Category Archives: Gardening

Jurassic Park at the Little House in the Big Woods

At the little house in the big woods, it’s that time of year again. The full-grown hostas, only slightly chewed by slugs and snails, have gotten so large that it seems as though I’ve stepped back in time to the Jurassic era. Really, the hostas are so huge and so muscular that they are almost unmanageable. I know I should cut them back, and from time to time I do, but mostly I just allow them to have their own way. My yard is not exactly a gardener’s dream, and hostas are one of the few plants that actually thrive here in the dry shade. So, let ’em grow!

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Despite my grumblings, I must that admit there are other flowers ablooming, and in fact my gardens are at their peak right now. (Note, however, the fringe of the ever-present hostas.)

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I have lived at the little house in the big woods for over thirty years, and I thought I had seen every insect that makes its way into my yard. But, no. Yesterday I came across this little fringed creature. Anyone have any idea what it is? It just goes to show that even after thirty years, a small plot of land can teach you something new.

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There can be no doubt what the little winged creature below is. The wonder is that my wee camera managed to capture him at all. Score one for the persistent photographer who constantly takes pictures of birds but seldom gets a good shot.

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A moment of triumph, indeed.

After the Rain on This Last Day of June

Yesterday and the night before, we got some much-needed rain. Uncharacteristically for Maine, the month of June has been dry, and in some regions there has actually been a mini-drought. Last year was the same, and I wonder if we are entering a new phase with Maine weather.

As a bicycle rider and a patio hound, I love the good weather. As a gardener, I start to fret if it goes too long without rain. Then, when it does rain, I fret for my flowers if the rain falls too hard.  Like most people who grow flowers and vegetables, I want the rain to be just right—a nice, steady, gentle, soaking rain that has enough sense to stop after a day or so. Seldom do we get this, which means when it comes to my gardens, I am in a constant state of fretfulness.

Yesterday’s rain wasn’t too bad, and as the irises have gone by, I didn’t have to worry about them. It did beat down my pansies, but the pansies are getting leggy, and soon I will be replacing them with some other flowers. I haven’t decided which ones yet.

I do love how the flowers look after the rain. Somehow, drops of water make the blossoms even more lovely than they already are.

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Today has the kind of dry, sunny weather that makes Maine famous for its summers. Clif and I will be going on a bike ride tonight, and we’ll be grilling chicken for our supper.

What a fine way for the last day of June to go out. Many of our summer visitors are here. Lightening bugs flash on the window screens at night; the hummingbirds whir to our feeders and then zoom away into the woods; the thrushes sing every night; and the swallowtail butterflies are as beautiful as the flowers they visit.

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All seasons have their beauty, but summer’s is the deepest, the most nurturing. Plants, flowers, insects, birds, and other creatures get their fill of green life during this abundant time of year. When I sit in the backyard and just look and listen and smell, I feel as though I am a part of all that is around me.

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The Consolation of October

As it turns out, I had a nasty little flu rather than a miserable cold. By Friday night, my temperature was nearly 102, but the next day, Saturday, I felt significantly better. By Sunday, I was more or less back to my normal schedule. I even did some cutting back in the garden.

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, Clif caught what I had—couples sure do like to share. But he should be fine by next weekend, when Dee is coming home from New York to help celebrate yet another retirement fête for Clif. (This should be the last one. Clif has certainly retired in style.)

Being sick, of course, is no fun, but I much prefer short and brutal over long and miserable. I have had colds stretch out for a week or two, with coughing at night to make sleep next to impossible. At least what I had was over in a few days, and a good thing, too, as there is much to do outside to get the yard ready for winter.

We still haven’t had a hard frost, but for the most part, the gardens and potted plants have had it. The coleuses have taken on a leggy, spiky look, and I hope to have them removed by the end of the week.

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The hostas have become yellow and curled, and yesterday I began cutting them back.

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The leaves of the evening primroses have turned a lovely red, and I’ll cut those last.

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The ferns, too, have had it and are curling back into themselves. I don’t clip the ferns. I let them take care of themselves, and this seems to work just fine. Each spring, they return in a vigorous burst of green.

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For a gardener, fall can be a melancholy time. The clipped plants give the gardens a shaved look.

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Soon all the garden ornaments will be stored down cellar, as we Mainers like to say. The patio furniture will come in, and the grill will be moved onto the lawn. How sad, bare, and lonely it all looks when this happens.

Good thing, then, that October is such a beautiful, golden month. It’s almost as if she were saying, “Yes, I know brown, austere November is coming, and after that the long cold of winter, but before it does, I’ll give you some deep blue skies and some blazing leaves as consolation.”

