Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I've never been one to get too carried away in celebrating Halloween, but ever since she returned home in August, Youngest Daughter has been planning "the best ever" Halloween party for her nephews and nieces. 

A few weeks ago, we made the short trip to a pumpkin patch at a local farm to stock up on the essentials.

Filling up the back of the small SUV with a plethora of pumpkins and two bales of straw meant special seating arrangements had to be made to protect our precious cargo.

A few of the larger pumpkins turned into cute, scary, or even disgusting (see last photo) jack o'lanterns.

Daughter started decorating a week ago.  Since I'm not as much of a night owl as she is, I was never quite sure what sights I would wake up to in the morning.  Saturday morning I discovered my refrigerator had turned into a black monster with a huge gaping mouth.

I do try to dust fairly regularly, but cobwebs just seemed to appear overnight.

Outdoors, fluttering ghosts magically appeared, and pumpkin stakes marked the driveway.

On the night of the party, all the young grands appeared in costume, as did some of the over-20's as well.

Even newest grandson came in costume--a football, rather appropriate since his 4-year-old brother was dressed as a football player.

Coconut wasn't quite so thrilled, however, at being a hot dog, especially when he heard there was a weenie roast planned for later in the evening.

Daughter had planned everything down to the last detail with lots of activities for the kids, including pumpkin face-painting.

There were photo ops . . . 

 . . . and cookie and cupcake decorating.

Oldest grandson proudly shows off his cupcake creation . . .

. . . while his younger cousin preferred eating his.

There was even a pumpkin pinata. 

To counteract the possible sugar-overload, Daughter prepared lots of tasty snacks, mostly "finger food."

There were ghoulishly "bloody" mummy toes.

And mummy pizzas.

A little bit of everything, including tasty morsels to munch on  . . . or with:)

Everyone had a great time, and hopefully no one went home with a tummyache from too many sweets:)

I hope all of you have an equally spooktacular Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday Wanderings

Don't let the title mislead you--it is Wildflower Wednesday, the monthly celebration of all untamed beauties.  But the wandering is a mental rambling of this and that, not a physical journey.  I had planned to take Sophie to one of our favorite places, the nearby forest preserve or the prairie park for a walking adventure in search of late-blooming wildflowers for this month's post. But a nasty sinus/respiratory/icky something infection has kept me inside more than I would like for the past week and too drained of energy to do more than what is absolutely necessary.

So instead I wandered around the farm, looking for possibilities.  The pickin's were slim.

I found only a small remnant of last year's October subject, the Aster pilosus, otherwise known as frost aster.  Last year there was a swath of these airy blooms around the outbuildings, providing some late flowering interest.  But a zealous trimming/weeding this summer by Mr. Procrastinator eliminated all but this small stem that escaped the powerful weedeater.   

Ah, to paraphrase the old saying, "One woman's wildflower is another man's weed."

Speaking of weeds, nearby in the butterfly garden, a late Aster-maybe is nearing the end of its blooms.  Its blooms are much smaller than the rest of the native asters and despite the photo's presentation, a pale pink in color.  I have no idea what type of aster this is and whether it even is an aster--or ex-aster for the experts.  The stems and branching habits are somewhat different than the New England asters, and in fact, I thought it was a weed of some sort.  It resisted pulling, so I left it alone.  Its late delicate blooms make me glad I did, although I may be sorry  if it tries to take over this garden next season like some of the other natives.

One of those thriving natives, the New England asters, have completed their show and already setting seed.  I did say a while back I was going to keep these from going to seed, didn't I?  Oh well, spring will be a good time for pulling unwanted seedlings, and I do like the looks of dried seedpods in the winter garden.  Hmm, this reminds me I still need to buy marshmallows for our weiner roast on Saturday.

Before we leave the butterfly garden where most wildflowers/natives reside, I want to show you this photo taken a few weeks ago.  It's a Penstemon X (the proper name escapes me now) given to me two years ago by our generous wildflower hostess Gail.  It's a spring bloomer, but never before have I noticed how lovely it looks in the fall--just look at that burgundy foliage!

Letting the feet and mind wander away from wildflowers now . . . two nights of frost last week have finally done in most of the annuals.  The once multi-hued zinnias are now all a uniform color, in varying shades of brown.

Some annuals are more cold-hardy than others, however.  The white 'Snow Sonata' cosmos in the same garden are still providing a feast for the hungry bumbles and honeybees.  Many of you have commented on these cosmos in my last few posts, and I will agree that these are definitely must-haves in my garden from now on.  I only wish I had saved more seeds from them, but they should be readily available again next year from Renee's Garden 

I've been giving a lot of excuses in the past month or two for why I haven't completed all my intended fall gardening chores, and here's one more.  I spent many hours over the past several weeks completing this crib quilt.  I'm no master quilter--that's my mother's forte--so this piece is not perfect, but lots of love goes into making one of these every few years.  This is the sixth baby quilt I've made, each one for a special grandchild.

