Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: A Perfect Book For Those Chilly Nights Ahead

It's hard to believe it's December already.  I think the extended fall lulled me into a feeling that it would last forever.  But, of course, it didn't, and a cold spell right before Thanksgiving ended all the garden work for the year.  Now it's on to the busy season--decorating, gift-shopping, and all the other activities that make the holidays an enjoyable, but hectic season.  Today is also the last meeting of the year of the Book Review Club, and I wanted to participate this month with a book I really, really enjoyed and think you will, too.  Because it's a busy time, I'll keep this review short.

Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow is on a forced holiday after some trouble handling a case of an abandoned child on her job at the Met.  Retreating to her grandfather's home in Cornwall, she can't let go of the case and continues to mull over what she might have missed.  One day, while on a run, she discovers an abandoned estate.  Sadie is intrigued by the beautiful but overgrown grounds of Loeanneth and becomes even more so when she discovers the reason it was abandoned.  Seventy years earlier, the young son of the Edevanes, the homeowners, disappeared without a clue.  Sadie is drawn to the story and begins investigating, hoping to find the answer to the cold case and provide closure to the remaining family members as well as restore her own self-confidence as an investigator.

Back in London, A.C. Edevane is at work on her latest mystery novel.  At 86, A.C., or Alice as she is known to family and friends, has had a successful career as a novelist and has a reputation for being independent and self-assured.  But she harbors a guilty secret, one that has bothered her for seventy years.

The first snow hit our area on Saturday, November 21.

 Like Morton's other novels, The Lake House jumps back and forth between the present and an earlier time period--in this case, the 1930's--when a young romantic Alice spends her days writing stories and secretly following a young gardener on whom she has a crush.  Loeanneth is an idyllic setting filled with the sights and sounds of a happy family, including the nature-loving father Alice adores, until the happiness is shattered by the loss of her baby brother.  In the present-day setting, Sadie and Alice's paths inevitably cross as Sadie digs deeper into the mystery.

Tiny crabapples make for a study in red and white.

The book jacket describes The Lake House as "multi-layered," and I can think of no better adjective to describe it.  Every character, it seems, has his or her own secret, including Sadie the detective.  Little by little, the secrets are revealed, but it isn't until the very end that all of them come together to provide a very satisfying conclusion.  While the reader begins to suspect what happened to the missing Edevane brother before that time, the whole mystery isn't resolved until the last few pages, including a surprising twist that I wasn't expecting.

Hydrangeas and coneflowers always look so much better with a dollop of snow.

Big thick flakes fell for a few hours, spotting the camera lens.

This is the fourth novel by Kate Morton that I've read, and I've never been disappointed--in fact, this one might be my new favorite.  After reading several crime/detective/spy novels before this, it was nice to read a good mystery without violence or evil villains, but with characters who believe in love, loyalty, and personal sacrifice.

The snow was gone in a few days, but it was magical while it lasted.

If you have a friend who enjoys mysteries, The Lake House would make an ideal Christmas gift.  Better yet, buy or check out a copy for yourself for those long winter nights ahead--you won't be disappointed!

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@Barrie Summy

As with all the books I review here, I received no compensation of any kind for writing this review and usually review only books I enjoy. I was lucky enough to be the first on the waiting list for The Lake House when a new copy arrived at my local library.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Few Surprises for November Bloom Day

It is time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I didn't think I would participate this month. Although we've had a beautiful and unusually long fall, a light frost right after the October Bloom Day put an end to most of my annuals.  Not everyone in my area had the same results, but living in the country with little shelter for most of my garden, my poor plants are pretty exposed to the elements. About the only bloom I thought I had this month was the first bloom on the Thanksgiving cactus, a pretty paltry offering for November Bloom Day.  But I decided to walk around this morning with my camera anyway and was happy to see a few surprises.

The frosty Sedum is what most of my garden now looks like in the morning.  We have had a killing frost this past week, so even my neighbors' gardens look the same.

