Thursday, July 18, 2019

Mid July

Looking east a few minutes after a mini-storm swept through.
A clap of thunder, 3 minutes of downpour and the evening sky casting a strange green-gold hue along the hedgerow.

The greenish glow gave way to tints of mauve and coral on a smokey grey background.

The full moon climbed through layers of clouds.

I lingered outside in the damp evening, loathe to go inside and miss the last fading colors.

Coneflowers held the deep pink of daytime, but my camera insisted on setting off the flash.

Coneflowers in an early [Wednesday] shower.

Willis, unflappable, waits in the lane while I crouch, transplanting pinks.
Recent mornings have been devoted to outdoor tasks, before the heat and humidity become challenging.  Jim roars about with the tractor dragging a box blade or bush hog, races an impending shower on the zero-turn mower.
After a well-watered start to the summer, July moved in with increasing lack of rain.
Prying weeds from the flower bed with my slender pointed trowel, I've found the soil resistant, unfriendly.
A succession of showers have passed over, the rainfall so slight as to barely wet the ground, although thirsty foliage has benefited.
Cloud patterns and colors shift quickly--a bit of sun-dappled blue in the east--steely grey moving in from the south west.
I've gone through so many bags of bark mulch that Jim suggested we use grass clippings. We took turns raking them up, then I spread them around the base of the second planting of tomatoes and cucumbers and along the hard-fought edges of the perennial strip.
Working around the tomato plants in the main garden I noted the unmistakable damage of a tomato horn worm on two adjacent plants, but couldn't locate the pest.
Half an hour later during another inspection I found it--a great fat one--and rudely dispatched it.



I was transplanting three clumps of Old Vermont pinks when the anticipated shower broke.
It moved through so swiftly that my coiled up hair and the back of my shirt were only slightly dampened.
The pinks have been available in limited quantity from my favorite online nursery, Select Seeds. 
I planted my original small clump in the gravely strip alongside the porch at the Amish farm and moved them here in the fall.  The flower is modest--a light clear pink, with single slightly frilled petals, the foliage is grey-green.

Pots and trays of seedlings clutter the lower porch---the Spanish Peaks foxgloves, usually sturdy-- haven't fared well--I think too crowded as sown in the original pot and the soil mix when I potted them on was too heavy for fragile stems.  I have less than a dozen of them.  Most of the Sutton's Apricot variety are sturdier. 

July is the season of daylilies; I see them planted in colorful groups, in long borders of a single color, or dotted in foundation plantings. Once settled in they seem impervious to stressful weather.
Perhaps I should have more of them.
July is also a time of pruning back many of the early blooming perennials, easing the demands of high heat and fluctuating moisture in the hope of fresh blooms in late summer.

We are well into the heat of high summer, yet already--not quite a month past the solstice--I notice that sunrise is later.
Evenings are still light until after 9 o'clock giving us an hour to work in the gardens after the sun has slipped behind the ridge.
We find things to do in the house during the heat of the day; the A/C keeps the rooms cool.
There are still some finishing tasks to be completed in the lower level of the house, and boxes of my worldly goods that need unpacking and sorting.
Meals are light, with plenty of fresh veg, few desserts and endless pitchers of iced tea.

There are days when I am frustrated by the length of my 'to do' list--not enough tasks accomplished.
I often need the gentle reminder that in our retirement years a new way of 'measuring' must evolve--one that is not a constant comparison to stamina and strength of earlier years.
The most important things will get done!



Friday, July 12, 2019

The Perils and Rewards of Gardening

More weeding, more mulching.

When these lilies are finished blooming they need a place in the ground.

Cockscomb came along from the Amish garden, a stowaway in several pots and tubs.

The nearer end still to be weeded and mulched yet again.

Double orange daylily.

Lemon verbena has been moved to a larger pot. In reading about the care, I find I should have been pruning it before it grew lanky.

Fragrant white phlox, 'Peacock.'

Parasitic weed, 'dodder' aka hellbine.


Planter near front door.

Roses rescued from Japanese Beetles.

The morning began as most summer mornings do, nursing the one cup of coffee I allow myself  while enjoying the rocking chair on the east porch.  Hummingbirds were busily darting and zooming around the feeders, cardinals trilling from a tulip poplar tree.
The sun came round the edge of the barn, shimmering on grass and leaves still wet from a predawn shower.
My eyes followed the flight of a hummingbird--a ruby-throated male--as he zipped away to perch on a leafy branch.

