Friday, January 1, 2016

A Reflection on 2015

Happy New Year everyone!  I just put up my new calendar and like seeing all those clean white spaces--I know they will fill up quickly, but for now they suggest so many possibilities and opportunities.  Before I plunge into 2016, however, I would like to reflect on the past year and think about some of the lessons I learned in 2015.

2015 started off on a high note: a new grandson was born right before Christmas, our first grandchild to live too far away to see immediately.  So we counted the days until early January when we could make the trip to Texas to hold this precious little addition to our family.

We left on a snowy day and returned to more snow and icy roads. But unlike the previous winter, snow was not a problem this year--in fact, there were times I wished we had had more to provide some insulation for the garden on the cold, cold days.

I'm not sure what I did all winter.  There's a lesson for this year--I need to take advantage of the downtime from the garden and get some much-needed housework done!  But I did enjoy the slower pace of winter to take time and watch the birds.

By March I was ready for spring. Typical of the Midwest, spring teased us with a few warm days here and there, but it was slow in coming.  By mid-April there were crocuses, daffodils, and some hyacinths, but I was still waiting for the first of many tulips to appear. We left for another week in Texas in mid-April, and while we were gone, warm weather arrived and the garden went into overdrive.

Imagine waking up after a late arrival home the night before and finding masses of tulips and daffodils in bloom that weren't there the last time you saw your garden.  It was as if the garden had suddenly exploded into full color!

I was reminded once again how much I love spring. More than the New Year, spring represents a fresh start to me, a renewal and re-birth, and a promise that life goes on, no matter what dark days may have lain in the past.

In May my world changed, as my mother was rushed to the hospital one day.  Gardening chores were pushed to the bottom of my priority list as I made daily trips to the hospital and then longer trips to the nursing home where she was sent for rehab.  I learned some valuable lessons during this time, including the reminder that you can't do it all, and that it's okay to ask for help, which I did.

But most importantly, I learned even more the benefit of "garden therapy."  After several days spent sitting by Mom's bedside, it was a joy to get out one morning and just play in the garden for awhile. As someone once said, "You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt."

While I often was nagged by thoughts of weeding and all the other chores that needed to be done, the garden became my sanctuary this past summer.  What could be more uplifting than seeing a multitude of coneflowers open their blooms, drawing butterflies by the dozens?

And then there was Lily season.  Each day I would stroll through the garden, 
enjoying the latest bloom to open.

We had plenty of rain through most of the summer, resulting in a profusion of blooms.  I learned to ignore the weeds--for the most part--and focus instead on all the beauty around me.

As summer wound down, many blooms began to fade, but there was always something to enjoy and lift my spirits as I looked at the garden.

From the goldfinches to the hummingbirds to the butterflies and bees, 
I was reminded that the garden isn't just for me.

Butterflies were more abundant this year than last, which made me happy, and I was glad that I had planted some of their favorite things.

Fall finally arrived, and a beautiful season it was!  We had no rain the entire month of October which was rather worrisome, but other than making bulb-planting difficult for awhile, it gave me plenty of sunny days to prepare the garden for winter.  A light frost in late October killed most of the annuals, but the rest of the garden carried on until a killing frost in mid-November.  Autumn is usually the shortest season in Illinois, but this year I can't complain as we enjoyed extended warm weather.

By December I was consumed with Christmas preparations and plans for another trip to Texas to celebrate Grandson's first birthday.  But I probably could have worked in the garden at times if I had wanted--it was one of the warmest Decembers on record.  It was also the wettest December on record, with torrential rains right after Christmas that flooded the streets and highways.  I think the drought is officially over!

Our first snowfall arrived on November 21, but since then the only precipitation has been rain and more rain!

