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Flowering Shrubs

>> Monday, May 30, 2011

My husband hates our bridal wreath spirea bushes.  I mean, he absolutely loathes them.  I think it's mostly because they're high maintenance - they grow so damn fast that they always look unruly, and we spends many hours of our summers pruning.  They're also prone to disgusting aphid infestations, such that the plants completely disappear under writhing sheets and piles of aphids.  Most years, they are the only parts of our garden that we don't manage to keep organic, just because I haven't found any organic product that will work on those kinds of quantities of aphids.

But, I mean, really.  How can anyone hate these?  Look at the glorious things!!  They do this every year, but what with all the rain and now three years of careful tending, they have been exceptionally decadent this spring.

And, if you recall, a few short weeks ago I vowed to yank out our rhododendron this year, as soon as it's done blooming.  It's been sitting there looking pathetic for three years, and all my efforts at protecting it from winter harshness and feeding it have amounted to nothing.  It hadn't grown, and gave us only a couple of scraggly blossoms each year.  Worse, it's got these pale green and yellow leaves that make it look sickly, no matter what I do.

Apparently, it heard my threats.  Out of nowhere, it suddenly did this:

Well, crap.  Now I can't just pull it out without feeling very guilty.  It's trying, for once.  Shall I keep it for all 12 months of the year, yellowy and scraggly as it gets, just for the one week each spring that it is capable of doing that?  Oh, heck.  Probably.  I hate killing things, even plants.  I'd be riddled with guilt.

And I had such plans for what I was going to do with that space, too.


Fairy Bower

>> Saturday, May 28, 2011

As a follow up to the canoe post, I thought I'd give a brief glimpse into the grounds of my best girlfriend "Sneaksleep's" parents' house in Maryland.  Sneaksleep's parents moved from Central New York to Maryland a number of years ago, and have this wicked cool house set in wooded hills that my husband and I love. Although they are now selling the house for their move to Ireland, I will always think of many aspects of their Maryland house as being my ideal.

As you know, I am a gardener.  I deeply love gardens - rich lush growing things, and all the surprises and delights they give.  I also love wooded places.  Sneaksleep's parents' house is a mix of both, in an intoxicatingly delicious way.  My husband and I long to have a woodland home like it: a contemporary home with lots of exposed beams and windows, decks and patios and walkways galore, hundreds of varieties of birds, and gardens, gardens, gardens.  Oh, and no neighbors who can be seen from the house.  There is truly no need for any kind of curtain at this house - the only witnesses to one's morning shower are bugs, trees and foxes.

The house seen through the trees, looking like a tree house.  From here, the house reminds of of Lothlorien (for any Lord of the Rings fans):

The Japanese style tea house which serves also as a pool house:
The salt water inground pool.  Coolest pool ever.  I hate chlorine, but do find the idea of a pool appealing.  This is the perfect solution.  No "shocking" the pool with highly toxic chemicals, no chemical smell or taste, no drying of your skin.  Just salty water, about the salinity of tears, actually.  Such a delicious place to swim:
Pablo, enjoying a nap:
Being Maryland, they have rhododendrons and azaleas galore, which were in bloom.  They also have an intoxicating mix of other plants, including the largest Jack in the Pulpit I've ever seen, columbine, Japanese maples, hostas, ferns, myrtle, irises, and about a thousand other flowering leafy things.  All of those lovelies are along paths that wend their way through the woods.  Some of the walkways are on the ground, and some are elevated.

The moss garden:
A tiny goldfish pond.  One of its occupants became a snack for either a very fat or a pregnant raccoon the night we were there.  Oops.
I completely understand Sneaksleep's parents' decision to move.  There are a lot of things that factor into it, most especially their desire to live in Ireland, which is more "home" to them than anywhere else.  I understand that.  I spent the happiest year of my life in England, and felt in some soul-deep way that I was more at home there than the U.S., where I've spent the other 34 years of my life.  Believe me, more than once have I had the urge to become an expatriot, too.  For that matter, my mother's an expat, as well - she moved to Tuscany when she retired.  And truly, based on the photos I've seen, I'd say Sneaksleep's parents' new house in Ireland is incredible - every inch as inviting as the Maryland house, and then some.

I am excited for them for their new Ireland adventure, but I am so glad I've known this house and its grounds.  Perhaps some day I, too, shall have a fairy home in the woods.


What the heck is "usufruct", you might ask?

