Umm….Good Morning?

Dispatch from Susan in New Hampshire

Well, I woke up this morning and hearing noises, I thought there were squirrels at the birdseed again.

You see, we had kept the birdseed in a closet in the house (I know rule #1-don’t keep birdseed in the house), but in 17 years we never had pantry moths….until this summer.

We moved the seed outside, but have never had a lid for the can. For some reason we had only thought about squirrels and chipmunks. DUH!

How surprised I was to see this little (OK big) guy enjoying himself on the front porch when I was expecting to look out to find a couple squirrels. He wasn’t even really eating the seed, but rather licking the inside of the can.

I’m not sure what to think about this, but I’m sure we’ll make a little more noise from now on upon leaving the house. He was darn cute though, and very tame, although probably sad that the blueberry harvest has been ongoing and is almost done. Will probably be back for the feeders.

The first picture is a haul from one morning about a week ago. That’s really when he should have been here in the blueberry patch.

He was VERY tame. He heard Mike coming through Tom’s room. That’s the first picture when he looked up. Didn’t even really move.

Lumbered around the yard quite freely and stayed on paths, etc. Seemed very comfortable here and then finally ambled off down the brick path, across the driveway and out into the back woods.










Ed Note: Protected blueberry bushes can be seen in the upper right of the last photo. Susan has seen the bear once since, incidentally quite healthy with a coat of fur that shined in sunlight, checking the porch for the pail and ambling about the yard, undisturbed by clanging and clatter, before wandering into the woods.

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Good to the Last Drop?

etigswallowTuning out the world,  a female eastern tiger swallowtail, missing its “tail,”  sips deep from a brownie boy daylily

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A Day in the Garden

Got to get to that weedy patch today. Absolute priority. It’s gone so long the weeds think they have a right to hobnob with, no, be the boss of and push around my lovelies.

First Detour, but the New Guinea impatiens do need daily watering in high heat

First Detour, but the New Guinea impatiens really do need daily watering in high heat

Someone has already called to ask if we’re going to the public meeting about the wind-farm. But I tell him, no, I’ve set my priority for the day, and nothing will get in my way. (I happen to be in favor of the wind farm.)

Before I get started, though, I really should water the pots with the sweet potato vines, and while I’ve got the hose, I might as well give the new guinea impatiens in the window box a drink. They melt so in this heat, and it’ll only take a minute.

Kwanzo, a stunner but a rogue in southern gardens

Kwanzo, a stunner but a rogue in southern gardens

My goodness, that double orange daylily, Kwanzo, I think it’s called, is almost done blooming. I love it, especially with rudbeckia, but it’s a rogue, always a surprise in the bed. Best dig those four upstarts out now before they drop their last blooms, and I forget they’re not some prize I’m coddling. This’ll only take a minute.

Now where is that shovel, did I forget to put it away again? Nope, it’s actually hanging where it should be.

A daylily favorite, short but with long strong scapes. Casual clethra blooms just behind

A daylily favorite, ‘Mini Pearl’, short but with strong scapes. Casual clethra blooms just behind

This’ll be a snap. Well, sorta, I guess. They happen to have strong roots that are invading the entire bed. No problem, once I wrestle them out, it’ll take no time at all to cut them back, root prune them, and plunk them all in one large pot. Then they’ll be ready — for what, exactly, I’m not sure.

While I’m about those daylilies, I might as well pull out the ugly brown scapes on my favorite growers. It’ll only take a minute because I’m not cutting the plants down, as I often do – they still look too good.

Turns out the fennel has taken over the bed and won't need staking

Turns out the fennel has taken over this bed and won’t need any more staking

Hmmm, these particular scapes seem pretty strong. I wonder if I could use them to prop up that hummingbird clethra that’s sprawling? (It probably is not getting enough sun.) Nope, won’t work. Best find some real metal stakes. Should only take five minutes.

