19 December 2008

on the nativity of christ

Rorate coeli desuper!
Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
That come in to so meik maneir;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
To you is cumin full humbly
Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest—
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
To him that is of kingis King:
Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
In wirschip of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
Be mirthful and mak melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,—
He that is crownit abone the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

—William Dunbar (1460–1522)

04 November 2008

stand up and be counted!

Up early to vote! Free coffee from the Mud truck! A long line at the polling place (around three sides of the block by the time we left at 7:45)!

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try to keep your head up to the sky
Lovers they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears
Stand up and be counted
Don’t be ashamed to cry

Herald what your mother said
Read the books your father read
Try to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time
Some may have more cash than you
Others take a different view

Time asks no questions
It goes on without you
Leaving you behind if you can't stand the pace
The world keeps on spinning
Can’t stop it if you try to
The best part is danger staring you in the face

You gotta be bad
You gotta be bold
You gotta be wiser
You gotta be hard
You gotta be tough
You gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool
You gotta be calm
You gotta stay together
All I know is love will save the day

23 October 2008

from the archive

Wilbur arrived on the scene in May 2005. Eight weeks old, full of vim and vigor.

Staid Scamp, accustomed to being the only cat of our acquaintance, responded in the only way he could, given that he was being pursued at every opportunity by a scrappy little ball of orange fluff:

22 October 2008

this shining moment in the now

When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall, getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes, gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens, putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things, as preparation for the coming cold . . .

when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds, the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees . . .

when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is, when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw, to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am all body and no mind . . .

when I am only here and now and nowhere else—then, and only then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought, and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find this shining moment in the now.

—David Budbill, from While We’ve Still Got Feet © Copper Canyon Press

* * * * *

B sent this poem to me way back in the fall of 2005. He heard it on his drive to work one morning and thought I’d love it as much as he does. I do! I printed it out and tacked it to the bulletin board next to my desk. I read it every now and then to settle myself a bit.

You can listen to Garrison Keillor read this poem over at “The Writer’s Almanac” here.

perennial bed musings

Just for comparison’s sake, here’s the perennial bed three summers ago (10 July 2005):

And again on a Sunday this summer (2 August 2008):

And from another angle that day, after I’d weeded a bit:

Okay, so maybe it’s not fair to post photos taken a month apart, because things tend to grow quite a lot in a summer month, but let’s forget about that for right now.

This is going to sound elementary, my dear Watson (I know, I know: Sherlock Holmes never actually said that), but I’m aiming to have the taller plants at the back and the smaller plants at the front, like those great cottage gardens where it seems the plants will crest and break like a wave. I think I’m beginning to get some of that.

I would like for there to be variation in leaf and flower shape, as well as a pleasing combination of colors and habits. Again, progress not perfection. There was more of that going on this year than ever before, so that feels very good.

Getting to this point has taken three years of scratching my head, moving things around, keeping the weeds at bay, taking notes, and trying something else the next year. I have lost almost all of my phlox for some reason, coddled the purple smokebush until it settled in, watched in horror as the monkshood (which seems to grow like a weed for everyone else I know) shriveled up and died, planted the shasta daisies too close together, fretted over numerous dahlias that never amounted to much . . .

Hmm (stroking chin), but even with all of that, when I’m in the garden, I am my best self. Not thinking of work or worrying about tomorrow (I am a great worrier). It’s just me and the sun and the dirt.

first snow in hebron

22 October. Again: Wow. Just had a call from Betty, who says that snow is flying sideways outside her kitchen window. This is early!

21 October 2008

can't bring myself to throw them in the trash

The dahlias continue to be beautiful, even dried up and dropping petals. Here are a few of the flowers I brought to the office in September.

lily of the valley petal magnified 1,300 times

Wow. Click here to go to the National Geographic Web site to view the third-place winner in the 2008 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Wish my camera had such a macro setting!

15 September 2008

tomato jam

From Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times, 20 August. This is an amazing concoction. Our friend Betty cut the recipe from the paper and saved it for us. We made it while we watched the DNC. It has to cook over a low flame for a long time, but the result is pretty wonderful. If you have too many tomatoes (but, really, who ever has too many tomatoes?), cook ’em down this way. Or buy a bunch and make this. I just think you should make it. Make. It.

