Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Very, Very Late Bloom Day and Season's Greetings

Since I started blogging over four years ago, I haven't missed a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day yet.  Thanks to our creative and energetic hostess Carol, these mid-month posts have provided me with an invaluable record of what is blooming in my garden--or not--from year to year.  But this Christmas season has been a busy one, and time spent on the computer has been limited to cyber shopping, not reading or writing blog posts.  Endless gray days have kept me from even thinking about the garden, much less photographing it.  And then last Friday, I was left without words . . .

And so I am very, very late in sharing what is blooming in my garden this December.  But the only bloom worth noting is indoors--a new Christmas cactus blooming right on schedule.

Outdoors, the garden has been dormant for at least a month.  Despite the mild weather of early December, nothing is blooming, with dried seedheads the only reminders of the garden's former glory.

The endless scene of shades of brown was broken on Thursday when a winter storm blustered through and covered one of the few spots of green--the hellebores--with white instead.  Although parts of the Midwest were blanketed with snow, we received only a dusting, and chances are that won't last for Christmas.

But the best "blooms" of all were in my kitchen yesterday as the grandkids came over for our traditional cookie-making time.  For a few hours the house was filled with laughter and sugar-fueled squeals of delight.  Although the finished products were heavy on frosting and might not be quite edible, the time spent was precious and priceless.  I feel very blessed this Christmas. 

Wishing you all a Joyous Christmas
and Peace in the New Year!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: A Native Wonderland

Have you ever passed by someone's garden and just invited yourself in for a closer look?  Or better yet, have you dropped in to visit a private garden, when no one was even home?  In a way, that is what two friends and I did on our way home from the Asheville Fling this past May.

The sign at the end of the driveway did say "Open," so we accepted the invitation and walked right in.

I suspect we were not the first visitors to be intrigued by this garden, for the front garden spills from the front of the house all the way to the street, enticing visitors to take a closer look.  The glimpse of the blue bottle tree hints at other treasures within, just waiting to be found.

And indeed there are treasures, sometimes popping up unexpectedly as you round a path.  Reminders that this is a garden where wildlife are welcome.

 A garden where pollinators are encouraged to visit and feast on the variety of plants chosen just for them.

Though I didn't take a single photo of a real bee or butterfly visiting the garden, there was so much to see that I often forgot about the camera hanging around my neck.  It was easy to get distracted--as we moved into the back garden, in fact, friend Lisa, a birding enthusiast, heard a familiar bird song and went in search of the singer.

This is a garden where native plants and wildflowers abound, like this Echinacea tennesseensis with its distinctive downward-curling rays.  It may be on the Federal Endangered Species list, but it is thriving in its native habitat here.

Another native in bloom on this late spring day was the Phlox pilosa,
 known to many of us in Blogland as PPPP.

Agastache (variety unknown, but maybe 'Golden Jubilee'?), also called Hyssop or Hummingbird Mint, is a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies alike.

The native Hypericum adds cheery yellow blooms in this mostly shady garden.

While the emphasis is on natives here, other non-natives are welcome as well, such as this creamy daylily.

Or the Verbena bonariensis, which although not a native, is loved by the butterflies.

My friends and I didn't take advantage of this inviting bench to rest for a bit, but continued our exploration on foot.  We wondered aloud what must the neighbors think of these three strangers roaming about the garden unchaperoned?  Perhaps they are used to people stopping by to admire this native sanctuary, because no police ever arrived to arrest us for trespassing:)

By now, many of you no doubt recognize this garden as belonging to none other than the hostess of the monthly Wildflower Wednesday, Gail of Clay and Limestone. And to set the record straight, we didn't exactly drop in uninvited.  When we made our plans to attend the Asheville Fling, friends Lisa, Beckie, and I also made plans to leave a day early and visit Fairegarden, but left our return trip home more spontaneous.  I was lucky enough to visit Gail's garden a few years before during another trip through Tennessee and raved about it, so Lisa and Beckie longed to see it, too.  However, when we talked to Gail in Asheville, she said she was going to stay an extra day, but we were welcome to stop by her home anyway and tour the garden by ourselves.  I'm not sure she really expected us to take her up on this offer, but we couldn't resist!

Thank you, Gail, for graciously allowing us to visit your garden, and thank you for hosting Wildflower Wednesday each month.  I've learned so much about wildflowers and native plants through this series, including the Hypericum above, featured in her post this month.  My photos don't do her garden justice, but you can see much more of her garden as well as other wildflower entries posted this month here. To paraphrase an old saying, when it comes to creating a pollinator-friendly garden, Gail doesn't just "talk the talk, she walks the walk"!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Frosty November Bloom Day

I know I'm a day late for the monthly meeting of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but it doesn't matter too much because there's nothing blooming here in November.

