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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
~ E.B. White

One such day, which was already planned, was not a particularly seductive one, but, it was a challenging one filled with the usual chores, responsibilities, and the this-and-that of life to attend to. There was someone to visit and a stop at the vegetable/fruit market before returning home where I set about preparations for our supper.

While the chicken was marinating, I checked my emails, my blog comments and your posts, then suddenly realized that there was a lecture I had hoped to attend; The Pen and the Trowel with Marta McDowell. When I first read about it, the lecture sounded interesting and the name of the speaker was vaguely familiar. Funny, isn’t it, how life’s tidbits of information marinate as we wander along in life?  I clicked onto the saved informational link, which still sounded interesting, and wondered aloud if I could still attend.

Explore the ways that writing and gardening intertwine with author and speaker, Marta McDowell. For years, McDowell has been occupied with writers who garden, and how their horticultural interests have changed her planting beds as well as her bookshelves. Starting with Mark Twain, and connecting to authors ranging from Henry David Thoreau to Louisa May Alcott, this lecture explores that rich, writing-gardening connection. Instructor: Marta McDowell, author and horticulturist. *

The lecture was at 7pm. It was already 4:30. Could I make it? I scurried about like the little chipmunk who gathered the stuffing out of the pillow on my porch rocker (not the one pictured above). I registered online, changed clothes, made sure all was in place for Tom’s supper and off I went to one of my favorite places, the Morton Arboretum.

I parked in the lot behind the Sterling Morton Library and enjoyed the short walk to its doors. If you have not visited this library you should. Membership to the Arb allows you to check out books but all visitors may enter, browse the stacks of books, learn something from the curated displays and more! The Sterling is, indeed, sterling in its embrace of nature.

Like the seasoned gardener and horticulturist she is, Marta McDowell sowed her words like flower seeds through the garden writings of such notables as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She shared photos of her own garden’s many transformations after being influenced by the writings of many authors, as well as having visited many of their gardens while researching her several books.

In the course of Ms. McDowell’s lecture, I learned of the friendship between Samuel Clemons and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe would often cross the lawn between their two homes and take plants from his large conservatory. Their neighbor was Charles Warner, who wrote “My Summer in a Garden” (note to self, check this out). She reminded us that before Louisa May Alcott’s  “Little Women” there was “Flower Fables” and that Beatrix Potter used features of her own Lake District home and gardens in her adored illustrations. The web of writers, illustrations, photographs and more cast a spell upon me that made me want to learn more about writers who did, indeed, improve the world while also enjoying it. It also reminded me of the shelves of books I have about gardening; shelves groaning with poetry, essays, literature, and lifestyles and I am filled gratitude for how words and photographs have shepherd me along my own garden paths.

My “aha” moment came when I saw Marta McDowell’s newly released book, and I realized she had authored such books as “All the Presidents’ Gardens”, “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life” and “Emily Dickinson’s Gardens”. It was my dear friend Janet, aka Country Mouse, who recently alerted me to a book giveaway she knew I would be interested in, which I was, and which included some of these books as well as her newest book, “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder”.

Do you have a favorite gardening writer or author who influenced your garden or your lifestyle?

The link to that giveaway can be found here

Here is a link to Marta McDowell’s lecture schedule. She might be in your area, in case you are interested: http://www.martamcdowell.com/events

*From the Morton Arboretum website.

 

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“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I have found, through years of practice, that people garden in order to make something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal, to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole as we make our personal work of art upon our land.”
– Julie Moir Messervy, The Inward Garden

I have not read Julie Moire Messervy’s book, but, as soon as her quote appeared to me it brought to mind the gardens on this year’s Elmhurst Garden Walk. I hope to read this book sometime soon.

From the homeowner who reverently said “my garden is my sanctuary” to the garden that was overflowing with plant divisions from family and the garden abundantly planted with garden art, the six private and one public garden weave well into Ms. Messervy’s words.

The day bloomed with all the glory of a made-to-order day. A soft breeze, low humidity, blue skies and sunshine – it could not have been a better day for An Afternoon in the Garden. 

Along with the gardens, the Faire in Wilder Park was bustling with a wonderful mix of vendors and a Monarch Festival.

Would you like to take a walk with me to the Faire, the private gardens, and the public gardens of York Community High School?

The Faire

York High School’s Inner Courtyard Garden

The private gardens.


I wish you could have been with us in the gardens, at the Faire, among the personal work of art that filled the day.

I wish, as well, that you could have met the homeowners, the teachers, the students, and a few of our scholarship recipients that also came to the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire. Scholarship and helping local endeavors, which include the activities that involved children and students this year are why the Elmhurst Garden Club holds this event and where funds raised are allocated.

Have you attended a garden walk or public gardens this year? Have you read this book, or another garden related book that moves you to garden, to explore nature?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are fast approaching the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire, which is on July 9th this year. The homeowners are busy as bees weeding, planting, adding flourishes and embellishing with their individual styles. This year has been cool and wet and erratic, a challenge for sure – but each year brings its own trials. I am always amazed at the ingenuity and fortitude of homeowners preparing for hundreds of strangers to walk through their gardens. I am also very grateful for it allows the club to provide very generous scholarships along with community endeavors.