Wouldn’t you know, now that I’ve uncovered the clethra, I find mugwort the thug, that awful chrysanthemum look-alike that weasels its way into every bed. And there’s mugwort’s partner, creepy lizard tail, muscling in. It’s a native that escaped our pond and is now putting down happy little rhizomes. I’ll do a quick pull on both of these and maybe that’ll slow them down. (Dreamer!) Just a couple of minutes.

Doesn't the hosta look good without the persicaria?

Doesn’t the hosta look good without the persicaria?

While I carry the dreaded weeds into quarantine, I see that persicaria ‘red dragon’ has taken over the hosta bed. The combination looked great earlier in the season, for oh, maybe ten minutes, before the persicaria began to prop itself up over the hosta. Won’t take any time to get the pruners and nip and tuck, maybe pull them away.

Oops, too late, that one clump I cut was actually propping up the phlox.

Oops, the phlox need a little help. Pretty color

One cut too many and now the phlox need a little help. Pretty color

Now the phlox need staking. I’m running out of metal stakes, so I have to roam the garden for some I can pull from other plants. What a nuisance, this was only supposed to take a minute.

O dear, the crepe myrtles are wilting. Should have put them in bigger pots, I guess. I’d better stop the stake-hunt now and water them before their buds dry out. But I won’t repot them today, have to stay on track.

The brightest in our garden, but it seems to do better in a pot

Brightest in our garden when in bloom, ‘Dynamite,’ it seems to do better in a pot

Which reminds me, I need to repot the heuchera from Linda so I can keep an eye on it in the porch where it is shaded. Don’t dare plant it out in this hot weather, can’t trust my memory to water on schedule. And the hibiscus Janice dug from her yard –  looking a bit wilted.  Soak it in the pond and put it by the back door so I can watch it. Well, that took no time at all.

Ah, here’s a couple stakes I can take from the fennel, it’s so big now, they can’t hold it back. But what do I see next to it?

Too fast for my eye -- and my camera

Too fast for my eye — and my camera

Bumblebees all over catmint blooms. I really should try to get some pictures. They’re so efficient, and they move so fast – try, reject/sip, fly, try, reject/sip, fly – I can’t keep up with them, but it’s so nice to see them busy and happy. Take just a moment.

Now were did I put those stakes? And what did I want them for?

Bob says there’s a leak in the mister watering system. Should I go help him find it? I’m not crazy about getting soaked.

'Ice Star' shastas dance around the sundial earlier in the season

‘Ice Star’ shastas dance around the sundial earlier in the season

Well, I’ll give him some moral support. While I’m half-heartedly doing the rah-rah thing, I can cut back the nearby shasta daisies. Now where did I leave those pruners?

My eye catches a hint of glitter in the soil. Ah, over there! Closer look, shucks, no, that’s only flowing water. Hey, I yell, here’s the leak, it’s under the yaupon holly hedge. I figure I’m off the hook now and I can go look for the pruners, but no, not until I hold the hedge out of the way while Bob fixes the leak.

Free now to do a pruner-search, I wander the garden, retrace my steps. Let’s see, daylilies, persicaria, clethra, fennel. On my route I find the stakes, so I fix the phlox. That’s something.

Fortunately, there are rudbeckias, need only one grand lopping, and I won't lose my pruners on that job. A single blue mist sharing the territory

Fortunately, rudbeckias need only one grand lopping. I can’t lose my pruners on that job. A single early blue mist shares the territory

Sigh, I’ll never manage my pruners. I garden by holding them in my hot little hand like a security blanket and I carry them everywhere – bad habit — until I put them down without thinking. With luck they are where I remember, but sometimes the memory and the pruners just slip away.

Maybe in this pail of weeds? Nope, but the cultivator is there.

That weedy bed, you ask? Well, you can see I can’t tackle it today, I have an emergency on my hands. That’s tomorrow’s priority . . . perhaps.

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Prom Night

For a brief moment, our garden became the Forest of Arden (though without “the oak, whose boughs were mossed with age”), while Katie and Schuyler strolled its paths. In another time and age, they could have been characters stepping out of one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.

