Sunday, May 15, 2016


The old apricot tree at the edge of the garden.
The apricot tree had weathered many seasons--planted before my birth, before my mother's birth.
Its uneven form, leaning from the tidy rectangle of a picket fence, frames the edge of a vintage photo, taken in the latter 1800's.
Behind it in springtime a peony thrust through the sparse grass, unfolding glossy leaves and tight round buds destined to burst into bouffant spheres of dark red petals.  
At the foot of the tree pale lavender iris appeared, season after season, undivided, untended. A tangle of slender rose briars spilled onto the grassy slope of the lawn, a wildling with tiny white blossoms, perhaps transplanted from a pasture hedgerow.

I have no decent photo of the small garden. 
It is a part of my earliest memories, and the rest of layout--in full color--is vivid in my mind's eye.
The garden lay a few yards beyond the formal front door of the white farmhouse--an entrance seldom used, as the semi-circle of the gravel drive swung past a welcoming side porch with a 
south-facing door.
The garden was bounded on the other end by a shrub which we called the honeysuckle bush.
Its tiny pale flowers scented the air in June, followed by small dark orange berries in late summer.
I like to think that some woman of the 1800's planned the garden, near enough to the house to be enjoyed on a summer afternoon, a pleasant and peaceful area to view from the parlor window.

The garden's creator placed a second red peony near the honeysuckle bush, and a clump of lemon lilies at the center of the narrow strip. 
Lily of the Valley flowed softly from under the lowest branches of the honeysuckle, ebbed outward toward the yellow lilies. 
At the edge nearest the house my great-grandmother planted a rambling rose.  My mother recalled the cereal boxtops saved and sent off with an order form, and the eagerly awaited arrival of the tiny slip of a rose.  It was a petite rose, well behaved, with flowers like small pink pompoms.
It may have been the variety named 'The Fairy.'

 My world prior to the age of five didn't range far beyond the immediate 'dooryard' of the farmhouse;  I spent contented hours pottering near the apricot tree, with the hum of bees for company.
No one fussed over the little garden.
Grass grew thinly around the base of the apricot tree, the perennials seemed scarcely to spread.
Perhaps the shade of the huge sugar maple just below kept all in bounds.
The garden was cool and quiet on summer mornings; its position on the west side of the house made for golden autumn afternoons when the scarlet leaves of the nearby maple drifted down leaving the dark fretwork of branches etched across a blue sky.

My parents, my younger sister and I, shared the farmhouse with Grampa Mac, Great Grandmother Eliza and Uncle Bill, until our small house was built within hollering distance along the dirt road. We soon created a 'short cut' between the two dwellings, trotting along the road then skirting the prickly hedge of Cinnamon Roses which divided the farmhouse lawn from the area where my uncle's hens and geese had their coops.
Our footpath wound past an old sweet rose [probably Maiden's Blush] at the north corner of the house, along a rampage of common orange lilies and so to the 'back yard' and the door into the kitchen ell.

Years later, after living in several New England states, Jim and I built a modest log home on the two acres which had once served as night pasture for Grampa Mac's dairy cows.

I was by then a dedicated gardener. 
The vegetable garden was prepared first--a practicality--then I embarked on what became an 18 year adventure with heirloom roses, peonies, lilies, delphinium--every sort of cottage garden treasure which had a chance of surviving a zone 3 winter. 
Some of my plants were shared from the gardens of friends, some I coaxed along from seeds.
I shopped at garden centers and nurseries for miles around, ordered special treasures from the catalogs that piled into the mailbox while snow lay deep on the ground.

In the autumn of our 18th year in that place we knew that we would move in the spring to Wyoming.

We left as my garden was putting on its spring show.

My grand daughter posed in the garden for my sister's photo later in the summer.
It would take several seasons for me to realize the difficulties of gardening in Wyoming.
In the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, there are less than 3 full months of frost-free weather.
Drought and searing winds prevail.
Grasshoppers arrive in the brittle heat of July, in a plague of biblical proportions.
At our final Wyoming home I managed a sparse hedge of hardy shrub roses. The resident group of mule deer nibbled them down in June--which seemed to inspire a vigorous re-blooming 
just before the first snow!

