Sunday, December 15, 2013

GBBD: Winter Whites

It's time once again for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, the day each month when we feature what is currently blooming in our gardens.  This time of year is always challenging for those of us living in colder areas, where nothing is usually blooming outdoors.  It's even more challenging for someone like me who doesn't "do" houseplants either.

The only true bloom I have right now is my Christmas cactus, which I realized on looking back through older posts, is the same bloom I've featured the past few years for December Bloom Day.  Actually, this is a small one I bought last year, and I'm happy to see it blooming again.  The older Christmas cactus isn't showing any sign of blooms, evidence of my brown thumb when it comes to houseplants.

The real story, though, is outside, where we finally received our first measurable snowfall.   Winter storm Cleon went south of us a week ago, missing us except for a light dusting of snow.  But nearly a foot of the soft, fluffy kind fell on us overnight yesterday, creating a true winter wonderland.

For a few hours at least, the snow clung to branches everywhere.  All this tree needs is some Christmas lights--and a helper with a 40-foot ladder to hang them:)

Hydrangeas bowed down under the weight of the snow.  Not to worry, though, they soon recovered.

The clematis and its trellis provided a base for some interesting ice sculptures.

'Limelight,' probably my favorite hydrangea, looks good even in the winter.

Russian Sage, Knockout Roses, and Purple Coneflowers all sport white "blooms."

No one will be sitting on the arbor bench for a while, I suspect.  I thought it was funny that the green tape showed up so bright in this photo.  I tied up the many canes of the climbing rose that were going every which way--pruning this plant is one of the first projects to tackle come spring.

I always leave the coneflowers standing for the finches, but by October they look pretty ratty.  They look so much better sporting their winter hats.

I intended to put more Christmas decorations outside, but the weather turned bitterly cold last week, and I've decided it's not worth the trouble anymore. I wasn't quite satisfied with the pine and berries I put in this pot, but the snow added just the right finishing touch.

Not your usual blooms for Bloom Day, but I'm enjoying Mother Nature's added touch to the garden; I hope it stays white for Christmas!  To see what's blooming all over the world, do visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens for this monthly celebration of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

Christmas is three weeks from today--do I have my tree up? No!  Have I started writing out Christmas cards? No, I haven't even bought them yet!  How about Christmas shopping?  Barely started.  So what am I doing sitting at the computer writing a blog post??  The answer to that--besides my procrastination on Christmas--is that today is the last meeting of the Book Review Club this year, and I wanted to recommend two of my favorite books of 2013.  I read both of them much earlier this year, so I'll keep these very brief, particularly since my memory of character names and details is pretty fuzzy on both.

 And The Mountains Echoed is the latest novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both critically acclaimed novels and two of my favorites from past years. Hosseini has often been described as a master storyteller, and I can think of no better way to describe him. Mountains contains many more characters than his previous novels with many storylines that intersect, often in surprising ways.  Once again, the main setting is Afghanistan, although most of the characters travel far from their homeland, giving us not only a glimpse into the rich but tragic culture of this war-torn land, but also how their background affects the characters in different settings and for many years.

This novel will not disappoint fans of his earlier works. While it is often sad, it is not as depressing as the life of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and even offers some hope in its themes of love and loyalty.  Put this one on your must-read list!

A novel about Monarch butterflies and the ramifications of climate change? Not my usual cup of tea.  Fortunately, however, something intrigued me about the summaries I read of this book, and I picked it up from the library.  Yes, it is about the Monarchs, and Kingsolver's scientific background gives credibility to the plight of this particular group of Monarchs and what could very well happen if climate change continues.  But the story is also about young Dellarobia Turnbow,  whose discovery of the Monarchs wintering near her home turns her small Appalachian community upside down.  Trapped in an unhappy marriage and an unfulfilling life, Della is captivated by the butterflies who help her to find her own "wings."  Kingsolver's prose is beautiful, and the images she creates of the butterflies are magnificent and haunting.

 For my blogging friends who prefer gardening books to novels, Flight Behavior is the book that just might change your mind about fiction!

Whether you are looking for a gift idea for a book-loving friend (note: Flight Behavior actually was published in 2012, so the paperback is now available) or just looking for something worthwhile to read during the long winter nights ahead, And The Mountains Echoed and Flight Behavior deserve to be at the top of your list.

