Thursday, May 24, 2012

Outside Clyde for Wildflower Wednesday

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.
'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My mind is still in a whirl after spending an amazing week visiting so many unique gardens and talking with fellow gardening enthusiasts during the Garden Bloggers' Fling in Asheville, North Carolina.  I feel like Alice returning from Wonderland. Where to begin indeed??  Normally, I would follow the King's advice and start in the logical place, but when I realized this was the week for Wildflower Wednesday, I thought, why not start at the end? The last full day of the Fling took us to the perfect place to view wildflowers--the mountain-top home of Super-organizer Christopher of Outside Clyde.

After reading many of Christopher's posts about his adventures in building this cabin himself, it seemed a bit surreal to step off the bus and see it in person.

Seeing it in person also made me appreciate even more the work and planning 
that went into creating this sanctuary.

Christopher has named his home Ku'ulei' Aina, which roughly translates to "My Beloved Land."  Behind the cabin and down a steeply sloping path is this rock labyrinth which invites visitors to explore.  Unfortunately, this is where I was when Christopher was giving an introduction about his home and garden--no way could I scramble up that slope again quickly--so what follows are my impressions of his garden, not background or details.

As for wildflowers, our host explained that we were visiting during the height of "The Lull" :)  Though it was too late to see the mass of wildflowers that earlier blanketed the mountainside, there were still a few to be seen, such as this Phacelia with its dainty lavender-blue blooms.

My untrained eye also spotted a few other wildflowers, 
such as this native Solomon's Seal springing up everywhere.

Wild geraniums still in bloom.

 Clover peeking through for the bees.

The most striking of all the wildflowers was this yellow bloomer in the perennial bed. Someone thought it might be false dandelion, but no one could positively identify it.  Whatever it might be, the bees certainly enjoy it.

Although the wildflowers grow naturally, Christopher has added--and continues to add--perennials throughout the area.  Orange poppies catch your eye as you stroll through the green.

Patches of Sweet William brighten up another area.

Yellow and purple irises--heirlooms, I think--travel down a slope.

Colorful blooms stand out more when they're not fighting for attention with other bright colors.  Again, no one was quite sure what these were, but we thought they might be painted daisies.  The hot pink blooms certainly caught my eye.

This garden is clearly an example of working with nature, not forcing it into a particular style.  Even the garden art is natural, taking advantage of the plentiful rocks in the area.

However, on this day with so many Flingers traipsing all over, there was a little impromptu garden art:)

We had plenty of time to explore this mountain retreat, which was fortunate because across the meadow was "Bonnie Brae," the home and garden of Christopher's mother, whom he fondly refers to as "Bulbarella."  Some of the more adventurous took the scenic shortcut through the forest.

I chose the easier path, though my calf muscles, used to the flatlands of Illinois, were screaming by the end.  Huge rhododendrons still in bloom were a welcome signal that my climb was almost over.

A shady garden awaited me, filled with hostas and a unique bottle tree.

The magnificent view from the deck of Bonnie Brae was worth the aching muscles and feet.  It's easy to see why Christopher calls this his "Beloved Land."

Many thanks to Christopher for opening his home and garden for us to ramble through and to all the organizers of the Asheville Fling--it was an incredible experience!  There will be more posts to come on Asheville, for sure, as I sort through my hundreds of photos and scattered notes.  But if you'd like to see more of the places we visited, you can go here.  Also, for wildflower enthusiasts, be sure to visit fellow Flinger Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May Bloom Day

The big day has finally arrived--the bags are packed and the car has been vacuumed and filled up with gas.  Just a last minute watering of the seedlings on the back porch, and we're good to go--Asheville, here we come!  But it's the fifteenth of the month, meaning today is also Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, an event I don't think I've missed since I started blogging.  So here's a quick look at what's blooming in my garden in the middle of May:

Byzantine gladiolus--the best kind of glads, because you plant them in the fall instead of having to dig them up every year!

Allium 'Graceful' isn't as bold as the much larger globe alliums, but is just what its name implies.

Nepeta 'Walker's Low' was buzzing with activity of all kinds of bees Monday morning.  A fuzzy photo, I know, but I didn't have time to wait for them to slow down and take a break.

