Category Archives: Flowers

This Last Day of July

Yesterday, it was so hot and humid that I barely had the energy to move from my desk to the kitchen to make a vinaigrette for our supper salad much less dust the bedroom. But I did indeed accomplish both tasks. My reward? A lemon popsicle and time on the patio—where it was a little cooler—reading Village School by Miss Read, aka Dora Saint. (Read was a family name.)

Each year, as an end-of-summer treat, I reread the Chronicles of Fairacre, an “omnibus edition, comprising Village School, Village Diary, and Storm in the Village.” Even though I look calm, I am a jittery person, and Miss Read has a way of calming my jitters. All three novels follow the main character, also named Miss Read, who teaches in a village school in the Cotswolds. The books are not great literature—does all literature have to be great to be appreciated?—but Miss Read’s love of the natural world, her shrewd yet sympathetic take on human nature, and her humor never fail to delight me. Dora Saint has won praise from both the New Yorker and the New York Times, and with them I shall let the matter of her reputation rest.

Next to the patio, the bee balm has been knocked akimbo by the driving rains we have had each afternoon this week. Last Saturday, when our friends Paul and Judy came over for cocktails, the bee balm stood tall and proud. Now it looks as though a large, heavy ball landed in the middle of the patch. Such is the force of the rain. But the bees don’t care—straight or akimbo, the bee balm is irresistible to them.

The bee balm, knocked by the rain
The bee balm, knocked by the rain

While I read, I took many breaks to watch the goings-on in the yard. Next to me, a daddy longlegs skittered along the  phlox, still in bud. Birds called as they flew from the trees to the feeders, and occasionally,  a large dragonfly would zip by.

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Last night, the weather broke, and today is fine and hot with a bright blue sky. A good drying day, as my  mother would have said, and I have two loads of laundry ready to be hung on the line.

With this last day of July, which will have a second full moon this month—a blue moon—we are officially two-thirds of the way through summer in Maine. I love August and the hot, dry weather it often brings along with the loud buzzing of grasshoppers. I love the black-eyed Susans, the Queen Anne’s lace, and the golden rod in the fields. But August is also a sweet, sad month, the last month with nights warm enough to sit without a jacket on the patio.

To borrow from my friend Burni, who squeezes more joy out of an ordinary day than most people manage in a whole month, I will squeeze every bit of delight out of the golden month of August.

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Jurassic Park in My Front Yard

IMG_0448“Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden because they have a tendency toward pride, a self-assertion that can be offensive….they seem so much more physical than other plants, muscular: the heavy-weight champions of the garden.”
—Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid

I know what Stanley Kunitz means. I have a patch of hostas that have gotten so out of hand that it looks like Jurassic Park in the front yard. The hostas are elbowing the daylilies, which aren’t exactly slouches, and I have to pull back the hostas from time to time to give the daylilies some breathing room. I should divide the hostas, but I’m not sure where I’d put the divided plants, and I’d hate to just throw them out. Kunitz decided not to plant anything else with his hostas. That way, they could muscle each other. A smart decision, I think.

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Jurassic Park in the front yard

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When I’m sitting on the patio, I always sit closest to the bee balm, right now in glorious bloom. Bees are indeed buzzing among the flowers, and I try to take a picture of them with my little point-and-shoot camera. I am not very successful. They’re not called busy bees for nothing. Bumble, bumble, yellow and black. They seem so slow yet they never really rest. (That might be a description of me as well.)

Not too bad but not in focus
Not too bad but not really in focus

Hummingbirds are also drawn to the bright red flowers, and it’s even harder to get a picture of them. I’m not sure why I keep trying. I know the limitations of my camera, wee wonder that it is. But when those tiny will o’ the wisps are thrumming almost within arm’s length of me, somehow I can’t resist. A couple of times, a hummingbird has stopped in mid-flight to consider me, but only for a few seconds. Not long enough for me to get a good picture.

Fortunately for me, the flowers and plants stay in one place unless there is a brisk wind.

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Right now, my backyard garden is in peak bloom, and we had friends over for cocktails on Saturday. The weather was good enough for us to spend the entire time on the patio, where they could admire the flowers. Clif made his legendary grilled bread, and I made Maine mules.

Summer, summer, summer.

Lessons from My Garden

So far, in Maine, this summer has been nearly perfect. Warm and hot during the day, cool at night, and just enough rain for the plants and flowers to flourish. Oh, I could take nine months of this. I know. I live in Maine, where it is downright cold much of the year. Perhaps that’s why summer here is so sweet?

My front gardens, with their profusion of evening primroses, come into their own the end of June and the beginning of July, when everything is an exuberant burst of yellow. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it is with the evening primroses, which are nearly done blooming. There are other flowers to look forward to—black eyed Susans and daylilies—and the hostas and ferns hold everything together, but for the front yard, the peak is over.

It is now up to the hostas and ferns to hold everything together.
It is now up to the hostas and ferns to hold everything together.

