Life one bite at a time…….

Category: Garden

Pilgrim’s Progress

Every newcomer gets the same schpiel. There was nothing here when we moved in, except mature trees.  It’s hard to internalize the work, plants and time altering this homeplace. Time and an eroded memory made me start to question what progress indeed has been.  There has certainly been a lot of back and forth in this dance, but how much ground has really been covered?

I stumbled across some pictures of my little arboretum, taken about the time it was purchased, early May, 2000.  The house was purchased more for the possibilities and the amenities than curb appeal.



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Stick built in 1960, one of the first in this new country estate plat outside of Dayton.  Cedar and brick, definitely mid century modern, but also with some hollas out to Frank Lloyd and the early century brotherhood.  A project house, inside and out.

Outside there were oaks, locusts, linden and silver maples.  Apparently the folks from whom we purchased had been told to boost the curb appeal.  Curb appeal translated into purchasing eight very small boxwoods and plopping them around the drip line of the house.  One of the first changes I inflicted was moving those boxwoods into a hedge on the east side of the house.  About the time they reached maturity, they were heavily infested with white fly and mites.  I have learned to hate boxwood and will never willingly have them in my landscape.

What a difference a decade (or so) has made.

This space became my outlet, my sanctuary.  Two sides of my roughly acre lot have mixed plantings, 200′ x 6′. (I learned Great Dixter’s beds are 200X20, I need to catch up).  Beds now surround the house and all the trees.  A particularly wooded area with an ancient crab apple, now sorely in decline, has been embraced with shade lovers.  A lot of sweat, trial and error, time and ………. dollars.  “Estate” trees, code for self seeding volunteers, redbuds were moved to the west side along the drive, alternating with limelight hydrangeas.  Fast growers, the redbuds have created quite a screen.  Giving weight and age to a blank slate. The west side of the house almost unrecognizable compared to it’s year 2000 genesis.


The year Hurricane Ike exacted vengeance on Ohio, a 50 foot scraggly white pine was lost, luckily taking nothing else with it.   In its wake, an opportunity to “spruce’ up this island bed in the front of the house. While it took a couple iterations to get it right, it’s now filled with mahogany leaved paper birch, witchhazels and grasses.


The borders I added on two long sides of the property were achieved with massive amounts of chopped fall leaves and layers of cardboard.  The plantings are mixed.  Lilacs, roses of sharon, nine bark creating the backbone; shrubs and sub shrubs like caryopteris, mock orange, daphne and roses filling in at their feet. This doesn’t comprise all the plants but these are the repeaters that I use throughout the beds.


Terraces were built in back, since the house had been built on a “hump” on a sloping plot.  Impossible to mow safely, the hump had to be eliminated.   The base of the terrace is over 120′ feet long.  Built from those easy construct-a-wall cement “locking” blocks, pushed a cart load at a time by me. Each block weighing about 22 pounds, I could haul nine of them at a time.  Built after work and on weekends, it took quite a few months to complete.

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The terraces had to have plants capable of transitioning from “bright” shade to six hours of brutal western sun exposure.  The shade part was easy: hosta, a few spring bulbs, hellebores, jack in the pulpit, ferns.  But as it moves west, becomes exceedingly more difficult.  Some sedums worked, a couple of fairy roses held on, tall phlox pretty much overran everything.  I am still trying to work out a mix.

I’ve added trees.  Beyond being a tree-hugger, I am tree lover.  Given a space big enough, I believe I could populate it with every tree I encountered!  To date I’ve added three beautiful columnar red birches called “Obelisk”, variegated dogwoods, a couple of columnar hornbeams and some big leaf magnolias.  Future trees will have to be in pots; as I age the pots I create are becoming more and more of an issue.  Glutton for punishment, I bought tiny japanese maples late last year, so I’m not out of the “woods” yet!

A couple of years ago, I turned to the house.  Window boxes were installed.  Five, each five feet long and roughly a foot wide.  Transformative!

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This year was a banner year in many ways.  After five years of searching for a me place,  I decided to stay in the one I already created.  During those years I had held back on doing much in the garden beyond maintenance.  With the decision to stay, came the decision to take on two areas that had long been a burr in my saddle.  They were begging for a facelift and I had ignored their pleas.  So, I ordered three dump truck loads of leaves from the township, which delivered them free!  Leaves and cardboard were spread, deep enough to retard the grass underneath.  As my neighbors chased every leaf from their lawns with leaf blowers, I cheered the arrival of dump trucks full of them.


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Since visiting Yew Dell Gardens near Louisville several years ago, I have been madly in love with paper bark maples.  Rarely seen in any landscape, especially a suburban one.  Smaller trees, with great fall color.  The real attraction is exfoliating bark, colorful and crazy and marvelous.  This year I attended a local garden show and like a bolt from heaven two vendors had two different types. There were dwarf brooms possibly attaining 5-10 feet and then a “normal” one topping out at about 20′.  All of them came home with me,  the dwarf brooms becoming specimens in my new curbside bed along with grasses shared from other spots in the garden.  I went crazy with bulbs, a friend shared poppy starts and I found some amazing scratch and dent roses for $2 each.


