Thursday, October 31, 2013

On not running and Happy Halloween

Lately I have become interested in reading running blogs. I'm not sure why, since I have no intention of taking up running. I love to walk and hike but hate to run, although I did run a lot as a teenager and first saw the twin sisters' garden and wild fire pink and pinxterflower when running in the Gimghoul Road neighborhood in Chapel Hill. Years ago on NPR I heard a story about the Badwater Ultramarathon -- that takes place in July, in Death Valley of all places -- that I never forgot about, and recently read a very well-written report this by a woman who ran the 145 mile Grand Union Canal race in England. I think she's nuts but interesting too.

I think I just like reading about people pushing themselves to their limit and getting a real feeling of accomplishment from it. Pacing myself is the name of the game these days, not pushing myself to the limit. Sarah of Galloping Horse Garden wrote recently of how much time she spends writing blog posts, and her post resonated with me on several levels. The amount of blogging I do sometimes has to do with how I'm feeling. I've mentioned suffering from fatigue periodically. I have a mild form of fibromyalgia. Started about 5 years ago and was tough to deal with for about 2 years. Since then it's under better control, although wet cold weather fronts still cause issues, so winter is my worst time. Fibro is a funny thing and different for different people. On an "off" day I might feel OK when I get up but after doing a few things around the house I'm so tired I have to lie down for a few hours. The pain for me is secondary to the fatigue, although they go hand in hand. The pain starts off as an almost interesting feeling, a sort of tingling in my wishbone and ribs that goes to my shoulders and down my arms. Eventually my legs too. A muscular/ nerve pain that can get intense sometimes. If it's bad enough my heart beating hurts my ribs, but that doesn't happen very often. Lying still helps, as does Tommy purring against my chest. So, if I can't work in the garden -- and taking care of the horses is quite enough, if it's not a weekend so that Gene can take over for me -- I can prop up in front of the computer and work on the blog.

I don't spend lots of time on the prose but going through all of the pictures takes ages. I tend to take many pictures of the same thing -- typically the first one will be the best one and the rest successively blurrier -- and feel compelled to look at each and every one. And yet, there's often something I want to talk about and have no picture to illustrate my point.

Sarah also wrote of disliking the actual process of writing, although she loved having written something. I feel a little that way too.

This was not always so, alas. I used to LOVE to write, before I went to college. I went to UNC and even though I'd already taken a semester's worth of AP classes, high school was like kindergarten compared to college! The pace was SO much faster. I was fine, but the first few weeks I felt overwhelmed and just like that, lost interest in writing in my free time. Kind of sad that a creative flame could be snuffed out so easily, but perhaps mine wasn't very strong to begin with. I don't know that I ever would have produced anything good, but that's not really the point. I very much enjoyed the process of writing, and still miss it.

I was disappointed when I saw that the fantastic writer Stacey of Microcosm stopped writing on her blog, although it's still possible to read her wonderful posts and I hope to read more of her work one day. Her condition was far worse than mine, but it was fascinating and enlightening to read about how she continued to live her life and about some of her struggles while dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Dry warm fall weather is wonderful, not only because it's beautiful but because there's much less chance of a flare-up. After two weeks of gray misty dreariness, glorious golden fall weather has returned. G. had a week off during one of those drab and dreary weeks, but he was recovering from a back strain and the pony was still off, so we just took one day to go to Chapel Hill and Niche Gardens and another day to go to the State Fair. Lucky for us Niche had just started their 40% off plant sale so we picked up several plants that I just had to have but will have to find spots for, and saw the most beautiful fall salvia ever: 'Phyllis Fancy'. She's a Salvia leucantha hybrid with fuzzy purple calyxes and greyish lavender flowers, and is a complete bee magnet. I will have to get a hold of one of those next spring.

