Archive for June, 2012

“Gardening is not intellectual, you must get out and do it, ” she reflected later in life. “The absolute contact between the hand and the earth, the intimacy of it, that is the instinct of a gardener.” page 153, One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place

Every so often, a book stares down from a bookcase at me. It looks right into my soul and bids me to spend some time languishing upon its pages as it wraps me between its covers like a shawl. One Writer’s Garden did just that from the moment I first saw it sitting on prominent shelf in a local public library.

The book grew out of Susan Haltom’s efforts to restore the home gardens of Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Eudora Welty. Haltom, along with Jane Roy Brown, collaborated on the book. Told in chapters that span more than forty decades, we come to understand how the many plants and garden influenced Ms. Welty’s writing and we also learn how home gardening grew through much of the twentieth century.

Eudora Welty’s remarkable body of work has to do with her strong sense of place. It is easy to understand how this garden played a part in this and I am eager to read more of Welty’s books and stories, especially The Optimist’s Daughter, which just followed me  home from the library.

The Welty garden was originally planted and maintained by Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina. It helped her through the grief of her husband’s death as it helped them both as they saw loved ones going off to World War II.

I’ve been reading One Writer’s Garden just as my garden club is busy getting ready for our annual Garden Walk and Faire on July 8. I read the book in between visiting featured gardens on a preview walk for the homeowners and attending to details for the Faire that I am responsible for, as well as handling reservations for a Garden Clubs of Illinois luncheon later in July. Both organizations are under the umbrella of the National Garden Clubs. I write this not to draw attention to my endeavors, but to just say how enlightening it was for me to read this book right now and learn more about the founding of the National Garden Clubs, the history of women in gardens, and how vital gardens were in the early decades of the 20th century. Among other things, they yielded nosegays to be given when visiting, as well as floral arrangements to be taken to homes where deceased were waked. Our garden club members still bring a floral arrangement to members who have lost a close family member. It was heart warming to learn of how this custom came about.

I could go on about how the Garden Conservancy was called upon for advice on the historical significance of Eudora Welty’s garden, or even how often the Silver Moon rose is mentioned in One Writer’s Garden. I could point out how many wonderful personal pictures and quotes are in the book, or how relevant Chestina’s gardening journals were in the garden’s restoration, but I think, instead, that I will just urge you to read One Writer’s Garden and discover the many treasures growing there on your own.

Doesn’t this photo, found in the book, evoke a sense of place?

Eudora in the garden, undated © Eudora Welty LLC, page 163, One Writer’s Garden

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Greek Oven Roasted Vegetables

Growing up, our summer supper table was often laden with vegetarian wonders that grew from my grandmother’s green thumb, flavored with homegrown, dried herbs.

Produce was also purchased on grand expedition to a fruit and vegetable market in Melrose Park. Tom Naples Fruits and Vegetables – a precursor to today’s popular farmers markets – was a seasonal sensation of people and produce.

Plums and peaches, cucumbers and onions were tossed into the shopping cart, whose wheel always seemed to want to go south while being pushed north. Yia Yia waited all year for the figs to be available at Tom Naples. A treat beyond words for this woman I loved who left Greece at the age of 17, never to return or see her mother again. How I remember her opening the first fig each summer with the impatience of a six year old tearing the wrapper off of a Hershey’s bar. She would put it in her mouth and work it around her false teeth, a smile to warm the heavens if the fig were ripe enough. Yia Yia would work that box of figs and – pay for it dearly the next day with a stomach ache.

Yia Yia grew her own tomatoes and zucchini, convincing me of her magical powers as the size of the zucchini grew larger and longer overnight. Not all of the zucchini made it to adulthood, however. She picked the blossoms off and stuffed them. There was a vendor selling zucchini blossoms at the farmers market on Saturday – to the tune of $5 a bunch!

One of my favorite meals was briami. Greek vegetable stew. You can ask any Greek woman how to make it, and she will try to explain, hemming and hawing, not to avoid giving you to the recipe, but because each woman makes it differently than another and often differently herself. Such is the case with me. While we had it at other times of the year, it was in summertime, when the string beans and zucchini were plentiful, that we had it most often. When some of you asked for the recipe, I hemmed and hawed myself, for I have no measurements. My Aunt Christina told me how to make briami one summer day when I telephoned her and asked her for the recipe. Now decades past, I’ve adapted it to what is on hand.

So, dear reader, here it is; imprecise and unmeasured. The thing about briami is that you really can’t ruin it.

