was the infamous pantyhose story where I found myself at school with an extra pair of pantyhose stuck in my pant leg with the toe hanging out. That incident has become a legend among my friends. A few years ago I wore a new pair of jeans to school on a Friday ("jeans day"), and walked past a giggly group of girls at their lockers. One of them asked, "New pair of jeans, Mrs. F?" I answered, "Yes," thinking how nice of them to notice, mistaking their giggles for something else. When I walked past their smiling faces a few minutes later, one kind soul took me aside and said, "You still have the tag on, Mrs. F." I looked down, and to my horror discovered that the large clear tag proclaiming the size was still attached in plain view on my pant leg. I might as well have been wearing a banner proclaiming, "I have new Fat Lady jeans!"

Then there are my many mishaps with food: I often wear my dinner, it seems. When my girls were still in high school, I was usually on the run, sprinting from work to one sports activity after another. I frequently grabbed a sandwich at a fast food drive-thru and ate it while driving 30 or 60 miles to one of their ballgames. Everyone is aware of the dangers of eating while driving, I'm sure. Sure enough, I invariably wound up at my destination with an enormous catsup or mayonnaise stain on my shirt.

Even drinking coffee can create problems for me. Recently I was substituting all day for a special education teacher's classes. I'm not used to working 8 hours a day anymore, so I brought a thermos of coffee with me. It wasn't until the end of the day that I realized that sometime during the afternoon I must have spilled some on me. These students were a very nice group, which was confirmed when I realized they were all too nice to inform me that I had a huge coffee stain on the front of my light aqua sweater. A similar incident occurred when my daughter and I visited Disneyland a year ago. While she rode one of the scarier rides, I found a place to sit and drink a Starbucks grande to ward off the surprising evening chill. Of course, I managed to dribble it all down my shirt, and then had to walk around the park the rest of the evening with my arms folded in front of my chest. My daughter thought it was very amusing and had to take a picture.

I was a good sport in letting her take the picture, obviously, but I later discovered that she had posted this picture on her page on Facebook! This is the only image her online friends have of "My Mom."

Then there are the things that are not my fault. Last fall we attended all the Illinois home football games with my son and his family. I was a constant source of amusement to my son, especially, with my innocent questions about football. (Who knew that yellow line marking the line of scrimmage only appears on TV??) At one game, though, my daughter, who was sitting behind me, asked me what was in my hair. Upon careful inspection, she discovered it was bird poop! Out of 40,000 people in that stadium, a bird decides I am the perfect target to defecate on. Such is my life.

You might think that I have chosen to hide inside my house, avoiding embarrassing myself and my family and friends. But I haven't. I've discovered over the years that life is much more enjoyable if you can laugh at yourself, which I do....often. So if you happen to see a tall, blonde woman walking down your street or in an airport or mall wearing clothes with the tags hanging out, bird poop in her hair, and a large stain on her shirt, wave and smile. That's probably me!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Let's Play Tag!

Book Tag

In the past several weeks I have been tagged by a few people with different memes. I must admit I have procrastinated on most of them, and since I'm still waiting on blooms from my garden to show you, this week is as good as any to respond to these topics. The first tag is from Cheryl of My Wildlife Sanctuary, a true lover of nature who, as her blogname suggests, is creating a sanctuary in her backyard for all forms of wildlife, especially the birds and the bees. The rules of this game are these:

1. Pick up the nearest book set in a foreign country.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the 5th sentence on that page.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag 5 people and acknowledge who tagged you.

Cheryl's post was very thought-provoking because she chose a book explaining the teachings of Buddha. I knew I couldn't find anything that profound, but I felt compelled to try and picked up my copy of the complete works of Shakespeare, thinking I would surely find something wonderful there. Unfortunately, p. 123 was in the middle of Henry IV, and the lines didn't make much sense taken out of context. Then I spied a copy of Wuthering Heights in my nightstand, and decided to go for it. This is what I found on p. 123:

"Mr. Linton had put on her pillow, in the morning, a handful of golden crocuses; her eye, long stranger to any gleam of pleasure, caught them in waking, and shone delighted as she gathered them eagerly together."

