Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Snowy Wildflower Wednesday

It's time for Wildflower Wednesday, the final post of showcasing wildflowers and natives in your garden for 2011.  I had planned a wrap-up of the year's best native blooms for today as I did last year, but Mother Nature had other plans.  I woke up yesterday to the first snowfall of the winter.

 Only about an inch of snow fell, but it was enough to create a magical winter wonderland scene for a few brief hours.

My garden has been a gloomy vista of brown and gray the past month and a half, so the monochromatic scheme of black and white was a welcome sight.

The garden has been taking its long winter's nap for some time now, so I knew there wouldn't be any blooming wildflowers  to photograph for today's post.  But winter affords a different perspective of the natives.  During fall clean-up I leave many of them standing, like these echinacea, a favorite of the bees and butterflies during their blooming season and a tasty treat for the finches later on. Besides thinking of the wildlife, though, I just like the look of their seedheads, especially when they wear their poufy winter hats.

Once it lost its blooms, the Joe Pye weed was nearly invisible against the backdrop of the large rough-eared dogwood behind it.  But its cupped upper branches cradled the falling snow, calling attention to it once again.

Most of the natives reside in the butterfly garden, but the heavy snow made it difficult to distinguish the asters, the Rudbeckias, the phlox, and others from each other.  I'm pretty sure, though, this is bee balm (Monarda) in the center with a stray hollyhock on the left.

There is no problem in identifying the native goldenrod, though, which is strong enough
to carry its own weight in snow.  

In the lily bed, the Amsonia tabernaemontana is a plant I've decided looks good no matter the season.   Whether it's covered with blue blooms in the spring or glowing with its golden leaves in the fall, this is one of the best additions I've made to my garden.

It's not just the natives that provide winter interest, however.
  Sedum is another plant that is not only low-maintenance, but also looks good all year long.

Under a blanket of snow, it turns into a snowball bush.

Looking around the garden yesterday, I was surprised to find that not everything was black and white.  The berries on the beautyberry bush are still noticeable.

They may not be the bright lavender of fall, but the faded purple still shows up in an otherwise barren landscape.

The yellow Knockout roses are also still sporting some green leaves.

Not everyone likes the snow, and I know I'll be tired of it soon if we have as much as last year. The Miscanthus 'Morning Light' found it too much to bear and just gave up.  Fortunately, once the snow melted, it stood upright once again.

The garden gnomes guarding the arbor bench, a gift from friend Beckie, also weren't too happy and looked rather frosted that I had forgotten to bring them inside this fall.  Sorry, guys.

The magic didn't last long--by late morning the snow was beginning to melt already, and today there are only a few patches remaining.  But it was beautiful while it lasted.

There was enough time in the early morning hours for Sophie and Coconut to get in a romp and a wrestling match in the snow.

And to just sit and and enjoy the soft falling of snowflakes.  

There is nothing like the first snowfall to make me appreciate the changing of the seasons, even winter! The snow may have distracted me from the topic of wildflowers, but if you are like me and are already thinking of next year's garden, be sure to visit our enthusiastic hostess of Wildflower Wednesday, Gail at Clay and Limestone.  You'll be sure to get some great ideas for wildflowers and natives to plant next spring.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Greetings

Just a few days before Christmas and all through my home
Preparations have been made for the big day to come

Presents are wrapped and under the tree

Treasured ornaments put up for all to see

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

A day with the grandkids making cookies to share

Little hands at work, sounds of delight

Some of those creations were quite a sight!

A busy season, I could use a rest
But times like these, I realize I am blessed.

Greetings from friends and family far and near
Remind us of all those we hold most dear.

Happy memories of times spent with those far away

And joy in the little one who will enjoy his first Christmas Day.

From our house to yours, wishes of peace and good cheer:

Merry  Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

GBBD and Lessons Learned II

I don't know about you, but it seems that everything I do takes longer to accomplish these days. I've taken a mini-blogging break lately so that I could focus on getting some Christmas projects and the shopping done.  But it's time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and I didn't want to miss out, even though there's not much to show.

There are a few spots of green out in the garden from the lamium, heucheras, and hellebores, but otherwise the garden is a soggy mess of brown.  Besides, it's rainy and windy outside today, so we will have to stay indoors. I had hoped I could share some blooms on the small Christmas cactus for Bloom Day, but it turns out it is more of a Thanksgiving cactus instead.  After a nice little showing for Thanksgiving, its blooms have withered, and it's time to move it and make room for more Christmas decorations.