Early spring at our first Kentucky property was a time of intense gardening.
The former owners had been plant lovers.
We 'inherited' two sprawling pink peonies, a variety of iris, hydrangeas along the west wall of the house, a hibiscus by the garage, a magnificent clump of Michaelmas daisies near the clothesline. 
The iris at some point had been divided and dotted about the dooryard--some poking up through the fading spikes of daffodils, a few competing with the honeysuckle that tangled around a lamp post.

 My grandson helped prepare an extended rock-edged 'bed' near the peonies and I painstakingly separated tangled iris rhizomes, tucked them into the new space, added more peonies.

I had coveted clematis for years, never quite dared to plant them in my zone 3 Vermont garden.
I was delighted to recognize two varieties growing against the brick wall of the carport.
Haskell Rogers [the previous owner] had frugally rigged a support of metal fence stakes and chicken wire. During our second season there I bought a new trellis for the white clematis--an heirloom variety called Candida.

My son-in-law contributed an elegant tower for Nellie Moser to climb.

Nellie Moser clambered over the rocks at the base of the trellis and climbed a nearby nandina bush.

Both plants set seedlings, a few of which I pried gently out and set into a large pot.

The potted seedlings moved with me to the Pellyton farm where they sulked in their planter until early autumn when I had time to set up a trellis and tuck them into the ground of a new garden.
I was pleased to see that the seedlings wintered and thrust up fresh tendrils to begin the climb up the trellis.  I didn't know if I had managed to move starts from both varieties.
Nellie Moser, the striped rose variety is readily available both at local nurseries and through mail order. Candida is harder to find.

Only one bud appeared--from the vine growing on the right hand side of the support.


It will likely be another season before a full flowering. 
I hope to find that I saved starts of both varieties.

I have been out daily with my camera, enjoying this blossom from plump bud, through a slow unfolding of green-tinged petals, to full blown beauty and then fading to a feathery seed head.
I could have searched out a tiny start of this increasingly rare old clematis, had it shipped in, nurtured and fussed over it.
There is a special value in having an offspring of the vine that Haskell Rogers and his wife tended at the place we called home for several years.

In memory I often revisit that first Vermont garden I knew as a child, a garden that had its beginnings more than a century ago.
I can imagine a young woman bringing a peony or an iris root from the home of her parents or grandparents. Perhaps as a young matron she visited a neighbor when lily of the valley was in bloom and was given a clump wrapped in damp newspaper to carry home.
Could the lemon lilies have come from the weedy dooryard of a long-abandoned homestead?

Wherever I have lived in a home previously owned by another family I have discovered a legacy of plants and flowering shrubs.
When I have left the homes which we built from the ground up I have left behind a gardener's labor of love, hoping it would be enjoyed and nurtured.

There are two houses on our Pellyton farm.
At each house there is an inheritance of roses chosen by the Amish women who lived here. I discovered Four o'Clocks growing beside the doorstep of the larger workshop.

Already I have the beginnings of a new garden; there are clove pinks moved from my Gradyville plantings; there are divisions of the bouffant pink peonies, a Therese Bugnet rose salvaged from a runner thrust out onto the lawn.
My daughter brought bundles of iris and tiger lilies from the wild edges of her property.
I moved Canterbury bells and a straggle of Stella d'Oro lilies from the property we refurbished in Cane Valley. I have coneflowers started last year in crowded plastic trays, fragrant lavender which first saw life on my pantry windowsill.
Plants have arrived, neatly packaged from mail order nurseries and I have come home well laden from the Mennonite garden centers in the next county.
Our renter has brought lilacs from his property in Michigan and set them out along a fence 
near the stable.
On cold winter afternoons I sit by the fire turning the pages of my garden books--books with photos of famous formal English gardens; books about raising and using herbs; books with plans for elegant borders or tiny cottage plots.
I linger over a cup of tea, a nursery catalog spread open on the table, a pen ready to boldly mark a coveted offering.
Oh, to have the funds--the space--the stamina--to indulge in all the plants that take my fancy!