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review. As always, I review only books I enjoy and think others would enjoy reading too.  I purchased my own copy of Mountains and checked out Flight Behavior from the library (though now that I've become a fan of Kingsolver, I will  probably  purchase her books in the future.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Late GBBD: Giving Thanks

I was going to sit down Sunday afternoon and write a late post for the monthly Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.  I was too busy to get a post out on time on November 15, and I wasn't feeling very inspired anyway.  The weather has been crazy this past week from snow and temperatures in the teens on Wednesday to blustery temps in the 60's with rain this weekend, and frankly, there is nothing blooming here anymore.  (If you are here to see some pretty photos, look at my last post from the week before.) If I had been on time, I probably would have complained a little or at least been somewhat apologetic for the lack of interesting material, but all that changed on Sunday

A shy pansy shivering in the snow last week.
My husband and I were coming home from dinner at a local restaurant when his phone went off, alerting us to a tornado warning in our area.  We managed to get home just as the wind picked up and raindrops began to pelt our heads.  I quickly corralled the dogs and headed for the basement and turned on the weather reports.  I watched as the announcer showed all the red areas on the map and explained the likely path of the different tornadoes around us and saw a few early photos of the devastation in East Peoria and the nearby small town of Washington, Illinois.  Just as the all-clear was given, the power went out, plunging me and the bewildered dogs into darkness.

Fortunately, daylight was still streaming through the windows upstairs, and I surveyed the aftermath of the storm--not much, just a few limbs down, a piece of siding pulled off a shed, and an empty garbage can blown across the driveway.  Relieved that the storm was over, I sat on the couch with my Ipad, but with no internet access and no TV to watch the Bears' game, after awhile I decided the best thing to do was to take a nap.  The sudden sound of the football game awoke me some time later as power was restored.

The only "real" bloom at the moment--a geranium overwintering in the garage.

It wasn't until later when I opened my Ipad again to search for weather reports and news of the storm that I discovered a nearby small town had been devastated by the tornado. News reports were sketchy, but Facebook posts provided up-to-date information as many of my local friends posted their concerns or confirmed the safety of friends and family; a few even shared photos they were able to take, showing the destruction.

Needless to say, my Bloom Day post was forgotten, and I am certainly not going to complain about something so trivial as lacking blooms today--it is November, after all!   I spent the evening watching the local news and keeping up with reports on Facebook.  Gifford is a small town about 15 miles from us, but even closer to the town where I grew up and lived for most of my life, and I know many people who live there.  It is part of a close-knit community of small farming towns, people who share similar values and a strong work ethic.  Even as residents surveyed the damage to their homes with dismay, they gave thanks that no one was seriously injured. Reactions from others have been heartening and a reminder of all that is good about small town living where people are always willing to help their neighbors.  Nearby farmers brought in tractors with loaders to help clear the debris.  An outpouring of support and offers of help have come from all the surrounding communities. Individuals are organizing donation drives, and some businesses are donating a portion of their sales to the relief effort.

A surprise bloom from two weeks ago--Cyclamen hederifolium.  I had forgotten I planted these!  A sweet little bloom rising above the dying shade garden.
I am thankful today to live in such a caring community where neighbors look after each other.  Even as residents of Gifford and the other areas hit by the tornado pick up the pieces of their lives, they are making plans to rebuild.  I know this town will bloom again.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted the 15th of each month by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Colors of Autumn

The "S" word is in the forecast for this week.  It's far too early for wintry landscapes, in my opinion; I want to enjoy the remaining colors of autumn for as long as possible.  Predictions of snow and temperatures in the teens always remind me of Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay."  We've had a beautiful fall, and although the colors have not been as dramatic as some years, there has been no shortage of golden hues.

The locust tree in the front yard is nothing spectacular during the summer, but in the fall it glows.

Is there anything better than gold sparking against a blue, blue sky?

Amsonia Hubrichtii proves why it's more than just a pretty spring face.  We have a very large specimen of this in the section of the Idea Garden where I volunteer, and I noticed this year how many visitors were drawn to this plant and asked about it.  In the late fall everything in the garden is cut down for the winter, even the amsonia.  I understand those in charge want a public garden to look tidy over the winter, but it makes me sad that they are missing out on a beautiful late-season show of color.  I'm almost glad I didn't have time to help on "Putting the Garden to Bed" day--I wouldn't have had the heart to take the pruners to this lovely.