As I look back at the past year, I realize how much gardening is a metaphor for life.  From May onward, my mother's health has been my top concern as she went from one health crisis to another.  She is now permanently (barring some miracle) residing in a nursing home, and we have learned to accept that we don't know what the future will bring.  In the same way, we never know what Mother Nature might have in store for us.  As gardeners, we can nurture plants and try our best to eradicate weeds and pests, but there are some things that are just out of our control.  The garden, like life, has its ups and downs which we simply must accept. Over the years, the garden has taught me again and again how important it is to embrace those good days and to enjoy the moment.  One thing I do know, however--spring will eventually return, and the cycle of life will begin again.

During this past year, especially the last eight months, I have really slowed down on blogging.  I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to visit and leave a comment, even when I haven't had time to read your own posts in awhile.  Blogging friends are the best!  I wish you all--

Health, happiness, and a beautiful garden in the New Year!

Although I am very, very late, I'm linking this post to Plant Postings' Garden Lessons Learned. I'm looking forward to participating--in a more timely fashion, I hope--in this quarterly meme in the coming year, as there is always something to be learned in the garden.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: A Perfect Book For Those Chilly Nights Ahead

It's hard to believe it's December already.  I think the extended fall lulled me into a feeling that it would last forever.  But, of course, it didn't, and a cold spell right before Thanksgiving ended all the garden work for the year.  Now it's on to the busy season--decorating, gift-shopping, and all the other activities that make the holidays an enjoyable, but hectic season.  Today is also the last meeting of the year of the Book Review Club, and I wanted to participate this month with a book I really, really enjoyed and think you will, too.  Because it's a busy time, I'll keep this review short.

Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow is on a forced holiday after some trouble handling a case of an abandoned child on her job at the Met.  Retreating to her grandfather's home in Cornwall, she can't let go of the case and continues to mull over what she might have missed.  One day, while on a run, she discovers an abandoned estate.  Sadie is intrigued by the beautiful but overgrown grounds of Loeanneth and becomes even more so when she discovers the reason it was abandoned.  Seventy years earlier, the young son of the Edevanes, the homeowners, disappeared without a clue.  Sadie is drawn to the story and begins investigating, hoping to find the answer to the cold case and provide closure to the remaining family members as well as restore her own self-confidence as an investigator.

Back in London, A.C. Edevane is at work on her latest mystery novel.  At 86, A.C., or Alice as she is known to family and friends, has had a successful career as a novelist and has a reputation for being independent and self-assured.  But she harbors a guilty secret, one that has bothered her for seventy years.

The first snow hit our area on Saturday, November 21.

 Like Morton's other novels, The Lake House jumps back and forth between the present and an earlier time period--in this case, the 1930's--when a young romantic Alice spends her days writing stories and secretly following a young gardener on whom she has a crush.  Loeanneth is an idyllic setting filled with the sights and sounds of a happy family, including the nature-loving father Alice adores, until the happiness is shattered by the loss of her baby brother.  In the present-day setting, Sadie and Alice's paths inevitably cross as Sadie digs deeper into the mystery.

Tiny crabapples make for a study in red and white.

The book jacket describes The Lake House as "multi-layered," and I can think of no better adjective to describe it.  Every character, it seems, has his or her own secret, including Sadie the detective.  Little by little, the secrets are revealed, but it isn't until the very end that all of them come together to provide a very satisfying conclusion.  While the reader begins to suspect what happened to the missing Edevane brother before that time, the whole mystery isn't resolved until the last few pages, including a surprising twist that I wasn't expecting.

Hydrangeas and coneflowers always look so much better with a dollop of snow.

Big thick flakes fell for a few hours, spotting the camera lens.

This is the fourth novel by Kate Morton that I've read, and I've never been disappointed--in fact, this one might be my new favorite.  After reading several crime/detective/spy novels before this, it was nice to read a good mystery without violence or evil villains, but with characters who believe in love, loyalty, and personal sacrifice.

The snow was gone in a few days, but it was magical while it lasted.

If you have a friend who enjoys mysteries, The Lake House would make an ideal Christmas gift.  Better yet, buy or check out a copy for yourself for those long winter nights ahead--you won't be disappointed!