I can't know how many years I have to garden in this place, nor have I fully learned what will flourish in our stony soil, or what plants will languish in a hot and  humid summer.
I can only trust that whatever I accomplish in my gardening endeavors I will be leaving yet another legacy for a future owner to enjoy and enlarge.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rain, Thunder and Lightning, Mud, More Rain

One can do nothing about the weather; it must be endured.  We grumble, complain, fret about drowning gardens, crops unplanted, the dreariness of seemingly endless storms.
As I write, at 10:45 PM on Wednesday evening, rain pounds on the metal roof of the house, streams down darkened windows. Thunder has boomed, subsided, rumbled around again.

I pulled on my boots this morning and went out to take stock of the damage of Tuesday evening's torrential storm. We didn't have the hail which clattered down in other parts of the county.  We simply had too much water pelting on us in too short a space of time.
Half open peonies sprawled, heads down; late-blooming iris lay horizontally over the edge of the raised bed which is partially sheltered by the over-hanging roof of the shop.

I had been weeding Tuesday when it began to rain just before dark.
Two weeks ago the ground was too dry for weeds to be neatly extracted. Stalks snapped, roots had to be pried loose.
Once it began to rain [was it 10 days ago?] intermittent hours of sunlight haven't been enough to wick away moisture before more fell.

Ridges rise steeply on either side of our house. When there is hard rain, freshets form and course down the hillsides, converging to swell the brook that normally putters along in its gravel bed, emptying into a culvert at the foot of the lane, gurgling out on the far side of the road.

Another lesser brook trickles along the pasture hedgerow, gushes under the lane and angles along the stand of willows that border the lane.

Nellie, who enjoys water, has discovered an opening in the ground--a burrow or tunnel made by some small creature. He prods at the hole, stops to listen, swirls a paw through the muddy water.

Nellie doesn't mind wet feet. He splashes and stirs until his white stockings are a mess.

The goats don't like the wet in their pasture.
There are shelters for them, but they plod about disconsolately.
I watched this brown 'girl'--a favorite of the current crop of kids--as she maneuvered until all four feet were on the cement block.

She was still on her perch when I crossed the drive to visit the 'babies.'

The three goatlets in the foreground are sisters--triplets.

At least we can keep our front feet dry!

Willis and Charlie are high and dry on the lumber stacked on the shop porch.

I slogged along the road to our fields which lie along the creek.
The long grass was nearly waist high, the ground soggy.
I felt restless, dis-inclined to be inside, yet unwilling to wallow my way to the creek which runs below the far edge of the field.

I zig-zagged slowly up the lane, pausing to record my green and dripping world.
The hedge/fence, over-grown again with a welter of wild rose, blackberry bramble, honeysuckle.

I clambered about on the side hill above the drive, admiring the pale flowers of lyre-leaved sage.

Spider wort [perhaps] near the little brook

I haven't seen this tiny plant before, growing in the shade where scrubby trees fringe the edge of the woods.
I slithered down the wet grass of the bank, trudged past the nearly flattened clove pinks at the edge of the side porch.
Indoors, to finish the laundry, bake a pound cake, hull the strawberries purchased from the Beachy Amish produce farm farther up the ridge road.
A day of small accomplishments and now an evening of fretting over the weather!
The rain has quit for the moment, thunder is a sullen mutter, although storm warnings continue for another hour or two, and lightning still zips across the dark sky.
The morning will dawn to reveal more mud--dripping trees, bedraggled flowers.
Que sera, sera.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


The phone rang at 8:30 Saturday evening.  A glance at the tiny screen identified the nightly call from my son.
"Hello," I answered in the cheery tone reserved for family members and friends.
Without preamble, the responding voice queried, "Aren't you glad you have Dawn?"
I chuckled, knowing that the remark referenced the beautiful bouquet delivered on Friday afternoon, an example of my daughter-in-law's generous thoughtfulness. [I had posted a photo on Face Book so that she and Howard could see the bouquet taking pride of place on the living room table.]
"I'm grateful for Dawn--and for you--every day!"

 The delivery of the flowers was good timing.
A trip to the produce market in Casey County had ended with me phoning Jim for rescue when the brake caliper on the van I prefer to drive stuck and refused to release.  Jim appeared, tunked on something inside the wheel and offered me the Nissan to bring home while he took the recalcitrant mini-van.
Waiting on the front doorstep,  presented by a loving feline, was a small ring-necked snake, still showing signs of life. Jim to the rescue again.
I put away the groceries and walked out to my flower garden as a way of settling rather ruffled feathers;  tires crunched on gravel and I  turned to see an unfamiliar vehicle trundling up the lane.  The driver, a smiling woman, emerged holding out the vase of flowers--an instant balm for my stress.

