Thursday, August 23, 2012

Teen-aged Fliers

They tear through the yard at break-neck speed, reckless, and with little regard for the safety of others. Careless teenagers with their learner’s permit testing their new-found freedom, pushing the limits of common sense. You can hear them across the pasture screaming at each other, back-talking their parents, flying low and fast testing their wings. The parents sit on the barn roof or in the dead branches at the top of the weeping willow screeching back. You can just imagine what they are yelling at the young fledglings: “Slow Down.” “Not so high.”  “How many times do I have to tell you stay where I can see you.” Those darned teen-aged fliers.

All summer we have watched the pair of what we believe to be Swainson's hawks circle the Garden Spot. I first spotted one settling onto a nest in one of the tall trees on my way home. We can see the tree tops across the neighbor's pasture from the patio, so we began watching the pair of hawks soar above the fields looking for mice. They'd land on the corral fence, circle above, rest on the power poles for the well pumps. Often we'd see the male take food back to the nest to feed his mate incubating her eggs. They are not real timid, but cautious, so I have been able to get close enough that with my telephoto lens to get pretty decent photos of the adults.

We have this nearly dead weeping willow out by the garden and the hen house where birds like to perch, a perfect vantage point to watch young fledglings learn to fly. We can hear the parents talking to the kids as they cruse overhead.  All day long we hear the hawks screaming, calling to the youngsters, teaching them how to hunt, and fledglings answering back. Now that the hay has been cut, the pasture is the perfect place for them to hunt voles and mice, and probably a garter snake or two. They seem to leave the rabbits alone and the cats, though we did have one swoop down near the patio and pick off a dove close to the ground with our Mo cat nearby taking chase thinking he could make a double header and catch both hawk and dove. Silly boy.

Saturday while we were working on the waterfall the two young hawks flew in tandem overheard, low and fast, a rare sight. Soon the fledglings will be on their own. The parents will probably stay around. I know they have their eyes on the hens, but for that very reason the girls don't get to roam free much, only under careful eye--ours.

I got quite lucky with this shot. I like the way the sun shines through the hawk's tail. The youngsters' fledging is just one more sign that summer is winding down.

Today our English faculty met to kick off Fall Semester 2012 that begins Monday. I'll put the gardening tools away and take out the tools of the trade: grammar handbooks, worksheets, the work computer. I'll have 3 preps: freshmen composition, an advanced writing class, and an introduction to literature. A good work load. I'll read your blogs at the end of the day to relax and hopefully I'll have good things to blog about. It's been fun keeping up with you this summer. I appreciate the loyal followers as I welcome my new followers and hope there are more to come. I love the generous comments everyone leaves and I do enjoy leaving comments for you. So as I go back to work, I look forward to reading about the turning seasons in your garden.  Have a great week end.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You're the Mom and I'm the Tid

Elinore Lucile 
 When I hear my friends talk about spending the day with their mom, or having coffee with her, or buying her the perfect gift, or having long heart to hearts, I lament the loss of my mother. She died in January 1990. We knew that she was weak and frail and probably didn’t have much time, but not that morning. Not that day. I was in my second semester of graduate school studying English literature, taking 3 classes and teaching 2 classes, a pretty heavy load for a stay-at-home mom who had been out of school for nearly 20 years. I went home for the few days to be with family and to bury mom then went right back to school, missing my mom, but too busy to mourn such a devastating loss. I still miss my mom today. I wouldn’t say that I am jealous of friends who still have their mothers, but I would be glad to have my mom, though she would be more than a 105 years old. Despite how long ago our mothers left us, we still miss them. We still have questions we wished we would have asked; we still could benefit from their wisdom, but they do live on as we pass on the lessons they taught us and they live on in the heritage and legacy that they left.

Our oldest daughter, Heather, has this wonderful little garden that she has created, including a small water feature with a waterfall. Hubby and I built ours in the courtyard, but it didn’t look natural like Heather’s. It looked just like what it was: a plastic waterfall with random rocks stacked trying to make it look natural, so I wanted Heather to help me redo the waterfall.
The water garden in the early spring. I liked it until I saw Heather's.
Our project began with a trip to Home Depot Saturday morning to buy the supplies for drip irrigation and compost and top soil to rebuild our waterfall. Next we went to the La Porte Avenue Nursery (I wrote about the nursery last fall) where we purchased all of the plant material.

We were mixing compost and top soil in the wheel barrel for the base of the water fall when Heather said, “I’ve always wanted to come home and work with my parents in the garden—do a project with them.”  It was at that moment that I realized that I was now the mom and Heather “the tid” was spending time with her mother just as I once did with my mother. I don't know why this epiphany came as such a surprise, for I am close with my daughters and while they both are a comfortable distance away, we do get do those mother/daughter things. I just suddenly got a whole perspective on the mother/daughter relationship.

