Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surprised by Joy

I am, of course, not the first to use this phrase. Wordsworth used it as the title of a poem in which he describes being struck by something wonderful and turning to share it with his daughter, who unfortunately, had died long before. The rest of the poem is a lament on her loss.

C.S. Lewis, too, used it as a title. It was for his autobiography, primarily about his search for the moment at which longing has been satisfied. Curiously enough, after he published the manuscript he met and married a woman named Joy, and his friends claimed that he had, indeed, been surprised by Joy.

I have to borrow their words for what happened to me today on two separate occasions. I had been working in the vegetable garden, harvesting the last of my first potato sowing. As is my habit, I loaded them into a container that had drainage holes and headed back to the house to rinse them with the hose. I placed the colander on the back porch, and when I turned to reach for the hose, my eyes alighted on the rusty red daylilies blooming in a small bed at the family room chimney and then on to the Zebra grass and Japanese maple beyond. It may seem strange for people to read this, but I suddenly drew breath and felt like I might cry. The beauty of the scene was overwhelming. I thought about how strange it was, wondered if anyone else would feel the same way or merely ask what was so special about the view. But the feeling did not leave me. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I felt as if I had touched (or had been touched by) the miracle of existence. I felt privileged to have had some hand in the making of such a view.

Maybe it's not so overwhelming to anyone
else, but there it is

Once I had rinsed all of the dirt off of the potatoes, I headed to one of the front flower beds to deadhead. Again, in the midst of this, I was struck by another beautiful moment. A small moth was devouring the nectar provided by a Gaura 'Lindheimerei' flower.

He sat so patiently

As I tried to find the best perspective for the camera, I caught another amazing sight in the viewfinder. A ladybug was scrambling up a nearby shoot. Again, I was surprised by an overwhelming feeling of awe to have been witness to this.

There she is, just to the right of the moth

Some may call me altogether too easily impressed, but this is what happens when you tend a garden. You notice the little things that suggest you're part of something so much bigger and miraculous than you ever imagined.

And in case anyone is wondering, I do, indeed, walk around with my camera thrown across my torso. I never know when I might be surprised by joy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Pergola Garden Revival

Since we bought this property two years ago, I have wanted to give it a name. This all started with a trip to the Cotswolds in 2013. So many properties we visited or walked past had lovely wooden signs announcing their identity, and they had nothing having to do with the owners' names. They were descriptors of the places, and I thought they gave them additional character. 

Here's an example

For a while, I was lobbying for Dixter Grange because Great Dixter is my favorite garden, and the word grange seemed to describe our property quite well (a country house with farm buildings attached). We have buildings and structures aplenty around here. While I have always loved the barn, the rest of the structures have been a little less pleasing. They have potential, but they look so tired, largely from their grey wash stain. The pergola is one such structure that has bothered me a bit.

Here's the sad pergola sitting in an overgrown mess

Once we had cleared the lower tier of the garden next to the pergola last year, I started planting the area and creating a relaxing shade garden. Its tidied appearance drew me out on a few days this spring. I stretched out on the small bench to grade portfolios and enjoy the beautiful weather. That made me wish I had an even better, more comfortable space, so I set about creating one. That, my friends, proved to be a very slippery slope. 

It began with changing the color of the pergola stain. That made the pergola look better but the slab beneath all the more tired. So I stained the slab. Then the abandoned lanterns bothered me, so I scrubbed them clean, painted them copper, and moved them to the inside of the posts, along with two of my own lanterns that I cleaned and painted to match. Then I deemed the bench too small. So I built an enormous bench, 6.5 feet long by 2.5 feet wide. I modified a design by Ana White so that I could have more of a daybed, and I used 2x6s for the main frame so that I could put a lid on the seat and make a storage area for the cushions. It cost $170, which is $20 over my budget, but after much building, staining, and sewing, I really am pleased with the transformation. It's now a comfortable, inviting place to find some shade during the day.

It barely resembles its former self

The fountain makes this a really relaxing space
And at night, it has a whole other atmosphere. I wrapped the sphere in the center with solar lights. Although I would prefer a warmer color to the lights, I do like what they add to the space. 

There's a little someone who clearly approves the changes,
probably because the cushions are so comfortable

Now all we have to do is clear the upper tier of the garden, which will take some doing since there's poison ivy running throughout, and we're both terribly allergic. It's a job that needs to be done this summer, though.

And we still need to come up with a good name for the property.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three Days of Selective Harvesting

The heat is making me wilt these days. Luckily, things in the veg patch seem to be getting along just fine. Here's a brief pictorial update of what I'm starting to harvest. Looks like I'm having roasted root vegetables for dinner tonight.

Tuesday: The last of the garlic

Wednesday: First of the Purple Viking
and Rose Finn Apple fingerling potatoes

Thursday: Root Veg Melange (with one
carrot that must have hit a hard spot)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Teetering on the Edge

I have been worrying lately that I make gardening seem like it's all sunshine and butterflies. It often is that, but I don't want to give the impression that there aren't some disappointments and sacrifices. Beautiful low-maintenance gardens may exist, but I'm not personally aware of them. In fact, I tend to subscribe to the legendary Christopher Lloyd's maxim that "low maintenance is low braintenance." A garden needs attention--sometimes a great deal of attention. In the last few weeks, for example, we've been coping with yet another drought. While we watch the margins of the pond recede rapidly yet again, I carefully monitor how dry the soil is around the plants. I watch for signs that they are under stress as a means of minimizing any damage they might suffer. Pests and diseases most often attack plants that are struggling.

Even under all of my fussing and care, the garden has begun announcing that it is under siege, and I am now springing into action. The first worrying signs appeared on my purple verbena and my thyme. They seemed to be bleaching in the sun, their leaves lighter and spotty. Leaning in for a closer look, I discovered the culprit--spider mites. For the organic gardener, the only thing to do is reach for the Neem oil.

Study the leaves carefully, and you'll see that the one in the
center is showing the signs of spider mites

Luckily, the damage is not catastrophic just yet, and armed with my sprayer of Neem oil and water, I will be doing battle with those dreaded mites. 

The lower leaves may be damaged, but I'm encouraged by
the condition of the new leaves

The other pest that is attacking a wide array of plants is the loathsome Japanese beetle. When I first saw them on my David Austin rose 'Olivia,' I picked them off and stepped on them. This was when there were just a few. Now they are absolutely rampant. 

Here's 'Olivia' with her unwanted guests tucked away within
her petals

It's turned into a dirty Japanese beetle condo!

They, too, will get an evening spray of Neem oil, but as there are so many of them, I have to employ a two-pronged attack this year. In the mornings, I go out with a jar of soapy water, pick off the beetles, and drop them into their sudsy, watery grave...with great satisfaction.

One seems to be a little heavy...

Since I don't want to struggle for years to come, I will be spreading beneficial nematodes and an inoculation of milky spore. They proved very helpful when we had this problem before, which was when we lived in this area 10 years ago.

It's not all bad news this week, though. As I carefully comb over the garden for the unwanted pests, I have found so many other wonderful creatures.

A tiny frog rests amid the Hydrangea 'Limelight' foliage

I love watching the flowers of Gaura 'lindheimerei' bending and bouncing as a bumblebee grabs on for a taste of nectar.

These fellas are hard to capture on camera

Even though the garden is teetering on the edge of greatness or disaster at present, I'm feeling like we're still leaning toward greatness. The first blooms of Leucanthemum 'Becky' and the wonderful, showy heads of Allium sphaerocephalon are keeping my hopes up and encouraging me to fighting the good fight.

Hello, 'Becky'!

As soon as these opened, I ordered a
bunch more!