  • 1 1/2 pounds good ripe tomatoes (Roma are best), cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated or minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeƱo or other peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced, or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste (if you use the fresh pepper, leave some of the seeds for a bit of heat)
Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Yield: About 1 pint.

Here’s a link to the article from which this recipe comes:
Bittman, Mark. 2008. “A sweet science without tomato cans,” The New York Times, 20 August.

14 September 2008

summer continues

August was a cool, showery month here in West Hebron. Scott came pretty much every week to mow (usually in August he gets a break and so does our wallet, because the heat slows everything down). We got a bit behind on weeding one weekend, and then yowza! everything was Out of Control. But reading around a bit, I see that everyone feels that way in August.

B has just cooked down a ton of tomatoes, which he will freeze for sauces and so forth. I sampled some of the brew (tomatoes, oil, and salt roasted in a 450-degree oven for more than an hour), and they are tasty. He envisions using them in sauces and soups; I envision dolloping them on bread and eating them for supper.

16 August 2008

first morning glory

The digital camera is on the fritz. Lots of static when I turn it on, and I don’t know whether I should try to have it repaired or simply buy a new one (which grinds my gears; the camera is only four years old).

All that said, the first morning glories are out. I see only one spent blossom so far, and it doesn’t look that dried up, so I imagine the first was on Thursday, 14 August. “Heavenly Blue,” and it is a pretty blue. My favorite.

We also planted a variety called “Glacier Star,” the seeds of which I bought from Renee’s Garden this spring. The blooms will be pale blue with darker blue stripes. The vines of the two varieties are so entangled at this point that I can’t determine whether I see any buds on “Glacier Star” yet. More to come . . .

03 August 2008

saturday lunch

B and I were enjoying our lunch of squash casserole (made with local eggs, so ackchelly more of a squash custard: yum), green beans and wax beans cooked with a little bacon grease, garlic refrigerator pickles, and tomatoes . . . when it hit us: Everything on our plates was from B’s garden.

And we grinned our way through the rest of the meal.

fairy lily

After reading a story about fairy lilies on the Old House Gardens Web site back in January, I had to order some. So I did. Planted them in April, nursed them along on the fire escape in the city, and then moved them upstate in June. And now! First bloom today.

A few of the descriptions of fairy lilies (also called rain lilies) that I’ve read say they bloom best after rain, that rainwater and not tap water encourages them to bloom. I’m not so sure what this means, because it’s not as if a flower stalk shoots up immediately after a rain storm (or maybe it did, and I just wasn’t observant enough . . .), and I don’t know why this would be, but it’s an interesting little factoid, and, well, we have had a lot of rain this past week, so maybe there’s some truth to it. Hmm.

At any rate, it’s a lovely pink flower (and I managed to catch it with some actual, honest-to-bonnest Washington County raindrops on it).

I brought the pot back with us tonight so that I can pay more attention to it this week (the leaves are looking a little ratty).

02 August 2008

dahlias: my new favorite flower

Seriously. These guys are beautiful. I’m already making a wish list for next year. All are blooming now, Bloodstone in the perennial bed, and the others in their own special little corner. Top to bottom, here they are, the Dahlias of Pleasant Hill 2008:


Yellow Gem

Little Beeswings

Kaiser Wilhelm

Andries Orange (just waking up)

What a trip! The plants are covered with buds; this is just the beginning!

30 July 2008

roof garden

A little background: Alan is one of B’s and my best friends. He’s also an incredibly talented gardener. Over the past ten years or so, he has lugged countless bags of soil up to the roof of his apartment building in the Village, bought or rescued or grown from seed hundreds of plants, and spent thousands of hours snaking a hose from pot to pot to pot late at night after he gets home from work. I’ve posted about his garden before. But this year, it’s even more beautiful. What that guy can do with a plant in a pot is pretty wonderful.

And he’d be embarrassed to hear me praising him so much.

But look for yourself. Lavender, phlox, roses, gaillardia (“Oranges & Lemons”: I’m envious . . . want me some of that), lisianthus, plumbago, jasmine. His fruits and vegetables this year: tomatoes, cucumbers, melons (“Charentais”), watermelons (“Ali Baba” and “Moon & Stars”), raspberries, grapes (for crying out loud!), and, in the shade of the grape arbor, ferns and heuchera. It’s paradise on a tar roof.

