Sunday, September 30, 2007

There's An Exception To Every Rule

Chrysanthemum x rubellum 'Clara Curtis' in Marsha's Garden
(Photo by Marsha)

I'll bet my friend Marsha is catching flies in that dropped jaw she's got after reading yesterday's post. You know, the one where I said I was never planting mums again? When she and I went to Darke County a week ago, before I left her house for home, she shared some of her garden with me. Her chrysanthemums, to be exact. And I actually wanted them.

Last fall, she had a going-away party at her house for her daughter Jennifer and her husband Scott, because they were moving to New Mexico. It was a wonderful party, held outside on a gorgeous fall evening. As I walked around her garden, I was awed by the gorgeous pink flowers she had growing and promptly informed her that I must have some. She'd already offered to share some with me a month or so before that, but you know me and mums . . .

So okay, now I've got a nice-sized clump of 'Clara Curtis' in my garden and it's got flower buds all over it. I don't know if it will make it all the way to full bloom due to the transplanting, but it's looking promising. 'Clara Curtis' is an heirloom mum, originally from Russia and supposedly hardy to zone 4, so maybe I'll have better luck with it. Marsha says it grows like crazy. Yes, that's the mum for me!

I know what else you're thinking. "But they're PINK! You said you didn't like pink mums!" Yeah, I know. I'm so confused. Must be the fibromyalgia. I think it's the hot pink ones I don't like. These are a pretty shade of cotton candy pink that look like daisies. And
everyone knows I love daisies.

So there you go. I did plant mums and they are pink and I really hope they make it through this winter. If they don't, I will try them again. This is one mum I'm determined to have. And Marsha - I know I said you aren't supposed to say thank you for passalong plants (Mom says they won't grow if you do), but I really want to say it. So thank you.

I hope I didn't just jinx my mums.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Asters Are the New Mums

I'm never planting mums again. I mean it. I've been burned for the last time. Last fall, I bought at least a dozen hardy mums and not one, NOT ONE, made it through the winter. I was more than a little irritated.

There are florist mums, garden mums and hardy mums and I know the difference. Those charming ones you see in the grocery stores that make you stop and say, "Oh wow, how cool is that?" are indeed cool, but they don't like cold. Enjoy them as long as you can keep them alive in above-freezing temperatures, because they won't survive the winter outside. Not here in zone 5 anyway.

Cool Florist Mums -->

But those garden mums that are all over the place now? They're hardy. Yeah, right. Don't bet on it. I've had mums over the years that did last through the winters. I removed them several years ago because they were bright yellow and I don't like yellow mums. I still don't like yellow mums, but if I hadn't taken them out, at least I'd still have some.

Word on the street is that the new 'garden' mums we're seeing in the garden centers are not being bred by the hybridizers to be hardy in gardens colder than zone 6. Why didn't I hear about this last year when I was buying all of them? Some of the nurseries that sell them are no longer guaranteeing them to be hardy either. At least they're being honest about them.

So consider yourself warned.
If you still want to have perennial mums, try to get the heirloom varieties or ones that you know are bred for cold climates, like the Belgian mums. If all else fails, beg them from your friends that have had them for years. Me? I'm planting asters.

Hardy asters really are. No, there isn't the color choice like there is with mums, but there are still some pretty gorgeous hues out there. Right now I've only got two asters. One, I purchased many years ago and it has grown a lot from that teeny 4-inch pot size to a nice-sized two-foot clump now. I've even moved it a couple of times.

I just bought my second one last week. I got it at Walmart for ten dollars and though it's one plant, it's HUGE. It's a lighter shade of lavender than the purple one I already have and it absolutely pops against the dark foliage of its bedmates.
I rather doubt if I'll buy any more this fall, because last year I self-imposed a rule to not plant anything after the end of September. That way I don't risk cold weather zapping my new perennials before they've had a chance to get well-established before winter. I'm not taking any chances.

But next year, I'll be looking for some white asters, and maybe some pink ones, although I haven't yet seen a shade of pink in asters that I like. I hear there are reds, and since that's my favorite color, if I come across any of those, I'll have them.

So, farewell to mums. It was nice knowing you. Too bad you didn't feel the same about me.

Lost this one over the winter of 2005-2006.

I lost these two winters ago, too.

I'm not normally a pink mum lover, but I did like these a lot.
They've gone to that great garden in the sky.

