Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flowers For Wednesday

The poppy bobbed in the wind as I snapped the shutter.
I greet them each day during their brief season.
Most of the blooms have passed their hours of swaying on stiff stems, the globes of the curing seedpods stand tall above leaves which are rapidly drying to crumpled brown.
Tomorrow--or posibly Friday--will see the last of the blossoms for this season. 

I bought a packet of Achillea 'Pastels Mixed' last year.
This is one of the seed-grown plants, already a sizeable clump of  soft pink bloom.

This shrub rose has rewarded me with a flush of early summer bloom and a repeat flowering from late August til heavy frost.
I have managed to forget its name at the moment, although I have a list---somewhere.
[Tag found; Rose is Wise Portia]

The yellow Simplicity roses were in full bud when the April frost nipped them.
I clipped off the sad, seared nubs and the reward is a new flower crop.
The Japanese beetles have found the roses--what a scourge they are!
I don't spray my roses--we seem to be using quite enough pesticides to keep the veggie garden producing.
I take a macabre pleasure in squashing the glittery beetles!

Coneflower [echinacea] I bought this one, a variety called Summer Skies, two years ago.
It has been slow to take hold, but looks happier this year.

Monarda Lambada. 
These plants were sown in-situ in the rough and ready
lower strip which holds the shrub roses.
I am so delighted with them--they have spread and flourished while my nursery grown monarda, Jacob Cline, wasted away.
Monardas were one of the delightful mainstays of my New England garden; I had them in Cambridge Scarlet, Raspberry Wine--and a dwarf form whose name I don't recall.
My three real disappointments in my flower plantings here are the monardas, delphiniums and alchimilla [Lady's Mantle]
It may be that zone 6 is too hot and humid for all of them.
I likely won't risk money on new potted ones, but may try all three from seed--when the
becomes a reality!

A clump of monarda lambada with Summer Skies coneflower and Coronation Gold achillea
 in the background.

I moved the tree lilies last fall.
They were flourishing and had sent up some offspring.
The main plants were bud-filled in March.  All but the white ones were frost victims.
This one, along with achillea Paprika, is canting southward.
I blame the attentions of Willis more than the wind!

Another case for keeping a master garden plan or at least a notebook of plants.
[I should be so organized!]
I remember purchasing this rose--probably at Lowes at the end of the season--and setting it in while a passing  shower dumped cold trickles down my back.
Both of the main flower strips face south--which makes for splashes of sunlight and shadow unless I take photos in the afternoon after the sun has moved beyond the garage.

The purple-flowered plants with lance-like leaves were a purchase which G. made at the Amish auction last year.  Again, I have to do some searching for the name.
It has spread quite aggressively.
In the foreground, the ubiquitous wild onion, rather attractive at the moment --although I root them out when I weed.

The first of the red daylilies have blossomed this week in the inhospitable strip of dirt--not worthy to be called 'soil'--which edges the front porch.
These were snatched up last summer when Wal Mart put packaged bulbs out for half-price.

Our first summer here, the pasture near the haybarn was dotted with clumps of butterfly weed.
I moved one to the upper flower strip, where it is in bud.
Interestingly, the flowers were scarce in the pasture last year and are not in evidence this summer.

Buddleia--Butterfly Bush.

Coronation Gold is one of my favorite achilleas--hardy anywhere.
The achilliea in the foreground is one of my seed grown 'pastels'--it has been over taken by its larger relative and 'wants moved.'

Tuesday Evening Sunset

Why is it that the beginning and ending of each day hold such a mystical fascination for us?
Is it the tidy binding up of the hours---or perhaps a 'throw-back' to the not so distant times when the work of a day must be accomplished between 'sun-up and sun-down?'
Whatever it is, I so often wish I had a camera with higher definition [and the patience and skill to use one!]
a device to record the swiftly changing moments.

G. had whooshed in bearing a plate of freshly iced cinnamon rolls.
I ate one with iced coffee while G. opened her FaceBook page on my laptop to catch me up on
some family news.
[She was happily eating the Swiss Chard left from our supper as she jabbed at the keyboard.]

[Taken from mid-way on the drive with the camera tilted up. That is the ancient pear tree on the right with its gnarled old branches flung up against the red sky.]

FaceBook and snacks out of the way, we ambled around the flower strips, accompanied by Willis who was [as usual] inspired to thrash madly through clumps of achillia and assault a tree lily.
Bellowing at him seems only to spur him on to repeat the performance.
G. delivered her opinions on the color layout of the flowerstrip:
"Why can't you group all the pink flowers together, then all the yellow ones, etc, etc"
and then announced she must get home to watch an 'all new episode of What Not To Wear.'