Progress, progress indeed!





Gardening, from Eden

I have been reading a lovely book, Deep-Rooted Wisdom by Augustus Jenkins Farmer, a multi-generational gardener.  He speaks to the slow way, the older way of gardening and gardeners.  Ways not only pragmatic, but in the new lingo, sustainable, renewable, cost effective. Taught how to root plants, save seeds, and plant by his mother, friends, grandparents, father and others.  It sends tremors through my psychic web, and not in the supernatural sense.  Many of these techniques I have been doing myself, in a vacuum.

While I have read quite a bit about gardening, in books and periodicals, these techniques are generally not covered and certainly not “condoned” by the folks running the Master Gardener’s course I completed.  My Mom has always loved plants and we certainly had a decent sized vegetable garden for a time in my childhood.  I cannot recall any gardening lessons, just the eating ones, picking a fresh tomato and sitting in the garden with the salt shaker eating it right off the vine.  So, from what ether did my psyche pull these tricks?

A work table in my garage near the back door simultaneously has pieces from projects completed and not so much, other detritus working its way to the shed or into the basement; a backdoor catch all.  It’s also the place where flotsam from houseplants and garden converge.  Used pots, fertilizer, drainage dishes, seeds.  Jars and envelops of seeds; sometimes in paper bags, sometimes on paper towels, paper plates.  Not too long ago, electricians were in house, working on the never ending remodeling projects.  One of them commented on a paper plate by the backdoor, filled with the seeds from a Eucomis that bloomed prolifically last summer.  A pineapple lily called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.  As each flowering stem waned, I harvested it.  The flower spikes are very long and covered with seed pods, the best option for allowing them to dry out without losing any seed was a paper plate. So my trove of eucomis seed ended up by the back door, awaiting my next move.  The electrician, probably about my age, said he hadn’t seen anyone save off seed like that since his grandfather.

I cannot have florists roses in my home without the overwhelming desire to cut they little heads off and root them, especially if the stem shows some fecundity.  I have rooted enough roses this way, with nubile young stems cut from other roses, including those rustled from parking lots and ditches, to know that I have about a 50% rate of return.  According to Mr. Farmer, that’s 100% success.  I stumbled across this technique quite by accident, and then found out within my circle of acquaintances, their grandparents did this.

Shrubs, like forsythia, oak leaf hydrangea, roses taught me other lessons.  These are natural self-peggers, rooting where branches and stems fall to ground level. I gave an assist to these “under gardeners” to create plants to spread throughout my garden, adding to its cohesion.  Repeated plants giving the eye a sense of continuation, familiarity as one travels through the garden. A neighborhood of relatives.

And then there’s the self-seeders.  I remember a first trip to California, amused by some of the terminology used in the wine industry to create a sense of weight to their product, finding out many of those terms didn’t necessarily mean anything but an advertising ploy, “old vines”, “ancient vines” and a personal favorite, “estate grown”.  As I built beds around our personal arboretum, it killed my soul to think of  killing these intrepid little interlopers, so I started using them in the garden plan.  Roses of Sharon, redbuds, tree peonies and even hostas found their way into beds and planting scheme.  The little seeds that could.  Being able to distinguish between a seedling and a weed at the formative stages is not always easy, but quite a few of these hardy little self seeders were relocated to better fit within the garden and became my own version of “estate grown”.  For me, estate was a state of mind, an inward chuckle on garden tours.

I also can’t stand to see plants in big box or grocery stores without wanting to rescue them all.  It’s a primal instinct, I can’t explain it, nor can I deny it.  I have a hard time letting anything die, even when I know it’s well past the time it should go. These plants are put in harm’s way, a marketing gambit for an impulse purchase, often to become fodder for the garbage dump.

How did this become so intertwined in my life?  Maybe it’s vestigial, harkening back to Eden.  Perhaps a recognition or a line of shared memory to a time when surrounded by a garden, life was perfect.  Many of the greatest moments of peace I have had as an adult were experienced in my garden.  Certainly not in the overly manicured, overwrought professionally landscaped places, but in areas where plants feel some sense of inclusion in the creative process.  Allowed their own captaincy in how they will live, and ultimately, die.  Living near their parent, their siblings, finding their own place in the world, in my garden.  Like Mr. Farmer, I would rather weed out the excess than baby those divas that really don’t belong there.  So I have evolved into a live and let live gardener, messy by some folk’s standards.

Some people are compelled to make music, paint, or play soccer; I have lived a life in blissful coexistence with plants.  From where this drive comes, I will never from know.  But in the larger scheme of things, in saving and nurturing the lives of these denizens of the garden world, I have been saved, over and over again.  Even in the dead of winter, sometimes wrapped in despair so dark I cannot feel my way out, suddenly a house plant will lure me to its side.  A leaf to be culled, a vine pinched, water applied, and before I know it my spirit is transformed and an hour or two has passed as I move amongst rooms of house plants, communing, supporting, loving. A plant whisperer………….or am I a plant listener?

