Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Gardener's Christmas

Hi, all! If you're still watching for updates, thank you! The last couple of months has been a little nuts and I decided to drop out for a while. I hope to be blogging again during the new year. I couldn't let Christmas go by without a shout out to my garden peeps, though, so here's a little poem I wrote for those of you starting to feel the winter blahs!

A Gardener’s Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garden
Not a damn thing was happening (begging your pardon.)
The bulbs were all planted, the shrubs all were trimmed
Nothing remained for the gardener’s whim.

The gifts for her spouse neatly were wrapped
A book and some music had seemed quite apt.
With no garden work to brighten her day,
She said “Goodnight!” and quit the Christmas fray.

But what of said spouse who still had no clue
What to get his gardener? He knew not what to do.
So there he sat, alone with his quandary,
Disconsolately folding the laundry.

When out on the deck there arose such a clatter
He threw down the socks to see what was the matter.
And there he stood, a man we all know
Dressed in white fur and red velvet and snow.

“My good man,” Santa exclaimed, “Whatever is wrong?
It’s the day before Christmas; why is your face so long?”
“It’s my wife, Santa, sir, I’ve found her no gift.
Come morning, I’m afraid she’s going to be miffed.”

“That’s a serious problem,” Santa agreed.
“But we can solve this dilemma, guaranteed.
You merely must tell me what is her passion
And the answer will come to us in a timely fashion.”

“Her passion is plants, in all shapes and sizes
Flowers and shrubs and trees that win prizes.
I’ve no idea what to get this mad gardening wench!”
“Why, nothing could be better than a new potting bench!”

With this exclamation, Santa shook out his bag
And out flew a table with hardly a snag.
“It’s large and quite roomy and has many shelves.
It’s also very sturdy – it was made by my elves!”

“What an idea, Santa! It’s just what she needs!
She’ll be so excited to start some new seeds!”
“And,” Santa said, “until seed season is nigh
You can keep her busy with this pair of bonsai!

“They’re just the thing for gardeners who itch
For lovely green things about which to  . . . complain.
Why, Mrs. Klaus herself, who finds winter grim,
Relaxes most blissfully while giving the ficus a trim.”

“Now, here are a few things, just to round it all out;
A new pair of knee pads, a watering can with a spout
Waterproof gloves and a pair of bright boots
Will put a happy smile on the face of your patoots!

“One last thing, now, and then I’m away
A gift card to a plant nursery will finish the day!”
Out the door he sprang, in his brilliant red suit
Leaving a grateful husband to wrap all the loot.

He was heard to exclaim, as the sled hit his bum
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a green thumb!”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tenacious Tip - It's Just One Plant

I’m finally calling it quits in the garden for the season. It’s too late to dig things up and move them and all the easy weeding and mulching is done. All that’s left is to wait for the dreaded first freeze to dig up the dahlias, glads and cannas and close up the pond.
Recently, after we finished up one last project (mulching a new path), we were lounging in the sun by the pond and it struck me. There was no color left in my garden. Oh, a few late cannas are still out there, with their bright red spikes, and a few black-eyed Susans, but nothing that really jumps out. It was so surprising that I walked around and took inventory to see if my eyes were deceiving me. Here’s what I found blooming, in no particular order:
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (aptly named) and other sedums
  • Golden Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’)
  • Some self-seeded phlox
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Three-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba)
  • Echinacea ‘Pica Bella’
  • Canna
  • Butterfly bush, multiple varieties
  • Coreopsis
  • Geranium ‘Rozanne’
  • Gaillardia
  • Sunflowers
  • Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’
  • Roses
  • Balloon Flower
  • A very few re-blooming daylilies
  • Colchicum ‘Waterlily’
  • Several annuals, such as marigolds, celosia and salvia
What some of these fall flowers look like (because what is a garden blog without pictures?):

Butterfly Bush with companion


Geranium 'Rozanne'

New Garden Path (sorry about the shadow!)

