Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Soap & the Serpant

I like
I really
but there
is a place
for them...
and it is
not the
soap dish.
Let me set a scene for you. It had been a long grueling week for my husband who is working around the clock to get a project completed for a client. We are relaxing for a few minutes in the great room on Thursday evening prior to my husband having to go out to his workshop yet again. My three year old has just run upstairs to put some stray coins in her bank. She comes back down, passing over the cat laying in the hall who decides it is high time she comes down too. Sunshine has been sprawled out in the upstairs hall for hours like a beached whale. I hear my husband's footsteps heading toward the laundry room in the upstairs bathroom. And then I hear a fairly long string of loud expletives. I call up to be sure he is all right and barely make out the word "snake". Hmmm...I think and get moving toward the stairs myself. What I see is unbelievable. My husband is standing just inside the bathroom, having reached for his boots, and has caught a glimpse of something moving on the bathroom counter. At first he thinks it may be a mouse, then maybe a few mice- and as his eyes adjust to what he is seeing, he steps back. A snake has coiled up in the iron soap dish, furtively eyeing both him, and the other snake which is looking a bit threatening in the mirror! This gives me just enough time to grab a wood walking stick with a nice handle. I pass it to my husband trying not to make any quick moves. I plead with him to be careful. He cheerfully tells me he has seen this on television and can handle the situation. And the next thing I know he is holding the snake at the head and walking it out the front door. I am stunned, both by the snake, and the snake charmer. Our guest is dropped into a plastic bucket for identification and covered tightly. A few moments later we realize that what we have is a pretty large and well fed rat snake. A lot of odd occurrences throughout the day begin to make sense. Sometime in the early afternoon both of our cats were staring down the basement stairwell. There was a gate perched in the landing there and I did not think too much of this at the time. The door there is rarely open and I figured they were doing a bit of investigating. Then there were some odd odors. I couldn't put my finger on it but it was musky- like a cross between old shoes or old meat. I know, gross, but then it simply went away. It is hard to tell how long our slithering friend lived with us. I know that the past year has seen very few rodents running around the house. I attributed this to our cats, but perhaps not. Rat snakes can live to be twenty years old, and do much good. We let him go right outside the barn. He may face some competition out there, and hopefully will not find the baby birds in the conifers. Just today we saw one of the hawks fly over carrying a rather large snake. And we think we have had a tough week? There's no way to tell if our serpent became the hawks dinner today, but I'd be surprised if we find him in the soap dish again!

Thanks to Kenny Brooks for the name of this blog post!

PS- You can click on the photographs here on my blog for a close up view of the snake...almost just like being there...almost.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Farewell to May

It seems
day we
to the
for May

Here she is come and gone after tomorrow...time spent out of doors passes so quickly. I spent the greater part of May tending to the vegetable gardens and rotating the weeding of the flower gardens. It has rained here in the Ohio River Valley at what seems to be the optimum waterfall conditions for weeds! My daughter looks forward to the Maypole every Spring. I find it intriguing that most little girls who visit our home in May know exactly what to do with the ribbons. No matter the age, if a little girl can walk, those ribbons just beckon to be held and run in circles. Peels of giggles and entanglement ensue, and it is all quite lovely to watch. Maybe such old traditions really are stored in the genes? Most parents of the children look at me in wonderment as their girls run with the ribbons saying that they have never seen a real Maypole. I smile, because while the child might never have seen one in real life, they may store images from Fairy Tales, both told and imagined, in the depths of their memory. We will miss the colorful ribbons blowing in the wind as we turn toward June. The exchange will be colorful flowers in the gardens from now until late Autumn. One thing is certain, there will still be little girls running in the front lawns in circles!

