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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Thursday, December 31, 2015


2015, perhaps more than most, has been a year of highs and lows: the joy of moving back to a favorite neighborhood in a favorite town; the shocking destruction of my former pollinator garden; the beginning of a new garden (and the process of restoring an old one); a granddaughter's high school graduation; family health challenges; a reunion with dear friends on a dream trip to Bulgaria and Ireland; the deaths of other friends; and always, it seems, a shortage of time. 

Bulgaria always makes me aware of time. This part of southeastern Europe was home to the earliest European civilization, a prosperous society that seems to have enjoyed perhaps 1500 years of peace before the invasion of the people who eventually became the Greeks and Thracians. In July, I was lucky enough to visit Durankulak Lake, a major wildlife area with an island that was inhabited by humans for roughly 6000 years, from 5000 BCE or thereabouts to the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, around 1000 CE. We walked streets that were laid out some 6500 years ago

and imagined the lives lived in the houses that once stood on these foundations.

I couldn't help wondering if some long-ago urbanite had planted just such a tree to shade this dwelling from the baking Bulgarian sun.

Not that Bulgaria existed yet. The Bulgurs would not show up for another few thousand years. Archaeologists are not even sure what language these people spoke, their script being still undeciphered.

Nothing like a little deep time to calm any jitters about one's own topsy-turvy existence.

Sunrises also help.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mortal Combat

Home from a whirlwind trip to Florida, dreading the cold, only to find temperatures in the sixties. A break in the rain allowed some time in the ongoing reclamation project known as the sunken garden, a once-beautiful space overtaken by English ivy, porcelain vine, and yellow flag iris. I only had a couple of free hours but am pleased to report the filling of multiple 33-gallon lawn and leaf bags.

But--the enemy is not defeated. Today's labor cleared only a tiny triangular patch, perhaps ten feet across the longest side of the triangle. One massive ivy had roots going down more than a foot, the removal of which necessitated removing a rose bush, one that had failed to thrive during its twenty years in that spot. In some places, the ivy roots were so congested that getting a shovel or pitchfork into the ground was nearly impossible, so I spent quite a bit of time scrabbling in cold dirt and yanking, following some shallow roots for several yards as they finally abandoned the soil.

Another thug taken out of commission was an oriental sweet autumn clematis, the kind that goes everywhere, choking out everything in its path but English ivy. The roots of the plant look like a particularly terrifying space alien, multitudes of thick, floppy tentacles emanating from a central glob. My love for its frothy flowers and intoxicating scent did not save it (though I suspect that the soil harbors enough of at least one tentacle for the plant to regenerate).

The rose of sharon privacy hedge is nearly as enthusiastic as its companions. At least a dozen seedlings joined the ivy roots, grabby vine, and sickly shrub in the to-be-sent-to-the-compost-farm bags. A few hundred more are waiting.

The War of the Alien Invaders is likely to be a long one.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Not a good day to be a fish (or a jellyfish)

Last night brought high winds and waves to Indialantic, where we are spending a few days visiting relatives. This gorgeous morning

found quite a few black vultures circling the beach, which was littered with dead fish. A lot of dead fish.

It came as no surprise that a beach full of dead fish attracted a beach full of birds--gulls, terns, and various skittering avians. (Of course, my bird books were all in Ohio.)

I particularly liked this handsome fellow,

although the gulls, as usual, provided much of the amusement. With perhaps thousands of dead fish available for breakfast, several birds of course all wanted the same one. Then this one, perhaps confused by the buffet, had difficulty reaching a decision.

That looks like a good dead fish. 

 I'll try it.  

Wait! That one looks better.

Well, maybe not.

What none of the birds were sampling was the Portuguese man-o-war that had washed up on the beach. This gorgeously-colored jellyfish (okay, it's not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, a combination of four "things" that function as a single animal, but we called them jellyfish back in the day) is extremely venomous.

This particular invertebrate was still alive when discovered, but yours truly was not brave enough to try to get it back into the water. A few moments later, it (they?) rolled over, gave a few feeble tentacle waves, and (most likely) died.

The beach is a rough ecosystem.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deep breath

Despite my belief that we had sold Chipmunk Ridge to people who would be good neighbors to our former good neighbors, we were wrong.  The primary buyer (the retired head of a charitable organization and friendly with a dear colleague) and her husband (recently retired from the same company that three of our neighbors worked for and described as a Master Gardener) came with what seemed like good references. The buyer stated that they had been looking for a smaller house in town and that her husband loved to garden. Perfect.