The old hay barn hulks against the darkening sky.
To the left the rolls of hay are safe under an immense tarp which I held in place earilier in the day as J. battled the wind to anchor it.
There is always a collection of farm implements to clutter a photo--a worthy old tractor waiting its turn for a rehab, a trailer--whatever is being used at any given time or doesn't fit inside the center aisle of
one of the barns.

A last streak of gold, smokey lavender and mottled fiery pink paints the sky above the woods.
As I walked back to the house firefly lights dotted the grass and the Poor-Will began his nightly serenade from across the creek.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Such Small Things

I have told the story of Great Uncle Lawrence in a series of posts composed in November, 2009. 
My Mother, born nearly a year after his death in The Second Battle of The Marne, grew up feeling almost as though she had known him. Although my grandmother, a gifted pianist, put away the music and songs of WWI and refused to play them ever again, it would seem that Lawrence was often spoken of--both with grief for his loss and with warm remembrance.

A large sepia tinted original of the above photo hung in the parlor of my grandparent's home when I was growing up.  It is only in recent years that I have seen photos of Lawrence as a boy and as a young man.
Through the archived editions of the Ticonderoga [New York] Sentinel, I've read the news notes of the neighborhood where he lived, building a many-layered picture of his activities with family and friends.
From his wartime letters I know that he cherished and carried with him the mail that he received.from home.
Those letters weren't found when we cleared my grandfather's house prior to its sale---perhaps they were not included when Lawrence's belongings were returned to his family after his death.

I believed I had gleaned all the information about Uncle Lawrence that could be found during the long Wyoming winter when I transcribed his letters.  My cousin and I scanned old photos and newspaper clippings. My nephew shared a dark and fuzzy photo of Lawrence and his fiancee.
Then, one Sunday afternoon  late in this past winter, my son-in-law, M. phoned and with no preamble demanded, "Who was L.H. Ross?"
After a split-second of mental staggering I replied, "That would be my great uncle, Lawrence Henry Ross, who was killed in France in World War I. Why do you ask?"
It seemed that daughter Gina was spending the gloomy day in one of her 'organizing' projects, sorting items in various trunks and boxes.
Opening a small metal trunk, she had discovered a wallet of soft worn leather.
"There's a hunting license in the wallet, dated 1908," explained Matt. "We thought you might want it."
He passed the phone to G. who continued the saga of discovery.
"Don't you remember," she queried, "When we helped Grandma clear out the farmhouse when she sold it--she gave me a little metal trunk, like a small locker.  This must have been in it all these years."

When the old folding wallet was delivered, I handled it carefully, with a sort of awe that it had come to light these many years later and so far from its original owner's home.
In addition to the hunting license issued more than a century ago when Lawrence was 19 [so strange to think!] there were several folded receipts; one dated 1913 documented a registered letter sent by Lawrence to someone in Syracuse, NY.
A leader and sinker for a fishing line; two ticket stubs which may have been for a theater production. An advertisement for fencing printed on the back of a facsimile Confederate bill; a broken bit of red feather and a small embossed card that might have been part of a Valentine.
A folded scrap of paper bore Lawrence's signature--familiar to me from the hours spent transcribing his letters--his name written below in another hand.
There was nothing in the wallet to suggest that he might have carried it with him to Camp Devens and later across the heaving Atlantic to the battle-front in France.
Perhaps the wallet was a possesssion of his young manhood, already set aside when he was drafted into the Army, one of many oddments to be sorted by his family in the weeks after his death, something of little value, but kept--too precious to be discarded--because it had been his.
I often  ponder how different our family might have been if Lawrence had survived the war to return home, marry his fiancee and raise a family.
I picture him in that square old farmhouse parlor with its dark patterned carpet and the windows that looked out to the maple-shaded lawns.  I see him with his fiddle tucked against his chin, the rich notes of familiar songs and old hymns springing from under his bow.
It would have been my Mother at the old upright piano--the same piano which had graced his boyhood home, which had been played by his sisters.
I imagine him as one of the group of cousins who gathered there of a Sunday afternoon when I was a small child.  One more hymn was always sung before the visiting relatives reluctantly gathered coats and belongings and the goodbyes were said.  I fancy Lawrence lowering the violin so that he could sing on the chorus, his clear Ross tenor effortlessly finding the harmony.
I wish he had come home.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Abraham Lincoln's Boyhood Home

We have seen the roadsigns pointing to the boyhood home of American President, Abraham Lincoln, and mentioned several times that we should pay a visit to the site located in Hodgenville, KY.
Lincoln is one of the heros of history whom J. admires.
G. decided she would go along on this outing, so we collected her mid-morning and
drove into LaRue County.The two sites commemorating Lincloln's early years are less than 10 miles aprt, both maintained by the National Parks system.
The trend is so often to romanticize any place associated with a figure of national importance, but Lincoln's humble birthplace could scarecly be glamorized.
The building in the photo houses a replica of the Lincoln homestead cabin in a climate-controlled granite space.  The 56 steps leading up the hill represent the years of Lincoln's life prior to his assassination.