That quite a list! So what’s wrong?  It seems I have finally reaped the results of being a plant collector. My philosophy for plant purchases is usually to check my database; if the plant isn’t listed, I must have it immediately. Does it matter whether it fits in my scheme? Not in the slightest. Do I even have room for it? Who cares? It’s just one plant.

It’s just one plant.
Perhaps you’ve heard/said/thought those words. These words are the downfall of many a gardener for a couple of reasons. If you have a small garden, those words signal the beginning of a more and more desperate search for space. Before long, every available surface is covered and the gardener is resorting to step-ladders and old bookcases to pile pots on. Every vertical post has plant hangers attached in all directions. Trust me, I’ve been there!
If you have a large garden, like me, these words mean real trouble. Trouble with your garden design, trouble with maintenance and trouble in your wallet.
Regarding design, I’ve noticed a lack of coherence, a certain air of chaos, even mayhem, in some places. Now I’m also seeing spotty seasonal color. Why? Too many individual plants and not enough unity. Yes, the singular plants and flowers are very beautiful, but can I appreciate them when they are only individuals spotted around the garden? Not so much. As the designers like to harp on, they would look much better in drifts and clusters, repeated throughout the whole plot.
So my project for the winter will be to pick out some favorites that I can use to make a theme and repeat them as I am renovating other areas. They needn’t even be fall-specific flowers; every season could use a bit of harmony. For example, many of my daylilies need dividing. Instead of replanting just one clump, I could plant several; just think what a statement a large mass of Strawberry Candy would make!

Daylily 'Strawberry Candy'

I’ll have to be careful to save space for onesies and twosies, though. I don’t think I could give up my collector impulses without therapy!

Just FYI, with the season closing in, the Tuesday Tip feature is moving to a more generic When-I-Feel-Like-It Tip feature, though I'll try to keep it weekly. Sorry for the lack of entries for the past few weeks - hubby and I both came down with colds! We're both feeling much better now and back to our usual foolishness!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Nobody Cares Like You Do

A non-gardening tip this week, folks, and a bit of a rant. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I've been receiving cortisone shots for lower back pain. I have also been getting these shots for my left knee. The knee requires a little explanation so bear with me.

Long, long ago, when I was a little blondie of 4 years old, the doctors discovered a cyst on the back of my knee that was bad enough to require surgery. You can imagine the fun and excitement enduring knee surgery was for a four-year-old. Or for my poor mother who was a single working parent at the time, bless her. I had a grudge against doctors and a fear of needles for years.

So. These things happen. I got over it, but my knee was never right. (Yeah, I know, it was LEFT, yuk, yuk, yuk.) Other doctors said it was early on-set arthritis, take these anti-inflammatories, go easy on it, blah,blah, blah. So I did what any young person would do. Ignored it completely and played volleyball, racket ball and rock climbed. You know, ran about with tail aflame like any normal young person.

Fast forward to not very long ago. Gardening, as we all can attest, is not easy on your knees, any more than playing sports and more so in some ways. My left knee held up for a while, then went into complete revolt. About 2 years ago, a new doctor ordered x-rays and confirms, yes, your knee is very arthritic and I think you would benefit from cortisone therapy. Hence the shots. Based on x-rays as the only diagnostic - remember that.

The cortisone shots helped for a while but over this summer started wearing off after only 5 or 6 weeks, instead of 10 to 12. The doctor tells me there is not much else to be done as the shots can only be given every 3 months or they will start to damage the joint even further. Knee replacement at my relatively young age (I'm only 40-mumble) is a last resort.

I mentioned it to a co-worker recently and we start comparing knee pain. She has the exact same pain in the exact same place on the exact same knee. Huh, how strange. So what, I ask, is wrong with your knee? A torn meniscus, she says.

No shit.

Now, I'm emphatically NOT one of those people who constantly second-guesses their doctors. I trust that their training and experience are sufficiently greater than mine that any guess of mine will be just that, a guess. It occurred to me, though, upon hearing my co-worker's reply, that she has just had an MRI on her knee, a test that was never performed on mine. Well, I think, why the hell not and tell my doctor I want one.