The 'Victoria Blue' salvia stood up to the light frost, but this week was too much for it.  Today the blooms are spindly little shadows of themselves.  I still haven't had time to pull all the dead annuals, but these will stay in the garden over the winter anyway--they usually re-seed somewhat for me, and I'm not about to turn down free plants!

Amsonia glowing in the early morning sun.

While most of the garden is brown, there is some foliage still to enjoy.  The Amsonia hubrichtii in my  header photo has since faded, but the Amsonia tabernaemontana is making a run at taking its place with its now golden foliage.

Walking towards the shade garden I thought I spied some type of red bloom, but I discovered it was a Heuchera glowing in the sun.

Nearby, the Hellebores provide the only true green foliage left in my garden.  They will look like this most of the winter, providing a reminder to me that yes, spring will come again.  You might notice all the leaves in this and several other photos.  Many gardeners shred their leaves and use them as mulch in the garden.  I usually don't take the time to shred mine, however, and just rake them into the garden beds to help protect the plants during the winter.  This year I didn't have time to rake leaves, but strong storm winds this past week blew all the leaves out of the yard and into the fields and conveniently deposited just enough in all the flowerbeds.  Sometimes it pays to be a lazy gardener:)

While most of the leaves are gone from the trees, the Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy' still sports lots of little berries.  Now I am waiting for the cardinals to return this winter to see if they really like them.

With camera in hand this morning, I went in search of the one plant I thought might still be blooming.  'Walker's Low' Nepeta still has a few blooms though not many.  This is one plant besides Sedum I'd recommend to anyone wanting a true low-maintenance garden.  It needs very little care and blooms nonstop all season.

Another plant, but an annual for me, that I love is 'Homestead Purple' Verbena.  I was surprised to see a few blooms still remaining on this plant, but it will last until the temperatures dip into the 20's.  I only wish the local garden centers would carry this plant.  Even though it's not hardy here, it is a beauty--and a much darker purple than this photo shows--and lasts so long.

Not surprisingly, the geraniums and a few petunias are still in bloom in the porch planter.  I often dig up the geraniums and over-winter them, but I haven't had time to do that yet.  Judging by the forecast, if I wait much longer, it will be too late.

As I said earlier, I wasn't expecting to find anything really in bloom this morning, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this hardy little Rudbeckia hidden among the leaves.

But the biggest surprise of all was finding this clematis bloom.  My clematis didn't bloom at all this year, so I have no idea why it waited till November.  This made the walk around the garden this morning worth it!

Looking back at my Bloom Day post from last November, I discovered that I had nothing blooming at all, because it had SNOWED!  Good grief, I'm not going to complain at all this year and be thankful for the few blooms I have.  And that puny little cactus bloom will wait until December.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted the 15th of each month by the ever-optimistic Carol at May Dreams Gardens.  I always enjoy participating and keeping a record of what is blooming in my garden as well as seeing what everyone else has in bloom.  Why not join us?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Welcome Sound of Rain

Rain, rain, glorious rain!  After at least a month with no significant rainfall, a gentle rain is falling this morning, and I am thrilled.

Normally, I wouldn't complain about day after day of warm and sunny weather in October, but when you are trying to plant bulbs in ground that is as hard as concrete, you start wishing for gray days with rain soaking the soil.  Pulling out weeds and even dead annuals isn't easy either, when their roots are stuck in the aforementioned cement.

I've planted most of the bulbs in the garden, where the soil is much better, but I have crocuses I want to plant in part of the lawn and daffodils around some trees, so a good rain should make these two jobs much easier.  I've also done just a little garden clean-up, including pulling/cutting back most of the Rudbeckia triloba.  Although the seedheads look rather cool,  they were in my way as I planted tulips.  Besides, these brown-eyed Susans took over one area of the lily bed this summer, and I really don't want any more here.  Of course, I probably scattered thousands of little seeds as I cut them back, so it may have been an exercise in futility anyway.

