Sunday, April 29, 2012

Getting In My Own Way

Thursday as soon as a late lunch was cleared away, I headed out to garden.
With a multitude of tasks that need to be done, I worked for a bit in the jungle of the lower perennial strip--a slow slog of removing weeds and discovering plants which have spread themselves by root and seed.

Just before sundown with the sky full of feathery clouds.

A quick cup of tea, then back out into the mild evening to work in the stone bordered area which hosts peonies and transplanted iris.  There the soil which D. moved in from the back field to create the raised area, has been very hard-packed.  I took the slender hoe which J. keeps honed to razor sharpness and loosened the soil around the plants to coarse crumbles.
I moved several small nepetas to the outer edge of the stones, tucked in creeping thyme which I hope will spread to embrace the upper edge of the rocks and carpet beneath the peonies.  Pleased with my progress I carried flat stones from the rubble behind the garage, placing them so that I'll be able to step carefully among the plants.
Dusk came, the automatic yard light kicked on with a metallic hum.
I struggled up from my knees, gathered my muddy tools and limped stiffly to the shed to put them away.
A few birds made sleepy noises, fireflies, the first of the season, dotted the meadow with their tiny lights.

I woke on Friday full of plans to continue in the garden.
My morning chores seemed to take a long time, and I moved stiffly.
I went with J. after lunch to buy sacks of composted manure at the Wal Mart garden center.
D. arrived after school and while he and J. laid down a length of landscape fabric and cut holes to accomodate tomato plants, I selected 27 of the largest ones from the cold frame.
Tomato blight has been a problem each summer here--and we're told that it is an issue that always must be dealt with.
Two suggested 'home rememdies' are the addition of calcium  and sulpher to the planting area.
We bought bone meal to supply calcium and were advised that ordinary epsom salts [magnesium sulphate] will supply the sulpher.
I crawled about, dosing the planting holes with the minerals while D. shoveled in compost.
My knees hurt; getting up and down felt like a ponderous accomplishment.
I fetched water for the transplanted tomato plants, reorganized the small ones to better advantage in the cold frame. I looked at the newly purchased flowers needing to go into the perennial strips, but realized that
unless I did some kitchen time meals would be unappealing.

A peony bud glows at dusk.

Poppy buds remind of birds with heads tucked down.

A gallardia blooming quite out of its remembered location.

Dianthus in the driveway border.

I remember, [was it so many years ago?] when I could work at my day job, come home and snatch a cup of tea, a sandwich, then labor in the garden until full dark forced me inside.
It is being borne in upon me that at this point in my life, 3 or 4 hours of heavy garden work on any given day will leave me aching, complaining and nearly useless for the next  two days!
There!  I've said it aloud, written it down, confessed to the fact that age [and fibromyalgia] are altering the way I do things.
I spend a lamentable amount of time getting in my own way.
But--I can still garden!  I can still enjoy gardening!
As my son reminded me on the phone today, Advil comes in large economy size and there's no shame in taking one after a hard day's work.
Perhaps I need to take a hint from Willis the Cat--a time for doing--and a time to
rest and recover from the doing!
Tomorrow is another day!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Weeding, Transplanting, Pottering

A nearly perfect day for work in the garden. 
I lingered on the front porch for awhile this morning, feet stretched into a comfortingly warm pool of sunshine, library book at hand.
It was after 9 before I got  under way with gardening chores.
I had 11 pepper plants to pot on--they have been very slow growers, a mixture of sweet banana types.
With those in individual pots and tucked into the cold frame with the tomatoes, I considered the 3 rosemary plants which spent the winter in the unfinished part of the basement.
All three grew vigorously under a fluorescent fixture hung above an old table, and made the move several weeks ago to the front porch.
I found large pots for 2 of them--need to purchase another sizeable container for the third.
By then Willis had taken an interest in my doings and was being more than 'helpful.'

