Monday, April 30, 2007

Mocking the Mockingbird

I love to hear the Mockingbird
That sits up in my tree

I wonder why he sings so much,
Or if he sings to me...

~Rita P. Hestand

A couple of years ago on a summer evening, Romie and I took our usual walk down the road to the cemetery and the bridge over Blue Creek that we affectionately call Poohsticks Bridge. While we were strolling through the lanes of the cemetery, we were stopped in our tracks by the loud and beautiful song of a bird. A Cardinal, perhaps? No, it sounded like a Goldfinch. Wait ... maybe a Warbler ... and then we realized it was all of them. It was a Mockingbird.

We located it and we sat and listened to a regular concert of arias from just about every bird we'd ever heard. It was mesmerizing. Such a plain looking bird with all those melodious tones coming out of it!

We never heard the Mockingbird again during our evening walks. In fact, we didn't hear
any Mockingbird again until last week, when we went to Beining Nursery to get our flagstone. As we were waiting to take care of our purchases, we heard it and saw it in the top of a maple tree by the main building. It was so much better than any music we'd heard while on hold on the telephone and we didn't mind waiting our turn. The owner told us that many people had asked if they could please deliver the Mockingbird along with their trees or bushes.

We also purchased mulch while we were there and they delivered it last Wednesday. As we were eating lunch outside yesterday, we heard a familiar loud series of bird songs coming from a nearby tree. Did Beining's deliver their Mockingbird, too, by mistake?

We got up to see where it was, and once we located it, I ran into the house for the camera. It was too far away for me to see any detail on its body and to identify it positively as a Mockingbird, but it definitely sounded like one. When I zoomed in on it with the camera, took its picture, and downloaded it to the computer later, it didn't look like the Mockingbird we'd seen last week. After doing some research online and with my Birds of Ohio Field Guide, we determined that it was a Brown Thrasher.

I didn't know there were other birds that mimicked like the Mockingbird, but the Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) is well known as an accomplished singer. Having a repertoire of over 1,100 songs, it sings more songs than any other bird in North America. It's also a staunch defender of its nesting area, capable of striking a person or a dog or cat hard enough to draw blood, so we'll just listen from a distance.

The University of Michigan website says, "
The best time to observe these birds is in April, before nest sites are established. During this time males sing on high branches to attract mates."

I wonder if he was successful...

*Small pictures of Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher from Wikipedia. The large picture of the Brown Thrasher in the tree was taken by me on 4-29-07.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

What is So Rare as a Day in April?

This spring, having a gorgeously sunny warm day in April like the one we had today is cause for rejoicing and celebration. So we did. We invited my mom and dad, grandma, Kara and Adam, and Jenna out to the house for a cookout. We had barbecued chicken breasts, hamburgers, potato salad, California Blend vegetables, seedless red grapes (which tasted strangely like mulberries), and Apple Crisp with ice cream for dessert.

While the weather was something to celebrate, it was Kara's birthday for which we actually had this little party. Our firstborn will be 27 years old on Tuesday.

This is an amazing thing, the growing older of one's children. By the time I was Kara's age, I had a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and while I can remember both of the girls at those ages like it was yesterday, it also seems like another lifetime ago when I think in terms of myself.

I'd like to think that I'm the same person I was back then, but of course, I'm not. It's impossible to go through raising two children from birth through college then releasing them to make their own way in the world and not be changed. Just as our children change and grow, so do we and this is what keeps life interesting.

After we had our lunch, we took off for a walk in the woods to see what wildflowers were in bloom now. We went back to Oklahoma, the little woods down the road, and just like two weeks ago the woodland floor was covered with all kinds of wildflowers. Still some Dutchman's Breeches here and there, Spring Beauty and Trilliums everywhere, and a few Trout lilies scattered at the base of several trees. But there was something new!

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) was quite abundant and just coming into bloom. I'd seen the foliage many times before, in many places, but never its unique bloom. I don't think I even knew it flowered before I saw a photo of it last year. Close-up, it looks like someone split open its fuzzy round bubble and peeled it back just enough to reveal the kaleidoscopic image inside.

