Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brush to Paper

Writing has taken a back seat to painting lately. I just needed to put brush to paper and not think. Thinking leads to trouble. Between over-thinking and negative self-talk, it's a wonder I ever get out of bed in the morning! But, temporarily, at least, I've duct-taped the mouth of my mind and have been painting. The results are not good, but I am learning from each exercise. Two self-portraits--admittedly somewhat severe--are above, as well as a floral experiment on watercolor canvas and an attempt to paint a tomato (hard) and a pear (fun).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Here's a different twist on Halloween, and I like it. The witch looks friendly, the cat is cuddly and the pumpkins are smiling. Here's to a Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wild Roses

Fall color isn't limited to foliage. Look at the three clusters of rose hips, all gathered on the 2010 Walk With Nature, an annual stroll along the canal path I mentioned last post. Aren't they lovely? And rich in vitamin C, too. It won't be long before the winter birds devour them.

Rosa multiflora features the tiniest hips. This rose is a non-native, once planted as natural fencerows. Unfortunately, the multiflora ability to thrive might have been too much of a good thing as it refused to stay put and now riots along roadsides and edges of woodlots. It's earned the dreaded "invasive" status. Appropriately named, the multiflora rose boasts a myriad tiny, single, white flowers in the spring. The flowers are followed by the hips, orangey red fruits.
The other two roses might be the native swamp rose, rosa palustris, and the pasture rose, rosa carolina. These roses are somewhat showier, having larger, but still single, pink flowers, followed by larger, redder hips.
The roses in my garden, after generations of careful breeding, produce glorious, many-petaled blooms in a rainbow of colors. The fragrance of many of them will knock your socks off. But once the weather turns cold and the garden roses go dormant, the show is over. It's then that the plain winter cousins outshine their cultivated relations, and it's then that I know the birds and wildlife--and I--appreciate the wild roses. Rose hip photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Miami Erie Canal Walk

The Miami Erie Canal links the communities in this part of Ohio historically and literally, running through them like an artery, the shallow, slow moving water and surrounding vegetation creating a corridor of beautiful habitat for wildlife. Through the efforts of the state and groups like MECCA, the Miami Erie Canal Corridor Authority and Heritage Trails Park District, the canal towpath is preserved for hiking, and it coincides here in my northwest part of the state with the Buckeye Trail, a hiking trail that loops the entire state. This means there is always a nice place to go for a walk in these parts.
Although I don't often see animals other than the occasional duck or groundhog on the path, I think it's because they hear me coming a long way off. Gourdo and I usually have the dogs with us when we visit the trail. But the scenery is spectacular, especially on these beautiful autumn days.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 Ohio Gourd Show

A year in the garden has paid off for Gourdo, whose entries at the 2010 Ohio Gourd Show scored a rainbow of ribbons (only a few of his entries with their ribbons are shown above). Congratulations, Gourdo!

The weather was perfect for the show at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville, OH. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time viewing the selection of dried gourds and everlastings, seeds, dyes and other gourd-related paraphernalia that was available for sale. The artwork was again truly inspiring. It never ceases to amaze me what people can craft from gourds. There were lamps, jewelry, musical instruments, bowls, vases and all kinds of decorative pieces from the whimsical to the truly aesthetic.

Gourdo eagerly anticipates this show every year, as do hundreds of like-minded gourd nuts. For those of us who attend with a gourdie, it's a time to sit back and watch our loved ones revel in their passion. It's fun to observe from the sidelines, so to speak. My father, who has zero interest in gourds, attended the show with me one one year and had this to say about the hordes of grown men and women dressed in gourd jewelry and playing gourd instuments: "They are a very nice bunch of people and they seem harmless enough." That always makes me laugh to think of it. How else can you sum up such an interest? It is a little silly, but it's a lot of fun. Gourdies spend tireless hours planting, watering, training and worrying about their gourds. They harvest and watch over them as they dry, moaning over prized fruits that crack or turn to mush and rejoicing over ones that dry beautifully--which in the case of a gourd means hollow and hard and covered in mold. They rigorously scrub them and they carve, burn or paint them. They share them with anyone and everyone.