No. They were looking for a smaller house in town to gut, add on to, and flip. All of the pollinator gardens were removed. Every. Single. One. A single crabapple remains. Everything else is turfgrass. No physocarpus hedge where baby doves can hide, no daisy meadow, no butterfly garden along the driveway. Not a single flower for a hummingbird to visit. The good news is that Master Gardeners were brought in to remove and rehome a good many plants, but even though I had been assured that anything not wanted would pass to the college pollinator habitat, we were never called. Because I am not a nice person, I have sincerely wished these buyers an eternity in one of the more unpleasant levels of Dante's Inferno and the complete loss of their not inconsiderable investment in the property. Financial ruin would be fair, wouldn't it?

Several mornings found me waking to a pounding heart and the fear that I will never be able to undo the damage caused by my wanting to leave West Virginia. Thousands of creatures displaced, the small pollinators most likely dead in landfills or fated to starve when they emerge in the spring to no food. No place for a mama monarch to lay her eggs. No chipmunks.

But at the lowest point of my despair, it was time to gather seeds for an Earth Day project. Our tiny lawn strip garden produced a bounty,

less of a variety than the old place held, but enough for student volunteers to create at least a hundred pollinator garden seed packets to distribute at a campus event in the spring. Several kinds of asters, echinacea, rudbeckia, agastache, butterfly weed, "Fireworks" goldenrod, and liatris will find their way to new homes and in the process create new homes for small creatures, who seem to find their way to anyplace we humans manage to leave for them.

And I made a discovery: liatris seedheads are gorgeous in their own subtle way.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The hangers-on

Not in any negative sense. Today, during the last third of November with possible snow on its way, I kept discovering flowers that have not quite figured out that their time is supposed to be past. It was no surprise to see a few asters near the library, or mums under a sugar maple,

but I wish I had had the camera with me to capture the blowsy pink roses blooming away next to a downtown church. Arriving home, I was delighted to find a few more plants that did not know when to quit. One is a potted hydrangea

 while a few hardy survivors have kept going in the lawn strip, among them a defiant salvia

and a few bedraggled rudbeckia blossoms.

 Some of the leaves are also hanging on, not only the usual suspects like oak, but several neighborhood Japanese maples that insist on continuing to be spectacular beautiful, like this "Bloodgood."

Okay, it's not a native plant, but how could anyone not love those leaves--just a few days before Thanksgiving?

But the best news was not that fall is enjoying a long, slow fade but that spring is indeed coming. The lawn strip is full of the ridiculously adorable seedheads of sweet violet, promising a purple carpet spangled with the pale pink of spring beauties in just a few months.

Cue happy sigh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quite mad

That's what the world has been these days. Of course there are the horrors in Paris and Beirut, exotic places that I have never visited but the suffering of which reminds us that the world is indeed a small place. There is the predictable horror of unthinking violent reaction (Close the borders! Deport all the Muslims! Send in the troops!), followed (usually, unless one is Donald Trump) by more considered reactions and a return to our better selves. But the madness is present on a smaller scale as well.

  • At a meeting to present the Forest Service's process for determining whether or not to lease an area for drilling, FS security personnel were wearing bullet-proof vests. Did they really think that landowners interested in selling their mineral rights, or old ladies concerned about water quality and wildlife habitat, were likely to smuggle Kalashnikovs into a college meeting room? The two groups did not generally speak to one another at the gathering, but there was no undercurrent of about-to-ensue violence.

  • The projected need for four million gallons of water to fracture a single gas well and the permanent disruption of "only" 121 acres per well is considered acceptable by the manager of our local National Forest.

  • The college at which I teach is concerned about loss of enrollment, but the only two classes available for students in a particular area of emphasis have already been canceled for the spring semester, with four weeks of registration left. Any students in that program will have their graduations delayed a semester, which does not seem the best way to retain them.

  • The CNN website lists the announcement of People's "Sexiest Man Alive 2015" as a top news story.
Time for a butterfly picture.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reason #1037

. . . why fall in southeast Ohio is one of life's great pleasures.

This is what I see when stepping out the front door.

And that's just one view. Turning slightly to the right, I get this.

Okay, the drop-dead red in the center is an invasive burning bush that will be replaced by a native in the near future, but the plant is going out in a blaze of glory.

While its replacement is growing, we'll just have to be satisfied with the trees in the arboretum.

I suspect we'll manage.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A not-so-blue blue

I'm not sure when or how mild depression got called "the blues." After all, blue skies are a good thing, right? And blue flowers are among the most prized, perhaps because of their rarity in nature, at least as far as true blues are concerned: spiderwort, delphinium, Himalayan poppies, maybe, but most other blues are more purple, at least around here.

But who cares? Agastache foeniculum, AKA anise hyssop or blue giant hyssop, has been one of the success stories of our new lawn strip garden. (Given my haphazard record-keeping, I cannot remember if our plant is the straight species or the short cultivar "Honey Bee Blue," but I suspect the latter.) In any sunny area that is not waterlogged, this plant is foolproof. I love the red western agastache species and hybrids, but our damp winters often do them in. Our eastern native is made of sterner stuff. 