Today I got the results of that test I insisted on. Guess what? In addition to arthritis, I have a torn meniscus, a chronically sprained ligament and no cartilage left in the joint. Oh, and another cyst. And other stuff I didn't understand and couldn't pronounce. There were 2 PAGES of results.

All of a sudden, it's not just arthritis. I realized if it had been discovered sooner, there might have been therapies that could have helped. It's so bad at this point, my doctor offered to refer me to a surgeon to make an assessment for replacement immediately.

So we come to my tip for the day. My apologies for shouting, but I'm a bit riled up at the moment.


There are a million reasons why the MRI wasn't ordered till I asked for it. I'm not interested in discussing those in this forum, but allow me to say I don't entirely blame my doctor. He could have been more thorough, true. When it comes down to it, though, I could have been a more aggressive advocate for myself and made sure all avenues were explored.

I've seen this time and again when relatives have been in the hospital. My late father-in-law was over-medicated once when he had a stroke and we only discovered it when we insisted something was wrong to the nurses. They went over his chart more carefully and, sure enough, 2 meds were prescribed that interacted and caused his symptoms.

Nobody cares like you do. Take charge of your own care if you feel your doctors are not paying enough attention.

Author's Note: I am not looking for sympathy with this post. While the news was bad, I've lived with a bad knee all my life and this was truly no more than I expected. I only hope someone out there is inspired to take charge of their own care sooner that I did and has a better result. Be good to yourselves.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ready to pop!
Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Platycodon grandiflorus
Common Name: Balloon Flower
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:  4.7 Stars

Balloon flower is one of those plants that should be found in every garden. The delicate star-shaped flowers open from balloon shaped buds and both stages are quite beautiful.
Platycodon, flower and bud

They begin flowering in early July and continue until frost. Their soft colors mix well with most other garden flowers and foliage.
Balloon flower with Heuchera
They also are wonderful flowers for drawing different insects and pollinators. Bumblebees are constant visitors, as are hummingbird moths.

Bumblebee on Balloon Flower

Hummingbird Moth on Balloon Flower

Platycodon requires very little care, performs well in most soils and comes in both a tall and short variety. The colors include blue, purple, pink and white.  In all honesty, while the breeders list the blue and purple colors as separate, I have never been able to see a difference between them. It’s a fine, bluish purple, whatever they call it.

There is also a short variety called 'Fairy Snow' which is white with blue lines radiating from the center. It is shorter than most balloon flowers, only getting 12 inches tall, so put it up front! It can be a little hard to find, but well worth it.
The shorter variety only gets between 18 and 24 inches and is reliably hardy up to zone 4. One exception to that is a variety called ‘Miss Tilly’, a short blue variety, which is only hardy to zone 6. Look for the Astra series or ‘Sentimental Blue’ for colder zones.

The taller variety is also hardy to zone 4.
Disease                                                                         5 Stars
Planting balloon flower in wet, boggy soil can lead to fungal diseases and root rot. They prefer average to dry soil.
Pests – Insects                                                              5 Stars
None, unless you don't like a constant flow of bumblebees!
Pests – Animal                                                              5 Stars
Animals avoid this plant due to the bitter, milky sap. You won’t have a problem with Bambie or Thumper!
Invasiveness                                                                 4 Stars
Balloon flower only gets 4 stars for invasiveness because it can seed like crazy. I don’t find this to be a huge problem, first, because I love this flower and welcome it wherever it might sprout and, second, because the sprouts are very easy to pull if they hit an area I don’t want them.
General Maintenance – Water                                   5 Stars
With its large tap root, platycodon has its own water supply for drier times and doesn’t require extra watering. As noted above, too much water can cause rot and fungal problems.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                             5 Stars
No extra fertilizer required.
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning                4 Stars
Balloon flower loses a point on maintenance because it has a tendency to hold on to dead flowers and look a bit ratty as time goes on. There’s no real way to prune the plant either as it blooms all over the stem at once. 