When they enter shows like the Ohio Gourd Show, they do so only for the personal satisfaction. The handful of ribbons Gourdo brought home will be cherished all year. He knows his garden was a success. There will be no money, no fame, no measurable glory for all his efforts, but that blue ribbon will fan the flames of his passion all year long. Way to go, Gourdo! I'm proud of you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Butterfly Summer 2010

If I were to sum up the summer of 2010 with one word it would be this: butterflies. This was the summer of butterflies. We had hundreds of them in my little flowering oasis. Buckeyes, black swallowtails, monarchs, silver spotted skippers, sulphurs, cabbage butterflies, tiger swallowtails and more swirled in kaleidescopic frenzy about the butterfly bush and nepeta, especially. It was dazzling. I hadn't seen a buckeye since I was a child! Pictured above is just one sedum in my garden--and all of the flowers in my garden were just as loaded with butterflies. It was astonishing.
I would put a chair in the center of the garden and sit there, with scads of butterflies swirling about me and it felt like heaven must feel. Fragrant, warm, surrounded by color and beauty. Amazing.
I would be remiss if I did not at least attempt to explain my absence from this blog:
The long, dreary months of last winter gave way to a wonderful spring, and I was overjoyed. Plants that normally fail to bloom in my garden due to late freezes rewarded my impatient vigil with glorious bowers of color and fragrance. June provided warm days and plenty of rain. But the warmth grew quickly uncomfortable. There were few balmy days, but plenty of blistering ones. Thankfully, the weekly rainfall continued, but the 90+ degree heat and humidity drove me indoors, and there I languished. Without the sunshine to restore my soul, it was as though the seasonal winter blues never really left.

If I had one goal for this blog, it was to never let it get bogged down with negativity. So I quit writing. Several of my friends asked me where I'd gone and I just had nothing to say. A blue cloud had settled on me like a shroud.

Now, as I face the prospect of another winter, I am peering out of my turtle shell. I can't remain completely silent for much longer, but what direction my writing will take is a mystery even to me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Undaunted Daylilies

Undaunted daylilies thrive in roadside ditches, on deserted farmsteads, and on old gravesites with no one but Mother Nature tending them. Unbothered by insects or disease, they multiply without becoming invasive. For a few weeks in midsummer they burst into bloom, a cheerful sight wherever they live.

In my garden I grow a double orange variety passed along to me by my aunt, and a green-throated red variety, 'Pardon Me,' that I bought at a discount store. A frilly unnamed variety grows next to the common orange daylily out front by our sentry light.
Daylilies bloom as they are named: each blossom opens in the morning and closes the same night, then it is finished. Plentiful new blooms show daily for a few weeks--a nice, steady show. Grassy green foliage provides a lush filler for the flower bed for the remainder of the season.
Any plant that can do all that--with no care whatsoever on my part--gets a thumbs up from me. Daylily photo by JulenaJo.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tiger, tiger.

Tiger, tiger burning bright

In my garden, a delight!

Birds and butterflies abound in the garden of 2010. I've witnessed the fledging of a brood of bluebirds, and an industrious wren couple has recently set up housekeeping. Chipping sparrow babies are to be found all over the yard, flitting after their parents, noisily demanding to be fed.

A mockingbird has graced us with its presence, singing at all hours of the day and night--even at 3:30 a.m! I followed a crested flycatcher pair around the yard as I attempted to identify them. Obviously, I finally got close enough to do so. Barn swallows have put a nest on our front porch. It's inconvenient to have them swooping defensively at anyone who braves the front door, but they eat insects, so we're happy to have them.

I've seen tiger swallowtails, like the one pictured above on a buddleia, sampling nectar in the garden, and also ruby-throated hummingbirds. I try to plant flowers known to draw hummingbirds and butterflies. Coral bells, nepeta (pictured below), salvia and buddleia are all magnets for these colorful and entertaining garden visitors and they do well in my sun-drenched, zone 5 garden. Photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How You Look At It: 'Black Lace'

There are two ways of looking at trees: the closeup examination of a single specimen, noting the shape, size, leaf form and habit of an oak tree, for example; and the overall view of the forest, where the combination of multiple oaks, maples, hickories, etc. creates a completely different perspective.

So it is with gardens. Some folks wander into my backyard and say, "Nice flowers." They are seeing the "forest" view. Others, upon seeing my flower garden, say, "Wow! What is this? And that? What is that?" They are "specimen" viewers. I tend to be a specimen viewer, and it's a challenge for me to look at my garden with "forest" perspective. I think the most gifted gardeners are able to switch perspectives easily and can even plan for a garden that appeals on both levels. I am, sadly, a novice at this. Sometimes I look at my garden and think it is all too uniform. Every plant seems to be too much the same size, the same color, the same value--to use a painterly term.