That is, unless you count a couple of brave 'October Skies' aster blooms reaching for the November sun.

Or a late goldenrod blooming behind the shelter of the fuel tanks.

Or the last garden mum still hanging on to a few blooms.

The purple kale still standing in the vegetable garden explains the lack of blooms--early mornings for the past week or two have been quite cold with everything covered in frost.  The kale will rebound, as will the pansies in containers, but the frost has brought an end to everything else in the garden for the year.

Instead of rose blooms, now there are rose hips.

The amsonia has already passed its fall golden stage and is beginning to put on its winter whites.

Grasses, too, have turned white, but still glow in the early morning sun.

Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, but some colorful foliage remains,
 like the leaves of Itea 'Little Henry.'

The most colorful foliage of all, though, is this spirea (name forgotten at the moment).  I bought two spirea a few years ago primarily for their spring blooms; the fall color has been a happy surprise.

Little else remains, however; even the beautyberry has lost its leaves, with only some berries left to tempt the birds.  It's clear the time has come for the garden's long winter's sleep.

To see what else may be blooming (or not), be sure to visit our hostess Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why I Don't Have Houseplants

Frances' fairy garden was a great inspiration!
Gardening trends come and go, and I don't usually pay much attention to them--my garden is never going to be featured in a magazine, that's for sure.  But one popular trend in gardening that has piqued my interest lately is fairy gardening, especially after seeing so many delightful miniature landscapes in various gardens this past year.  I had finally decided on the perfect place to create a home for the pixies in my own garden, so when my friend Beckie asked me to go with her to a workshop on fairy gardening at a local garden center this fall, I eagerly agreed. 

The workshop was mainly focused on creating an indoor fairy garden, but the best part was the 30% off coupon all of the particpants received. I bought a few accessories that struck my fancy, but passed on the bottle of fairy dust--a tiny plastic jar of glitter selling for $3.00 (!).  I was going to put them away until spring, but that coupon was still burning a hole in my pocket, and I thought what the heck--an indoor fairy garden would be something fun for the winter, so I bought an inexpensive shallow pot and several small indoor plants.

My granddaughter came over one day, and together we planted the fairy garden; I let her choose where to place the curved path and bench, and she even managed to squeeze in the curved bridge.  The end result wasn't anything spectacular, especially since it had neither a fairy or a house, but we had fun nonetheless.

After the storm
When the weather began to turn cooler, I brought the little garden inside, finding a temporary home for it near the patio doors.  Not a good idea as it turned out: one morning I noticed that some kind of freak storm had hit the fairy garden and uprooted several plants.  I pushed them gently back into the soil, hoping they would recover, and began to wonder about this strange meteorological occurrence. Another result of climate change, perhaps?

Only a little polka-dot plant remains.
Oddly enough, the same storm hit several more times over the course of the next week until one morning I found the garden upturned, with most of the soil on my carpet, the bridge upended, and most of the plants past rescuing.

I had begun to form a plausible hypothesis, and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed one day when I noticed a streak of gray out of the corner of my eye.

 Don't let this innocent face fool you.  The evidence was overwhelming: pawprints were taken, and sure enough, traces of potting soil were found. The mess was cleaned up, but I guess the fairies will have to wait until spring for a new home that will be safe from Storm Widget!

And that, my friends, is why I don't have houseplants.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Believing the Lie

Inspector Thomas Lynley is back at work again--this time investigating a suspicious death in Cumbria, near the Lake District immortalized in Wordsworth's poetry.  The nephew of wealthy Bernard Fairclough has drowned in what the coroner's investigation has ruled an accidental death, but Lord Fairclough isn't so sure.  In particular, Fairclough is worried that his son Nicholas, a recovering drug addict, might have been involved.  Assistant Commissioner Hillier asks Lynley to investigate the death as a favor to Fairclough, but to do it discreetly.

Lynley, ever the gentleman, has no problem being discreet, but this means keeping his mission and whereabouts a secret from Isabelle Ardery, creating a strain in their relationship.  He also has to avoid his two colleagues Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata; instead, Lynley enlists the aid of his two long-time friends, Simon and Deborah St. James in uncovering the truth about the drowning. 

As the three of them visit the site of the drowning and interview members of the Fairclough family, they find themselves no closer to the truth about the victim's death.  However, they do find a multitude of secrets hidden by the Faircloughs, secrets that once revealed, threaten to tear the family apart.  Deborah St. James is especially drawn to the case when she meets Nicholas Fairclough's wife, with whom she shares a special bond; even when Lynley and her husband decide the investigation is over, she refuses to give up until everything is out in the open. 