Platycodon with both current and past flowers
One other problem is the tall variety often requires staking. I find it easier to encourage the plant to grow near shorter plants which can support it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beauty in Odd Places, or Fun on Labor Day Weekend

One thing I find about gardeners is their willingness to see beauty in odd places. How many normal people, for example, would look at a well-built compost heap and exclaim in awe and delight? Or look at the caterpillar merrily chewing on their tomatoes and admire the markings before pitching it in the woods?

We've had quite a bit of rain lately, what with Hurricane Irene passing by, and all the moisture has brought out a plethora of fungus. This past weekend, Brian noticed a lovely yellow mushroom on the edge of our spruces so out we tramped to check it out. Here's what we saw.

After consulting with the Audubon guide, we concluded this mushroom is a Yellow-Orange Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. formosa). Not deadly, but definitely poisonous. According to the guide, this mushroom may cause sweating, deep sleep and disorientation. Hubby looked at me, shrugged and said "Sounds like a normal Sunday around here."

We had also found a large puffball mushroom a few days before this and took a few shots. The puffball is one of the few wild mushrooms that is both easily identifiable and edible.

Puffball growing next to Paperbark Maple sapling.
After our adventure with the Amanita, we wandered over to see how the puffball was doing and found this:

Good grief! The thing looked like a burnt souffle! Presumably at some point in the near future, the top will split open and allow the spores to escape. I think this one is a Purple-spored Puffball (Calvatia cyathiformis), based on the fact that, when Brian hit one with the lawn mower, he got a cloud of purple spores.

We try to take Gracie the House Monster for a good long walk on the weekends and fortunately there is a great park not too far from our place. Lots of nature trails and it borders the river for a beautiful view. We even found a few shrooms on our walk!

Not sure what any of them were, so we assumed they were all poisonous. Gracie took one sniff then backed away with a look of disgust. Personally, I think all mushrooms should be admired but not eaten, even the ones in the grocery store, so I completely sympathised with her.

In addition to mushrooms, we found some other local wildlife.

Painted Turtle
 I haven't seen a turtle in the wild around here since I was a child. He was a little shy but agreed to have his photo taken. Gracie could not understand the fuss over a moving rock. She was much more interested in reaching the river for a cool off!

River Monster
While she was splashing around, Brian took this shot which shows just how high the river flooded when Hurricane Irene came to town.

The flood waters coated everything with mud!
All in all, an interesting time was had by all. The last thing we found was the stump of a tree, about 5.5 feet tall by the side of the trail. It was a perfect perch for Gracie!
Gracie and me
OK, Mom, let me down now!

Hope everyone had a safe and fun Labor Day weekend!

(thanks, Indie, from Red House Garden, for inspiring this post!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - The Roses of Autumn

I seem to be on a philosophical kick with my Tips the last few weeks. As the season ends, I have a tendancy toward melancholy and introspection. I hope you can bear with me. Today's tip is simple - be true to your gardening self, no matter what.

As you know, I've been trying to simplify my gardens to better care for myself. Many plants are being re-evaluated and some are hitting the compost heap. If I'm being honest with myself, most of my roses should be shovel pruned. Many of them are hybrid tea roses, which are notorious for disease problems and generally are the prima donnas of the garden.

This year, they have gotten no love whatsoever. No fertilizer, no spraying; they were lucky to have gotten pruned this spring (in fact, some didn't). I wrote in an earlier post that I would have to toughen up and get rid of the worst of them. The ones that survived my new Darwinian care program would stay; all others would be banished forever. I really meant it, too.

Then they go and do this:

Rose 'Playboy'
'Playboy' is one of those roses that looks fabulous when well cared for. It gets covered with those orange/yellow flowers, has glossy green leaves and stays a reasonable size. It's a blackspot nightmare when not sprayed, at least in my garden. I thought it had died over the winter and spared me the necessity of digging it out. But no, it not only recovered, it started sending out little clusters of its beautiful flowers.

Or how about this one?