Prom season is here, that gala fifth season tucked between spring and summer that celebrates youth and promise. Juniors anticipate a perfect evening to cap their next-to-last year of high school. Seniors anticipate a last fling before that first summer of the rest of their lives.

Tradition decrees that you wear your best, a special corsage, a boutonniere, a wispy wreath, always fresh flowers that seem never to fade. The high school gym is dressed to the nines and bouncing to the music of your generation. And, of course, there is the memorable after-party with friends.

The rainy spring had produced lush bloom on azaleas, clematis, fringe trees, viburnum and iris, and the woods were deep and green. So, despite its flaws, the garden was appealing, particularly in the evening, when the sun cast gold across the bowers. Still, we’d never thought about our garden — always a work in progress, with wheelbarrows of weeds and carts of cut limbs, and patient lines of plants in limbo — as a setting for prom-goers. Yet neighbor, friend and photographer Pam, who is a gardener herself and has a creative eye, managed to conjure magic from the moment.

I’ll say no more. Let the photos tell the story.

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Spring with Jacques Brel

Just enough insouciance in these magnolia 'Jane' blossoms to match my spring take-off on Jacques Brel's"Brussels"

Just enough insouciance in these magnolia ‘Jane’ blossoms to match my verse below, a take-off on Jacques Brel’s great song about the high life in Brussels before World War I

This is the time for gardens to sing
This is the time for April showers
This is the time when Gardens are King
This is the time when gardeners garden.

Put on your gloves and your high rubber boots
Muck in the mud, don’t trample the shoots
Get out the trowels, tug on the rakes
Pull up the dead, replace all the stakes

Not much time for crowing
How the garden’s growing

There are all those seedlings
There are all those weedlings

I try so hard to make the cut
My knees get black, my back is broke, but
They grow too quick
They grow too thick
How then can I clear out the glut?

Oh, this is the time for gardens to sing
This is the time for April showers
This is the time when Gardens are King
This is the time when gardeners garden.

Buy triple ten and scatter like grape-shot
Unholster the pruners, nip on the spot
Stir up the soil and pile on the compost,
Watch the plants grow and get ready to boast

How those worms are dancing
See those ants advancing

There is too much chewing
I smell trouble brewing

They’re ravenous, they lunch all day
Shred perfect leaves, to my dismay
Those greedy bugs
That swarm of thugs
How then can I keep them at bay?

Oh this is the time for gardens to sing
This is the time for April showers
This is the time when Gardens are King
This is the time when gardeners garden.
Oh, this is the time when gardeners garden. . .

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Chicago for Gardeners

Urban Oases and Millennium Park

Dateline October 2015. Susan and I had both read Erik Larson’s absolutely spellbinding book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that changed America. Our curiosity was piqued. A visit to Chicago was in order.

Administration Building in the White City

Administration Building in the White City

The book chronicles late 19th century Chicago and the turbulent race to create a World’s Fair in 1893 that would put Chicago over the top in the eyes of the world.

The White City, of course, is the Fair; the Devil is an archetype serial killer who fed on the hustle-bustle of the Fair.

Now, why in the world do I bring up this book in a gardening post?

Court of honor with statue of liberty

Court of Honor with Statue of  the Republic

Because Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame designed the Exposition’s landscape? Well, no. Unfortunately, most of what he did has been obliterated (though Jackson Park, the Wooded Island, and Osaka Gardens, features of the fair, are now going through major rehab, with a completion date of 2017, and the American Institute of Architects considers Wooded Island one of 150 great places in Illinois.)

Pen-and-ink view from the obelisk by Louis Griffith

Pen-and-ink view from the obelisk by Louis Griffith

Because we stayed at the old Congress Plaza Hotel, said to be haunted, where the Devil snared victims? Curiously, we never thought about the connection. We booked the hotel because it was inexpensive and convenient: where Michigan meets Congress.