If you have read Wuthering Heights you might recognize this passage as occuring during the time that Catherine is very ill and Edgar is trying to nurse her back to health. I thought the lines were interesting because when I first started reading blogs a little over two months ago, most of the gardening blogs were showing their crocuses, excited at this early sign of spring. No doubt Emily Bronte was thinking much the same way when she wrote these lines.

The Bronte sisters, especially Charlotte, have always been favorite authors of mine. I first read Jane Eyre when I was 13, and after that had the romantic fantasy of living in England and becoming a governess, hoping to eventually find my own Mr. Rochester. A few years ago, I did get to spend a few days in London, but I would love to really visit the UK, this time doing a sort of literary pilgrimage, visiting Stratford-on-Avon, Canterbury, Wordsworth's Lake Country, and the moors of the Bronte sisters, among other places.

I am usually such a rule-follower, but Cheryl, if you will forgive me, I'm not going to tag anyone with this. Instead, if anyone would like to join in and share what you've found in a book, please feel free to jump in!

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours"

Last week Vegplotting had this rather provocative title, which was actually a tag asking people to show what was currently on their desktops. Now this one is pretty easy to respond to; as you can see in the photo at the right, I have a photo that I took in Sedona, Arizona back in January when I visited my daughter.

I thought this tag was a rather unusual one, perhaps even a little silly, until I thought about it a little while. Does your desktop say something about who you are? In my case, I downloaded this photo shortly after returning from Arizona because it reminded me of the wonderful time I had there and the beautiful scenery so unlike the flat prairies of central Illinois. It also reminds me every time I get on the computer of my daughter who I miss very much.

Before I had this wallpaper I alternated between other photos of nature I downloaded from other sites or my own photos of my grandchildren. Both of these do reflect parts of my personality--I used to be a very stressed-out person (before I retired), and I appreciated the scenes of the serenity of nature. And, of course, my grandchildren mean the world to me, so their photos always bring a smile to my face.

Just to prove my point, I thought about my older daughter, the animal lover, whose desktop always has a photo of her pug, Oz. And the last wallpaper I saw on my younger daughter's computer was a photo of Jessica Simpson. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that, but trust me, it fits her.

Like VP, I'm not going to tag anyone with this one, but if you care to join in, feel free to do so.

And finally, my apologies to Suburbia and VP. I haven't forgotten the original tags both of you gave me, though, Suburbia, you may think I have, it's been so long! I plan to post a response to both of those on Wednesday, so I hope you'll check back then.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

GBBD: May Blooms the Easy Way

Here is what is blooming at my garden...

...many annuals waiting to be planted in my garden. Sorry if you were expecting something more dramatic. In fact, after visiting a couple GBBD posts today, I feel rather sheepish and inadequate even posting this. But, other than a few brave daffodils and tulips who are way past their prime, I really have nothing blooming right now. And with the rain we've had these past two days, it may be awhile before these blooms are even placed into the garden.

There are some buds on various plants showing promise, but like Carol of May Dreams Gardens who sponsored this post, I am in a state of anticipation. Coincidentally, I just happened to see an interview with Carly Simon on TV last night, and so Carol, on this rainy May Bloom Day, this is for you:

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway...

Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Serendipity in the Garden

Serendipity. One of my favorite words--it somersaults off your tongue and leaps out into the air with a little tune. It's impossible to say the word with a frown or in an angry tone. We all love these little accidents of good luck, but I think gardeners in particular understand the meaning of this word.

A perfect example of serendipity occurred a few months ago when my friend Beckie and I were returning from an afternoon out and just happened to see a falconer off the road giving his bird some exercise. Beckie, being a new blogger at the time, saw the perfect opportunity for an interesting post and quickly pulled off the road and whipped out the camera she always carries with her, resulting in some great pictures.