Cunningham's Ditch, which runs behind our house, has many colonies of wild ginger growing all along its wooded banks. Before I became so interested in gardening, I'd taken this for granted and gave it no more than a passing glance and noted that it was there. All these years, I'd missed the unique flower hiding under its heart-shaped leaves.

Among her gifts, Kara got a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood') from Adam, and some Fiskars pruners and a gift card to Lowe's from Jenna. We all remarked how different her birthday presents were now, compared to just a few short years ago. There's that change and growth again...

Speaking of growth, Kara's Buckeye (
Aesculus glabra) tree that my mom and dad gave us when Kara was born, has more than tripled in size since it was planted 27 years ago. At five feet ten inches tall, so has Kara.

It was a great spring day !

There's an Ostrich in the Garden!

With the warmer temperatures, things are really popping out all over the garden! This Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), which reminded me of a lady dressed all in frills and begging for a bouquet of False Forget-Me-Nots (Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'), was strutting her stuff. It's prom season here, and Miss Fern Fiddlehead is ready for her date:

Her friends are here to see her off and chatter among themselves about how beautiful she looks ...

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lamenting the Lack of Lilacs

I love the smell of lilacs. I enjoy being outside and catching the scent of our next-door neighbor's bush as it drifts over to where I am. I'm thankful they let me cut all the blooms I want so that I can bring that luscious fragrance into my house. One bouquet can perfume the entire downstairs for days.

For all the love I feel for lilacs, you'd think we would have a few bushes of our own. Actually, we do, but none of the old-fashioned lilacs that make me giddy when I smell them.

The first one we ever had was a dwarf Meyer lilac (
Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'). It bloomed nicely the first year we planted it, but never again in the several years after. I learned that we had it in an area that didn't get enough sun, so we moved it and it rewarded us with blooms the next year!

Last spring, it was blooming nicely and then my grandma bought us a gorgeous Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Emperor II'). The best place for the Japanese Maple was - you guessed it - right where we'd put the lilac. Against my better judgment, but not really having much of a choice, we once again moved the lilac. It seemed to survive the move, even though it was just starting to bloom at the time, but shortly after it finished flowering, it finished living, too.

About 15 years ago, my friend Jane gave me a white lilac for my birthday. Knowing it would get quite large eventually, we planted it in the bare spot where a peony once grew. The peony had disappeared many years before, so the lilac filled the spot nicely.

About ten years after we had planted the lilac, we noticed some white blooms, except that it had finished blooming a couple of weeks earlier. Upon closer inspection, the lilac was blooming peonies! You can imagine our shock and disbelief when we saw that the peony had come back after so many years of absence. I mean, think about it ... we had to dig pretty deep when we planted the lilac bush and we never encountered a single trace of that peony.

We have since enjoyed the succession of lilac and then peony blooms from what looks to be a 'leony' or 'peolac.' The lilac does appear to be in a state of decline while the peony continues to stage its comeback bigger and better each year. It will be interesting to see if one will eventually take over or whether they will continue to co-exist in the same spot.

This spring, with the unfortunate late and lengthy freeze we experienced, many of the flowering trees and shrubs were denied their normal leaf emergence and flowering period. Some, like our Cleveland pear, had beautiful flower buds only to have them blasted by the cold weather, resulting in very few of them progressing to full flower. The neighbor's lilac bush didn't fare well either. The entire lower two-thirds of the bush is devoid of any leaves and the new growth appearing on the upper third looks deformed. Sadly, there will be no lilac bouquets from it this year.

Lilacs are a hardy bunch and while we may not be able to enjoy their intoxicating scent this spring, they'll be back. I'll just pout a bit and settle for burning my Yankee Candle 'Lilac Blossoms.'