Here goes:

Diced onion

String beans (a few good handfuls, ends taken off and snapped at the center)

4 zucchini (sliced)

4 potatoes (cut in cubes)

1 can of tomato paste, diluted with water

Salt and pepper to taste

Dried oregano

Mint flakes

Brown onion in olive oil until translucent. Place in baking pan.

Add vegetables, tomato paste, seasonings. Mix all together in pan.

Cover and cook in 375° oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until vegetables are tender.

Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

You can add minced garlic or garlic powder. You can also parboil the beans and potatoes. I actually used up some new potatoes that I had boiled for supper a few days beforehand. Some serve this with a hunk of Greek cheese, such as feta. You can also use tomato sauce instead of the paste – or fresh tomatoes. Many, like myself, like to use the bread to sop up the juices. This is also great warmed up the next day when the flavors have a change to mellow.


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I posted this earlier today, but, after a few comments about the song, I thought you might enjoy this update.

Oh Sweet Pea 
come on and dance with me 
come on come on come on and dance with me 
Oh Sweet Pea 
come on and be my girl 
come on come on come on and be my girl  - Tommy Roe

Saturday’s errands included a trip to the Oak Park Farmers Market. Always a feast for the senses, this market hosts primarily organic produce, meats, cheeses and several floral vendors, as well as a pick-up band that plays folk and blue grass and, well, whatever the musicians who wander in and out choose to render. I walked past the long line of patrons waiting for the markets’ famous Saturday morning donuts, and I maintained some self-control and didn’t buy any gardening plants, but the fragrance of sweat peas beckoned me to a small booth filled with freshly cut flowers. Before I knew it, a lusty bouquet, wrapped in brown craft paper and tied with twine was in my arms, a floral baby that cooed all the way home.

There are string beans and zucchini waiting to be roasted with some new potatoes for a savory Greek vegetable stew tonight. Some good, crusty bread for sopping up the sauce is in order. For now, I think I will just bury my nose into the sweetest of peas that are with me this fine Monday morning.

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A peaceful interlude

In the heat of the late afternoon, as the sun starts its descent, casting shadows and illuminating roses – and robins out for a dip in the bird bath, I like to wander to what has been dubbed “Penny’s Arbor House” by our young neighbor boy. The roses and clematis are clambering up it now, while hosta and ladies mantle nestle below their feet. It’s a peaceful interlude between house and pavement and yard and beyond with the occasional visit of a rambunctious fawn or Mr. Woodchuck, who is rather shy. He scurries past, embarrassed to be caught unawares by a human.

Penny’s Arbor House is an idyllic spot for sipping iced tea while devouring a recent library find, packed with pictures and passages and more.

No interlude today, for there is business and busyness at hand., but I will be surely be dreaming about the pages of my book, a cold drink, nature and my arbor house.

One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place

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Feeling posh

Though still morning here on the Cutoff, it has already been a posh sort of day.

Some days are like that, aren’t they? You awaken and there, poof, a word or a phrase or a jingle of music creeps in and, tada,  it becomes yours for the day.

Quite posh!

First posh popped off of my fingers as I typed in a comment to Andra’s fun and witty series about lavatories she has encountered in her many travels.

Then, there was Kate and her uniquely informative blog about Ascot.

Finally, an email arrived from the unique downtown Chicago store, P.O.S.H. After spending a few minutes viewing their newest items  (it was really more than a few minutes),  I wondered how many of you know where the word posh comes from and thought you might find this interesting. It is copied from the P.O.S.H. website, which can be found here

The Questions We Get Asked!

Q: What does P.O.S.H. stand for?

A: A little known bit of trivia, the word posh actually began as an acronym. It all started at the turn of the last century when there was considerable steamship traffic between England and India. The wealthy passengers would book their cabins on the Port side of the ship going Out of England and on the Starboard side of the ship for the return journey Home.

This kept them safely out of the blistering sun while making the 30-plus day journey into the sweaty climes of the Indian sub-continent. Tickets were stamped P.O.S.H. (for Port Out Starboard Home) and people began using the acronym as a word to describe luxury travel and elegant accomodations.

“Right after the New Year, we’re traveling posh to India.” Go ahead, practice saying that in your best “Queen’s English”!

Image source google.

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Last winter, I noticed that my post on a book by Pearl S. Buck, The Big Wave, was being frequented with some regularity. I wrote about this book shortly after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan in 2011. The original edition has extraordinary woodcuts that exemplify the Japanese people as well as the forcefulness of nature. My review of the book is here.