The driveway which runs along in front of the house is bordered by a rim of trees and wild shrubbery  spilling down into a narrow ravine.  There are tulip poplar, sycamore, water maple, ash, under-girded with redbud trees, tangles of wild blackberry, honeysuckle.
The effect even on a sunny morning is one of green darkness. 

Looking to the left of the hummingbird's perch, I registered a tower of vine smothering a feeble-looking ash tree. I stared for a moment more, than plonked my cup on the table and pounded inside to find Jim.

'There's kudzu growing on a tree in the lane!' I announced in ominous tones.
Jim [for once] paid immediate attention.
'Kudzu? Where? Are you sure?'
He rose to peer in the direction I pointed.

A road trip into Eastern Kentucky last week furnished many examples of kudzu [pueraria montana] at its invasive worst: ravines, hillsides, old pastures, roadsides, all  smothered in the invasive vines.

While Jim finished his coffee and his perusal of craigslist, I pulled up online images of the dreaded vine, studied the variables of leaf patterns.
Coming to peer over my shoulder he agreed that our specimen was most likely the hated weed.
I trudged out to my flower garden, Jim went to fetch his chainsaw.
Kneeling at the edge of the garden, I watched as he attacked the vine at its base, slicing through trunks as thick as his wrist.
When the roar of the chainsaw died away I offered, pessimistically, 'It will come back from the root,  begin climbing again from the stump.'
'No,' replied Jim, firmly, ' I intend to bush hog and keep all these edges trimmed. If I see another kudzu vine it will get the chainsaw!'

The great challenge of this new flower garden is to keep the perimeter free of encroaching weeds. The space was hastily tilled in the pasture east of the house site, plants thrust into the ground prior to the first killing frost last autumn. Undesirables blur the edges, requiring nearly constant forking, grubbing and mulching to give my flowers a chance.
I use a heavy broad-tined fork to loosen the sod, then crawl about on my knees pulling out roots of crabgrass, curly dock, dandelion, yanking at stubborn clumps of clover, yelping when I unwittingly grab the spiny stem of solanum carolinese, a horrid thing of the nightshade family.

Earlier this week, engaged in my constant warfare with pernicious weeds, I encountered a new one--a strange parasitic thing of fine yellow threads which had leaned in from a tangle of clover to wrap tenaciously onto the stems of a monarda.
Attempts to unwind the wiry stems and remove the tiny knobs of white blossom proved useless.
I ruthlessly cut the monarda nearly to the ground, carefully put the weed strands into a bucket to be emptied into the burn pit. 
Another google search identified this pest as a variety of 'dodder' aka hellbine.

An hour intended for the garden quickly becomes two hours or three. 
When the heat of the sun becomes too fierce and my aging knees register protest, I lumber to my feet, make my way indoors to the shower.

This week I have been stung by a red ant or two; I've dug splinters of mulch and spines from my fingers, thwarted a tick that was attempting to lodge between my toes.
I've pulled up the green beans that were riddled by Mexican bean beetle larvae.
I have crushed Japanese beetles copulating on the roses, spoiling the blooms as they began to unfold.
I've noted incipient blight on some of the tomato plants, an unhealthy yellowing of the acorn squash leaves.
Weeds; predators; parasites; garden pests.
A recitation of the woes encountered by gardeners echoes the doleful litany of the biblical prophet, Joel!
And yet--we have harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers from the garden.
Rescued roses tucked into tiny jugs and vases line the kitchen windowsill. 
The daylilies flaunt their colors, impervious to weeds and pests.
In their pots on the back porch the new clematis vines have sprouted fresh leaf clusters and started to venture up their supports.
I fret over the two Camelot foxgloves which seem to have succumbed after blooming, but have hopes for the seedlings growing in trays on the porch.
Small rosemarys and lavenders are holding their own; the pinks which crowded and outgrew their starter pot have been snipped back and settled in roomier quarters.
Some seasons are better than others; I feel the loss of favorite plants which fall victim to weather, blight or insect pest.
The disappointments and the labors are rewarded by the heady perfume of lilies, by the sight of butterflies alight on the coneflowers, by the crispness of the cucumbers sliced into a salad.