On the other hand, the back garden is just coming into its own. The Bee balm is in glorious red bloom—I can’t stop taking pictures of it—and soon there will be a profusion of especially lovely daylilies to join them. There will, of course, be more pictures.

The backyard coming into bloom.
The backyard coming into bloom.

I like to joke—well, maybe it’s not such a joke—that I have the worst yard in Winthrop in which to garden. There is shade galore, and much of it—especially in the front yard—is dry. Thirty years ago, we bought this house for other reasons—the price, the woods, the roominess despite its small size. It was our first house, and I hadn’t yet been bitten by the gardening bug.

However, after a couple of years here, I was bitten. Hard. I was young, I was strong, and I began digging like a fool. I planted willy-nilly, with little regard for the conditions.  Let’s just say that there was plenty of heartbreak and loss. What I wanted was a blooming cottage-style garden. My yard had other ideas, and I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money before I came to my senses. In retrospect, I realize that I should have put raised beds in the front, which would have helped with the dry shade.

But, as the saying goes, we grow too soon old and too late wise. The gardens are dug, and I don’t have the energy or the resources to replace them with raised beds.

I have finally followed the advice of a friend who is an accomplished gardener. “For God’s sake, Laurie, plant some hostas.” This I have done. They are thriving in the dry shade, and they look cool and elegant until the slugs munch them to ribbons. I’ve also planted ferns, which are lovely. But, oh, my heart aches for hollyhocks and roses.

In the backyard, I am happy to report that I learned from my mistakes in the front yard, and the large garden along the patio is indeed a raised bed. There are only six hours of sun in that garden, but I can grow irises, bee balm, and daylilies. Phlox does well, too.

This might sound a little woo-woo—to borrow from my friend Susan Poulin—but the garden has taught me lessons. That is, conditions are not always ideal.  We might want hollyhocks and roses, but instead we get evening primroses and hostas. Yet, in what we get, there can be creativity, value, and even beauty.

More photos from my mid-July garden.

A winged visitor.
A winged visitor
Another little guardian of the garden.
Another little guardian of the garden.
Oh, bee balm!
Oh, bee balm!
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Black and white against green.

Sunday with My Daughter, Monday with the Dogs and the Flowers

On Sunday, while Mike, Dee, and Clif were at the movies, Shannon joined me for a day that was utterly delightful. Nowadays, it is rare for me to have time alone with either daughter, and when I do, I enjoy it so much.

In the afternoon, we played six rousing games of Fantasy Forest, a much beloved board game from Shannon’s youth. (We had hoped to play cribbage, but, alas, my board was nowhere to be found. I will have to get another one.) Although the three movie amigos laughed at us when they heard how we spent our afternoon, we assured them that even though the game was geared for children, there was, in fact, a fair amount of strategy that could be employed. I don’t think they believed us. But Shannon and I had good silly fun, and that’s all that really matters.

After the game, Shannon helped me make stuffed bread, and while it was resting, we went to the patio for drinks and appetizers. I had a Maine mule, which tasted ever so good on a hot, muggy afternoon.

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We spent quite a bit of time on the patio, and we ate our supper there, too. When the bugs drove us in, we had homemade strawberry ice cream and watched some of the Fellowship of the Ring. (Yes, we are fantasy geeks.)

Shannon, Mike, and their two dogs stayed overnight, and the next day, Shannon went to the movies, too. Then, it was just me and the dogs. After cleaning up from brunch, I headed outside, where I relaxed on the patio, and the dogs alternated between scouting the yard and lolling on the patio.

Somara at rest on the patio while Liam looks on. (Holly's ear is in the lower left corner.)
Somara at rest on the patio while Liam looks on. (Holly’s ear is in the lower left corner.)

 

Holly, with an expression that indicates, "Enough with the pictures, already.)
Holly, with an expression that indicates, “Enough with the pictures, already.”

 

Naturally, I found time not only to smell the flowers but to take pictures of them as well.

More bee balm. I just can't get enough of it.
More bee balm. I just can’t get enough of it.

 

This dwarf balloon flower—Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fairy Snow’ —just came into bloom.

 

A full view
A full view

 

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A closer view

 

Oh, July!

The Different Aspects of Bee Balm

I know. In yesterday’s post I stated that I wouldn’t be posting until Tuesday. But Clif and Dee left at 11:00 a.m. to go to the film festival, and they won’t be back until nearly midnight. The day is mine, and as usual, the outside beckoned. Inspired by my friend Dawna Leavitt, an accomplished photographer who likes to take very close shots of nature, I went out to see what I could get with my little camera. I, too, am fascinated by a closer look, and I took shots of flowers from underneath as well as from the more traditional head-on angle. Then, in the editing process, I cropped in close on a picture that was fairly crisp.

Here are the different aspects of bee balm.

A traditional shot
A traditional shot

 

A little closer
A little closer

 

Up close and cropped
Up close and cropped

 

Underneath
Underneath

 

To me, it is so interesting to look at plants from various angles.