Steps of stone and concrete lead into this grotto-like hollow around the clear cold spring which supplied the Lincoln home and farm with water.
In the time that they were living there I expect their footsteps had worn small depressions in the slope leading down to the spring. At wet times of year the ground would have been muddy and slippery.
The Linclon homested was known as 'Sinking Spings.'

Moss and ferns cling to the rock wall that backs the spring.
I was surprised to notice that a considerable amount of poison ivy had been allowed to invade the vinva planted along the banks which rise on either side of the stone steps.
Inside the visitor center we watched a 15 minute documentary and viewed such things as facsimilies of the marriage certificate of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, and the recorded deed to the homestead.
As it turned out, the Lincoln's deed was contested and the family--Tom and Nancy and two children--were evicted.
Abraham Lincoln was 2 years old at the time and had no later recollection of his birthplace as a home.

This replica cabin is at the Knob Creek farmstead where the Lincolns lived until Abraham was 8 years old.
The cabin is thought to have been constructed from logs salvaged from the cabin of the Lincoln's neighbors, a family called Gollaher.
The interior of the replica cabin is sparsely furnished--a bed in the corner, cast-iron cooking utensils in the hearth, a churn, a few dishes.
There is a narrow loft where Abraham and his sister Sarah would have slept.
If you would like to read more about this site and its significance in Lincoln's life, go to this link:

The grounds here were quiet.
I followed the sun-splashed path down to the creek.

The stream bed is nearly dry.

An attempt has been made to cultivate a small garden such as the homesteading family might have had.
Corn and pumpkin plants, beset with weeds, stood limply in the hot afternoon sun.
Herbs flourished at one end of the garden patch.  This stand of camomile was labeled "DILL."
In an odd twist of fate, the Lincolns and several of their neighbors lost their claim to this small farm as well as the first one.
Fed up with Kentucky the family loaded their sparse belongings and headed toward Indiana
to make a fresh start.
Nancy Hanks Lincoln would die there little more than a year later, victim along with her aunt, uncle and several neighbors, of 'milk sickness'--an often fatal poisoning caused by drinking the milk of cows who had ingested the weed known as white snakeroot. [ageratina altissima]

Walking around the quiet grounds it was not difficult to imagine living there in the early 1800's.
The crude cabin would have been hot in summer, cold in winter, redolent of woodsmoke, cooking odors, and the scent of a family living with very little in the way of niceties, with difficult arrangements for bathing and laundry.

As we walked toward the car, G. noticed this oddly coiled limb of a catalpa tree
[above photo and this one zoomed in on the burled formation.]

It was a hot day--harbinger of many to come.
On a back road not far from home we noticed these cattle wallowing in a scum-covered pond, cooling their massive bodies.
We had driven in an air-conditioned car;
We left our house with the windows shut and the curtains drawn, blocking out the heat of the day.
The fridge hummed, the ice-makers' bin was full.
We could shower at bedtime, tossing our clothing into the laundry basket to be washed and line-dried
in the morning.
J. turned on the ceiling fan, dropped into his recliner.
I tended the cats and retreated to my cool basement sewing room.
The conveniences I take for granted are little more than a century old--a sharp contrast to the harsh life that was common for so many years of earth's history.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Gardening in Moderation

