Saturday, June 21, 2014

Spring Lessons and Celebrating Summer

Tuesday evening I attended our local Master Gardeners' meeting and invited my good friend to join me.  I don't always go to the meetings, but the speaker this time was a well-known member of our local group talking about shade plants other than hostas, and her talks are always informative and interesting.   She's been in the horticulture industry for over 30, maybe 40 years--I'm too polite to ask her age:)  She's a member of the American Hosta Society, the Daylily Society, the Peony Society, and probably several others that I didn't catch.  Suffice it to say, she's an expert on so many gardening topics, and her own garden is magnificent.  During her introduction, she said that despite her experience, she learns something new every day about gardening.  Wow, I thought, if she's still learning new gardening tips, how much more must there be that I haven't learned!

Certainly, every season I learn something new from experiences in my own garden, and as part of Beth at Plant Postings' season meme "Lessons Learned,"  I'd like to share a few things I have learned this last spring.

"Tulip Hill" wasn't much of a hill this year--note the chewed off tulips in the center and to the far right.

1.  Rabbits and deer really are pests.  For years, I've been bragging how these two critters leave my garden alone.  I've empathized with fellow bloggers who have had to resort to all kinds of devices and techniques to keep them out of their gardens, often to no avail.  But I sat smugly at my computer and commented that the dogs and maybe the cats kept the deer and rabbits from sticking around long enough to munch on my plants. Obviously, it doesn't pay to be too smug, because this spring they found my garden, too, and I was not a happy gardener! 

A gorgeous double tulip--'Sunlover.'  You can see there should have been two blooms here, not one.

If I were a rabbit or deer, I'd go for something tasty-sounding, like this 'Sorbet.'  But they're not choosy diners.
I learned very quickly this spring that my garden isn't immune to these cute but destructive pests.  It's not going to stop me from planting more tulips this fall, but I've decided to plant only daffodils in the new shade garden addition, which is right along the deer's grazing path.  Why tempt them any more?

2. Winter questions have been answered. In my spring post on "Lessons Learned,"  I was still wondering about a few experiments I had tried and whether they would be successful.  I had babied two 'Encore' azaleas over the winter, encasing them in burlap cages in hopes they would survive what turned out to be one of the worst winters in twenty years.  As of a couple of weeks ago, I would have sadly reported that they didn't make it.  I was in a state of denial and refused to pull them out for a long time, despite their very corpse-like appearance.  But so many plants were slow to emerge this spring, and one morning I looked out at the sidewalk garden, and my hopes began to rise.  Could it be?  No, those weren't little weeds popping up--there were leaves growing at the bottom of each azalea!  I was so excited, I promptly took a photo with my phone and texted my best friend.  Call it what you will, sometimes it pays to be a procrastinator or an idealist who refuses to see reality.

A few small azalea leaves give me hope.
Another experiment I was still waiting on as spring began didn't have such positive results.  In my first attempt at planting bulbs in a container, I paid attention to the experts' advice for my zone 5b garden and swathed the pot of tulips in bubble wrap and kept it on my semi-sheltered back porch.  Some time in late March I decided the worst of winter had to be over, and I took off the bubble wrap and moved the pot onto the patio.  Unfortunately, soon after, we had a torrential rainstorm.  It wasn't until a few days later that I noticed there was two inches of water sitting on top of the pot.   I still don't know if the tulips would have made it through the winter, but I'm pretty sure they rotted away in all that muddy soil.  Oh well, lesson learned--I'm going to try this again next year and remember spring rains as well as winter storms.

My last question held over from spring wasn't really an experiment at all--the planting of a new little serviceberry last fall and wondering whether it would survive the winter . . . and Frank the pug's constant "watering" of it.  I'm happy to report it had lots of sweet little white blooms this spring and is now covered in red berries that the birds are eating as fast as they can.  I've wanted a serviceberry for a long time, so I'm so happy to see it doing well and eager to see it grow even larger in the coming years.  And Frank is happy, too, that he's not in trouble:)

3. Spring is the shortest season of the year in Illinois.  Or maybe it just seems that way.  But this year it certainly was true--winter didn't want to give in, and our last snowfall was in mid-April.  By early May temperatures soared, and it seemed as if we went straight into summer, giving us about two or three weeks of true spring.  Spring is also the busiest time in the garden for me, making the days fly by even faster.  Besides garden clean-up and planting containers and annuals in the garden, I  finally got around to a small expansion of the shade garden that I've been wanting to do for some time.  I wanted to thin out and divide many of the plants in the original crowded shade area, but between frequent rain showers and warmer temperatures that made everything grow a foot overnight, I didn't get nearly as much done as I had hoped.

Can you tell where I dug out hostas?  Nope, I didn't think so.  Oh well, there's always next year to finish this job.