I love my garden in all of its weedy glory and for the overall effect of plant on plant on plant, but I also love Alan’s rooftop plants in pots because I can really get to know them up close and personal.

So here we go, from the top: The grape arbor and some ripening Concord grapes; a rooftop gardener’s potting shed; a long view over to the north side of the roof; lavender, roses, and phlox (and the gardener peeking out from behind the grape arbor). Alan is particularly taken these days with Phlox paniculata “David.” He has six pots of it already (with more to come when he divides them), and the sight and scent of all those flowers glowing in the evening is intoxicating.

Here’s a David Austin rose whose name I do not know. Alan splurged this spring and bought three David Austin bushes from Jackson and Perkins. The bare-root sticks he planted in May are blooming now.

Who doesn’t love plumbago? Well, no one I know. What a flower: Powdery and pure sky-blue and very unusual. Currently this guy is tucked in a dark-blue glazed pot, which you think would be a great effect with the light blue of the flowers, but actually Alan thinks the blue would pop more if the plant were in a plain, old terra cotta pot. I agree.

Nearby is a pot of lisianthus. Alan bought a pack of these plants at Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, this spring when he visited us one weekend. I’ve tried growing lisianthus out in my garden, but I think I like the look of it better growing in a pot.

And the gaillardia “Oranges & Lemons” is a knockout. I ordered it this spring from Bluestone Perennials for Alan, but I kind of wish I’d been selfish and kept it for myself. OH well. Heh heh. The bumblebees love it, too.

Finally, some tomatoes and basil (with a privet standing guard at the rear). Most of the tomatoes are “Brandywine,” Alan’s favorite, but there are a few other heirlooms there, too. The plants look especially nice this year because they’re being grown in brand-new soil, which makes a real difference. Alan is finding he has to water the tomatoes and the other water-drinking fruits, the melons, twice a day these days. It gets really hot on the roof!

The leaf closeup is of “Ali Baba.” Alan tells me that the watermelon growing on that plant is already as big as a football. He made a special growing platform for it so that it doesn’t have to rest on the hot tar roof.

And his “Charentais” is also starting to set fruit. Last year he let this melon plant cascade down a wall, and the one melon it produced hung like a pendant from the vine. This year he decided to try letting it grow onto a picket fence. It has really taken off, as you can see. And Alan tells me that he has something like six melons ripening.

Pickling cucumbers are starting to come in, as are Alan’s Concord grapes (see at the very top of this post). Last fall he made grape jelly from the grape harvest. This year he’s planning on making some pickles, too (from the cucumbers, of course).

And where there are grapes there must be just enough shade underneath for some ostrich ferns and dark-leaved heuchera.

summer on the fire escape

A few months ago I bought two packages of acidanthera corms (Gladiolus callianthus). One package I gave to Alan, and the other I tucked away and forgot about until about three weeks ago, when I noticed that the pansies were gasping in the summer heat. Gently I, shall we say, retired the pansies and replanted the pot with the acidanthera. Within a week (eager corms) I had sprouts, and now the leaves are about a foot tall. Here they are, with a newly planted rosemary plant (thanks, Gina!) and some mint. The fire escape doesn’t get full sun, so it’s anyone’s guess how well these plants will do, but so far so good. The sunlight is pretty on all those green leaves, isn’t it?

And stepping back a bit, here’s a fellow who knows how to make the most of a lazy summer afternoon in the city. Hi, Scamp!

23 July 2008


I’ve been tagged. Yes, sirree. By Mr. Subjunctive at Plants Are the Strangest People. Thank you, Mistuh S. Were I a shyer soul, I would pass, but I think this is kind of cool, so thanks!