This member of the mint family is not an immediate attention-grabber. It has nice serrated leaves, nice but not spectacular color, and a pleasant scent, but not one that wafts; the leaves need to be bruised to release the anise scent that gives the plant one of its common names. However, it starts blooming with the midsummer daisies and is still going now after most of the asters have finished. It grows in sand, clay, and actual soil, and asks for no water, though it has no problem with rain or snow. It plays well with others, forming steadily-growing clumps that, unlike those of its distant cousin wild ageratum, do not become invasive.

And it is a pollinator magnet. On an ordinary afternoon last week, our single plant was loaded with bumblebees (whom the unfortunate light conditions would not allow me to photograph), and a female monarch, who seemed determined to visit every blossom on the plant while tanking up for her long flight to Mexico.

Here's hoping that the goldfinches visit to get the seeds.  I'm not ready for the show to be over.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Asters Everywhere!

I have not done a lot of gardening since our March move, but the pollinator bed in the front lawn strip is getting off to a good start despite my neglect. Of course, asters are pretty much indestructible, which is why I love them so. Most of the year, they look pretty pathetic, scraggly foliage straggling along a stem that gets woody and frequently lists to one side or another, but then they start to bud,

and when they bloom--oh my. So much color, and so much life! For anyone not in the habit of observing such things, asters are major fall pollinator food, and the seeds eventually feed the small songbirds who hang around for our Mid-Ohio Valley winters.

I have a bad habit of forgetting which aster I have planted where, so I am never quite sure which plant will show up. When I moved plants this spring, I had hoped that I got a start of "Purple Dome," but no such luck. I did, however, manage to transplant not one but two specimens of "Wild Romance," enabling me to continue using the line, "Wild Romance is blooming." Even if one is not inclined to make silly statements, who could resist that color?


A joy of the lawn strip (which I have not been able to photograph due to inclement weather every time I think of going outside with a camera) is its plethora of asters, even though I deliberately did not plant aromatic aster due to its seriously thuggish propensities. In addition to my ridiculously-named "Wild Romance," the bed contains plain old New England aster, the misty purple so much a part of autumn and such a magnet for pollinators, 

 along with one of the excessively enthusiastic white asters that I can never identify (and surely did not bring along deliberately) and a surprise: a tall pale pink beauty never seen before in my yard. Even better, the boxwood hedge has yielded several specimens of a large-leaved aster in a lovely pale blue. That one does not yet have a definite ID, but a specimen has been rescued to the lawn strip bed, while the others will go to the college's pollinator habitat. Even I recognize that one cannot leave three-foot daisies poking up through what is supposed to be a well-behaved evergreen hedge. (However, the butterflies and bees would rather have the daisies. Just saying....)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Butterfly Sex

Yesterday I learned how to tell the boys from the girls, at least among monarch butterflies. (I did figure this out for humans a few decades ago, although I pay less and less attention to such things as the years go by.) At the end of a delightful one-day symposium on sustainable landscaping, the director of the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, released several monarch butterflies bred on the site and tagged for research. These butterflies are part of the fall brood that, if all goes well, will find their way to Mexico to spend the winter.

The release took place in the arboretum's pollinator garden, a smorgasbord of nectar and host plants to leave any pollinating insect drooling (if insects could drool). None of the plants were new to me, but the garden was a delight, anyway.

My takeaway for the day was a lesson on how to sex monarchs. The males, like this handsome specimen resting on a swamp milkweed, have two black dots on the hindwings,

while the females lack such ornamentation. They're gorgeous, anyway.


Not long after these pictures were taken, despite its being a chilly day, these young adult butterflies began their spiraling flight into the first leg of their long journey south.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mixed signals

Here it is, almost mid-September in the Mid-Ohio Valley, and the temperature the first part of the month hovered uncomfortably near 90. Tomorrow, on the other hand, is predicted to bring a high in the mid-sixties and quite a bit of rain, not perfect weather for the end-of-summer festival held in our town the second weekend of September. After a cool weekend, mid-eighties are predicted to return. The weather in our part of the world has trouble making up its mind.

Today brought mixed signals from our local flora and fauna as well. The tulip poplar across the street has already dropped at least a third of its leaves, most of them, it seems, on our sidewalk. Asters of various sorts are blooming in the front pollinator-garden-to-be (still too much in its infancy to be called a real garden).

One of our rudbeckias, however, has gifted us with thirty or so tiny seedlings, certain not to reach blooming size this late in the year. Sitting on the front patio grading papers (or trying to) this afternoon, I was distracted by adolescent cardinals sitting in the holly, demanding food. Such young birds (and such amusing bird behavior) have been more common in June than in September, but some of our local cardinals evidently managed to get in a late clutch of eggs, promising more color at the bird feeders next year.

