Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

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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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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Like Goldilocks in search of the perfect bowl of porridge, we Midwesterners often complain that the weather is too hot or too cold. On Sunday, it was just right. After what felt like endless heat and humidity with a string of record breaking triple digit days, a breeze drifted in, the temperature dropped more than twenty degrees and the morning of the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire dawned with the promise of a perfect summer day.

Sometimes, things work out just right.

Our garden club’s member work hard to find inspiring gardens, coordinate with the park district, generate publicity, produce artwork and garden descriptions for the guidebook, advertisers and vendors are solicited, posters, yard signs, and banners distributed, garden hosts arranged, and any number of other details that such an event demands.

Each year, the gardeners have to contend with the fickleness of the midwestern climate; too much rain, not enough rain, late spring frost, Japanese beetles, even the 17 year cicadas that plagued this area a few years ago.

The gardeners had the sustained heat in March followed by freezing temperatures in April, then summer’s intense heat and lack of rain. I don’t know how they did it. I know lots of sweat, toil, and surely exorbitant water bills were all put into play, but they did what needed to be done and hundreds of visitors walked through their resplendent gardens on what may just have been the best day of summer.

We are all relieved to know that we will have money again this year to award some generous scholarships and help with local horticulture endeavors. This is what it is all about. Giving back to community and giving forward to the next generation.

I encourage you, dear reader, to attend a charitable event in your area this year. There are many worthwhile causes that the price of a ticket supports.

Won’t you please stay a few moments more to see some of the splendor of Sunday’s walk?

I loved the placement of this fountain that helped direct water into a pond.

This one tugged at my heart. The gardener planted the impatiens into the shape of a pink ribbon in honor of breast cancer survivors and in remembrance of those who died of the disease.

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I must confess that I am incurably afflicted with the malady commonly known as “garden fever”.

I love to garden and to visit gardens, large or small, roof top or city lot, arboretum or patio. It matters not where the garden is for wherever a flower grows, I find joy.

 In the six years we’ve lived here, we have made enhancements to the beds already here and added new ones, which generally  means Tom draws the plans and does the back breaking work then I color inside the lines with plants.

Our previous garden was truly our own, but it took a while for it to become so. I knew every plant as well as I knew my own face.

Tom built a deck around a Wealthy apple tree,. It was truly our “giving tree” where Mr. and Mrs. Wren nested one year and presented their fledglings on the Fourth of July.

Tom also built a gateway to connect the paths from the front to the back.  I searched for two years until I found a golden hosta called Moon Glow. I planted it at a precise spot in the back garden. As the sun set in late summer, its rays would slowly slip through the gateway of the arbor and for all of three minutes the rays would touch this one hosta. It would purely glow.

Here on the Cutoff , in spite of the challenges of deer, the gardens are gradually becoming ours.

We have learned to hang a fuchsia on a shepherd’s hook next to the living room window. Hummingbirds come to it for nectar as we  watch from inside. We have a new arbor, sturdy with seats. A sweet place to rest with a glass of iced tea and a book. It was a project of Tom’s that is a focal point. Here, climbing roses and clematis have finally taken hold and if the deer don’t get to them, they will be laced with blossoms in a month or so.

Our garden beds are filled with plants from friends; cuttings and divisions and seeds they have passed along. Marilyn’s burning bush and feverfew, Bev and Jerry’s daffodils and hydrangea, Thor’s daylilies, and Dorothy’s ladies’mantle all hold a piece of real estate.

We’ve planted trees; a sapling from June’s ginkgo and a David Wyman crabapple. There is the book club’s rose and the Moonie’s hydrangea, a clethra from Jennifer and Jason and a Korean lilac that is just about ready to bloom.

Or my, I do go on and on. I must remember my manners and let you answer this gardening question as well.

While you think about your answer, some of you may remember Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party.

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I’ve been busy these past few weeks perusing other people’s’ letters.

One book I’ve had for several months, Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, Katherine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence. The book, edited by Emily Herring Wilson, is a compilation of some 150 letters between White and Lawrence for two decades. It begins when Elizabeth pens a letter to Katherine extolling her story about garden catalogues in The New Yorker Magazine in May, 1958, starting a long and friendly correspondence between them.

The other book, Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge, by Gladys Taber and Barbara Webster, found its way into my hands a month ago. It was sitting on a shelf in the Jackson Square Antique Mall, in the same little cubbyhole of a book dealer where I have been finding books by Gladys Taber for a few years. It is also a compilation of letters, these between Gladys and Barbara, written from their respective country homes, Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge.

Both books are of friendships that endure between women who write with a reverence for nature. They are personal letters between friends that cross seasons of life and seasons of the year.

Members of my garden club are reading Two Gardeners and will have a discussion of it on Wednesday. I haven’t finished it, but, have enjoyed what I have read so far. I know that Marilyn and Lynn will lead us in a lively discussion and I will emerge a better person because of it. I’ve read enough to know that the two writers correspond about gardening catalogues and exchange leaves and flower cutting and that they encourage each other enthusiastically in their writing endeavors.

Katherine White was the famed editor of The New Yorker magazine. She was also the wife of E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web. Katherine began a column in the magazine in 1958, “Onward and Upward in the Garden”, which were compiled in a book after her death. Elizabeth was a noted writer for gardening magazines in the South who also published several books. Both women were well read, as most gardeners are.

I have yellow sticky notes hanging out from among the pages, marking passages for reference. One page is marked for Katherine’s June 5, 1962 reference  to a series of long articles that were about to be published in the New Yorker that she encourages Elizabeth to read.

” By the way, don’t miss those Carson pieces. They are part of a book and too long for a weekly magazine, but the facts she gathered ought to stir up a hornet’s nest among the chemists and horticulturists. (Our county agent sends us weekly bulletins about spraying the weeds in our lawn with dieldrin. Thiskills off all robins, who die in convulsions after eating the worms that eaten dieldrin and chlordane. And we have almost no bees this year – all killed in the blueberry barrens, by the poison dusts and sprays) . . .

Of course, Katherine is referring to Rachel Carson. The series of articles later became Silent Spring.

Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge contains warm, newsy letters between friends, also writers,  about country life, cooking, family and friends with keen observations about nature. I have written several times about Gladys Taber and I know many of you know of her writings about Stillmeadow. She wrote some fifty books and columns in Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal magazines. These letters are full of the wholesomeness of  country living, optimism and a grace that calls to me. Their letters are categorized by month. This one is from Gladys to Barbara in January.

“Dear and Far Away:

Do you ever have a moment that is absolutely exquisite? Such moments are rare, they are like holding a pink pearl in your palm. Happiness, I think, is being able to live those moments when they come. I had one going out in the moonlight at bedtime, with three cockers and the Irish taking a last look-around. There was a pale winter mist over the meadows, and the sky was a clear dark wider meadow blossoming with stars. The air was quiet and cold and smelled of woodsmoke.

The front lantern shone on the sugar maples, the boughs were very dark, and motionless.

I held the moment in my hand.

love to Sugarbridge”

The letters in both books are varied; some long, some short, some typed, some handwritten, some mailed in rapid fire succession, others with months between answers. Both books remind me of the art of letter writing and of the pleasure of receiving correspondence in the mail. That these letters have endured the test of time is a gift to the reader. Off I go to read some more.

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