Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Scent of Rain


Sabbath quiet on the east porch. Mottled sunshine over the garden, a drift of clouds, pale grey at the edges.
Whirring of wings as hummingbirds land on the hanging feeder.  Bluebirds fly into the fringe of trees that line the south ravine, dart back out of sight behind the house.
I move the heavy gardening book from my lap to rest against the arm of the rocking chair.  Clancy, the half grown kitten, has landed in my lap.
A light breeze lifts the perfume of the Old Vermont Pinks in the new garden below. The tallest spires of foxglove move.
I am lost in my book--English gardens, herbs, flowers, stately formal gardens, cottage gardens, rustic country plots.


The wind quickens, bringing the smell of distant rain.  Putting the book aside, I watch the tops of the trees swaying as dark clouds move in from the west. 
A muffled rumble of thunder and the cats who have kept me company exit the porch, scudding through the sun room and into the house.

Rain moves in fast, great sheets of it borne on the wind.
Through the porch screens I watch as water pummels the flower strips, splashes from the barn roof.

Picking up my book and a cushion from the rocking chair I follow the cats inside.
The shower is brief, but rather fierce, over in a scant 15 minutes.

Outside again trees drip, closer by, the eaves drip. 
The tiny tree frogs we call 'rain crows' make their distinctive creaking sound, call and answer from several across the lane.
A quarter of an hour's respite and again the thunder rolls, heralding another deluge.
Teasel-Cat and I settle for a chair by the east living room windows, the book again positioned to accommodate a cat



When the rain stops I shove my feet into boots and venture outside.
In the greenhouse a swallowtail butterfly beats against the wall, pauses to cling to a spray of tall grass above  the bench. I grasp it gently by one wing, release it at the door and watch as it flutters away.


The storms have moved off, leaving a steamy warmth. The peonies raise their heads.



The sky is brilliantly blue, clouds pillowy, pristine.


Walking up the lane to the mailbox I note that this shapely tree in the fence row has triumphed over the harsh freeze that stripped its first crop of leaves.


Our neighbor's barn lot, unused since the death last fall of his mule, has grown a cover of buttercup.


The dooryard shimmers, the air has a rain-washed freshness.



The grass of the meadow is nearly ready for David Beachy to hay again.



Willis waits for me in the shade where the lane bends past the garden area.


Willis takes his escort duties very seriously.


At twilight we walk out and notice that the rain and several hours of steamy heat have caused a veritable explosion of green beans poking through the wet garden soil.



It is nearly dark when I cross the yard to close up the greenhouse. 
A few seedlings need watering. 
Jim has set buckets to collect rain water, better for the young plants than the heavily chlorinated county water.
A frog balanced on the edge of a bucket startles me, plopping over the edge.

The night air is heavy with the scent of wet grass, pinks, pansies, wild blackberries.
The rain crows rasp, the birds have gone to their night time roosts.
We are--finally--at the edge of summer.






Tuesday, May 19, 2020

From Frost to Flowers




May 6th--and the peony bushes sheltered under the improvised tent Jim made, hoping that 3 nights of frost wouldn't ruin the spring crop of blooms.
When I cautiously removed the tarp on the 4th morning, many of the stems were bent and the buds looked a bit dry.



As the weather began to warm up, I noted that ants--seemingly necessary to stimulate the blooming process--were at work.




You can see the effect of the cold on the outermost petals.


This was the first peony to bloom. The edges of the petals were dry and bleached looking.


This simple white bloom is my favorite of my peonies.


We were at Lowes several years ago [while doing renovations on our Amish farmhouse] and of course I wandered away from the aisles of plumbing and wiring items and out to the garden center.
In the very middle of a display of red and pink potted peonies was this one and only.
I gently moved others out of the way until I could reach and claim it.


The pink peony--probably the vintage variety Sarah Bernhardt--is a division moved from our first Kentucky property. 


It was autumn when we sold the Amish farm and moved up the ridge to build our present house. 
I had peony roots sitting in nursery pots to make the move with us.  By the time Jim could 'turn' a strip of ground near the house site, it was mid October.  The peonies were crowded into the chilly soil, no idea of color placement.  I think this fall would be a good time to give them more 'elbow room.'