Rose 'Sunstruck'
This rose is what we who grow roses call a "one-cane wonder". It literally has only one cane coming up out of the dirt. Excuse me, out of the soil. Yet, it has still managed to have at least one gorgeous flower and a few buds on it all summer. How can I rip it out when it's giving me presents like this?

So I've decided to modify my earlier, tough-love stance on my roses. They still get no special care, but if they keep blooming, I'll keep enjoying them, even if all their leaves fall off. My true gardening self simply isn't as hard-hearted as my renovation self. And I don't care! The joy I get from a single rose blossom is worth a few weeks of blackspot or Japanese beetles.

Here are some more roses currently blooming in my garden. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Rose 'About Face'

Rose 'Autumn Sunset'

Rose 'Chrysler Imperial'
Rose 'Cinnamon Spice'

Rose 'Falstaff'

Buds on Rose 'Mother of Pearl'

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Stop and Admire the Bugs!

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of last Saturday pruning a ninebark shrub into shape. I finished up with plenty of daylight left, so I spent a little time wandering around to see what I could see. We've had quite the menagerie of critters this year as the flowers in the new area have really taken hold and are blooming their fool heads off.

Butterflies are one of my favorite critters to watch and photograph. There are usually 3 or 4 cabbage whites dancing around at any given moment and the odd monarch will sail grandly in and eventually wander off, in their slightly tipsy manner. Once in a while, though, the garden is graced with unusual visitors like the red-spotted purple.

Red-spotted Purple drinking from a muddy spot
Other butterflies have wandered through that I can't identify, like the 2 below. If anyone knows what they are, I'd appreciate the info! Also, if you recommend a good identification book, I'd be grateful.

Unknown black with white spots on hydrangea

Possibly a Fritallary of some sort? It was visiting the butterfly bush.
Certain plants seem to draw some insects more than others. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), in addition to butterflies, also attracts its fair share of bumblebees and hummingbird moths. One odd herb I grow, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), only seems to attract bees and HUGE wasps. Of the wasps, 2 are particularly beautiful and, thankfully, completely non-aggressive.

Large, black wasp - it has a gorgeous blue sheen when seen in the right light

This wasp must be 3 inches long!

If you're tempted to grow this herb to attract these insects, be aware that it IS a kind of mint, with all that implies. I find it spreads more by seed than runners, but it can be a handful to contain.

Insects aren't the only flyers visiting the flowers. This year we have been blessed with not one, but 3 hummingbirds! Here in the east, we only have ruby-throated hummingbirds. They are iridescent green and the male has a magenta patch on his throat. As far as we can tell, all 3 of ours are females.

They are ridiculously difficult to photograph. The shots below were taken at a distance by either me or Brian and have been blown up and cropped to get the best view. Apologies for the blur, but you can blame the hummers!

My shot - hummer feeding on a canna lily

Another of mine

Brian's shot - he has a much better camera and was able to get the wings
So my tip for today? Don't sweat the small stuff, like getting your Tuesday Tip posted on time! Sometimes enjoying the now is way more important to your sanity and a lot more fun!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Productive Saturday and Wasted Sunday

It's certainly been a mixed bag this weekend. Yesterday was lovely and I was able to get one major project completed. Behind the pond is a large ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius'Summer Wine'). A 10 foot tall, 12 foot wide shrub with purple leaves, 'Summer Wine' is supposed to be a more compact variety of ninebark. It certainly is a dense variety and quite beautiful.

In the midst of my renovations, however, I find having foliage all the way to the ground to be more of a  nuisance than anything. It is hard to weed at the edges and several plants were being shaded out entirely. Reshaping this shrub was definitely on my list of projects, so when my darling spouse, Brian, decided to go to the Saratoga track for the Travers race, I pulled out all my implements of destruction and went to town on it.

Before Shrub Surgery
As you can see, there is a cleared area in front of the bush where we removed the sod to stop the encroachment of the lawn. The thickness of the foliage at the intersection of lawn and shrub made weeding a scratchy proposition. Believe it or not, there were actually 3 daylilies hiding under the branches. Poor planning on my part, but I believed them when they said this shrub was compact.