A few tiny weeds have appeared in the herb bed, so I tweaked those out, having to fend off Willis who was in a perverse 'attack' mode.
The photo above was taken near sundown when I had run out of steam.
I began at the far end of the lower perennial strip.
This one has had scant attention since it was created in the spring of 2010.
My rather vague plan was to plant this with shrub roses surrounded by nepetas.
This left space for a few perennials and some open spots for annuals.
The 4 rugosas, favorites from my years of Vermont gardening, haven't been as thrifty here as I expected.
Rugosas, which can endure a rugged New England winter, are apparently not as happy with
zone 6 heat and humidity.
The nepetas, on the other hand, which were quite tidy and well-behaved in Vermont, have gone on a
spreading rampage here! 
Purple coneflower and monarda lambada, both started from seed, have held their own.
Poppies--somniferum and paeony types---came up in great clumps over the winter and
should have been thinned.
I'm still struggling to root out the weeds which burgeoned in this strip during our very mild
January and February. 
You can see from the photos how dry the soil is, in spite of the showers over the weekend.

When we laid out these strips we didn't leave adequate room to maneuver the riding lawn mower along the short edge of the upper strip.
I removed some plants there and sod will be allowed to fill in.
The two peonies which were first postitioned beyond the salvia were moved last September to join the vintage pink peonies near the upper garden.
There are gaps here and there--the delphiniums disappeared after their initial flowering--not liking the intense heat of July.  I'm trying to justify the expense of experimenting with the New Millenium hybrids which are more heat tolerant.
When the promised greenhouse becomes a reality I will have space to start more perennials from seed--much more cost effective.

J. had an errand mid-day at Tractor Supply, one of my favorite places.
I went along to buy another sack of potting soil.
I had noted this field of wild mustard earlier in the week when I didn't have the camera.

In the little herb garden Lambs Ear has spread aggressively  in one season.
A purple sage is being crowded, so I will divide the Lambs Ears.
Moving carefully in the small space to do the minimal weeding required, I found two tiny plants of
Lemon Balm which had self sown.
Lemon Balm delights me.  I'll let the plantlets grow on a bit and find another place to tuck them in.

In 2010 one of these lovely apricot Iris bloomed in the tangle of daffodils.
It had no blossoms last season, so I was pleased at its reappearance this year.
This morning I discovered a second apricot bloom, this one in a group of iris which rings the base of a maple tree near the drive.
For some perverse reason, Willis has barreled into this plant three times today.
I  scolded him [totally ineffective] but he repeated his performance for D.'s benefit this evening.

Iris which I transplanted last fall to the peony strip near the upper garden.

This pale lavender iris is growing in a shady corner of the upper garden.

Another pale stripey iris in the fence corner.
This is just beyond the rock walled garden which D. created.
There is a tangle of wild black raspberries here, as well as the tough-rooted stringy shrub which we battled to remove on the other side of the fence.

Golden achillea [yarrow] starting to show color.
This hardy plant is another of my favorites.

My darling Teasel, watching me from the dappled shade of the cat enclosure which is on the far side of the basement steps.  When I work in the herb garden the cats are only a few yards away
across the cement stair well.
A long day.  Much accomplished--so very much more to be done!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sunshine; Blue Sky; COLD Wind!

One of the iris transplanted to the new garden which D. created last September.
The irises in the perennial strip along the drive were nipped in the frost two weeks ago, spoiling their blooms.
Others here and there in the yard were not in full plump bud and escaped the cold.

The wind is fierce again today. I carried the camera with me when I walked down to the mailbox.
I love to watch tall grass ripple in the wind.
You can see a bit of that motion here as the wind whooshes across from the north and sweeps
down the valley.

The early pink peonies which inspired the enlargement of that area for planting.

The tomato plants are snug in the improvised cold frame.
I didn't open the glass today.
The only spot that would have been sheltered from the wind sufficiently to enjoy outdoor work is the area behind the garage--where hopefully there will someday be a greenhouse.
It is just beyond the cold frame to the right.

A self-sown clump of johnny-jump-ups at the edge of the herb garden.

