January 29, 2012

Versatility during the ‘dog days’ of winter

Usually, the term “dog days” is associated with the hottest, muggiest days of summer. But one Merriam-Webster definition of the term is “a period of stagnation or inactivity.” In this climate, in this part of the world, at this time of year, we’re in the dog days of winter.

The scene outside my window—as pretty as it is—doesn’t change much from day to day.

So when I received a note from Helene at Graphicality-UK, saying she had awarded me the “Versatile Blogger Award,” it made my day. In fact, it pretty much made my week!

Thank you, Helene!

Without further ado, here are the rules of the award:

·  Post the Versatile Blogger Award. Check.

·  Thank the blogger who nominated you with a link back to their blog. Thanks, again, Helene!

·  In the same post, share seven completely random pieces of information about yourself. Hmmm, let’s see:

  1. I’m a plant geek. I suppose that’s obvious, but I’m realizing I was pretty much born this way.
  2. I don’t always remember the Latin or even the common names of the plants I love, but I do my best. This blog helps me to keep track.
  3. I avoid the cold as much as possible. Funny, I know, from someone who grew up in the Midwest, but I’ve had frostbite a few too many times.
  4. I’m a former member of a Monty Python fan club. (This is supposed to be a random list, right?)
  5. I like to crochet—basic patterns, like scarves and afghans.
  6. I try to escape to a warm place in late winter if I can—this year it will be a trip to New Orleans in March. Bring on the Beignets!
  7. I’d pick toasted marshmallows and a campfire over a formal dinner party any day!
·  In the same post, include this set of rules. Check.

·  Forward this award to 15 fellow bloggers, and inform them with a comment on each of their blogs. Here’s my list:

Janet at Plantaliscious. Her posts about her pastoral setting in England and her adventures with her allotment garden are always a delight.

Kathleen at Kasey’s Korner. She’s an absolute pro with macro shots of her fabulous Orchids, Amaryllis, Hibiscus, and other indoor blooming plants. And her outdoor gardens are incredible, too.

TS at Casa Mariposa. A schoolteacher by day, she manages to mix humor, whimsy, and great photos into her very engaging posts.

Scott at Rhone Street Gardens. He has a way with capturing the simplest things and making them look exquisite. Truly a great photographer!

Joey at the Village Voice. Joey creates magical mosaics and special-effects photos that take my breath away, always combined with words of wisdom.

Donna at Gardens Eye View. A published author, poet, and photographer, Donna includes great advice and inspiration in every post.

Cat at The Whimsical Gardener. Many of my visits to Cat’s blog have been accompanied by sighs of wonder. She, too, can transform simple subjects into works of art through her lens.

Layanee at Ledge and Gardens. Layanee’s blog is warm and welcoming and very creative. I always enjoy visits to Ledge and Gardens.

Elly at Een kleine idylle. Neat and tidy graceful scenes of fresh interiors and exteriors—you’ll find these and more magic at Elly’s blog.

Dona at La Terrazza. Scenes from Venice and other Italian destinations remind me of the unequaled beauty of that part of the world.

Sheila at Green Place. Sheila has a way of looking at gardening and nature that is unique and comfortable at the same time. It’s hard to explain, but I love her blog.

Diane at Diane’s Texas Garden. Most visits to Diane’s blog result in a trip to the kitchen for a snack. Her stories about her fertile garden and mouth-watering photos of food preparation always whet my appetite.

Ginny at Welcome to Ginny’s Garden. Ginny is versatile with her blog post subjects. I think of North Carolina as the perfect setting for a gardener.

Rose at Prairie Rose’s Garden. A fellow Midwesterner, Rose is one step ahead of me in the springtime. When she starts posting about spring blooms, I know it’s just around the corner for me.

Julia at Polka Dot Galoshes. This blog is definitely versatile and whimsical. Julia has a unique take on gardening, garden design, and the special challenges of the Seattle climate.