I watched her hands move the soil,  press it into place, molding and shaping the new waterfall.
 When she was 4 years old, in a moment of post toddler bossiness she stood in front of me with her little hands her hips, looked up at me and in her bossy childhood way said to me “You’re the mom and I’m the tid.” She was scolding me about something, telling me that because I was the mom I was supposed to behave in some way. I am not sure I understood just what she meant at the moment and today 30 some years later I don’t remember.

Strong hands that understand the earth, kneading it, moving it.

Knowledgeable hands that work smoothly and quickly.

Now the general shape is there.

And feet to stomp the pvc plastic liner into place.

Strong hands to place the rocks, adjusting the soil underneath the liner to create just the right niche for the rock.

She adds foam to hold some rock and pea gravel in place.

Good stuff to keep materials in place.
Finishing touches: moving the rocks around and adding pea gravel for a more realistic, natural waterfall.

Next: The plant material. Mostly miniatures of native plants.

I as so impressed with Heather's knowledge about plants as she walked with the nursery lady choosing the plants by scientific name, understanding what they were and where they would be planted on the mound. 

She has learned to live with dirt under her fingernails and seems to prefer that to professionally manicured nails.

Final step: wetting everything down and giving the new plants a good drink.

At the end of the day we have a  more natural looking waterfall now with miniature plants that will grow and fill in creating what  I hope will be really beautiful next spring.
Heather and Jennifer

Today those hands understand the elements of the earth and how to blend the soil and the plants and the rocks to create beauty in the garden.

As a grown woman, a horticulturalist by profession, and a gardener by passion, she teaches me. Now she and her sister are the ones who get to have lunch with their mom, do little projects, and have the heart to hearts. And I think now I have a better understand of what it means to be the mom and for the them to be"the tids." Thanks for all of your hard work, Heather. And thank you Jen for helping find and fix the leak.

You can visit Heather's blog Fields of Heather where you can see the beautiful little garden that she has created in the cul-de sac.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ladybug Fly Away Home

Or Where Have all the Ladybugs Gone?

Who doesn't love ladybugs? I wouldn't exactly say that I am obsessed with the little lady; I just made a quilt in her honor, bought curtains with big red lady bugs on them, styled an entire bedroom with her in mind.  I have taken photos of ladybugs on nearly every plant in the garden: dill weed, sunflowers, more on sunflowers, on a tree, in the mulch in the rose garden, on a daisy petal, on a water lily. I have even written ladybug poems (very bad poems). No. I am not obsessed. I just think that they are cute, fun, awesome, amazing, curious.
There are dozens of varieties of ladybugs or lady birds or lady beetles, as entomologists will call them. Check out this website if you want to know more about them scientifically. 

This is probably the only quilt that I will ever make. The Raggedy Anns and Andy like the quilt. 

I just added the curtains a few weeks ago, completing the room. This room was a vision in my old house, now a reality.


I blurred the photo and added a texture. I am not very good at this photo-art thing.

Check the backs of your sunflowers to see if there are clusters of aphids--one drawback to sunflowers in the garden. 

A ladybug on the water lily caught me quite off guard. I keep the lilies in a horse tank, making them very assessable and easy to photograph. 

Hippodamia convergen--I think. 
Last fall the ugly old Russian Olive tree at the edge of the patio was covered with hundreds of ladybugs, some just hanging out, others otherwise engaged with little modesty as to whom might be watching or even taking pictures. 

But this year, she has been scarce at the Garden Spot. Has it been too hot? Has there been a lack of food? Lady bugs eat aphids and even the aphids are scarce around here. I have been using a systmeic rose food that controls aphids, but I can't image that it would scare away aphids from the sunflower leaves where usually they hang out en masse. Nor were there aphids on the snowball bushes early this spring. 

No aphids. No ladybugs.

Or is my answer too simple? Check out this web site: The Lost Ladybug Project. It is a really cool web site, especially for children. It explains how the ladybug population is changing. Some ladybugs are disappearing, only to show up in a new area. So they are asking visitors to photograph ladybugs that they find and upload the photo along with information about where the ladybug was found to track the ladybug population.

So wanting to do my part, I set out the other day to hunt bugs, only I couldn't find any. Not on the dill weed. Not on the daisy petal, not in the mulch in the rose bed, not on a sunflower. I have, in fact, seen only one ladybug all summer.

Lots of bees. Tons of wasps. A bazillion yellow jackets (one of which stung me on my elbow). A few dragon flies. A fair quantity of attack beetles, gobs of ants. And a few butterflies.

When I find a lady bug, I intend to take her photo and send it to the Ladybug Project so that she can be accurately accounted for.

I invite you to do the same.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's Cookin'?