A pot of pansies and ruffled kale are still blooming outside my patio door, but I showed them last month.  Other than that, the only real bloom I have today is a geranium resting in the garage.  Considering my shameful neglect of all the plants I brought inside last month, I'm surprised it's even still alive.  And that's it, fellow garden bloggers.  Not even a festive Christmas poinsettia to share with you . . . I really need to get that shopping done!


Speaking of geraniums,  I also wanted to participate in a meme hosted by Beth at Plant Postings about lessons learned in the garden this autumn.  In September I wrote about what I had learned this summer, but there is always something new to learn in the garden--or maybe it's just that I need to have the lessons presented several times before I actually learn them:)  If you will indulge me, here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) this fall:

1.  Don't bother bringing in annuals or tender perennials to over-winter inside unless you're actually going to take care of them.  Determined to be a little thriftier next season, I potted several cuttings of coleus and dug up some of the geraniums, begonias, and hibiscus that were still looking good in early November. I  brought numerous pots into the garage while I tried to decide where there might be room in the house for them to spend the winter.  A month later, they're still in the garage.  The garage is semi-heated, so that shouldn't be a problem, but opening the back door repeatedly to let the dogs out and leaving it wide open on a very cold day for the furnace repairman meant some arctic blasts hit some of the tender plants. Instead of saving them for next spring, I may have merely consigned them to a slow death.

Kale and marigolds in mid-October

2. If someone else is doing the mowing and trimming, make sure you give clear directions as to what should not be mowed down. Mr. P and I have had repeated discussions on this subject, and for the most part, he tries his best to follow my wishes.  But I was surprised upon returning from some errands in early December to see him mowing the lawn.  Now that was fine because the lawn needed a last trim before winter, and the remaining leaves were shredded instead of matting the grass all winter.  It was also fine that he mowed over the vegetable garden, except that I had wanted to leave the kale standing.  It wouldn't have lasted all winter, but it would have lasted awhile longer and would have looked so pretty with the first dusting of snow.

Snow-covered fennel in January

I also like to leave the fennel standing, but it, too, was leveled.  No frozen fennel to photograph this winter!

3.  Planting spring bulbs isn't always as easy as it sounds.  I love, love tulips, and the time spent planting them in the fall is well worth it.  But I discovered this year that the amount of work it takes to have this beautiful show in the spring depends on where you plant them.   Planting them in the compost-rich soil of the new arbor bed was a breeze and actually enjoyable, especially since I didn't have to worry about disturbing other bulbs. But I decided this year that a mass of tulips and daffodils in front of the large fir tree next to the shade garden would really provide some impact next spring.  What I didn't realize is that the soil in front of the tree was rock-hard and mostly clay.  Add gnarled tree roots every few inches, and you have the makings of a very difficult job.  Several hours of pounding a shovel and then a trowel into this stubborn soil gave me quite a workout.

4. Take time to enjoy the season.  We really had a lovely fall, and although I did enjoy the fall color around me as I was working or while I was driving here and there, I wish I had stopped more often to really enjoy it.  For a month, I had promised Sophie we would go for a walk at our local forest preserve, but I kept putting it off until it was too late.  Sometimes, you just have to put down the trowel and make time for simply taking in all the beauty that is around you.

If you would like to share some lessons you've learned in the garden this past season, there's still time to join in at Plant Postings.  And don't forget to check out what's blooming all across the world at Carol's at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December Book Review: More Than a Mystery

I can't believe it has been four months since I last participated in the monthly Book Review Club.  I could blame my absence on spending so much time in the garden, a little traveling, or other activities, all of which are true.  But it's just as true that although I've read more books than I can remember in the past few months, few have made any kind of lasting impression on me.  That is, until I discovered Kate Atkinson.  After reading When Will There Be Good News? a few months ago, I was hooked and recently finished the book that followed it.  Finally, a book worth sharing with you!

Tracy Waterhouse, a retired police officer, is making her rounds as a security guard for a shopping mall when she sees a small child being dragged along and verbally abused by her mother.  Tracy rushes to help the poor little girl and impulsively offers the mother money to "buy" the child.

Private investigator Jackson Brodie, also a retired police detective, is once again a single man after his last wife left him, taking most of his savings with her. But he takes on an unexpected responsibility,  when he sees a thug swearing at a Border Collie and takes the dog after punching out its abusive owner.