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Still Don't Like It

Awhile back, I mentioned how I was disappointed in the 'Replete' daffodil I'd gotten a couple of years ago. I didn't like it last year, and I don't like it this year. It is supposed to be pink in the center and it's pale peachy orange. It would never occur to me to call it pink. Check out the picture, description, and most importantly the disclaimer here.

It's a double that might be called ruffly, but I call it messy. It's like it's having a bad hair day every day of its life.
The picture posted here is mine and it's an extremely flattering one. It certainly doesn't look like the pictures you'll find on sellers' websites. (That subject is a rant best saved for another day.)

It has other afflictions, too:

  • It's floppy and most times can't stand up under its own weight
  • It doesn't bloom very prolifically
  • The blooms don't last very long
  • It's just generally ugly

How this thing managed to be named 1995 "Daffodil of the Year" is beyond me, when there are so many more attractive ones out there. It's like it's the Sphinx cat of the daffodil world. I'm sure there are those out there that love Sphinxes and Repletes, but I'm not one of them. Oregon hybridizer Murray Evans, who introduced it in 1975, is no doubt proud of his baby, but I'm glad it's not his only claim to fame.

I have threatened to dig it up and move it to my Orphan Garden, but I think I'll just let it stay where it is. Some of its downfalls make it not worth the effort of moving it. Besides, it's planted in with other ones that I do like. By the time they bloom, Replete isn't around to spoil their good looks. Whenever I decide to divide that bunch of bulbs, I'll try and isolate the Repletes then.

But in keeping with my optimistic outlook on life, I have found one thing I do like about it. Its back side is actually very pretty. We should all be so lucky to have a pretty rear, eh?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


It's pretty obvious to the readers of this blog that gardening is my thing. But it's not my only thing. We have eight cats that we share our lives with and there is also considerable space taken up in our house by volumes of books because I love to read. When we have a nice day and we're caught up in the garden, we'll take off with the GPS and do some geocaching. And while it's not very time-consuming, I work as a dental hygienist one afternoon a week.

Oh ... and I blog.

I've been asked many times why I do that. One said to me, "If you're going to go to all the bother of writing a blog, why don't you write a book?" Yeah, why don't I? Well, first of all, I'm not good for a plot. I know not all books have plots, but those that do stand a better chance of selling. I write essays. (Isn't that what I write?) I write essays interspersed with journal entries that are among the drivel that means nothing to much of anyone except my family.

I have always said that I hate writing. Editing is what I love to do. You write it, I'll fix it up. But then I wrote a few things* because I was asked to, and several people said to me, "You should be a writer." I think they meant that I should write and get paid for it. Wouldn't that be nice!

Then my daughter e-mailed me one day late in December and said, "How about a blog?" Hmmmmmm...

When I first heard the term blog several years ago, I thought to myself, what a silly-sounding word. I learned that it was a contraction or abbreviation of web log. Move the 'b' and toss the 'we'. I looked at a few of them and wasn't particularly impressed or motivated to have one of my own. Most of the blogs I read back then were there simply because someone gave away web space and others felt like they had to fill it up. I filed the word in the back of my mind, so that I would know what people were talking about when they mentioned them.

Fast forward to January of this year and the e-mail from Kara.

I originally started writing this to keep a record of what was going on in my garden throughout the year and as a way of keeping our girls informed of what happens around here on a daily basis, now that neither of them lives at home. Since I don't work that much anymore, nor am I taking care of the two of them, I want them to know that I still have a life, and that I'm not sitting around in my bathrobe watching soap operas and eating bonbons.

But anyway, once I got started writing and posting to this thing, it was like a new addiction. I couldn't stop. I always have had a lot to say and nothing much stops me from saying it. I generally think out loud, unlike my husband, who is a man of few words and who thinks about every single one of them before he speaks.

While I have since discovered many, many excellent blog authors out there that I enjoy reading, I still don't aspire to be a great blog writer myself. I too am filling up web space simply because I can, and it fulfills something within me that I can't entirely explain.