I returned home at noon from my 4th chiropractic visit in two weeks.
It has always been frustrating to me that while my back--or shoulder--or ribcage--can 'go out'--it can't 'go back in' short of coercion by a professional.
"So, what have y'all been doing?" asks Dr K. as she bustles into the consulting room.
"Err, more gardening," I admit sheepishly.
Dr. K. presses a button, a motor hums and I am tilted flat on her table, face buried in the
paper-swathed headrest. 
"Is this the onset of old age?" I ask, as Dr. K. prods at my shoulder. "Do I have to stop gardening?"
[I am feeling just a bit sorry for myself, here!]
She snorts inelegantly.
"You're not that old and I almost never tell people to quit doin' stuff they like to do.
I don't know how anybody could set around doin' nothin!'
[Dr. K. like many college-educated people here continues to talk in the local vernacular.]
My shoulder obligingly crunches into place under pressure.
"Oh good," says Dr. K. and levers me upright.
She regales me with the encouraging story of a patient in her 80's who gardens crawling on her hands and knees.  "She is just the happiest woman, comes in here for an adjustment, tells me what-all she's got growing in her garden."
We speak briefly of the problems associated with fibromyalgia. Dr. K. admits that I might be old enough to experience a 'touch of arthritis.'
Tucking her clipboard under one arm, she delivers her exit line; "You're no way needin' to quit gardening---but you might could try to do it in moderation!'
Leaving my car in the doctor's parking lot, I walk up to the Courthouse Square to the bank.
I catch sight of myself in a plate glass window--always a bit disconcerting.
I see a woman who is obviously not young--labeling her 'middle-aged' might even be s stretch. Greying hair which swings in a braid over my left shoulder--blue denim capris, sun-browned bare legs, feet in sandals, fingernails which in spite of repeated scrubbing wear the green/brown stains of plants and garden soil.
I ponder this idea of 'moderation.'
It has begun to dawn on me this spring that it is not so much what I do, but the fact that once in the gardens I don't stop weeding, transplanting, digging, hauling dirt, until I am forced inside by J.'s need for a meal--or by nightfall, when I suddenly realize that I have my face 6 inches from the earth trying to discern just a few more weeds as darkness creeps across the landscape.

I attempted moderation this afternoon.
I made our lunch, tended a load of laundry, answered emails.
I watered the 4 pots of daylilies which I had brought home from Wal Mart--reduced price and in need of urgent release from their black plastic nursery pots.
"Tomorrow," I told myself firmly.  "Tomorrow will be time enough to plant them."
After a bit I wandered outside.
I admired the poppies in the upper perennial strip--so lovely, and their season so soon to be past.
I remembered that I intended to move 2 Stargazer lilies from in front of the porch to join the 'tree lilies' in the border.  Surely that was a moderate sort of task.
I looked at the place designated for the bargin Stella D'Oro lilies--the area near the front steps where G. and I worked last week.
A clump of flopping over-grown sedum needed to be removed to make way for the lilies.
I found J.'s big shovel and began to pry up the clump of sedum.
The dirt along the edge of the porch is inhospitable, coarse. I broke the sedum into 3 parts, heaved the plants out onto the sidewalk.
Feeling virtuous, I took a 5 minute break.
I spread a layer of packaged garden soil over the disrupted ground, gently dragged around a half bale of peat moss.  I stirred and turned, creating a nice climate for the lilies.  They were pot-bound, poor things, so I carefully teased apart their tangled roots, tucked them in place.
I hauled off my debris, swept the porch, said nice things to my rosemary seedlings, shooed Sally and Sadie out of the freshly dug-over patch.

I went inside to scrub my paws, scooped out a helping of ice cream and went back to the porch.
Dusk crept in with the whip-poor-wills tuning up across the creek.
Bobwhites called, the mockingbird mocked and the bluebirds swished through the twilight intent on capturing a bedtime snack for their young.
I trust I accomplished a moderate amount of gardening.
I don't promise I can consistently apply 'moderation'--the season carries me along.

One of the self-sown poppies--a beautiful color.

Willis has no trouble with the concept of moderation--he indulges in fits of activity alternating with languid sprawls.

Two of my favorite achillia are in bloom.

The first magnolia opened yesterday--this one on a lower branch is today's offering--waxy
white and fragrant.

This shrub, whose name I don't know, fills the air with its scent--sharp, pervasive, rather than sweet.
[I want to call it fothergilla aka witch alder--but I have my doubts.]

The newly planted area by the steps.  I may bring home yet another pot of Stella.

A clump of Stella D'Oro lillies planted last season, already spreading comfortably.
These lilies have become an urban cliche--almost ubiquitous in landscaping of public places.
Common they may be, but also readily available, economical, cheerful and sturdy--a good choice for a moderate gardener!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Darkly Green Days

It was well that the hay was dried, rolled and under cover by Friday evening.
Saturday dawned cool and cloudy--one of those days when green darkness seems to press in, the sky seems low and brooding. There was a sense of waiting.
The rain came during the night--a drenching rain, sometimes calming to a sullen drizzle.
Sunday morning was darkly chill and gloomy.