I've created it as a collector of specimens, with an eye to only that. I've failed at looking at the overall design and "forest" view. I'm working at this problem, but have had little success in overcoming it.

Even so, there are some standouts in my flower bed that fill the bill on both levels and almost everyone comments on them, regardless of how they see a garden. The sambucus 'Black Lace' is just such a focal point. Right now it is covered in large pannicles of pink, which pop against the feathery, nearly black, foliage.

If you want an easy plant for the back of the garden, this is it. It would also be excellent planted near the house, a dramatic entryway plant that doesn't get too large, yet is big enough to make a statement. Untrimmed it will reach approximately 8' in height. It's hardy in zones 4-7 and appreciates full sun or part shade. In my windy, exposed garden it maintains an attractive shape without pruning.
An elderberry, it should produce fruit, but I've never seen any on mine. I think it might be that birds get them. Best of all, 'Black Lace' sambucus is a beauty no matter how you look at it! Photos by JulenaJo.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Notes from the Rose Garden

So far this year the garden is looking better than I expected after the way several plants turned chlorotic on me last year. To help pull them out of it, I've been heavily feeding the roses. The plentiful rain helps, too. The blooms are numerous and huge. Just look at the blossom of 'Brilliant Pink Iceberg,' shown above. The reverse of those lovely painted petals is white. What a stunner!
I've been ruthlessly ripping out anything that looks weak. I lost the multi-hued rose 'Flutterbye.' Only one malformed shoot sprouted this spring, so out she went. I wasn't about to wait and see what the monstrosity produced by way of bloom, if anything. The plant was obviously diseased.
Out went the trio of 'Carefree Delight' shrub roses. While I've been a great fan of this rose ever since seeing the glorious hedge of them at Whetstone Park of Roses in Columbus, OH, I had to admit they just were not performing up to snuff in my own wind-beaten backyard. In addition, the super prickly canes prevented any possibility of weeding under and around them, and every year there were dead canes that I had trouble cutting out. I've been happily contemplating what might go in the hole they left in my flower bed.
The roses that looked chlorotic last year are still looking a little peaked. I've been drenching them with Miracle Gro Rose Food every week in addition to the regular granules I use every six weeks. The yellowed leaves are taking on a little green finally. Whew. Who would ever think that a rugosa like 'Wildberry Breeze' would go chlorotic? Aren't they supposed to be foolproof? I guess NOT! The floribunda 'Angel Face' looked bad, too, but she's rallying.
Ah well...the backyard smells heavenly. Now if we'd just get a few sunny days so that I could get out and enjoy it! 'Brilliant Pink Iceberg' photos by JulenaJo.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dogwood in Bloom

The dogwood in my garden is blooming beautifully this year for the first time. It escaped a late freeze that prevented bloom last year, and enjoyed a shot of rain recently that allowed the "petals" to fully unfurl. I put the word petals in quotes because they are really bracts, protective coverings for the flowers which look like a cluster of beads in the eye of the blossom.
The dogwood flower is a beautiful sign of spring, and it's rich in Christian symbolism. The four bracts represent the cross of crucifixion. Each sepal bears a mark representative of the nail marks in the hands and feet of Christ. The flowers in the center of the blossom represent the crown of thorns. The red berries that are often found on dogwood trees represent the blood of Christ.
Although dogwood trees are said to prefer moist, acid soil, it's obvious that the one in my yard is thriving in clay and in spite of a dry, difficult year previously. And, although it doesn't show in the photos I took above, behind the dogwood is blooming a beautiful lilac bush for the first time ever in my yard. A neighbor who always calls when her lilac blooms to make sure I get bouquets told me to help myself to the numerous suckers that had sprouted beneath her large shrub. After just 2 years the baby lilac produced enough flowers for me to cut my own bouquet!
And so my garden grows. Photos by JulenaJo.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Wonder of Warblers

Yesterday as I was leaving work I heard a "check, check" from the topmost branches of a blooming ornamental pear tree just outside the library building. I saw a tiny bird nervously flitting about. I stood beneath the tree, trying to get a good look, knowing it had to be a migrating warbler. Yes! A yellow rumped warbler, or myrtle warbler as the eastern species is often called. The yellow side patches clearly gave it away. This is a first sighting for me. Warblers are confusing, I think, though not as confusing as sparrows--I had to make mental note of the field marks and ID the bird when I got home. I felt fortunate to have seen it.