Some of these blogs may have already received the Versatile Blogger Award—they all deserve it! As do so many others—some of whom are listed on the blogroll on the right side of this page. I didn’t include blogs I knew had already received the award. And of course, there are just so many wonderful blogs to visit. Narrowing it down to 15 was somewhat of a “just do it” exercise.

I’m so honored by Helene’s generosity and thrilled to be included in this wonderful family of talented gardener/bloggers. Cheers to all of you!

January 25, 2012

From the heavens to the earth

Sometimes the gems we seek can be elusive. Other times, grace delivers unexpected treasures when we least expect them.

I was feeling a little under the weather earlier this week—a touch of the stomach flu and the winter blahs, a pretty powerful combination that knocked me out of commission. As I started to come out of it, I read an article about the aurora borealis, or northern lights, and how we might be able to catch a glimpse of them here in southern Wisconsin.

So the hubby and I set out to find a dark spot away from the city to try to catch a view. I’ve only seen them a couple of times. One time, they were shimmering, undulating ribbons of white across the sky. The other time, the movement wasn’t as dramatic but the colors were vibrant and indescribable.

I wish I could tell you we saw an amazing display this time. We think maybe we did see the northern lights, but they were very faint. We were probably too close to the city (even though we were on a very dark country road), and too far south.

The quest was fun anyway. It’s always healthy to get out of the house when you have cabin fever and simply want do something different. But an amazing view of the northern lights—nah.

If you want to see photos that come close to capturing the magic of the aurora, check out New Aurora Pictures: Solar Storms Trigger Northern Lights from nationalgeographic.com.

But when I got home, I decided to do a little plant research. (Nice segue, huh? But its what actually happened.) I stumbled across a picture of a plant that I’d been trying to ID since last April. There it was right in front of me—and I hadn’t even tried to find it this time. The plant:

Hydrophyllum virginianum

It was Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum). Last April, I decided to spend more time in the wooded part of our property—to identify spring ephemerals and wildflowers. The Waterleaf was a plant I’d photographed but was unable to identify—until last night!

Others I found last spring (some of which Ive already blogged about) included Common Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)…

Ranunculus acris

Sweet Woodruff (Gallum odoratum)…

Gallum odoratum

And a personal favorite, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis).

Sanguinaria Canadensis

I remember the day and the moment I discovered the Bloodroot. I was simply taking a quick stroll in the woods, when I captured the bright white of the tiny buds out of the corner of my eye. They were clustered around the base of a tree—sticking up no more than a few inches from the leaf-littered forest floor.

What can I say? It was just one of those fleeting moments of pure joy when you discover a miracle that has been right under your nose for a long time, but now you actually see it and appreciate it.

I found another plant in the woods last April that I know I should be able to identify. I remember seeing it in a horticultural class I took a few years back, but I can’t remember the name. Can you?

I can’t wait to get back in the woods to find more wildflowers this spring! I know the treasures are there—just waiting for me to discover them!

I’m joining Gail at Clay and Limestone for Wildflower Wednesday, and although I’m late, I’m also linking in to Pam’s Foliage Follow-Up at Digging. Thanks to both of them for hosting these great memes!

January 19, 2012

The roots of American gardening

Most Americans list among their ancestors at least one line of immigrant farmers. For me, that’s true on both sides of the family. So reading Marcia Carmichael’s book “Putting Down Roots” is a way to connect with the lives of great-grandparents and the generations before them.

I'm joining Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys for her new book review meme. Even though my parents were the first family members to live in Wisconsin, previous generations mainly settled in the Midwest, so their experiences were likely very similar to those described in the book.

Marcia is the historical gardener at Old World Wisconsin—the Wisconsin Historical Society’s largest (576 acres) living-history museum near Eagle, Wis. My parents work at Old World, and they bought me a copy of the book.

One fun aspect of Marcia’s book is the way she organizes each section by country of origin. For example, the section about German immigrants starts with information about the typical German settler garden, and closes with a companion chapter featuring German recipes.

Sprinkled throughout are beautiful full-color photos of Old World’s gardens,

sidebar stories about early settler gardening tools,

techniques for root cellar storage,

companion planting suggestions, and other windows into the world of our settler forebears.