'May Night' Salvia everywhere.

Even more ubiquitous are the blooms of yarrow.

The "Sea of Lamium" in the shade garden.  Purple and pink seems to be the predominant color scheme this Bloom Day.

Penstemon X has returned for another year in the butterfly garden.  A passalong from friend Gail, you can check out the proper name of this native by visiting her.

The small Spireas are just beginning to bloom--the 'Magic Carpet' series, I think.

Also blooming, much to my delight, is the new Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy.'  Planted last year, it didn't look too happy by the end of the dry summer, so I'm excited to see these blooms.

The yellow Knockout roses 'Radsunny' are also putting out their first blooms of the year.

Nearly hidden from view, I was excited to find this bloom on my climbing rose as well.  I was sure 'Zephirine Drouhin' didn't survive last summer, but this gives me hope.

While I'm away, the garden will be under the watchful eyes of my two garden buddies, Sophie and Coconut.  I just wish we would get some rain while I'm gone, because they haven't mastered turning on the spigot for the hose yet:)  

Have a great week, and see you all soon.  In the meantime, why not drop by May Dreams Gardens, home of  our Bloom Day hostess, Carol.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Isn't It Ironic?

Let me tell you a little story:  Once upon a time a teacher was leading her class in a discussion of Macbeth and wanted to explain the concept of dramatic irony.  First, she thought it would be a good idea to review the general term irony.  Now the basic definition of irony is easy to recite, and this advanced class of seniors would have no trouble doing that.  But she wanted to make sure they really understood this term and asked them for examples of irony.

After the briefest of pauses, a student raised his hand and said, "Irony is like a 98-year-old man who won the lottery and died the next day."

"Excellent!" said the teacher.

Another hand quickly went up: "It's like a free ride when you've already paid."

"Another good example," replied the teacher.

More students chimed in:  "Like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife."  "Rain on your wedding day."   "A death row pardon two minutes too late."  "A fly in your Chardonnay."

A few giggles ensued after the last comment, which the teacher did think was a rather strange example from a high school student.  But she was pleased--to come up with such creative examples of ironic situations so quickly showed just how bright this class was, she thought.  The teacher, happy with such a lively discussion, continued on with her lesson plan, misinterpreting the smiles of the students who seemed to share a secret joke.

Of course, that teacher was me, and among the students was my older daughter.  When she arrived home from school that evening, she took me by the hand and said, "Come on, Mom, I want you to listen to something."  I was busy getting dinner ready and didn't really want to get distracted, but when a teenager wants to talk to you, you know you need to make the time.  She led me into her room and put on a CD . . . Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." 

Ah, yes, it all made sense....another case of the generation gap and why it's a good idea for high school teachers to at least try to keep up with current teenage culture:)

I've been thinking about those lyrics a lot lately.  In this time of transition in the garden--post-tulip and spring bulb extravaganza--isn't it ironic that I can't seem to find the time to enjoy the few blooms I have?  I wasn't happy with the quality of this photo of the 'Purple Sensation' alliums in the arbor bed.

But when I finally took the time to try to get a better photo this week, this is what they looked like.

After waiting all winter for something pretty to show on this blog, I also find it ironic that I haven't had much time to post and show off these pretties lately.  This iris, a passalong from my aunt, bloomed and faded without so much as a "Hello, Gorgeous!"

And isn't it ironic that after a few unsuccessful attempts to grow nicotania, I seem to be overrun with it this year?  I've been hoeing out more potential flowers in the arbor bed this year than weeds!

Maybe this example is not so much irony as pure dumb luck--I've never had much luck with winter seed sowing, but one of the my few successes is this star of the shade garden at the moment.  Aquilegia 'Rocky Mountain Blue' was started from seed a few years ago.

It's also a bit strange that in this second week of May when normally my back porch would be covered with annuals after several plant-buying frenzies, I have only a few perennials from local plant sales . . . and pots of the nicotania to share.  You see, I don't want to have to worry about who is going to water them for a week.

