Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category


DSCN4326DSCN4311Come April, our garden club hosts its annual luncheon. We get all “gussied” up, meet somewhere different from our monthly venue, and have a floral related presenter who awakens us to all the possibilities of flower arranging. We take time to thank our retiring officers, dutifully swear in our newly elected ones, and enjoy each other’s company. A member is honored as “woman of the year” (congratulations Jan).  Among a bevy baskets, filled with wonderful raffle items, lively conversations ensue -and we all feel a little lighter for a few hours.

This year, the luncheon’s theme was Stepping Out. It was one of our very best, due in large part to the efforts of the event’s chairwomen and the committees that worked to make it enjoyable. It was topped off with tablescapes that were a phenomenal potpourri of the creative juices of our members.

The centerpieces are usually constructed by our Designs and Exhibits committee. Sometimes, however, they are made by the members at large. Several months ago, we were given the challenge of individually crafting centerpieces – using shoes! You can, I am sure, imagine women and their shoes, but, can you visualize round tables, adorned in white tablecloths with black burlap runners and every possible make and model of shoes on top? From the small Mary Janes of a grandchild and seaside “flip flops” of a sand lover, to golf shoes and sequined high heels, the soles of our members tripped fantastically across the tabletops, giving way to the young girls hidden in all of us.

Here are but a few of the shoes that were allowed, for an afternoon, to dance atop our tables.

Do click on for a better look.



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DSCN4267It was a rather spontaneous decision. Leaving our house on Sunday morning, I mentioned to Tom that we should take a quick ride after church, Chatting with my dear friend Pat after church, I said we were thinking of driving over and she said maybe she and Rick would follow us. Before long, there we were, exiting our cars and walking up to the doors of the historic Oak Park Conservatory.

Sometimes, we don’t realize how much we have missed until it rises to greet us.

So it was on Sunday morn as we opened the glass door to the historic greenhouse, a mecca amid concrete, bordered by traffic. We inhaled all the scents that winter had robbed us of. Ah, the blissful joy of fragrance and chlorophyl and peat, basking in windowpane sunshine.


It was good. Very good, indeed!

Visit the Oak Park Conservatory here.

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Penny in snow:ArborThat’s me, several weeks ago, when I could still walk through what is commonly known as Penny’s Arbor House; hours before another foot or so of snow barged in on the tails of winds and sub-zero temperatures. I’m wearing my decade’s old wool coat. It gives neighbors and passers-by the ominous impression of a hooded crone wandering the Cutoff woods scavenging eyes of newt sorts of things. My old coat keeps me warm, however, and serves as padded protection should I slip and land on my sit-upon – all of which is not why I posted the picture of yours truly.

What I really wanted to talk to you about is establishing a Wildlife Habitat, which I’ve written about many times throughout the past year, especially in a July post HERE, if you should want more information, or, just need to see the Cutoff when the sun was out and the flowers were blooming.

A Wildlife Habitat is just as important an element in February as it is in July, no matter how big or small, no matter if winter where you live is in January or June. While the gardens and  trees and all vegetation sleep here come winter, many animals and birds that winter over do not. They are adapted for cold climates, but, winters such as this one, can be hard on them, with food scarce and shelter harder to find. Established wildlife areas help them to fend through the hard, dark months of winter.

The birdbaths we leave out for winter have sported muffin tops of snow most of this season. We often see scattered on top of the mounds little lace snow prints of wintering birds who have come for a sip. Just as often, we’ve seen big chunks bitten out of them, most likely deer or squirrels, getting water from nature’s snowcones.

Smaller animals nestle under the pile of brush and twigs we leave in our designated habitat, which gives them shelter from the storms. It also, often dramatically, provides a spot for hawks to keep a keen eye on. The other day, Tom saw a hawk swoop out right in front of the second story windows where his office is above the barn, grabbing some lunch from below on his way to a barren tree.

Most recently, as the sun is coming up, I’ve noticed several deer resting on the edge of the grassy knoll/prairie/native garden, where our Wildlife Habitat sign is stationed. Just beyond this is a large composting area. It as a haphazard affair, with undefined boundaries. On it go the leaves of autumn, holiday garlands and wreaths, wilted bouquets, food items and coffee grounds we compost from the kitchen as well as plant material from the gardens. We dig and turn the piles, of course, but often, especially in winter, scraps and peels and such are just tossed on top of the near frozen mass. We know they will eventually decompose . . .