Because the vision that Chicago could eventually live up to its founding motto, “urbs in horto,” or “City in a Garden” was inspired by this World’s Fair? Yes! The Exposition of 1893 was a watershed in city planning that took fire across the country.

Art Institute of Chicago, 1914, one of two buildings remaining from the fair. Note the barren landscape

Art Institute of Chicago, 1914, one of two buildings remaining from the fair. Note the barren landscape

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Daniel H. Burnham, Director of Works, World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893. Burnham married himself to his credo. He committed years to bringing about an Exposition that dazzled the world. The magic of the White City stretched imaginations and inspired visions of what cities could look like.

Skyscrapers rise above the gardens in Millennium Park

Skyscrapers rise above gardens in Millennium Park

Instead of soot and noise, planners and people began to dream of light and beauty in cityscapes. A City Beautiful movement sprang up, and Daniel Burnham designed a plan for Chicago that would replace railroad sidings and stockyards with a ribbon of lake shore parks for people — concert goers, baseball fans, art lovers, ice skaters, strollers and picnickers, and gardeners, too. Today, there are 570 parks in Chicago covering 8,000 acres.

Panicle hydrangeas, sweet potato vines, grasses and flowering trees punctuate the islands along Michigan Ave

Panicle hydrangeas and flowering trees, anchor grasses, perennials, annuals in island beds along Michigan Ave

We wondered what we’d see in October. We stepped out of our hotel on to Michigan Avenue, just minutes from the Chicago Art Institute.

Despite risk of attack by brigades of revved motors, we had to stop and photograph exuberant islands of plants dividing the grand boulevard, inspired, we learned later, by the City Beautiful movement.

Plant palettes range from grasses to exotics, hedges to hydrangeas.

Curb appeal for skyscrapers: paniculata hydrangeas and cotoneaster

Curb appeal for skyscrapers: paniculata hydrangeas and cotoneaster

We would see these combinations repeated in oases across the city, lovely garden islands punctuating concrete.

Blooms on paniculata hydrangeas, a staple in these gardens, were muted now, but tropicals were bold and flambuoyant.
We guessed we would see a lot.

(After an all-day marathon in the Art Institute.)

Evergreen hedges acts as foils for bright herbaceous plants

Evergreen hedges acts as foils for bright herbaceous plants in Millennium Park

We drifted into Millennium Park, a slice of Grant Park, and what a slice! We were drawn not so much by tourist imperative, but by its inviting design and lovely plantings.

It’s the newest and most visited addition to the lake shore greenbelt, and it’s hard to believe it tops a 2,000-car parking garage, which, in turn, is stacked above Illinois Central railroad lines and a Meta station. So, Chicagoans didn’t eliminate railroads along the lake shore. They just hid them, along with the memories of industrial wastelands that sullied once pristine wetlands.

An island in the park

An island in the park

This is a classy park. It should be. Fully half of the roughly 500 mill it cost came from Chicago biggies: the McCormick Foundation, Boeing, Chase, Wrigley, the Hyatt Hotels family and the Crown Family.

There were 91 million-dollar-plus donors, including McDonald’s, AT&T and BP. Here is an outstanding example of public-private partnership that worked despite fits of acrimony and charges of cronyism.

The Bean

The Bean

Anchoring the north end of the park is the mammoth, ultra modern, ultra popular Pritzker amphitheatre, a complex structure of steel plates arcing over a manicured playground for concert goers.

Walk south a few minutes and you come to The Bean. It’s so beloved by Chicagoans that its formal name, Cloud Gate, is rarely heard. What fun!

It’s a gathering place for tourists and anyone else who wants to see the city – and themselves – reflected in — a gigantic bean (or cloud) of highly polished steel plates.

Classicism mingles with modern and whimsical in this park

Classicism mingles with modern and whimsical in this park

Then there is Crown Fountain, more fun: two fifty-foot towers of streaming water separated by a long narrow pool that invites toe-dabbling in nice weather.

Giant videos on the towers paint glowing portraits of Chicago residents while water cascades.

Some crafty humor here. If you are patient, you will see lips pucker and spit before one image dissolves and another appears.