One of the new ones from last fall. This spring? Dead.


So okay, here's a yellow one I really liked,
because it had that pretty orange eye.
Doesn't matter, though, because it died, too.

'High Regards'
Lost this one last winter.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Feline Friday - Max

There's a meme going around out there called Feline Friday and I always enjoy looking at the pictures of the gorgeous cats there are. I can't NOT participate any longer. And since it's Friday, here's my very first Feline Friday post. Am I allowed to post more than one picture? I have to, just to make my point, which is that Max had a tough time getting comfortable the other night . . .

Maybe it had something to do with someone who kept flashing a light in his face?

By the way, one website says that Max is the most common pet name in the US among cats and dogs. I wonder why. I can't even remember why we named him Max. It just seemed to fit.

Roll Call For Grasses

I'm just beginning to delve into The Wonderful World of Grasses and am convinced that they're way underused at Our Little Acre. I've not seen them used all that effectively in very many back yard gardens, and I suspect it's because most people don't really know how to do it, so they tend to avoid planting them. That has been pretty much the case with me, but I decided to do what I do with the rest of my garden choices - just buy them and find a place to put them.

I think the first ornamental grass I ever bought was the dramatic Porcupine Grass (Miscanthis sinensis 'Strictus'). Growing to a height of 5-6 feet, it becomes more of a foundation piece in the garden. I have two clumps of it in the Japanese Garden, with a large rock at the base of this one.

It never occurred to me that there are people out there that don't like the look of Porcupine or Zebra Grass , but when Kara and I were recently browsing Lowe's, she commented that she didn't care for it as we passed by. I like it because it's vigorous and it's tall and certainly commands attention. The kitties like its plumes, too.

I've got several varieties of ornamental grasses and I love most of them. There is one that I wish I could say I loved, but I don't, and its days are numbered here I think: Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea). I do love the variegation and the rustling sound it makes when the wind blows through it. But it's so darned invasive! Like most grasses, it spreads by underground runners and it's not shy about doing so. I have had this in my garden for two summers now and it's creeping perilously close to the compost heap. And I'm not even sure I want it in there.

But these are keepers:

There are several grasses pictured here around the cairn. Just in front of the dreaded Ribbon Grass on the left side is Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina var. glauca 'Elijah Blue'). It's not looking its best just now, but this is typical of it at this time of the year. It normally looks like a lovely blue mound.

The tallest one on the left is Maiden Grass (
Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'). I have this in four different locations and that's no accident. It is a winner no matter where I've used it. It returns in the spring reliably and always looks good.

Next to that is one of my very favorites, Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). It's graceful and I love the fans of seed heads it gets. In the summer they're green, then in the fall they turn golden. If you don't want this grass coming up in far-away places in your garden, be sure to cut the seed heads before they turn color. I've not found it to be problematic, because the new seedlings pull up very easily, unlike that darn ribbon grass.

On the back side of this, out of view, is
Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurescens'). It's not grown much since I planted it last year and I'm not sure why, unless the other grasses are stealing what it needs. Maybe next year it will take off.

This Sedge (Carex ciliatomarginata) is called 'Treasure Island.' Sedges are similar to grasses in appearance, but they have solid stems, unlike grasses, which are hollow. They grow well in moist and poor soils.

This is part of the newly-designed front border garden below our porch railing. For years we had a nice crop of vinca (Vinca minor) growing here along with a couple nice shrubs, but every single thing died through the winter this past year! Landscaping is NOT my thing, so this bed floundered until mid-summer. I tried various things, but have settled on these grasses along with some variegated euonymous. The euonymous isn't my favorite of shrubs, but it works for me here (it's beyond the grasses, out of view in this picture), and the price was right. There are three levels, and front to back are:

  • Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance')
  • Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuriodes 'Hameln')
  • Maiden Grass (Miscanthis sinensis 'Gracillimus') - this Miscanthus was a division of another clump I already had. It grew well enough that I was able to divide it after only one year.

I'm not sure if this Hard Rush (Juncus inflexus 'Afro') on the left, is considered to be a grass or not, but it can be used like one. This one used to live in the ground at the base of the willow tree, since they both love moist soils, but when we put in our small pond, I moved it in there, along with the dock. Juncus has a tough wiry texture, just as it appears it might. It's listed as only being hardy to zone 7, but I've got two of them that made it quite well through our winter in a fairly open location.