His majesty, Willis, who thought he needed a nap near the fireplace after his many exertions outside in the wind.

G. brought me this fragrant rose yesterday.
I should have taken a photo in daylight as the colors are distorted by the flash.
It is a deeper red, a climber, variety unknown.
Again today I lacked the courage to crouch in the wind to work in the perennials.
It was even too blustery to hang laundry on the clotheslines.
I scurried about the dooryard doing small chores then retreated to the house and made tea in the green teapot and a kettle of chicken soup.
I got out the armful of charity shop cotton shirts which are destined to become quilt blocks to replicate
my g-grandmother Eliza's scrap quilt.
Removing shirt buttons and cutting/ripping the shirts into usable sections is tedious.
Far easier to lay out new fabric and cut the strips to size.
I discarded collars, cuffs, pockets and other oddments in a heap on the floor beside the dining table.
Later intending to gather them up for trash I found that Eggnog-Cat had taken over the pile as a nest.
This evening I carried the stack of salvaged fabric to my sewing area downstairs to be sliced up with the rotary cutter.
I didn't bother to start the wood fire and found that after an hour or so of working, the chill of the basement had crept into my bones.
The current weather is far more seasonable for April than the heat of March which rushed trees and flowers into reckless bloom.
Perhaps by tomorrow the wind will subside and I can fuss over my plants.
If not there is always the quilt, the cats, and tea!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Rescue of Charlie

I may have established elsewhere that Charlie-Cat and his tribe are not intelligent felines.
Charlie and Maisie along with three kittens, were rescued by a woman on the
Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming
who had witnessed the neglect and abuse of the cats by a neighbor.
Two of the kittens, Chester and Mima, came to live with us, as did eventually their parents.
They probably hadn't half a chance at intelligence, since we suspect that Charlie and the late Maisie were likely too closely related to be producing kittens.
Charlie is an amiable sort, extroverted, noisy, playful.
He is also quite clumsy, a stalker, an instigator.
On several occasions Charlie has dashed out an open door and immediately gone completely witless.
His usual style is to dive into the shrubbery which surrounds the house, gazing round-eyed at me as I attempt to crawl within reach.  At the last moment he whirls and dashes in the opposite direction still hugging the foundation of the house.
This can go on for upwards of an hour--I usually have to inlist J. to help before the wretched cat is cornered and hauled inside.
Charlie doesn't 'answer' when called, even indoors.
He waylays other cats, pouncing from behind a door or a chair, prancing sideways, while the flustered cat--usually Mrs. Beasley---resorts to hissings, battle cries and desparate dashes.
When this behavior occurs at night, all noisy hell breaks loose.

On Friday morning, Charlie darted out the front storm door which is on a slow-moving hydraulic closure cylinder.  I saw him melt over the side of the porch to his usual lair in the bushes, but when I followed him out a few minutes later, he had disappeared.
I prowled around the house, getting down to peer into the hydrangeas, wedged myself behind the rectangles of trimmed box, expecting to encounter his innocent blue gaze.
When I didn't find him, I wasn't too concerned.  He has never deviated from this routine.

The afternoon went by. Every hour or so J. or I made the circuit of the house, calling, searching in the bushes for the missing cat.
At dusk I widened the search, going into the dim woodshed, trekking up to the barns, eyeing any place I thought a rather dense cat could hide.
There was no sign of Charlie.
It rained Friday night and I pulled back the curtains on Saturday morning, opened the front door soon after daylight thinking, "Surely the rain will have fetched him home."
Still no Charlie.
We patrolled the dooryard again when we returned from our museum outing.  G. drove up to ask if the
wanderer had returned.
When there was no sign of Charlie again this morning I tried to convince myself that he was
'lost and gone forever.'
After breakfast I pulled on my boots and chore coat and went out into sunshine and cold north wind.
I told myself I wasn't really looking for Charlie.  He was gone.
Never-the-less, I called his name as I stood in the nearly empty tobacco barn.
I continued to call at intervals as I headed for the treeline at the western edge of the property.

