Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now and Then . . .

The creative juices have been very sluggish lately.  Perhaps it's the cold that is not only creeping into my bones but chilling the brain cells as well.  Bundling up against the cold to trudge outside to take pictures of stems protruding from snowdrifts has lost its luster.  My computer is feeling sluggish, too, and I've been slowly going through the photo files deleting duplicates and fuzzy pictures, hoping this will perk it up.  As I sift through photo after photo of summer blooms, I remember a post that Tatyana did last year about the contrasts between then and now, and the writer's block is lifted--at least temporarily.

Whoever tramped through the snow in front of my house--and I suspect it was a four-legged creature, not a two-legged one who would know better--would hardly guess from this barren scene now . . .

. . . what it looked like in June.  Then it was a sea of green dotted with the occasional pink or blue bloom.

The dried remains of a hydrangea seen now are a withered reminder of the days of summer . . .

. . . Then they were a vision of pink.

Right now visitors might be puzzled by this strange-looking structure.

But if they had seen it in May, then they would have understood its purpose in supporting 'Nelly Moser."

There is some "winter interest" in the lily bed now.

But I much prefer its summer and fall appearance; it looked entirely different then.

A gardener could probably still identify this plant as an amsonia now.

But it was much easier to identify it by its foliage all summer long into November.  Actually, as much as I liked it then, I'm really looking forward to this spring when I hope this first-year plant will be covered with a mass of tiny blue blossoms.

And as photogenic as the coneflowers are now covered in snow . . .

 .. . I'd much rather see them as they looked then, in mid-summer.

The same holds true for the Susans, who look kind of cool now . . .

. . . but looked oh so charming then.

The Knockout roses are still standing now . . .

. . . as they were all summer.  But then their red blooms were what caught the eye.

I don't pay much attention to the stems of the Russian Sage now.

But in the summer I checked it often; then it was a constand buzz of activity.

In the same way, it may be hard to see the appeal of fennel now. (Or is this dill?  Hard to tell in the winter.)

In the summer, though, it held a lot of interest for the grandkids as well as for me.  Then we would inspect it carefully and count how many swallowtail caterpillars we could find.

No life in the goldenrod now.

In the fall--then it was full of insects galore.

Roco's garden now . . .

. . . and then.

Some containers were left outside this fall, and now they're frozen solid.

In summer it was a different story; then they were an eye-catcher, not an eyesore.

I really don't have the winter blues.  I'm using the free time right now to get some much-needed housework done, including cleaning out closets and shelves. It's nice, too, to be able to read a book snuggled under a comforter or to watch the Illini games without feeling guilty about neglecting garden chores. 

But, oh, am I ready for spring--when "then" becomes "now" once again.

"Oh Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
--Percy Shelley

Monday, January 17, 2011

January GBBD: A No-Show

I know I'm very, very late for this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  But I have a good excuse why I was a no-show on January 15.

No, it wasn't because the only blooms I have are some fake poinsettias still sitting in a pot outside.

Nor was it because I don't have any indoor blooms either.  The impatiens getting a good watering in the kitchen sink before returning to their sunny spot in the guest room haven't sported a single bloom since December.  Neither are there buds on the Christmas cactus or signs of green on a few bulbs being forced.

No, the main reason I didn't show up on time for Bloom Day is that I was preoccupied with one of my favorite "blooms"--my daughter who flew home from Arizona to spend several days with us and attend a bridal shower given in her honor.  It was so good to see her, especially since she couldn't come home for Christmas.  We had lots of quality time together, but were also very busy finalizing wedding plans for later this spring.

Daughter prefers not to be pictured here, but Granddaughter is not so shy.  An evening was spent searching for just the right flower girl dress, no easy task when the bride wants simple and the flowergirl wants Cinderella:)  But eventually everyone agreed on the perfect choice.

Daughter also enjoyed another evening with her brothers and all her nieces and nephews. The house was filled with hugs and laughter, and the grandchildren added their squeals of delight.  (It took me most of today to clean up the basement play room!)