Each summer morning brings some new marvel of shape, color, scent or taste.
I groan about aching muscles, rant about insect pests, lose count of the bags of mulch trucked home from the garden center. 
I daresay in spite of the very real perils I'll continue to garden for as long as I can toddle out there to wield my trowel and fork.



Sunday, June 16, 2019

Rare June Weather



At the beginning of the week just past, storms moved through, brief but rather fierce batterings of rain borne on wind, echoing with crashes of thunder.
Mid-week the skies cleared, humidity vanished, nights were crisply chill.
Cool, sweet-smelling currents of air stirred the curtains at my open bedroom window, causing me to appreciate the quilt on my bed.
Warm shirts and jackets, put away for summer, were brought out again, the A/C unit allowed to languish for several days.
Such weather in June was not unusual in my home state, Vermont. 
June as experienced in Kentucky is more likely to have the feel of high summer, temperatures edging toward 90 F, humidity swathing us in dampness.


Coneflower in bud, one of several moved from my garden at the farm.

The garden visibly flourished, refreshed by rain, stimulated by sunshine.

A favorite achillea, also moved from the farm.  It was purchased with birthday money from my sister Margaret.

Gooseneck Loosestrife [Lysimachia] gifted by a neighbor.


The morning after the rain was too wet to set foot in the garden.  I decided to devote myself to the pots of seedlings arrayed on the lower porch.
[Lacking a greenhouse, my porches are apt to become rather untidy 'nursery' areas for fledgling plants.]
Foxglove has usually been of frail germination for me. Expecting scanty results I was not careful in tapping the minute seeds of "Sutton's Apricot" and "Spanish Peaks" from their packets.
I am now faced with a crowd of foxglove seedlings fit to establish a small meadow.


These two trays represent a very small portion of "Sutton's Apricot" lifted gingerly from the crowded clay pot.  Inevitably some of the tiniest plantlets were sacrificed to give better growing space to the slightly larger ones.
Some of the basil, "Spicy Globe," has been given roomier quarters, as well as three laggardly Lavender seedlings.


On 24th April I placed an order for three clematis offered in a 'half price sale' by Spring Hill Nurseries.  I expected the plants to arrive by early or mid May
I received several emails stating that shipment was delayed.
When the calendar page turned to June and the clematis had not arrived I was beginning to be annoyed.
The plants were in the mailbox on Saturday.
They were packaged in tiny plastic pots, swathed in plastic sleeves, then shrouded in cardboard jackets.
The first one I freed was pot-bound, a mass of stringy roots that had to be gently unraveled before I could settle it into larger quarters.
A second one, frail, with yellowed leaves, was little more than a rooted cutting.
The third had thicker roots which appeared to have been brutally trimmed before it was stuffed into the tiny pot with inadequate soil.
The names of each plant were stamped on the plastic sleeves, no label was in the pots.
I hope that all three may survive their indifferent handling and revive under my care, becoming sturdy enough for fall planting.
I don't think I'll order from this nursery again, no matter how alluring their sale offerings!



Sally-the Troll cat doesn't often pose for a photo, although she seems partial to early evening meditation on the retaining wall.


How is it possible that we are less than a week from the Summer Solstice?
[A rhetorical query!]
Twilight lingers long; this evening I could still discern the print of my book as I sat on the east porch.
How strange that as we are plunged into the real heat of  summer, daylight will commence its slow and at first barely perceptable dwindling toward autumn.



Thursday, June 6, 2019

Early Darkness


It was dark this evening at a bit past 8, the sky covered in thick grey rain clouds. 
Since Wednesday morning the air has been thick with damp, a heaviness that changes sounds.



I have worked, between showers, at transplanting.  Most of the nursery plants have found a place in the strips along the retaining walls or in large pots placed near the newly completed side entry porch.


The most robust of the seedlings [an heirloom tomato, Jupiter's beard, small coneflowers] have been transferred to grow on in larger quarters.

The dwarf Oriental lilies are blooming in the tub where they over-wintered, waiting til I can make a more permanent place for them. 
Neighbor Fred has entrusted two amaryllis into my care; they, along with one that he nurtured for me last season, have been interred in a large tub for the summer.