In April and May the warblers are migrating, and if you pay attention, you might see many colorful birds in the treetops that are only passing through on their way to their breeding grounds, wherever they may be.

I've always been interested in nature and birds (and flowers), in particular, but I am not an experienced birder, by any means. Birds fascinate me, though. How could there be such a dazzling array of species? Why are some plain and others brightly colored? Why do some sing sweetly and others not at all? Why do some eat seeds and others worms? And why do they migrate and how do they know the way? How can such a tiny creature fly thousands of miles? It's all mysterious and wonderful. And it assures me of God's existence.

I often overlook the infinite wonder of people, I guess, because I am one. I overlook the wonder of stars, rivers, mountains--all because they are familiar and I take them for granted. But warblers? How can one overlook the wonder of a warbler? Here is a tiny bird, just passing by unobtrusively. In all my 50-plus years I have never seen a myrtle warbler. Yet every year hundreds of them flit through the treetops on their way to where, I do not know. People speak of feeling God's presence in the mountains and oceans and other huge natural splendors, but this little bird comes to my attention and I am no less moved.

Garden Notes: The snows that covered the garden throughout February were depressing, but the payoff comes now, in the garden. Everything was protected by the cold with an insulating blanket of snow and is blooming wildly now. There's a lot of work to be done, but it's all a pleasure. The roses that showed chlorosis last year appear to be suffering this year as well. Action needs to be taken, but what? Photo from Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bluebirds are Back!

One of the best things about living in the country is the return each spring of bluebirds. Townies never see them, nor do woodland dwellers. I almost pity them. The eastern bluebird is truly a piece of the sky sent down to earth--the back feathers of the male are dazzling cerulean, the deep rust breast feathers are a cheerful counterpoint. Often I hear the arrival of the bluebirds even before I see them. The gay trill is not unlike that of its cousin, the robin. Here's a link to a site where you can hear the call and read up on them:

Another informative site is

We've had much luck in attracting these charmers to our five acres. In fact, one year a gourd that stuck in a fence and dried there even became a home to them. After seeing the birds fluttering around it, I asked Gourdo to drill a hole in it and within minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird happily set up housekeeping!

Attracting bluebirds is only part of the process, though. Protecting them from the evil English House Sparrow (HOSP), a non-native competitor for their habitat, is the largest part of the providing haven for bluebirds--as well as for tree swallows and any number of other native birds. I used to feel that if a species is so tenacious as to be able to adapt and survive anywhere, it should. After all, it's nature's way, isn't it?

This is true, perhaps. But it's also human nature to protect what we love. And we love bluebirds.

I've had adult bluebirds killed on the nest and newly hatched bluebird babies stabbed and ejected from a nest by the HOSP who wants a nest box. It's heartbreaking.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but, for me, traps are a problem. I can't kill the enemy even when I catch him. Shooting isn't easy either. The HOSP is as wary as the bluebird is friendly. I'm hoping two things will help this year, an elaborate arrangement of fishing line around the entrance of the birdhouse which supposedly makes it spooky to the sparrow, and eliminating HOSP food source. No more millet! Black oil sunflower seed and thistle seed only in my feeders.

We shall see.

The bluebirds are here and are busy at one of the houses. In the offing I hear the bold chirping of the HOSP. Will he let the bluebirds be? The drama continues for another year. But if we're lucky, we'll see the successful raising of a bluebird family in our backyard. Photo from Wikipedia.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Notes

It's been a long time since my last post. A serious bout with winter blues gave way to a serious late winter cold and I've been low, low, low. Recovery seems to be just around the corner, however--just in time for spring!

My dad always says that by St. Patrick's Day we'll hear spring peepers. Every year I tell him this will be the year we won't have them that early. Every year I am proved wrong and it always seems like a miracle. How can we go from a snow-covered vista to vernal ponds overnight? I don't know, but every year we do. This year I heard the peepers' chorus a full week before St. Paddy's Day!