Here are the rules:
  • Link to the person who tagged me.
  • Post the rules on my blog.
  • Write six random things about myself.
  • Tag six people at the end of my post. (mebbe not)
  • Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when my entry is posted.
Six Random Things About Me
  • I met B at church, St. John’s in the Village, to be exact. Not on a blind date, not online, not in a bar, not at a dinner party. He was the parish administrator, and I was a member of the church choir. I walked through his office every Thursday evening on my way to rehearsal and waved hello. It was a very gentle introduction. On our first date we watched the second act of a dress rehearsal of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters. Then we went out to dinner.
  • Great memory: Instead of spending my junior year of college abroad like all of my friends, I went to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and participated in a program called Sea Semester (not to be confused with Semester at Sea). It was a twelve-week academic program, half of which was spent at Woods Hole studying oceanography, marine biology, and nautical science and half doing research from a 120-foot staysail schooner called the Westward. We sailed from Miami, Florida, through the Bahamas, up to Bermuda, then up the Chesapeake, and finally back to Woods Hole. The subject of my research project was pelagic tar and how it was filtered out of the water by island systems and the North Atlantic Gyre. While my classmates were sunning themselves on beaches in Bermuda, I was scraping tar off of rocks and analyzing it. We were actually stranded for a few days in the Sargasso Sea. We students served as researchers and crew aboard the Westward. I spent some gorgeous, peaceful nights by myself on bow watch. Which brings to mind one of my favorite bits of etymology from Moby Dick: A mariner sat in the shrouds one night, / The wind was piping free; / Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale, / And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale, / As it floundered in the sea. —Elizabeth Oakes Smith.
  • I don’t get seasick (see above), and I have a high threshold for stomach-churning stimulation. I love any sort of ride at an amusement park or county fair. LOVE the Cyclone at Coney Island. I definitely have never stayed too long at the fair.
  • I once deliberately fell and ripped the knees of a pair of trousers so I wouldn’t have to wear them any more. They were brown-and-white houndstooth double-knit polyester bell-bottoms. My excuse for this bit of bad behavior and the clothes: I was about seven years old and it was the 1970s. On the other hand, my favorite articles of clothing from around that time were a fringed suede vest and a French-cuffed, puffy-sleeved white and brown shirt that my aunt and uncle sent me from Greece. Rock star.
  • I was named for my great-great uncle who was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness: “JARED HENRY HOTTEL, born July 24, 1843; was a soldier in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. He entered the service in the spring of 1861 at the age of seventeen. He served in Ashby’s Cavalry, Co. K, Rosser's Brigade, Jeb Stuart’s Corps, until he was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864, by a gunshot wound in the breast, and was carried from the field by Jacob Zirkle, a member of his company. He was buried by his comrades in a garden under a cherry tree on the Plank Road, leading from the Wilderness to Orange Court House. Later, his body was disinterred and brought back to his home for final burial in the family graveyard.” From: History of the Descendants of John Hottel, by Rev W.D. Huddle. Harrisonburg, Va.: C.J. Carrier Company, 1982, pp. 563–564.
  • I always mean to, but I never pack my lunch for work. This means that I spend about $3.00 to $4.00 every day or $20.00 a week on food out when I’d be perfectly happy eating a peanut butter sandwich and some carrot sticks.
Now here’s the hard part: Whom shall I tag? I think mostly everyone I know online has done this bit of self-revelation at least a dozen times, so I will mull over my options for now.

22 July 2008

more on the dahlias

I am dee-lighted but can’t figure out why the dahlias are blooming as early as they are this year when in years past I’ve considered myself lucky to have a blossom or two by mid-October, right before old man Winter comes along with his frost gun.

This year I have given every possible advantage to the dahlias, including:
  • Starting them early on the fire escape
  • Bringing the pots inside on coolish nights
  • Devoting an entire bed to four of the dahlia plants (and a canna) and making certain that the fifth set into the perennial bed did not have to compete for room or light with the plants around it
  • Staking them from the get-go
The more-or-less perfect growing weather we’ve had upstate certainly hasn’t hurt, either. So far this summer, we’ve seemed to get rain when we need it, and B and I top the beds off with water from the hose on the weekends.

I guess all of that would do it. The dahlias have been the favored children this spring. And instead of becoming ungrateful wretches with all of the attention lavished on them, they have grown and grown.

So now all except the Kaiser Wilhelm are blooming. This is so cool. And Kaiser is setting buds, so I think we’ll be seeing some blossoms on him this weekend.