4. Some plants are really happy in my garden, or Mother Nature knows best.  While I have killed more plants than I care to remember and have babied others along, disappointed in their reluctance to thrive, there are a few plants that just love it here and continue to multiply.

One of those plants is salvia.  I've had two 'May Night' Salvias in the sidewalk garden for nine years, and they have been faithful performers, if not especially eye-catching.  But a few years ago I planted a division from our MG garden in the Arbor Bed, and it has not only thrived, but has re-seeded all over the place.  I even dug up some stray plants this spring and gave some away to a friend and even (gasp!) threw a few others on the compost pile.  I keep intending to dig them all up and transplant them at the back of the garden, because they weren't part of the original planting scheme, but so far haven't accomplished that.  If I ever do transplant them all together, I could have my own Mini River of Salvia, ala the Lurie Garden:)

Another happy plant in my garden is the Purple Coneflower.  I've had a lot of trouble growing some natives from seeds or even seedlings, but not this beauty!  I'm not sure if purists would call Echinacea Purpurea a native plant, but it's close enough.  It always re-seeds in my garden, but this year it has outdone itself, spreading to various flowerbeds where it was never planted and covering most of the sidewalk bed.  Again, that wasn't part of the plan for the sidewalk bed, but I've given in to Nature's plan and leaving them alone, at least until after they have all finished blooming.  In another week or two I should have a buffet feast for the butterflies, bees, and finches!

Asiatic lily blooms and Salvia from the garden
Probably the most important lesson I've learned this spring is really a holdover from the awful winter--to enjoy each and every day, no matter the weather, and not "wish" them away.  As the delicate blooms and softer hues of spring give way to the raucous colors and exuberant blossoms of summer, I am vowing not to complain about the heat and humidity and wish for cooler days instead--I said I'm going to try:)  Early mornings and the hour or two before sunset are enjoyable times to be in the garden, I've found.  And when it simply gets too hot, I'll bring my blooms indoors!

Besides linking in with Plant Postings, I'm also linking in with Donna at Gardens Eye View  for her Seasonal Celebrations.  You can visit both for more looks at the past season with an eye toward the months ahead.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June Bloom Day

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day once again--where has the time gone??  June is my favorite month, and here we are already halfway through it.  One of the reasons I always enjoy participating in this meme is that it gives me a monthly record of what is blooming throughout the year, and I can compare what is growing in my garden from year to year.  Looking back at last year's June post, I wasn't surprised to find that almost everything is later this year. Spring arrived late after the winter that wouldn't end, and then some hot days in May put a quicker than normal end to spring bulbs, but jump-started everything else.  Still, that jump-start wasn't quite enough to bring everything to its normal blooming time.

Usually by this time in June, I have a plethora of blooms from all the 'Stella d'Oro' lilies, but they are just beginning to open up.  Note my little lady friend on the bud.

Knockout roses are virtually indestructible, but even they were hit hard by this winter.  They, too, got a late start, but worst of all, there was some dieback.  I apologize for the bad photo, but I was trying to get a close-up.  The whole plant is not a pretty sight--I pruned these back hard this spring, but not enough. Time to get out the pruners and cut back all the bare canes sticking above the blooms, one more spring chore to add to the list.

The 'Radsunny' roses look a little better.  I bought two of these when they were fairly new on the market, and I wish I had known then that though the buds are a lovely yellow, they quickly fade to white as they open up.

 'Zephirine Drouhin' also got a hard pruning this spring.  She hasn't climbed up very far on the arbor trellis this year, but at least she's still putting out numerous pink blooms.

While the garden may be behind "schedule," one thing you won't hear me complain about this month is the weather.  We have had frequent rain showers, enough to keep all the plants happy.  Of course, it also means the weeds are happy, too, but I'll take some weeding time over a drought any day.

This is the time of year in the garden that I remember Christopher of Outside Clyde calling "the height of the lull."  It's that time of year between all the lovely spring bloomers and the riotous colors of daylilies and other summer flowers.  A couple of early coneflowers have appeared, but not the masses that I will have in a few weeks.  And I do mean masses--they have taken over my sidewalk bed and re-seeded themselves in a couple other flowerbeds as well!

 In a week or two, the lily show will begin as well. 
Act I begins with the Stellas, of course, and this Asiatic lily.

I bought a few of these bulbs at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show a few years ago, and I could have sworn I picked out Oriental lilies, not Asiatics.  Whatever tricks my mind has played on me, I do know I purchased "Salmon" lilies, but these hot orangey-red lilies are anything but salmon-colored!

Other blooms right now are much quieter:

'Neon Flash' Spirea, another shrub overdue for a good pruning.