Yesterday [Monday] the afternoon dissolved into fitful showers.
I stood at the kitchen window mournfully watching as the peonies bent beneath the pummeling rain.
During a lull I ran out and gathered a few blooms, heavy with cold moisture. 
Robert-the-Cat helped to arrange them and wished to be part of the photo op.


I put in a few iris this spring--transplants from Gina's garden and a root or two that I discovered at the site of the former [burned] house at the lower edge of the property.
I didn't expect blossoms this season, but there were a few buds, mostly seared by the frost.
It was a pleasant surprise to find this smoky purple bloom.


Frost damaged in tight bud, but still inspiring.
Sutton's Apricot foxglove, raised from seed last year.


Foxgloves are biennials--blooming in their second year.  Foxgloves self-sow and keep new plants coming on. This is an offspring from the Camelot mixture started at the farm in 2018. 


I'm hoping this is digitalis mertensis, a perennial foxglove. Only a few of last years seedlings survived to be planted out. The dappling on the outside of the petals is frost damage. The 'spots' on the inside are meant to be.


This is a 'baby' of the Camelot lavender--lifted from the garden in February and potted on.
I have a raft of smaller 'babies' in the greenhouse; no idea where I'll find room for them, but how could I ignore a plant brave enough to pop up in mid winter?


Pale coneflower--a prairie native raised from seed last year.  I'm impatient to see this in full bloom--less robust in appearance than the usual coneflowers, it will have pale pink drooping petals.


Note the smaller nasturtium plants; These were coming on beautifully in the green house.  I covered the pot for the freezing nights, but the seedlings on the side nearest the wall looked like wilted lettuce when I removed the wraps. I was about to uproot them in despair, but decided to trim off the frosted leaves, a good decision. Nasturtiums become straggly in August, but if I allow seed heads to mature and drop into the soil, a new crop will grow and flower until October.


I am delighted with these seed grown 'pinks' which remained green through the winter and have already become thriving clumps.


Willis and I continue the 'discussion' about ownership of the new herb garden by the front walk.
Willis has flattened two small plants of feverfew and made a cat-shaped depression beside the thyme seedlings.
I have prodded him out, scolded him.  I shouted at him and stormed out the door when I saw him sprawled again on top of the thyme.  
I suspect he knows he is infringing on forbidden territory, as he glared, put back his ears, and made himself invisible [he hopes] between the self-sown poppy and the big pots.


Innocence!


 I have poked more pieces of discarded cutlery around  my fragile seedlings. 


The sun appeared mid-afternoon, leaving us with a clean-washed palette of puffy white clouds on blue, a green meadow beyond the wet gardens.
Perhaps tomorrow I can continue my digging project near the west retaining wall.




Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Determined Gardener


Three nights of hard frost during the first week of May did considerable damage, in spite of our care in covering everything vulnerable.
Above is one of the least damaged of the tomato plants--the largest ones, with blossoms and tiny green tomatoes forming, were a complete loss.

Today we set out 8 more tomato plants that I raised from seed; 4 of them are heirlooms saved from our neighbor's garden at the farm.  He lost the tag, so I refer to them as 'Fred's Pink'--a meaty later season variety with rose-red skins.
The other 4 are an early variety, Independence Day.  I will be surprised to see a ripe tomato by July 4th this year!

My favorite garden center in the Mennonite/Amish community at South Fork, posted on their Face Book page that they were completely out of bedding size tomato plants as of Friday and had a new crop coming on; this suggests that the killing frost was wide spread resulting in a mad rush of gardeners to replace damaged plants.
I have a dozen more tomato plants potted on a few days ago--a variety new to me--Abe Lincoln.
 Also planted out today were cucumbers, cantaloupe, and Butternut Squash. 
A third try on green beans--no germination on earlier plantings, so either the cold wet weather is to blame or bad seed.  We seem to be settled into the normal warmth of May which should encourage quick germination.



Glancing out the front windows on my way into the kitchen Tuesday morning, I was astonished to see our neighbor's cattle strolling through the garden.
The Brahman bull is a mild seeming creature, but we didn't take chances.
Jim did the time honored thing of shouting and waving his arms, then herded the cattle with his truck.


The cattle milled about, straggled down the lane.