I sometimes find the appeal of the fall landscape difficult to capture in pictures. A wide angle view of the garden can look like a bit of a mess. It's hard to capture how the late afternoon sun makes the fading seashore mallow a warm yellow-lime, and fills the Bidens with warm golden light and turns their brown stems a rich chesnut. A picture can't convey a flash of movement out of the corner of your eye, which turns to be a dozen or more bobwhite quail that flutter and glide across the neighbor's pasture. Or the dozens of song sparrows and goldfinches foraging in the Bidens for seeds, and the graceful way the goldfinches rise up and fly away in that amazing undulating way that they have, twittering as they go. Surrounded by a rising flock of goldfinches is rather like being in a Disney movie.

Can I discuss for a moment how much I love this tree? I see it all of the time, inside and outside the house, as it is visible from the living room windows. It's a pesky red maple that leaves seeds all over my garden that sprout into innumerable seedlings but I love it anyway. It's beautiful in every season. In autumn it turns apricot orange.

There's a cluster of volunteer snowbell trees below it
and south of those, a group of sorrel trees. They don't look as good as Laurrie's tree, but they're pretty when they bloom in early summer. Anyway, I didn't pay for them. They just showed up. Perhaps they leafspot because the soil on their slope is too lean for them. I'll have to throw more compost at them and see if that helps.

It's Halloween today! I love Halloween but haven't done anything for it in years, since we're not partyers and we're hidden down in the woods and don't get visited by trick or treaters. When we lived in an apartment in Chapel Hill I carved 2 or 3 pumpkins and hoards of kids came through.

One of these days I'll get around to making a real Halloween post. There's a road nearby with all sorts of great subjects -- abandoned farm buildings with their lines all off kilter and covered in creeping vines -- but I haven't done a shoot yet because everything is on private land and on a twisty country road. I'll need a driver, otherwise risk becoming a ghost myself.

It's like more like springtime here today than October 31st. A good day to get out in the garden.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Swamp sunflowers and other October stars

One of the little bumble bees that were buzzing over all of the Bidens:

There must have been thousands of them.

Now they are turning their attention to the few Bidens
that are left, the asters and the swamp sunflowers.

The swamp sunflowers provide brilliant splashes in a landscape that is beginning to fade. These are the sunflowers grown from seed from the NC Botanical Garden, Helianthus angustifolius, with very narrow ribbon-like leaves. I also have what I think is H. simulans, bought as H. angustifolius from Niche Gardens several years ago. Both species are behemoths, easily reaching 8 feet in feet and sometimes topping 10. H. angustifolius has very clean leaves but is at its peak for only about two or maybe three weeks. H. simulans tends to have terrible fungus that kills the leaves on the lower third to half of the plant late in the season unless cultivation conditions are perfect; still, it's worth growing because the flowers are beautiful for so long, at least 4 weeks.

There's nothing quite like the golden punch of a swamp sunflower in October.

I don't know where this aster came from, but I like it! I think it's willow leaf aster. Distinctly different from 'Miss Bessie'; much more dainty, blooms about a month earlier, with a softer more pinkish color. 'Miss Bessie' tends to be more of a steely violet, and I swear the color changes from year to year; some years the flowers have a gray cast and some years they look more purple to me.

Purple is a great complement to all of the yellow. One of the purple muhly grasses that hasn't been crowded out yet.

American Beautyberries

This is the first time in about FOUR years that Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' has bloomed. Black blister beetles have been chomping them down, but not this year. Perhaps they like hot dry weather. This summer, thankfully, like most of the eastern seaboard, was mild and rainy. In contrast, large populations of striped blister beetles here died off in drought (Thank goodness! Have you ever gotten a blister from a blister beetle?).

Typically I do not care for red in the garden, but there are ALWAYS exceptions. Especially for reds tending to pink or very pure red or a bluish red. Exceptions include a pure red rose ('Fields of the Wood' comes to mind), cardinal flower, St. Joseph's lily (Hippeastrum x johnsonii), a few red daylilies like 'Red Volunteer' and 'Ruby Spider', and
pineapple sage.

DH picked up the sage when he was buying potting mix for the tomatoes. Always puts in a hurrah at the last moment but well worth the wait, and sulfurs love them.

'Hot Lips' Sage is now also on the exception(al) list.