I had noted earlier in the week that Mother's Day would be observed on the 8th of May.
Jim's Mom died in 2003 and mine in 2007. I spent a few moments nostalgically remembering--I usually chose a garden-related gift for my Mother-in-Law and a new book--or book shop gift certificate - for my Mother.

Both women today would be termed as 'professionals.'
My mother completed the required two years of 'teacher's training' shortly after her 18th birthday and until marriage in her early 20's and my arrival three years later she taught in the one-room schoolhouses of her hometown.
Jim's Mom, at that age, was still in nurses training.
Both women put their careers on hold to raise their children. Both returned to college to refresh their credentials and work again in mid-life.
On my birth certificate and on Jim's [both of us born in Vermont] in the space for listing Occupation of Mother, both women are designated 'house wife.' Like many women of their generation, family and homemaking became their primary focus.

I've heard it said that we must become mothers in our turn before we can appreciate the sacrifices, the emotional and physical endurance required to keep a home and bring up our children 'in the way they should go.'
A Mother is not endowed with wisdom and patience at the moment when that tiny bundle of life is placed in her arms. Looking back, most of us will mourn the times when we lacked understanding, punished a child too severely, felt too busy, too burdened to listen or to play.

This weekend in churches across the land, time has been set aside to honor mothers.  The women of each congregation bring home a long-stemmed rose or carnation, the stalk already bent from the too tight clasp of small warm hands.  We smile at the procession of children, each proudly carrying a flower to mother, to grandmother, and then to those 'Mothers in Israel' who have long been the backbone of children's programs.

I am mildly astonished to find that I am now the matriarch of my family!  I have been pampered this weekend.
The gift of flowers on Friday was followed by the arrival on Saturday afternoon of my daughter and son-in-law presenting a bucket of freshly picked local strawberries--and enough whipping cream for several shortcakes!

I was an honored dinner guest at their Gradyville home today along with the friend whom daughter Gina fondly calls her 'second mother.'

I miss my own Mother.  Though I often felt she didn't understand the adult I became, there were deep bonds. When a piece of music delighted me,  I could share that with her. We could enjoy together the word-craft of a writer we admired, pore over vintage family photos on a companionable afternoon. She passed on to me a penchant for proper grammar, and the ability to transpose a hymn tune 'by ear.'
I miss Jim's Mom--her store of practical wisdom, her love of nature.  She had a contagious enthusiasm for impromtu outings--rounding up her available adult children and grandchildren, packing a lunch and heading us all to the blueberry patch, or to harvest 'fiddleheads' along 
Otter Creek in the spring. 

With the inevitable passing of generations we lose our mothers and grandmothers, along with those beloved women unrelated by blood who have nurtured and encouraged us. 

'Mothers' have been lauded through sentimental songs and florid poetry; the observance of 'Mother's Day' with its attendant air of commercialism is perhaps a far cry from earlier tokens of appreciation that might have included a hand made card, a bouquet of wildflowers. 
I have enjoyed the gifts chosen and presented by my son and daughter and their spouses. Even more, I cherish the on-going affirmation of their affection.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Night Side of the Moon

The waning gibbous moon of 24 April, 2016

An attempt to capture the nearly full moon after darkness had fallen.

The 'moon' has figured in several conversations lately. When two young Amish women from a neighboring farm stopped by one evening our talk touched on gardening.  While we lamented the stoniness of our current garden spot, the girls mentioned that in spite of the prevailing rocky soil their family manages a good garden, including a healthy crop of potatoes.

"Do you have them in yet?" Jim inquired.
Lizzie hastened to assure us that potatoes should be planted in 'the dark of the moon' which will occur during the first days of June.

My Grampa Mac would have approved.  I haven't searched through the half dozen of his diaries in my possession to note when he planted potatoes each spring in the sloping patch of ground west of the marsh.  I have only recently discovered that, with the wonders of the internet, I could key in those dates and view a calendar depicting the phases of the moon for that month and year.

