Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Look Back at 2014

Bloom Day came and went, and I didn't get a post up.  It was the first time I ever missed a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in six years, but all I had to show was a measly store-bought poinsettia.

Christmas approached, and I meant to wish everyone a Merry Christmas . . . but I was busy shopping, cleaning, decorating, cleaning, wrapping, cleaning . . . that I missed posting again.

Now that the holidays are nearing an end, there is finally time to sit back and reflect on the year that has passed.  Like the Facebook posting that so many of us participated in, 2014 really was a great year, especially in the garden.

2014 certainly didn't start off on a good note, however.  We had one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record, with snowplow drivers putting in hours of overtime and school officials worrying about the number of snow days adding up.  There was plenty of time for completing indoor projects and poring through seed catalogs.

But as the weeks dragged on and winter showed no signs of leaving, gardeners in my part of the country started to get antsy.  Not much to do but keeping the bird feeders filled and enjoy the birds visiting outside my window.

In late March I made a trip south to visit my daughter in Dallas. Thank goodness, spring had arrived there!  I spent a day visiting the Dallas Arboretum during their annual Bulb Festival, where my longing for spring color was satisfied, temporarily.

Back at home in early April, the first signs of spring were beginning to emerge.  Crocuses, blooming much later than other years, were the first to brave the cold, besides the snowdrops.  But winter wasn't over yet--a snowshower in mid-April glazed the opening hyacinths and early daffodils, making me wonder if winter was ever going to end!

April 30, 2014

But the longest winter ever finally gave in to spring by the end of April, as the many tulips in my garden began to open alongside late daffodils.

Regular readers may remember that spring is my favorite season of the year, and that I absolutely love tulips!

I probably spend more time just wandering through the garden in the spring than any other time of the year, marveling at each new bloom that appears.  In fact, my idea of heaven is an eternal spring--filled with tulips.

One downside this past year was that deer and/or rabbits also discovered my tulips.  They destroyed only a small fraction of the tulip population here; still, I hope that next year they will find tasty treats somewhere other than my garden.

But, of course, it's not just tulips and other spring bulbs that attract attention this time of year.  'Jack Frost' Brunnera and other spring bloomers are favorites, too.

The shade garden in early May shows not only tulips, but the bleeding heart, Brunnera, and emerging foliage that took over the whole area by late June.

When summer arrived, it was time for the lilies to put on their display.  Some of the newer lilies like this Oriental, 'Stargazer,' put on a growth spurt this year and were more prolific bloomers than in years past.

The older ones continued to multiply and reminded me that it is past time to divide them--a job that has been put on the to-do list for 2015.

Despite the already crowded conditions in the Lily Bed, my friend Beckie and I took a trip to our favorite daylily farm in August, and of course, I came home with several new beauties.  I found temporary homes for each of them in any bare spot of soil I could find, but I realized the idea I had for a new garden bed was more than just a dream, but a necessity for next year.

The summer of 2014 was one of the best years for gardening in my memory.  Plentiful rainfall throughout the season created ideal conditions for growing, and rarely did I have to drag out the hoses other than to water containers.  There were only a few days of miserably hot weather--unlike the norm--so that I could enjoy working in the garden nearly every day.  The only negative I can think of about this summer is that it wasn't a good year for butterflies.  They were conspicuously absent for most of the summer, although the coneflowers, as always, brought out the few there were.

And speaking of coneflowers, it was a fantastic year for them, When I say I had a lot of coneflowers, I mean a plethora of coneflowers!  No wonder it's one of my all-time favorite flowers--they make me look like I have a bright green thumb:)

I always enjoy pleasant surprises in the garden, and this past summer included several of them, including the surprise appearance of gray-headed coneflowers, Ratibida pinnata, which I have tried to grow for several years.  Some variety of Helenium also appeared in the Butterfly Garden for the first time; I'm not sure if they were seedlings that took a long time to mature or seeds I scattered in a previous year and long-forgotten, but whatever their origin, I was so happy to see them.

One of the highlights of 2014 was definitely attending the Portland Fling in July.  Three wonderful days of meeting new gardening friends and seeing so many fabulous gardens was an experience I will long remember.  The only negative to the whole trip was the heat the first two days, but gardeners can be a little creative in finding ways to cool off:)

Another memorable road trip was much closer to home as Beckie and I travelled to Janesville, Wisconsin in September to meet up with Beth of Plant Postings for a tour of the Rotary Botanical Gardens.  This is a botanical garden definitely worth visiting, and it was so much fun to meet Beth in person.  In fact, we hope to do it again in 2015 and hope some other nearby bloggers might join us--we'll keep you posted!  (And I promise I'm going to write a post on this garden very soon.)

Summer slowly morphed into autumn, and the 'Limelight' Hydrangea grew taller than ever before.

As summer perennials faded, annuals kept up the color.  Different varieties of cosmos bloomed all summer long up until the first frost.

All the rainfall through the summer and into the fall meant a banner year for annuals, including one of my favorites, the 'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnia, still blooming here in mid-October.

Fall also brought the butterflies at long last.  Although my attempts at growing milkweed this year were a failure, the butterflies found the zinnias an attractive alternative.

The asters put on their usual show in September, sharing space with goldenrod as the two took over most of my Butterfly Garden.

In mid-October I had another surprise as two tall plants finally burst into bloom in the Butterfly Garden.  Several readers confirmed my suspicion that these are Aster tataricus, a tall late aster, but I am still scratching my head over how they came to be here.  I'll probably never know.

Not a surprise, but a plant that certainly made me happy--after years of waiting, the Japanese Anemones finally leapt this year and produced an abundance of blooms.

As if to make up for the awful winter, fall was a glorious time, full of beautiful color and mild weather that lasted longer than most years.  There was ample to time to plant spring bulbs and complete fall chores, though I always seem to think of more I wish I had done.

But all good things must come to an end, and on October 30 we had our first killing frost.

Although the frost brought an end to the annuals and other blooms, there were a few vignettes of beauty that lasted awhile longer as this photo, one of my favorites from the past year, shows.

We haven't had any measurable snow this winter; the light covering above occurred a week before Thanksgiving.  December has been more like a typical November, rainy and gloomy, though we had a beautiful sunny day on Christmas Day.  The year is ending on a much milder note than it began.

Mild temperatures through the summer, an extended fall, and most of all, plentiful rain meant 2014 was a wonderful year to be in the garden.

Oh, and did I mention that we have a new grandson born just before Christmas?  Yes, indeed, 2014 was a great year!

I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas, 
and I wish you all health and happiness and, of course, 
the best gardening season ever in the coming New Year!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lessons Learned in the Garden: Fall 2014

The winter solstice is a short time away, the official beginning of Winter and the day of the year when we can rejoice that the days will soon become longer again.  In the Midwest, though, Winter doesn't pay much attention to the calendar.  Although we haven't had the snowfall that some parts of the country had in November, we've had enough cold days to know that Autumn is long gone.  In my part of the country we have another season--"Winterum."  Winterum is that time of year when skies are gloomy and gray, and any warm afternoons are reserved for putting up outdoor Christmas decorations, not working in the garden. Winterum often begins in early November and sometimes lasts until January.  Frankly, if it weren't for the holiday rush that makes this time go by so quickly, I would say that Winterum is my least favorite season of the year.

Despite the fact that I can no longer work in the garden, dull Winterum is a good time to reflect upon the last season and to participate in Beth at Plant Postings' seasonal meme "Garden Lessons Learned."  Before my memories of  garden successes and failures fade away, here are a few of the lessons I learned this past season:

1. Fall is my second favorite season of the year!  Now that may not seem like much of a lesson one has to learn, but back in my days of working full-time, fall meant the beginning of a new school year with new lesson plans to create and adjusting to a busy schedule after a summer off.  One or more of my kids was usually involved in a fall sport as well, meaning evenings included games or meets or carpooling after practices.  That didn't leave much time for watching sunsets or leaf-peeping, unless noticing the changing color of leaves while whizzing down the highway counts.

Now that my time is my own--usually--I've come to enjoy the cooler, crisp days of Autumn and enjoy the changes around me. I even appreciate the fading foliage and blooms of the garden.

In fact, about the the only thing I don't like about Fall is that it is the shortest season of the year.  This year we had a little extra time to enjoy the season as the first frost and then a hard freeze came late; usually we are lucky if we have four or six weeks of true Autumn weather.  (For more fall color, you can click here.)

Other lessons I learned recently aren't specific to fall, but rather lessons I gradually learned over the past year:

Nothing like a trowel and a little patch of dirt to keep a three-year-old entertained for a long time!

2.  It's okay to ask for a little help in the garden.  Over the years I've occasionally enlisted the help of my grandkids when I had some big jobs I couldn't seem to get done.  The oldest two grandchildren aren't particularly interested in gardening, but they're always willing to help Grandma, and though they would do it for free, Grandma is more than happy to pay them for their efforts.  In the past they have pulled weeds, spread mulch, and planted tulips for me.  But mostly, the "help" I get from the younger ones is more play than work, a way of getting them to enjoy a little bit of nature.

Youngest grandson above discovered the vegetable garden this summer, and every time he came over, the first thing he would ask to do was to go "pick 'matoes."  When I cleaned up the vegetable garden this fall, he was fascinated by the green beans still on the vines I had pulled--which surprised me, too!--and had to pick off every one before I could toss the plants on the compost pile.