Concrete was poured Tuesday in the main bay of the barn, creating a decent workplace.
The men have put their efforts toward mechanical work on the big 4 wheel drive truck and several tractors that needed some tinkering.



It was decided to paint the rustic porch railings with the same dark red mixture used for the exterior doors.  Howard accomplished this, leaning over the rails to paint the outer areas.
[Not a job I would have relished!]


On the lower right are Maiden Pinks--seeds sprinkled from the packet like finely ground pepper.
I don't think I can separate and save all of the pinks, much as I love them.
I will have enough for all my needs and plenty to offer to friends.
The pots in the upper right are foxgloves--'Spanish Peaks' and 'Sutton's Apricot'. In other years when I have sown foxglove the rate of germination has been poor. 
The vigor of the seeds this year has been astonishing.
Second from lower left are Jupiter's Beard which are already enjoying a larger pot.
Less enthusiastic, but emerging, are Balloon Flower, Lady's Mantle, Pale Coneflower, and a few Lavender.


The nasturtiums from a mixed packet, are spindly with some yellowing leaves, but have started blooming.


My usual preference is for dark red nasturtiums but I'm liking this delicately pale yellow.

It seemed that I accomplished quite a bit yesterday--what a decade ago would have felt like an ordinary day's work.
Today, predictably, I've been tried and rather witless!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Whir, Whiz, Zoom!

When I first hung out the hummingbird feeders during a warm spell of late April weather I began to fear that none would find us.
A solitary male flew past the feeder without stopping to drink and I saw no other hummers for nearly a month.
About two and a half weeks ago we became aware of a hummingbird presence--a male and sometimes a female circling the feeder and then darting off as though humans in their space were too intimidating.

Slowly the birds became accustomed to us. 
I could sit quietly on the east porch while the birds whirred in to the feeder, perched and sipped, then flashed across the lane to sit in a tree.  The birds are so tiny that only by watching their swift flight would one discern their spot on a leafy branch.

As I have worked on the east side of the house during several evenings--potting plants for the entry deck, grubbing weeds along the retaining wall--I have heard the whir of wings above my head as the birds swooped down on the feeder.

This evening Jim and I witnessed a most astonishing display of hummingbird interaction which extended for an hour and a half.
There were five birds involved; three ruby-throated males and two, as we think, females.
I have read that juvenile birds of either sex can resemble the mature female, but given the earliness of the season, we suspect these were females.


We have observed hummingbirds at close range before, so their swift dives and pugnacious territorial maneuvers are no surprise.
Given the fierce dispositions of these tiny birds I have often remarked that it is a good thing they are not the size of robins--or crows--or bluejays!
This evening's performance was above and beyond any we have witnessed both in duration and fierceness.
Two males were interacting at all times, more often three males, diving, circling, reversing, hovering, all the while darting aggressively at each other.
Several times they came so near that I ducked, thinking one might fly into my face.

There was a very dramatic moment when one male rode the other to the floor of the porch, inches from my feet and proceeded to peck and flail his rival.
From time to time the females flew in, squeaking excitedly.
 As though needing to refuel for the fray, a bird would try for a sip of syrup only to be knocked from the perch by the flying tackle of another.
The females when they joined the trio of males were as fierce, spreading their tail feathers in a hovering dance as though urging on the combatants.

Several cloudbursts of rain swept through during the hour and a half.
Torrents of water streaming from the roof did nothing to dampen the fighting spirits of the hummers.

Water sluiced from the barn roof, thunder banged in the distance.

When the rain briefly ceased a pale rainbow arched over the east field.


Storms come most often from the northwest, as did this one. The view from the west porch was a perfect setting for a gothic tale--grey skies and swirling mist.

Between showers the setting sun high-lighted every shade of green in the dripping trees across the lane.


The shower passed, the long battle of the hummingbirds began to lose intensity.
The weary birds landed to drink deeply with a minimum of hostility.
The air held a chill of coming night.

Coming inside at last, pottering in the kitchen I happened to glance out the east windows.
I always marvel how the sun setting in the west can throw such glorious color toward the east.



The thunderhead hung, scarcely moving, a great billow of fiery gold, topaz, melting into mauve and lavender.
As darkness settled damply outside the house Jim and I agreed it had been an entertaining and memorable evening.