For the last month, I've enjoyed the spectacle of autumn at its finest around town and while driving to meetings and appointments or running countless errands, but never the time to stop and capture the scenes, even if I had a camera handy, which I didn't. But it doesn't matter--I'm not a great landscape photographer, anyway, and there are small scenes of beauty to be found even in my own back yard, like the foliage and fluffy seedheads of the asters.

Or the glowing foliage of the spirea.

Even the hostas go out in a blaze of gold.

Gold is definitely the predominant color of fall in my area, surrounded as we are by fields of ripe corn. For a time, spots of green (or red, depending on the farmers' preferred brand of machinery) were also seen throughout the fields.

The harvest was completed a few weeks ago, but not before a little boy had the ride of his life.  I posted this photo on my Facebook page, but thought it was worth posting here, too.  My youngest grandson, now 2, is obsessed with combines, and so Grandpa made arrangements for him to get a ride on a real combine and see the harvest up close as they made two rounds through the fields.  It is all Grandson has talked about ever since--his favorite fall color is definitely green!

Gold is not the only color of autumn, of course.  This time of year I wish I had a red maple, but the burning bushes at the end of our drive provide a dramatic dose of red.

The white crabapple changes its hue, too. 

Unlike last year, when fruit was sparse due to the drought, the tree is loaded with tiny red crabapples this year.

The birds are happy about this, too, and have made this their favorite tree of the season.

The old apple tree was also covered in apples this fall, and I spent a good deal of time preparing sliced apples and making applesauce for the freezer.  There were so many that I didn't get them all picked, though, before Husband gave the lawn a last mowing before winter. I guess this is applesauce for the birds:)

There are some non-traditional fall colors in the garden, too, if you look closely enough.  The purple berries on the beautyberry bush are another winter treat for the birds, but I hope they let me enjoy them first for awhile.

More purplish-pink in the late blooms of a potted mum.

Less dramatic, but pleasing all the same--the muted pink undertones of the fading 'Limelight' hydrangea.

The fall color show begins in my front yard each year with the ash tree and its purple and copper-colored leaves.

And it climaxes with the turning of the large maple which shines even on a cloudy day.

Autumn's winds are stripping it a little more each day, leaving only remnants of the colorful show--and one more fall project to do before winter sets in.

"Then leaf subsides to leaf 
 . . . Nothing gold can stay."

I hope you are enjoying the colors of Autumn wherever you are!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book Review: A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

He held a pen in his right hand, although he didn't remember picking it up.  And the page, which had been blank a moment ago, was covered in an unfamiliar script...'Ye love full well what we have loved.  The wake, for Glaston to rise against the darkness.  We have...something...long for is in your hands..."

Jack Monfort stared at the strange writing in front of him, thinking at first that it was some kind of joke.  Yet it was his own writing, though in Latin, a language he barely remembered from his schooldays.  Could it be some long-dead monk was communicating with him, taking over his body to write these strange messages? Jack, a widowed architect who had grown up in Glastonbury, didn't believe in any of the "mystical rubbish" associated with the town and the Tor that cast its shadow over his own home.  After some thought, he crumpled up the paper in disgust.

Yet after several similar incidents, Jack must find some answers to this mysterious writing and seeks the help of Simon Fitzstephen, an author and local expert on the early Church in Britain and Grail mythology.  Eventually, the two form a group with an unlikely set of members, including a 17-year-old pregnant runaway who is being sheltered by an eccentric woman best described as an aging hippie. The group meets to discuss the messages, which have come more frequently, and tries to discover the meaning behind them.

Jack doesn't want too many people aware of what is going on, thinking they will suspect that he has lost his mind.  But when a good friend is seriously injured in a suspicious hit-and-run accident, he calls upon his cousin, Scotland Yard Inspector Duncan Kincaid, to come to investigate. Kincaid doesn't want to leave his own caseload of homicides to investigate a possible accident out of his jurisdiction, but then realizes this would be the perfect opportunity for a weekend getaway to mend the strained relationship with his former partner and lover, Gemma James.

Duncan and Gemma's romantic weekend suddenly turns serious as another of Jack's group is found murdered, and the two find themselves involved in a full-fledged investigation.  While the safety of the rest of the group is a concern until the killer is found, Gemma finds herself especially concerned about the welfare of the pregnant teenager, Faith, who seems to face danger of another kind--the mythical dark forces of the Tor, the "Old Ones," threaten chaos and destruction as Samhain, or All Hallows' Eve, approaches.