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Flash of Blue

I have been seeing a flash of blue here and there since early Spring...
I am so excited to report that a family of bluebirds is finally nesting in the box at the side of the house. Each year I have watched this box only to be disappointed. But this year, they arrived. They built a little nest and have been coming and going. I had planned on moving this box before any birds had a chance to nest in it. The previous owners of the farm had placed the box here, but ideally a bluebird box should be on a metal or smooth wood pole. This keeps the likelihood of rat snakes eating the eggs or young to a minimum. Rat snakes are notorious climbers and this tree is no problem to overcome. Another pitfall of placing this box on a tree is lice. I found this out the hard way while trying to see if eggs or young birds were in the box. I carefully placed my camera up to the hole, snapped a photo, and noticed all the dirt on my lens. Oh no, I thought, that's not dirt. It is moving. Hundreds of bird lice. My camera is perched in a nice tight zip lock until I can figure out how to remove the insects from inside my lens. This was all rather disgusting and I cannot imagine how the bluebirds have overcome this problem if they were successful with eggs this year. I can only hope that either the eggs are yet to be laid or they laid early and have already fledged. I will be monitoring this box constantly over the next few days to see if the parents are still coming and going. If I do not see them soon, I will get into the box and get it cleaned out. De-licing a bird box is not top on my list of favorite things to do but knowing that it is infested is going to drive me crazy. It needs another coat of paint and I will do that at the same time. So one bluebird family is getting their Spring cleaning a bit late, but hopefully they will still be able to lay another clutch before it becomes too warm. They certainly are beautiful and I would like to see a lot more of them around!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Try Try Again

It has
a tough
year for
our egg
thus far.

One little feathered friend decided to lay her eggs in our Christmas tree. She diligently built her perfect little nest and laid two precious eggs only to have us come along and place the tree in our burn pile. The nest and eggs fell out on the way to the pile. The eggs were still in yolk stage but I felt absolutely horrible. Let it be a lesson...look before you remove an old tree, and better yet, just choose a spot to leave it until the end of Spring if you do not compost or burn it right away. The second bird came along and built her nest right above the lamp on our breezeway entry. She was scared witless every time we came in and out. Worse, when she laid her two eggs they were perilously close to the edge of the flat nest and there was no way the little ones wouldn't fall out when they hatched. I placed the nest from the Christmas tree to the underside of her nest for more support- which she promptly kicked out. This should have come as no surprise to me. The nesting bird remained there for a few more days but the comings and goings of the house inhabitants were too much and she left her nest for greener pastures. I later found the eggs with holes in them and the yolks gone. Nest failure number two. The most recent nest blunder could have had dire consequences for our family. Mama bird decided to build her nest in our dryer vent on the second floor of the house. At first we thought she was coming and going with lint for a nest elsewhere. But then we noticed we were hearing her far too often just to be making supply runs. What we found when we dismantled the vent was horrifying. She had packed the tube with three feet of dried grass- the last six inches displaying dangerous burn marks from the heat of the dryer. It is no small wonder that our house did not go up in flames. Earlier in the day I had noticed steam escaping from the vent so I was really surprised to find that the length of hose had been blocked. One thing is for sure, those four beautiful blue eggs had been par boiled right from the start. Once we changed out the hose and placed a new vent cover on the house, the reality of having these four little eggs in our possession hit me. I knew they were not viable but I also did not know what on earth to do with them. Throwing them out just didn't seem right. But I did not have the heart to break them open either. My husband came home and saw them sitting in the flower pot yesterday and looked at me with this look of disbelief. He not so gently reminded me of the the horrendous odor that would emit if one of those little darlings broke open. This morning I finally faced what had to be done. I got a plastic zip lock, placed them in it, and sealed it tight. I figured if there were just yolks, I could throw it out. If there were babies, I would give them a proper burial. Why on earth I am so emotional about these things? We are lucky to be alive after the close call with a near fire. Luckily all four eggs contained a semi cooked yolk. No sign of any life. I feel a little better. Here's to hoping these three Mama's have chosen better spots to bear their young.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Life