Our friend Randy came over to the house with Betty on Sunday morning to meet my parents and my brother and his family, who were all visiting. B gave Randy the five-cent tour of the gardens while I was watching my niece and nephew race to and from the mailbox. When he saw the dahlias, Randy (who is an experienced gardener) said, “Wow! I can’t believe you have blooms so early!” Which, of course, fills me with pride and a lot of gratitude for his actually noticing the miracle.

So all of this gets me to thinking about my dahlias in years past. Some I started indoors, all I planted in the perennial bed and allowed to get shaded by larger plants around them, and (I think this may be an important point, but I’m only speculating) I grew only dahlias with dinner-plate sized blossoms. Could it be that the plants needed to grow to a particular size before they could begin to devote energy to producing their blooms? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m going to give the same treatment to some large-flowered dahlias next year and see what happens.

Gina at work wants to see photos, but, alas, none yet. I’m waiting for all of the dahlias to come into bloom, and then I’ll start snapping!

14 July 2008

first bloodstone

This is for Suzann and Joan. Bloodstone! The first dahlia of the summer. Not QUITE open, but I couldn’t wait.

Update on the others: Yellow Gem is opening, as well, and there are buds on Little Beeswings and Andries Orange (I think; it’s either that or the Kaiser Wilhelm). The Kaiser Wilhelm (or the Andries Orange) is slow-growing, kind of like the dahlias I’ve tried to grow in years past. Lots of leaves, but no sign of buds yet.

09 July 2008

note to self: chicory

Good post from 2005 on chicory over at the Bookish Gardener. B would love to grow this in our garden because the flowers are so pretty. I’d never considered doing that for some reason, though I love the flowers, too. They’re a clear true blue. I’d always (ignorantly) assumed we’d have to dig it up from beside the road or from the unmowed meadow to get it.

So I did dig some up in midsummer (when I could actually identify it by the blooms). The roots were brittle, the plants wilted immediately, and I never saw them again.

It is possible, of course, to acquire some seeds (Cichorium intybus or Cichorium endivia) and simply sow them. As we used to say in high school: Duh.

05 July 2008

it must be love

These days the daffodil foliage looks like nothing so much as a sloppy comb-over, yet I will not cut them back I will NOT.

I love daffodils . . . in the spring. With flowers.

But (sigh) I PROMISE I won’t cut them back before the foliage crisps.

mystery solved?

Pam sent me a photo of her mystery flower last night. Looks like Stokesia laevis to me (Stokes aster or cornflower aster). She told me it’s 16 inches at its highest point and a very pretty color, too. Whaddya think: Stokesia?

On another subject, Pam asked for some information about our comfrey plant, so I did a little research and found that what we have seems most likely rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum), rather than Symphytum officinale. Do any of my friends out there in Garden Land grow comfrey? Does yours grow to 4.5 feet like ours does? (I added a little note to the bottom of the post where I first mentioned the comfrey, if you’re at all interested.)

04 July 2008

happy fourth of july!

first tomato of 2008

B here. Normally, in much of the country, and certainly in my old Kentucky Home, tomatoes by July 4th aren’t that much of a big deal. But in the micro-climate on this northern little hill, it’s a miracle. Eaten out of hand with a sprinkling of sea salt, this one little tomato brings tears to the eye. Welcome, holy summer.

03 July 2008

could it be? and so early in the season?

My dahlia saga began in January, when I started salivating over the offerings from Old House Gardens. I ordered some tubers, and then I took a quick breath and ordered some more in February (thanks to an early birthday gift from B’s mom and sister). The tubers arrived in April, and then the agonizing began: When to start them? How much water? Is it too cold on the fire escape right now? I’ll bring them in at night. Should I get some counseling from my neighbor who grows beautiful dahlias? I fussed and fretted over those tubers, but in direct contradiction to the adage about the watched pot (clay, in this case), they all sprouted and began to grow. I considered where I wanted to set them out, decided to dig a nice little semicircular bed next to the chicken coop, and finally planted them all in the ground in early June.

All spring, Nancy Bond from Soliloquy endured my worried chitters about the precious tubers, provided lots of encouragement, and, finally, set me straight: “I’m betting your dahlias grow beautifully! They’re flowers—like the geraniums—that don’t like to be embarrassed by being fussed over too much. :) Good luck and lots of pics!”