Grampa Mac kept the latest copy of The Old Farmers' Almanac on the living room table near his favorite rocking chair [along with the Sears Roebuck catalog and back issues of Farm Journal.]
A farmer lifelong, he drew on an accumulated store of wisdom regarding seasons and weather.  When he consulted the 'almanac' it was likely to verify his own canny predictions, aided by the weather forecast aired each morning on his aging AM radio.

My father, Larry, though not a farmer, was an outdoors-man, fascinated by the shifting patterns of seasons and weather. He too kept an almanac handy, comparing its prophetic warnings with the several thermometers strategically installed at eye level on various outside window ledges.

Growing up a country child, I learned the habit of noticing my surroundings, becoming aware of the subtle changes in behavior of humans and animals as days and weeks and months move through their ceaseless cycles.  Bits of Grampa Mac's weather lore became a part of my own response to wind, rain, heat and cold.

I know very little of astronomy; I don't delve into astrology, sensing that it would be dangerous territory.  I give only a cursory glance at the weather icons which pop up on my google news page. I leave it to Jim with his love of the doplar weather site to inform me that I had better do [or plan not to do!] certain tasks based on the weather about to be upon us.

I watch the moon--not as one who counts the nights between each phase or waits with anticipation for a blessing from the full moon.  The moon is 'full' for only one night in each cycle, but the waxing and waning gibbous moon sheds a luminous glow that draws me outside to marvel time and again.

During the past month I've made frequent evening visits down the lane to fuss over our neighbors' baby goats before they are taken into the stable for the night. As darkness falls, the nannies have still been in the pasture with the three Great Pyrenees dogs who guard them.  
When the moon neared full the dogs barked almost incessantly, rushing to announce our goings and comings, challenging Willis the Cat as he sauntered down the lane.  Their normal concern for the welfare of their herd seemed heightened to a frantic pitch. The goats appeared more than usually mischievous and lively, fired with fractious energy.  Bonny reported that a usually biddable doe suddenly struck out with a swift hoof and knocked over the full container of her milk, splattering the floor, upsetting the other goats awaiting their turn at the milking stand, instigating a cacophony of bleats and indignant caprine shrieks.

Lingering outside at dusk as the moon rose, we remarked on the general restlessness that prevailed. The barking of other dogs rang from neighboring ridges, adding to the clamor of the huge white canines pacing the fence line. Owls hooted nearby, unseen, answered by others in the woods beyond the creek.

At home our house cats behaved as though possessed, galloping up and down the stairs, larruping around the kitchen, skidding through the hall, cuffing at one another, executing  flying leaps across my desk or Jim's, careening on to the sunroom to slump in a snarling welter of tails and paws.

When I mentioned the animal uproar to friend Jay, he diagnosed 'moon madness' and reported that the two sedate old lady cats who live with him and his wife had that very morning stampeded through the rooms 'like elephants', barreling across his lap as he sat watching the earliest daylight bring shimmering color to the meadow below his house.

Was there something particularly intense about the waxing of the April moon?  Did the burgeoning of  green plants, budding trees, the birth of animal young fuse in some mystical way with the lunar force that pulls the  tides and sheds silvered light over field and lane?

As the waning gibbous moon diminished to its last quarter a perceptible calm settled over the dogs, the goats, the cats.  The Pyrenees matron and her two daughters spend the days quietly watching over their goats. They give a woof of greeting and accompany me along the lane on their own side of the fence, grinning, keeping up a low rumble of conversation.
The goats glance at me and return to their browsing.
The cats have quit roistering through the house, content to loll in front of the fire, for the night side of the moon brought cold rain and grey sullen days.

The 'night side of the moon' provides a time of quiet contemplation, a regrouping after the exciting and dizzying responses of human-kind and animal-kind during the compelling phase of waxing moonlight.
Tonight, May 6th marks the new moon.  On this first night there is 0% illumination.

As this new moon waxes toward full, moving through its mysterious and ageless pattern, I will be taking renewed interest in the responses of those around me, observing the resident creatures, the better to deal with the intermittent 'lunacy' which may again prevail. enjoy a moon calendar and learn more about the phases of the moon, visit moongiant at their website.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Green Darkness

A gaggle of geese visit from their home across the road.
We noted that the family once included six goslings; the four remaining young seem to have reached a point of stability.