You have all experienced serendipity, too, in the garden-- that plant you bought by mistake or the one you substituted for the plant you really wanted and then find that the new plant is a perfect addition so you buy it again and again. Over the last few years I have found a few plants I can't do without each year, and I wanted to share three of my serendipitous finds with you.

My first attempt at creating a new perennial bed was just six or seven years ago. (I told you I was a "late bloomer.") I had been admiring mass plantings of echinacea, the common purple coneflowers, for some time and decided that was going to be the main planting. It was a small flowerbed, so I just wanted something to plant in front of it. I looked at various catalogues and websites and decided on the perennial purple salvia, probably "Maynight." But it was a rainy spring and I was busy, so by the time I got to the garden center to buy some salvia, they were all sold out. The salesperson recommended the annual salvia which they had in stock. I decided for my first season I would try it. I purchased several packs of "Victoria Blue" salvia that year, and I've never looked back! I have since planted "May Night" as well as "East Friesland" salvia in my newer garden, but there are several places where only Victoria will do.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of my garden from previous years to show how these flowers look when mature, so I can only describe them to you. You can see from the tag that the flowers grow upright to a height of 20-24" and turn a bright blue-violet. Other gardeners have mentioned that they prefer the annual to the perennial, and I have to agree. While my perennial salvias are a nice purple addition to the garden, the annual Victoria Blue is a bright, bright color that really stands out in the garden. It provides a nice complement to the purple (actually pink, of course) coneflowers in my roadside flowerbed as well as to the yellow Stella D'Oro daylilies in front of a large boulder in my front yard. The wonderful part about these salvias, though, is that they begin to bloom in early to mid-summer and continue to keep their blooms until frost. They survive heat, drought, and neglect in general. As if that weren't enough, they often self-sow, and I find little seedlings in odd places each spring. What more could you ask from an annual?

Over the years I have become better at container gardening, rather than just plunk a few geraniums in a pot. I have been following the "thriller, spiller, filler" formula for some time, though I didn't know those terms until recently, I must admit. I have tried various trailing plants, or "spillers," but two years ago I happened upon a small pot of helichrysum and have been smitten with it ever since.

Helichrysum goes by different common names, such as licorice vine or mouse ears, and comes in several varieties. My favorite is the licorice vine pictured above, although I've used the smaller leaf variety as well. It doesn't flower, but it certainly grows and spreads, "spilling" out of a container nicely. I use Ipomoea in several containers, but no matter how much I pinch it, I find by the end of the summer the sweet potato vine has twined itself around my pots. The helichrysum, on the other hand, grows out rather than down, so that it seems to "float" around the container. Its foliage is a silvery green, and even in winter the dead silvery leaves are rather attractive. You can see I just leave them in their pots over the winter; I think they have a sort of ethereal effect.

The same summer I found the helichrysum I also found the perfect "thriller": Strobilanthes dyerianus, "Persian Shield." Originally I was looking for some heliotrope, which I had previously used for a purple accent, but couldn't find any, so when I stumbled on the persian shield, I thought I'd give it a try. This one doesn't flower, either, but its velvety variegated purple foliage is the beauty of this plant. The tag says it grows up to 48" tall, and I can believe it--I keep pinching mine so that they don't get too tall for the container and so that they spread more horizontally. I always plant this at the center back of the container (including the urn above) to provide a striking backdrop for whatever filler I've used. It can be used in sun to part shade, though all mine so far have been planted in full sun. In fact, here's another great thing about the persian shield: unlike heliotrope, which can dry up quickly if not watered frequently, this plant doesn't mind neglect. I've gone out in the morning to find this drooping as if it were about to die. A good watering, and in an hour or two--poof! it's standing up straight and tall once again!

Do you see a common thread here among all these plants? That's right--low maintenance! As much as I have come to love gardening, I know me. A couple hours of weeding and other gardening chores, and my knees remind me how old I really am. And while I enjoy those beautiful sun-kissed days of spring and early summer in the garden, the hot, muggy days of July and August in Illinois make me want to view my garden from the window in my air-conditioned living room. I need plants that are forgiving, and these three have been very understanding.