But--squirrels have been sighted carrying fruits from the kousa dogwoods in the lawn strip and walnuts from the trees in the arboretum, evidently stuffing themselves with fat from the dogwood fruit and beginning their fall stashes of nuts. Hyperactive, foraging rodents are an almost-sure sign of fall. (So too, I fear, are the several hundred baby kousa dogwoods that need to be removed from the lawn strip before it becomes a kousa forest. Sigh.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

On beginning the last year of middle age

Yes, today is my fifty-ninth birthday--an odd age, not one recognized with special cards or generally celebrated with age-specific parties. The only time I remember the age ever being specifically mentioned is in Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (which I read for the first time in my forties), when Anne examines herself in the mirror and concludes that she is "not bad for an old bat" but too old (and too married) to seduce a gorgeous young(ish) priest. It's an in-between age, kind of like seventeen (for those of us old enough to remember the song, in which Janis Ian described learning the truth), but at a very different place on the life spectrum.To stop any speculation right now, fifty-nine is a much easier age than seventeen. I like it better and thoroughly expect to enjoy it more. Adolescence was rough, and I have no desire to go back (except maybe to have joints that don't complain, such things being a nuisance).

Fifty-nine is not, however, young, and to be honest, not in the middle of any ordinary human life span. Until recently, sixty was considered at least early old age by nearly everyone. To my knowledge, none of my relatives has lived to be a hundred and eighteen, or even a hundred. Ninety is the outer limit for most of us (and those who made it further retained very few marbles during their last few years), placing me at the last year before the last third of earthly existence. Oh. my.

So--watch out, world! Retirement from full-time paid employment is only a very few semesters off (barring some economic disaster--not impossible, and I'll be in good company if that happens and likely to still be enjoying the tormenting of
students), and my hours and days will be mine to structure. Activities will be those that seem to me a worthwhile expenditure of limited time.

Hmm...I wonder what the next adventure will be.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Long time no blog

This summer has not been one with a lot of time for gardening, between finishing up our move, selling two houses, spending time with a family member receiving Hospice care, and schlepping around Bulgaria and Ireland for two weeks with friends. (At some point, there will be pictures of and meditations regarding the European experience.)

The good news is that our urban space is proving to be a wildlife mecca--well, maybe not a mecca, but we have wildlife, sometimes in the most unlikely places. The potted "tropical garden" on the back patio draws hordes of bumblebees and the occasional hummingbird

although the hummingbirds actually prefer the rose of sharon hedge separating our building from the yard next door. I would never have planted such a thing, given althea's desire to colonize the known universe, but the blossoms are evidently loaded with nectar.
A "pollinator pot" on the front wall is doing its job,

and we have more tufted titmice than anyplace else I have lived, sometimes half a dozen at a time going for the sunflower seed in the feeder. The mini-meadow in the lawn strip next to the street  has been attracting bees and butterflies, including the occasional monarch, for several months now despite its youth and pitiful raggedness.

The real excitement, though, was walking home from the library on a drizzly morning to find a pair of goldfinches busily scarfing down seeds from the lawn strip liatris. Looking forward to future develipments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Another favorite

One of the delights of our new place is its location across from the city arboretum. The park (and it's an old one, dating from the town's founding in 1788) lost two dozen or so mature trees during the derecho of 1998, at which point the city council created an arboretum and began encouraging the planting of a variety of trees and shrubs. Many memorial trees have been planted, making a meander through the arboretum feel like a visit with now-departed friends and neighbors.

But today, I want to effuse over bottlebrush buckeye. Our old place boasted three young bottlebrushes, and leaving them did indeed cause a pang; however, this gorgeous plant is visible from our front patio.

Yes, that is a bottlebrush buckeye, nearly as large as all three of our specimens put together, and  loaded with its distinctive blooms.

Aesculus parviflora, though related to Ohio's state tree, is not technically native here, being found in the wild further south, but this indestructible shrub (and indestructibility does seem to be a feature of my favorite plants) seems to do well throughout most of the eastern US and into the Midwest. It greens up early, blooms for three weeks, turns bright yellow in the fall, and seems to have very few pests other than mildew. (This fact may be related to its poisonous nuts.) Best of all, its waving plumes attract butterflies and hummingbirds, as a glance at its tubular individual flowers would indicate.

With all its good qualities, one has to wonder why this lovely thing isn't as commonly planted as obnoxious invasives like privet and bush honeysuckle.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

More to love

Life has been too busy to allow much time for writing (no details forthcoming, but it's all good), but I must share a few more things to love about our new location. The interminable hanging-on of Tropical Storm Bill is not among them.

  • Mysterious paths just a few minutes' walk from the front door

  • Enthusiastic streetside gardens

    • Evening light over Harmar Hill
      • The river
      • Humor