All three of B.'s female barn cats have produced kittens. 
The two white/calico mums are very shy--I've not been able to approach them. 
This one hunts in the strip of pasture that faces the road.  I warn her that going into the roadway wouldn't be a wise exploration.
Today B. reported that she has located  two litters of kittens--both tucked away in the barn loft.
The grey and orange mom-cat tends hers in a bin in the main aisle between goat stalls.

We have had rain for some part of each day or night during the past week.
The rain was needed after a dry early spring.
It has come in brief but torrential out-pourings, rain that pounds noisily on the roof, accompanied by rumbling thunder.
Between showers I venture outside, noting the damage to the iris, realizing that to walk through the veg garden would be to leave squelching footprints which would quickly fill with water.
Trees, weeds, wild plants, rough grass--all are agressively green, glowing vividly in the mid-day darkness that accompanies a rainy day.

Intermittently, the sun appears, shouldering its way through billows of pewter clouds.
The cats come out of hiding and pick their way along the timbers of the raised beds, keeping their feet dry.

Bobby sits on the cement landing below the side porch steps.
He is afraid of thunder.  At the first rumble he asks to be let into the house, where he takes refuge in the windowless downstairs bathroom, wedging himself behind the laundry basket. 

A few moments of sunshine, casting shadows.

Therese Bugnet.
In my former garden, Therese sent runners from the perennial strip into the edge of the lawn.
I rescued several from Jim's ruthless sweeps with the mower and potted them.
They survived our first winter here heeled into the rocky soil of the rough garden.
Last year I gave them a home in the end of the timbered perennial strip.
The blooms are soft, blowsy, with a classic rose scent.
The first blossom has opened in the rain.

I enjoy the fuzzy pale buds of a classic achillea nearly as much as the warm golden yellow of the opened flowers.

I am petitioning Jim for timbers to line the remainder of the fence which separates the garden from the rough, shady ground that falls away to the little brook.
Weeds are leaning in from the back side of the fence.
My new clematis, Duchess of Edinburgh, is planted in front of the trellis with bricks on either side to discourage the indiscriminate digging of cats.

I attempted to prop up the rain-battered iris, but they flopped as soon as I turned my back on them.
On Thursday--which was beautifully sunny--we visited two of the nurseries in the South Fork Mennonite community.
We came home with three blueberry bushes and a flat of strawberry plants.
The rough garden isn't an ideal growing area but it is what we have available at present.
Jim used tractor and tiller to turn the ground.
I scrambled about 'picking' rocks.
We put down a weed barrier fabric and set the plants in place--just in time for another rain shower.
I picked rocks here last year, by the bucketful.
It appears that whenever I lack for something to do I can continue to gather up rocks.

The brook that runs beside the lane is full, swirling noisily around the clumps of willow.

I discovered the strange leathery green toad on the windowsill of the back porch when I was pegging out laundry.

Buds are forming on the coneflowers.
The ones I started from seed and set out in the fall are catching up with several nursery transplants.

As I look at my recent blog posts and scroll through the photos I've taken, I see that my subject matter doesn't differ from day to day.
I strive to capture incremental changes, documenting stages of growth and the progress of the season. 
For several decades travel was a part of our business--Jim's years of owning and driving a semi, then the busy time of building in Wyoming when we so often traveled hundreds of miles out of state to buy materials. 
It was exciting to be a part of that, but I am a home-lover by nature.
I am content to trudge  down the lane, to venture along the road and across the field, to pick my way along the edge of the creek.
Walking along the lane, a retinue of cats at my heels, I pause to listen to the drilling of a woodpecker, invisible in his chosen tree on the side of the ridge.
Sparrows twitter in the hedge and the scarlet of a male cardinal flashes in the branches of a sweet gum tree.
As I approach the house, the damp air is laden with a spicy scent of  rain-splashed 'pinks,' mingling with the freshness of grass, new leaves,  a fainter hint of recently turned earth, of animals.
The green darkness of rainy days hangs over the farm, invades my quiet kitchen.
As I close the door, rain begins again, a steady drumming of sound on the metal roof.
I park my wellies by the door, ready for the next break in the weather and another stroll around my green and growing acres.