So this is my version of a blog, for my girls and whomever else deems it worthy of taking a few minutes to read what a middle-aged gardener, kitty-lover, reader, geocacher, dental hygienist, and most importantly, wife and mother, has to say about stuff.

*Today's Cacher : January 2005, "Divine Appointments" ; March 2005, "The Best Cache I Didn't Find" ; May 2005, "A Spooky Little Bug" ; June 2005, "Fancy Meeting You Here" .

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

2007 Cincinnati Flower Show

Mom and I boarded the Executive Coach bus at Van Wert at 7:00 this morning and we headed for the Cincinnati Flower Show. A few hours later, we walked through the entrance (free to us, due to our
AHS membership). Though rain was predicted at a 90% chance of it for the day, we never felt a drop. How we managed to be granted that reprieve, I'll never know, but good for us!

Every year, the Cincinnati Horticultural Society stages their week-long show on the shores of Lake Como, location of historical Coney Island (where Kings Island Amusement Park had its origin) and adjacent to the Ohio River. Though the show has been internationally acclaimed in the past, and having attended the show last year, I felt that this year something was lacking, especially with the vendors. It seemed to me that there was a large number of vendors selling everyday fashion clothing and jewelry and fewer offering tools, potting materials, and garden decor than I remember. Even the Plant Market was smaller. Still, there was plenty to enjoy.

There were lavish displays of outdoor garden settings in the Grand Marquis, which I particularly enjoyed. I took away many ideas that I could incorporate into my own gardens on a smaller scale. I am constantly amazed at the creativity and artistry that some people possess, and I'm thankful they share their talents with the rest of us that weren't so blessed in that particular area.

There were a couple of learning seminars during the time we were there, and some of the group we were with took advantage of them. One, "Gardening Smarter, Not Harder," was probably one I should have taken in. It was presented by several speakers, which included experts from the Arthritis Foundation and a chiropractic clinic. Yep, should have attended...

There was an amateur flower show being judged in the large tent, and I enjoyed seeing the specimens of everything from woodland wildflowers to exotic orchids. The artistic floral arrangements were over the top and I wonder where these would find a home other than at a flower show, but I appreciate seeing how an artsy brain works.

We enjoyed lunch on the grounds, at The Garden Cafe. My "Red Hat Lunch" came in a substantial plastic container with a lid, and while I was eating my meal, the thought popped into my head that the container would be great for either winter sowing or for starting seeds indoors. Three of the people I was sitting with donated theirs to my cause, so I now have four new seed-starting containers.

Like last year, there were several planted window boxes, and since I have two on our front porch as well as two on the front of the pool house, I was particularly interested in these. I have absolutely no imagination when it comes to putting any kind of container combinations together. I snapped a couple of photos for later reference.

In one building, there were extravagant and dramatic table settings and John F. and I discussed who would use these in their homes.
Certainly not us, but it's interesting to see the possibilities if you let your inhibitions run wild on the dining room table. That, and having unlimited funds and domestic assistants might allow you to play house like this. These were 3-D works of art with no square inch of space left out of the resulting masterpieces. I'm lucky to just get food on the plates!

Finally, there were wonderful artists in attendance with their works available for purchase. Watercolors seemed to be the most popular media and if I had wanted to choose one to take home with me, I don't think I could have done it. There were just too many that I saw and liked.

In the Grand Marquis, there was an artist painting one of the beautiful displays. I stood and watched her for a bit, and I'm always in awe of how anyone transforms a three-dimensional scene into a faithful rendition on canvas or paper.

Toward the end of our tour, Mom and I discovered the works of Charley and Edie Harper. Described as "minimal realism disciplined and pure," it would appeal to those in the 'less is more' camp. My taste in art runs in the contemporary and modern direction, so I loved it.
We both purchased some note cards. The Harpers' works remind me a bit of Nazran Govinder, by whom I have a giclee print (of a cat) - a Christmas present from Romie.