I have never been able to pinpoint accurately the direction of sounds; in recent years tinnitus has completely distorted the hearing in my left ear.  It was several seconds therefore until I realilzed that I was indeed hearing the cry of a cat over the rush of the wind.
I moved along the line fence, pausing to call and listen.  Sometimes the answering 'meow' seemed to come from the depths of the wooded strip, at other times it seemed to ring out behind me.
Finally, I raised my eyes toward a particularly loud and despairing yowl and there was Charlie--in the crotch of a tree a few yards beyond the fence.
I conversed with him, but it was immediately evident that he would do nothing to remove
himself from the tree. He cranked his head around, gave me the benefit of his imbecilic azure stare,
and roared in dismal entreaty.
I pulled the camera from my pocket, adjusted the zoom and recorded  evidence of his presence, before clumping back to the house for assistance.

J. put on his cap and hastened to assess the situation.
After greeting Charlie with mildly unflattering epithets, he returned to the garage to fetch a folding ladder.
Knowing he would have to descend from the top of said ladder encumbered with a struggling cat, I raced in to phone for D.
The line was busy.
I trailed back to the woods where J. was attempting to find secure 'footing' to place the ladder.
I got tangled in the sagging barbed wire fence while trying to climb over, extricated myself in time to follow J. back to the garage.
While J. rummaged out several short lengths of rope, I got M. on the phone.
M. roared with relieved laughter when I announced that Charlie had been found.

Back at the edge of the woods J. was lashing the ladder to the tree trunk, running additional lengths of rope through the rungs and securing them to nearby trees.
I spotted D.s car coming along the road.
'Oh, do wait a minute," I said, imagining myself straining to grasp Charlie as J. dangled him from midway on the ladder.
 D. appeared, striding long-legged across the field, his parents bringing up the rear.
J. attempted to detach a squirming, squawling Charlie, who gripped the tree trunk,
heedless of impending rescue.

J. wrenched Charlie from his leafy perch; I managed to get over the fence as the family strode through the long meadow grass and arrived on the scene.

J. passed Charlie down to my reaching arms and hopped down the remaining rungs of the ladder.
While D. helped to dismantle the rescue equipment, G. crooned to Charlie and M. whisked bits of bark from his fur.
Charlie, suitably chastened, hid his furry face in my sleeve.
Deposited on the kitchen floor Charlie scooted to the kibble feeder.
His offspring huddled in the doorway to the basement stairs, round-eyed, staring at him with a wary disconnect.
Mrs. Beasley, whom he heckles and intimidates, laid back her ears, crossed her eyes and backed away.
Teasel inflated her tail and hissed.
In the hour and a half since his rescue, Charlie has paced over the house, grandly ignoring the watchful feline residents who aren't quite ready to welcome him home.
He retreated under the bed behind my desk for a restorative think.
Mima has sniffed at him and declared he is not her father.
J. has had a nap in his recliner with the indominatable Willis sprawled on his front.
I have toyed with the idea of going out to weed in the second perennial strip--the damp ground and the chilly wind are daunting.
D. has phoned to say we are invited to share one of M.'s good Sunday dinners in 20 minutes!
The puzzled worry of a missing cat has been removed, although we have wryly admitted to passing two very quiet nights without Charlie's disruptive presence.
Tomorrow will be time enough to return to weeding!

A Day of Green Darkness

I woke a bit after 3 this morning, peered at the large red numbers on the digital clock, heaved myself over, rearranging a cozy pile of snuggling cats.
It was still dark when I woke again to the sound of a gentle rain.
I padded into this room to close the window and then out to the sliding doors in the dining area.
I stood for a moment in the pre-dawn chill, gazing with satisfaction at the puddles which shimmered in the glow of the yard light, before returning to the warmth of bed.
At 6:15 I quietly collected an armful of warm clothing and tip-toed from the bedroom.
While Teasel clamoured to be picked up and her cohorts milled about mewing for breakfast, I pulled on sweatpants, fuzzy socks and a ragged 'hoodie.'
With cat breakfast served and hazlenut coffee perking, I headed outdoors.
Pebbles, her coat darkly wet, trumpeted from her pasture in a meaningful way.

