Sunday, January 29, 2006

a warm January afternoon on the porch Posted by Picasa

Balancing brown and green

It has been a warm January. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon sitting on the back porch in the sun. Normally I will cease my composting operation around Christmas and pick it up again in early March. The problem is that it is in January and February that we are inundated with citrus rinds. They make such a sweet compost that I hate to just throw them away. One particularly cold winter, I put them in the freezer until spring. But then there was no room for real food.

So because things have been so mild and because I don’t have to dig a path through snow to the composter, I have been adding plenty to the pile. The problem is, I have only brown leaves so my balance of brown and green is off. The same thing happens in August when all the leaves have been used up and I have nothing but grass clippings around.

Then on a walk last week I spied this young man trimming these green plants that grow around the trees in the nearby shopping center. He happily surrendered a crate full of greens and I have been “in balance” ever since.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Christian Kauffman April 1796 - January 1858 Posted by Picasa

The Kauffman Family Crest
"selbst gesponnen selbst gemacht" Posted by Picasa

a confession

Something Judith said recently about hiding artifacts in her garden reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to confess. I’ve been bringing my ancestors back to the garden.

It all started last spring when I went to Iowa City to find the grave of a triple great grandfather. Christian Kaufmann was born in Pennsylvania at the end of the 18th century and made the most of the expanding opportunity this country had to offer. He rafted down the Ohio River until he found a place that he liked and then WALKED back to PA and brought the family to Dayton, Ohio. His children (there were 14 of them) also caught the westering spirit and headed for Iowa. It was there, in Iowa, that Christian Kauffman was laid to rest in January of 1858.

I had driven that morning from Des Moines and arrived mid-day. I checked in at the cemetery office and was informed that the grave I was seeking was in the old part of the cemetery and that many of the headstones were no longer visible as they had been eroded and had sunk below the ground. Seeing that I was a bit disappointed at that news the supervisor invited me to visit the cemetery’s “special site.” It is a headstone that has been nicknamed “The Black Angel” and it is surrounded by myth and mystery. It seemed quite benign on that spring afternoon.

Next I went off to the “old section” armed with a crude map and after re-orienting myself a few times, I found his headstone. After standing trying to imagine which trees might have been there in January of 1858, a year before his grand-daughter, my great-grandmother Sara Alta Kauffman was born, I went about cleaning up the area around the headstone.

As I was scraping up the bits of leaves around the base of the obelisk I thought, “this would make good compost.” Then it hit me. Why not take this bit of Iowa back east with me and place it in the garden. So I scooped the decomposed leaves into a plastic bag and brought it with me. Early last May I placed it in the parsnip bed. I did the same in Ladbergen this past October, though the soil is still waiting for next spring to be put to work.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

... like fettucini ...

My garden catalogues are stacked neatly in a pile. I am scared to open them. Something bizarre happens in my brain when I start to read them. I seem to lose all perspective on reality.

Last year a friend gave me a book by Susan Watkins called Garden Madness. Her section on gardening catalogues had me weeping with laughter. I finally went out and bought my own copy of the book and, if you find the following even half as funny as I did, I encourage you to do the same. There’s more where this came from.

“It is the dead of winter. You have just stuffed logs into the woodstove for the seventeenth time today, and it is only nine o’clock in the morning. Outside the landscape is as exciting as a piece of yesterday’s butcher paper. With the wind chill factor it is forty-seven degrees below zero. Everything has frozen to death including the fence. You are seriously considering the logic of doing the same. Perhaps you will simply walk to the mailbox naked.

But lo! What is this? A bright shining kaleidoscope beams out of the gloom and into your eye … What is this Fantasia of delight, this Xanadu of prose, this promised fairyland of spring?

Why it is a garden catalog, of course. You shall open it now and, and read it cover to cover. You shall look at every glossy photograph … You shall read every word, believe every claim, desire every seed. You shall contemplate the quickening of your breath, the tingling of your veins, the thumping of your heart, the foreclosing of your mortgage. You shall, in other words, order every single plant in the catalogue. And you shall have absolutely no idea what any of them are by the time your head has cleared and UPS is trundling up your driveway. Not to mention the fact that that all the packaged plants will look exactly the same – like fettucini.

It is early spring now. The UPS man has been to your home one hundred and twenty-five times since March first. He will no longer get out of the truck if you are nearby. Instead, he flings the packages out the door as if he were feeding lions at the zoo. He has a frightened look on his face. You do not blame him. You have a frightened look on your face, too. The garage no longer has room for cars. The local landfill exploded last week, spewing cardboard and excelsior over your tri-county area, and you are solely responsible. You have 9,725 plants to install before next winter, and you are not going to make it. The daylilies in box #316 have been grabbing at your ankles with their roots. Any moment now they will go for your throat. But you are still trying to figure out where to plant all the fettucini in box #65. The name on the label says it is “Eragrostis v. expensivosa as allgettoutti.” But you have no idea what that means. You do not remember what any of these things are, or why you ordered them in the first place. … Some of these plants may kill you on contact. You no longer care.

Outside, it will soon be ninety-seven degrees above zero and humid enough to turn wallpaper to oatmeal. It is out there that you must toil for your sins. You are doomed.”