>> Friday, May 27, 2011


Okay, this tale requires a little back story:

I have this best girl friend (to whom I shall refer as "Sneaksleep") who's been my:

voice of reason
laugh sharer (a whole lot of this!)
fierce Scrabble competitor
fashion consultant
assumption challenger
sanity check
advice columnist
book recommender
Spanish translator
secrets vault
recipe source
sounding board
life coach

for the past... let's see... 20 years, I guess it is.  She's totally amazing, in about 15 zillion ways I couldn't even begin to sum up here.  We met in 10th grade when I started at a new school, and quickly became absurdly inseparable.  We spent so many hours together in high school that I swear we achieved some new type of symbiosis.  And though we've gone through some periods since then where we spread our wings more independently and talked less frequently, we have settled into this comfortable and somehow essential friendship that anchors me.  Although she lives several hours away, we still chat probably five days out of each week, about every subject conceivable.

Many of our shared social hours in our high school days were spent at her house, in part because she lived within walking distance of our school, and I lived clear across the city.  But also, her family is beyond awesome, too, and over the years have become my "other" family.  Her little brother is the closest thing I'll ever have to a brother, and I still adore, look up to, admire, and am inspired by her parents.

Sneaksleep's parents have a truly amazing house in Maryland, which I shall perhaps do a separate post about.  And yet, they are leaving Maryland, selling the house, and fulfilling a dream of living in Ireland.  And I have to admit, the new house in Ireland is pretty much even cooler and more amazing than their incredible Maryland retreat.

BUT (and here's where I get to the point), in moving to Ireland, there are a lot of possessions that they have accumulated over the years that it doesn't make sense to ship across the ocean.  Two of those possessions are (drumroll, please)...

... canoes.  Really nice ones.  A ginormous 18.5 foot Sawyer fiberglass canoe, and (*insert squeal of delight*) a beautiful 16' kevlar Old Town Canadienne that is so light I can easily portage it myself.

So, Sneaksleep's parents made a proposal to my husband and me.  Was there any chance we'd be willing to store the canoes long term in some secure/protected place (our barn)?  We would be free to use them as much as we like, so long as they would also be available to them and their kids for use, or claim by Sneaksleep and/or her brother, should they ever choose to claim them.  (The legal term for that arrangement, I believe, is "usufruct"). 

I have been longing to buy our own canoe for years.  Although we have access to my Dad's awesome old aluminum Grumman canoe, to which I have a significant emotional attachment, it is a bit of a beast for trips that require a portage.  Plus, it's at Dad's house, which makes any canoe excursion more involved since we have to pick it up and drop it off.

So last weekend my husband and I tootled our way down to Maryland to spend one last weekend with Sneaksleep's parents before they set sail.  On our way back, we stuffed the car full of all sorts of wonderful and absurdly random stuff they are unable to take with them, like excellent stereo equiment with turntable, an exceedingly eclectic mix of records, vintage fur hats, canoe paddles and life vests, and 5 baby Japanese maple trees.  Then we strapped the two canoes to the roof of my car, on a 78" wide Yakima roof rack.  My husband affectionately refers to the rack as "the brainer", since you practically brain yourself with it every time you get in or out of the car.

The whole return trip was a titch ridiculous.  As someone in the course of the weekend said, it almost looked like the whole thing should be flipped upside down, with the car being transported by the canoes.  The drive home took almost two hours longer than the drive down, since one can't exactly speed with canoes strapped to the roof of the car.  Although, it's amazing how much of a wide berth other vehicles give one when one's vehicle is as wide as a tractor trailer and even more cumbersome.

But, canoes!  Canoes!  I am so danged excited to have that lovely little Old Town canoe around, that I can barely stand it.  The Sawyer is nice, too, but heavy, so we'll probably only be using it when more than just the two of us are going out. 

Which, by the way, shall happen in the near future.  Sneaksleep and I have planned an Adirondack weekend camping trip this summer, which will be her awesome husband's virgin camping trip.  He grew up in Mumbai and is a city person, to say the least.  To him, downtown Syracuse is the hinterlands.  Poor guy - an Adirondack camping trip at a rustic location, far away from car, roof and plumbing is going to be quite a shock.  Stay tuned for the future blog post on that adventure!


Growing Things

>> Friday, May 20, 2011

The garden continues to turn into a rainforest jungle from all this rain.  The last set of pictures was posted  eleven days ago.  Check out the comparison.  Eleven days ago:

and today:

It's getting a titch ridiculous.  I'm afraid to walk down the length of the garden for fear something will reach out a tentacle and grab hold of me.  Here's the shady half of the perennial garden, in all its present glory:

I see why they call this "elephant ear" hosta:

Lots of things are blossoming or about to blossom or just finished blossoming.

Any guess as to what these are from?