All too soon, though, she had to return home.  We will miss her, but I know she won't miss the cold and snow of Illinois!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted as always by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Gardening Resolutions for 2011

Have you broken your New Year's resolutions yet?  I'm not big on making resolutions, yet every year I vow to lose weight, exercise more, adopt healthier habits, start writing the next great American novel, etc., etc.  But I find January 1 is not the best time for changing my ways--it's too cold to walk outside, my favorite form of exercise, and I can't just throw out the leftover Christmas cookies and fudge, now can I?  It is a good time, however, for making new Gardening Resolutions.  As I sit and drool over all the new plant and seed catalogs coming into my mailbox, I'm thinking ahead to spring.  This year I vow to adopt some better habits in the garden and not to make the same mistakes from the past year. Here are my top ten Gardening Resolutions for 2011:

1. Find a better way of marking seeds for indoor seed starting.  You may recall the pieces of poster board I used last year didn't work very well--they disintegrated after several waterings or fell out of some of the seed trays.  This year I'm going to use something plastic or short popsicle sticks so that when I plant seeds, expecting to get these . . .

I don't get these instead . . .

The kohlrabis were tasty, but sure not as pretty as gray-headed coneflowers!

2.  And speaking of seeds, this year I vow not to get so carried away ordering seeds.   I was enticed by photos of pretty blooms and glowing descriptions of veggies in the seed catalogs to order more than I had intended.  Then Renee's Garden kindly offered me some free seeds, and of course, I couldn't pass that up. And then all kinds of interesting seeds from fellow bloggers came in the mail through Monica's seed exchange so that I had more seeds than garden space to plant them in!

Wonder if these leftover seeds will still be good this year?  Hmmm, while I'm at it, doing some cleaning and organizing ought to be put on the resolution list, too.

3. Even worse than seed buying is my addiction to plant shopping.  This year I vow to cut down on impulse plant purchases, and think about where I will put a plant before I buy something just because it's "so pretty."

Just one stage of the "pot ghetto" last year.
. . . Nah, who am I kidding?  You know I'll never keep this resolution--I might as well cross it off the list right now.

4. Mulch, mulch, mulch!  And mulch early before the weeds, especially the weedy grasses take over.

Besides saving me from hours of work, it would be nice to show a photo of the vegetable garden or a new bloom like this Gaura without having to crop it so close to keep all the weeds out of the photo.  (And since my photo-editing program is acting up today, you may be seeing more of my weeds since I can't crop any of these photos.)

5. Invest in some good tomato cages.  The ones I have, although better than nothing, are the cheap, conical ones.  A few have gotten rusty, and most of them have ends that are at crazy angles from repeated use.  They're not very sturdy; last year strong winds or perhaps an errant Golden Retriever galloping through the vegetable garden knocked a few of them over, and they never could be propped up right again.

Time to stop being such a tightwad and spend a little money to have a better tomato crop this year.

6. Plant more zinnias!  Longtime readers will remember how much I love these colorful, easy-to-grow annuals.  Last year I sowed them directly in the roadside garden as usual in May, but heavy June rains apparently washed away all the seeds. This year, if the same thing happens, I'm going to re-plant and re-plant again, if necessary, even if it's late July.

How I missed seeing these beauties this past year!

7. Plant more ornamental grasses.  Most gardeners would be surprised to know that I didn't have a single ornamental grass in my garden until this year.  But I've always been a little afraid of where to plant them--you see, we have lots of weedy grasses growing around the farm that require constant cutting down, and I didn't want anyone to think I had one of these weeds growing in my flowerbeds!

Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' has changed my mind about grasses.  Planted in late August of this year, it's only had a little time to settle into my garden, but wow, it even looks good encased in hoarfrost!

8. Be more diligent about watering the roadside garden and planter under the oak tree. I make this resolution every year, and usually by mid-summer I've gotten so lazy forgetful that I have to replace half the plants in this container.

Maybe I'll be more motivated if I remind myself that the 1/4 mile walk down the lane
and back carrying jugs of water will be a great calorie-burner.

9.  Pay attention to frost warnings! 

This fall I wanted to bring more plants inside to overwinter, including my two 'Illumination' begonias.  I did bring one in, but it was too late.  After one night in the chilly garage, it gave up the fight and promptly died.

And while I'm at it, I really should throw those Halloween pumpkins onto the compost pile in November before they become frozen fast to the patio steps:)

10.  Finally, this year I vow to leave my gardening gloves out of Sophie's reach. 

I don't think I need to explain . . . except to say at least these were a cheap pair from the Dollar Store.  I'm not going to show you my first pair of Ethel gloves--it would make you cry:)

Ten resolutions sounds like a manageable number; surely I can stick to most of these.  But I really should add Exercise back to the list, especially since # 3 doesn't count anyway.  We have a big wedding coming up in May, so this is primarily a personal goal.  It's a beach wedding, and this mother of the bride doesn't want to be mistaken for a beached whale.  But it's also a goal for gardening.  Those first few weeks of gardening season can be torture if you're digging and toting 40 pound bags of topsoil and compost around with muscles that have atrophied over the winter, where the only strenuous exercise has been to turn the pages of gardening magazines.     . . .  Now where did I put those dumbbells??

