Thursday, February 26, 2009


Thank you to everyone for your concern and encouraging comments on my last post. Dad came home from the hospital yesterday (Wednesday) and is understandably tired, but fortunately he suffered no serious effects from the stroke. The other good news is that the doctors believe medication rather than surgery is the best treatment for him. He is still concerned about the future, because several members of his family suffered strokes, but he is determined to follow the doctor's recommendations and live as healthy a lifestyle as he can (which he did anyway!). We thank God for his recovery. The experience has been a good reminder that family is precious and that time spent with them is just as precious.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ABC Wednesday: The Ties that Bind

This week's letter for ABC Wednesday is the letter F, which stands for . . .

. . .Fields lying in wait for the warmth of spring. Just as we gardeners are looking for any sign of spring in our gardens--the bloom of a snowdrop or even the tiniest hint of a green shoot thrusting through the soil--farmers are also anticipating spring. In the heart of soybean and corn country, where I live, it is much too early to begin working in the fields, but preparations are being made for a new growing season. Seeds were ordered long ago, and now is the time to check over machinery to ensure it is in good repair and to finish any other necessary preparations so that once the weather is suitable, planting can begin without interruption.

By late March farmers will be getting restless, checking the temperature and moisture of the soil, hoping that they can soon begin working up the ground so that planting begins on time. Like gardeners, farmers are at the whim of the weather gods. Last year heavy rains at the end of May postponed much of the planting, causing a great deal of concern for farmers who feared that a late harvest would mean lower yields or none at all. Fortunately, though, the warm, dry fall we had offset many of the problems caused by the late start.

Unlike gardeners, though, who usually work in the garden for the sheer enjoyment of it, farmers are focused on trying to earn a livelihood. Due to many factors, farming has become more of a business, in many cases a big business. In the last 50 years in the state of Illinois the number of farms has been cut in half, while the size of the average farm--the number of acres--has doubled. What is particularly sad to me is the demise of the small family farm. While the majority of Illinois farms are still family-owned and operated, there are fewer of them.

For example, while my husband and I live on land farmed by several generations of his family, my husband no longer does the actual farming. After quite a few years of working his "day" job and then doing the farmwork on weekends and evenings, he decided it just wasn't worth it anymore. It is more cost-productive to rent out the land. Sadly, my own family's farm is in much the same situation. When my father finally decided to retire as he approached his 80th birthday, there was no one in our immediate family to take over. Virgin prairie land purchased by my great-great-grandfather and farmed by four generations of the same family is now worked by someone else, albeit a distant relative.

Larger and more expensive equipment and a narrow profit margin have forced farmers to either increase the size of their farms or to give up farming altogether. Some find the higher prices of real estate development more enticing than the constant struggle to stay solvent. I don't think there's any kind of conspiracy afoot against small farmers; it's simply economic reality. The small family farms are going the way of "mom and pop" retail businesses.

F is also for Family, which is a very important part of my life. Those of you who read my last post know that two of my grandchildren stayed with us for the better part of last week while their parents took a short vacation trip. We had a wonderful time: Granddaughter asked if she could stay 10 days instead of 5 (!), and little Grandson was perfectly content the whole time, but was absolutely thrilled to see Mom and Dad on their return! You wonder what must have been going through his mind since he was too little to understand the concept of a vacation.

The day after they went home, my father was rushed to the hospital after suffering a mild stroke. He seems to be doing well and hopefully will be coming home tonight. But he is 83, and we don't know yet what the near future will bring. I have been spending as much time as possible at the hospital the past few days in between working almost full-time this week. And so, dear blogging Friends, I think you will understand if I haven't had much time to read or post lately; Family is my first priority right now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ABC Wednesday: E is for . . .

Today's Wednesday show is brought to you by the letter E.

(Sorry about that--I've watched a little too much Sesame Street this week.)

E is for Exhausted!

Tarzan is not the exhausted one--he at least gets to take frequent cat naps during the day. No, I am the one who is exhausted. Two of my grandchildren are staying with us for the week while their parents are taking a much-needed vacation. Granddaughter is 5 1/2, very precocious, and full of energy. Grandson is 20 months and, though much quieter, needs a watchful eye at all times. I've been enjoying having them here for an extended stay, but I just wish I had gotten in better shape and taken more vitamins before they came! Time to myself is very limited, so I hope you'll understand if I have not been visiting your blogs as often as I usually do. I'm trying to remember how in the world I ever raised four children while teaching full-time. There's a reason you should have children while you're young:)

ABC Wednesday is brought to you by Mrs. Nesbitt; for more ABC posts, you can click here.