In two and a half weeks, I go back to work.  Classes at the university start August 27, so I have been working on syllabi for 3 classes. I have two finalized and will finish the 3rd in the morning then get the last two emailed to the English office so that they can be printed. I have to update the course web site, too. I'll be teaching two sections of freshmen composition, one section of Writing on a Theme with issues in education as the theme, and the desert of the day,  introduction to literature. So the summer is winding down. It is still very hot--in the 90s. Still no rain. I've lost some incentive to garden, though I keep the watering it.

The week started a birthday party for a little one who turned four.
But the party didn't last long since there was work to do at the Garden Spot--there is always work to do.

What a sweet little princess she is

We've had company this week, too. My dear long time friend Pattie who lives in a small town on the western slope, Olathe, had meetings in Denver so she brought her 8 year old granddaughter Emelie  with her to keep her company on the long drive from the western slope. My friend grows the most beautiful roses, so Miss EM and I went to my favorite nursery to a buy her a rose to commemorate  her oldest daughter's birthday yesterday, August 7th. Only her daughter Rayleene wasn't here to wish happy birthday. She died suddenly the end of April after surviving cervical cancer, but not the treatment. The lost was sudden, devastating, leaving a family asking why and grieving. So  Emelie helped me pick out a perfect pink (her aunt's favorite color) David Austin Rose. We both espied it at the same moment and knew that it was the perfect rose. Pattie loved the rose and will nurture it well.

She brought a box of Olathe sweet corn and a box of fresh peaches. Does your super market carry this wonderful sweet corn from Olathe, Colorado? It is supposed to be the best, the sweetest.  So guess what I did today? Her oldest granddaughter, Rayleene's daughter, Sheyanne lives with us while she attends UNC, so she helped today can peaches and freeze corn.

So here is this week's pictorial.

Iris after a few years get clumpy and wild looking, so I dig them up every few years.

 I want to redo the flower bed that curves around the back patio, so the iris were the second to go after the cosmos. I split the clumps up into individual rhizomes that I will replant some and give some away.

I trim down the leaves into a nice point after I separate the toes from the main rhizome.  Did you know that each toe of the rhizome only blooms once, so when you divide your iris, you can throw away that one because it will not bloom again, though it will grow more toes if you want to save it.

We had two boxes of peaches to can. One box was ready to can; the other box is still a bit unripe, so we will can again Sunday. I planed the quarts pretty close. I figured I could get about 5 peaches sliced in each jar. Shey did the blanching and peeling, while I sliced.

These peaches are so sweet, so delicious. They will taste good over the winter.

They look so pretty in the jars. The last two jars we filled with halves just because the peaches looked so pretty.

After a nap and supper, we did the corn. Even the head gardener helped husk the corn.

I always dreaded freezing corn when I had to help my mother. It was messy and it was hard work. Today, however, Shey and I chatted and laughed. We talked about our memories helping our mothers and grandmothers preserve food for the winter. She remembered how great grandma fixed the sweet corn and how good it was. Good memories.

It was nice having help in the kitchen. Actually it was Shey who asked her grandma to bring sweet corn because she wanted to freeze it. She loves to cook, and I have fun teasing her about having dinner on the table when I get home from a hard day at work, too tired to cook. She laughs. We both laugh. She will take a full load of courses at school and work 25 hours a week at Walmart pharmacy, while keeping her girlish figure taking a dance class. Maybe we can get the head gardener to cook. (He calls for pizza).

We had a good discussion about what it was like to put up food long before there were electric stoves and freezers, thankful that we didn't have to stand over a wood burning stove. Can you imagine?

And the sun sets on another full day at the Garden Spot. So what's cooking in your kitchen this week?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rock Stacking

                 Every now and then life throws us a curve, often with an unexpected lesson. A surprise. Oh yes, there are those moments when the lesson is pretty profound—a traffic accident, a diagnosis of a bad malady, the loss of a loved one. No. This was one of those little gems in life that inspires great gratitude, thankfulness, and inspiration. We (my brother and I) sold our parents' home place in 2008. It’s a small 6-acre parcel, the last of its kind in an urban area, the remaining acres of the original 1890 homestead. The gratitude comes from knowing that the couple who bought the property have restored it in a manner that has honored our parents. The thankfulness comes from finding buyers who purchased the property as their residence rather than to develop it. The inspiration that I brought home was an awakening for me, a fresher look at life and gardening. I get chocked up even as I write.

I had a rather emotional week. Because the main event of the week involved another couple and to maintain their privacy, I won’t go into detail about what brought us together this week. Nonetheless I had an opportunity to visit my home place where I grew up. We sold the property in 2008 after owning it for 48 years.  Here are some of the last photos I took of the place before we turned it over to new owners.