Whatever your gardening resolutions for the year, here's to a great year in the garden in 2011!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Reviews: Good Reads for a Cold Winter's Night

A belated Happy New Year to everyone!  The year has certainly gotten off to a better start than December, at least weather-wise.  Temperatures in the 50's over the weekend along with some rain melted all the snow so that I can see green grass again.  But our Illinois winter is far from over, so it's a great time to snuggle under a blanket on a cold winter's evening with a good book.

For gardeners, may I suggest you pick up Sydney Eddison's Gardening for a Lifetime.  As a woman "of a certain age" and one who began gardening later in life, I was intrigued by the title, hoping to find some suggestions to make gardening less labor-intensive and ways to maintain my garden for as long as possible. Eddison offers tips to do just that, but she also tells of her personal journey in gardening over the years.

An award-winning garden writer, lecturer, and teacher, Eddison's acre and a half garden in Connecticut has been featured in magazines and on television.  For years, she kept expanding her garden little by little until she eventually admitted she had created a garden she couldn't possibly keep up with.  Although she often had regular help, she needed even more help, more than she could afford.  She realized that she had to make some changes in order to keep doing what she loved. 

Some of the changes that Eddison suggests:
  • Get rid of fussy plants: "In order to remain in my garden a perennial must be truly perennial and return faithfully every year." 

One of Eddison's favorite low-maintenance perennials is Sedum 'Autumn Joy.'

  • Be thankful for all the shade you have: "Shade-tolerant plants are easier to maintain than sun-lovers."
  • Substitute shrubs for perennials--"they afford more value for less work."

Various shrubs in the Idea Garden provide the "bones" for the borders. 
This is an idea I want to copy in my own garden.

  • And my personal favorite . . . "Accept imperfection."
My Butterfly Garden is the epitome of imperfection, but I love it all the same.
 Eddison is still working in her large garden, but she tells the stories of several friends who decided it was time to move on to smaller places with less maintenance.  Happily, they are still gardening, but on a smaller scale and finding joy in simpler, easy-to-maintain gardens. 

Eddison's clear prose and personal reflections make this an interesting and fast read.  But if you're short of time, you could just read the last two pages of each chapter where she conveniently sums up the main points.  The only criticism I have of  the book is that I wish she had included color photographs of her garden.  The book has some black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout, but when it comes to gardening books I am like a first-grader--the more pictures, the better!  But that is merely my curiosity about her garden; you don't really need photos to understand her philosophy.  While Gardening for a Lifetime would primarily appeal to those of us who are beginning to realize our limitations, it is also a helpful resource for younger gardeners who may be more limited in time than in physical stamina.  It also is a great aid for any age gardener in making long-term plans.  As Eddison says, "Gardens and Gardeners age and change."

Actually, I finished reading Eddison's book well over a month ago.  For the past few days I've been reading a novel that has kept me from reading blogs, not to mention taking down the rest of the Christmas decorations.  The novel that has kept me up reading late into the night is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third in the trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson.  Ellen wrote an excellent review for the September Book Review Club meeting, so I won't be redundant and write another critique here, other than to say these three books are the best thrillers/crime fiction I've read in a long, long time.

I read the first two in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire early this past summer.  But I wanted to wait until this winter when I had plenty of time to read the concluding book--these are books you definitely don't want to put down. A lazy New Year's weekend while Husband watched every bowl game on TV was the perfect opportunity.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is much less violent than the first two--especially Tattoo, which contains some scenes I found very disturbing--but is every bit as detailed and compelling as the earlier books.  If you haven't read any of these novels, don't skip to the last one, however--it would not only be difficult to understand the story line without reading the first two, but you also wouldn't have the empathy for the enigmatic heroine Lisbeth Salander that is developed by reading the earlier novels.  Sadly, Stieg Larsson passed away after handing the manuscripts for this trilogy to his publisher, so there will be no more stories of Blomkvist and Salander.  If there were, I would be lined up at the bookstore the day each one came out!

Disclaimer: No compensation was received for the writing of these reviews:  I checked out Gardening for a Lifetime from my local library, and I purchased my own hardback copy of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

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@Barrie Summy