Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sweet Autumn Clematis

Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is the star of my September garden. I planted it on the east side of the pergola that covers our brick patio, and it's taken a couple of years to attain enough height to provide shade. By next year I expect it will reach the pergola top. When the vine explodes into bloom in late summer and early autumn, it is entirely covered in small, fragrant stars. Heavenly.

A perusal of literature about sweet autumn clematis reveals mostly accolades about this extremely hardy, healthy vine. That being said, there are some negative reports. According to my favorite online source for plant info,, all parts of sweet autumn clematis are poisonous if ingested, and some people experience allergic skin reactions to it. Others experience hay fever from its pollen. I've not had any trouble with it, and I tie wayward vines to the trellis without gloves. No sneezing either.

Apparently, the vine is considered a non-native invasive, as well. I might not have planted it had I known that fact. However, I have never seen seedlings in my yard, garden or flower beds. And while I am sure it would be happy to ramble over a nearby redbud tree, I simply train those tendrils to their arbor.

As far as care goes, I let nature take its course. I never watered or fertilized it during this entire season of drought, and it survived unscathed. I have not pruned it. Some recommend pruning back hard in early spring, but I let it go, and new growth eventually sprouts from the previous year's vines--all the way out to the very tips. I think it's best to simply consider the size and scope of this vine, and let it grow as it will. It will reach 20-30 feet in height, which is perfect for a big pergola or privacy fence, but not for a wee arbor. You'll want to make sure whatever structure you train it to is sturdy enough to support it.

Although the reviews of the sweet autumn clematis are mixed, for me it is a gem worth growing. Sweet Autumn Clematis photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I fear and loathe grasshoppers. In my mind's eye, grasshoppers are the size of the one in the photo above. They are like military helicopters: armored, khaki colored, and slightly scary in the way they hover over the garden this time of year, waiting to descend and devour. Townies never see the huge 'hoppers that we get out here in the country. I've been laughed at and ridiculed many times, but no one can shame me out of my fear, even if it is admittedly unreasonable.

Fortunately, this year was not bad, insect-wise. I had only a handful of Japanese beetles, and almost no other pests to speak of--not even mosquitoes. Still, the risk of running into a grasshopper limits my time outdoors. Crazy, isn't it?

Many people seem to have a fondness for grasshoppers that I simply cannot fathom. They are destructive creatures that will eat anything. Plagues of locusts destroyed the grasslands in the mid-1930s. I'm sure that during those years of drought and dust and grasshoppers, people thought the end of the world was coming. Obviously, it wasn't.

In my own yard, I've seen grasshoppers consume ornamental grasses, roses, and window screens. Yes, window screens. They are seemingly impervious to chemical controls, but praying mantises will catch and eat them, as will birds.

One year I planted a pot of rosemary in my garden. As rosemary is not hardy here, I put it in a clay pot and sank the whole pot into the herb bed. When September rolled around, I dug up the pot and brought the rosemary indoors to overwinter. I placed it on a sunny corner of my work desk, so I could enjoy the invigorating scent all winter.

Imagine my surprise when, on a warm day in mid-February, I discovered the tiniest of grasshopper nymphs hopping over my paperwork. They'd hatched from the soil in my rosemary pot. I was raising grasshoppers! They were kind of cute, I guess, but after a couple of days I didn't see them anymore, and I was hugely relieved. This house isn't big enough for me and a military helicopter. I mean, grasshopper.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Signs of Trouble

Relatives from Columbus commented on the dry conditions here this weekend. Although they live less than a 2-hr. drive from us, they have not experienced the drought we have this summer. Even people living on the other side of the county haven't. It's as though there is a pocket of hurt, and we are smack in the middle of it. Copy and paste the link below into another browser window to read about it in a local paper (with apologies if the article is no longer there--I have no idea how long they keep articles in their archives):

In fact, we have had several years of drier than normal conditions, and it's taking a toll on things. The first signs of trouble came to my 'Wildberry Breeze' rose, a rugosa that should shrug off most challenges, and to the 2 youngest oak trees on our property. I fear we may lose all three plants. Most of my roses are showing degrees of chlorosis. I believe minerals are present in the soil, but without adequate moisture, nutrients aren't getting into the plants. I watered all summer, but there's no keeping up when there is a desert all around. My flower bed and the gourd patch are oases, but they still suffer. I had been trying to plant things all along that can take drought because I do not like to spend my mornings watering, so not all is lost: it is still mostly beauty and joy. There will be changes in the look of my garden next year, though, because some of the trees and roses will undoubtedly be lost.

My flowers are for our pleasure, though. It's the farming community I am most concerned about. The corn is producing small ears that are not fully developed. The bean fields look beautiful, especially now as they turn dazzling yellow, but the pods are apparently not as full as usual. People will be taking a hard hit--just what we need in this time of economic woe.

Last night I heard rain, but it merely spit. I never had to get up from bed to close the windows. It's too late for the crops, but if autumn could bring some rain, maybe, just maybe, it would revive some of the young trees and roses enough to see them through the winter. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Gift Book from God

I want to share a little story with you about a spiritual classic that I first read in my early twenties: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, a monk at Gethsemane in Kentucky, who died in 1968. At the time I discovered this book, I was struggling (as ever!) with my Catholicism. Merton's autobiography chronicles his upbringing as the son of a non-Catholic, nonreligious artist; his self-absorbed youth; and his restless young adulthood. Eventually, his hunger for more led him to find God in the Roman Catholic Church, and he entered the monastery.

Merton's descriptions of encountering Christ in the Eucharist flooded my heart with love for God and for the Church who draws Him so near to us. It was profoundly moving, and as a result, I have read several books by and about Merton.

This, in turn, led me to discover another great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's writings are so full of love for God and his people that they filled my own heart with even greater desire to know God. Nouwen, too, was a restless seeker, and went from post to post, including teaching stints at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale. Eventually, he found his vocation at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, where he lived with and served the mentally handicapped.

Although I love all of Nouwen's work, I was particularly delighted to read his Encounters with Merton: Spiritual Reflections which seemed to bring both of my brilliant spiritual mentors into clearer focus.

Alas, as time passes, the fire from these readings fades. So, when a friend of mine who loves to browse used bookstores asked me if there was any book I'd like her to scout for me, I immediately requested The Seven Storey Mountain, as my original copy was long gone and I wished to re-read it.

I never believed she'd find a copy, but when my birthday rolled around, she happily presented me with the book. I accepted her gift, turning it over in my hands. It was a hardbound copy with a plain dark cover, and in great condition. Wondering if perhaps she'd found a first edition, I opened it.

Copyright, 1948. A first-year edition, but with no "First Edition" mark. What gave me goosebumps was the signature of the previous owner, H. Nouwen. Below that was an inked stamp: HENRI J. M. NOUWEN Dept. of Psychology University of Notre Dame. The book came from my friend; the gift, though, came from God.