This year, I have the pleasure of writing the garden descriptions, which means I see the gardens as they are emerging and until the crunch is on to go to print. We don’t release the names or addresses until the day of the event, but, dear reader, I CAN tell you that the gardens are as amazing as they are varied. From newer construction to a century old homestead, they reflect the character of the gardeners and their many ways of gardening and there is something of interest for everyone in attendance.  The York High School gardens are an added feature this year and they are as inspiring as they are educational. There is also a Faire in Wilder Park with vendors selling garden related products and plants and there will be a butterfly festival as well. More information is here.

While I cannot show you the gardens, I did want to show you this one element I found in one of the gardens, which harkens back to my previous post on nests. The gardeners, a most charming couple, have incorporated nests in several spots of the garden. I found this one quite enchanting coupled with Emily Dickinson’s words.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson

 

 

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I find it amazing to discover what birds will use to build their nests and how some will determinedly hang on to the dribs and drabs of life to construct a home.

We often find fallen nests, especially after high winds, in our garden. Sometimes they are nests that have been raided by birds of prey or squirrels. It happens when you live in a woodland area. We take the good with the not so. Some of the fallen nests make it onto the Arbor House, they might hold a succulent, or find themselves in our Christmas tree. We have had one nest for at least ten years. It sits on a bookshelf. It is an oriole’s nest and it amazes me. The nest came down in a nasty storm and landed on the chaise lounge on the deck. It took me a some moments to figure out what it was. Eureka moments are so grand, aren’t they? At any rate, how do birds make a nest that looks a purse or sock, and attach a handle from which to hang it from a limb? I can’t keep my shoulder purse on my shoulders, yet, orioles can fashion intricate pocket purses to raise a family in the very tops of old trees.

I was thinking about whatever the day’s news was, weeding out in what has become our Elmhurst Garden. We have our Prairie Garden and the Big Island, a teardrop that is, at this moment, a wild and weedy adventure. A few years back, before the Prairie, Tom dug this smaller garden. We moved a twig of a ginkgo tree, a sapling from my friend June. An oakleaf hydrangea was put in and a patch of lamb’s ears. These were from dear Sharon divisions of divisions of lamb’s ear that I gave her some years before. Don’t you love how plants spring up in a gardener’s life? In time, a peony and a barberry from Marilyn’s yard found their way into our soil,  as did a rose from a woman whose name escapes me now. Then, a number of plants that were saved from the Wilder Park Conservatory renovation got their feet dirty here on the Cutoff. I purchased a few plants over time; salvias, marjoram, lavender. I try to put in plants the deer don’t favor; always an “iffy” proposition. A woman one town over sells off her own plants, seedlings, not a bad little cottage business. I know if they grow in her yard, they will grow in mine, so try to pick up something every year. Some have thrived and perform quite nicely in late spring. Most of the plants in the plot are from friends from Elmhurst and so, this is the Elmhurst Garden.

So, there I was, weeding and dead heading and otherwise ruining my fingernails. I was near the barberry which was really quite a show-off this spring. She was a magnificent riot of colors and textures. I noticed something just a wee bit out-of-place. It was a string. A thin, paper string, perhaps one little piece of packing material that escaped someone’s recycling bin. I reached out to remove it, then halted. It actually looked like it belonged on the barberry and who am I to determine whether or not it belonged. The large sycamore stands nearby and is where oriole nest. There are also elms and maples and oaks. Perhaps the bird from whose beak or claws this string escaped would come back – or another bird would see it and use it to build a new home.

It is gone. The string is gone. The orioles aren’t singing right now. I’m hoping, with the hope we gardeners and dreamers have, that the oriole, or another bird, have this little piece of building material woven into their summer homes.

Here’s to all the nesters out there, especially the dads who have passed on and to those who are still with us, especially my Antler Man, a great Dad and Papa –  who understands why his wife leaves ribbons of paper where they are woven.

Happy Father’s Day!

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First, the woody stems swell,


then a tight bud pushes forth and changes,

a petal at a time,

from winter wear into a silken skirt. Stylish Springtime flair..

Tree Peonies.

The epitome of how to dress for tea.

half a mind
to dress up and bow down
to the peony
~ Shiki

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We used to make popcorn in a pan. The bigger the pan –  the more popcorn. The pan would be put on the stove top, the burner ignited, a few tablespoons  of oil and two or three kernels of popcorn would be added. Then, we would wait for those three kernels to pop, which often seemed like forever.

POP!  POP!  POP!

It seemed like forever to children waiting for an after school treat and to grown-ups needing a late-night snack. Eventually, that signature triad of pops indicating that the oil was hot enough would erupt and we knew it was THE MOMENT to put a cup or so of kernels into the pot, put on the lid, and pop the corn.

 Spring has felt much like that long wait for the first kernels of popcorn to pop.

Here in the Chicagoland area, we have had hot days and cold, stunning sunshine followed by endless days of gray and gloom and rain. It was actually been one of the warmest of Aprils with early blooming of seasonal bulbs, ephemerals and flowering trees. May Day, however, brought cool weather in the 40’s and endless rain. Creeks are filled to overflowing, rivers rush past well beyond their banks.

The many trails and paths I wander have been closed off, but, there are spots where the pavement is clear and evidence of springtime is apparent.

In our own little neck of the woods, the celandine poppies have been welcome bursts of sunshine, the tree peonies are ready to unfurl and the brunnera have not forgotten us.

Spring is always such a hopeful season to me. In spite of the weather, the turmoil that bubbles around the globe and the troubles that intrude into our lives, Spring eventually shows up!

So, dear readers, here’s to Spring (or Autumn) wherever you are planted – and here’s to popping corn!

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