CGmpstatYes, lots of steel and stone and pavement here. But it’s the landscaping that carries the park. More than a strategic grace note to surrounding structure, the planting pulls us along.

Without intruding, it flows and unites, imperceptibly leads us, and finally, invites us to set a spell, guiltless, in a busy city.

For more about our visit to Chicago, see our previous post, Under the Garden Spade, and our pages in Great Gardens: Chicago: Botanic Garden and Chicago: Lurie Garden.

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Under the Garden Spade

Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole is quite the adventure, but it wasn’t much different from winding through the maze that lies a few inches beneath our garden spades.

Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

19th century Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago backed by 20th century skyscrapers

Of course, if you really want to follow Alice, there is this niggling problem of size. Alice, you may remember, drank from mysterious bottles, or ate cakes made from pebbles, or nibbled pieces of mushroom to change her size. Well, consuming items that do not have dietary labels or wear dates is not my cup of tea (reference to “Alice” intended).

Happily, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago opens up these wonders with no suspicious toxins in an exhibit called Dig It.

The patina of age and exploration and scholarship lies in these cabinets

The patina of age and exploration and scholarship lies in these cabinets

We didn’t intend to Dig It. We wanted to compare this midwest gem of a museum with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, our stomping grounds of years back.

Yup, it’s just as grand, maybe even more spacious, with arches and vaulted ceilings and balconies in the atrium, fine old display cabinets of polished cherry wood, and dioramas that carried us to magic-carpet destinations, and, oh, those gemstones.

Say hello to Sue, who is 73 million years old but who died when she/he was 28.

Say hello to Sue

We wanted to meet Sue, too. It turns out that Sue is a Tyrannosaurus rex of superlatives: the largest, the most complete, the best preserved, the most famous.

Nobody knows if Sue was a boy or a girl. She’s called Sue because a Sue (Hendrickson) discovered her while examining a cliff in South Dakota. Here is a picture of the 67-million-year-old Sue. She was 28 years old when she died.

We enter the tunnel

We enter the tunnel

All this was a lot to absorb, so we decided a bathroom break was in order, which is when we discovered Dig It.

Curiouser and curiouser we followed the signs and wound through a special tunnel of imagination that shrank us down to the size of a penny, or maybe less, all without strange potions.

What Susan and I saw there was the invisible life in the subway of our gardens. What surprises us most? The creatures we meet are every bit as fantastic as Alice’s acquaintances. There’s one BIG difference, though. All these creatures play a role in creating or enriching soil. They mine, they dig, they transform nitrogen, or they are undertakers, disposing of the dead.

The Shrink Chamber

The Shrink Chamber

There’s a fierce, devoted mama earwig who seals herself underground to feed her babies and lick them clean, all twenty or thirty, or more of them. That ominous tail? She rattles it to warn trespassers away.

There are ants, true miners of the soil, thousands of them nesting in networks of tunnels, stirring up the soil like earthworms, bringing minerals to plant roots.

There’s a mole cricket who was born to dig, front feet shaped like shovels that breast stroke through the soil, creating winding tunnels to find worms and grubs to eat — or to keep from being eaten — or even to sing to a female.

Smaller than a penny, Museum photo

Smaller than a penny, Museum photo

There’s a wolf spider who commutes from burrow to daylight to find food. In Dig It he’s ready to suck the insides of a June beetle larvae, a fat white grub with stubby legs who would otherwise molt successfully and live as an adult above ground.

There’s a messy-looking rotten root, fungi and bacteria busy digesting it, mites and springtails grazing on the decomposers, and predators like a rove beetle hunting the grazers. Here is the underground food web in action.

There are rhizobia, not creatures, but unsung soil bacteria living in roots of plants. They transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants like peas and beans can use.

There is a crayfish who looks like a giant lobster, and who, in real life, will burrow down to the water table so he can bathe his gills in water and get the oxygen he needs.

But don’t take our word for it. Have a look for yourself.

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