The trees in the strip of woodland at our back boundary are in full leaf now.
The sky was pearly grey over a darkly green world.
We have been in a drought for the past month and could use several days or nights of this easy rain.
I was surprised that the birds were quiet this morning, perhaps huddling over nests tucked deep in the maples or in the old apple trees.

I have work still to do in tidying the edges of the strip which J. tilled up to accomodate my peonies.
He worked in some peatmoss yesterday and I set in three of my 5 new plants.
My two yellow peonies--"Molly-the-Witch" came from the nursery as rooted cuttings.
I have them in pots on the front porch and may not plant them out until early fall.
I think there is room for a 6th peony--can one have too many?
My intention is to plant self-sowing annuals here--poppies, nigella, larkspur.

Note how the limestone doorsill has been worn down by the scuffing of many feet.

J. decided that we would visit the Shaker museum, South Union Village, which is less than
an hour's drive away.
From the museum website:  Serene… peaceful… calm… these are the feelings that will wash over you after taking a short drive west of Bowling Green to the historic site of the South Union Shaker Village. The Shakers were an innovative, hard-working religious group, and this community was established in 1807 and closed in 1922. The village site now consists of several restored buildings including the 1824 Centre House, which contains one of the largest collections of Shaker furniture in the U.S.

On display are original furniture, crafts, textiles and manuscripts, including many journals from the Civil War era. During the War, the Shakers at South Union witnessed both armies as they marched through their village, stole their horses and wagons, and demanded meals and services at any time day or night. The war raged in the Shakers' doors and streets, but their pacifism persevered, and it is estimated they served over 100,000 meals to soldiers.

This village is not as large as the one at Pleasant Hill which we visited last August and is not a 'living history' museum.  Only one of the large 'family' dwellings remains.  We were delighted to again have an opportunity to examine the Shaker style of building and furniture making.
The Shakers were among the first to design 'fitted' kitchen cabinetry.
I chose similarly styled cabinets for several of the houses we built in Wyoming, and for the renovated kitchen here in Kentucky.
The kitchens in the communal Shaker dwellings were located in the basement with large windows at ground level.  The spaces are light and airy.
The Shakers at South Union were surprisingly progressive.  Before the village disbanded in 1922, electric light had been installed as well as indoor plumbing.
A huge iron range had replaced open hearth cooking.
A separate space off the main kitchen was the bakery with two brick ovens built into the wall and  furnished with a large food safe with pierced tin panels, a work counter with a shelf below for pans, and the various implements a baker would need.
In its heyday, each kitchen would have supplied 3 daily meals for about 100 people.

A Shaker 'spirit drawing'.

Representation of the Tree of Life from a
Skaker 'spirit' or 'gift' drawing.
"Inspired by visionary experiences, the gift drawings bridge the heavenly and the earthly spheres. Many portray glorious images of heaven intended to demonstrate to young, middle-aged, and elderly Believers the rewards that would await them by remaining faithful and by living their lives in accordance with Shaker precepts."
Text from "Simple Gifts" France Morin, 2001.

This bedroom would have been shared by two of the 'sisters.'
Note the gramophone in the corner, a rather 'worldly' item.
I paged through one of the facsimile hymnals on display and asked the docent if the Shakers would have sung a capella or if instruments were used.
Apparently a piano was allowed in some groups.  The songs I looked at were written in 4 part harmony.

Close-up of stitching detail on the Dresden Plate quilt.
I had to lean over the rope barrier to take this photo.