. . . and that some hungry sojourners may nosh through the piles during lean months of winter. When the deer dig down deep, one can see the steam rising from below, where Mother Nature is brewing some leaf mold stew, nourishment for our herd, many of which are heavy with child.

Deer:snow:compost 2Deer:snow:compost

How about it, my friend? Have you given any more thought to establishing a Wildlife Habitat?

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Wildlife Habitat under snowThere is a sound to snow; a scrunch underfoot that changes tone and pitch as the temperature rises and falls. Sometimes, one can actually feel the sound vibrating in one’s ears, especially while wandering beneath a polar vortex.  Air is light as snowflakes drift and breath hangs mid-sentence, waiting for the conductor to change the tempo of the song.

Mid-afternoon, a mission in errands at hand, the garage door creaked open, and I scrunched my way along a shoveled path, opened the car door, turned on the “machine”, and slowly backed out at an angle to right my sight in a forward direction, which is when I sensed movement in the periphery of my vision.

Doe. A deer. A female deer, dancing in the sun. A female deer dances not in the sun if it is a mere 8°F – unless there is a dancing partner, and there was. I stopped the car, mid-turn, alerted Tom via cell phone, for such a performance must be shared, and there we were, slowly scrunching about, capturing an aria in this bleak midwinter, music in the snow.  Do click on the photos.


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Grasses swaying with snow 2014 commenced with traditional midwestern frigidity, with snow falling in the early hours of the New Year. Fall it did, continually, for some 48 hours, dumping almost 18 inches of powdery white in some areas, two feet in others. We managed to accumulate foot or so here on the Cutoff before it was over. We were “snowed in” until dinnertime Thursday night when our good neighbor plowed us out with his truck.

We are so very fortunate, for we had plenty of food put by and our homely nest was cozy and warm. A crude path was swept out early, up to the Barn, where Tom could spend some time in his office. Just the fact that he is doing well enough to do some computer work now is an encouraging new year omen. The snow made all seem clean and right in our little cut off corner, and the ever-growing icicles provided a Zhivagoan mood, giving one the impression of an Ice Palace. We were just glad we didn’t need to string a guide rope from one door to the other, for we were close to white out conditions a few times.

Come late afternoon, when the flakes were no longer dusting our existence, I ventured Fairy with snowout, stomping a path to the compost pile, then trudging the opposite direction, down the long drive to the mailbox, which was as empty as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. No mail awaited, but, it didn’t really matter, for the bills will come when they come.

Freezing, I stood, watching squirrels scamper about, pilfering provisions from a bin full of walnuts Tom left out in the Fall. They were having so much fun, chasing each other, sailing across tree limbs, and leaving shards of shells everywhere, I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t a little drunk on walnut juice imbibed on New Year’s Eve.

Or, perhaps, they had been under the spell of the garden fairies.

I simply cannot help myself. In spite of the terrible cold (we awoke to -8°F this morning), and the danger, as well as inconveniences, of such snow accumulation, there is still such sparkling beauty amid the cold starkness for us to behold, and, just beyond the five foot towers of snow, there is always the possibility of unexpected visitors.


DSCN3874Three sisters with big pine with snow


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There is a nip in the air, here on the Cutoff; not yet a first frost, but an unmistakable chill that calls out for hearty soups and warm shawls, a DSCN3329good book and cups of steaming tea. Bittersweet has appeared at floral shops, and rows upon rows of pumpkins line every supermarket entrance as we entertain thoughts of  Jack-o-Lanterns and pumpkin pie.

Daily, now, I take a stroll to the back of our property. I look to the left in dismay at the increasingly greater amount of trees that have been felled, the mountain of sawdust and the towers of logs.  I plot, in my mind, how to make this all work to our advantage, all-the- while walking,  shuffling, in the fallen leaves. It is the soft, slightly muffled sound and the crunch that brings me comfort in the flowing of seasons, one unto another, that I love so much about living here in middle America.

To the right, there are a few puffballs and I make mental notes to check them daily to monitor their growth, remembering the king of puffballs that we gently lifted and took to a nature center last year.

