Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sonatini - The Hardy Amaryllis

I'm probably late to the party (I'm late for a lot of things, being The Queen of Procrastination, you know), but I made a discovery today that has me wondering if it's too good to be true.

Hardy amaryllis. As in Hippeastrum. Yeah, like the 'Red Lion' and 'Apple Blossom' kind. Imagine living in zone 5 and growing them in your garden year round. No lifting in the fall and storing in the basement. Unless you really want to, and you can do that, too.

I first saw them on Breck's website as one of their spring offerings. Nothing against Breck's really, but as they are known to rename things, I had to check it out and see if it really was what I thought it might be. And yes, it would appear so.

Hybridized by Hadeco® in South Africa, the Sonatinis are miniature amaryllis that typically produce two flower stems per bulb with three to four flowers sized 2.3-4 inches in diameter on each stem. They're hardy to zone 5 and are to be planted 6-8 inches deep out in the garden. Mulch well for winter.

I'm going to order some from Breck's. They're $39.99 for five bulbs which seems like a lot, but they also have a $25 off a $50 purchase* right now, so I'll combine it with something else and give these a try. Breck's has a lifetime guarantee (replacement or refund), so I can't hardly go wrong.

Has anyone grown these in a zone 5 garden and had them go through winter yet?

Photo from Breck's
*Coupon code: 716527. Expires 3-21-08.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Birds, The Bees, and African Violets

When I walked into the room, my attention was drawn to the three African Violets sitting on the Baker's rack in the south window. One was violet (well, sure!), one pristine white, and one frilly purple and white.

The white one was in absolute full glorious angelic bloom, so clean and literally sparkling, it made me wonder why I hadn't noticed it at all the day before. It's been blooming for at least a couple of weeks, and you wouldn't expect it to look so good after that long, but it was about as close to perfection as it gets. Naturally, the next move for me was to grab the camera and record the beauty and now I'm going to share it with you:

Up close, it's even better...

When I saw this photo on the computer screen, different words ran through my head: pistil, stamen, anther, stigma. And once again, as happens over and over to me, I couldn't tell you which of those corresponds to what structure in that photo. I can remember - and spell - the Latin names for countless plants, but I can't remember what is the pistil, what is the stamen, what is the anther, what is the stigma. I can look this up over and over again, and it just falls through my brain like water through a sieve.

For the record, the four yellow balls are the anthers and the stalks they're on are called filaments. Together, they make up the stamens. The long white thing is the style, with the ball on the end being called the stigma. These comprise the pistil. Ask me in five minutes and I won't be able to tell you any of that from memory.

All I know is that the African Violets are gorgeous right now and they have all the parts they're supposed to. Oh look! This one has a purple pistil! At least I think it's the pistil...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wildflowers in Winter

During our walk yesterday, we saw several wildflowers wintering over in their dormant states. Some were doing it underground out of our view, but these wild something-or-others were quite attractive above the ground in their crispy brown attire. I'm not very good at identifying some of the native wildflowers when they're not wearing their summer color. Whatever they are, I like how they look in winter.


Join Elizabeth Joy at Wildflower Morning as she marks the time
until spring with weekly wildflower themes.

You Can't Go Home Again

"You can't go home again."
~ Thomas Wolfe

Well, you can, but it won't be the same. Romie and I drove a short distance away to my hometown Sunday afternoon. We did this to see just how much of it was still the way I remembered from when I grew up there. Sadly, not much. But by the time we left for home, I counted it as a good experience anyway.

When I was born, my parents owned a grocery store, custom butchering and locker service, and a beauty shop. They were all contained within a large stone block building that had an apartment on the second (top) floor. That's where we lived. A couple of years ago, the building was torn down and now it's an empty lot.

Across the street, there was another grocery store and it's been torn down, too. The post office is still there and has changed very little from the time I used to go in and open the combination lock to get our mail from Box 15.The one-room building is beige now; it was light green then.

A few blocks away, there was what we called "The Old School." Both of my parents graduated from this school, which closed in the late 1950s, the year before I was born. It was a great place to play, even though it was kept locked and we weren't supposed to go in there. Leave it to us kids to find a way to get in through a basement window. Imagine having the run of a three-story school building with a full-size gymnasium!

After the school was closed in 1956, the building was rented out for various activities, one of which was Vacation Bible School. There were two churches in town, the Methodist and the Baptist, and the two combined to do VBS every summer. The Baptist church has since been torn down, and so has The Old School. Our family attended the Methodist church, which is still there and holds services every Sunday.

When I was three years old, my parents built a new house three blocks away from the store and Mom's beauty shop was relocated to that house. I had the best of both worlds - a mom that worked so we could have some of those 'extras,' yet she was home and always available to me. I lived there until I got married.

That new house is now nearly fifty years old (!) and still there, although it's changed due to an addition the current owners built several years ago. Grandma lived next to us in a house she built in 1969 after my Grandpa died. That house looks pretty much the same as it did when she lived there.