In town, I've seen snowdrops and crocuses in bloom. Here in the country, green shoots are making their appearance but nothing is blooming yet. When the ground dries up I'll have to clear out the flower bed and prune the roses. I might even get a chance before Sunday, when the weather is supposed to become damp and chilly again.
At any rate, spring is coming! I'm so ready! Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Like a Lion...

The sun is trying to peek out today, but I'm not sure the winter weather is quite ready to leave us. I think March will be in like a lion--and, hopefully, out like a lamb. I'm glad there is a small break in the snow and ice today so that my son can come to visit us. It's been too long since I've seen him and I am looking forward to it.

Meanwhile, out in the flower bed, the only activity is the foraging of tree sparrows and goldfinches and even a few brave robins, come out of the woods to look for fruits left hanging on ornamental trees and shrubs. The winter winds have tilted all the shepherd's crooks that hold thistle seed socks. Wrought iron ornaments have fallen into the snow and are buried. I'll right them when the snow melts away. There are patches where the snow has already receeded somewhat, but those patches reveal mostly puddles of mud as the ground is still too hard and frozen to allow water to sink in. I hope all the snow we've had this winter renews the plants in my garden that struggled last year, in particular the oaks and roses.

I'm thinking of purchasing some seeds for starting indoors. One year I did flats of vinca and it was nice to have something going on in early spring. It was cheap, too, compared to buying flowers from a nursery. Mid-March is the time for sowing seeds indoors. The calendar says spring is coming, even if Mother Nature isn't letting us know!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mid-February Scenes

I'm sharing some scenes from my little neck of the woods this mid-February. The first shot shows how the snow is banked up beside some of my roses. I wish the roses were covered in the snow, actually, as it would provide better protection for them, but this is ok, too. At least the wind cannot buffet them while the snow lasts. Today is sunny and relatively mild and some of the snow is melting off. Lest we get too comfortable with that, the television warns more snow may come sometime this weekend. Enough, already!
In the middle shot is the new baby, Bruiser. Bruiser is a blue heeler, also called an Austrailian cattle dog, 7 1/2 weeks old. The name "heeler" comes from how these shepherd dogs nip at the heels of sheep and cattle when they work them. The breed is supposed to be smart and affectionate. So far he seems to be pretty smart, but he is awfully young. Bruiser is the most speckled pup I have ever seen. Apparently, he was all white when he was born. It will be interesting to see how his coloration develops as he matures. Roxy is accepting her new playmate well, I think, and he has made these late winter days a tad more tolerable around here, to say the least.
The final shot is of the lovely bouquet of mauve roses and alstromeria that my daughter received from her boyfriend for Valentine's Day. These luscious roses have opened beautifully. She thoughtfully left them out for the whole family to enjoy, and, believe me, I do!
What's new with you?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day! Here are your flowers!

"There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart...pursue those." -- Michael Nolan.

Let's make a list today of the things that catch the heart. Perhaps they are things already pursued and "caught." Perhaps not. Look around. Listen. What makes you smile? What warms you in spite of the chill outdoors?

Look and listen, and see those things that catch your heart. Then look closer. At your loved ones. At your home, room by room. At your garden (if it's under snow, as is mine, a little imagination is useful here). At your dreams. Spend some time with these today and hold them close, even if you can only do so in your heart. Dream, visualize, draw close, and love. It's like a Valentine for yourself--and those around you, too. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Desperate For Green? Check It Out!

Where can an Ohioan go to visit 14 blooming gardens this time of year? If you're as desperate for green as I am, why not check out the 54th annual Central Ohio Home & Garden Show, February 27 through March 7 at the Ohio Expo Center (Ohio State Fairgrounds) in Columbus. It will be a great place to get fresh ideas for your garden and landscape.

As if the gardens aren't enough to bring you to the show, there is a great line-up of special guests. Garden writer Traci DiSabato-Aust, author of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden and High-Impact, Low Care Garden Plants: Tough But Beautiful Plants Anyone Can Grow, will make an appearance on opening day, February 27, at 1:00 and 3:00 PM. She'll answer questions and autograph books. Shane Tallant, host of HGTV's Designed to Sell will also make appearances on February 27 at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, giving guests tips and ideas for home decorating without breaking the budget. On Sunday, March 7, at 11:30 AM, Geof Manthorne and Mary Alice Yeskey, stars of Food Network's Ace of Cakes will share inside secrets from their show.