17th century engraving of Glastonbury--from Wikimedia Commons

Two very likable protagonists, a host of interesting and sometimes eccentric supporting characters, Celtic lore, and the setting of Glastonbury--a site associated with the myth of Joseph of Arimathea and sometimes identified as the Isle of Avalon in Arthurian legends--what more could you ask for in a murder mystery? A Finer End is one of those mysteries that will draw you in and keep you reading late into the night.

The colorful leaves of autumn are bringing the year to a "Finer End" as well.

I first discovered Deborah Crombie's novels sometime in the past year when I was looking for a new mystery. Although Crombie now lives in the U.S., her London and other UK settings ring with authenticity, and her writing reminds me of some of my favorite British mystery writers.  Gemma and Duncan are compassionate and intelligent police officers, not the hard-bitten, cynical cops often found in American detective stories--though I like to read those, too, occasionally.  They are the kind of people you'd like to actually meet.

A Finer End is the seventh of fifteen books in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. I started with one of her newer books and then picked up some earlier ones in no particular order.  Other than making the development of Duncan and Gemma's relationship a little confusing, it really didn't matter, although I think I'll read the first in the series next.  Let's see--I've read six, so that means I have nine left to read.  That should keep me entertained for many of the cold winter nights ahead!

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review.  I review only books I enjoy and think others would enjoy reading too.  I purchased and downloaded this book on my Kindle.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: Planning for Next Season

It's Wildflower Wednesday, and usually at this time of year I still have one dependable wildflower blooming--Aster pilosus, also known as Frost Aster.

Frost Aster in October 2012
But not this year.  My husband has been on a weeding and trimming mission around all the farm buildings this past month, and the only remnants of this weedy wildflower were a few puny specimens whose blooms had already turned to fluffy seedheads.  That's too bad, not only because the bees enjoy the nectar of this late-season bloomer, but the name is so appropriate this week.  We had our first hard frost Monday night, and overnight all the annuals turned to mush.

What I do have this week are two late blooming coneflowers that seem unfazed by the cold.  The little specks of white on the center disk are the remains of the frost two hours after sunrise. The frost has jolted me from my denial that winter might be on the way and shifted my fall garden chores into high gear.  I've brought in some annuals to overwinter and transplanted some perennials from containers into the garden.  A few spring bulbs have been planted, but many more need to be planted, not to mention a clean-up of the garden in general.

Prairie Area at Chicago Botanic Garden, Spring '09
Also on the fall to-do list is some seed planting.  It may seem strange to plant seeds at this time of year, especially here in zone 5-6, but many wildflowers need cold stratification to germinate.  I first saw Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea, at the Chicago Botanic Garden during Spring Fling in '09, and was so taken with them.  But it wasn't until this spring that I finally purchased some seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery.  By the time it was dry enough here to plant them, however, it was also too warm, so I decided to wait until this fall.

Image from Prairie Moon Nursery website

Golden Alexanders not only provide these pretty yellow blooms, but they are an important source of nectar in the spring for short-tongued bees, wasps, and other insects.  Bumblebees, small butterflies, and the caterpillars of several butterflies and moths, including the Black Swallowtail, also visit these plants for nourishment.

Image from Prairie Moon website
Included in my order from Prairie Moon was a free packet of seed for Ascelpias incarnata, also known as Swamp Milkweed.  I've been wanting to plant some type of milkweed for some time, and these pretty rosy blooms look different enough from the common milkweed that grows freely around here that I don't think my husband will mistake them for "weeds."  Swamp Milkweed is the only Illinois milkweed that favors wetland conditions, so I will definitely have to be careful about keeping this watered during the summer.

According to Illinois Wildflowers, Swamp Milkweed is a favorite of a whole host of insects, butterflies, caterpillars, and even hummingbirds.  But for me, the main reason for planting milkweed is for this creature...