A block away, the ball diamond still is in place, though it doesn't look like it's used like it was when I played softball there. There aren't even any bleachers for sitting to watch games. I learned to drive on that ball field when Dad let me drive his red "three on the tree" truck around the outfield.

You may have guessed by now that my hometown is quite small and you would be correct. There's only one road in and out and no stop lights. It's one of those "don't blink or you'll miss it" kind of towns. When I lived there, the only stop signs were for Main Street. The other intersections all had yield signs, which have since been replaced with stop signs.

There used to be a railroad that went through town and my next-door neighbor, Kelly, and I used to walk it, picking wild strawberries which grew along the tracks. We even made maps of the location of the strawberry patches. The railroad was taken out some years ago and in most places you can't even see where it used to be. But just to the south of the clay pond, once used by the clay tile factory that now produces plastic drainage tile, evidence of the former train tracks is still there.

Romie and I got out of the car and walked the path between the small trees and brush and it was here that we got the most enjoyment from our visit. We saw many birds enjoying the seeds hanging from the brown and dried plants along the path. There were many blue jays and cardinals and while I didn't actually see any woodpeckers, we did hear them as they pecked away in the trees.

What once were tracks used by trains now has tracks made by small residents of this area that Mother Nature has begun to reclaim.

Strawberries still grow here!

There are many wild roses clambering all over the place with beautiful little rose hips providing a spot of red color in the midst of the winter browns.

Praying mantis cases were found among the roses, too.

We saw Trumpet Vine seed pods, some still loaded with seeds.

Other unknown seed pods were seen, too. These very slender ones were about six inches long and about a quarter-inch in diameter. Anyone know what these might be?

These unknown wildflowers were plentiful and beautiful, wearing their winter suits.

Someone who loved B.T. had been here before us. I wonder if they still love B.T.?

Doesn't this look a bit like Lamb's Ear? It felt like it, too.

As we walked back to the car, I realized that even though much is gone from this little village of less than 200 residents, loss was not the only change we saw. A large business occupies the property next to the drainage tile factory and wasn't there in "my day." Several streets have been extended to accomodate newer houses that have been built. There are two public parks that weren't there before.

The hometown I knew lives only in my mind, but I don't look the same as I did back then, either.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday - Convolvulus

Convolvulus tricolor 'Ensign Blue'

It's about this time of year when I get really antsy and irritable over winter. There's still a lot of it left but I've had enough. So I immerse myself in the seed and nursery catalogs, plotting and planning for what I want to add to the gardens. I also browse the gardens that live in my computer - those hundreds of photos of the plants and blooms that we enjoyed in previous years. It helps a little.

This convolvulus jumped out at me this morning. Last summer was the first that I'd grown it and it did well. Kara had given me seeds from her plants she'd had in her own garden the previous year. Besides these brilliant blues, a few white ones showed up here and there. I saved seed from them and I'll plant them again this year. I mean, the gold bugs have to have something to eat, don't they?

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Compassion International

From 1993 to 2005, we sponsored a little girl from Ecuador named Gabriela, through Compassion International. This is an organization that helps low-income children by providing vitamins, health care and education, including Christian teaching. They are supported by donations from people like you and me.

We'd always wanted to do something like this, but were wary of it, not knowing how the money was actually being spent. After much research, we decided that we'd give our money through Compassion. We've not been sorry.

Gabriela was our first experience with this, and we were her only sponsor until she graduated from high school. At that time, she was no longer eligible to be sponsored. The only regret I have is that we are not permitted to have personal contact with any child we sponsor, once they graduate from the program. We do still pray for her though.

The highlight of our years of sponsorship came in 1994, when I was able to meet Gabriela in person. We'd had an exchange student from Ecuador living with us during the 1993-94 school year and in December after she'd returned home the previous June, I flew to Quito, the capital city where she lived. I enjoyed nearly three weeks there with Karina and her family and I'm indebted to them for making it possible for me to meet Gabriela.

The drive from Quito to Guayaquil, where Gabriela lived, was a long one, taking us eight hours to make the trip. While it's not so far in miles, much of the terrain was through the Andes mountains, making for some slow going.
We met Gabriela in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Guayaquil and it was tearfully happy meeting. Small for her age, I scooped her up in my arms and we gave each other a big hug. She spoke no English at all, but I had brushed up on my Spanish enough that we were able to communicate. The Compassion representative was also there to help when translation was necessary.

No translation was needed, however, when Gabriela and I discovered that we knew one of the same songs. With tears streaming down my face, Gabriela sat on my lap and we sang "Jesus Loves Me" in unison - she in Spanish and me in English. I really can't describe how that felt to be united with her in that way.

It was a beautiful day and we walked through the park, marveling at the giant iguanas and the gorgeous flowers. There was an amusement park nearby where Gabriela was happy to ride a few rides before we took a taxi to her house. There, I was amazed at the living conditions and how very little in the way of material things her family had. Yet, here was a happy little girl who was loved very much. She had all she really needed. I learned a lot that day.

We have a new child to sponsor now. Maria Belen is also from Ecuador and perhaps I'll have the opportunity to meet her as well. Karina and her husband still live in Quito and I hope to be able to visit them there in the next few years.