For my part, I believe we are descended from the same mother, the one who began her life in a garden.  From her have I inherited the gene to be looking homeward to Eden, and by osmosis becoming a gardener.



Two of my favorite films of all times are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Growing up, there was not a time when this aired on television I didn’t clear my “agenda” and make sure that I was available to watch this commercial-interrupted version year after year. I couldn’t get enough of it. As I became a teenager and a singer and actress in my own right, I sometimes wondered, pre-k.d. lang and Patsy Cline, if somehow I weren’t somehow linked with her. I had her song book, knew her life, watched her films. I so wanted to be Judy Garland. A career spanning stage, screen and cabaret, what not to want to be? Yes, there were addictions and temperaments but to me small price to pay.

Growing up in the overlapping hoods of The Jacksons and Stevie Wonder, living in a neighborhood of a melange of early 70s music, I hotly anticipated Q’s remake of my classic. When it came out, I was sold. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsy Russel just to skim the surface on a visually and musically funkalicious score.  I was hooked.  Don’t care about anyone else’s opinion.  If this is my guilty pleasure, believe me, there are worse.

And then there was Home.  Shortly after buying the two album set, I had the words, timing,emotive part down.  I could do this cold.  Performed it live at a gig in 1982.  I have sung this tune naked, drunk, painting a shed (none of these public venues).  It’s my go-to tune.  Like mac and cheese or a really good pinot.  Home food.  Pun intended.

For me it turned the corner on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (also in my repertoire), and added an urban need to knowing what your life was/is.  Diana killed it.  Already a Diana fan from The Supremes days, this was icing.  A really well executed butter cream type.

And then life hit.  I left music, became suburban, stopped singing.  Spent too many years trying to anticipate the demands of the man.  After life hit, it left.  I had forgotten about Home.

It’s been just over four years since life slammed into my psyche like a derailed express train. I searched for home.  There were so many days  I just wanted to run somewhere, anywhere.  I looked at real estate in France, Italy, northern California.  I have lost count of the times I drove around town talking myself out of missing the turn off or even hitting the bridge abutment.  Sometimes a really active argument.    I even fantasized about swinging by the house, picking up the fuzzy faces and heading out of town, no looking back.  Couldn’t leave them but surely did not want to stay.

I wanted to exfoliate this life by any means necessary.  It itched.  I was raw with it.

You see, I felt I had a home with my life partner.  It didn’t matter the zip code.  He was home.  Where he was, was home.  It sounds so biblical, but for me it was.  And home had evaporated; not sure it ever really was, except in the zip code of my mind.

For several years, I have searched.  The areas have changed, sometimes closer to family, sometime closer to here.  Consuming the real estate listings like an addict.  Looked at a couple of real possibles.  The one that got away still haunts, a beautiful 1930s bungalow on 13 acres outside of Danville Kentucky.  Again, that whole 1930s thing.  I still look for it in the Danville listings.  When I encountered it, I was still far too wounded to decide.  And it slipped away.

For four years I have tried to execute the projects I knew would make my house salable.  Painting, flooring, remodeling, lighting.  I let the garden go until 2013.  By that time, becoming a sad neglected jungle in places.  The house consumed me.  I needed to get it off my skin.  I needed a place of my own, I needed.  I needed.  I needed. I needed peace, contentment.  I needed.

Last gardening year, was a time of clean up.  I knew no one would want this place with overgrown beds full of self seeders and self pegging roses.  So most of the summer was spent trying to reclaim, trying to simplify and streamline.  Suburbanners don’t want high maintenance landscapes.  If my house were to sell, I had to make it simple.

As I cleaned up, I started connecting, talking to my plant partners.  This may be even crazier than liking The Wiz, but I fully believe plants are sensitive to us, they hear our voices, know our presence.  I touch as often as I can, talk, encourage.  There have been studies recently that indicate plants hear.  It mattered to me to know who had made it through the years of neglect, who had met their demise.  Who was flourishing. My 120+ year old rose bush was transplanted.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, a miniature I cloche every year, had survived. And so many others had put their cockney thumbs to the sides of their noses and were thriving.

The 2014 garden year was about accenting what was already here, with as minimal a cost as possible.  So many plants had not been divided in several years, a means of killing two birds with one stone.  Build up beds with plant materials already on the farm.  The repetitious use of plants is how a cohesive planting scheme is achieved, as well as minimizing costs.  I have spent the spring and early summer dividing and tucking, moving plants hither and thither.  Fleshing out areas that needed, well, you know, fleshing out.  Nothing crazy.

Interestingly enough, the midwest has been blessed with what I will term as “California weather”.  Not too hot, not too cold, plenty of precipitation.  Clear skies with low humidity.  Ideal for transplanting.  The skies this summer actually remind me of time spent in Montana with crystalline blue skies, no humidity and just a touch of coolness.  Beautiful.  If this is global warming, where do I sign up?  The beds this year are lush and diverse.  My zone 7 crepe myrtle, as tiny as it is, is the biggest it’s ever been.  My 120 year old rose surviving its transplant is on its way to climbing the arbor.  The grass is lush and verdant. The farm is full of birds and insects.  The air is sweet and caressing.