Have a good week!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

GBBD: Fickle February

Eleven months ago I joined the world of blogging. On my second post I joined many other gardeners in celebrating Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, which means that although I haven't reached my one-year blogaversary yet, I have posted a whole year of blooms! Just for fun, I looked back at all my Bloom Day posts and realized that 4 of the first 11 were pretty pathethic, stretching the meaning of the word "bloom." Today we'll make that 5 out of 12.

Remember the amaryllis I showed in January? It was just beginning to grow, and I had thought that it would be in beautiful bloom just in time for February's GBBD. But do you notice anything wrong with this plan? Although it has continued to grow and grow--the tallest stem is 25" from the top of the bulb--there is not a sign of a bloom. I'm not sure if I did something wrong in planting it or whether I just bought a dud.

My other plan for blooms this month have also fizzled. I had a few leftover bulbs from the fall and decided I'd try forcing some indoor blooms for the first time. Although these were potted up in early January, they have a long way to go before blooming . . . if ever. I don't even remember now exactly what I planted--I think there were 3 tulip bulbs in the nearest pot, a daffodil in the pot to the right, and who knows what in the other, seemingly empty pot. This was my first attempt at forcing bulbs. I hope next winter someone posts some tips on forcing bulbs; I'll be sure to read it carefully!

This month I don't even have a pretty bouquet to feature. I haven't had time to pick up my monthly bouquet from the florist, and Husband seemed surprised when I said "Happy Valentine's Day" yesterday. (I would have gladly settled for chocolates . . .) So the only plant truly in bloom is the poinsettia already featured the last two months. I'm actually surprised by this; I don't remember ever keeping a poinsettia in bloom this long before.

Like many of you, we experienced a February thaw the past week. Temperatures even soared up to 60 degrees one day, and it was easy to feel spring fever for a few days, even knowing that it is more than a month away. Just for fun, I poked around in the muddy garden. Pushing aside the leaves and mulch, I discovered a couple surprises.

New green shoots were peeking out of the wet ground! I'm not sure what these even are, because they are less than an inch tall. I'm guessing they are probably crocuses--I remember trying to finish planting bulbs last November as the weather began to turn, and finally digging a hole and throwing in the last of crocuses just to be done with them.
Correction: Thank you to Frances and Gail who kindly corrected me here--these are not crocuses, but rather daffodil buds. Of course, I should have known that! But it's been so long since I've had crocuses, I had forgotten that they appear as grassy-like leaves. It's pretty exciting to think a few daffodils already think spring is here, but now I am wondering--just where did I plant those crocuses??

The shade garden is even muddier, so I didn't want to disturb too much, but near the front of the garden the primroses are showing new life as well. I hope neither they nor the crocuses minded the new blanket of snow they wore this morning. Winter is far from over, but signs of spring are emerging. And now there is new hope for some real blooms to show here for March Bloom Day!

For more Bloom Day posts visit hostess Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ABC Wednesday: I'm Dreaming

Today I am dreaming . . .

Of sunny, blue skies . . .

. . . Not of snowdrifts with mysterious tracks . . .

. . . Not even of moonlit desert evenings . . .

. . . But dreaming of a new day, the dawn of a new gardening season.

Of springtime with the daffodils dancing in the breeze . . .

Of daylilies set against green, green grass and trees . . .

Of cheery daisies smiling at the sun . . .

Of digitalis sprinkled with fairy dust . . .

Of surprise daylilies bursting into hues of burnt orange . . .

Or fuschia . . .

Or lavender.

I could dream, too, of delphiniums, dahlias, or dianthus (if I had the photos!),
but instead I'm dreaming of lazy summer days . . .

. . . when the dragonflies flit about my garden.

It has been easy to dream of spring and summer the last few days as warm temperatures--peaking in the 60's yesterday-- have melted all the snow. The garden has been far too muddy to work in, however, and cooler temperatures are coming once again with the possibility of snow later in the week. But I know that in a few short weeks all these dreams will become a reality.

For more ABC Wednesday posts visit Mrs. Nesbitt's Place.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

You're Invited to a Special Dinner

VP at Veg Plotting has recommended a great way to beat the February blahs, suggesting everyone host a dinner party and invite up to 5 special guests. The ever-creative VP has challenged us to think of who we would really like to invite with no concern about limits of time or place.

This sounded like a great idea to me, but first let me explain that I don't "do" dinner parties. Get-togethers at the Prairie Estate are infrequent, usually family affairs, but nearly always casual.

I break out the china and silver once, maybe twice, a year for holiday dinners, and only then to keep them from getting too dusty or tarnished. If I'm going to invite friends over, we're more likely to grill out in good weather or have something simple like Italian Beef rather than a 5-course meal. For tonight's dinner I want to keep it simple so that I can enjoy my guests instead of fussing in the kitchen. Lasagna, a salad, and garlic bread will probably be on the menu since they can all be prepared ahead of time. And for dessert--my favorite thing to make--we'll definitely have something chocolate. Maybe I'll search through some of Joey's recipes for something truly decadent.