The other art work that we both enjoyed were the mounted and framed butterflies from Peru. Now these were wonderful preservations of true artwork direct from the hand of God. Mom purchased a beautiful large piece featuring a dozen or so butterflies arranged artistically in a clear glass frame enabling you to see both sides of the butterflies. Some of these, when you looked at one side of them and then the other, you'd swear were totally different butterflies, so diverse were their markings and colors.

By 3:00, we were headed for home, with purchases stowed in the bottom of the bus. I took home a Fothergilla (
F. gardenii x F. major 'Mt. Airy') to replace the one that the rabbits chewed all the way to the ground, a green Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'), and a new coneflower (Echinacea 'Summer Sky'). We stopped to eat just north of Dayton, and our group went to Cracker Barrel. There, I found a lime green jacket with white daisies appliqued on it that was so 'me'. I've always loved white daisies.

Next gardening/flower show expedition: The Cleveland Botanical Garden Flower Show in late May.

More photos from the show:

Spring Training

As I finally sit down at 11:00, feeling every single day of my 49+ years, I am struck by a genius thought that has come too late. Like baseball, gardening is a sport. It's a game we play with nature, spring through fall. There is winter - the off season - and then we begin with spring training. Well, baseball does anyway.

We should.

Oh sure, we sometimes do a spring training of a sort, by starting seeds inside, caring for our house plants, and going to garden shows. It's our way of gearing up for the active growing season in our gardens.

But what about the muscles? WHAT ABOUT THE MUSCLES?!? Yes, they're screaming at me right now. They are in the midst of a full body revolt against what I did to them these past four days. I tried to pace myself, I really did, but you know how the saying goes - "Make hay while the sun shines."
And boy, did we.

We cultivated, we planted, we moved things, we weeded, we trimmed dead foliage, we watered, we hauled flagstone ... you get the picture. And we were not properly conditioned for all this physical work. What were we thinking? Baseball players wouldn't dream of going out on the field on opening day without weeks of spring training. They know it would likely result in a pulled muscle or two, and we should know better than to go all out after a winter of living like slugs, without getting ourselves in better shape.

So I know better and you know better, and maybe you DID better than I did. But I hate, hate, hate exercise and now I'm paying the price. I don't know why I hate exercise so much, when I love nothing better than to be outside crawling around on my knees, digging in the dirt, and exerting myself with much more effort than a simple 30-minute Pilates would take. But the fact is, every spring I do it the same way and every spring I get the same result: Overly sore muscles while dragging my tired butt up the stairs to bed each night.

I sleep really well though.

*Photo from

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pinch Me!

Excuse me, while I get a little excited. Tonight, while checking up on plants, flowers, trees, bushes, seedlings, and peat pots with seeds sown in them ... wait ... back it up.



Look very closely. Do you see what I see? That little (and I do mean little) thread of green poking through the soil and about to shed its seed coat? Please tell me you can see it, too.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Blooming in Stereo

Last year, I discovered Abutilons. They're commonly called Flowering Maple, but they aren't maples. The leaves sort of look like maple leaves though. I bought a couple of them from Logee's and they did well for awhile, then one didn't.

I found some from the 'Bella' series at Stuckey's in Ft. Wayne, too, and those are doing better. In fact, those are blooming right now, both at the same time.

They're about 18 inches tall, and getting kind of spindly. I've read that they respond well to cutting them back hard, but I've not found them to be particularly easy to grow, so I kind of hate to mess with them. But since you can propagate them from soft wood cuttings, I'll try to do that with what I cut off. I saved some seeds from last year, but didn't have any luck with getting those to germinate.

I still have 'Ruffles' that I got from Logee's, and it was blooming a few weeks ago. It's pretty leggy, too, so I'll probably give it a trim when I do the other ones.

I'm hoping that all of them will beef up this summer, when I'll move them outside. I really love these. They remind me a bit of Japanese maples, because of their graceful form.

I'm on the lookout for one of the variegated-leaf ones and if I find it, I'll be adding it to my Abutilon repertoire.

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