There are still projects.  The basement remodel, a problematic little so and so, is on its way to being finished.  There are a couple of smaller items on the wish list.   I need a new roof, a new air conditioner, a new driveway.  Cheap.

This afternoon, I took some time off from doing.  The yard was mowed, the basement ready for the next onslaught of contractors.  Surrounded by fuzzy faces, farm cat Fletcher, Joy and Dante, I carved out some sweet moments on the deck to read.  I listened to the wrens and the robins. Watched the crows.  Heard the music of the wind soughing through the branches of the oak and the locust and the linden.  The air was unbelievable, almost too cool for normal summer gear.  I was digging it.  Fletcher curled around my feet, Joy and Dante flanked my chair.  No sounds of mechanization anywhere.

The sound of Home, right here in my own back yard.  No heel clicking necessary.  When I think of Home, I think of love overflowing.  Welcome Home.










The Slow-Rhea Movement

It’s only June and the year has already been so interesting and so tough.  In the past I’ve written mostly as a catharsis, sometimes healing wounds too deep to see.  It’s been a while since I put digits to keyboard; I’ve been avoiding the demands of the computer lurking and taunting me as I scuttle through my day.

It’s not as if I haven’t had some ideas.  The slowness of the spring to develop lent some ideas for the Burgeon Queen or the Burgeon Rhea, but I just never could force my self to sit down and do it.  Like my dogs, there have been too many distractions to sit and stay.

Today, I missed my window for mowing.   My mowing method is a trusty, old John Deere push mower.  While self propelled, in the last couple years the propelling has become open to interpretation.  When it dies and I scatter its ashes, time for a new mower.  But not today.

No, today I bother my dear reader with the musings of a different 2014.  I ran across a quote a couple years back “If you want different results, you have to do things differently.”  My experiment for 2014.  I attempted a consulting life in 2013; in 2014 I realized that I really didn’t like working with people that really didn’t want me in their offices, regardless of how badly they needed help.  So I learned to say no and bye-bye.    Instead of rushing into the next gig, I am taking a step back.  As Jim Carey said in his graduation address, I think I want to fail at something I really love to do.  At least I will have enjoyed the journey.

I am trying to Let Go and Let God.  I am trying to not always be DOING.  I am still trying to learn not kill myself with so much hard labor. And I am learning while alcohol is a compelling way to relax and sometimes temporarily forget, it is a slope I really don’t have the muscle to climb.

How do you slow a Rhea down?  Very carefully.

2014 in the garden has also been a year of different ventures, different results.  Last year, I had to take the bull by the horns and do massive scorched earth operations in beds not maintained for three years.  Self pegging roses attempted to eat me alive and not even leave anything for compost.  I decommissioned a huge sun bed full of tree peonies, roses, irises, butterfly weed. Giving away, transplanting, sometimes abandoning.  It was going back to sod.  I needed to simplify.

While our Plains brethren scoffed at our winter weather, for the midwest it was an unbelievable season.  I grew up outside of Chicago, so I know a few things about winter weather.  First, let me say that this area is not used to sustained weather of any kind.  The winter of 2013-2014 not only brought lots of snow, it brought sustained low temperatures, aggressive winds lasting for days.  The result being even lower temperatures.

Generally, by the time April has rolled into the hood, there are some pretty advanced signs Mother Nature is softening her stance.  Not so, 2014.  For weeks it was even too cold to venture out to check the beds without some serious gear.  Finally able to go out with only a heavy sweater, I saw so little peaking above the soil level it was frightening.  Sometime in May, early, or very late April, I saw the first defiant digits of peonies clearing the ground.  It took several days after that before anything else was brave enough.  Scary.  There was a bit of a warm snap and for any intrepid hostas that proved their undoing. Some came up and some were scorched back to earth by cold.

Then finally, temperatures began to settle in the warmer brackets.  Slowly, slowly trees budded out, spring ephemerals launched.  Ahhh, burgeoning.

As it turns out, for some peonies and most of the irises it was a great spring.   Apparently the coral family of peonies really loved being hammered by cold.  My woodland tree peony was stunning, and some of the irises bloomed like they have never bloomed before.


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For roses, a spotty spring.  Most roses died back to the ground.  Even the two knock outs I purchased for $5 in a scratch and dent sale, were knocked back to earth.  As it turns out, rosa The Fairy which someone begged me to pull out of their yard a decade or more ago was hardly impacted. And while my rangy pink Grootendorst had some fall out, she’s doing quite well, thank you.  The real rose stand outs were Darlow’s Enigma which has been trained into a maple on an exposed northern face of the yard;





the Chrysler Imperial which is about the only hybrid tea I fool with, for me never a very robust rose but I cannot live without that fragrance;





and the last rose has no name and no picture. It is a storied rose in my garden.  Part of the roll out of the old sun garden, last year it was moved.  As it came out of its spot of 15 years, it broke into pieces.  And in pieces, it was placed along a new arbor and fence line.  As of today, this rose is about 120 years old.  Given to me in the mid nineties by a friend who had no need of it, but because her 90 year old client had given it to her she couldn’t just take it out with extreme prejudice.  So she gave it to me.  This rose had been growing outside the front door of her client’s birth place.  I was saddened and worried that I had to move this gem.  It was a beautiful rose; old fashioned quartered blooms in a nice palish/mid pink with a marvelous old rose fragrance.  It had been growing inside a tuteur with a dusky purple clematis in my sun garden.  I had low hopes that either would survive relocation or that deadly winter.  And she thumbed her nose at me.  All the various pieces living and blooming, including the clematis.  Will try to post pictures when the second flush graces me with her presence.

