Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Maine Island: Variations on a Scene

The island in Casco Bay where my husband's family cottage sits has many moods. I have been coming here for 14 years as summer slides into fall. The slanting light becomes more beautiful each day as the equinox approaches.

Each familiar scene never looks the same twice. Always something is different - the light, the wind, the clouds, the vantage point, the tides that rise and ebb 10 feet every 13 hours. Here are a few favorite photos from the last three years of the East End point. This is the view we see when walking a couple of hundred feet to the stairs that lead to the beach. 

After a rainstorm, the late afternoon sun strikes the white birches that line the shore.

Wind from the northwest brings low dramatic clouds and rockweed is exposed as the tide goes out. 

This view of the East End was taken from halfway down the beach.

A different kind of calm from the photo above. The scene is ethereal at dawn. 

Inviting in the late afternoon.

Violent, yet exhilarating, during tropical storm Irene.

Cold and lonely when the sun goes behind a cloud.

Tonight we'll sit on the point that looks toward the East End and watch the stars. It was here that God began to find me. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lessons Learned: Summer 2012

A few random lessons from a summer in which too much time was spent hiding from heat and mosquitoes:

1. It's almost impossible for me to take a good photo of a crape myrtle. Perhaps because they bloom in July and August when the sun is most glaring? Or because the tiny flowerets that make up their large panicles (I am most likely misusing botanical terms but am in a hurry because I'm packing for Maine) don't like to be focused on? 

I have 15 crape myrtles on my new property - too many, perhaps? They may be the dominant tree in my jungle, with dogwoods and Japanese maples close behind.

2. Hibiscus is a gorgeous plant for containers. I didn't have enough sun at the old house to grow them. I bought a hibiscus tree with yellowing bottom leaves at a big box store for $6.99 and it has flowered non-stop all summer, attracting hummingbirds. I have spent much time entranced by the delicate silky slightly ruffled petals and the perfect flowers that bloom for just one day.

Squirrels have been eating the hibiscus lately, gnawing off the leaves and buds. I never have seen squirrels attack a plant before - dig up plants and dig around plants, yes, but not eating them. Finally, I saw some references on the Internet to squirrels chewing off hibiscus leaves to get moisture.

3. Wild garlic is quite difficult to eradicate. Despite a couple of rounds of hoeing, it keeps coming back. I didn't see any wild garlic in the beds when we looked at the house before buying it. In fact, all the areas in the garden beds that are now infested with weeds were bare. I suspect Roundup was used. 

Bees love the small flowers, though.

4. Be grateful for rain. In a summer when much of the country experienced record droughts, North Carolina had regular rains. During July and August, I rarely had to supply supplemental water. Just as things were beginning to dry out, another thunderstorm rolled through today.

5. The combination of heat and mosquitoes is too much for this gardener. There will be mosquitoes in Maine, but at least I can protect myself from them with jeans and sweatshirts. I miss gardening terribly in July and August - it somehow seems wrong to a former Michigan girl to be trapped inside in the summer. 

I'm linking to Beth at Plant Postings for her meme on Garden Lessons Learned: Summer 2012. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Silent Saturday: Sadness

"But listen to me; for one moment, 
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms 
around you. God."

~ Rumi

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Day's Beginning and End

A mystery hibiscus along the driveway has leapt into bloom. It called me back into the house to get my camera and take photos before leaving for work. The blooms are as big as my hand. The red is spectacular - deep and clear and happy.

At the end of the day, a wicked thunderstorm moved through, assaulting the earth with wind and rain. I was trapped at the exit of the gym for 15 minutes with a small crowd, watching the angry torrents and thinking of extreme weather, global warming and apocalypse. 

By the time I reached home, a magical yellow light infused the sky. Hummingbirds flew at the level of treetops in the golden light.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Sun's Rays

Emerald Isle, N.C. 
I've been in a bit of a dark place lately, waiting for the sun to break in. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Garden Gates

I have always liked garden gates. At my new house, I have four that enclose the side yards on both sides of the house. They give the garden the feel of a secret garden, which I have longed for since childhood when I read English novels that described enclosed and neglected old gardens. 