And did I forget to mention I have a new grandson??  Already a month old, here he is at one day old.  Grandma is anxious to get over this icky virus to get some new photos and spend some quality cuddling time with him again.

Thanks for indulging my ramblings this morning; for more informative posts on this Wildflower Wednesday, be sure to visit the ever-enlightening Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October GBBD: It's Not Over Yet!

What a glorious fall we have had!  Day after day of bright sunshine and temperatures in the 70's or 80's with comfortably cool nights. The trees are showing off their fall colors, and the fields are full of the hum of combines.  Though the garden knows it is time to wind down for the year, it is still looking remarkably good for this October Bloom Day.

 Though there is nothing actually new blooming in the garden now, some plants have been rejuvenated by this fall weather.  The Knockout roses are looking much better than they did during the summer.

The yellow Knockouts 'Radsunny,' I've noticed, turn a paler cream color as they open.

'Black and Blue' Salvia's electric blue color is one of my favorites.  The only drawback to this plant is that it is an annual in my zone 5 garden.

While the purple coneflowers Echinacea purpurea have long since turned to brown seedheads, this Echinacea 'Big Sky Sundown' has surprised me by putting out a few new blooms for the past few months.

True to its name, the 'Bloomerang' lilac has rebloomed this fall.  Not the best photo, but it does have a few more blooms than this.  The fragrance of 'Bloomerang' is much fainter than the traditional lilacs, but it does have that wonderful smell.  Sophie, however, is interested in other smells:)

Fall is the time for grasses to shine, and I finally have a few to admire. Miscanthus 'Morning Light' is a newcomer in the arbor bed, but it's beginning to show its potential.

The switchgrass 'Shenandoah' has lovely red foliage that defies my camera settings.

I showed a glimpse of the newest bloom in the garden last month, but 'October Skies'  is now a mass of blooms.  I would definitely recommend this aster for anyone looking to add a fall bloomer to their garden.

Although the perennials are sticking to their usual fall schedule, it is the annuals that don't realize it is almost the end of the season.  Usually by this time of year we've had at least one night of frost, but not this year, and as a result the annuals are still going strong.  Masses of zinnias in every shade provide lots of color in the arbor bed.

Even the few zinnias in the roadside garden provide a pop of color, especially against the backdrop of the burning bushes which are a brilliant red this year.
'Snow Sonata' cosmos will definitely be planted again next season.

Even the vegetable garden still has some color as marigolds and zinnias mix with the purple leaves of kale.

Although I've been savoring every moment of this beautiful fall, there is just one problem with this extended blooming time.  You would think I would have been taking advantage of the perfect weather to get all my fall garden projects done.  But I haven't cleaned out all my containers because some of them are still looking good.  And I had hoped to have all my bulbs planted before the end of October, but most of them are going in where the annuals are growing.  I worked around this border of lantana to plant a few bulbs.

But I can't bring myself to pull out this angelonia just yet.

Nor do I want to rip out the Profusion zinnias or the 'Victoria' salvia.  I'm not really procrastinating--I'm just enjoying the moment for as long as I can.  Once again, it looks like I'll be planting bulbs in my winter coat and stocking cap, trying to keep my fingers from going numb. 

While I'm happy with all the color in my October garden, I'm one of those who can never have too much color.  Warning--for those of you who are garden purists and have a disdain for the common variety of mum, you might want to skip the next photo.

Yes, I know these will all wind up on the compost heap in a few weeks, but I just can't help myself, especially when the garden centers are cutting prices to sell off their inventory.  When I see "buy two, get one free" all I see is the word "free":)  I did give one to my daughter-in-law, to avoid feeling too extravagant.  To me, fall just isn't fall without pumpkins and a few mums to celebrate the season.

Thanks once again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting another monthly meeting of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Post Season Garden Awards: 2011

It's October, and you know what that means--it's baseball playoff season!  Baseball fans across the country are cheering on their favorites, hoping they can make it past the playoffs into the World Series. We have been watching some Brewers' games, since they are Youngest Daughter's second-favorite team, and keeping an eye on the Cardinals, the favorites of some friends and misguided extended family members.  But I can't get too excited about any of the games this year, since my team, those loveable losers, were out of contention for the pennant by the first of June.  After last year's disappointing  Cubs' season, we looked to the garden for candidates for post-season awards, and it seems only logical that we do that again this year.

 This year's Silver Slugger Award goes to--drum roll, please--the Hyacinth Bean Vine!  For the non-baseball fan, the Silver Slugger is awarded to the player with the most impressive offensive stats, such as batting average and on-base-percentage.  Despite adverse conditions this year, the Hyacinth Bean never went into a slump.  Its sheer size made it an imposing figure at the plate, looking more like an offensive lineman than a first baseman.  In fact, it might have also been awarded the Golden Glove for fielding percentage, except that it had a habit of running into other players on the field.  Its enthusiasm at times had to be curbed by the manager.