The real beneficiaries of this new winter/new results have been my hostas.  Even those clobbered by an early roll out, have thrived.  So thick and so lush it’s been unbelievable.


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Weeds too appear to have been unintended beneficiaries to this harsh new winter.  Commando efforts will be necessary to eradicate or at least knock back these interlopers.  Different efforts here include having to resort to chemical means in some areas to removed these unwanted pests.  A very conflicting change.

New on the scene this year are projects I am taking on:

The truck garden that from last fall to this went from compost to set up to full of, yes burgeoning, vegetables.

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Hanging my newly acquired green man:







After five years, opening my fountain:





The new fountain project, in progress:

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Blooming rattle snake plant, YOWZA!

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Deer stalking……

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And after that marathon, bi-annual update, something completely new to the farm:






Hmmmmm, the slow life………

The Good, the Bad and oh, whatever…….


Today is a day I have been dreading.  Not like the April 15, I gotta send money kinda dread.  But in the “this is gonna be some serious hard work” kinda way.

It’s been at least five years since I’ve been at the compost bins.

Can I digress here and say I don’t always get the English?  Don’t they say comPAHST?  So if that’s the case isn’t it The Pahstman Always Ring Twice?

Anyway, I have been procrastinating.  I know there is deep rich stuff in them there bins.  But the shoveling and filtering is dirty heavy business.  But in the end comes gold.  Black gold.  Ohio tea.  Like in the picture above.  One bin of sieved, compost filled an entire large Vermont cart.  This is the stuff of gardener’s green dreams.

For me, this is the beginning of a new project.  Part of the procrastination.  There is scope creep in this here project.  First some background.  Although I live in a suburban area, we are mightily plagued with an expanding deer population.  I have tried on several occasions to vegetable garden here.  I have the room and some ideally sunny areas.  But those spots are also easily marauded by our four legged friends, not to mention the raccoons, possums, skunks and anything else running loose.  I have been most successful with pots near the shed.  Not ideal in terms of sun space, but close to rainbarrels and the building seems to act as a deterrent to marauders.

So here is the next generation project……


Raised beds ala stock tanks.  I have done a little reading.  Very little as I am a woman of action!

Unfortunately, the feeding of the procrastination is moving the wood pile in this area, figuring out the best spot for sun and then filling said stock tanks with compost.  The Vermont cart full filled one stock tank about halfway.  I have to rehome the wood pile, figure out the walking path and then get the rest of the compost sieved.  I’m exhausted just writing this.  And I have yet to plant a thing.

I am hoping with these deep tanks, root vegetables, garlic, onions will have a chance.  I am not greedy.  I am limiting my potential harvest to tomatoes, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and green beans.  If there is  enough room, can asparagus be too far behind.?  But first I have to prove this little experiment will work.  I am worried there is too much shade.

And the bad?  You might have interpolated that the bad in the title was the hard work.  Unfortunately, not so.  Don’t forget I am a professional commando gardener.  Used to these bursts of high energy farm labor.  The bad is actually human intervention.  Someone put a broken bottle into my compost bin.  And one enterprising piece found its way into the palm of my hand.  I swear I felt it hit me all the way to my shoulder.  It’s for these occurrences I keep the peroxide handy.  Hard to type a post with just one hand……

And the news from the rest of the estate?  Ah, there is news indeed.  In addition to mantis this year, has been a blessing of butterflies, many which I have no idea who they are, many of which are swallowtails.

I was blessed to see that a Giant Swallowtail was flitting through the farm.  Think really large black/brown chocolatey wings with yellow racing stripes looking much like unwound film.  More dark than light. Enchanting.  Flew through too quickly for  me to get the camera, or so I thought.

A few days ago, there was something decidedly nasty, decidedly sinister on my lemon tree.  Yes folks, the same lemon tree the deer pulled off it’s resting place and broke many of it’s branches.  Patched up it survived.  Who knew deer liked lemon?

But the thing on my lemon tree?  At first, I thought it a particularly artistic means of bird self expression.  Yes, bird poop.  But it was fascinatingly weird, I couldn’t take my eyes from it.  When it moved I realized what I took for the terminal glop of poo, really looked like a baby alligator, or a dragon.  Holy smokes!  this is either animated bird poop ala Stephen Spielberg or it it’s ALIVE!

And thus I get to see the caterpillar form of the giant swallowtail, hanging it in my lemon tree……..