From Susan Watkins, Garden Madness

Chlorophytum comosum
 Posted by Picasa

Chlorophytum comosum

The flurry of travel has ceased and I am back to a winter’s life. Houseplants and amaryllis will have to fill my days until the seeds start to arrive. Today I tended to a collection of spider plants. These are all descended from a piece of my wedding bouquet. My sister found the baby spider on the church floor more years ago than I want to admit and put it in a pot and gave it to me for Christmas. I have nurtured it with care and have given away its progeny as engagement gifts over the years. It is wonderful to be able to give away growing things.

The “mother plant” is pot bound now and I’m not sure I want to have it in a bigger pot. Perhaps this spring I will try to divide it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A jarring insight

For years I’ve used a phrase for referring to the long ago as “not since ought six.”  It just dawned on me this IS “ought six.”

Saturday, January 14, 2006

a Baobab Tree Posted by Picasa

 Posted by Picasa

El Gecko and his creators Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gecko Fever

The town of Bradenton, FL is experiencing Gecko Fever. I am staying with our friends Chris and Gordon who live in the Village of the Arts. Individual artists living in the Village have decorated nearly fifty 6’ by 2 ½’ fiberglass geckos that are festooning Old Main Street and houses here in the Village.

Before explaining the purpose of the geckos, let me explain the Village. It is a 10 by 4 block section of Bradenton that has been turned into art galleries and studios. What strikes you first when you get into this section of town is the amazing colors of the houses. Only those who work with color for a living would dare paint their houses these amazing combinations of colors. At night when the houses are lighted the Village takes on a magical quality which is now made all the more magical by the geckos. Some are hanging from trees, some are climbing up the sides of houses, and some are clinging to the eaves.

It is all part of a fundraiser for the local Council for the Arts, and local businesses are paying to sponsor a gecko on their place of business. It is fun to be in a place with such playfulness. Later this month the Village celebrates its fifth birthday.

So this morning we helped the owners of The Baobab Tree Gallery and Studio mount their gecko, whose name is “El Gecko,” on the front of their Gallery. If you’re ever in the Tampa/Sarasota area, drop by.

Copper Moon Gecko Posted by Picasa

Freedom Gecko Posted by Picasa

Hot Rod Gecko Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 12, 2006

a visit Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Banyon trees Posted by Picasa

roots of the Banyon tree Posted by Picasa

Staghorn fern Posted by Picasa

A Visit to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

I’ve moved a little further south and west in Florida to Bradenton. Today we visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. There is a stunning epiphyte house with some amazing orchids. I had no idea that epiphytes make up 10% of all plant species. I also saw a staghorn fern that looked as though it had been mounted by a taxidermist.

Out in the grounds the tropical varieties were almost surreal. I was taken especially by the banyon trees that seem to eat up the landscape with their wide trunks and descending root system. Like many outdoor venues, this garden rents out for weddings on the grounds. They have built the wedding pavilion out near the water under a Bo tree (ficus religiosa.) It is said to be the tree under which the Buhdda became enlightened and has been a spot under which many couples have exchanged their vows. When the tree was uprooted when tropical storm Gabrielle struck in 2001, a marine barge helped to upright the tree and it has regained its footing in this sacred space at the end of the garden.

I also added a bottle palm to my list of palm trees and found a handy and inexpensive guide to palms in the bookstore.

the epiphytes (right click and open in separate window to read) Posted by Picasa

a carnivorous nepenthe Posted by Picasa

yellow tiger orchid Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 09, 2006

the 900 pound African iris wrestled to the sidewalk Posted by Picasa

Anne STOPS the spread of the African iris Posted by Picasa

Taming a 900 pound African iris

Yesterday afternoon Anne and I took on the chore of digging up an African iris, dividing it and replanting. The project was made more difficult by the fact that a sprengeri fern had woven itself into the root ball of the iris.

We dug and dug until we could drag the clump out onto the sidewalk . All the while we were trying to keep the corms and the berries of the fern from falling back into the planting hole. Then we hacked away with saws to separate plantable clumps and tease out the sprengeri roots. It was a prodigious task.

Anne will pot up the extra iris and sell them at the nursery.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Our tree house amid the queen palms Posted by Picasa

Steep learning curve

The learning continues in this land of floral abundance. I added some new palms and cycads to the learning list and have started to learn different varieties of crotons. My sister-in-law’s yard is a learning library in its own right. She and her husband started a nursery 12 years ago and all kinds of specimens are growing in her courtyard and on the periphery. I will consider myself well educated if I can just master her yard before I leave.

Our morning walks on the beach are filled with beauty. This morning as we crested the dune, two dolphins jumped out of the water in front of us. The beach is still recovering from the three hurricanes that hit Florida last year. Sometimes we are kept from the beach by the high tide, but this morning it was broad and flat and beckoning. It is the first exercise I have done since I broke my foot in early November and it feels good.

We have been spending a few hours each day out at the nursery. Mostly we weed, but yesterday, with a frost threatening we helped to cover plants with frost cloth. I came across this lovely snail … I wish the picture had come out less blurry.