Lilyturf (Liriope muscari) is a great shade grass that I use to define part of the front border of the trellis area. I have it clumped here and there throughout this shady area as well. On our recent trip to Columbus, I purchased a variegated liriope, which looks like a twin to the Japanese Sedge 'Ice Dance,' shown previously in this post.

This Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Oborozuki') is listed as being hardy to zone 6, but it has survived at least one zone 5 winter just fine.

Here is Fountain Grass 'Hameln' again. It's looking mighty fine this year, its second in my garden. It is at the apex of a triangular section of the garden and I'm happy with its placement there.

I bought this fuzzy grass very early this year and it didn't have an ID tag, other than to give the necessary requirements for growing it. It was just labeled "Ornamental Grass." I like its hairiness and it has been very well-behaved here in mostly shade and if anyone has a clue as to what it really is, please share your knowledge!

UPDATE! I found the ID tag for this. It's Snowy Woodrush (Luzula nivea 'Lucius')

It's Only a Harvest Moon

Under the Harvest Moon

When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Carl Sandburg

We had a harvest moon Wednesday night, a real one. The full moon that is closest by date to the autumnal equinox is a true harvest moon, but it has come to mean any golden-colored full moon occurring on a fall evening. Thursday night's moon looked just as full and it was that wonderful golden yellow color, the one that gives one of my favorite echinaceas its name. Coincidentally, I harvested seed from my 'Harvest Moon' yesterday.

The harvest moon got its name because of the light it gives to farmers working after sunset to bring in the harvest. Some people believe the harvest moon shines brighter than any other full moon of the year. I don't know about that, but when I happened to wake up in the middle of the night last night, I would have sworn the sun was coming up, the sky was so light. I'll bet you could read large print by the light of the moon these nights.

It is the Harvest Moon!
On gilded vanes

And roofs of villages, on woodland crests

And their aerial neighborhoods of nests

Deserted, on the curtained window-panes

Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes

And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!

Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,

With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!

All things are symbols: the external shows

Of Nature have their image in the mind,

As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;

The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,

Only the empty nests are left behind,

And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Photo Book - Volume II

I did it again! Published a Shutterfly Photo Book, that is. I did my first one earlier this year and while it was tons of fun choosing pictures, backgrounds, fonts, and colors for the book, it was extremely time consuming. I just know you're thinking since I only work half a day a week that I've got plenty of time for such things.

Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on how you look at it. Keep in mind that I'm The Queen of Procrastination. Don't you ever, ever forget that. It will explain a LOT, especially where time is involved.

There are about a gazillion other things that I actually need to be doing besides compiling photo books. Like cleaning my house. And digging bulbs. Planting bulbs, too. There are those insurance claims from 2006 that still need to be filed. And there is always laundry to be done and a dishwasher that perpetually needs to be emptied or filled. I really should be better at helping keep the litter boxes clean.

Those are just a few of the necessary things. Let's not even talk about the mosaic table top that was supposed to be my "winter project" last year. Or the cushions I meant to make for the cement benches on the patio - also last year.

I've got a half-finished scrapbook of our
geocaching adventures. The cedar chest holds a counted cross-stitch blanket that is only one-quarter finished. It's been there since oh, about 1985. There are also a couple of canvases just waiting for me to paint on them, but I've got to get paints first. Our basement has boxes of things I've been meaning to get listed on eBay.

I have accused my mom of having ADD. It would probably be more accurate to say she's got ADHD. But maybe what we have here is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and at least she finishes what she starts. The more I think about this, maybe she hasn't got AD anything. She's just being her usual workaholic self. I'm not really sure what my problem is.

But I've gone off on a tangent. (See now why I never seem to get anything done??) About that photo book . . .

The first time I did one of these, I took some of my favorite photos of flowers from my gardens, arranged them and labeled them, and called it botanica. That took me forever because I had to wade through hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures I've taken over the last few years that I've never gotten around to organizing very well. I finished that book with a whopping three minutes to spare before my free photo book coupon code expired.

This time around was much easier. To someone who procrastinates, easier means you can put it off longer. What made it easier was that I wasn't really doing a photo book. There are photos, but not many. I wanted to put a small collection of some of my blog posts into a book. Even though it's called a photo book, there is a text option under the layout tab and you can publish a book with only text if you want to. There are also good options for pages with mostly text and an added picture.