As a point of comparison, this is what a yellow swallowtail caterpillar looks like, just so you don’t think I have this bizarre sense of drama (okay I do have a bizarre since of drama but not with caterpillars)…..


Big difference, no?

Then there are the mantis.  In my previous post, it might be recalled that in the nine mantis counted, one was a two and half incher.  Clearly out of his league amongst all the heavy weights around him.  Yes, it was a him.  The next day, I found his headless, dessicated body not far from where I first spotted him.  Seems he found his femme fatale.  Interestingly enough, his replacement was an even smaller mantis, under two inches.  Good luck little guy.  May you creep under the radar.



I sedum come and I sedum go…….

Mantis on my Mind

Today the southwest Ohio heat storm broke a bit. Able to walk through the yard without becoming wringing wet (at any time of the day) for the first time in days, it was a cool but humid morning. Offered time to get a few tasks done before the uptick in both heat and humidity.

First task is to take the devil dogs for their morning jog. It was a good run. Since bringing a fully charged water pistol to the task, I am seeing a little less attitude when meeting other canines in the ‘hood. Today was a good dog day from another aspect as Joy did her first mock pull. She has been wearing a pull harness on our daily walks for over a week, with the ultimate goal of pulling a dog cart. She has gotten so used to it if I am not quick enough to suit up for our walk, she is nudging the harness and giving me meaningful looks. “Hurry up Mom”. So today, I built a mock pull jig that could be clipped to her harness. Fancy words for a piece of pine with eye screws. We walked the block and she did GREAT!

Time now to address yard and garden issues.  I don’t water much.  New plantings and transplants, yes, but when the beds are starting to dry up and crack, time to water.  Time to set sprinklers and timers, and hope for a cooling down.  Just get the shrubs and perennials through to dormancy.

On my first walk through the western terrace, I started to see them.  MANTIS!  Without much effort on my part, I counted 8 good sized mantids in about a 6 foot square area.  Ranging in size from 2.5 inches to easily 4.  Two  four inchers hanging almost nose to nose within 6 inches of each other.  I waited to see the action, but with usual mantis timing, hardly a twitch. And I must say these two were certainly not interested in me.  Sex or lunch? Don’t know but when I checked back about 30 minutes later, both had gone missing.  Hmmmmm.  The others, still in roughly the same attitudes as I had last seen them, some dressed in the radiant emerald green of a fresh molt and others the standard camouflage of golden amber and green.

My next coup of the day was to break out the mantis cam kit I bought on the internet.  Since I am still trying to diagnose why my good camera has thrown up its hands (thus no standard pictures, sorry!), this was a good opportunity to try the new technology.  (

Included in the kit is a mantis vise, which allows you to gently restrain the animal in question, while the micro chip and the cam are affixed.  It’s just snug enough that a small range in body sizes can be accommodated.  You may have a bit of a struggle at first, but once you have handled the first one or two you kinda get the hang of it.

Once in the vise, you must work quickly.  You do not want to stress out the mantid especially as it will take some time for the glue to dry after affixing the chip and the cam.  The glue is a special concoction developed by NASA for use with aliens, so is very gentle and nontoxic.

Glue the cam first.  It’s a bit heavier than the chip so will need a little extra curing time.  I placed mine right behind the neck joint so a literal mantis eye view can be obtained.  Then I placed the chip right behind it.  I sped up the gluing process by gently squeezing the tube of glue to create a bubble at the applicator point and allowing it to set just a bit before placing on the device and placing on the mantid. I was able to glue up and release four mantids in about a half an hour.

The theory is that in going through the next molt cycle, both devices will be sloughed off, but are completely biodegradable.

I found the mantis cam software was easily installed on my mac mini and getting the various devices identified and cued up took very little time at all.  These were very thoughtful software developers to say the least.  And what wonderful pictures started rolling in, in addition to being able to track movements through my garden beds via the chips.  AMAZING!!!!!!

Oh, how wonderful if I could just…….. Okay,  everything was true down to the mantis cam kit. No mantids (real or imagined or any other creatures) were harmed in the ripping of this yarn.  Just a little flight of fancy on my part.


PS – Since posting have gotten the camera back on line ……. (Yes Virginia, these are ALL DIFFERENT!)

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Full Circle

When I first began this post, it was because my queendom was so blessed with so many mantis queens.  They had thrived despite neglect and carried on the order.  They really didn’t need me, they just needed vegetation and bugs to eat.

This has been a summer of rebuilding.  A summer of oddities.  A summer of awakening. There were garden spaces to be reclaimed and others to be decommissioned.  It’s definitely been months of seriously hard work.  In the past ten days alone, I have loaded, unloaded and placed over 1,500 pounds of reclaimed concrete pavers.    The weather as so many of us have noted has not been midwestern typical, but I will take the California dreaming any day.  It’s been marvelous.

So tonight, as I sat on the deck post dinner it was hard not to notice that my beautiful farm cats, Munchkin and Fletcher were in a bit of a dither.  At first, I chalked it up to kitty hi jinks.  Munchkin had reappeared after a couple week hiatus.  Florida?  Costa Rica?  She never tells.  But Fletcher wouldn’t let it go, so now my curiosity is up:  is there a baby bird in the vegetation, someone wounded?