Excellent advice from Nancy Bond, who lives in Nova Scotia and has never had any trouble growing dahlias! Last Saturday I checked to make certain no one needed to be staked and then noticed the first buds: No, really, THE FIRST BUDS. Probably not very evident in this photograph, but dere’s buds on dem dar dahlias.

On 28 June 2008.

In zone 5 (formerly 4).

So there.

As old Will wrote: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping!”

But, soft, soft: I can’t wait to see what’s happening this weekend!

(Here’s the whole dramatic story of my dahlias.)

02 July 2008

the mystery unfolds

My friend Pam sent me a new photograph of her mystery plant. The buds are slowly unfurling and appear to be uncovering a light-colored interior. I continue to have no idea what this could be, but I am mightily intrigued.

abbott & costello in greenwich village

B was about to turn in for the night, and because the alarm clock is on my side and he’d had to get up really early on Wednesday morning, he asked me to reset it for a bit later on Thursday morning before I toddled off:

B: J, will you set the alarm for seven thirty?
J: Sure, seven thirty it will be.
B: No earlier.
J: Okay, so what time do you want me to set the alarm for?
B: (confused) Seven thirty.
J: Right, okay.
B: No earlier.
J: (frustrated) What time do you want to get up tomorrow morning?
B: (more frustrated) Seven thirty!
J: Do you want the alarm set for earlier than that?
B: No earlier than seven thirty.
J: (finally getting it) Oh!

01 July 2008

the garden cataloging project

I’ve just read some great posts from Carol over at May Dreams Gardens and Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening followed by lots of useful comments.

I am impressed by Carol’s system (and her handwriting) and Kathy’s attitude about keeping records.

Carol’s posts:
Kathy’s response:
Shady Gardener at Does Everything Grow Better in My Neighbor’s Yard? also posted about her system, begun early this spring:
Lots of food for thought here . . .

sure on this shining night (garden bloggers' muse day)

Sure on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.

Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for
wonder wand'ring far

Of shadows on the stars.

—James Agee

The American composer Samuel Barber set this poem to music. It's one of the most beautiful settings I know: a perfect marriage of music and words. Here's a recording of baritone Nathan Gunn singing it. Enjoy! http://www.lottelehmann.org/artsong/bios/bio_Barber.shtml
(if the song doesn't play automatically from this link, click on the title "Sure on this Shining Night" on the lottelehmann.org page, and the Windows Media Player should open on your screen; try to listen to the song if you can, because it "sure" is beautiful)

For a little more information on this cool idea, see Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day over at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.

30 June 2008

dale in the garden

B worked in his vegetable garden on Sunday afternoon, and Dale kept him company. Of course, he also kept me company as I worked in the flower garden all the way on the other side of the house.

This presented a problem for Dale: How could he keep both of us company at the same time? The solution, of course, was to check on B, then run like crazy across the lawn to make certain that I hadn’t impaled myself on a bamboo stake . . . but wait! “What about B? Better check to make certain he hasn’t drowned himself in the watering can. Hmmm, maybe J has a treat for me. Better check. Is that B waving his arms at me? Golly, got to get back to him. Bye, J! (pant pant pant . . .)”

flower portraits: june 2008

After reading up on lemon lilies, ordering some through eBay, planting them, and nipping off all but one bud, imagine my surprise to discover I’d had them all along! Here are some merrily blooming next to a stone wall in full view of the house. Just goes to show that what I don’t know, I don’t see. This one was blooming earlier in the month, 7 June.

Around two years ago, our friends Cheryl and Lynne gave us a division of one of their comfrey plants (Symphytum officinale asperum*). Theirs was huge, and the division they gave us had enormous, rough leaves that wilted almost before we got it to our car. We planted it, and I thought, “Well, that won’t make it through the summer,” but it did and is now a large, shaggy plant with beautiful blue flowers that remind me of Virginia bluebells. The bumblebees have been crazy for them. After a particularly hard rainstorm in the middle of this month, the plant was knocked over. Rather than try to stake it up, we cut it to the ground. Sure enough, a fresh batch of leaves is emerging. This photo is also from 7 June. For information on the fertilizing properties of comfrey tea (B will be happy to see it’s great for tomatoes, according to tonythehoe), here’s a link to a post from the aforementioned Tony over at http://tonythehoe.blogs.allotments-uk.com/2008/06/30/comfrey. Very interesting!