get a
My husband was walking the area where the Morels come up a few days ago and had entered
an area where one of our cats is buried beneath a small evergreen. The grass was tall again as we have been avoiding mowing in this area until we are sure we will not take out any last minute Morels. He has a size fourteen shoe so what could have happened would have been catastrophic. He was just about to place a step when he hesitated. A little bird had flown out of the grass and seemed injured. Instinct told him it was a cover. Sure enough, brand new little chicks had just come out of their shells. The photo here was taken today and is a bit blurry because I wanted to get in and out without disturbing the scene. Mama was nearby and once again displaying her "injury". These little babies are so sweet lying snuggled in their small nest just under the tree seedling. The tree has very prickly leaves and an animal would have to think twice before attempting to go in. These are good babies- they do not utter a sound even when you peek in. It takes some seconds to locate them even when you are looking right at their huge little eyes and tiny curved beaks. They know when to remain silent and this is a behavior I have never witnessed before. It will be fun to watch them fledge from the nest and learn to fly. I am happy that the storms we have had cannot blow them out of a nest. Stranded baby birds is not an uplifting situation and the dangers of ground nesting seem to be less than tree nesting, which is hard to believe. I will be posting more about our feathered friends here at Hawk's Run this week and the adventures we have had with them so far this Spring. Stay tuned...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Peonies Act IV

The last of the Peonies have come into bloom.
I am so grateful to the previous owners of this house that planted these wonderful bloomers years ago. They were planted in long rows along the front driveway barrier to the garage and along the long fence line of the dog run. A few were planted in here and there such as the one in the mound garden. The ones pictured are the doubles in solid light pink and plain white. Wren is taking an interest in how all the different plants smell and these did not disappoint. Peonies smell so powdery fresh- almost like the scent of a baby.
I couldn't resist bringing a few of the pink and white ones that first bloomed into the house this morning. It was a cool morning here after two days of pretty intense heat. It feels like rain today and as we approach noon it is still as cool as it was this morning. We spent some time in the herb garden watering, weeding, and just taking a general inventory of things. We lost a Bonariensis Verbena over the winter along with some of the Lemon Thyme. Of course, the Kentucky Mint gained an even stronger foothold and has to be tamed. The Yarrow is coming into flower and the English lavender is sporting a lot of new growth. If there is any spare time after working in the vegetable garden this week, it belongs to the herb garden. Hopefully that time will be forthcoming!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In Search of Weed Freedom

In the
Battle of
the Weeds,
I was

I just cannot keep up. I am now at a point where I am spending a minimum of two hours per day in the vegetable garden, and I just could not squeeze time in the day to get to weeding the flower beds. If it were only a matter of sightliness, no problem. Our problem here at the farm is poison ivy and poison oak. It is absolutely everywhere. Nearly impossible to eradicate. More than once I have been in a weeding state of zombiness and pulled a large poison ivy plant with my bare hands. Incredibly, I have never gotten poison ivy! So while I may be immune, it still gives me a start when I realize what I am holding. A few days back I was at my local perennial nursery picking up some Coneflowers that deer seem to have taking a liking to lately. I had grown a batch from seed and half were eaten along with their peat pots. The deer left a nice little chomp out of the Lambs Ear as a signature of guilt. I was standing in line behind a lady at the check out who was talking about her husband with the wonderful man who always rings me out each visit to remedy some garden disaster. I was so taken with her conversation about her husband running a co-op garden in Cincy that I nearly missed the bales of mulch beside the counter. Pine needles. I registered those bales with interest because I had seen a garden at last years Lebanon Garden Show done beautifully with reclaimed pine needles. It had smelled as divine as it looked.

What caught my attention was the price on each bale- $8.99 each! I figured the average person could blow a cool hundred dollars in attempting to cover even a small area. That little interaction at the nursery finally had ME taking action. I had just completed the weeding of the Gayfeathers and Bee Balm. It was a perfect opportunity to be done with the weeding in these areas until next year. I took a few loads of our pine needles from the stands to the south of the house and had the whole area finished within a half hour. These are days where every dollar counts, and it feels good to be able to reclaim something that is just lying around the yard. A true win win situation.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Peonies Act III


This plant bears the double fuchsia petals with the yellow centers.
These are identical to the single type with the exception of having about a hundred times more petals. Some flowers have so many petals that it is impossible to view their centers without prying them open. I imagine it is a brave insect indeed who blindly goes forth into these flowers. It must be like a maze of scented beauty trying to find the pollen.

Each time a new type of Peony opens I say to myself that this one is definitely my favorite. The next day and new blooms finds me saying the same thing all over again. I would not say I am fond of the color pink, however, the Peonies do pink amazingly. I read last evening where variegated colors in Tulips signifies a virus, and I wonder if the few specimens of variegated Peonies I have seen implies the same situation? Variegation in color appears to our naked eye as a marbleization of the true color, usually marbled with white or a very pale shade of the true type color. It is one situation where a virus feels welcome!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Peony Show Act II

I may
be fairly
with the
of the
of flower.