After Shrub Surgery

Another View
I really like the shape of the shrub after the trim. The arching of the upper branches can be seen and there is now room for some shade plants. The weeding and trimming of the plants around the shrub was accomplished for the first time in 3 years!

Shrub and Pond
The 3 daylilies, what was left of them anyway, were relocated to sunnier homes. In the course of removing them, I had to climb around the top of the pond and managed to annoy our resident pond monster. He/She scared the crap out of me by leaping from the top of the waterfall into the main pond with a resounding splash. I almost fell in after it!

Pond Monster
The last bit of wildlife I have to report for the day was a tiny tree frog I found earlier in the morning while weeding over by the woods. We looked him up in the Peterson's guide and he appears to be a grey tree frog. He was absolutely adorable! After admiring him and inflicting an impromtu photo shoot on him, I brought him back to the weeds from whence he came.

Tree monster
The rest of the day was spent lounging on the couch until Brian came home.

Today, on the other hand, has been a spectacular waste of a day. The remnants of Hurricane Irene arrived in the night and it has been nothing but wind and rain all day. We did the only thing we could do - slept in and watched TV. And played with our computers, of course.

We've been lucky and had no damage from the storm. There are reports of a mudslide which took out a few houses in a neighboring town, but thankfully there were no injuries. Wherever you are out there, please take care and be safe!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’ aka ‘Fine Line’
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:   5 Stars out of 5
Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’, also known as buckthorn, was introduced in 2003 and is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves. I purchased a small specimen in 2006 at an end-of-season sale and it is now a gorgeous, 6 foot tall accent in an otherwise low height area of the garden. The foliage is a lovely, ferny texture and turns a bright yellow in the fall. The flowers are insignificant; I have to really be paying attention to notice them at all in the spring. It is hardy to -50 degrees (cold zone 2) and has had no problem handling temperatures in the high 90’s during the summer (heat zone 4).
This buckthorn is not fussy about soil type, but I have it planted in good soil and, considering its origins as an invader of wetlands, I doubt it would do well in sandy, dry soil without some amendments.
OK, enough with the statistics. This has quickly become my absolute favorite shrub. I like it so much, in fact, that I bought 4 more this spring, two of which I’ve even planted! This is what I call a genuine no-maintenance plant.

Ferny foliage of 'Fine Line'

Disease                                                                                5 Stars
I have never had a disease affect this small tree. I’ve read reports that the wild varieties can get stem cankers from certain fungus, but I’ve not seen it on my tree.
Pests – Insects                                                                  5 Stars
Japanese beetles can be a nuisance, but rarely more.

Japanese beetles rarely do serious damage to 'Fine Line'
Pests – Animal                                                                  5 Stars
None, unless you count birds pooping on it.
Invasiveness                                                                      5 Stars
Many varieties of Rhamnus are invasive pests. The wild varieties produce prodigious quantities of seed and can spread rapidly through wetlands. The linked report will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the invasiveness of buckthorn.
Fortunately, the cultivated variety ‘Fine Line’ has shown no inclination towards world domination. In my garden it rarely produces more than a very few fruits and, in 5 years, I’ve seen no seedlings at all.
General Maintenance – Water                                 5 Stars
Watering is among my least favorite garden chores and if a plant has survived here as long as this one has, you may assume it is not a water hog. Rhamnus is no exception. I have read that its water requirements are “medium” but mine gets by on whatever Mom Nature is pleased to send.
The usual caveat applies to newly planted greenery. All baby plants require extra care till they are established.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                          5 Stars
I have never fertilized my Rhamnus tree (are you noticing a trend here? About the only things I have EVER fertilized are my roses!).
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning          5 Stars
The form of this tree is vase-shaped and so far there have been no rogue branches needing correcting. I’m rather surprised as the wild varieties have a tendency to get weedy with age. As my tree is only 5 years old, I will withhold judgment until it is older. At this stage, I can say it has not required any extra care in the pruning department.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Be the Ants

Today was not a day I felt like doing anything much. Just coming back from a week-long vacation has done nothing for my ambition or attitude. Work seems more tedious, the people more annoying and the atmosphere more suffocating. By the time I got home, the only thing that sounded enticing was the couch.

