Moving Day

March 31, 2010

Yesterday was the day!

The house wrens made it official and were busy, busy, busy all day in the birdhouse. I didn’t see the closing, or the transfer of keys, but with all the dried twigs and leaves getting pushed through the door, I take it they have complete ownership.

I was given this particular birdhouse about 6 years ago. A sweet little girl bid on it in a silent auction, with the hope of giving it to me if she won as she knew I love my garden. At the time, I was so very touched by her thoughtfulness. I hung it in the big pin oak, thinking it would be a lovely piece of garden art. I didn’t have much (alright – any) hope that anyone would move in.

Well, apparently, this house is perfection in bird accommodations. Every year, for 6 years now, I have played host to a pair of house wrens who move in, nest, have chicks, teach them to fly and then move out. (I did have to move it after the first year, because it hung over the pond. That year, I found 2 chicks face down and drowned. Ick. Now if they are less-than-able flyers, they land on the ground, among the columbine. Learning to fly is difficult enough; forcing them to learn to swim just too cruel.)

When it’s warm enough to sit on the patio, I’ll watch the comings and goings and the feedings and the lessons, enjoying those tenants so very much. And each time, I’ll thank a little girl who bid on a birdhouse.

House Wrens Moving In

Greener Every Day

March 30, 2010

The hydrangeas are coming in, green leaves unfurling. The pigsqueak is sprouting, each year an ever-widening circle. The pigsqueak never fails to amaze me, as it’s one plant with pink flowers and blue flowers – seriously, how cool is that?

The daffodils that hug the house are full and glorious and yellow, warmed by the ambient heat to sprout early. The daffodils in the flower beds are still just leaves, with no real buds yet. As the first daffodils are fading, the others will take over. It’s nice to have that continuous bloom. The tulips are all up, but no buds yet. Those bulbs are scattered haphazardly in the porch bed, never really tended. I can’t remember planting them, but I must have, about 8 or 9 years ago. I think I have probably dug them up and stuck them back in countless times while fussing with the hydrangeas, coneflower and the ill-fated roses. Yet they come back every year for a burst of red just as the daffodils flop.

The pampas grass is still dormant and will make me nervous until they sprout, which will be later than I hope or expect, so I’ll be nervous much longer than I want to be. For a prairie plant, something that should just grow like crazy here, pampas can be a little touchy. I lost a huge, really substantial clump a few years ago – an absolutely majestic, gorgeous plant – and still haven’t recovered emotionally. So I’m a little weird about the pampas grass. And something that really throws me – how is it that if you dig up a clump to divide it, the only parts that thrive are the outer edge, but if you leave it in place, the whole darn thing fills in? I just love these little quirks of the plant world!

The hyacinths are getting bigger and bigger each day; sometimes I think they grow as I watch them. Can’t wait for them to open because their perfume is so very heavenly. We’re supposed to get wonderful weather every day this week, with Friday in the 80’s, so they should be open on Easter Sunday. What a nice way to ring in spring officially!

The peonies are starting to shoot up, again seemingly gaining inches each day. They are truly magnificent, a gift from my cousin Monica years ago. I’ve divided them many times to put them all over the garden, but the original clump in the porch bed is still the most stunning. They are white with pink edges, so elegant and again, what a scent!

The sedum is emerging, the lilac is getting greener and greener and the chives have just gone nuts in the last two days.

The best part of all: not one of these plants are attractive to the Damn Rabbits.

After Pilates at 8, I threw on my gardening shoes, put on my hat and cleaned up the front beds!

Well, there was actually a sizable detour into the garage attic to retrieve the hedge clippers that resulted in much foul language privately muttered, though sometimes shouted (who can hear me in the attic, right?), because whomever put away the garden dodads in the fall and the Christmas stuff in January (I’m not pointing fingers, but really, we know who it was) did not take the time to organize anything and just piled stuff wily nilly. I hate wily nily. My ADHD kicked in and I saw that a substantial number of the computer equipment and electronics boxes we keep up there were now useless, as we don’t even own (for example) a PS2 anymore. And seriously, how many phones have we purchased in only 10 years? So I threw down empty boxes, picked up garden ornaments just lying on the floor and put them in empty (why? why would they be empty?) crates and got the Christmas wreath to lay flat. I also found a few boxes of the original tile laid in our house and for one brief moment thought “Hey! I could do those mosaic projects I always see!” but thankfully came to my senses immediately. Like I need another project. I did pull out about a dozen unbroken tiles and will try to use them as walking stones in the garden. Hmmm… nice way to integrate inside and outside, don’t you think? Anyway, I digress! Just like I did yesterday.

Cut down the big pampas grass and my nose started itching immediately. Thanks to remembering to wear long sleeves though, I did not get hives this year. Cleaned out dead leaves, and cut down all the dried out cornflowers. Shattered all the eggshells and that actually looks cool. Gathered up the grapefruit and avocado rinds (I was smelling citrus all day and it was very pleasant). Trimmed all the dead flowers from the spyria, but noticed that the branches themselves have really budded out already, so I left those. Started trimming the Endless Summer hydrangea I planted in the fall, but then noticed quickly (thank heavens!) that I was cutting into green. Realized these bud on old wood and new wood, so quickly dropped those pruners! One of my goals for many years has been to successfully grow hydrangeas, as my Nicco Blue grew every year but never ever bloomed. Last summer, the gardener at the nursery told me the Nicco was my entire problem – they do not bloom in zone 5. And here I was agonizing over MY failings for about six years!

The “composting” in the hydrangea bed is working, as I was confronted with slimy and rotting material almost immediately. Hurrah! We’ll throw some mulch over that in a few weeks and let it go to town. The peonies in that bed are already emerging, so I put out the grow through grids (which never really work anyway, so why do I bother? They need longer stakes – hey! I could make that happen… another thing for the Menards list.).

I also pulled all the vegetation around the step-through, dug up the bricks and resettled them. It looks so trim and now we can actually walk through it. Cut the donkey tail spurge way back – I just love that stuff. It’s just so funny looking.

The butterfly bed was last. Again, I gathered rinds and crushed eggshelves, cutting dried coneflowers, oregano, coreopsis, sedum and pulling out allysum and zinnia leavings. Also pruned the butterfly bush hard, even though I was cutting into green. All the advice recommends cutting it way back, so I did. Found evidence of Damn Rabbits – plenty of droppings, but nothing chewed. The new lilac right in front of the library window is full of buds and new green leaves, so it must be very happy in that spot.

Raked everything up, swept the porch (no birds on the shelf yet, so I might be able to get it down within the next week or so), and took six bricks to layout the rough of the veggie garden. Tony is supposed to let me know if it’s obstructing bean-bag playing and then we can start building and filling it.

Today, it’s raining for which I am very grateful. After all that work yesterday, I fell asleep at 8:30 and I’m still a little stiff. The backyard beds will have to wait.

Peony and Hydrangea beds

The butterfly bed

Front of house beds

Pampas grass, coneflowers and scabiosa waiting to come back...

Did the walk around today, feeling like Mr. Tyler in our old neighborhood. He used to go out in his satin robe, holding a cup of coffee and stand in front of his house and just look at it. My mom always got such a kick out of it; “There’s Tyler looking over his estate again.”

Now I am he, but with tea instead of coffee and sweat pants instead of a robe. My neighbors put up with enough already – can’t expose them to my definitely-not-satin robe. I walked around today, noticing again what’s coming in and what needs pulling out. Actually had a good winter with lots of snow cover to keep everything snug and safe. I didn’t see much evidence of Damn Rabbits, but have noticed that we’ve got a huge white and black cat prowling the neighborhood at night. While I ‘m not a fan of letting pets out unsupervised (cats can decimate a neighborhood’s songbirds), that predator (and that big brown one on the walking path that scared us the other day) may be keeping the Damn Rabbits under control. The year we had the feral cats under the neighbor’s shed, we had very few rabbits and that was, quite frankly, very pleasant.

Hopefully, I can put in a few hours tomorrow and Sunday, cleaning out the beds and planning that vegetable garden. I did plant my Trader Joe’s hycianths today. We’ll see if they come back in the spring. When you look at the photos, yes, that’s eggshell that you see, and grapefruit rinds and avocado pits. Our attempts at “ultimate casual composting” weren’t as successful as we’d hoped and a real compost station will be constructed this summer. All that mess will be put used as the initial filler for the raised veggie garden. Mr. Neat Neighbor will be so happy; he’s still not over our porch railings being painted 4 different colors.

I made quite few photos today of the beds in their “unwashed” state so we can enjoy the difference when they’re tidy!

Sunrise Opens Saturday!

March 26, 2010

Nirvana comes to earth on Saturday. Sunrise Greenhouse Woldhuis Farms opens. OH. MI. GAWD.

I got the email today and it is full of coupons for violas (can’t have, the Damn Rabbits eat them), pansies (ditto) and dianthus (which they seem to leave alone). My heart went pitta-pat when I saw the email and the coupons – flowers and saving money – good lord! My perfect combination!

Sunrise Greenhouse is not a hardware store or home improvement store. It is not the nursery around the corner. It is sprawling, massive, huge greenhouses and a farm where, for acres, you can walk in covered bliss and see an Eden come to life. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, roses, shrubs, trees, pond plants, herbs. In short, it is heaven for a gardener.

I usually hold myself in until May for Sunrise, because by that time I have a pretty good feel for what space needs filling and then, each year, I make a very careful, precise list to adhere to when I shop. And then I get there and it all goes to hell in a handbasket. You see, if only I had KNOWN about that new color of bellflower before I got there, it would have been on the list and then I would be perfectly within reason to purchase it! So I go ahead and put it in the cart.

And as much as I love color and blooms and scent, the grasses are such an addiction. God, the colors and textures and sizes! The seed pods and stripings and the shapes! They add so much to my landscaping and I am just crazy about them – the tall ones, the small ones, the blue ones and the ones with shoots that pierce the sky. Yeah, one more of those won’t hurt. Get it in the cart!

I thought I needed one flat of impatiens, but you know, that color would look great under the pin oak and the other would look wonderful under the office window. Oh! Look at that new coleus!  And although my plan calls for only 12 zinnias, I can easily convince myself that 24 would be prettier sooner. Sunrise Greenhouse is a shining promise of spring for me, a place to go and breathe the dirt and mud and plant, discover new colors and plants and ways to fight the Damn Rabbits.

And then it always happens. I get home and unload and Tony looks everything over and asks all the right questions and says all the right things to make me feel joyful and hopeful. I start planting and am zooming right along when I realize that the space I thought perfect for that extra bellflower already has a very healthy astilbe planted there and there really is not room for 24 zinnias unless I plant them much too close together. I find myself, plant in one hand, digger in the other, circling the house with a bemused, slightly frustrated expression. Surely there must be room for just this ONE little plant… right? Somewhere? So I circle again and again and Tony looks out the window and laughs.

And I laugh too, because at that moment especially, I am my mother.

A cold and cloudy day – no sun today and absolutely no desire to dig in the dirt. I have 3 pots of 3 grape hyacinths each from Trader Joe’s that need to be planted, but I’m not sure where they’re going.

Thinking about supporting the clematis and trumpet vine on the front of the house and realizing that I need to get it done before the proverbial horse leaves the barn. Last year (much to my chagrin), the fall clematis took off like a rocket, beyond my wildest expectations for a first year planting, and just inundated the pathetic trellis. So in an effort to get it moving up instead of draping down and trailing on the ground, I stapled chicken wire to the cedar siding (I’m sure Neatnik Neighbor loved seeing that!) and trailed it through. Looked absolutely breathtaking, covered with white stars and just perfuming the air with a heavy honey scent. Then it got too heavy and ripped right out of the siding. WHAT a mess. Had to cut it all to pieces and wait until next year to do it right (see, there’s that hope thing again with gardeners).

I’m thinking of building a really tall trellis with 2″ x 2″s and chicken wire and nailing it right into the siding (Neatnik Neighbor saying “ouch” right about now). I’ll paint it to match the siding and brick, so it won’t be too objectionable. What’s the sense of a beautiful expensive trellis when it just gets covered with plant?? And just think of what it will look like when it’s covered in that clematis! Green and white and just heavenly to breathe in.

Got to get to Menards….

An orgy in the garden

March 24, 2010

WHEW! I got worn out just watching them!

By 8 am this morning, I was telling the cardinals, robins, juncos, doves and squirrels to just go get a room. I feel like I’m running a house of ill repute for wildlife.

The cardinals were the first I really noticed, and of course I noticed the male first, hopping around the garden, tugging at sticks, rolling in the dirt. As I watched, the female joined him, always a little lower in the branches and behind him on the ground. Just for once, I’d like to see a sassy female cardinal.

The doves have that whole equality thing understood. Very rarely can you tell male from female. They walk together, nest together and take care of the babies together. Dad is just as grey and soft as Mom, no garish colors for him. Is it the colors that make the male of those species so dominant? Do they feel that specialness and keep their females in their place because of it? Hmmm…. Sounds alot like some human beings, doesn’t it?

I’ll need to check the shelf on the front porch as I would imagine that has already been claimed by a dove pair. As much as I love birds, that shelf was a ridiculous idea. It was built just for a nest and so the porch is covered with straw and dove poop and feathers and mess until the chicks hatch, fledge and fly. Really, who’s stupid idea was that? I can’t enjoy my porch for weeks! That has to come down this fall (as I’ve said every fall for about 10 years now).

About four robins came and splashed in the pond water. Strange thing I’ve noticed – while we think of robins as more solitary birds, in the past two years I’ve noticed more and more flocks of them. Last year, I counted 12 at one time in and around the pond.

The squirrel is truly a friend of mine. She lives in the big nest in our pin oak and chatters at me all summer long. I usually chatter back, explaining that I own the place and she should really be glad she picked my oak tree, as my neighbor knocks all his nests out each year (my husband and kids think I’m nuts, but they don’t understand our relationship). She did make me a little nervous today because she started digging and I was afraid for my lily bulbs. Turns out she was only looking for a dirt bath, as she rolled around and made quite the mess of herself. I love how they freeze and move, then freeze again. They’d make great CIA agents.

Thankfully, all this, ahem, activity ended by 9:30 or I would have never accomplished anything. The daffodils out front have finally bloomed and the weather remained delicious all day long. More and more plants are emerging, stretching leaves open to the sun. I am mentally preparing for a snowstorm within the next few weeks, as this is just too good to be true.

Although we entertained the Wild Kingdom today, there were no Damn Rabbits. I think that’s too good to be true too.

Planted Promises

March 23, 2010

Guilt assuaged today! The weather is nippy but not raw, the ground is soft and just barely moist, black and rich and crumbling in my hands, perfect for planting.

I pulled my stargazer lilies bulbs out of the cabinet in the garage, where they were wrapped in a paper bag, now damp, roots sprouting.  I smelled the dirt on them and thought about their travels from the breeder to the garden show bin to me and now to my garden. I sited them on the edge of the pin oak’s drip line, in the back garden that gets more sun than shade and where I can see them from my office window. Then I got out my gardening gloves.

Ode To My Gloves: My gardening gloves are Atlas 360, size small. They are (of course) purple. They fit, literally, like a glove and are rubber coated. These things are amazing, better than Foxgloves, of which I was quite the devotee. They get wet and dry and wet and can pick up mulch and rock and they still look great, no holes and no wear. They look like new – really – after a whole season of planting and pond maintenance. My hands stay undamaged. I love my gloves.

I’ll wax poetic about my digger in a later post, but I used that today too.

Dug 6 straight and deep holes, placed those bulbs in root side down, and filled them up with delicious black dirt. I think the bulbs were very pleased to go in because they know their potential. They are about the size of a lacrosse ball, filled with promises of pink and elegance and green and stateliness. They are a burst of formal structure in a garden that is most often left to wildly reseed.

The Damn Rabbits have left Stargazers alone in the past; let’s offer a silent prayer to the gods of the garden that they do so again.

First Day Of Spring

March 21, 2010

Yesterday was officially the first day of spring, and we were treated with a stunning snowstorm. Fat, cottony snowflakes swirling, windows rattling and the overwhelming feeling it would be a great day for popcorn in front of the fireplace. My day was spent at a theatre contest, supporting my daughter and her amazing interpretation of a stuffed armadillo growing old and falling into disrepair. That’s a good thing, as the 70 degree weather yesterday (yes, I live in Chicagoland, which means temperature fluctuations that always amaze but never surprise) got me itching to start cleaning out, chopping down and prettying up. That was made impossible by the weather.

Today it is still cold, windy and raw. I missed my chance last week to plant the stargazer lilies I bought at the flower and garden show and now have guilt that they are not in the ground. The bleeding hearts were in immediately, so that makes me feel a little better. They have grown at a remarkable pace already.

I will have to wait another week to cut down the huge ornamental grasses that are splaying over my lawn (and my neighbor’s – he is so patient!). My goal before May 1 is to gather up all the compost-that-didn’t-quite and build a raised vegetable garden in the sunny corner of our lot, out of the way of bean bag players. I’m planning on lining the bottom with chicken wire so the Damn Rabbits can’t burrow through and then make a raised fence of chicken wire so they can’t jump over. I really want green beans this year.

I Smell Spring

March 20, 2010

My son texted me that a few days ago: “I smell spring.” I went outside and I did too. It was that delicious combination of mud, new growth and warmth in the air, with just a soupcon of rotting leaves.

My gardens are coming alive again, after a winter which seems to me to pass more quickly every year, or maybe it’s just the anticipation of the good things that I know will come that makes it seem so. The daffodils come first courageously, always a little too early for my comfort. They are due to be snowed upon come Monday. They are quickly followed by the hyacinths, with such a sweet smell I nearly pass out from inhaling too deeply. Then those delicate anemones, growing bigger and hardier each year, and a few straggling tulips that the Damn Rabbits seem to miss each year. Then comes the real warmth; in the earth and in the air  and all around us, and the burst of all things green and pink and purple and yellow and white.

I can’t wait.

I read somewhere that only gardeners can truly understand hope because a garden is never as good as it will be next year. For now, this is next year and I am hoping!