And indeed, what a consolation!

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Autumn Begins and the Gardens Are Ragged

But we should not mourn the summer garden. It was not more or less beautiful because it was temporary. If we were smart we took advantage of summer to experience as many moments of garden joy as we possibly could.”  —Jason, from the blog Garden in a City

Yesterday was the fall equinox, that time when there is a balance between day and night. In Maine, fall is perhaps its most beautiful season, a dazzling time of bright blue skies, blazing leaves, warm days, and cool evenings.

However, Jason’s lovely description perfectly captures the bitter-sweet mood that northern gardeners feel when autumn comes. We should “not mourn the summer garden,” but in our heart of hearts, many of us do. Gone are the lilies, the bee balm, and the phlox. The stalwart black-eyed Susans are fading fast. The modest sedums, with their blush of pink, provide some consolation, but the joyous burst of color in the gardens is over for another year.

The modest yet lovely sedum
The modest yet lovely sedum

Yet Jason is also right about taking as many moments of garden joy as we can in the summer. Clif and I certainly did. Almost every evening this summer and indeed this September, we took our supper plates out to the patio, where we smelled the spicy bee balm and listened to the crickets, the loons, and the barred owls. In August, as dusk fell, we admired the hummingbird moths. We were still in blissful ignorance about the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of these little creatures, of how the beautiful, ethereal moths lay eggs that hatch to become marauding, voracious hornworms.   (I do want to note that not all hornworms attack tomatoes, but the offspring of the hummingbird moths that visited our garden certainly did.)

The gardens are in tatters, and next week I’ll begin cutting them back.

The ragged garden
The ragged garden

 

The fading hostas
The fading hostas

Cutting back the garden always makes me feel a little blue, but there are certain consolations. That bright sky, the warm sun, and the changing leaves.  Now that summer’s heat has gone, time spent around the firepit.

And, of course, apple pie, my favorite kind of pie to make. This year is surely a banner year for apples. The wild trees by the side of the road are laden with fruit, and yesterday, on a walk, I snitched a couple of dropped apples from beneath a neighbor’s tree. How good and crisp and white they were, with nary a sign of one single worm.  I am thinking of asking if I can snitch some more drops. (Cheryl, I promise to invite you over for apple pie or crisp. Your choice.)

The ones that didn't get away
The ones that didn’t get away

So onward to fall. Every season—even the long dark of winter—has its beauty and pleasures. And like our friend Burni, we intend to squeeze as much pleasure as we can out of each season.

 

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Yesterday, I went to the dentist’s office to have my teeth cleaned, and while I was there, I had X-rays. Clif will be retiring from his job the end of September, which means no more dental insurance. I figured that if any work needed to be done, then September was the month to do it. Well, good thing I had those X-rays. As it turns out, I need to have a tooth extracted, and I need a new crown. All will be done around my birthday. Happy birthday to me!

My teeth are naturally straight, and even though they are a little yellow from all the tea I drink, they look pretty good. However, sometimes looks can be deceiving. Every two years, I have X-rays, and they inevitably show that something must be done to Laurie’s teeth. In the past, it was fillings. Now, it is crowns, and with this new one, I will have had five crowns. As for the extracted tooth…it is going from the bottom and cannot be fixed.

Our out-of-pocket cost for the five crowns has been about $2,500. What a nice Canon camera I could get for $2,500. I know. Teeth are important, but I can’t help feeling a little wistful about the money spent.

When I came home, I told Clif about my teeth, and while he agreed with my assessment about the money, he was philosophical about the matter. “You need your teeth,” he said.

Indeed, I do.

After discussing teeth, Clif mowed the front lawn, and I tidied the patio and back garden. I cut back the phlox so that it wasn’t leaning over the dwarf snapdragons and touching the patio. Afterwards, I propped them up with green wire fencing. I swept the patio and cut some of the spent stalks from the daylilies. The garden still looked ragged, but it was a decided improvement.  At least things were tidy. More or less.

The sky was clear, the sun was setting, and Clif and I decided it would be an ideal time to have drinks on the patio. We both know we only have a month, at best, where we will be able to do this. We talked about my teeth, his retirement, and our sidelines—selling photo cards, computer consulting, and the strong possibility of a book being published in 2016. Our card business has begun to pick up, and we are excited about all our ventures.

As Katherine White would put it, onward and upward. Even the prospect of dental work couldn’t dim our enjoyment of the evening.

The tidy garden. More or less.
The tidy garden. More or less.

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.