I chose ten of my favorite blog posts, uploaded the accompanying photos, kept the backgrounds and colors simple, and got my book submitted with SEVEN minutes to spare before the free coupon code expired.

Hey, I'm getting better at this!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Good Timing!

I'm so glad I brought the Monarch caterpillar in the house yesterday. This morning, when I came downstairs to check on it, it was hanging in the 'J' position, preparing to pupate. I had put the tree branch in there to provide a hanging spot for it, but he attached himself to the panty hose covering I'd put over the bowl.

I checked it all morning and didn't see much action. It was just hanging there.
Then about an hour after I'd checked it the last time, I looked in the bowl and saw this:

WOW. That happened fast. I hate that I missed the start of this process, especially when the bowl is sitting not fifteen feet from where I've been sitting for the last couple of hours. His final shed skin is lying in the bottom of the bowl, but this stage isn't complete and the pupa is wiggling quite a bit as he finishes creating his glistening green casing. I can still see his stripes through the back of it and the golden dots at the bottom of the pupa are not yet prominent, because it hasn't yet reached true chrysalis status. I'm sure it won't be long before it looks like the one Mom found in the Children's Garden.

Once this stage is complete, he will hang like this for about a week. Then the miracle continues as the butterfly emerges. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Late Bloomer

I was working in the garden a bit today, even though we're headed towards near record-breaking temperatures over 90° and the mosquitoes are still conducting their all-out assault on us. (Give it up already!) I was checking the seed pods on the milkweed plant that we'd relocated to our garden from the banks of Cunningham's Ditch and I couldn't believe what I saw. A very large Monarch Caterpillar! This was the same plant where a previous caterpillar had fallen prey to predators.

Since I never did see any of the other caterpillars pupate, I decided to bring this guy inside. I'd successfully kept a Painted Lady caterpillar in the house this winter, all the way through butterfly stage, so I feel confident that I can do the same with this Monarch. I'll release it when it's the proper time so that it can make its long trip to Mexico for the winter.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

25 - 50 - 75

No, that's not the formula for fertilizer. It signifies a very special occurrence in our family this month. There are three of us that have birthdays within a two-week time period. Jenna's is the 13th, mine is the 19th, and my dad's is the 27th. So, it's not only three of us in the same family, but also three generations.

But that's not all. This year Jenna is 25, I'm 50, and Dad will be 75. Now how many times does this ever happen? Not often, I'll bet, and that's why Mom decided we should celebrate it with a party. That means fun, because Mom throws great parties.

Today was a gorgeous fall day, nearly perfect, and by the time the party started at 5:30, the stew was cooking over the fire while Mom laid out a banquet of yummy eats. In addition to the stew, there was chili, numerous salads including my personal favorite - apple salad, a relish tray, cherry cobbler, fried apples and of course, cake.

Mom did all the food herself, except for the cakes, which Adam's aunt made. She had also made the cake for Kara and Adam's wedding last year.

Mom had arranged for white tents over the driveway where tables were set up. There were tables in the garage, too. Since we were also celebrating Dad's official retirement from Herbert E. Orr Company, this was a good-sized party, with about 100 people attending.

At 7:00, the entertainment arrived. Rob Pond, a local talent and illusionist, treated us all to a wonderful and amazing performance of magic. He got the audience involved as well, and it was just a great time.

Thanks, Mom, for making this milestone birthday for each of us an event we will look back on with smiles. You're the best!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Quince is Fruiting

I knew flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp.) sometimes got fruits, but the first summer for mine, which was last year, didn't yield any. As I was walking by it this morning, I noticed three plump quinces! Not enough to make jelly, but I was still happy to see them.

In our relatively cool climate, quince is not edible in its raw form. It's bitter and very hard, so it's cooked which makes it sweeter and softer. The taste is something between an apple and a pear and makes wonderful jelly. It's suitable for poaching and baking too, and is higher in Vitamin C than lemons!

My quince, 'Crimson and Gold,' has gorgeous red flowers in the spring, which is why I fell in love with it in the first place. Mom had a peachy-colored one in her gardens when I was growing up and I must have been impressed with it, because it's one of the few specific plants I remember from that time.

Mine has been a fast grower and I've found another cultivar that I hope to purchase in the future - 'Toyo-Nishiki.' It has tri-colored blooms of red, pink and white.