Most of the Echinacea seedheads will stay in place through the winter, however.  I still see some goldfinches--less colorful as we approach winter--feasting on the seeds occasionally, and the seedheads add some winter interest when topped with a dollop of snow.

Once the ground is a little softer, though, all the rest of the annuals will be pulled.  We had a light frost a week ago,  but its effects varied from place to place.  In town I noticed that most annuals were still going strong, but here in the country where the wind whips across the flat land, it's a different story.  My poor 'Zowie' zinnias just couldn't escape the cold.

The Gomphrena was hit, too, but with a different effect--
the blooms now look like little frosted pink pompons.

Fall seems to be slipping by without a chance for me to enjoy it as much as usual this year.  No time for leisurely drives or walks in the woods with Sophie.  Saturdays have been fun, however, with Illini football games, and older grandson's football games and the younger grandsons' soccer games.  But family obligations have kept me preoccupied much of the rest of the time--my mother has been in and out of the hospital for the past month and is back in a nursing home once again.  Meanwhile, many of the trees changed color and dropped their leaves before I really noticed it.

Still, there are moments when I notice the changing world around me.  On a particularly beautiful sunny day as I was driving to visit Mom, I came over the crest of a small hill and came upon a scene of golden fields stretching for miles with farmers busy harvesting.  No time to stop for a photo, but the scene uplifted my spirits so, making me think of the line "amber waves of grain"--the quintessential Midwest scenery.

Other than enjoying the fall scenery as I whiz past it in a car, most of my appreciation of fall has been closer to home.  The old oak tree at the end of the lane is beginning to change from green to bronze, and at the right corner of the photo you can see one of the burning bushes in their brilliant reds.

My favorite tree this time of year, the maple in the center of the yard, is slowly becoming more and more orange.  The leaves gradually change color from the top moving downward.  It's always the last tree to lose its leaves, and once it does, I know that winter is not far away.

The crabapples have all lost their leaves, but plenty of ripe fruit remain,
 waiting for the birds to find it.

While the trees are the most obvious examples of fall color, the garden is slowly changing color, too.  Solomon's Seal turns a light buttery shade as the season winds down.

I think this might be the 'Stained Glass' hosta--almost as eye-catching as it was in its prime.

Pokeberries are finally a deep purple--
I do hope their stains come out of my gardening pants, by the way:)

Amsonia tabernaemontana is turning a beautiful golden hue.

But my favorite golden shrub in the fall is the Amsonia Hubrichtii.  This photo isn't as striking as last year's pose (see banner photo) when the Beautyberry still had its leaves and was covered with frost.  But still, you can't help but notice the Amsonia--it positively glows in the sunlight.

There is now over two inches of rain in my rain gauge--hooray!  This makes my garden happy, and me, too, since it will make working in the garden so much easier.  I have so much still to do, but the forecast is for sunny days in the 70's next week, so I'll be out finishing the bulb planting and as many of the top-priority items on my list as I can before the weather turns.  And if I don't get all the rest done . . . well, there's always next Spring!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

GBBD: Bloomin' October!

Every October, it seems, I get lulled into a sense of complacency.  Although the days are getting shorter, they are warm and sunny, making me think fall will go on forever, and I have all the time in the world to get all my fall clean-up done in the garden.  Instead of planting the bulbs that keep arriving on my doorstep, I spend my time watering, trying to keep a few new planted perennials and the fall mums alive.  I keep hoping for some rain--we haven't had any significant rainfall in over a month--so that I don't have to water, and so that I don't need a jackhammer to drill through the concrete-like soil to plant bulbs.  But time is running out--I know it, and the garden knows it.  Any day a frost could arrive, putting the garden into hibernation till spring.

Although the growing season is winding down, there are a few new blooms since last month, surprisingly.  What would October be without 'October Skies' asters? I especially like these asters because they form nicely mounded masses of sky-blue blooms, perfect for the front of the arbor bed.