Why, holly, of course! I missed the flowers in their peak because it was raining too dang hard to go take pictures of it.

Spirea, and Pippin posing in front of the spirea:

Soon there will be irises:

And this is what kale does when left to its own devices:

And suddenly, all at once, columbine:
What is also growing around our household, you might ask?  Er, Rocky's middle.

The cat has become downright porky in very short order.  I had to take all five cats into the vet in two days this week.  Initially it was supposed to be just three of the cats for vaccine updates, but the rest had to go too because the vet discovered an earmite infestation.  Yeeeeeeick.  All told, it cost $670 in two days.  And I think my soul will bear permanent scars from all the searing glares I got from all five of them.  Lordie, how they hate the vet.

In the course of that fun, though, the vet weighed Rocky, and gave me one of her "disapproving" looks.  They tend to last a long minute, while she decides what to say.  The upshot of her speech was that gaining more than 3 lbs in 2 months is insane, even for a guy who just came in off the streets, because he wasn't particularly skinny when he came in.  And now topping the scales at 16 lbs 4 oz, even with his large frame, Rocky officially falls into the category of "obese."  Apparently he skipped over just plain "overweight" within a couple of weeks. 

He's kind of like a dense little bowling ball on legs.


He just loves food so much that it's a pleasure to feed him, so I've been overlooking the fat rolls a titch.  He IS a pig.  If you feed the cats soft cat food as a treat and you don't watch him carefully, he snarfs down his own portion in about two swallows, and quickly makes the rounds, kicking all the other cats out of their dishes to eat 2/3 of their portions too.  Being top cat, they let him.

Here's are some shots of the tiger convention, all begging for food at once.  Rocky's begging for food because he's always begging for food.  Sneakie and Pippin are probably begging for food because Rocky at ate it all.

So, it's a diet for our new buddy.  No soft cat food at all, and trying to encourage him to spend more time romping.  As anyone with a multiple cat household knows, it is extremely hard to put only one cat on a diet.  And we cannot restrict the kibble from the other cats because if Wednesday doesn't have constant uninterrupted access to food, all she does is gorge and projectile vomit as soon as she gets access.  Ah, the joys of taking in neurotic strays with food issues.


Anyone who says gardening isn't proper exercise is full of...

>> Monday, May 9, 2011

So, since both of our Mothers are far far away from us and we couldn't spend the day with either of them, we spent our Mother's Day reclaiming our gardens. 

We started off the day with an early morning trip to Dickman Farms Greenhouses and Garden Center, which is pretty much Mecca for gardeners.  It's an overwhelming place to visit, solely because there are so darn many choices for plants and they all look so gloriously lovely!  I find greenhouses to be intoxicating, and somehow they make time slow down for me.  I could spend forever in a greenhouse.  Instead, I spent (eh hem) probably what should have been the money for groceries this week instead.

We came home with our purchases, and set to.  I have never, ever allowed a garden to get into such horrid shape as we allowed our front garden to get into this year - truly, it was incredible.  I should have taken "before" shots, but frankly, it was too embarrassing.  The back perennial garden was pretty bad, too, considering I had in fact given it a once over in the fall to remove the dead stuff. 

So, in total, here's what we accomplished in one very long day:

> Planted two earth boxes, one with peas and lima beans, and one with two varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

> Shooed Pippin off the tomato earth box.  Apparently the black cover on it gets invitingly warm in the sun.

> Weeded and mulched the big back perennial garden, which is my pride and joy.  I have been slowly adding to the plants in it each year, and it is finally bursting with all kinds of lovely things.  I was surprised and delighted to find that my last year's sickly columbine is threatening to take over the universe, and the new asiatic lilies have all multiplied several times over.  The astilbe is spreading, the elephant ear hosta is finally healthy, the wild ginger is growing, the coreposis has doubled in size.  I think my only disappointment in the whole garden is that my one lowly hollyhock is still pretty scraggly.  But in a few more weeks things in that garden will start blooming, and I should have flowers through late fall.

    > Fought another round (the second this spring) with the bleeding hearts, trying to prevent them from smothering everything else in the garden.

    > Shooed Pippin off the tomato earth box. Again.

    > Removed a bunch of grape hyacinth (I have an unreasonable prejudice against the stuff), and some sumacs that had set up shop in the middle of the garden. That stuff grows fast.

    > Affectionately renamed our Bear's Breeches "Brickle Bush".  If you haven't read Dr. Seuss's "What was I Scared of?", featuring the spooky pale green pants with nobody inside them, you should.  It's just about the best children's book ever.
      I ran and found a Brickle bush
      I hid myself away.
      I got brickles in my britches
      But I stayed there anyway.