The Peony, of course, is no exception- and may well be the rule as to how the obsession began. I find it a mystery, still, how mixing one parent flower with another gives us surprisingly different results each time, even though I fully understand the biology behind what is taking place. I spent my fair share of time predicting outcomes of cross pollinating plants in university, but even though I know how it all works, I find the odd unusual outcomes to be one of the great mysteries of life. This blooming Peony is a single cup shaped flower with bright yellow stamens against a deep fuchsia pink petal. The contrast is remarkable.

When they first open, they always appear to be a bit lopsided- almost as if there is too much space to choose from- the petals do not seem to know where to fall. Nearly every time you put your head into one of these beauties you are greeted by a bee.
Here the flower is in full bloom. What a difference a day can make.

This pretty little lady's Mantle is growing at the feet of the Peonies. In the morning, it casts a silvery hue from the dew drops it collects on its bowl shaped leaves. The little yellow blooms go wonderfully with the Peonies yellow stamens. A match made in heaven.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Yearly Show


This is the week I look forward to most every year. Usually occurring right around Mother's Day, we are a bit late this year. No matter. The show is just as spectacular. Ants have been doing their busy job of eating away at the membranes that cover the flower buds, and on cue, as soon as the ants vacate, the buds open. This plant is the years first. Situated in a large mound garden that just experienced a severe burning of ornamental grass, I was hesitant to count on its survival. But Peonies are sturdy plants, tolerating the intense heat of a burn, and the frigid lower temperatures we have been experiencing in the Ohio River Valley the past few nights.

This plant is two shades of pink, with alternating layers. The outside is an intense deep fuchsia, with pale pink layers inside, and another shoot of fuchsia taller petals in the very center. It is truly remarkable.

I am always stunned by the sheer number of petals that fit inside of a Peony bud. It seems an impossible feat of nature.

Here is the first fully open Peony of the Spring. This may be the most layered and large flower I have seen in the Peony gardens, and with no rain in the weeks forecast, they should remain as beautiful as ever.

This Peony is a spot of wonder amongst the plants growing back from the burn. I just cannot wait to see what the others have in store for us this year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ten Minutes and A Mower

I had
a running
hand mower
and ten
of spare
time, which
is like
an eternity
these days.

We are experimenting with some bulbs and wildflowers in this locust grove, but the high grass was getting a little out of hand. I had ten minutes and an idea and off I went. Wren and Dane have a little grass maze in the shade- not too big, not too small. Of course it is only temporary until we mow through the area again, but in the meantime, they will love to play in it. It goes around three times and weaves between trees and ends in a little circle. Just perfect for a little table and chairs to sit in. That's where I'm off to next- to drag a table set out there. Loving this cool weather and bright days, it just doesn't get any better than this. And in my other spare ten minutes, I trimmed back the lilac trees- not that the children will care about THAT.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Radish Repair

It was
and it
nap time.

This is never a good sign. It can only mean one thing. I will be cleaning up something- or repairing something. It usually means I left something out in the open that I shouldn't have. Yes, sure enough, I left out the play scissors. We had been cutting paper figures a few hours before and I must have left the scissors within reach. The casualties of the day were five play wood radishes, two crocheted play fruit shopping bags, a play wooden tea bag, a pair of doll undies, and a doll headband. The scissors must have been moving at lightning speed as I was making breakfast. I was a little upset until I realized Wren has been talking about haircuts. Thank goodness this hadn't crossed her mind during the destruction. The tea bag was set right with some more string- the second repair mind you. The undies and headband, along with the fruit bags, met a garbage can. I was upset about the crocheted bags more than anything- these I cannot fix. I wandered upstairs and pulled out my felt batch. It has been pulled out many times before for jobs such as this. I cut five new sets of leaves and put them in place. Coyly, Wren says to me. "See Mama, I like this green so much better. It's why I cut them off- so you could change them." Right, not likely. She was, simply, immersed in some kind of scissor mania- that is all.