J. chased them, engine revving, horn blaring and ran them up the lane, then located their owner.
The private road branches into three properties here--the middle one is owned by a man who is frequently out of state, but allows his pasture to be used.
Turns out he came in late at night, neglected to close the gate.
As soon as the cattle heard their owner's truck roar up the lane, they trotted obediently into the designated pasture and the gate was clanged shut.


It was too wet, the soil too cold for several days to clean up and replant. Poking about along the west retaining wall, I spied a salamander.  These little creatures [Pseudotriton ruber] were common in Vermont--I've not often seen them here. 


 Trying to get a better photo angle on the salamander I was startled when a toad bounced alongside.


Willis is committed to assisting in the gardens.


Willis is also insistent that the newly planted herb garden is the place for him to sprawl in comfort.
I've stuck plastic cutlery around the latest additions to the plot, but he can fold himself around such barricades. 




More help than I need, but Willis can't be faulted for loyalty.



I am determined to clear this area of weeds. The soil here is the heavy stuff that was excavated for construction and then back-filled. The window looks into the downstairs guest room. Beyond the foxglove and three David Austin roses is a mere rubble of small stones and the coarse weeds that so quickly invaded. 
The spot under the window is grubbed clear--no small job this afternoon--and a tentative plan begins to emerge. 
More digging needed, compost, top soil, constant vigilance against encroaching weeds, and maybe I can achieve something that will please the eye.
Ne rest for the weary, but still determined gardener. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Recording The Weather


Frost warnings have been posted through the weekend. 
In these nights on either side of the full moon, there is a good chance for cold air to sweep down in the wee hours, leaving us with another round of damaged plants and blighted trees.
Since the killing frost of mid-April we've noticed some of the trees along the lane starting to show new leaf growth; not the usual bursting into leaf of a normal springtime, but a more hesitant and scanty second showing  of green.
Surely several additional rounds of freezing temperatures may be more than trees and plants can bear.

We have rounded up empty buckets, heavy bins, the largest of our plant pots, and upended them over the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers set into the ground last Sunday when afternoon temperatures reached 80 F.
Jim has swathed his strawberry beds in layers of old quilts and plastic tarps.


My peonies are in heavy bud.



I despaired of a way to shelter them, but Jim rigged a tarp which, barring wind, should keep out the frost.


Not trusting temperatures in the greenhouse overnight, I improvised coverings for the smaller tomato plants, shrouded the recovering pot of nasturtiums in a large plastic bag, laid various coverings over flats of tender signet marigolds and nigella. 



 One of the trees along the lane which has managed a second crop of tiny leaves.


Along the rustic fence, the lower buds of the foxglove are showing color.


Seedlings of Sutton's Apricot were most vigorous last spring and it appears that much of my planting will be 'apricot' in color.


 Pinks raised from seed were evergreen through the winter.



 Billows of wild cranesbill are flourishing this spring.


Clumps of spiderwort [tradescantia] have appeared where the western boundary of our property tips into the ravines.

Springtime is always a season of false starts, of balmy days when plants rush into new growth, putting forth buds that may well be blighted by a return of wintry blasts.
April predictably  finds me grumbling about this, hovering over my cherished perennials, poking my fingers into chilly soil, going out each morning to check for the progress or the regression of my gardens.

It was the habit of my Grampa Mac to record daily weather in his brief diary entries and to look back to see if the current season was on track with other years.
I've done this over the past few days, reading through some of my blog posts for April and early May in Kentucky.
While April has usually brought days of cold rain and cloudy skies, I've verified that this spring of 2020 has indeed  been a slow one.
In other years foxglove and peonies started to bloom before the first days of May; local strawberries were available by May 8th, rows of kale and Swiss chard were flourishing and green beans had sprouted. 
This year the second planting of beans seems to be going the way of the first--seeds rotting in cold wet earth.  The Swiss chard has emerged but is not exactly growing apace.
These next few nights will present challenges.
It isn't possible to cover the stands of foxglove or to wrap and protect the clematis vines.
The trees along the lane stand with their fragile leaves again vulnerable.

We've done what we can in the way of protection for our gardens, but the mighty caprices of weather leave us feeling daunted and diminished.
Gardeners need a goodly dose of optimism to deal with fickle weather and seasons.