Walking toward the large white building which served as a granery.
The red barn beyond appears to have been a stable for horses.
At the right of the area was the South Union cemetery.
Over the decades of village occupancy, nearly 500 residents were interred there.
When South Union Village was dissolved in 1922 the property was bought by
Louisville businessman Oscar Bond.
Mr. Bond had the Meeting House dismantled and used the foundation stones when he built his own house on the property.  During restoration work, Mr. Bond's edifice was torn down and the foundation was restored to the original footprint of the meeting house.
Mr. Bond also removed the limestone grave markers from the cemetery, had them pulvurized and spread the resulting powdered lime on his fields!

J. was very impressed with the crop of winter wheat growing on the acreage surrounding the museum.
He requested that I pose at the edge of the field to show the height of the wheat.
You will note I am warmly dressed--heavy tights, a long wool skirt and a bulky knitted sweater vest
under my jacket.
The rain had stopped and the air was quiet, but decidedly chilly.

Close-up of the heads of wheat.

The gnarled trunk of an old apple tree.

A small brick building housed a large cauldron built over a brick hearth.
A sign stated that the Shakers had prepared steamed mash for the dairy cows here, from  grains grown on the property.
Only the foundations of the barns remain.
The window frame of 'the steam house' has been eroded by weather and a bird's nest is
tucked into the corner.

A plot of herbs growing at the back entrance to one of the buildings.
I noted sage, parsley, mint, lemon balm, silver-leaved thyme and a straggling rosemary snugged against the foundation--where it apparently survived the winter outside.
My hands were chilled, the sky was lowering.  We walked quietly along the path back to the warmth of the visitor center and then out to the parking lot.
In less than 10 minutes we were back in town and entering our favorite restaurant there.
Darjeeling tea spiked with lemon in a heavy ironstone mug warmed my fingers.
As we waited for our lunch to appear, we spoke of the things at the museum we had most admired.
J. is much enthralled with the wheat crop and determined that he will plant our back field to
wheat come autumn.
The graceful proportions of the rooms stay with me, the lines of beautifully crafted furniture.  I try to imagine working in the big kitchen, one of a team preparing meals, or perhaps working at a loom in the
weaving shed.
Sharing a space with so many others seems daunting.
I can't imagine celibacy as a spiritual choice.
I am fascinated by this glimpse into a lifestyle which was surely doomed by its peculiarites, even as it fostered and encouraged some of the most beautiful craftmanship in the country.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Evening

There were frost warnings for last night, and temperatures are expected to hover at the freezing mark again in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Isn't this always the way when spring has lured us on with balmy days that have hastened
the blooming of flowers and fruit trees!
Our strawberry plants and blackberry thicket are loaded with blossom and with set fruit.
J. gathered up an assortment of tarps, a car cover, black plastic; I contributed some old quilts and rugs.

Willis and the tortie girls came to help, Willis leaping into a sheet of heavy black plastic which J, had just succeeded in draping over a section of berry bushes.
A light but chilly wind has snapped sheets on the clothesline today.
We've kept a fire puttering along in the fireplace, to the delight of the cats who have alternated between their fenced yard and the cozy spots near the fire.

Leaving the shrouded garden we ate supper and I came in to my desk.
J. appeared waving the phone at me and muttering about 'a bird.'
He handed over the phone and son-in-law M. demanded that I 'come down quick and bring your camera.'

He and G. were waiting in their yard when I drove in as dusk gathered.
They were gazing up into one of the big maples, so I did likewise--no bird.
They led me up the hill behind the house and stopped at the edge of the woods, stood smugly waiting for me to spot whatever it was.

Suddenly the dark patterned shape splayed in the weeds made sense: a nesting woodcock.

I tried a zoom shot which blurred.
"You can step closer," advised G.  "We did and she didn't move."
The beautiful bird was motionless as I tip-toed reverently around her.
I could see the slight flutter of her heartbeat.
I longed to touch her feathers--but I knew better.
I'll go back tomorrow and try for a clearer photo in daylight.

In the wooded tangle of the hillside honeysuckle is in bloom,the scent sweet in the chilly evening.

G. pointed out yellow iris blooming in the dark green weeds--the remnant of a former owner's gardening.