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@Barrie Summy

As with all the books I review here, I received no compensation of any kind for writing this review and usually review only books I enjoy. I was lucky enough to be the first on the waiting list for The Lake House when a new copy arrived at my local library.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Few Surprises for November Bloom Day

It is time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I didn't think I would participate this month. Although we've had a beautiful and unusually long fall, a light frost right after the October Bloom Day put an end to most of my annuals.  Not everyone in my area had the same results, but living in the country with little shelter for most of my garden, my poor plants are pretty exposed to the elements. About the only bloom I thought I had this month was the first bloom on the Thanksgiving cactus, a pretty paltry offering for November Bloom Day.  But I decided to walk around this morning with my camera anyway and was happy to see a few surprises.

The frosty Sedum is what most of my garden now looks like in the morning.  We have had a killing frost this past week, so even my neighbors' gardens look the same.

The 'Victoria Blue' salvia stood up to the light frost, but this week was too much for it.  Today the blooms are spindly little shadows of themselves.  I still haven't had time to pull all the dead annuals, but these will stay in the garden over the winter anyway--they usually re-seed somewhat for me, and I'm not about to turn down free plants!

Amsonia glowing in the early morning sun.

While most of the garden is brown, there is some foliage still to enjoy.  The Amsonia hubrichtii in my  header photo has since faded, but the Amsonia tabernaemontana is making a run at taking its place with its now golden foliage.

Walking towards the shade garden I thought I spied some type of red bloom, but I discovered it was a Heuchera glowing in the sun.

Nearby, the Hellebores provide the only true green foliage left in my garden.  They will look like this most of the winter, providing a reminder to me that yes, spring will come again.  You might notice all the leaves in this and several other photos.  Many gardeners shred their leaves and use them as mulch in the garden.  I usually don't take the time to shred mine, however, and just rake them into the garden beds to help protect the plants during the winter.  This year I didn't have time to rake leaves, but strong storm winds this past week blew all the leaves out of the yard and into the fields and conveniently deposited just enough in all the flowerbeds.  Sometimes it pays to be a lazy gardener:)

While most of the leaves are gone from the trees, the Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy' still sports lots of little berries.  Now I am waiting for the cardinals to return this winter to see if they really like them.

With camera in hand this morning, I went in search of the one plant I thought might still be blooming.  'Walker's Low' Nepeta still has a few blooms though not many.  This is one plant besides Sedum I'd recommend to anyone wanting a true low-maintenance garden.  It needs very little care and blooms nonstop all season.

Another plant, but an annual for me, that I love is 'Homestead Purple' Verbena.  I was surprised to see a few blooms still remaining on this plant, but it will last until the temperatures dip into the 20's.  I only wish the local garden centers would carry this plant.  Even though it's not hardy here, it is a beauty--and a much darker purple than this photo shows--and lasts so long.

Not surprisingly, the geraniums and a few petunias are still in bloom in the porch planter.  I often dig up the geraniums and over-winter them, but I haven't had time to do that yet.  Judging by the forecast, if I wait much longer, it will be too late.

As I said earlier, I wasn't expecting to find anything really in bloom this morning, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this hardy little Rudbeckia hidden among the leaves.

But the biggest surprise of all was finding this clematis bloom.  My clematis didn't bloom at all this year, so I have no idea why it waited till November.  This made the walk around the garden this morning worth it!

Looking back at my Bloom Day post from last November, I discovered that I had nothing blooming at all, because it had SNOWED!  Good grief, I'm not going to complain at all this year and be thankful for the few blooms I have.  And that puny little cactus bloom will wait until December.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is hosted the 15th of each month by the ever-optimistic Carol at May Dreams Gardens.  I always enjoy participating and keeping a record of what is blooming in my garden as well as seeing what everyone else has in bloom.  Why not join us?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Welcome Sound of Rain

Rain, rain, glorious rain!  After at least a month with no significant rainfall, a gentle rain is falling this morning, and I am thrilled.