Flowering quince are also suitable for bonsai culture.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fun Times, Good Times

The day started early - earlier than I'd planned. Jack, our most well-behaved, laid-back member of the kitty family had not been feeling well for several days. Last night, his coughing/sneezing had gotten much worse, so I called the vet a little after 7:00. I had made plans previously with my friend Marsha for the day, so I needed to have the earliest appointment possible. They gave us an appointment for 9:15. I'm seldom up this early, but I was glad for it today.

Before the sun came up to burn it off, there was a beautiful misty fog hanging low, giving everything an ethereal glow. The brugmansias in Max's Garden are in full bloom now and I counted 31 blossoms open. In the heavy damp air, the fragrance was strong and I drank it in. They need to bottle that up and sell it.

I drove to Van Wert with Jack and when Dr. Kleman took a look at him, he determined that he had an upper respiratory infection and put him on antibiotic. I took him back home, then drove back to Van Wert to spend my day with Marsha.

Our first stop was in Celina for lunch at Bella's. This is an Italian restaurant located on Grand Lake, which at one time was the largest man-made lake in the world. I'd not eaten at Bella's before, which is a shame, because it's a lovely restaurant with a full view of Grand Lake and the food is outstanding. Marsha and I had the same thing - spinach salad (my favorite!), a medley of sautéed shrimp, scallops and crab meat, and fettucine alfredo. They've got wonderful yeast rolls with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmesan mixed for dipping, too.

From Bella's we headed south to The Winery at Versailles, where Marsha had planned for us to do some wine tasting. We each got five to try, with cheese and crackers and we discovered that while we share many interests, our taste in wines is not one of them. Marsha prefers the drier ones, while I like the sparkling and sweeter ones best.

I found some blue bottles for sale there, and chose one for my blue bottle bush that I'm planning to construct. I bought some wine, too, as did Marsha. One of them - Cinq - comes in a stunning triangular deep blue bottle, so after the wine has been consumed, the bottle will take its place in the garden.

I got two bottles of Spiced Apple wine, which is made from Macintosh apples and is served warm with mulling spices. This one was my favorite and that's saying a lot, because I have not ever found a warm drink that I enjoy. Not coffee, tea, nor even hot chocolate, but this warm spiced apple wine was delicious.

As we left the winery, I noticed the blackberry lilies were loaded with seed heads and they were spilling all over the grass. Now we can't have them go to waste like that! So I collected a few of them to take home for winter sowing this coming January.

We kept going south from there, towards Greenville. Just after leaving the winery, we passed a very bad accident in which it appeared someone had run a stop sign. Marsha and I joined hands as we continued down the road and Marsha led the two of us in prayer for their well-being. They were going to need it.

Next stop was Bear's Mill, just east of Greenville. It was built in 1849 and is one of the last operating water-powered mills in Ohio. You can buy grain that has been stone-ground here. We didn't buy any flour or corn meal, but the gift shop had plenty of other things to tempt us.

Local potters and artisans have their work for sale here and I saw many things I could have put in a bag and taken home, if I'd had unlimited funds. There were pots for plants, original framed photographic prints, contemporary handmade jewelry, and various other unique items. Marsha and I both bought leather and pewter bracelets, which we put on and wore right away.

We usually go geocaching on our trips and we had many caches planned for today, but due to both of us having other things going on, we never made it to Greenville to do them. There was one here at the mill, however, and this was Marsha's third time trying to find it.

There's a path through the woods leading to a Vietnam War Memorial. This path follows Greenville Creek and while beautiful and refreshing today, it must be gorgeous in the spring, because I saw little markers where wildflowers are located.

We spent about 15-20 minutes searching for it and Marsha finally came up with it.
Usually when we cache together, if one of us finds it first, we let the other one find it on their own, but she was so excited to find it, she blurted it out. I didn't care though, and we decided it was a team effort anyway. I found all the places where it wasn't. That was my valuable contribution to the hunt.

By this time, we needed to start for home. We stopped at the Annie Oakley Historical Site we'd seen on our way down, because our curiosity got the better of us. It was a marker denoting the location of Annie Oakley's birthplace and childhood home.
there's a large statue of her in downtown Greenville, and since we didn't get to there as we'd planned, we decided we'd just have to go back another day. Like we need an excuse to get together and have some fun . . .

Marsha, thank you so much for a wonderful day. You've actually helped make turning fifty FUN! Oh, and I forgot to tell you - I love your bracelet.

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