Below is the deck immediately outside the kitchen door. We may eventually pull out this deck and replace it with kitchen garden beds, because this is the sunniest spot in the yard.

I'm inheriting the structure of a garden made many years ago. One owner lived here for 16 years until about 10 years ago. The perennial beds have been neglected, and I assume many have died, though dozens of daylilies and irises remain. I'll have to wait until next year to see them in bloom. Many saplings have seeded themselves in to the wrong places. But I love the mature "bones" of the garden, much of which is evergreen.  An azalea, large boxwood and what I presume is euonymous flank the gate leading into the front garden.

Here is the view looking in the other direction, toward the back yard. We've been able to place the bird feeder quite close to our kitchen and office window. It took the birds a couple of days to find the feeder, but they now flock to it in larger numbers than I ever saw at the old house.

Here is a gate leading from the back garden into the shady garden on the other side of the house. I'm not sure I'd ever seen a variegated holly before, but now I have one. We also have many mature dogwoods. I haven't yet been able to identify the low-growing, spreading shrub under the dogwood and many other trees on our property. One guess is leucothoe?

It's fun having a new garden to explore. A bit strange, though, to have to get acquainted with an entirely new property. I came to know the soils and sun patterns so well at the old place. 
I have not seen any bluebirds yet, so I put a photo of my former friend the bluebird on the header, as seen on the day before moving day. (Sadly, the movers seemed to have scared the bluebirds, and this was my last sighting.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

New Backyard

A mover commented today while carrying a bench to the new backyard, "How did you find another nature preserve?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saying Goodbye to a Garden

It's been a week of lasts. Last visit to the Carrboro Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning. Last watering of plants in the garden. Last sitting on a bench in the backyard watching birds. Last walks on familiar routes, where I saw deer and red-shouldered hawks. One block from my house, I heard a rustling in the trees along the road. I stopped, waited and a doe emerged, then two tiny fawns, covered in white spots. The doe stood still, looking right at me. I looked back. One fawn and then the other ran to their mother and began nursing.

Later, behind the deer fence, I dug up favorite plants. I felt a slight sense of guilt, even though these are my plants. But the letter of the contract on the house sale says that all plants in the ground are considered part of the property. Shh... Who's to know three or four dozen plants are moving with me? In fact, they're already resting under a pine tree at the new house, where the seller kindly offered to water them.

I took my favorites. Young shrubs that have not yet bloomed - two native azaleas, one pinxterbloom and one 'Clyo Red.' A Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird,' an Ilex sentinel holly, my only surviving blueberry bush. Two Christmas ferns, a few heucheras of purple and green variegated and limegreen foliage, hellebores, a spreading tiarella, three canna lilies ('Bengal Tiger') and a maidenhair fern. Japanese roof lilies, green 'n gold, and monarda, all of which will spread to become sizable patches. There must have been more - I dug for hours and filled two cars with plants, but I am not thinking clearly after days of packing.

More than 30 plants fit in a compact Prius.

I wish I could move the bluebirds with me. I believe the eggs hatched the other day. The male bluebird has been hovering around the box, proudly perching on the box top with fat green caterpillars and later a yellow moth. The bluebird then would fly to a favorite dead branch, eat his meal and return to the box, sometimes disappearing inside. This morning the male kept anxiously peering at the hole after the female went inside with an insect.

Then he disappeared inside the box. I'll miss the bluebirds. I hope bluebirds come live at our house in Raleigh. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brown Pelican Says...

I try to keep my appreciation of nature separate from politics, but sometimes a cause calls. 

If our climate keeps warming at such a rapid pace, the barrier island where I saw this pelican will be underwater. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Carolina Wrens' New Home

Fortunately, there is no reason to decide which is my favorite bird - bluebirds or Carolina wrens. Both are nesting within feet of the front of the house. The wrens began home-building one day last week when the impatiens in the hanging basket grew tall enough to conceal a nest.

Wrens love to hop. One lands on the deck railing and looks up to the flower basket before taking a leap upward.

The nest is fairly obvious (note messy-looking leaf pile) from inside the house, but is well-concealed from the other three sides. The wrens first excavated a hole in the dirt, then brought old, soft leaves to line the nest. It has a side entrance, from which the wren below is exiting.