I was moved when a comment was left by Yuko, asking if I could scan copies of the prints in the book. Yuko, a Japanese citizen, has been working with a crisis support group who are helping with children effected by the tsunami. She needed copies of the illustrations for a school project she was hoping to do with the children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate the book at the time. When my son-in-law Tom overheard me talking about trying to find it, he quietly went to his laptop and quickly located a copy in a nearby library. Before he had a chance to obtain the book, Yuko let me know that a friend of hers in California had purchased The Big Wave, I believe through Ebay, and it was on its way to her in Japan.

We truly live in a global community.

There are still so many people displaced. One can only imagine how children are faring. I hope to sometime post an interview with Yuko about the ongoing aftermath of this horrible disaster and the good things being done. I also hope that she can share how The Big Wave has been used to help the children of the tsunami through their recovery and of the work that Tokyo Support Team is doing on their behalf.

I can’t help but wonder how author Pearl S. Buck, and Hiroshige and Hokusai, the artists,would feel about the impact their words and art hold.

If you are reading, Yuko, please know that prayers and good wishes are still being sent to all of Japan. To my friends in New Zealand, still witnessing the devastation at Christchurch and to those here at home in Joplin,  New Orleans and in all of those places where nature has wreaked havoc, you are thought of as well.

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. . . and not stir up a posse in the process.

June is National Rose Month.

In all the Junes of my life, I do not recall one that has been so prolific in its rose show as this year has been. From every bower and curbside, up trellises and down arbors, hybrid and heirloom alike, our little corner of the world has been putting on its own rose parade. A walk down a street, a drive in the car or a ride on the Metra is all one needs to partake in rosiest of summer displays.

Last week, I drove past our old house. I was in the neighborhood and, well, the urge was strong to see what I still consider my garden. It is, you see, because the new owners have kept it up, weeded and tended it, added a few plants of their own without changing it in any substantial way. As I drove past, slowly, like a stalker of stems, I gasped out loud, alone, by myself in my car, for the beauty of the garden, especially the roses, was so breathtaking I was wont to weep.

The wing wall was a profusion of John Cabot roses, hugging the cedar and clambering to meet the roof.

It was the Seven Sisters that seized my heart, however. There they were, dripping in splendor from the iron arbor, generations of sisters, pretty in pink, putting on a show worthy of Ziegfeld and dancing to the sunshine exactly as I hoped they would on the day they were planted a dozen years ago.

It was all I could do to nuzzle the car forward,  for I had an urge to stop and take a clipping. Yes. I admit it. I was tempted. I remembered my manners and a story I read in a gardening magazine, just about the same time I planted the Seven Sister roses. It was about a gang of Texans, armed with pruners and buckets, and rightfully branded as the Texas Rose Rustlers. Have you heard of them?

These gardening rustlers ride the territories, staking out cemeteries and deserted properties,  knocking on doors of homeowners, as they plot to save heirloom roses. The movement has spread, as such things do, to other states and, I suspect, these modern wranglers have managed to save  a good part of the past.

If you are so inclined, you might want to take a few minutes and visit the website of the Texas Rose Rustlers. It has a wonderful guide of how to go about securing roses without being the reason for raising a posse to come out after you. A quick click of the mouse will also give instructions on how to get rose cuttings to root, and even more on heirloom roses, rose societies and, well, all things rosy.

You might want to take some time at the Antique Rose Emporium as well.

Whether you check out the sites or not, please take some time soon to stop and smell the roses along your way.

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Image from finegardening.com

Image from finegardening.com

My dad gave me love and he taught through example. Although I only had him in my life for nineteen years, they were years filled with love of family, friends, and faith. He had a thirst for knowledge and a love of the written word, with a passion for politics that was equal to fishing and sports.

Daddy could play practical jokes with panache – and he knew how to laugh at himself.

I was thinking about Daddy as I hauled the hose down the long length of driveway, first to the front garden, then to the flower beds in back, grumbling as it caught on a stone here or kinked into a knot, stopping the water’s flow, there. Our city has watering bans; odd-numbered houses on these days, even on those. We have our own well, so we are exempt, which is good thing when one lives on a cutoff during a dry spell.

While I don’t enjoy hauling the hose to and fro, I do enjoy watering the plants. There is something rhythmic about the way the water flows and the sweet summer scent as the ground grows wet is soothing to me. I relish the sense of anticipation that comes as the puddles form, knowing that nearby the robins await their chance to splash and that if I catch the sun just right there will be a rainbow.