The butterfly garden is mostly green and brown these days now that the New England asters and goldenrod have stopped blooming.  But at the back of this area is a latecomer, Tatarian asters that mysteriously appeared here last here and happily have returned again.

In the front of the butterfly garden, as well as several other places throughout the garden, Frost asters have burst into bloom in the last week or two.  While many may think of these as a weed, when they're in bloom, it's hard to think of them as anything but another pretty aster.

A new bloom this month that has me excited is the Pineapple Sage.  I usually plant one plant each spring, but in the past it has bloomed for a week at the most before getting zapped by the first frost.  This year, though, it bloomed early enough so that I have been enjoying it for a couple of weeks.

Not only has it put out numerous blooms, it's grown into quite a monster!

Also new since last month are the Japanese Anemones, which have actually been blooming for at least three weeks now.  It took a few years for this plant (now plants??) to get established, but once it did, it took off and now provides lots of lovely white flowers when the rest of the area is fading away.  I'm pretty sure this is 'Honorine Jobert.'

I have a pink Anemone, too, one I had forgotten I had planted. I don't remember the name for sure, but it may be 'Robustissima.'  It's a shorter variety, which in my garden means it gets lost among all its neighbors, including the dark burgundy sedum flopping to its right.

Not actually a bloom, but one of my favorite sights each fall is the Beautyberry covered in purple berries.  This year the berries are partially hidden by a tall switchgrass that I temporarily planted near it---one more plant that didn't get moved to a proper place this year, sigh.

Everything else that is blooming has been around for awhile.  The 'Golden Guardian' marigolds at the front of the veggie bed are going crazy.  That's a good thing, because they're hiding the rest of this area that desperately needs some pulling of plants and cleaning up.

The Arbor Bed is pretty wild and crazy right now, too.  But this is the time of year when I appreciate all the annuals that are tough survivors, holding up in spite of no rain for what seems like forever and some serious neglect by the head gardener the last two months. Annual salvia, nicotania, zinnias, and gomphrena should keep on blooming right up until frost.

One of my long-time standbys, 'Victoria Blue' Salvia farinacea, can't be beat for a long-term bloom.  It will even stand up to a little frost.

And of course, one of my very favorite annuals can't be overlooked this month--'Zowie Yellow Flame' zinnias still going strong and still attracting the pollinators.

Volunteer Debbie deadheads the Zowies at the nursing home--I rarely deadhead mine, though.

I've not only bragged about this annual over and over again in this blog, but I also convinced my cohorts at the Nursing Home garden to plant some this year.  As you can see, they are doing well, and my fellow volunteers think I'm a genius:)

The trees are just beginning to turn in our area, but there are other signs of autumn everywhere.  'Limelight' hydrangea blooms are tinged now in pink.

Hostas are turning yellow and crinkling up.

Ornamental grasses are swaying with the autumn winds.

The white crabapple is loaded with fruit--the birds make short work of these once it turns cooler.

Pokeberries are turning a deep purple at last.

Blackberry lilies are showing off their seedheads, actually my favorite stage in this flower.

There are other obvious signs of fall in our area, too.  The last two weeks have been a busy time for farmers as they put in long days harvesting all the corn and soybeans.

Surrounded all summer by tall corn, we can now see for miles once again.  Of course, that also means I probably shouldn't go out to the garden in my ratty blue robe anymore:)

It's a time for gathering pumpkins at the popular local pumpkin patch.  We took two of the grandkids when they had a day off from school last week--Jack's sister was too "cool" to have her photo taken.

And it's time to spruce up a few containers with fall annuals.

Although there are near-freezing temps in the forecast for this weekend, next week promises to be warmer once again, and there's even a chance of rain--hallelujah!  I'll be covering up a few plants like the pineapple sage for a couple of nights, trying to prolong the season.  And most of all, I'll be enjoying the garden for as long as I can.

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