I even enlisted his help in planting a few crocuses one day--with Sophie's supervision, as you'll notice.  I'm pretty sure several of them were planted upside down, so we'll see if they come up, but at least he had fun.  And I hope when he sees them bloom next spring, he'll remember planting them.

His older sister, Granddaughter #2,  is the one who has always been most interested in the garden.  But her help has been limited by her attention span or the heat or "too many bees" in the garden.  Until this year, that is. Not only is she growing up way too fast at 11-going-on-sixteen,  she also had a special incentive this year to help me--saving up for horseback riding lessons.  Grandma was more than willing to oblige with a flexible part-time job.

Besides helping to plant bulbs and some garden clean-up in the fall, she also helped to shovel and tote load after load of mulch to more remote areas of the garden during the summer.  I discovered that not only is she almost as tall as Grandma, but she is pretty darned strong for an 11-year-old.  I just hope my neighbor's horses continue to entice her:)

I've always thought that it was almost like cheating if you had much outside help in the garden. When people ask me about my small garden, I take a kind of smug satisfaction in saying that yes, I've done it all myself from digging up grass, weeds, and even rocks for every flowerbed I have, besides planting every single plant.  Oh, don't get me wrong--if I suddenly won the lottery, I'd hire a landscape designer and a crew with a backhoe to dig up half the yard in a heartbeat!  But I would want to choose and plant everything myself as well as do the day-to-day maintenance.

I remember reading Sydney Eddison's Gardening for a Lifetime  several years ago in which she gives advice for gardeners as they age.  One of her tips is to enlist more help in the garden.  I'm afraid I've reached that age where even my small garden is becoming harder and harder to maintain without aching knees or the latest malady--painful tendonitis in my hand from too much weed-pulling.  Next year I plan to enlist help from my granddaughter on a more regular basis, or if she is too busy, I might recruit another budding young gardener from the community.

3.  I've learned so many lessons about gardening this year as a volunteer.  As a Master Gardener intern four years ago, I spent some time volunteering at the County Nursing Home Garden.  I was already volunteering at the Idea Garden which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I intended to just fulfill my community service hours requirement at the Nursing Home and then move on.  But I found the Nursing Home group was such an enjoyable group to work with, and the co-chairs had such a wealth of knowledge on gardening that I found myself picking their brains every chance I could.  So I continued volunteering in this garden for the next three seasons.

Last summer Phyllis, the co-chair who had been one of the original creators of this garden before it even became an MG community project, developed health problems and decided to step down.  The other co-chair, Carol, decided she would retire as well.  Two of my friends asked another friend and me if we would serve as co-chairs with them this year.  I hesitantly agreed--even the four of us couldn't fill the shoes of Phyllis and Carol!

One of our faithful volunteers ready to deadhead any faded blossom.
Being a co-chair of this garden this year has been a tremendous learning experience.  Instead of one of the minions who asked what needed to be done and then attended to that task only, whether deadheading or weeding, I was suddenly supposed to know what everyone else should do!  I'll be honest--in past years, I wasn't a regular volunteer.  I showed up when it was convenient for me--or if it wasn't going to be 90 degrees that morning:)  But this year, I was there every Monday workday, other than the week of the Portland Fling, whether it was spitting rain or steaming hot.

Big jobs are easily taken care of when you have great help--we spread both compost and mulch over the whole garden in one workday morning!
Maintaining a garden that someone else has designed and planted is certainly different than working in your own garden.  I view the garden as others see it, not the way I would like it to be--though I certainly wish my own garden was as well-maintained and weed-free as this garden is!  Thanks to a great group of faithful volunteers, keeping the garden looking beautiful is fairly easy.

I began to feel a sense of ownership and pride in this garden.  The four of us felt a responsibility, not only to the residents and staff who enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the garden, but to Phyllis and Carol who had lovingly created and maintained this garden for so long.  I noticed things in the garden I hadn't seen before, especially the careful planning that had gone into it, making sure the garden looked appealing every season of the year:



And  Fall

I can't begin to list all the lessons I learned from being one of those in charge of this garden this year--this post is already long enough! But they include everything from record-keeping and budgeting to recruiting volunteers.  When we weren't sure how to prune some of the shrubs, we divvied up our questions, and each of the four of us researched a specific shrub.  My research helped me in my own garden, too, in deciding how to prune my smokebush.  We learned how to compromise and make the best use of each other's strengths.  Most of all, we learned to put individual preferences aside and to remember always the mission of the garden.