      > Shooed Pippin off the tomato earth box.  Yet again.  Cursed him soundly.

      > We (I should say, my husband) finally dug up the stump of the ancient massive pricker bush that we had cut back to the ground last year from our weird fence garden.  That poor garden has had nothing in it since we moved in, aside from two sickly rose bushes and that massive thorny thing.  So, we dug up the whole thing and planted a bunch of sedum, which I chose largely because it's hard to kill, but also in hopes we might attract a butterfly or two.  Now the random section of fence in our back yard looks slightly more like it's supposed to be there.

        > Put down something like 20 bags of mulch in the back gardens.  Yes, I know, I ought to have it delivered by the truckload rather than buying it in wasteful plastic bags.  I somehow didn't plan ahead far enough for that this year.  Bad human.  No cookie.

        > Weeded the front day lily garden by the porch and mulched it.

          > Planted the urn in front with a mix of geranium, some kind of decorative grass, marigold, and a few other odds and ends that are very hearty.

          > Finally, we could not justify putting off the evil front garden a minute longer, as we'd run out of other gardeny things to do.  So we started weeding.  With rakes, and shovels, yanking out handfulls and bunches.  No exaggeration, I'd say we pulled at least 100 lbs of leaves and weeds from the front garden.  We filled two paper yard waste sacks with the stuff, I could barely budge those sacks when we were done.  My husband bent the hoe on one stubborn weed, so now it looks a little like it's giving us the finger.

          > I harvested enough dandelions from that garden to eat them with every dinner for at least a week.

          > I also removed enough spearmint from that garden for about 1,000 mint juleps.  The only thing I have to say in defense of spearmint is that at least it smells good while you're pulling it up by the fistfull because it has taken over everything.

          > Spouse dug up MASSIVE roots from these awful weeds that have plagued me since we moved in three years ago.  I don't know what they are, but the roots were larger than my calf, and went several feet into the ground.  No wonder I couldn't get rid of the damn things merely by chopping off their heads.

          > We sacrified a pathetic rose bush, and a bunch of scraggly tulips (I'm just not a tulip kind of a gal - they always look messy to me, unless they're planted in a lush thick carpet, which mine decidedly were not).  We also decided to sacrifice the sickly rhododendron after it blooms this year.  I have spent three years trying to make it happy and healthy, and if it hasn't worked yet, it isn't going to.

          > We shooed Rocky out of the garden, who was happily "watering" the soil we'd just loosened.

          > Then we planted more asiatic lilies (because I cannot help myself).  We also planted some kind of purple flowering plant that looks like miniature salvia, which we gleaned from my next door neighbor's "thinned out" pile (which - poor thing - promptly went into shock).  To fill up space this year while the new perennials get going, we planted a whole bunch of portulaca.  Because, let's face it, despite our best intentions we simply never ever water that garden.  Maybe portulaca can handle our neglect.  Watch, now it will rain incessantly all summer, and the stuff will drown.  Or, probably even more likely, the cats will do it in.  This was what I found when I came home today.  Gr.

            All in all, we accomplished a tremendous amount in one day.  I have never gardened that ceaselessly in one day before.  Neither one of us could really move this morning - things are creaky and aching, and I was a little out of it. 

            We still have a long way to go before our front garden matches the kind of splendor my back perennial garden is finally achieving, but we'll get there I think in just another year or two.  I have started some baby seedlings that still aren't quite ready to go into the ground, including some black eyed susan, some more hollyhocks, and some poppies.  If they make it, I'll add them to the front garden, too.  Some of my kale has turned into a perennial, and I left it there in all its wavy decorative glory.  The lavenders we planted last year look a bit bedraggled, but they've quadrupled in size so I guess we're doing something right - apparently they liked being ignored.  I'm good with that.

            Once we finish putting perennials in that garden, I am already planning where to dig the next garden out back.  If I could, I would do away with nearly all our grass and turn the whole yard into a maze of paths through all kinds of flower beds.  Here's what's on my current garden plant wish list:

            Jack in the Pulpit
            Japanese Lanterns
            A Japanese Maple
            Lily of the Valley (more than the few lonely sprigs that I currently have)
            Hens and chicks... somewhere.  No idea where I'd put it, but the stuff is cool.  If I kill the front urn by failing to water it again this summer, maybe I'll give up and put hens and chicks in there.
            More peonies, in more varieties.  I can't ever get enough.  Probably same with lilies.
            More ferns.
            And while I'm at it, dreaming big: a pond.  Some day, maybe.  I hope.  With a bridge.  And plunky splashy frogs.


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