I presume the mother is sitting on her eggs as I speak. I've been working too much to monitor the nest closely. 

The wrens built their home as we prepare to leave ours. We're moving at the end of the month. I think I envy the birds their lack of possessions. No need for complicated logistics and expensive movers. Select a pot of flowers, move some leaves, and in one day - new home. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Weekend: Birds, Beef and Strawberries

Sometimes the world of busyness becomes overwhelming and I get lost in my head. Do more, do faster, do better! Then I know it's time to move outdoors. 

For the first time in ages I set up the tripod to photograph birds. This year the bluebirds failed to claim their box and a titmouse family moved in. 

Last week we had a scare. The headlights of the car one evening caught the neighbor's cat perched on the top of the bluebird box. I feared a titmouse tragedy, and inspected the ground below, where one tiny white feather rested on the mulch. But the next day the titmice were busy bringing insects, as usual, and disappearing into the hole. Cautiously, I opened the box, ready to photograph the baby birds. The soft mossy nest covered only the bottom third of the box and the little birds were hiding. I was secretly relieved.

The catbirds returned in mid-April. They think the birdbath is theirs.

The garden is lush and green. Not many native plants are in bloom in this lull between spring and summer. But the penstemons catch the morning light. 

I have missed the old routines. My husband and I were finally able to go to the Carrboro farmer's market on Saturday morning and then to the Hogans' farm to buy steaks. 

I like being able to see the cows eating grass or lounging in the shade. The cows were too far from the road to get a decent photo, so I'll go straight to the meat. This grass-fed beef raised by friends is our exception to a vegetarian diet.

Magnolias are already in bloom. It's hard to be sad when smelling a magnolia.

After many weeks of talking about strawberry picking, we finally did it. I need deadlines, and the note on the website of the Whitted Bowers biodynamic farm said this weekend may be the last for strawberries if the heat keeps up. We picked 8 pounds of berries.

They taste as good as they look. I think they're the best strawberries I've ever had.

At the farmer's market, they gave out free packets of pectin for freezer jam. It was easy to make (even for the cooking-impaired).

There is an awful lot of sugar in jam. Best not to dwell on that.

The recipe said it would make 5 8-oz. jars of jam. Hmmm... We also have a ziploc filled with strawberry jam that I decided to exclude from the photo for symmetry's sake.

It would be nice to have a snappy conclusion to this post. But I must get ready to leave the house yet again for another showing. Who requests a showing on Sunday at 5 o'clock? 

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Blooms

I accidentally hit the publish button before writing any text. Perhaps that is fitting. There is too much to say. It is the one-year anniversary of my starting this garden blog. Spring has been stunning - at first too fast, then slower with cooler weather. I am struggling with being a gardener whose house is for sale. Do I put in new plants? Or do the minimum effort necessary to keep the garden looking good? It is sad to know I will have to leave a garden that I have created for the past eight-plus years. (Sometimes, however, the stress of not knowing gets to me and I just want to turn my back on the garden and start a new one, this time with more sun.) 

The garden after many years is maturing to that full, more cottagey effect, with serendipity playing a large part in the garden's look. The columbine, below, self-seeded in profusion among flagstones. 

Tiarella (foamflower) is adorable along the path edges and a long bloomer, though photos never do it justice.

The light transforms a mainly green scene.

Tulips fall from the sky. Usually they are broken and faded, and my husband and I have been known to disparage the "mess" created by poplars. But this one was a gift. I now understand why the tree is called a tulip popular.

Iris cristata has taken over a large swath of shady slope in just 2-3 years.

The stunner in my garden the last two weeks has been the grape-purple columbine of an unknown variety purchased from the farmer's market 2 years ago.

Azaleas are now past their peak, but here are a few photos from a week or so ago.

Japanese roof iris spreads beautifully.  

Bugleweed seeds itself around, but I let it.

More of the purple columbine edging the path.

Green and gold is probably my favorite groundcover. Tough, easy, native, pretty.

Japanese kerria has graceful arching branches. It thrives in part shade and fits a woodland aesthetic. It is past its peak now, but was at its prime a few days ago.