Another common thread, of course, is that these are all annuals. I tend to mull over gardening catalogs and try to envision a plant in my mind before buying a perennial. Rarely do I buy a perennial on a whim, probably because they are more expensive and my frugal nature keeps me from taking too many financial risks. I need to loosen up here, I think. But when it comes to buying annuals for my many containers, I go in with a carefully prepared list but get so overwhelmed by all the luscious colors and textures that I often forget what I came to buy! I'll see something I just have to have, with no idea where I will plant it. That was the case with a purchase I made on a recent plant shopping trip with Beckie.

I've never seen this plant before. It's a "Bourbon Street Acalypha," and according to the tag it is a "winner from Louisiana." It is supposed to grow 20-30" tall and perform well in extreme heat and humidity, which we certainly have here in the summer. The photo doesn't capture its color as well as I had hoped, but my eye was drawn immediately to its interesting bronze and green foliage. We'll see if it holds up well this summer and turns out to be another example of serendipity. If so, I'll be back to buy it every year!

And so, I wish you all some serendipity in the garden this summer. And I'd love to hear of your examples of serendipitous finds--after all, learning from the experiences of other gardeners is much better than depending on a stroke of good luck!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mothers' Day Gift

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Mothers' Day, whether you celebrated it with your mother or you were the honoree or you spent the day in the garden. Planting flowers is my traditional way of enjoying Mothers' Day, but yesterday was a cold, rainy, windy, and just plain nasty day so gardening was out of the question. But I had another reason for staying out of the garden: we were busy all weekend with two special graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

Yesterday my "baby" graduated from college. She is the third of my four children to graduate from the University of Illinois (my alma mater as well), so at our house we "bleed orange and blue," as we Illini like to say. She doesn't appreciate being called "the baby," but she was our little "surprise," born nearly 16 years after my oldest son. Her older brothers and sister like to point out to her how much easier she had it than they and that she has been spoiled. My husband and I respond that we were older, wiser, and mellower when she was born, but yes, I admit, she has been somewhat coddled. So I am especially proud that she had the determination and persistence to complete her degree and now plans to continue with grad school.

We were equally proud of our daughter-in-law who received her MBA on Saturday. What makes her accomplishment even more amazing is that she continued working at her full-time job as well as raising two small children while studying for her degree. And I must admit, I am also proud of my son who made it possible for her to keep up with her studies, taking care of the kids two nights a week so she could attend classes besides helping her out throughout the week.

We took everyone out to eat last night to celebrate. My parents were there, so I did get to treat my mom to a Mothers' Day dinner after all. All five grandchildren and all my children except the daughter who lives in Arizona were also there, so it was a wonderful day.

Today the sun is finally shining again, and it's time to get back to gardening. So please forgive my little indulgence here in bragging about my children, but I think those of you who are mothers will understand. Seeing your children grow up and become responsible, caring adults is the best Mothers' Day gift of all.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Redbuds and Rants

I am constantly amazed by the people who manage to write a new post everyday and still have time to read other blogs. So today instead of lots of photos and trying to write anything profound, I will just share my journal entries so far this week.


  • Beautiful day. Cleaned up area near roadside for new flowerbed expansion. Tried to start new tiller to till up bed.
  • Planted kohlrabi and sweet basil in vegetable garden which husband tilled on Sunday. Tried to start new tiller.
  • Weeded back yard. Tried to start new tiller.
  • Painted part of buggy seat which will sit in main flowerbed. Tried to start new tiller.
  • Husband came home from work and started tiller on first try.
  • Husband tilled up part of new flowerbed, then turned it over to me.
  • Finished tilling flowerbed; no need to exercise today.


  • Another beautiful day. Planted new perennials in new roadside area. Storms forecast for tomorrow. Hope new plants don't get hailed on.
  • Painted rest of buggy seat.
  • Too tired to exercise.