This is a great resource for any gardener, but especially for those interested in heirloom and organic gardening and the history of early American farming and gardening practices. Oh, and of course, cooks and bakers will enjoy this book, too. Here’s just one example of the numerous unique recipes:


Turnip and Potato Whip

Potatoes and turnips appeared frequently in the garden and on the table. They join other flavors in this simple and popular recipe.

3 cups peeled and cubed turnips
3 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste
hot milk or cream

Cook turnips, potatoes, and onion in salted water until tender. Drain and dry. Mash quickly together with butter and seasoning, add hot milk, and cream until fluffy.


(Please visit Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys for more book reviews and recommendations.)

January 17, 2012

Time to hibernate

We’re heading for a high of 7 degrees F on Thursday, with intermittent flurries throughout the week. But the other day when the temps were a little milder, I jaunted outside to snap a few shots of the evergreens coated in snow and ice.

The rabbits are hiding out now in their favorite bushes.

The Lamium is cuddling around the base of the picnic table.

The bench on the front porch reminds me of summer days I spent there with a cool drink in hand.

The precious Hellebores are tucked under a warm blanket of snow, just waiting for warmth and their chance to unfurl.

The wood pile is ready for a toasty fire.

And Ginger and Oreo are waiting for me to grab a good book and cuddle up on the couch.

January 13, 2012

It’s winter and I’m OK with that

Most winters about this time, you’d find me complaining about the weather. But the truth is, I’d miss the snow if it passed us by completely. On Thursday, we had our first snowstorm of the season and it left us with a bright, crystalline covering of frosting on the landscape. Luckily, I’d decided to telecommute and I took a short break to check out the scene.

It had me feeling like a kid again…photographing leaves under snow and leaf impressions left by the snow.

Capturing backyard scenes with no snow blowing across the field of vision, and the same scenes with feathery snowflakes in the foreground.

Snapping shots of blowing flakes at various focal depths.

When I was a young adult, I spent a fabulous summer in Southern California. Guess what solicited the greatest feelings of homesickness? Get ready to snicker…

Watching the snowy movie, “Jeremiah Johnson” by myself on a hot summer day! It wasn’t even winter, but just the idea of spending a winter without snow had me hankering for the Midwest! I’ve never experienced a winter without snow. It just wouldn’t be right!

January 08, 2012

Plant of the month:
Purple Wintercreeper

Some plants in my garden confound me—perhaps none more so than Euonymus fortunei coloratus, commonly called Purple Wintercreeper. Not every “plant of the month” is a happy-go-lucky, go-out-and-plant-this recommendation. I can’t recommend this one with a clear conscience.

Then again I personally am not particularly frustrated with Purple Wintercreeper. In fact, it’s a lovely, carefree groundcover confined to just one section of my garden—spilling over the stone wall of a raised bed.

It’s one of those fun chameleon-like plants that changes with the seasons and the lighting.

According to Ohio State University, Purple Wintercreeper:

* Is native to China;
* Grows well in zones 5 to 9;
* Thrives in full sun to part shade; and
* Prefers moist, well-drained soils, yet tolerates poor soils.

But it’s a non-native invasive in this part of the world. So I feel guilty about allowing it to continue growing in my garden. I posted about a year ago regarding my personal philosophies on non-natives and garden zones. I’m comfortable planting some non-native perennials in select areas of the garden.

But reading that Purple Wintercreeper, left unchecked, crowds out native plants in the eastern U.S., gives me pause. I didn’t plant it here, but does that make me any less responsible for its growth?

With my busy family and work schedule up to this point in my life, I haven’t had time to deal with it. But maybe this spring is the time to dig it up. I have two problems with this challenge, though. Purple Wintercreeper is:

1. Extremely difficult to eradicate, according to many sources; and
2. One of the most carefree and interesting four-season plants in my garden.

Various botanical institutions weigh in on the merits and drawbacks of Euonymus fortunei coloratus, including:

I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do with the Purple Wintercreeper in my garden. But during this mild, brown/gray winter, I’m enjoying its many colors.