Now as for the guest list, the people I would really like to invite are my blogging friends, gardeners or not. I couldn't begin to limit my choices to just 5, so I am going to invite 3 special guests and extend the invitation to everyone. Since many of you are planning your own dinner parties, I've postponed mine until tonight so more of you can attend. Just let me know an hour or two ahead of time so I know how many chairs to set up.

Assuming many of you will be able to make it, I'm going to move the party downstairs to the basement family room. I no longer have a formal dining room, so my dining room table and china cabinet now reside downstairs. For our family dinners, the adults can linger at the table after dinner and still keep on eye on the little ones as they play in the adjacent play area. I have plenty of room for setting up folding tables, but if we run out of room, perhaps a few of you more petite guests could sit at the kids' table, if you wouldn't mind. As hostess, I would be the first to sit here, and I can assure you the chairs are very sturdy, though one's knees do ache after an hour or so.

Now as to the special guests, I had to think long and hard. VP has assembled a very prestigious guest list, and I would expect many of the rest of you will be inviting some famous landscape designers or gardening experts who are published or have their own television shows. But I really don't know too many famous people in the field of gardening, although there are two icons in the field of literature I would like to invite.

Certainly, if I could invite anyone from any era, first on my list would be William Shakespeare. Although I've never read that he was a gardener, old Will must have known a thing or two about plants because there is so much flower imagery in his writings. A second guest I'd love to meet is Emily Dickinson, who as we all know was about as tuned into nature as one could be.

However, Will's theatre schedule will probably prevent him from being able to attend, and Emily doesn't like to socialize much. So instead, I've invited three local gardening experts who love to share their knowledge with others. Unless you live in central Illinois, you won't be familiar with them, but local gardeners will appreciate their knowledge of plants for this area and problems with pests, diseases, or the weather in our gardens:

1.Sandra Mason: a horticulture unit educator for the University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County who also trains Master Gardeners in the area. She can be seen on several local television gardening segments and shows, but is the most familiar to me as the writer for a weekly column in our local newspaper. Sandra's column covers so many topics related to gardening and landscaping that I have become a faithful reader every Saturday. As a local gardener, her tips are related specifically to this area, so I know if she says it's time to plant tomatoes, then I'm going to get those seedlings in the garden as soon as possible. It was her column that identified those pesky tiny bugs flying about last fall as pirate flies, and another column of hers that gave me information about the woolly worms I wrote about in October. Last week's column was a humorous piece entitled "You know that you're a serious gardener if . . ." This sounds a bit like Carol's Garden Geeks, doesn't it? One of her many answers to this question was..."You're a serious gardener if in the middle of winter, you start cultivating the mold in the refrigerator just to see something grow." I haven't tried that one yet, but I depend on her expert advice in many other gardening projects.

2. Dianne Noland: a horticulture instructor at the University of Illinois who also hosts the weekly "Illinois Gardener" which airs on our local PBS station. The show is a question and answer format in which Dianne and two or three other guest experts answer gardening questions from viewers' calls. Dianne says in her bio, "I teach landscaping, so it's my vocation. But gardening is my avocation." I am not a faithful viewer of this program, but I do watch it occasionally. However, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop last spring with Beckie led by Dianne entitled "Fun in the Garden." She covered a wide range of topics in this talk, including some design techniques, container planting, and adding whimsy to the garden. It really was a "fun" workshop because Dianne is such a cheery and enthusiastic gardener you can't help but like her. I would think her college courses are very popular--no dull professorial lectures here!

3. Judy Faire: a charter member of the county's Master Gardeners, "Miss Judy" is best known as one of the hosts on a local radio call-in program on Saturday mornings, "Coffee with the Plant Experts." After listening to her for many years, I've concluded that if she doesn't know the answer to a gardening question, then you don't really need to know the answer! Judy works at Prairie Gardens, a local garden center, and is often found motoring through the aisles on her scooter, answering questions from customers. Prairie Gardens holds many gardening workshops, and yesterday Beckie and I attended our first one this spring on starting seeds indoors. Judy was one of the presenters and, as expected, gave a comprehensive guide for success in seed-starting from choosing the proper containers to transplanting the young seedlings.

After my disastrous first attempt at starting seeds last year, I was eager to learn what I had done wrong. Judy's workshop pointed out how to avoid the mistakes that I made last year so that I could avoid damping off or having seedlings die when I transplanted them to a bigger container. It was certainly an hour well-spent, and to top it off, all participants were given a 20% coupon off anything in the store.