A new letter arrived yesterday from Belen's mother. Belen isn't old enough to write them herself, so her mother does it for her. It was the same with Gabriela until she was able to write to us herself. The letters always come translated, although most of the time I'm able to understand them myself. My spoken Spanish, however, has deteriorated to the point of being useless, unfortunately.

We keep Belen's picture on the front of our refrigerator so that we see it daily and are reminded of the responsibility we have towards her. Not only will she benefit from our financial help, but God hears our prayers for her. We believe He is blessing her through our sharing what God has given to us.


Visit Compassion International.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Can You Tell I'm a Gardener?

Our homes tell a lot about our personal lives, as they should. We like to surround ourselves with those things that bring us joy, both inside and out. When you see Our Little Acre from the outside, it's pretty obvious that we enjoy tending our gardens. But what about when you walk through the front door?

The 177 house plants probably give it away. (Oh wait...that's now up to 179, isn't it?) But beyond that, what does our house say about us? Probably not a lot about Romie, other than he has a wife. Given a choice, he'd live in a log cabin with the bare minimum of furniture and those bucolic farm scenes for art on the walls.

I wondered if you took the live plants out of our house, would anyone guess that I like flowers and gardening? Let's take a look at the evidence...

If you were an overnight guest in our home, you would get your choice of which room you wanted to sleep in. You could choose Kara's former room, which has these botanical prints:

Or there is Jenna's former room, which has thankfully been redecorated from its former red-walled Mickey Mouse theme. (I toyed with the idea of leaving it that way so when the future grandchildren came to stay with Grandma and Grandpa, they would remember sleeping in "The Mickey Room." What kid wouldn't love that?)

Now this room has a definite botanical influence.
The drapes have a leaf pattern in the weave, as do the finials on the drapery rods.

The chair, besides functioning as a plant stand, has a floral pillow propped in its seat.

On the walls are a couple of leaves that have been skeletonized. I doubt it was Japanese Beetles that did it, and although it looks beautiful used in this way, I don't want to see any leaves looking like this in my own gardens!

There's also a large bronze leaf hanging on another wall.

Across the hall, in the master bath, hangs a picture of daisies. I love daisies.

There are a couple of black-and-white pictures of blooming spring bulbs.

Downstairs, in the family room, the bookshelves hold lots of ... well ... books. And more than a few of them are gardening-related:

On the end table by one of the sofas, there is a stack of coasters made by my dad. Two summers ago, we lost a pine tree from our yard. This tree was one that Kara had brought home from school when she was in the fifth grade. It had grown a lot and was doing quite well when all of a sudden it started losing needles and died.

We kept the tree, or at least part of it. That's now the directional that is in the garden, but we also kept one of the larger branches. I asked Dad to slice it up to make coasters, which were given to Kara for Christmas that year. There were enough that we could have some, too.

This room also has a picture that was given to me by Jenna last year for Mother's Day.

In 2004, I went on a bus trip with my mom to Chicago Botanic Gardens. To remember the wonderful day we spent there, I purchased a piece of Guy Wolff pottery he made especially for the Gardens. I put fake ivy in it, but that's only because where I used to have it displayed, there is no natural light. I guess I could replace it with something live now.

In the utility room, next to a large collection of live plants overwintering in the south window is a ceramic art piece that I bought in Florida last winter. I got a couple of these for Mom for her birthday, too. Hers are a large hibiscus and a Monarch butterfly. She displays them together and they really look pretty in her sun room.

Every summer, Fort Wayne (IN) has its Three Rivers Festival. There's always a fabulous Art Show on the two weekends of the festival in Freimann Square. One year we went to it and I found some gorgeous pottery by John Reishus from Alexandria, Indiana. I purchased a canister set and a covered casserole dish to match. I think the set goes well in our kitchen, which has ivory appliances and wallpaper backsplash that looks like tile imprinted with herbs. (I love this wallpaper. It's very thick and has a unique texture, making it really look like tile!)

Mom gave me the cute ceramic mouse, to which I added the leather tail, although it's not permanently attached. Jilly thinks that tail is her personal plaything and every now and then I'll walk into the kitchen and the tail is on the floor. Sometimes she even hides it under the rug that's in front of the sink.

We don't use our formal dining room much at all for formal dining - that's just not our style - and strangely enough, the desktop computer is situated in this room. There are also french doors to the patio area, which we use quite a bit in the summer. The door to this room is just off the kitchen and my garden hat hangs on it. I suppose it's an odd place to hang this hat, but it's handy there!

On top of a short curio cabinet in this same room sits a pottery bouquet that used to belong to my grandma. There was an unfortunate accident during some housecleaning at her place and a glass shelf fell onto this bouquet. Many of the flowers suffered breakage and she told me if we wanted to take all the little pieces and glue them back on, we could have it. Romie is pretty good at doing that, and unless you look really closely at it, you can't tell anything happened.

So yes, even without the 179 house plants, there are signs that gardening is my "thing." I wonder if they could tell we love cats, too?

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