The Central Ohio Home & Garden Show hours are Saturdays 10 AM to 9 PM; Sundays 11 AM to 6 PM; Closed Monday; Tuesday and Thursday 3 PM to 9 PM; and Wednesday and Friday Noon to 9 PM. Tickets are $10 for adults; children 12 and under are admitted free. Check their web site for more information,, and I hope to see you there!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Easy Does It

Doesn't the photo of the above rose make you smile? What delicious color! You can almost taste the raspberry and orange sorbet swirl. Yum. And the irresistable ruffled petals practically beg to be touched.

Meet 'Easy Does It,' the only rose to win the coveted All American Rose Selections title for 2010.
What are All American Rose Selections?

According to the home web site,, AARS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the introduction and promotion of exceptional roses. For the past 70 years, gardeners from all over the United States have tested roses in their gardens and reported their results. Each year the most outstanding roses are chosen to become winners, and are promoted as such in nurseries and garden centers.

What does all this mean for you?
As a home gardener with a passion for roses, I can say that an AARS tag on a rose means it will undoubtedly be among the best performers in your garden. The complete list of past winners can be found on the web site, and there are also lists of the best performers in various regions. For myself in Ohio, I find the Midwest list of interest. I already grow 'Carefree Delight' and 'Knock Out' with great success; I'm thinking of adding 'Julia Child' and perhaps 'Bonica' or 'Cherry Parfait.' I've seen them growing in other Ohio gardens and they always are impressive.
About 'Easy Does It': as a floribunda, the rose will undoubtedly bloom profusely all summer long. It will hold a nice rounded shape. The flowers will be good-sized and somewhat fragrant. In addition, the reports say 'Easy Does It' has excellent disease resistance. I think I'll be on the look-out for this one in the garden centers come spring.
Check out the AARS winners recommended for your area. It's a great place to start your search for new roses to plant when spring finally makes its arrival.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Goodbye January

Above is the view from my kitchen table, where I sit writing today. At least the sun is shining on this last day of January, but we woke to single digit temps and a stiff breeze that let us know winter still has us firmly by the scruff of the neck. Every now and again we are given a little shake, as if winter wants to let us know it could break us, if it really wanted. I'm not going down without a fight, however.

I've been low this winter, not feeling up to writing much, and today's sunshine was enough to rouse me. Gourdo, who has to keep busy always, has been at work on a project, building shelves to house a television and books in our living room. Ooooh yeah! Food Network is on!
The house is turned upside down as a result of the bookshelf project. I think that is adding to the feeling of malaise. As soon as I'm finished with this brief, keep-in-touch post, I'll attack the disarray and maybe whatever order I manage to restore will help with the mood around here.
I'm starting to plan trips to the various home and garden shows within an hour or two from us, and I'm also looking online for seeds to start in March. I have a few items on my wishlist and they are proving difficult to locate. Is that because they won't grow here in Ohio? My garden research really heats up now that January is done. If I decide to start seeds indoors, early March is when I'll want to have seeds and supplies at hand.
Goodbye, January, you vicious beast! I'm glad to see you go! Photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flowers in the Snow

Although I seldom remember my nightly dreams upon waking, there was a period a few years back where I had a series of recurring, vivid dreams about gardens.

One such dream featured an overgrown, neglected rose garden that I would discover in the yard of a house that, in my dream, I was considering purchasing. The house was always different. Sometimes it was an eerie Victorian mansion, damp and ornate, but long-unoccupied--on the verge of collapse. Other times it was a suburban modular, plain and unappealing, also long-unoccupied but otherwise habitable. Several times it was one of the two houses I grew up in as a child.

In all cases, the thing that really piqued my interest was the garden. Dazzling, unusual flowers grew in an untamed tangle all around the house. Roses grew with wild abandon, canes rocketing out of the soil to reach dizzying heights. I always had to reach up and pull the opulent blooms down to smell them. I couldn't wait to lose myself in the garden, trimming and pruning and restoring order and the lost beauty of the original garden. In every dream, I had misgivings about the houses, but felt irresistably drawn to the mysterious, old, neglected gardens.

In another series of recurring dreams, I find myself walking in the snow. Suddenly, I come across a garden in full bloom. I'm stunned and marvel at the beautiful red tomatoes hanging on lush green vines and at scarlet poppies waving on prickly stems above a drift of white snow.