My grandmother liked to water her flowers; those treasures of color and texture that she awakened from seeds each spring. Seeds stored in different colored tissue, a unique filing system for someone who could not read or write. She would sprinkle, never touching the flowers, only the dirt, in the early evening. The circle of zinnias, the tomatoes and zucchini, then the marigolds on the east side of the house.

If Yia Yia’s hands ached from arthritis, someone else would hold the hose, under heavy surveillance, mind you, as she stood close by or watched from the windows.

There was a youthful summer, much like the one we are having now. Hot and dry. City water restrictions were in place and enforced.

The night was hot, even under the stars as we played, catching lightning bugs in jars. The grown-ups and whoever was visiting – for someone was always visiting –  sat in lawn chairs or at the picnic table. Our car, the one with the Pen Dot license plate, was in the narrow drive, our house on one side, my aunt’s house on the other. A perfect tunnel to hide a sputtering hose.

There my grandmother stood, inching down the drive, the water on low as she clandestinely tended her flock of flowers. She was so quiet, I forgot she was there, until my father, ever the prankster, said to Yia Yia, in Greek, “Ma, here come the cops”.

I can still see her, determined in the dark, noticing the headlights slowly coming down the street, quickly handing the hose to her son and walking away, saying “you talk to them, Pete.”

My grandmother suffered no fools.

My father laughed, knowing the joke was on him.

I miss his gift of laughter, his sense of fun, and love of family.

To all you dads out there, especially my Tom, a very happy Father’s Day.

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One of the great pleasures of summer is the predominance of farmers markets.  Tents and tables spring up like sugar snap peas and leaf lettuce across these burbs. Open air produce markets can be found on any given day hereabouts, with fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and plants, artisanal cheeses and fresh bakery items all for the picking.

I visited my first market on Wednesday.

It is still early in the midwest for most produce, and we have had a very long and dry spell without any rain, which doesn’t bode well for crops like corn and beans and pumpkins and such. The cool weather crops, however, seem to have done well, as evidenced by all of the berries being sold. I snatched up a quart of some Michigan grown strawberries, and then there was the blueberry man . . .

Thursday’s breakfast was this big bowl of freshness, glistening in the sun, reminding me of my two favorite “berry” kids. Kezzie and Jake, my granddaughter and grandnephew, love their berries more than anything else, especially Jake who prefers berries to birthday cake. Go Jake!

Here’s to farmers markets. May they continue to rise up from the pavement and bring wholesome goodness to us city folk.

What have you been picking up, or out of the ground, lately?

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It seems as if all of nature has arrived on the Cutoff.

In between the weeding and pruning, my head bowed down to the soil, three flashes went by. Runner in sync, perhaps training for the Chicago Marathon. As they went past, headphones on, gait measured, I heard the clop, clop, clop of horse hoofs. My own Belmont Stakes on a sunny Saturday morn.

When it rains here, the ground sways with the movement of toads. We’ve had no rain here in quite a spell, so the hose was employed on Saturday morn and this little guy, as if prescient to my reading The Wind in the Willows, just missed my footfall as he hopped under a hosta leaf.

Several families of wrens have arrived: some just setting up housekeeping in a discarded bird house, others already tending a family in the bluebird house, and yet another couple working a hole in the overhang. They chatter about as they gather insects for their young or nesting material with their little tails up in the air and their singing so boisterous for such tiny little things. I just love the twig, squeezed into the box, a perch for Momma Wren.

The finch are also about, especially the goldfinch. They visit the feeder or stop for a drink, entertaining us with their beauty and song as we sit on the deck eating our evening meal. It is a joy to see them, and pure bliss when a cardinal swoops in and sits on the rail while a hummingbird finds nourishment in the potted Salvia.

I’ve taken to sitting for a spell on the arbor bench, reading a book, or just being; watching as Woodrow Woodchuck, ever-so-shy, scurries past, with meadowlark cruising the grassland while a hawk soars overhead. Sometimes, a friend stops by for a treat, we lock eyes for a minute, then life goes on as it is want to do, here  on the Cutoff.

Tom and I sat for a bit, wondering where the bluejays were. Their population has been greatly diminished by the West Nile Virus, with many years going by without seeing them. As we chatted, a distinctive blue flashed by and rested on a branch, not far from the wrens’ abode. The bluejays came back, as if hearing our caw, all on a summer’s day!

I love it when nature comes out to play.

It is when magical things happen in a garden.


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