Ground zero brings fairy rings, dancing in the autumnal sunlight, sheltering fairies, I’m certain. Who else so expertly takes the caps off of acorns that are scattered about?

Whatever annuals remain now in pots are ravaged. The deer in the night, bold enough to come straight up to the house for midnight snack. Coleus salad, potato vine pie, and a nip of moon vine for the road; a regular frat party on the campus of the University of the Cutoff.

Much of the weekend was spent cutting back peonies, raking out withered ferns, and pulling the weeds that were hidden under so much growth. It is good to see the soil again, find the gazing ball that was hidden from view, and to watch the birds in a mad frenzy glean the seeds and insects that suddenly appear. It is a good time of year to take stock of what is, and to dream of what can be.


It is also time to clear out our plot in the community garden. I harvested a good hat full of tomatoes last week, and Tom and I gathered more this weekend. Soon, very soon, the plants will be pulled and composted, the fencing will come down, and we will sigh a good sigh at the fruits we reaped from our efforts as well as the sense of community that prevailed.

Now, where is that shawl – oh, there, draped on Aunt Ethel’s old cane rocking chair, just waiting for me and a book.

Pine cone:leaves:stones

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DSCN3279I have been watching one of my favorite BBC television series, Lark Rise to Candleford, every Thursday evening. The fact that PBS continues to re-run this engaging British import every year or so is but one of many reasons most of my television viewing centers on these jewels in broadcasting. Watching these period pieces with their sense of time and place, not to mention impeccable costuming and atmosphere is like attending a feast for me.

I adore the mostly gentle folks; Queenie and Twister, Alf, the Timmins, Laura, of course, and Miss Lane. (I think I have always longed to be a postmistress, with all those cubby holes for letters and stamps and the activity that hovers around a post office. Have you ever watched Lark Rise to Candleford?

Each time the series airs, I make a mental note, which is not a good way to make notes as my mental notes get misplaced faster than my paper ones. My note to self is to read the book this series is based on.

I finally did!

Oh what a treat Flora Thompson’s trilogy is. Based on her years growing up in an Oxfordshire hamlet in the 1880′s, it is more of a primer of a way of life that once was  in the English countryside, full of folk ways and sayings in a more peaceful time at the cusp of great change. There is no plot to this book, though it was found in the fiction section of the library. It is really more of a memoir of Flora Thompson’s childhood. She calls herself Laura in the book as she recalls going to school, how women dressed, skills and trades, farming, the cottages, festivals and traditions., gathering the harvest, etc.


It was my great fortune at finding this illustrated, abridged edition, which I have slowly read, for it is a gentle read, over cups of tea, in the arbor, on the sofa, mostly wherever the sun set its angel rays, for there is no other way to immerse oneself in the book. Flora’s words are so gentle and the illustrations like those out of horticultural books , with exquisite paintings every fourth page or so.

“Many casual callers passed the hamlet. Travelling tinkers with the barrows, braziers, and twirling grindstones turned aside from the main road and came singing

Any razors or scissors to grind?

Or anything else in the tinker’s line?

Any old pots or kettles to mend?

After squinting into any leaking vessel against the light, or trying the edges of razors or scissors upon the hard skin of their palms, they would squat by the side of the road to work, or start their emery wheel whizzing, to the delight of the hamlet children, who always formed a ring around any such operations . . . “

DSCN3275From celebrations to gathering the “leavens’” of the harvest, going to school to the security of cottage families, this book is a wealth of insight into a bygone era. It is filled with the words to folk songs and the olden sayings, adages, and vernacular.

I must be truthful here, dear reader. I loved stepping into the cottage life of the 1880′s in the pages of this book, even if I would never want to live in those times. “Lark Rise to Candleford” was a serene visit to another time through perfectly placed pages in these early days of Autumn. Here is a segment of the television series you might enjoy. If you click on to watch it on youtube, it should appear.

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DSCN3259It has been raining here on the Cutoff. Big, noisy storms full of thunderous booms and skies streaked with lightning. Black clouds roiling to the east and sunshine in the west and the rush of rain on the rooftop. Quite a bit of daytime drama.