  • Rainy day. Perfect for getting my hair cut and shopping for a new outfit to wear to daughter's graduation this weekend.
  • Get hair cut--lookin' good for shopping!
  • Visit major department store #1. Pass up the sleeveless dresses (should have kept up with those dumbbell exercises this winter). Pass up the bold geometric prints and baby doll dresses that look like something Twiggy used to wear. (For you young ones out there, Twiggy was the Kate Moss of the '60's.) Find one dress possibility and several jackets and tops. Head to fitting room with armload of clothes. (Experience has taught me out of 10 outfits tried on, I'm lucky if one looks good on me.)

  • Try on polka dot dress with red shrug. Doesn't look too bad. Turn around for rear view. Never mind--dress goes back on hanger. Try on gray pantsuit--a definite possibility and on sale besides. Jacket fits, pants are a little snug--can I lose ten pounds by Sunday? Try to sit down and find that the pants are low-rise and fastener on waistband cuts into navel when I sit. Back onto hangar. After several more outfits, decide white trapeze jacket has possibilities. Will put it on hold.

  • Visit two more stores. No dresses worth trying on, so settle for checking out jackets and dressy tops. Empire waist tops and floating tops should camouflage midriff bulge. Dressy blue top is very comfortable, but makes me look six months pregnant. Finally decide to buy two tops, but they're too casual for graduation.

  • Finally go back to store #1 and purchase jacket put on hold. Today is senior discount day, and though I'm not a senior citizen, their cut-off age is very low, plus I have fake I.D. in case they question me. Nobody asks for I.D. I get the 20% discount.
  • Final stop at Walmart for some basic necessities. On my way to pick up antacid and dental floss, I pass by dietary aids. I pause for a moment and decide to forego buying some Slim-Fast. The chocolate doesn't taste bad, though, when accompanied by a Big Mac and fries. I notice a new diet plan displayed prominently in center aisle. It promises to "flush" away pounds in days. After imagining for a few moments how this might work, I put box back on shelf. My digestive system is very delicate as it is; no need to invite more problems. Waiting in the check-out line I have time to peruse several magazines. I'm intrigued by the headline that promises a 30-lb. weight loss by Memorial Day (c'mon, who's that gullible?). I have time to read the whole article; the culprit apparently is high fructose corn syrup, and listed are many products containing it. I put back magazine and decide on a salad for supper.
  • Stop to exercise at Curves before going home.

Author's commentary: Shopping for clothes used to be fun for me. Now it's a chore. When I find something I like, I usually discover that I am in the petite department or that it is only available up to a size 8. (I am neither.) When are clothing companies, other than a few more expensive specialty brands, going to realize that my generation--the Baby Boomers--make up the largest segment of the population? When will they give us some flattering choices other than clothes that make us look either like ridiculous teenage-wannabes or else frumpy matrons?

I think too many mainstream clothing designers are still following the Barbie principle. But Barbie is going to turn 50 next year! And even my "skinny" friends complain about their thickening waistlines; nobody I know has an 18-inch waist, for heaven's sake.

Thursday AM: Getting ready to go shopping again, but this time with Beckie and shopping for plants. Should be a good day. All plants come in my size.

Oh yes, the redbuds...As you can see, the blossoms are slowly giving way to green leaves. I am always a little sad to see the lovely pink-purple blooms go, but thank you to whoever told me to notice that the leaves are actually heart-shaped. Also when the tree is covered with leaves, that means the hummingbirds are on their way!
Have a good day, everyone!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Enjoy the Moment

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may:
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.
---Robert Herrick, "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time"

Take a picture! Quick! These beauties aren't going to last long.

On Thursday my flowering crabapples that I showed earlier last week were absolutely gorgeous. All the buds had burst into full bloom, the branches covered in a mass of pink or red. I wanted to try to take a picture that showed just how lush they were, but it was so windy that I thought I'd wait another day. Big mistake.