I think the iris and lupine were pretty fine this spring, in spite of some early skirmishes we had with aphids on the lupine. (On two successive weekends I sprayed the developing flower stalks with a mixture of baby shampoo and water, and that seemed to help.) Again, I took this on 7 June!

Gosh, I love perennial flax (Linum perenne).

From this past weekend, here’s a bloom on one of the two rose bushes B and I bought each other on the occasion of our 12th anniversary in the middle of the month (Happy anniversary, B!). This is a David Austin variety called “Fair Bianca.” Very spicy fragrance (I think the blossoms smell like licorice, and B thinks they’re more cinnamon-y). It’s a beautiful flower. (Fair Bianca’s companion is “The Squire.”)

And here’s one of the first blooms on a clematis I bought last summer. “Jackmanii”? I’m not absolutely certain, because the blooms are a little downcast and four-petaled (instead of five-petaled).

* My friend Pam asked for more information about this plant, so I did a little research on it. I think we have what is called rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum). It gets taller than S. officinale; ours gets to be about 4.5 feet tall. I didn’t realize that comfrey is in the borage family (think, of course, borage, but also heliotrope, Brunnera, forget-me-not, and, my new favorite, Virginia bluebells), but on second thought, the leaves are quite similar, roughness speaking, to those of Brunnera, and the flowers, already noted, are similar in look to Virginia bluebells. From what I’ve read, comfrey has a tendency to be invasive, but judging from comments on Dave’s Garden (http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/317/), the positives outweigh the negatives on this point. Some gardeners say that it is enthusiastic, but my overall impression is that it isn’t invasive in the scary, I’ve-come-to-take-over-your-world sense of the word. Just be certain to plant it where you want it, because it’s hard to get rid of. One gardener suggested mowing it down until it’s gone. My experience so far is that if you leave a little of the root behind when you move the plant (and how can you help but do that, because the roots apparently drive deep) it will sprout. Of course, the same thing happened when I moved my Oriental poppies this spring, and I’m delighted to have more of them. In addition to being used for fertilizer, comfrey leaves are used as a poultice, apparently. More information on that is in the comments from Dave’s Garden (see link above).

21 June 2008

help! plant ID needed!

My friend Pam just sent me a photograph of what looks like a shorter plant in her garden that is just about to bloom (we’re Zone 5). The leaves are lance-shaped, seems like, and the flower bud is surrounded by a ruff of smaller leaves or bracts. I wonder whether it could be Stokesia of some stripe. What do you think?

04 June 2008

peonies gearing up

One would imagine, in looking at some of our flowerbeds, that I am enamored of straight lines. Plunk: seven peonies in a row. Plunk: here are some daylilies, too. Actually, the row thing was begun by the previous owner of the house, who really DID have a thing for rows, I think. (I’m still scratching my head at the rows of hyacinths he planted; I love hyacinths, but they look more cheery to me when they’re planted in somewhat relaxed conversational groups.)

Myself, I’m not so big on planting militarily, but I’m leery of messing with something that’s obviously working (those peonies are doing well), so rows there will be for a few things.

I love peony blossoms in June, but I also love peony foliage the rest of the summer. It’s so green and so sturdy, a perfect backdrop for other flowers. I widened and edged this bed last summer and decided to plant one side with all kinds of Achillea (yarrow) and the other with lupine and—in a few weeks when all the volunteers have sprouted and I can transplant them from the perennial bed—Verbena bonariensis. There are some clumps of iris and dollops of Festuca cinerea “Elijah’s Blue” throughout, too.

But for now, isn’t all that green foliage sweet? And the peony buds are so optimistic.

03 June 2008

virginia bluebells

These are from the roots I ordered last fall from Viola Valley Wildflowers. What an amazing color they are. Very happy!

dale tuckered out

I played Frisbee with Dale while B was watering his garden. I’d throw the Frisbee, Dale would catch it, and then he’d run like crazy for a few minutes with me howling after him (and laughing my head off as I watched him throw the Frisbee in the air and catch it).

He is an exuberant dog and an expert Frisbee player. He really tired himself out, though. Time for a little water, Dale?