Typical of an Inspector Lynley novel, there are many storylines involved in this novel. Besides the various problems of the Faircloughs, there is the ongoing story of Zed Benjamin, an aspiring journalist working as a tabloid reporter.  Trying to dig up "dirt" to impress his editor and keep his job, Benjamin's sleuthing creates somewhat of a problem for Lynley's investigation but also creates some comic relief. And, of course, a Lynley novel wouldn't be complete without the trials of Sgt. Barbara Havers whose complete lack of style sense is a source of irritation for her boss, Supt. Ardery.  In the process of trying to achieve a makeover, Havers enlists the aid of her new neighbor and begins to have a grudging admiration for her.  Although the stories come together with a few surprising twists in the conclusion,  Believing the Lie is more about the characters than in solving a mystery.

As a long-time fan of Elizabeth George, I had fully intended to buy this book, but after reading a few readers' less than glowing reviews on various websites, I hesitated and checked it out of the library instead.
When I finished the book, I went back to read some reviewers' remarks again, puzzled by their criticisms.  Yes, the resolution of Tim, the troubled son of the victim, is a little unbelievable, and the shocking secret revealed near the end isn't all that shocking.  But neither of those points take away from the book's overall success.  One criticism I do agree with is that there isn't enough of Barbara Havers. The loveable but sloppy Sgt. Havers does most of her detective work in this novel by sneaking around Scotland Yard to search the internet instead of interacting directly with Inspector Lynley.  But a surprise at the end--which I will not give away here!--suggests that she will have a much bigger role in the next book of this series, which should please all of her fans, including me. 

I've been shocked by the ending of a George novel (With No One As Witness) and totally depressed after another (What Came Before He Shot Her), but I've never been disappointed in her writing. Granted this novel isn't as suspenseful as some of her earlier novels, but as I said, George's books are as much about character development as plot.  For first time readers of Elizabeth George, I highly recommend starting with the first of the Inspector Lynley novels to get to know the characters.  For long-time fans, I would definitely recommend Believing the Lie.  As for me, I am eagerly awaiting the next in the series to find out what happens next!

Disclaimer:  No compensation of any kind was received for this review.  I review only books I like and think others would enjoy reading;  I either purchase my own copy or, as in the case of this book, check them out from my local library.  

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@Barrie Summy

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall Color Project: Memories of Autumn

Like so many people, I have been watching the news footage the past week of the horrible destruction caused by storm Sandy.  My heart goes out to all of those who suffered loss in this devastating storm, and I am counting my blessings.

Here in my part of Illinois, the only effects of the storm were strong winds that blew most of the remaining leaves off the trees.  Now only bare branches remain, whereas just a week before we were enjoying the last of the fall color.  Some years I have photographed some of the colorful trees around town or taken Sophie to the nearby forest preserve to enjoy a different fall perspective, but this year I had time only to document changes at home.  Still, there was enough vibrant color in my own front yard to enjoy.

The most brilliant display in fall is the maple tree that slowly puts on its autumn finery.  In early October a few leaves at the top began to turn, and by mid-October the progression of orange and red was working its way downward.

The golden leaves of the locust trees gleamed in the sunlight.

The best part about these leaves is that they are easily carried away by the wind, 
and I don't have to rake them.

After the summer's drought, I think most of us didn't expect much of a colorful display this fall.  But we were pleasantly surprised.  Even the crabapples this year were eye-catching.

Instead of the usual shriveled brown leaves, they sported leaves of gold.

One effect of the drought has been the sparse number of fruit on these trees.  The white crabapple, in particular, is usually covered with miniature fruit, but not this year.  I noticed yesterday that the few remaining tiny apples had already been devoured by the birds.

The old Hackberry is not an especially attractive tree, but it, too, added some color to the landscape.

Besides the maple tree, the most eye-catching color has to be the large burning bushes 
at the end of my driveway.

Usually these bright red leaves remain until mid to late November, but this year the winds have stripped them quickly, leaving only the small berries on otherwise bare branches.

When I think of fall color, I think of trees.  But the garden has its own share of color transformation.  The faded blooms of hydrangeas are complemented by rosy-edged foliage as well.

Some of the ferns turned a ghostly white, just in time for Halloween.

Solomon's Seal, aging gracefully.

Oak leaves are not particularly colorful as they change from green to gold to brown.

But for me, it is not the leaves so much as the majestic stature of this old tree that I enjoy in the fall and every other season of the year.

By the end of last week, the maple had completed its transformation, shining for a few days in its final blaze of glory before this week's winds stripped its branches bare.  With the chilly winds blowing again, autumn seems like a fading memory.  I hope that you are enjoying the last beauties of autumn wherever you are.

Thanks to Dave at Growing the Home Garden for sponsoring the Fall Color Project  once again this year.