Once again, as I look back at the past season, I am surprised by all that I have learned.  Thanks to Beth for hosting this meme--you can view lessons learned by others at Plant Postings.  I'm sure next season will bring  more new experiences to learn from--after all, gardeners grow, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Late November GBBD

I know I'm very late for this month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I do have a good excuse.  We've been away, visiting Daughter and Son-in-law in Texas, and by the time we got back home, this is what was left of any blooms I might have had before:

 It was a very chilly 12 degrees when we arrived home late Tuesday night; not even the pansies like it this cold!

We had a beautiful fall that lasted longer than usual, with the first killing frost not arriving until October 30.  But winter has definitely arrived early this year.  Late last week the temperatures dipped well below the November normal, and the snow and wind blew.  Thankfully, though, we had only a dusting of snow, not the avalanche of snow that fell on the Northeast.

 It seems there were very few places in the U.S. that escaped the polar vortex this past week.  Even in Dallas--no sitting by the pool on this trip, and no excursions to the Dallas Arboretum this time.  But we had a good visit nonetheless, and since Daughter and Son-in-law are expecting their first child in early January, I know there will be many more trips to Texas coming up soon.

With the holidays coming up, I am actually glad that garden work is done for the year.  And once they are over, I know that I will be soon be spending cold winter nights planning once again for that elusive "perfect" garden.

Thanks to our hostess Carol for sponsoring Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day every month.  And since I know I won't be posting for at least another week, I want to wish you all . . .

A Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review Club: V. I. is Back!

"Oh." The syllable is a soft cry of ecstasy.  She has never seen colors like those on the floor, red running into orange, yellow, green.  The purple is so rich, like grape juice, she wants to jump into it.  When she runs over to look, the colors disappear.  Her mouth rounds with bafflement: she thought Frau Herschel had painted the rainbow on the floor . . . In later years, Martina remembers none of [the rest of this experience].  She remembers only the rainbow on the floor, and the discovery that the cut glass in the nursery windows created it.

A little girl's discovery of prisms in 1913 Vienna seems like an odd way for the latest V. I. Warshawski novel to begin, since the tough-talking, persistent P.I. usually is embroiled in some kind of corruption in Chicago while solving a case.  But when she receives a call from her long-time friend Dr. Lotty Herschel to help a patient of hers in distress,  Vic soon finds herself in an investigation that involves almost as much research in the University library as in skirmishes with various bad guys.

Judy Binder, a hopeless drug addict, is not only Lotty's patient, but she is also the daughter of someone Lotty knew as a child refugee in London during WWII, so she feels especially duty-bound to help her.  Judy's desperate phone call that someone is trying to kill her leads Vic to a meth house downstate where she discovers a rotting corpse in a cornfield but no sign of Judy.

With few clues to help her, Vic goes to the home of Judy's mother, Kitty, a strange and paranoid woman, who like Lotty, escaped the Holocaust years ago.  There Vic discovers that Judy's son Martin is also missing, and Kitty hires her to find him.  Martin's mother and grandmother may have problems, but it turns out that he is also the great-grandson of Martina, a brilliant physicist forced to work on top-secret research on the atomic bomb by the Nazis.  Martin has inherited her gift for science.

What starts out as a hunt for two missing persons turns into a complex case for Vic, as she goes up against low-life drug dealers, the CEO of a major technology firm, and even Homeland Security. How a meth house, the Nazis' work on an atomic bomb, and research into cutting-edge technology today all relate to a single crime sounds implausible, but Paretsky ties all the subplots together in a logical and satisfying ending.

V.I. Warshawski has been around for 30 years, and I hope she's around for many, many more.  Unlike Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone--of whom I'm also a fan--who has been stuck in the 1980's for a whole series, V. I. has aged with time.  Now in her 50's, she may be a little slower and take longer to heal from the injuries she always seems to receive in her investigations, but she can still hold her own with anyone who tries to confront her.

I somehow managed to escape taking a single physics course during my school days, an omission I really don't care to remedy.  But despite my ignorance on this subject, the important role physics plays in Critical Mass didn't distract or confuse me in the least.  Paretsky has obviously done her research, but doesn't expect either Warshawski or the reader to understand complex scientific principles.  Rather, she presents Martina's and Martin's desire to understand the "harmonies" in nature and knowing how all the pieces fit together in a way that is makes us admire them.  I imagine that their fascination with natural laws isn't really that different from a gardener's or naturalist's fascination with a bee enjoying pollen.

I've read all the books in the Warshawski series, and I have to say that Sara Paretsky just gets better and better.  The plots have become more complex and deal with some timely issues.  V. I. may have mellowed a bit over the years, but she's still the best female P. I. in fiction today

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  I received no compensation of any kind for this review, and as always, I review only books I like.  I bought my own copy of Critical Mass, but being frugal I waited impatiently until it came out in paperback.

Note:  The photos here have nothing to do with this post; they are just a few pictures I like that I've taken recently.  For more photos of fall color in my area, see my previous post.