How does this happen? I wonder. What kind of gardener can make flowers bloom in the snow?

I wake feeling happy after these dreams, but I have no idea what they indicate about my psyche. Who dreams of flowers in the snow? What does it mean?

I carried a bouquet of dried flowers and seed pods outdoors for a photo today. I'm looking forward to planting lots of everlastings this spring. I like the idea of flowers that last all winter. I need flowers in the snow. Photo by JulenaJo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

National Hot Tea Month

Some of the teapots I've collected since I was about 13 years old are shown above. That year mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas and, much to her surprise, I requested a teapot. It was the first of many to follow.

Since, I have received several from my godmother and other family members, and two from my late, beloved grandmother, which I treasure most. One of those, the most unusual in my collection, is seen in the first photo. It's a squatty, stacking set with what I believe is an "occupied Japan" mark on the bottom of the pieces. It's quite charming, and I've never seen anything like it elsewhere. The small brown pot in the center photo is of a more commonly seen style. It belonged to my great grandmother. I love to imagine her using it so many years ago. The last pot shown is the one that started my collection that Christmas when I was a girl.
I was happy to share my collection with the library where I work for a January display, as January is National Hot Tea Month. It's the perfect month for it, don't you think? With the frigid temps, the snow, and the gardens frozen over, there is nothing finer to do than brew a cup of tea and sit, sipping, with a good book--or pile of garden catalogs.

Regular black or green tea is brewed from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a lovely plant in its own right. How the leaves are processed determines the type of tea produced. I like my Camellia leaves with a hint of added flowers, as in jasmine or lavender, or with the citrus oil of bergamot (an orange, not an herb) as in Earl Grey. I even have tea with rose petals in it. Of course! It must be the gardener in me. At any rate, I find a cup of hot tea to be soothing, warm, and delicious. According to the health literature I occasionally peruse, tea is loaded with antioxidants, too. Bonus.
Won't you join me in celebrating National Hot Tea Month? Let's brew a comforting pot of tea and get comfortable with our books and catalogs. It's the next best thing to spring! Teapot photos by JulenaJo.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bests of 2009 and an Invitation

Let me recap the past year. I love making lists. January 1 is a great time to do so.

Best Flowers of 2009

Sunflowers: Moulin Rouge and Strawberry Blonde varieties were stellar in the cutting garden.

Rose: Knockout--the original Rosa RadRazz outperformed all others in a year when even the rugosas took a hit due to drought.

Annual: Nasturtium Empress of India makes a huge impression with its round, dark, blue-green foliage and its startling cherry red blooms. I grow them in the front of the bed and in a mass. The flowers are edible, too! Second best would be the equally old-fashioned snapdragon. I grow the taller varieties and they are impressive, blooming all season long and never needing to be staked even in our windiest conditions.

Perennial: Tough call here. Catmint blooms for a long time and draws butterflies, but so does buddleia, which is also fragrant. Crocosmia 'Lucifer' has attractive foliage as well as gorgeous blooms, but so does the variagated iris. And the coral bells! Their airy blooms soften the garden and bring in hummingbirds. I really cannot decide here.

Best Food of 2009
I've enjoyed a lot of really good food this year, but these dishes stand out as the best by far.

Pioneer Woman's brisket. Holy cow. Look here for the recipe, or better yet, just buy her cookbook.

Rachael Ray's crispy chicken cutlets. Gourdo made this for Valentine's Day as well as for Christmas Eve. Every bite was yum-o, as RR would say. Here's the link:

Giada de Laurentiis Mascarpone Mini Cupcakes with Strawberry Glaze. Everything you ever wanted in cake. And more.

Best Books Read in 2009
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Hands down. The best.

Contenders for second and third place include The Lottery by Patricia Wood and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Aha Moment of 2009
I'd been listening to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle when, like a lightning bolt, it struck me that I am neither my thoughts nor my emotions, that who I am is separate from them. Yes, that's what the book is about, but it HIT me. Very liberating. For almost 12 whole hours after that aha moment I felt terrific--free of worry and quite at peace. I haven't quite figured out how to live in the now all the time yet, but I'm working on it.

And that leads me to my New Year's Resolution: to simply Be Here Now. (Remember Ram Dass? Tolle and he both impressed me!) Thanks for reading. I hope you'll journey along with me into 2010!