Now, if only I could do something for these poor little radishes. These are our test French radishes for the garden this Spring. After tonight's full moon, they'll go straight into the garden. Maybe Mother Earth will work some magic on them.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thinking Happy Thoughts

I am
so very
hard to
keep my
mind on
in the
these days.

I dropped Allium bulbs in the ground last Fall, late at that, but here they are in all their glory. I think these are so wonderful that there will definitely be a lot more Allium dropping this Fall. I believe these are a single Allium, as there appears to also be double which is more like a globe. Some research should sleuth this out and hopefully I will be able to obtain the doubles as well. It is interesting to note that whenever I see these pretty flowers in photographs, their blades are usually absent from the pictures. I have found the reason for this. The blades die as the flowers bloom. I had a moment of despair when I thought I was losing them but the garden books assured this was a normal progression. So much to learn- so little time.

The Iris is magnificent this Spring. These are the bearded variety and this is by far their best bloom since we have been here at Hawk's Run. We divided them over the last year and this has truly paid off ten fold. I would like to add other colors to the mix in the Iris beds so I'll be on the look out for more bulbs this year. I'm thinking yellow to complement the slight yellowish hue inside our present Irises.

I have been wanting Blue Bells for years. Well, it appears that I already have them. I was so surprised by this display and I am hoping someone out there can confirm or correct my suspicion on this one. These are growing under our large trees in front under quite a bit of shade. They are so pretty and delicate.

This little white flowering perennial appears to be some type of Hepatica, or Anemone. These are popping up and Wren has enjoyed picking little bouquets of them for inside the house. She has decided that only a tall green Yuengling beer bottle will do for a vase!

This little patch of mint is very interesting. It is a perfect rectangle near my herb garden. It has been here for a while by the looks of it. No matter the season, the greens on this rectangle are different than its surroundings and I have taken to calling it "the grave site". No one can confirm or deny this little oddity here, but it definitely marks something. Jaime over at Way Down the Valley recently posted that this mint is a type known as "Heal All". That is nice to know because we have it in profusion!
All the colors blooming about have been very uplifting. This is good because the ground beneath me feels shaky once again. We had good news from the labs recently. Our scat was that of a coyote, not a puma. I had just delivered this good news to my nature writing friend at our local library. I was feeling great about the situation and hoping we were nothing more than a pass through for a wayward lost lion. Like clockwork, the phone rang the next day. Our neighbor who runs every day rain or shine, and has been for years with his group of dogs, came upon the cat by the large lake to the front of our house. The dogs had been distracted with something and he ran on ahead. The puma was as surprised as he was and took off in a flash. My husband hesitantly relayed the news to me right after it happened. I had just had the children hiking in this area days before. When I spoke to my neighbor's wife I asked her how certain he was. He was one hundred percent. He had come within 50 feet of it, saw the coloration, the long tail, the cat face. He does not believe it was full grown. The very fact that Doc had not seen the puma made us all a little skeptical in the past. Surely, if anyone was to see this animal it would be him. Well, now he has. Docs wife had also found odd looking scat in the last days. But, again, because ours turned out to be coyote, we thought little of it. Now looking at pictures of the two animal's scat, I am not at all certain I can tell the difference. What I do know is what they look like in form, and I am on the lookout constantly. It's difficult to concentrate on anything else. It is difficult to feel really at ease outdoors right now. The question lingers. Does this animal, or animals, have fear of us? Or is it observing us like we are trying to observe it? What is it eating? What happens if one of our children happen upon it? These are tough questions all. I feel a certain sadness for this animal who seems to be trying to survive without our taking notice. The sightings create a sense that while we are amazed at its existence, there is a bit of underlying fear in us as well. I still hold out hope that we can all exist here together. But it's kind of the same feeling I get with snakes. I just want to know where it is at so that I am not surprised when I see it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Brush With Greatness