Strange beginnings for a mystery novel, but Started Early, Took My Dog is not your typical mystery, and Kate Atkinson is not one of your typical writers of detective fiction. Even the title is quirky, a line taken from a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Started Early is the third in a series of four novels featuring private investigator Jackson Brodie.  In this novel he is more interested in finding himself and wandering about the English countryside--now with a dog at his side--than he is in the case he's accepted--finding the birth parents of a young woman adopted some thirty years ago whose adoptive parents emigrated to New Zealand where she now lives. But when Jackson discovers he is being followed and when someone tries to kill him, he begins to think there is more to this case than a simple matter of identification.

Tracy Waterhouse, unattached and resigned to living out the rest of her life eating take-out suppers alone in front of the television, finds her life turned upside down after taking young Courtney. Determined to provide Courtney a better life than she must have had with her prostitute mother, Tracy buys everything she thinks the little girl needs, including a fairy costume complete with wand that Courtney wears everywhere, and  she begins to plan trips to the zoo and the park.  She begins to worry, though, that the little girl's real mother might want her back and that buying a child is not exactly sanctioned by the law.  She realizes that establishing a new identity and moving far away where no one will question their relationship is the only answer.
When she bought the kid she made a covenant with the devil.  She could have someone to love but it would cost her everything.  She thought of the Little Mermaid, every step torture, a pain like the piercing of sharp swords.  Just to be human, to love.

Kid dipped her wand in Tracy's direction.  Granting a wish or casting a spell, hard to tell which.  Courtney had knitted herself into Tracy's soul.  What would happen if she was ripped away?

This was love.  It didn't come free, you paid in pain.  Your own.  But then nobody ever said love was easy.  Well, they did, but they were idiots.

Typical of many contemporary mystery writers, Atkinson alternates the stories of Brodie and Waterhouse along with two other characters, one of them Tillie, an aging actress. Tillie witnesses the same scene between mother and daughter as Tracy, but in the early stages of dementia, she is so confused she can't remember where she put her purse or why she is looking for a policeman.  How all these storylines fit together piques the reader's curiosity, and Atkinson skillfully weaves the threads of the plot together as the novel progresses. 

Critics have praised Atkinson's writing and often remark that her novels are more literary fiction than detective fiction. Although this series is labeled as the "Jackson Brodie" novels, other characters figure just as prominently in the book and are often more engaging. I like to think of her books as the thinking woman's mysteries.  Her voice is unique and compelling, blending the characters' thoughts with literary allusions, keen observations on society, and wit in the face of tragedy. Unlike other mysteries which I often read at a fast pace in order to find out "whodunit," I found myself stopping to savor some of her prose:
The dog scampered by his side all the way back to Bella Vista in a state of near delirium.  At the site of the train crash two years ago Jackson's life had been saved by a girl administering CPR.  Now he had been saved by the loyalty of a dog.  The less innocent he was, the more innocent his saviors became.  There was some kind of exchange at work in the universe that he didn't understand.

New granddog Eddie was found living on the streets and taken in by a pug rescue society.  He now leads a pampered life with my daughter and son-in-law, enjoying long walks in the park and watching football games--yes, that is a Chicago Bears jersey he's wearing!

Started Early, Took My Dog is a story of redemption and resiliency, of unlikely heroes and characters haunted by their past.  These are ordinary people struggling to survive in a world full of sadness, and trying to make it a better place, one child or one dog at a time.
A damaged child that could still sing could be rescued, couldn't she? Could be taken to pantomimes and circuses, zoos and petting farms and Disneyland.  Wasn't going to end up hanging around Sweet Street West looking for business. Chevaunne.  She could have been rescued once.  They could all have been rescued, all the Chevaunnes, all the Michael Braithwaites, all the starved and beaten and neglected.  If there'd been enough people to rescue them.

If you're looking for a Christmas gift for that hard-to-buy for person on your list, a book is always a perfect fit.  Whether that person is a mystery-lover or a gardener or a history buff, you're sure to find something that suits them.  And there's nothing better to give a child than the gift of the love of reading.  You might want to check out the other reviews at host Barrie Summy's for some ideas.  As for me, I hope Santa takes the hint and puts another Kate Atkinson book in my stocking!

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore--photo from Wikipedia.

Author's Disclaimer--No compensation of any kind was received for this review.  I review only books I like and purchase my own copy or check them out from the library.  This book was purchased at one of my favorite bookstores, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona. An independent bookstore that I'm happy to report is still thriving despite the economy, it is known for its collection of mysteries and Southwest literature, and it hosts many, many book signings by famous authors from all over.  If you're ever in the Phoenix area, it's definitely worth a visit!