'Little Henry' Itea

Lamium is filling in nicely as a groundcover in front of a large evergreen.  Note the little bee on the bloom.

This columbine has been blooming for several weeks.  I don't know its name as it was a tiny freebie in a hosta pot I purchased last year--I love a bargain like this, and I hope it re-seeds.

Other plants still blooming after several weeks--Delphinium, name forgotten.

'May Night' Salvia

Native Penstemons

But new blooms are on their way, such as this first bloom of the Nigella.

And the first red Poppy!  The seedlings are so thick in my garden that the pastel hues of June are surely going to turn into a red-hot July. 

What is blooming in your garden today?  To join in and see what is blooming all over, visit Carol at May Dream Gardens, who hosts GBBD the 15th of every month . . . when she's not busy picking peas:)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Invention of Wings: A Book Review

There was a time in Africa the people could fly.  Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old.  She said "Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself.  She say they flew like blackbirds.  When we came here, we left that magic behind."  Mauma pointed to her shoulder blades and said, "This all what left of your day you gon get 'em back."

Hetty Handful Grimke, a young slave in early 19th century Charleston, South Carolina, learns at her mother's knee to be proud despite her desperate situation in life.  Her mother is an accomplished seamstress who tells her life story through quilts and teaches Hetty the craft, until Hetty becomes even more skilled with the needle than Mauma.

Sarah Grimke, the privileged daughter of a white plantation owner, is brought up quite differently by her mother, who hopes only that Sarah will be a proper young Southern lady and eventually marry well.  Sarah, however, is headstrong and after devouring the books in her father's library, decides she wants to be a jurist just like her father, a "preposterous notion" for a young girl of the time.  At the age of four, she witnesses an act of cruelty to a slave that causes her to develop a speech impediment and affects her outlook on slavery for the rest of her life.

When Sarah is given Hetty as her personal slave on her 11th birthday, Sarah is horrified.  She tries to give her back, but her parents refuse her request.  Instead, the two girls form a bond, and Sarah teaches Hetty to read and write, a forbidden act, until one day their secret is discovered and both are punished, one physically and the other emotionally.

Despite their friendship, Hetty knows she is still a slave in everyone else's eyes and is more influenced by her mother, who, unbeknownst to her, has extracted a promise from young Sarah that she will one day free Hetty.  Mauma is also secretly saving money to buy Hetty's and her freedom eventually.  Despite the cruel punishments she receives for some of her acts of defiance, Mauma becomes even more determined to become a free woman.
"We might stay here the rest of our lives with the sky slammed shut, but Mauma had found the part of herself that refused to bow and scrape, and once you find that, you got trouble breathing on your neck."
As Hetty grows up, she performs her own secret acts of defiance, and her childhood friendship with Sarah becomes strained.  Sarah, meanwhile, is facing her own problems and disappointments.  Her only joy in life is her younger sister Angelina, whose care Sarah takes on as her personal responsibility. Angelina is pretty and much more outgoing than Sarah.  She shares Sarah's beliefs on slavery and grows up to become more outspoken and brave in her abolitionist views, eventually pushing Sarah to find her voice and her purpose in life.

The Invention of Wings traces the lives of the two protagonists over thirty-five years.  Monk alternates the voices of Hetty and Sarah, giving the reader two different perspectives of life during the era of slavery.  While Charleston, South Carolina remains firmly entrenched in its traditions, Sarah and Hetty are more critical of those traditions, and through the changes and disappointments they experience, they both eventually find their "wings."

The novel is fiction, but is based on the lives of two actual sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke of Charleston,  as Kidd explains in the Afterword.   By the late 1830's "they were arguably the most famous, as well as the most infamous, women in America, yet they seemed only marginally known [today]."  The Grimke sisters were the first female abolition agents and among the earliest American feminists, influencing such better-known feminists as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

It has been eight years since Sue Monk Kidd has written a novel, despite the success of her two previous works of fiction, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, two of my personal favorites.  Time certainly hasn't diminished her skills--her eloquent prose and memorable characters are just as strong in this inspiring book.  The book was all the more fascinating to me because of the basis in historical fact.  Why, I wondered, have so few people heard of these courageous sisters? Whatever the reason, after reading The Invention of Wings, no one will forget the remarkable Grimke sisters nor the fictional Hetty and their powerful story.

Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review, and I checked out The Invention of Wings from my local libary . . . after a long waiting list. As always, I review only books I enjoy and think others would enjoy reading too. 

Also, the photos here have nothing to do with the novel, other than the fact that one of Hetty's family members becomes quite an accomplished gardener.  Really, it was just a chance for me to show off some of what has been blooming in my garden the past week. Top to bottom: 'Walker's Low' Nepeta, 'Nelly Moser' Clematis, unnamed peony, and 'Immortality' iris.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy