Backyard Ballad: Peonies and Phlox Edition

backyard ballad, backyard love song, family, friends, garden, personal growth, photography, small town life

As you may have gathered, flowers are my weakness. I love them. I love the way they look, I love the way they seem so fragile but are actually so strong, I love the patterns, the scents, the colors.

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One thing I keep coming back to is how fleeting they are.

When we arrived at the end of May the lilac bushes and trees were BURSTING, and if you drove with the windows down you could smell lilacs all over the country. Then they were gone, and the rhododendrons erupted and there were huge bushes of purple and pink and orange flowers in front of houses up and down every side street.

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These rhododendron pictures are from a house up the street. There’s an old man who lives there and he used to know my Nana since he lived next door. We talked about her briefly and I took pictures of his flowers and, since he was having his weekly moving sale (yes, really, he’s had it every week), I bought two vases for $1 each.

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Then they were gone and wild phlox appeared, lining the roads, hiding in groves, bordering meadows and fields.

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The phlox was everywhere, purple upon purple upon purple. Then the roadsides were mowed and the deer got hooked on the Phlox Phad and ate them all up.

Then there were peonies, and they are almost gone. They super-inflated and then exploded and the peony heads are lying all over people’s lawns, looking exhausted and like someone let all the air out of their tires.

This last picture is one I took a few days ago. I bought myself a peony bush and it’s my favorite thing. I planted it by the front porch and two weeks later there were two giant pink flowers bobbing around and now the petals are decaying on the ground, but look at this photo, isn’t it gorgeous?

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Garden Progress Report: A Photo Essay

garden, gardening tips, photography

We had some extremely hot, sunny days last week, followed by cool, rainy days. The garden has seemed to love it, and is absolutely bursting with new growth and tiny leaves and–yes–even some miraculous little green tomatoes. Be still, my heart!

I’ll just pop some photos up and keep the words to a minimum…

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Bad news first: SOMETHING HAS ATTACKED THE ZUCCHINI PLANTS. Three of them have been taken down by something that chews around the bottom of the stems, and I think the yellow squash is next…

 

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This is a row of lettuce, popping up in a gorgeous green line.

 

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A potato sprout. In the few days since I took this picture, the potato sprouts have gone wild!

 

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Itty-bitty turnip leaves.

 

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Heirloom carrots looking like tiny blades of grass.

 

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I think these are cosmos. We’ll have to wait and see…

 

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Lemon verbena, smells delicious.

 

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Little grapette tomatoes…

 

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The cucumber vines are starting to spread out.

 

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An eggplant blossom, looks like tissue paper and appeared out of the blue!

 

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My flowers are doing well, too. These are dahlias.

 

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All the tomato plants bar one have yellow blossoms appearing from nowhere and multiplying overnight.

 

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A bell pepper blossom and, below, the bell pepper plant:

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A GOOD WEEK

dirt on my face, family, friends, friendship, garden, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Good morning!

This past week was a pretty good one. There were, of course, good moments and bad moments, but looking at it as a whole, it was a successful week. Now, if only I had better short-term memory, I could tell you exactly why it was a good week and what we did, but I’ll need to look at the archives (AKA pictures on my iPhone) to remember exactly what happened.

First of all, in Breaking Garden News, we have our first tomato!!!

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HELLO! WELCOME TO THE WORLD! I CAN’T WAIT TO EAT YOU!

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Sister looks on in amazement at the tiny green tomato

I submitted a painting to a contest meant to benefit a local arts group. The jury planned to select twenty works of art and then in September there is an auction where the proceeds are split between the artist and the charity. They were meant to respond by Monday and since I didn’t hear anything, I figured they just notified the winners. It was a little disappointing, but it felt good just to submit something.

But THEN, late Thursday night they sent an email and said they had accepted my painting! It is a botanical watercolor of peonies, and I am so excited!!

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These are a couple botanical prints I’ve been working on this week. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer I’ll have enough to do a small show or even open an online store to sell prints and original paintings. That is exciting, right?!

Sister got her first byline and was published in the local paper. Junior Ace Reporter!!

Both brothers had good news about their respective jobs, which is great.

On Thursday we went with our cousin to one of my favorite places ever…the Book Barn.

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The resident cat, who I’m pretty sure runs the place, is named Dickens, which is a name that works on several levels.

It is a big, dilapidated barn in the absolute middle-of-nowhere filled to the brim with books about anything you can think of. It is a place full of inspiration and magic, and I love, love, love it there.

Uncle Gee and Aunt T invited us to Tanglewood to see a jazz band with them on Friday night, and we accepted because we love to do stuff! I’m SO GLAD WE ACCEPTED because it was one of the best concerts I’ve been to, SO FUN.

The band is called the Hot Sardines, and I would liken it to…the closest you can get to a roaring party in a 1920’s speakeasy. We also had FRONT ROW SEATS, bantered a bit with the band, met the lead singer afterwards and had the best time.

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See the guy in the cream colored fedora? He is the band’s resident mobster/tap-dancer. At first, I thought, does he just sit there and tap his feet the whole time? BUT THEN HE DANCED and now I think every band should have a resident tap-dancer. Furthermore, their rendition of Summertime gave me goosebumps.

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That was a great and spontaneous treat and a wonderful end to the week. Here’s a video from their YouTube page to give you an idea of the music:

Plus, they inspired me to work on a Secret Project which I’ve been thinking about all weekend. I have more than one Secret Project going on right now and I’ll have to fill you all in at some point…here’s a slo-mo video of one of my secret-works-in-progress…

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Secret Project: dirt on my face and everywhere else, too. 

We also got to see the best of little cousins again this week. I love spending time with those two kids, they are the sweetest and most imaginative little buddies to have around. And they give great hugs!

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I’ve also had some of my flowers bloom in the past week, and that fills me up. I love the vegetables, but flowers are food for the soul, I’m pretty sure.

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I played tennis for the first time in over a year and I won, which felt great! Plus, Sister and I have kept up going to Pilates, which we started a few weeks ago. I LOVE PILATES. The class is Wednesday and Friday mornings and I think Sis and I are the youngest people there by about 30 years? Great. A class full of retired women is just my speed. Pilates is fun and it is also hard, but I like all of the breathing and stretching breaks, and if the soreness I’ve felt for the last couple days is any indication, it’s a WORKOUT.

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Okay! That’s it from around these parts, tune in next time for a garden progress report!

 

The First Backyard Ballad

backyard ballad, Uncategorized

I think I’m going to start a new feature called “Backyard Ballad” in which I post a couple of snaps of whatever is happening around our yard.

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She really, actually enjoys mowing the lawn.

We have flowers and animals and get-togethers and campfires and hummingbirds and hammocks and I think this would be a nice way to look back and remember the little moments which make this place so special to us.

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A well-earned rest

I thought about calling it Back-yode, like an ODE to the backyard, but I talked myself out of it instantly and then I wrote this sentence.

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These few pics are from one of the two sunny days last week.

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We called these “spit bugs” when I was a kid. These little insects leave white, bubbly blobs on long grasses which look a lot like spit; ergo, spit bug. I just checked on Wikipedia and apparently, they are more well-known as “froghoppers”* and can jump “many times their height and length.”

Anyway, when we were really little we used to pick them up with our fingers and look for the tiny, little green bug inside them.

That is an activity that I have outgrown.

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And this is a pretty little catnip plant** which we planted after Brother T cleared the back part of the yard.

 

 

 

 

*of the superfamily Cercopoidea

**better known as nepeta cataria

The First Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers

garden, photography

We have six varieties of tomatoes which we’ve picked up from a bunch of different places based on a bunch of different recommendations. They were the first thing we planted last week, along with a few pepper plants.

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First, Sister and I measured out the garden plot. As it turns out, the posts aren’t exactly evenly spaced, so the straight line down the center looks a little off. But it’s fine. We tied twine to make four quadrants and planned out roughly where everything would go based on (wait for it, it’s going to sound so impressive) the direction of the sun and height of the plants.

I know, you guys.

I know.

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That’s me and the very first plant! Woo! It was a labor of love because Sister and I lawn-mowed and rototilled all day and were just trying to get something in the ground before the rain was coming.

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Then we drove the stakes in next to the plants. Neighbor Bill from a few posts back told us to put the stakes in at the same time because to do it later would risk damaging the root systems of the plants.

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We hurried to get a few pepper plants in the ground. Basic bell peppers: green, orange, and purple.

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For our tomato varieties we have:

  • Beefsteak
    • The classic tomato. It will be thick-skinned and dark red. They might require a cage later on to support the vines because the tomatoes get so heavy. Great for slicing.
  • Brandywine
    • Large heirloom variety. Probably will be pinkish. They have a tangy taste and will also probably need cages as the vines grow “vigorously”.
  • Grapette
    • These are hybrid little guys and grow in clusters, thus the “grape” in their name. They promise to be delightful.
  • Ruth’s Perfect
    • Here is the description for Ruth’s Perfect (purchased from Tomato Lady at the Troy Market) “Variety is almost completely problem free. Produces abundant amounts of 7oz., 2-3″, perfectly round, red fruit. Exceptionally flavorful.” Well, that sounds amazing.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry
    • Another heirloom variety. Produces little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes. Apparently will grow between 6-12 feet tall!! Oh boy. We are in for some major tomato joy in a few months.
  • Mortgage Lifter
    • We talked about this one earlier, but here is another description of this guy, “This variety has become very popular in recent years, after being developed by M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia. After crossing varieties for 6 years and selecting the best, he introduced this beauty that he named Mortgage Lifter in the 1940’s after he sold plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house.”

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One thing we did was based on some last-minute words-of-wisdom from Uncle Gee. He told us that his grandfather (Pop, around these parts) (he of the greenest of green thumbs) gave him some tomato planting advice when Uncle Gee was a youngster. Evidently, if you plant the tomatoes a bit deeper than you would think to plant them, so that the fuzzy stem of the plant is about an inch or two beneath the soil, it will become part of the roots and strengthen the existing root system, thus increasing the tomato yield.

We’ll see, Pop. We’ll see!

Picking Out Plants & the Mortgage Lifter

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, personal essay, personal growth, small town life
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AHHHHHHHHHH IT IS TOO BEAUTIFUL

Here is how last Saturday went:

 

I was trying to change my shoes while driving the car. That’s not the point of this story, though, it is just essential background information. Sister went into the local coffee roasting place* and when she came out, she had a free mug! So, I decided I would go in and get myself some organic dark-chocolate-covered cherries and a free mug of my own. I went inside and was glad to see the place had expanded and was full of people picking out coffees and nut butters.

But something felt weird.

I looked down.

And yes! I had two different shoes on!

Me: I have two different shoes on.

Lady behind the counter: You sure do!

Lady behind the counter: Would you like a free mug?

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Here is also how our Saturday went:

We were driving up to Target** and SUDDENLY it seemed there was a plastic bag floating up over the hood of the car.

Sister: Alex? Is that our headlight?

Me: Why yes Claire, I believe it is.

And INDEED IT WAS. So we bought duct tape and taped that sucker on, because we are nothing if not resourceful and also good at driving old cars.***

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Here is how our Saturday proceeded:

We went to Uncle Gee and Aunt T’s house and followed them over to the Country Caretaker, which is their favorite garden center. There are so many garden centers! I LOVE THEM ALL.

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I confessed total ignorance to the nice people that worked there and they helped me out by talking about different kinds of tomatoes. We bought: Grapettes, Beef Steak, Brandywine, and one called the Mortgage Lifter, so called because the guy who created this type of tomato apparently used the proceeds to pay off his mortgage! The garden center tomato person told me they will turn red, and then yellow, and then gold, and will be delicious. Can’t wait!!

We got some cucumber plants, peppers, flower seeds, snapdragons, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, and yellow squash. I CANNOT WAIT TO EAT THEM.

Uncle Gee also lent us a bunch of garden implements and tools which have proven to be essential.

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Look! There’s no dirt on my face!

Following that, our Saturday continued thusly:

Sister and I went to what used to be a church and heard a solo piano concert by Ben Cosgrove, who composes beautiful instrumental pieces inspired by landscapes. It was an hour well spent. There were a few odd ducks there. And by “few” I mean everyone seemed to be wearing loose-fitting linen clothing? But the music! So, so beautiful. Here is a link, go listen to him and buy his new album:

https://bencosgrove.bandcamp.com/album/salt

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The plants are living here until the garden is ready. We figure if they’re up close to the house the deer will STAY AWAY FROM MY PLANTS, YOU HEAR ME, DEER?

Here is how our Saturday ended:

With a visit from Aunt K, who we were so happy to see, and a nice, fun chat in Aunt W’s living room, and a pizza. It was a good day.

*Whenever possible, I am trying not to go into stores. There are so many of them here. They are so full of THINGS and it’s overwhelming. The stores I like are Garden Centers, Produce Stands, and Hardware Stores. Those, I can handle. Everything else needs to get drones to drop things off at my front door.

** Hoo boy. There’s a place to send you into paroxysms of culture shock.

*** This seems like a good time to reference the little local news tidbit I read in the paper this week. It is called LIBERATE THE EARTH and involves a group called the Artichoke Dance Company. Here is the blurb: “There will be a Wearable Art/Costume Workshop on Friday, May 26 at 7pm…Participants will create beautiful wearable items from recycled plastic bags to serve as costumes for Saturday’s performance. Please bring plastic bags to the workshop.”****

****NO!

 

Geraniums and Gravestones

family, personal essay, small town life, Uncategorized

In a freak accident, my spin-instructor aunt had her ankle bone broken in two spots about six weeks ago. It is appalling! Exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t want to happen to ME. I assume, going forward, that it will be her Achilles Heel.

Anyway.

I have learned a couple things from her accident.

  • It would be easy to ask why it happened to her. It would be so easy to ask God why He didn’t just…stop it from happening. Why not move the lady that fell on her a couple inches to the right and PRESTO everyone is fine. Instead, my aunt’s attitude has been to try and find the good that has happened because of this accident, and to try and find where God has met her despite her circumstances. In the kindness of the staff at the hospital, in the visits from old friends, in the newfound pleasure in journaling, in the lack of pain.
  • I have also learned to stay away from women who seem to be physically unbalanced when on staircases in public venues.
  • Rest is critical when getting well. That kind of goes for anything.

Because of the big clunky boot she has on her leg now, her mobility is restricted for the time being. One of the results is that she can’t put flowers on her parents’ graves this Memorial Day, which is a thing she does every year. She just pulled into the driveway (I love that I live in a place where people pull into the driveway) (actually, her husband pulled into the driveway, as she has a broken ankle) and had a flat of geraniums on her lap. The cemetery is about 1/4 mile up the road and she asked if we’d put them in the ground later today when the drizzle stops and maybe the sun peeks out.

Of course. I’d love to. Do you know what a feeling it is for this transplanted geranium to be able to go do that? (I just called myself a geranium. Was it weird? It was, right? I won’t do it again. Maybe.)

It’s a really good feeling. It’s another one of the feelings that fills me up.

Later, IF THE DRIZZLE EVER STOPS DRIZZLING, Sister and I will go up to the cemetery and put the geraniums there in anticipation of Memorial Day on Monday. Someone from the VFW will come by and put a flag in the ground to mark my grandfather’s service on the Texas during the war. According to my aunt, some other people will make the rounds to make sure that the children and grandchildren have been appropriately respectful and have marked the graves with flowers and geraniums. Isn’t that funny?

Old Guy: “I noticed no one put geraniums on Harold’s plot this year.”

Old Guy’s Wife: “Well, his kids have been pretty busy. And that one daughter broke her ankle and can’t get around yet.”

Old Guy: “When I had two broken ankles and a bullet hole while snipers took aim at me, you didn’t see me not putting geraniums on the graves of my elders.”

Old Guy’s Wife: “Very true, dear. There’s really no excuse.”

Anyway, I’ll take a picture later and try not to be maudlin.

But it’s hard, because when you miss someone, there isn’t really anything you can do other than miss them, and wait for the feeling to pass.