Living in Naples, at times, had its perks. One was a fortuitous
opportunity to meet Christo.
I think about Christopher Lloyd all of the time. No, not the actor, I'm speaking of Christopher the Master gardener of Great Dixter. Perhaps he, more than any other person I have ever known of, or personally known, has been the reason I have wanted to garden most of my adult life. He toured all over the United States for quite a few years giving lectures to fellow gardeners. I happened to be on the floor of my outfitter the day he walked in looking for something to combat the hot Florida sun. He had been staying at the Ritz Carlton on the shore- and there was not a lot of shade. I had also heard through the grapevine that he was helping the Ritz to tend to their rose garden which seemed to be growing in popularity very quickly. A lot of afternoon teas were held there and this probably helped to contribute to its fame. Knowing what I know now about Mr. Lloyd, he most likely found roses in Naples even more finicky than roses in England. I knew him immediately when he walked through the door, though I was too embarrassed to admit it to his face the entire time we talked, lest he think me some kind of neurotic garden groupie...if he only knew. The thing about Christo is this. He seemed to love young people. As long as you were serious about your interest, which I was, he would talk to you and answer questions until he had to leave to be somewhere else. I was completely mesmerized, and likewise, he seemed to draw energy from being in a shop full of young outdoors people. Since that chance meeting more than ten years ago, I have come to know more about Christopher Lloyd through his books. His Gardener Cook book is one that I have read time and again. Something in his words keeps me grounded. He had a deep and abiding love for friends who were always coming to visit him at Great Dixter. He had a profound gratefulness for the opportunity he had through family to remain at Dixter the rest of his life. He had the kind of working relationship with Fergus Garrett that may come only once or twice in a lifetime. He was just a no nonsense kind of man and it is this that I loved most about him. His passion for dahlias has infected me. The thought of digging them up every year and over wintering them is the only thing that has kept me quelled. It will be both interesting and exciting to see Great Dixter evolve in the absence of its owner, but I would hedge bets that a lot of the Christo spirit is alive and well in Fergus. Fergus recently said in an interview that he remains true to Christopher's vision but is not afraid to move plants around and try new types of plants not grown at Dixter before. I find this fitting. I don't think Mr. Lloyd would have wanted Great Dixter to become a shrine to himself. More importantly, he seemed to value other people's opinions and talents to such a degree that I do not believe he would have wanted Fergus to waste his gift just maintaining what they had done together in the gardens. Someplace as special as Great Dixter, for all that it has been since the 15Th century, is living proof that a great person never really dies. What is shared and learned in a place of such great beauty is simply passed on, hand to hand.

Above photo of Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter by Jonathan Buckley.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Homemade Pizza Night

It has
a Friday
here to
pizzas for
a quick
By Friday evening I am usually feeling a little creatively wiped out. Throughout the week cooking up new recipes is fun and exciting, but by the end of the week I need a little relief. Disappointed by all the take out pizzas we had been receiving, and at such an enormous expense, we decided it was high time to revive the family tradition I had as a child for Friday night homemade pizza. I had been baking up all sorts of breads over the last few years, from wonderful crusty French breads, to German styled soft pretzels, so the pizza dough came easy. Into a cup of hot water went one packet of yeast, one cup of flour, and a half teaspoon of salt. A mix of parsley, oregano, and basil gets added in on the first mix up too- about a teaspoonful combined. This mixture runs through on the bread setting of the Kitchen Aid for about three minutes. Then I add another two cups of flour along with two tablespoons of good quality olive oil and let it spin for eight minutes. The dough is rolled out on a lightly floured baking stone and coated generously with whatever pasta sauce I have made that week. Pepperoni or sausage gets liberally applied, along with lots of mushrooms. Oh, how I wish we had found another Morel this week! The whole pie gets topped off with tons of mozzarella cheese, placed in a hot 425 degree oven for twenty five minutes, and set to cool for another five to ten minutes on the stone where it finishes baking. This is so simple to make and tastes so much better than anything we have had out at a restaurant. It is also so nice to have one meal out of seven a given, and because I have been doing this for months now, I can make this dinner almost without thinking. Improvising becomes interesting and we often substitute chicken or bacon for the meat, and use all types of cheese when we are out of mozzarella. The same dough recipe can be used to make a calzone by placing the toppings on only one half of the rolled out dough and folding the pie in two. Pinching the ends keeps it together and you know it is done when the juices begin to flow out the sides and there comes that wonderful hollow rapping sound when tapped. My three year old recently made pizzas with her friends and she came home and said that they had "no flavor". At three, we have a pizza connoisseur. I think that is wonderful!