Normally, I wouldn't complain about day after day of warm and sunny weather in October, but when you are trying to plant bulbs in ground that is as hard as concrete, you start wishing for gray days with rain soaking the soil.  Pulling out weeds and even dead annuals isn't easy either, when their roots are stuck in the aforementioned cement.

I've planted most of the bulbs in the garden, where the soil is much better, but I have crocuses I want to plant in part of the lawn and daffodils around some trees, so a good rain should make these two jobs much easier.  I've also done just a little garden clean-up, including pulling/cutting back most of the Rudbeckia triloba.  Although the seedheads look rather cool,  they were in my way as I planted tulips.  Besides, these brown-eyed Susans took over one area of the lily bed this summer, and I really don't want any more here.  Of course, I probably scattered thousands of little seeds as I cut them back, so it may have been an exercise in futility anyway.

Most of the Echinacea seedheads will stay in place through the winter, however.  I still see some goldfinches--less colorful as we approach winter--feasting on the seeds occasionally, and the seedheads add some winter interest when topped with a dollop of snow.

Once the ground is a little softer, though, all the rest of the annuals will be pulled.  We had a light frost a week ago,  but its effects varied from place to place.  In town I noticed that most annuals were still going strong, but here in the country where the wind whips across the flat land, it's a different story.  My poor 'Zowie' zinnias just couldn't escape the cold.

The Gomphrena was hit, too, but with a different effect--
the blooms now look like little frosted pink pompons.

Fall seems to be slipping by without a chance for me to enjoy it as much as usual this year.  No time for leisurely drives or walks in the woods with Sophie.  Saturdays have been fun, however, with Illini football games, and older grandson's football games and the younger grandsons' soccer games.  But family obligations have kept me preoccupied much of the rest of the time--my mother has been in and out of the hospital for the past month and is back in a nursing home once again.  Meanwhile, many of the trees changed color and dropped their leaves before I really noticed it.

Still, there are moments when I notice the changing world around me.  On a particularly beautiful sunny day as I was driving to visit Mom, I came over the crest of a small hill and came upon a scene of golden fields stretching for miles with farmers busy harvesting.  No time to stop for a photo, but the scene uplifted my spirits so, making me think of the line "amber waves of grain"--the quintessential Midwest scenery.

Other than enjoying the fall scenery as I whiz past it in a car, most of my appreciation of fall has been closer to home.  The old oak tree at the end of the lane is beginning to change from green to bronze, and at the right corner of the photo you can see one of the burning bushes in their brilliant reds.

My favorite tree this time of year, the maple in the center of the yard, is slowly becoming more and more orange.  The leaves gradually change color from the top moving downward.  It's always the last tree to lose its leaves, and once it does, I know that winter is not far away.

The crabapples have all lost their leaves, but plenty of ripe fruit remain,
 waiting for the birds to find it.

While the trees are the most obvious examples of fall color, the garden is slowly changing color, too.  Solomon's Seal turns a light buttery shade as the season winds down.

I think this might be the 'Stained Glass' hosta--almost as eye-catching as it was in its prime.

Pokeberries are finally a deep purple--
I do hope their stains come out of my gardening pants, by the way:)

Amsonia tabernaemontana is turning a beautiful golden hue.

But my favorite golden shrub in the fall is the Amsonia Hubrichtii.  This photo isn't as striking as last year's pose (see banner photo) when the Beautyberry still had its leaves and was covered with frost.  But still, you can't help but notice the Amsonia--it positively glows in the sunlight.

There is now over two inches of rain in my rain gauge--hooray!  This makes my garden happy, and me, too, since it will make working in the garden so much easier.  I have so much still to do, but the forecast is for sunny days in the 70's next week, so I'll be out finishing the bulb planting and as many of the top-priority items on my list as I can before the weather turns.  And if I don't get all the rest done . . . well, there's always next Spring!