In between cloud bursts, I wandered out to the mailbox, then walked around as I do most days to see what was happening in the back garden, where I found the Japanese anemone peaking through the slats in the lattice. They are such a stark white of blossoms at this time of year. A nice intermission from the storms, reminding me, again, that every cloud has a silver lining.

What’s blooming around your neck of the woods?



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On the cusp of Autumn, they cover fences, arbors and walls across the Midwest, with their fleetingly sweet scent and canopy of blooms; Sweet DSCN3116Autumn Clematis.

We planted ours, a cutting from my dear friend Phyllis, last summer. It inched its way slowly through the slats on the arbor. Hesitant at first. Cautious. No. Not cautious. Most clematis are cautious, but, not Sweet Autumn, which is more like a teenager who has just been granted a driver’s license. Both ramble all over the neighborhood with no thought of the future.

We planted our Sweet Autumn at the foot of the arbor, its roots nestled under an August lily, which has just finished its annual performance. Both seem to like where we placed them, growing companionably.  As this summer wore on, the clematis clamored and climbed, twisted and turned, wending its way more than twelve feet upward, then down again.

She is now in full bloom and most ravishing come late afternoon when the sun touches the tiny petals of the thousands of blooms, reminding me of a September bride. I’m already thinking of next year’s wedding, while enjoying these sweet Autumn moments.


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DSCN2680Do you remember our Wildlife Habitat, and how we are endeavoring to introduce grasses and native plants into this area of our garden? I know I’ve mentioned my garden club and the wonderful women gardeners in it.  I know I have, many times, if truth be told, and now I am mentioning both here, because, dear friend, our little gardening experiment grew to twice its size in the past few weeks – in spite of our aching backs and dirty fingernails, we are experiencing supreme delight.

Members of our garden club maintain the herb garden at Wilder Park in Elmhurst. A small band of women, on bended knees, plant and weed and tend to this garden from about May to October, much to the pleasure of all who walk past it, sit on benches amongst its fragrant mist, or get married a few steps away under the Park District’s wedding tent.  The herb garden is a delight to behold. Garden clubs throughout the States, and, I’m sure, throughout the world, do just this sort of volunteer work, making your pathways and byways more pleasant and bringing nature home.

I digress. Back to the herb garden, in all its glory, until a few weeks ago Sunday. You see, major construction is going on at the adjoining greenhouse and conservatory, necessitating the uprooting of the herb garden. As such, our club members were invited to help dig up the herbs and the grasses to make way for construction – and to keep some of the plants for our own use.

Shovels in hand, Tom and I headed over, bright and early in the morning. We arrived home  several hours later with a car full of lavender, thyme, bee balm, Joe DSCN2687Pye weed, lemon grass, and Echinacea; plants we were hoping to introduce to extend our little grassy knoll which lies just past the arbor.  I cannot begin to express our gratitude at having acquired all of these plants, nor can I adequately describe the scents in the car that fueled us home, or the thrill of the bees that were immediately attracted to the gifts of nature we immediately planted.

Tom rolled out the wheelbarrows and transformed himself into a sodbuster. We added compost, filled with friable soil and wiggling worms, planted and watered and watered again, until our newly adopted natives had their feet set firmly into the soil. How good it felt to sit for a spell in our arbor, sipping something cool, sharing some cookies, and watching our prairie grow.

Once everything was in, we needed to cut most of the plants back. Not quite ready to abandon the sweet fragrance of the Joe Pye weed, I slipped some of the cut stems into a honey jar and set it next to a wooden bench that had been languishing elsewhere. An old tree stump and a relatively new watering stone quickly found each other and became a birdbath, and our vista suddenly changed and our habitat expanded.


It will take a few years for our new garden to flourish and mature. A bevy of birds already frequent the new watering hole. Our eyes, then our feet, are daily drawn to this growing space. We feel a sense of exhilaration at having acquired such healthy stock from the herb garden that the women so faithfully tended to.

Come late winter and early spring, our garden club women will work with the park district on a new configuration of the herb garden. I can’t wait to see how they develop it. This is what all gardeners do, don’t they? They plant and plan, dig out and replant, share growth and garden wisdom and the comrarderie that grows among them, along with the herbs and flowers. What a busy summer of expansion, planting, sharing and nurturing we have had this summer. Phew! 


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