One of the first improvements dad made to the property was to built an acre-sized pond used to store irrigation water. Using the pond as his water source, he gardened, planted fruit trees ranging from apple trees, to peach, pear, apricot and cherry. He had a nice collection of berries: goose berries, strawberries, black berries and grapes, even wild plums and rhubarb. As kids we swam in the lake on summer afternoons, ice skated in the winter, fished for supper. The pond sustained a plethora of wildlife from from frogs to Canada geese, and even rare for the area nesting wood ducks. 

As he aged, dad became more set in his ways. A child of Great Depression when his family nearly starved (as my mom once recounted), he became a saver. He saved and collected everything. Everything. I guess after watching those horrible TV reality shows, one might conclude that he was a hoarder. I’d just like to say that he was a saver; in his mind everything he stashed would be of some use someday. In reality every building was crammed full of junk, precious necessary stuff: the old barn, the falling down chicken house, two garages, even the old farmhouse, all stuffed beyond the windowsills with stuff.

Mom passed in January 1990 and the next year dad suffered a massive heart attack, requiring double bi-pass surgery, and he was never the same. Forced to live oxygen (he was a heavy smoker), he retreated to his old house and let his place fall further in disrepair. He died in 1998 three days after I moved him closer to me and put him in nursing home. He was at the end of his road.

For the next 10 years we held onto the old place and then the day came when we knew that we had to sell it. The buyer had wanted that little piece of property for nearly 3 decades. At one time while he held discussions with dad about buying the place, he wrote a contract, but dad refused to sell.

Today the new owners are living their dream, as the Mr. said to me: “We live with dirt under our fingernails.” Before we sold the property, we removed all of the old buildings except for house. Tons of  stuff were hauled off, leaving a clean pallet for the new owners. 

Of course I worried silently about what they would do to the place. I heard via the grapevine some of the things they were doing. Did they leave the poppies that bloomed along the driveway year after year after year unattended, but always faithful?

What about the Wedding Vail Spirea? Did they rip out the decades old bushes?

 The poppies and the spirea remain. As do the 3 pine trees that were barely 6 feet tall when we moved in in 1960 that now tower high above the garden nearly touching the clouds. The 100 year old apple trees are laden with apples The grape vines, the wild plums, the lilacs, the ancient cottonwood, the pear tree and the cherry trees. All are there groomed and pruned, tended, and loved. And cherished. And appreciated.

They have created a garden of beauty and peacefulness. In creating their new garden, rather than stripping away the old, they have smoothed out the rough, overgrown edges, repaired and fixed, enhanced, improved, and added their own wonderful touch. They tore down the old house and built a new one reminiscent of the 100 year old farm house that I grew up in. They have more dreams. A lavender farm, bringing back the honey bees that dad once had, more garden, maybe some hens. Dad had hens. Maybe a couple of goats. I had horses, which brings me to the most amazing part of my visit--their horse. A modern sculpture of horse she called The Avatar. Brought another tear to my cheek. 

They showed me a little stack of stuff: an old car spring, a frog eye sprinkler--dad used dozens of frog eyes to water--bits and pieces and scraps of things left behind, a little crescent wrench, an old rusty horse shoe. Anything that they find they add to the little pile that she will fashion into a totem. Now is that neat or what!

At the closing for the property, I joked about writing visitation rights into the contract and we were warmly invited to visit, but life me carried me forward and while I'd think about the home place often, I resisted visiting because I wanted them to have the time, the space, the freedom to do what they wanted with out me or my family hovering over them reminding them of how that tree came to be or what used to be over there, or how dad used to do things. No. They had to discover and create on their own.

They dredged the lake, restoring it to a new healthy ecosystem. The grapevine had told me they had drained the lake and dug it out, so I worried about the fish that dad had stocked it with, but the Mrs. proudly announced that not a fish was lost was lost during the drudging process.

One thing I noticed as we walked the property were stacks of rocks. I have seen rock staking in pictures, but not so much in gardens, so I looked up the tradition of rock stacking. I found this web site (click) that explains the tradition. Then I understood why they stack rocks. I know that they have lived in the southwest where rock stacking is a Hopi Indian tradition that they have brought to their new garden. Stacked rocks ward of evil spirits or bring luck. I have started my first little stack by my water garden in the courtyard. I love the look of rock stacks in the garden randomly placed, a surprise along a garden path, adding a certain intrigue to the garden.

And so this week we were brought together under odd circumstances, but as the Mrs. commented as we parted ways, things happen for a reason, and we said our goodbyes knowing that we had already become friends. I left  grateful that they shared their home with me, thankful that the right people have the home place, satisfied that they are good stewards of the land, and inspired to take my garden to new heights. I have started by stacking rocks. 

A Rose by Any Other Name

Jackson and Perkins roses have been in the garden for at least 10-12 years. This year they have been spectacular. The bushes were taller and...