Below my deck is a nice stand of grasses.  They have thrived despite being in too much shade and have added a punctuation point to the path to the deck.  I love them.  And so apparently does the mantis.  As I approached the clump of grass in question, the one to which Fletcher was taking exception, I noticed it was quivering.  I was expecting a baby bird, many of which I had rescued and put beyond farm cat reach in the past.

I was surprised.  A four inch mantis queen had captured a full grown katydid.  Katydid not yet dead did not in any way deter the queen from beginning her meal.   It was astonishing.  I attempted with two different cameras to capture the moment.  Neither one, the good camera erroring out and the iPhone 5 focusing on too much green, could capture it. And just as I was admitting defeat, I realized the queen was focused on me.

Her beautiful diamond shaped head and sparkling eyes were looking at me as if to say, “You looking at me?”  It was a Taxi Driver moment.  And I just put the cameras away and slinked back onto the deck.

Life is good.  Long live the Queen.


I Am What I Am

I am a gardening snob. While I can arguably be accused of being many other kinds of snob, this is one I easily ‘fess to.

I am a gardening snob.

What crime, you might ask, to which I am confessing?  It could be native vs. all other plants; or local nurseries vs. mail order, or David Austen Roses vs Knock Out roses.  There are a plethora of permutations.

My crime, my prejudice, is the very definition of gardener, in my book.  Unless your hands are wrist deep in dirt, you are not a gardener.  You may be a designer, or a conscientious homeowner, but gardener, no.  My neighborhood is full of point and click gardens (landscapes as I refer to them).  Folks wanting maximum curb appeal with the least amount of bother.  Cover up that horrible utility box or erase my neighbor’s presence, but it has to be NO maintenance.   Once I write the check I no longer want to think about it.

Gardeners think about it all the time.  And I ain’t talkin sex, I am talking plants.    Is that the right spot for X, should I move Y?  Maybe it’s time to pull the plug on Z as it’s been five years and no improvement.  Experiment W has hit the jackpot, time to invest in more.  We absorb our plants through our pores.  Dream about next year, plant for the next decade.

One of my neighbors made a huge investment in landscaping.  Purchased yards and yards of topsoil, invested in thousands of dollars of mature plantings.  Then rarely spent time in the space that was created.  I couldn’t see the point. I guess it was the horticultural version of I belong to the country club.  My landscape is more expensive than yours.

Most of the gardeners I know, besides gardening to a compulsion most of us barely understand, are gardening to create a place of peace and beauty and sanctuary,  A place to spend time, recharge, seek comfort.

And this, I am most comfortable being snobbish about.


I practice commando gardening. No, it does not mean I garden naked, although now that I think of it, what paradigm adjustments my neighbors would have to make?  Thinking of course, Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson in a hot tub. Okay, I digress……

For me, commando gardening are the 5, 6, 7 hour sessions where I stop for nothing.  By the end of which I look very much like Rambo coming out of the vegetation, covered in mud to my eyeballs.  AND several meaningful tasks having been completed, I need food and water and rest.  And maybe a redux of Lonesome Dove.

When I first started on this journey of creating my personal arboretum, I read somewhere the test of a true gardener was when the plants spent more time in a wheelbarrow than in the ground.  So, many of my plants have been moved several times, trying gracefully to beg off of the next road trip.  I am trying to find the best spot where they will thrive.  They on the other hand, just want to stay connected to the ground.  So in comes the commando; time to move troops!

This year I am decommissioning a garden space. Having decided to stay in my home of a decade plus, I am redeploying those perennials remaining in a high maintenance area I can no longer maintain alone.  I have been moving and giving away as many living entities as I can.  For me folks, each plant represents a life, one that deserves respect and hope and from there the chance to move on.  If not in my home, then somewhere it will be respected and loved.  I feel them and I talk to them.  They reward me.  Sometimes despite my negligence.

This has been an amazing spring, despite the decommissioning, there are plants blooming which have not bloomed before; roses that have been in the  ground for over a decade have multiple buds/blooms.  I think Mother Nature has put an umbrella over my little arboretum, helping, supporting, teasing me.  Now that I have accepted this little acre as mine.  Mine.  Only for a lifetime, a steward.

I feel connected to this place.  A place that has existed so much in my mind as I plan, develop, nurture, move plants.  I am reminded of Scarlett O’Hara.  Despite the loss of love, the loss of loved ones, felt such a deep connection to her bit of earth she knew she always had a place.

So here it is, the connection between Rambo and Scarlett O’Hara.  My Zen.



The Plant Lady

I really love houseplants. I mean I REALLY love houseplants. One thing remaining consistent in the last couple of years of constant change has been houseplants. Even though the garden jones seems to have died, I am still rescuing houseplants.  Even dumpster diving to rescue plants, like this sanseviera rescued from work.  Multiple pots thrown out because they were horribly pot bound and overgrown.  I went into the dumpster, repotted them into two matching pots for the deck, they rewarded me later that year by blooming their little rootstocks off!