Coupons in hand, Beckie and I made our way, along with most of the other workshop participants, to the seed starting supply aisle. We purchased the potting medium recommended by Miss Judy--a bag each of perlite and peat moss for a 50/50 blend--rather than a commercial blend. We limited the rest of our purchases to a few peat pellets and seed trays since our time was limited--after all, I had a dinner to prepare!

With these three ladies as special guests, we should have a lively dinner conversation that I suspect would last well beyond the dessert and coffee. So if the lasagna doesn't quite turn out as I expected or the garlic bread is a bit burnt around the edges, I think you might be willing to overlook it. I'll put on another pot of coffee (I do make good coffee, if I do say so myself), open another bottle of wine, and set out some chocolates. After all, this evening is all about friendship, gardening, and having a good time!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ABC Wednesday: C

It is Wednesday once again, and this week we have reached the letter C. I decided it was about time to feature a very important member of our family . . .

. . . Coconut

Actually, Coconut demanded equal time after noticing I frequently write about and include photos of Toby the cat. Toby has even been allowed to guest host on this blog, not once but twice. Although quite intelligent, Coconut has not mastered the computer as Toby has--in fact, he can't even reach it--so he won't be doing any writing here.

Coconut is a Pomeranian and is the only Canine we've had who isn't some sort of rescue dog. Even though I am the one who spends the most time with him and sees to most of his needs, he actually belongs to youngest Daughter and fits her personality quite well (picture Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde"). To be fair to Coconut, he really has a sweet disposition even if he likes to be the center of attention.

Unlike Toby who immediately finds a hiding spot whenever the grandkids come over, Coconut enjoys playing with them. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they think it's great fun to give him treats.

When youngest grandson, now 18 months, was born, Coconut sniffed him over--under careful supervision, of course--and gave his approval, although he suffered from typical sibling rivalry every time I held the baby. Now that little grandson is a little older, Coconut has developed a real fondness for him and likes to sit near him at meal time, waiting for the tidbits of food that are sure to fall to the floor. However, Coconut draws the line at sharing his toys--no one better touch his favorite blanket or Princess the pink poodle!

Coconut loves spending time outside and helping me in the garden. Although small in stature, he is not easily intimidated and is eager to help me. No rascally rabbit or scheming squirrel dares to venture into the garden when Coconut is on guard duty!

His long winter coat helps keep him warm in the winter, but even he was hesitant to go outside today unless absolutely necessary. No venturing to the perimeters of the yard today for his usual check for strange wildlife smells. Today the operative word is COLD!

This is the same part of the garden I showed on Sunday's post, but instead of a foot of snow, there is now a four-foot drift in the garden and on the driveway. We really haven't had that much extra snow, but the strong winds since last night have blown relentlessly, sending chills right through the heaviest winter coat and blowing across roads, creating hazardous driving conditions. It's 10 F as I write this with a predicted wind chill of -10 tonight. I know we're not the only ones enduring the snow, as I've seen snow on posts from southern Tennessee to the UK. Better times are ahead, though--temperatures are supposed to reach the 50's by this weekend . . . I'll believe it when I see it.

For more ABC posts, click here.

Just a note: I try to reply to all comments and visit anyone who stops by here. But lately I have been having trouble leaving comments on some blogs, getting an error message on my computer. Has anyone else had this problem? I do appreciate your comments, and I have returned the visit even if I haven't been able to leave a comment.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Garden Muse Day: Patience is a Virtue

The title today was a favorite saying of a teacher of mine in high school and seems very fitting for this first day of February. No matter what the groundhog tells us tomorrow, we are in for another six weeks of winter, and as gardeners, it is difficult to be patient. While I often have a poem already in mind for Muse Day, sometimes I have to search for one as I did today. The poem I've chosen really struck a chord with me as it reminded me that spring will come eventually.
The Garden in Winter

Frosty-white and cold it lies
Underneath the fretful skies;
Snowflakes flutter where the red
Banners of the poppies spread,
And the drifts are wide and deep
Where the lilies fell asleep.

But the sunsets o'er it throw
Flame-like splendor, lucent glow,
And the moonshine makes it gleam
Like a wonderland of dream,
And the sharp winds all the day
Pipe and whistle shrilly gay.

Safe beneath the snowdrifts lie
Rainbow buds of by-and-by;
In the long, sweet days of spring
Music of bluebells shall ring,
And its faintly golden cup
Many a primrose will hold up.

Though the winds are keen and chill
Roses' hearts are beating still,
And the garden tranquilly
Dreams of happy hours to be­
In the summer days of blue
All its dreamings will come true.

by Lucy Maud Montgomery *

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven...
--Ecclesiastes 3:1

*Many of you no doubt will recognize the poet, but I must sheepishly admit that I couldn't remember who she was. While not well-known for her poetry, Lucy Maud Montgomery was, of course, the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables.

Garden Muse Day is brought to you the first of each month by Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago; visit her for other musings on February.