That brings me to the biggest irony of all:  in little over a week, gardening enthusiasts from all over the country will be congregating in Asheville, North Carolina.  They are all garden bloggers, and yet lately I haven't had time to read blogs.  Instead of reading about your garden or posting about mine, I've been busy making to-do lists and crossing things off, getting necessary garden work finished, and trying to decide what to pack.  When I do sit down at the computer, it's to run off maps or check the flurry of emails from my two travel mates, Lisa and Beckie.  I'm sooo excited but also a bit frazzled-- I wish there were more hours in the day to get everything done I want to do.  I have to remind myself, though, that there will be time enough when I return:  time to catch up with my blogging friends, time to buy plants for all my containers, and time to finish weeding and edging the garden (again!).

It's all so ironic, but one thing I'm not going to worry about . . . since I seldom drink, there won't be any "flies in my Chardonnay":)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Young Gemma has had a difficult childhood.  Orphaned at a young age, she is taken away from her native Iceland to Scotland by her uncle.  Thanks to his patience and loving attention, she gradually adjusts to her new surroundings and begins to form a close bond with him.  But her happiness is short-lived when her uncle dies suddenly, and her aunt decides Gemma must earn her keep.  Finally, her aunt can no longer tolerate her and applies for a scholarship for Gemma to attend a boarding school.  Gemma has mixed feelings about leaving Yew House which holds happy memories of time spent with her uncle, but at the same time is eager to get away from her cruel aunt and have the chance to get a real education.

Gemma is a very bright young girl and eager to learn, but unfortunately she gets off on the wrong foot at the new school, Claypoole.  Soon she discovers that her "scholarship" had nothing to do with her intelligence, but rather that she has been taken on as a "working girl," living in cramped conditions and enduring the bullying of the other working girls.  The only bright note in Gemma's life at Claypoole is her friendship with a young asthmatic, Miriam, who tells her:
...people's feelings aren't like arithmetic; they don't always add up.  As for telling you, I don't know if I can.  Some things you can learn from other people and books; some you have to live through.
When Gemma turns 17, Claypoole is forced to close its doors, and Gemma accepts a position in the remote Orkney Islands as a tutor for a young girl.  At Blackbird House, Gemma eventually meets Nell's guardian, the handsome Mr. Hugh Sinclair.  At last, Gemma seems to have found someone who truly cares for her, but doubts and fears drive her away.  It is not until she makes a voyage of self-discovery that Gemma can accept true happiness.

If this plotline sounds familiar, it's not surprising.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Gothic classic, Jane Eyre.  Author Margot Livesey's version begins in the 1950's, a time when women without financial means had more options than becoming either a servant or a governess.  Yet Livesey makes Gemma's predicament plausible. Similar elements of the story are different, but parallel those of Bronte's novel.  Most importantly, Gemma Hardy, like Jane Eyre, is a spunky, independent girl who captures the reader's sympathy and admiration.

Nothing whatsoever to do with this book, my first irises are blooming and enjoying the rain finally falling on my garden.

Gemma's character is very attuned to nature; she is drawn to the sea, and her most precious possession is a book from her uncle, Birds of the World. I don't remember if Charlotte Bronte included so much natural description (it's been awhile since I read Jane Eyre), but the view of nature seen through Gemma's eyes is a delightful addition to Livesey's novel. If I have one criticism of the book, it is that Mr. Sinclair's dark secret, the revelation that drives Gemma away, seems rather weak.  Granted, I wasn't expecting a mad wife hidden on the third floor of Blackbird House, but I did expect something a little more dramatic than what is revealed.

Jane Eyre has been one of my all-time favorite books, ever since I first read it as an impressionable young teenager.    I daydreamed about the handsome but mysterious Mr. Rochester and the improbable romance between him and "plain" Jane, and I've always wanted to visit the English moors that helped to inspire the Bronte sisters.  The Flight of Gemma Hardy didn't fuel any fantasies for me, but then, I'm not the daydreaming, romantic teenager I once was:)  Fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy Gemma Hardy and finding the parallels between the two novels.  But even if you've never read that classic, you will enjoy the story of Gemma, a girl who rises above poverty and a difficult childhood to achieve her dreams and finally find happiness.

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. 

For other suggestions for good reading, be sure to check out this month's meeting of the Book Review Club at Barrie Summy's.