After two days of strong wind, my driveway looked like a pink carpet. When I woke to a calm Sunday morning, I discovered the trees were becoming more green than pink or red. Sigh.

Nature reminds us of the whole cycle of life and death with the changing seasons. Spring is the favorite time of year for so many because it is a rebirth and renewal, a reminder that life goes on. Yet even in spring, beauty can be ephemeral: flowers bloom, then they die. But the beauty of spring is that while one bloom may die, another will soon replace it. Just as my lovely pink crabapples dropped their flowers, another variety suddenly burst into bloom.

I think this is another flowering crabapple; it is a different shape than the others with branches that almost weep. But it does have small berries later, and it seems to fit the characteristics of the crabapple.

After oohing and aahing over the pink and red, I think the white blossoms are a refreshing change.

After weeks of worrying whether the lilacs would make it this year, they are finally coming out. Thankfully, we didn't have a hard freeze like last year.

The birds have been enjoying all the new growth, and I have been enjoying watching them. Yesterday a male and female cardinal were perched on the white crab branches, looking like newlyweds--the perfect photo opportunity. Unfortunately, my skills at taking pictures of moving objects, let alone flying objects, are pretty bad. By the time I punched in all the appropriate settings on my camera, they had flown away. The goldfinches, to my delight, have found the new feeder I have temporarily set up in a nearby tree. To my amazement, they really do eat upside down! This photo is not very good, and even then it is the result of stealth and close cropping.

Walking around the yard and garden this time of year brings all kinds of wondrous surprises. This bush near the garage is not particularly attractive. It's ungainly, but no matter how much you try to prune it into shape, it just grows even more, with lots of little shoots spreading at its base as well.

Although it's low priority on my to-do list, I've been seriously thinking of cutting it down. This is the way it looked today (above), but last Friday it was blooming profusely, more than I had ever seen it.

I have no idea what it is, so if anyone can help me identify it, I would really appreciate it.

In the shade garden I had a few other surprises. I planted some bulbs last fall, including daffodils, or so I thought.

I'm wondering, though, if this is really a narcissus? It has a very slender stalk, with two or three blooms at the top. I've never really understood the difference between a daffodil and a narcissus.

The hostas have really shot up in the last week, and I just had to take a picture of this one. This is one of my Sum and Substance hostas, which is about four years old. I know you can't tell from this picture, but the leaf is at least six inches wide--amazing! I've had good luck with hostas, so I am hoping this one grows into the giant it can become.
My tulips have been in full bloom for a week or more, and they always provide some surprises. I like to plant mid to late spring tulips to avoid the chance of snow, but by spring I never remember what I planted. Do I write down the varieties I purchased? No, I can't even remember what color I planted! I was happy to read in one of Carol's posts that she often forgets what she's planted, too. That made me feel better; like Carol, I'm often planting these on a cold, blustery November day, and after awhile I just look for an empty space to plant the few remaining bulbs. So spring always brings a pleasant anticipation as I wait for the tulips to bloom to see just what I did buy last year.

There were a few unusual ones like these with shades of pink and yellow.

And there were a few double pale yellow ones. (This is one of the mystery plants I showed back in early April.)

In the roadside bed I have double tulips also that open up to reveal pale pink petals on a background of white. Angelique? Angelina? I really need to write down what I plant this fall.

On the other hand, I do remember the tulips that I planted in the front of this bed. I ordered these from a mail-order company that often doesn't give the botanical names of plants; they called this pink and mauve mixture the "Monet Collection."
It's not exactly the Giverny Garden, but I'm happy with it. Although this picture doesn't do the grouping justice (it was windy again, and the middle of the day, so the tulips are fully opened), it provides a bright spot of color for passers-by and and anyone who enters my driveway. I know they won't last much longer, so I am admiring them while I can.
My parting advice to you this morning is to take some time from your weeding and planting to look around you at all that is blooming right now.

Enjoy the moment.