Leaves and 'seed wings' from the maples were clogging the eave troughs, so J. fetched a stepladder and endured splots of water down the back of his neck while he cleared the debris.
Water seeped under the basement door, an event which always draws several of the cats to stare and dabble in fascinated horror.
I had promised strawberries and whipped cream for a Mother's Day dinner which Gina and her friend Ellie were organizing. 
I togged up in wellies, a sweatshirt with the hood drawn tightly over my head, a down vest.
I left my spectacles on the table.
Gathering up collanders for the berries I announced to J. that I would much appreciate that a fire be crackling in the fireplace by the time I returned to the house.
As I knelt in the wet grass, pawing through the leaves for ripe strawberries, the rain began to slant down again with a vengeance.
Willis and the tortie girls, my usual companions in the garden, were notably absent.
By the time I squelched back to the house with my two containers of berries I was wet literally to my shivering skin.

Willis--the deserter--was snug in the back of the herb garden, protected from the wet by the overhang of the roof.
In the kitchen I toed off my boots, clattered the collanders of berries onto the sink counter. Peeling off sodden  jeans and layers of shirts to be cast into the washing machine, I headed for the restorative bliss of a very hot shower.
The living room was warm and J. had coffee ready.
I sat gratefully in my old rocking chair for a few minute, letting the heat soak into my bones, before heading into the kitchen to deal with berries and sponge cake.
Although the weather remained gloomy, our gathering with friends at Matt and Gina's home was one of those times of delicious food and comfortable fellowship.

By Monday the rain had quit, but the entire surrounding landscape was wet.
Much too wet to work in the gardens.
I did the usual morning chores of feeding cats, tidying litter boxes, preparing breakfast.
When I went out to the front porch, watering can in hand, I noticed that several of the pots holding lavender seedlings were heaving with wood lice.
Moving the pots I found whole colonies of the beasties scumbling about.
I squashed them mercilessly!
I was sweeping the porch and thinking it would be an ideal afternoon to spend time downstairs sorting some quilting projects, when G. roared in.
I explained about the wood lice, where-upon she began twitching plant pots and porch furniture about.
"Its this nasty carpet!" she declared. "You need to get rid of it."
Removal of the shabby green indoor/outdoor matting which covered the front porch and steps has been on my 'to do' list, but not a high priority.
G. was already tugging at a rip in the edge of the carpet and making loud noises of disgust.
"Right," I agreed.  "It might as well be today."
Some of the carpet pulled up easily, some adhered.  We yanked and tugged.
As the remnants came loose from the steps, I uncovered armies of ants who began to rush about trying to carry their white grub/babies to safety.
I don't much like pesticides or herbicides, but I had G. fetch the aeresol that J. uses on wasp nests and finished off the ants.
With the carpet dragged off to the bonfire area, G. tackled the sad looking clumps of sedum and such which sprawled at the base of the steps.
I brought out the loppers and went at the nandina shrubs. [They were trimmed last fall, but the recent damp weather sent them on a frenzy of growth.]
I am not especially skilled at pruning.  I try to keep my balance while brandishing the loppers above my head to reach branches that are taller than I am. Its a bit like trying to cut one's own hair! 
One side of the bush looks too tall, so I lop away at it, then stand back and decide that the other side must be clipped again to match.
Hours sped by as we pruned, dug, raked, swept, carried trimmings to our bonfire.
The men of the family appeared at intervals, made helpful [!] comments, then found it judicious to be occupied elsewhere.
It was twilight before we declared that order had been restored!

I opened the curtains this morning to white mist.
Willis and company were tucked up on the wicker loveseat on the tidy porch.

You can see the effect of the pruned shrub at the end the of the porch and the newly
cleared area by the steps.
That remaining clump of sedum is slated for removal.
The blossoms are a sickly bubble-gum pink.

G. discovered that there is a vinyl edging along the front of the flower strip.
I think I'll clear the sod back to meet it.
Only a few bewildered wood lice in residence under the lavender pots this morning!
[I hope they weren't bumbling about looking for their deceased mates!]

A long view of the porch, shrubbery trimmed, shabby green matting removed.
[D. insists he preferred the porch with the carpet!]
There will be fewer flower pots lined along the front once I can transplant
the seedlings.

Soil much too wet to work in the gardens.

By noon the sun had eased out and I went along the edges of the perennial strips enjoying the poppies.

Wild onion springs up everywhere, to be tweaked out of the flowers.
Wild indeed!

I collected thousands of seeds from my heirloom poppies last year.
So many self-sown seedlings appeared that I didn't sprinkle out my saved seed.
Thus far I have none of the ruffled varieties from last year.
Ironically, the friends with whom I shared the seed will likely have a better display than mine.
I cherish each bloom.