Days like this make me want to give up on my renovations. Every time I look at my gardens, all I can see is what still needs to be done. The weeds continue to rampage unchecked. The groundhog still thumbs his little nose at us. The pond needs cleaning and the lilies never did get fertilized. It's enough to make anyone feel discouraged and it sure makes that couch look like nirvana.

Since I hurt my back this past spring, my darling, and long-suffering, spouse has taken it upon himself to load wheelbarrows with mulch for me whenever I need them. No matter what he's in the middle of, if he sees an empty wheelbarrow, he runs for the shovel, perhaps thinking I'll try it again myself if he doesn't. I tell him he needn't worry, I really did learn my lesson this time. He just rolls his eyes.

So I come home tonight, in my mood, and my Sweetie has the big wheelbarrow all loaded up and parked near the area I last cleared out and he has a big grin on his face. What could I do? I thanked him lavishly, changed my clothes and spent the evening spreading mulch.

When I started, I was just going through the motions. It seemed so little compared to the big picture. And, of course, the dandelions and oxalis had started to pop back up as we had some rain since my last foray into the weed patch.

A funny thought came to my head, though, while I was working. If you stood back a bit, it looked as though a black tide (the mulch) was sweeping through the garden. Much the way the weeds had swept through it when I was distracted by the new area. It sounds goofy, putting it down here, but it felt like I really was making headway, albeit slowly.

Did you ever read the short story "Leiningen versus the Ants" in high school? A really whacked out story about a plantation owner who tries to prevent army ants from destroying his land. I was feeling a little like the ants by the end of the evening. (I am gardener, hear me roar!)

So my tip tonight? Just do it. Every little bit helps, even if you don't see it at first.

Be the ants.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pissarro, Efts and Gardens – Oh, my!

Well, I’m back from vacation with a few stories to tell! Brian and I travelled over to western Massachusetts and visited the Clark Art Institute, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The first two were planned but the wildlife sanctuary was a happy accident. It just happened to be less than a mile from the hotel we stayed at. Just goes to show, when you’re travelling by car, keep your eyes open; you never know what you might run across!
My husband is a fan of the artist, Camille Pissarro, especially his landscapes, so it was a high priority to go to the Clark and view the Pissarro display. Entitled “The People of Pissarro”, there were only a few landscapes on exhibit, but we got to see another side of a great artist.
I won’t go into a detailed review of the show, but I will say we spent most of the day there and enjoyed every minute. There was an unbelievable amount of finished pieces, many on loan from distant museums. In addition to these, there were also sketches and preparatory works. If you’re a fan of Pissarro and you’re in the area, it is worth going. The café at the Clark makes a mean ham and Swiss sandwich, too, and their chocolate chip cookies should not be missed.
After the Clark, we travelled south to Lenox where our hotel awaited us. A Days Inn on a hillside, it was nothing special except for the desk clerk, a young woman named Allison. She directed two tired and hungry travelers to a local restaurant and gave us a coupon for 15% off our meal. After a tex-mex meal that couldn’t be beat, we brought her back a strawberry lemonade and many thanks.
We had spotted a small sign for the wildlife sanctuary on the way to the restaurant and decided to check it out in the morning before heading for the botanical garden. Good move on our part! It doesn’t look like much when you first arrive – a small wood-sided building for checking in and buying souvenirs or snacks and a path leading off into the trees. First impressions are deceiving, though. The Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of over 1300 acres, including several ponds and trails throughout.

Pike's Pond

The diversity of the plant life was amazing. I consider myself fairly well schooled in identifying wild plants and I saw some things that I had only seen in guide books. Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), used in natural medicine to induce or aid in labor, was a welcome check on my plant life list. We also saw white bane berry (Actaea pachypoda), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and sharp-leafed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba).
Sweet Autumn Clematis

Indian Pipe