Hyacinth Bean's home run stats were off the charts, producing beautiful purple blossoms like this throughout the season as well as the shiny purple bean pods this fall. A free agent, it was signed to only a one-year contract while the head office debated a permanent replacement at this position, possibly a clematis or another climbing rose like the one on the other side of the arbor trellis.  But its performance as well as the devoted fan base of hummingbirds this season may warrant a contract extension.

In professional sports there are no walk-ons.  But if there were, Cleome would be the clear winner of the Walk-On Award.  One cleome plant in the lily bed last year, pulled in late September, resulted in many seedlings in the same area this year.  At first, their appearance wasn't welcome, since the roster was already full and they seemed to upset the team chemistry.  But when the rest of the position players went into a slump in August, the Cleomes stepped up to the plate and carried the team through the late season.  They've developed quite a fan following, too, especially the bees. ( By the way, if you notice a brown blur in the background, that's the assistant manager giving some motivational words to the benchwarmers.)

There were so many candidates for Rookie of the Year this season that it was almost difficult to choose a winner.  The Beautyberry was a strong contender, especially since several of the new shrubs purchased this year had a disappointing season.  It is hoped that another year of maturity will produce better results with them, but the Beautyberry was a consistent performer all season long, finishing strong with these beautiful purple berries.

Incidentally, last year's Rookie winner was a no-show this year.  'Wendy's Wish' Salvia apparently signed with a team in Oklahoma, because she was unavailable for contract negotiations this spring.  (I've notified local agents, i.e., garden centers, to please stock her next year!)

Despite the number of candidates, the clear-cut choice for Rookie of the Year in 2011 goes to the Agastache 'Heat Wave.'  This newcomer started out as a scrawny seedling in May and quickly put on bulk to grow to three feet tall and at least the same width.  It began blooming some time in mid-July and has dazzled everyone since with its showy pink/purple flowers.  Besides being a unanimous choice of the judges, it's been a hands-down favorites of the fans as well--bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds swarm it for autographs every day.

This superstar laughed at droughty field conditions and took the heat of late summer in stride.  In fact, it was also a strong contender for the MVP award as well.  While a few players have won both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award in the MLB, it's rather unusual.  In 'Heat Wave's' case, the only barrier to its receiving both awards is a concern whether it can repeat its stellar performance next year.  Some research on Agastaches has revealed that they aren't particularly fond of the wet, cold winters common to Illinois, so we must wait and see whether it returns for another season.  If it doesn't, the general manager has assured us there will a contract extended to a new 'Heat Wave' (or three) next year.

And now for the most coveted award of all--the MVP of the 2011 season.  Last year's winner, 'Lucky Lemon Creme' Lantana, was replaced this year with a more colorful player .... (sorry, its name on the roster is illegible). It performed every bit as well as last year's winner and has been signed to a long-term contract for the lily bed border.  However, its playing time was reduced somewhat due to salary demands.  In garden language, that means that while I was able to buy a flat of lantana seedlings last year, this year all the varieties of lantana I found were available only in 4-inch pots.  Trying to plant the same number as last year would have meant spending five times as much, so I opted for a smaller section of lantana with Profusion zinnias filling in the rest of the border.  Next year I'm going to scout in more places for the flats so that I can have a full border of these butterfly magnets.

Another candidate for MVP would have to be the Shasta daisy 'Becky.'  It is one of those solid performers that often go overlooked, but deserves praise for its consistency.  A little more encouragement this year (i.e., more frequent deadheading) has resulted in non-stop blooms from June through October.

Another possible choice for this award might be the hostas.  Veterans of the shade garden, they avoid the glare of the spotlight, unlike some of the other more colorful members of the team.  But they were the Cal Ripkens of the garden, bringing their A-game every single day from May through September.  Only now, as the season winds down,  are they beginning to show a few signs of exhaustion.

It was a close race, but the winner of this year's MVP Award goes to the Hydrangea 'Limelight.'  Some voters were a little upset, charging that those of us who selected 'Limelight' were fickle and thinking only of what looked good now, rather than all season.  There might be an element of truth in that claim because it has only been blooming for two months. But baseball fans still remember  "Mr. October," and 'Limelight' will no doubt also linger in garden fans' memories through the long off-season. Besides, it was a superstar compared to all the other hydrangeas on the team who produced very few hits this year.  And to be honest, there was somewhat of a sympathy vote here, as 'Limelight' survived what could have been a life-threatening injury when a large limb fell on it as the groundskeeper was trimming a nearby locust tree.  Thankfully, it was still intact when the limb was removed and the chainsaw-wielding groundskeeper properly chastised.  It continues to impress the crowds today with its white blooms turning to a lovely shade of pink.

I'm sure other garden managers have their own candidates for awards, and I'd love to hear about the choices.  As for me, the season may not be over yet, but I'm already heading off for spring training-----planting tulips and daffodils!