There is not a room in my house without plants in it. My sunroom, about 12 x 24 bears the heaviest load, but when I decided it was time to clear my dining room of furniture, it became the auxiliary greenhouse. About this time of year the Green Goddess starts the itch somewhere between my shoulder blades, I have to find something green, new, fabulous to add to the collection. Otherwise, the itch just get worse.  You may call it a monkey on my back, but I prefer Green Goddess, reminding me spring is soon here.

I do a nursery crawl until something grabs and doesn’t let go. I know the places to feed my jones for plants, cool pots.  And YES, it does feel a bit like a monkey on my back, directing me to back alleys and darkened doorways until there is relief.  I did the drill a couple of weeks ago.  Rescuing a couple of $1 miniature roses, finding some cool dark brown basket weave terra cotta pots at  Bern’s and hitting gold at the next, Knollwood in Beavercreek.  They’re always good for way cool houseplants and very cool pots. An outlying place in Yellow Springs is my fall back position, since it’s a bit far even for a pre-spring fix, but by far they always have the coolest plants.  The KING of all these places, at least centric to my current position is Baker’s Acres.  They don’t open until spring, so local I remain. But already the juices are flowing for my annual (pun intended) visit to Baker’s Acres.

At Knollwood’s are a variety of cool gondola shaped glazed pots in some really beautiful colors and sizes (see the first picture below).  The real coup were succulents.  A very sharp variegated bush-like plant and a vining succulent with a blush of plum in its rounded leaves (unfortunately no tags) .  Had to have. Rounding out the group was a nice stand of sanseviera “laurentii”.  Ghostly white-blue spears about two feet tall. OH, yes, load them up.

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Whew, I feel so much better now!

Like many gardeners, I love the unusual, the variegated, black, chartreuse, red, plum wild foliage on plants both inside and out.  Like this black taffeta begonia and the red chinese evergreen……

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In addition to the begonia blooming above, amaryllis, cyclamen, angel trumpets, sanseviera, echeveria, hibiscus are all blooming.  Getting ready to cut loose are orchids.

Yes, I said orchids.


Never cared for them much.  Much too high maintenance for my lazy-girl program.  Not until the onslaught of the easy care types that started flooding Kroger’s, Trader Joes, and other similar retail outlets.  Even I could justify spending $10 on an orchid, even if I knew the fussy thing would probably not be around in a year.  But then I had to have one of every flower type.  I was hooked.  A row of them sprung up on my kitchen windowsill, where they could be exposed to constant southern light, partially protected by an ancient silver maple and another wall of the house.  They would also benefit from the humidity and warmth from the kitchen sink.  They even got to vacation on the deck, only losing one.

And then a year or so ago, I was visiting my dear friend Diane in Dallas.  Dear until she hog tied me and forced me to go with her to an orchid greenhouse near her home.  I just did it to humor her; I had no interest.  I had my $10 orchids, I was satisfied.  Until……

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Are you kidding me?  I had to FLY back.  I could not possibly leave this place without something.  And there were too many varieties to count.  Mind blowing acres of orchids.  Yes, I said acres.  Maybe only 1.5 acres, but I felt as though I had found the secret meet up place for orchids, all milling about in wild glorious abandon.  At this point, I hate Diane!  What have you done to me, I am the orchid-hater!!

So, I narrow it down to three.  Yes, Virginia, you can take plants as carry ons.

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So three beauties came home with me, causing quite a stir in the airport and on the plane.  I’m fairly certain I heard whispers of “who’s the crazy plant lady” as I walked through to board with the biggest loon-crazy grin on my face EVER!  I love Diane!

I really had no delusions though about their longevity.  Orchids of most varieties are notoriously finicky and I wasn’t kidding about my lazy girl tendencies, so I knew where the two coincided death was sure to follow.  So they vacationed on the deck with the others and migrated in during the fall round up.  To date they are thriving.  When checked this morning, one of them is covered with buds, thumbing its nose at my benevolent neglect.  I plan to post pictures back to this blog when the blessed event occurs.

Of my grocery store children, several of them were repotted, two of them now offering up their fragile looking bloom stems for a spring explosion.  A note to the wise, many of the grocery store orchids are stuck into some pretty sorry peat moss, so repotting sooner rather than later is beneficial.  And the rescue of which I am most proud?  An orchid languishing in the office of my former company’s owner spirited out by her assistant.  It was of the grocery store variety, just in much nicer pot.  It had been overwatered and neglected, its leaves turning thin and crepey, not a good sign in my new found orchid knowledge.  I repotted this invalid with another of its healthier cousins in the fabulous container it was given to me in.  I placed it on my kitchen bar so I could keep an eye on the duo in their new digs. With spring just around the corner with all its promise, the poor little invalid has turned its own corner and will soon be joining its extended family for the annual pilgrimage on the deck, healthy and vibrant.

I need a greenhouse.  I mean REALLY.


Hello, Laeliocattelya Fire Dance ‘Blanch’