A late visitor this past weekend--I certainly hope he made it safely out of the area before the frost!
As most readers know, the number of Monarch butterflies has been in serious decline in recent years.  There are many factors which have contributed to this decline, some of which we have no control over.  But one way in which we as individuals can help this magnificent butterfly is to provide more of its host plant. I'm going to sow some of the Swamp Milkweed seeds as well as the Golden Alexanders and some other wildflower seeds I have this fall, and then sow the rest in late winter over the snow, which has proven successful with poppies and larkspur in the past.  I don't know which timing will be the most successful, but I hope at least one of these, if not both, will provide the pollinators with some important food sources next year.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by our hostess at Clay and Limestone.  Thanks, Gail, for reminding us of the importance of planting for all the important little creatures that visit our gardens!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

GBBD: Before the Frost

It can't be October 15 already!  Where has the month gone??  We've had so many warm sunny days since the end of summer that I have been lulled into a sense of complacency that it will last forever.  Fall clean-up chores have been put off--it's hard to pull up annuals when they're still blooming.  Spring bulbs arrived last week, but my habit of planting bulbs usually involves a biting wind and layers of sweatshirts, not temperatures in the 80's.  But the forecast for later this week indicates a change is in the air; it's time for me to stop procrastinating and get serious about gardening once again.  It's also means I need to take some time to enjoy the last blooms of the garden while I can.

One of the highlights of the garden this fall has been this Encore Azalea.  Both plants, gifts from Southern Living, have been covered in blooms for the past few weeks.  They're still babies, but if they continue to bloom like this as they grow in the coming years, I will be thrilled.

I've often complained sadly noted that my one Japanese Anemone, planted a few years ago, has never bloomed.  Much to my delight, I discovered that I was wrong!  Looking more closely at the arbor bed one day, I discovered it was doing just fine, just blooming later than I expected.  I'm not sure if this is 'Honorine Jobert' or 'Robustissima,'  but I really don't care--I'm just excited to see it finally blooming.  One thing I do know, however, is that it's hidden behind some taller plants--some moving around needs to be done so that it can be better appreciated.

The ubiquitous 'Stella D'Oro' lilies have put out a few last gasps.  I usually have a couple of re-bloomers in the fall, but this is the only daylily that has re-bloomed this year.

The days are numbered for the annuals, in particular, as a killing frost could come any day now.  Most of the containers are looking pretty shabby anyway.  I've replenished a few with fall annuals like pansies, kale, and mums, but I'm going to let most of them fade/freeze away so I can clean them out.  Say what you will about mums, I like them for their fall color.

The containers that still look the best are the ones filled with coleus.  Wish I could remember the name of this one because it's been my favorite with deep magenta leaves that turn almost black in the center.  I'm glad I remembered one of the lessons learned last fall and planted several containers focusing on foliage rather than blooms.

While the coleus are doomed to go with the first frost, the impatiens protected somewhat on the porch wall may last a little longer.  I've planted this living wreath with a bargain flat of impatiens for several years now, but it's never done as well as this year.  Even though it's looking a bit bedraggled now, it has been full of blooms all summer.

The Hyacinth Bean Vine has a few blooms and its distinctive purple pods, though it never turned into the monster it usually becomes.

While many annuals have seen better days, the lantana is looking even better than earlier in the season.  This is my favorite annual for hot, dry summers.

A volunteer petunia, whose origins remain a mystery to me, is still putting out some blooms in the arbor bed.

And of course, there are still zinnias!  While cleaning up the roadside garden one day, I got distracted by two Monarchs flitting about.  I was so in awe of two Monarchs at once that I completely forgot what I had set out to do. They floated from one flower to another, but always landed on the zinnias--reason enough to plant these old-fashioned favorites.

The arbor bed is full of 'Victoria' Salvias--the 'Blues' were mostly planted from seedlings this spring, but all the 'Victoria Whites' are volunteers. Probably my favorite fall annual--it will take a hard freeze before these pretties finally lose their appeal.  And in front of them, of course, is the annual I've bragged about so much this year, the 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias.  These have been blooming nonstop--and with very little deadheading from this lazy gardener--since the end of July.

As if you need further motivation to plant these gorgeous zinnias, the butterflies love them.  The Red Admirals and a few other butterflies have made a late arrival here, and I'm enjoying them, too, for as long as possible, knowing that it won't be long before they head for warmer climes.

While it's only a matter of time before the frost claims all the annuals, there will still be some color in the garden for awhile.  'October Skies' asters are full of light blue/lavender blooms right now.  I don't often show a fuller shot of this late perennial--ignore the weeds, please!--but I wanted you to get the full effect of these mounds of blooms.

Love these blue blooms--and so do the bees!

Another late fall favorite--the Beautyberry--is full of lavender berries.

Late fall is also peak time for the grasses. 'Morning Light' Miscanthus will be waving in the breeze not only after the frost, but all through the winter.

How is your garden doing this fall?  Stop by May Dreams Gardens where our hostess Carol welcomes all to join in this monthly celebration of what is blooming on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.