I haven't seen any Monarchs yet but it's been a banner year here for many other butterflies. Tons of swallowtails -- tiger, black, spicebush -- even a zebra swallowtail in the middle of summer, when they are usually just passing through in March. We were graced by the presence of lots of sulfurs all summer, when typically there are only large numbers in the fall. They would gather together to puddle at the edge of the tiny pond next to the water trough and then disperse into fanciful clouds.

The quail have gathered together too, into a covey of at least 15. Occasionally I will see the little partridge silhouette of a quail running around the corner of the garden. I've seen them flush from the neighbor's fence next to our land, and twice flushed them out in the garden here. It's always a little startling when they fly up like little torpedoes. If they scatter they will call to each with a two syllable call, different from the male's territorial "bobwhite" call. You can hear those calls after 15 seconds on this audio clip. The calls typical to the bobwhite here sounds like the ones 15-25 seconds on the clip.

Anyone else ready for the sun to come out?? We could use some sun. When I rode the horses in the pasture yesterday it was a little difficult finding areas that didn't have slick spongy footing, and we got more rain again last night.

I've debated blogging about the horses but it might be kind of boring. So many problems. Sometimes I think of them as walking billboards against the pitfalls of horse ownership. lol Prince is healthy now but this summer he gave us a couple of scares with a swollen right leg and an instance of going briefly staggering lame. He's 10 months out from his front left injury (many small deep AND superficial digital flexor tendon lesions, and even some check ligament involvement) and after miles and hours of walking and some trotwork he's back to doing some light dressage work 2-3 times a week. The pony, on the other hand, is lame again. Laminitis is probably at the bottom of it, in spite of the fact that they are still on the dry lot behind the house, and she's getting bermuda hay, which is typically low in sugars.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The golden month of September

September is the month for Bidens aristosa here! Whole swaths of the garden and areas around the garden are covered in yellow and gold for a good 4 weeks. The pollinators, especially the little furry black and yellow bumble bees, love Bidens. Walking outside sounds like walking into a giant hive.

My old 2002 Dell finally died, or more accurately, I finally put it out of my misery. It crashed, and then I couldn't restore it due to the fact that Windows XP is now obsolete and it's no longer possible to download the patches that make it operational. I've been nursing the old computer along for years, supplementing its paltry memory stores with an external hard drive, but its slowness and tics have long been a source of frustration. It would have been fun to send it crashing somewhere, but I had to settle for setting it down carefully in the recycle bin at the dump. At least I got to take a hammer to the hard drive.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. View from the from front porch Sept. 4th

and September 16th. This year was a good one for Bidens, with all of the rain. I still want to get more going by the woods, but to do that I need to lay down compost, then seed, and then not mow the area, even if it looks like hell in June and July. And still, I may have to wait another year, if the compost isn't broken down sufficiently, or if there's a drought so that the seeds don't germinate.

For all that Bidens is so vigorous, sometimes I have trouble getting it established. Back in '99 the bed pictured below by the fork in the drive had a beautiful stand of Bidens. I even have a picture of it with the flowers reflected in the flood waters from Hurricane Floyd. Then I decided that I wanted to add "variety" and mulched out the Bidens seeds. Major fail. I even had the pine tree cut down that was sucking the life out of the bed but nada. Some places are just the equivalent of the Gardening Bermuda Triangle. One year (and another garden blogger was even a witness to this), all I had was a big ugly stand of overgrown Bermudagrass to show for my efforts and subsequent giving up. Then, FINALLY, last year, the bed was full of Bidens again. Only took 12 years. Here it is this year, in the background, on Sept. 7th:

A week later.

In front of the big bed, Sept. 7th

and a week later.

There's a pretty good crop of Bidens in the wide strip that runs around the back of the house paddock and west of the house, although not as many as 2-3 years ago when the area was paved with them. Almost blinding aren't they? Makes me glad I planted so many beautyberries after all, most of them American, as the rich purple really complements the bright yellow of the Bidens. I planted groupings of them next to the drive and in spring was wondering why I did that as I was chopping off 5 foot lengths that were leaning over into the driveway. Now I remember there actually was a reason.

Lots of Bidens beside the driveway this year, and in the small field at the very top.

I put out this seed two years ago and almost none of it germinated until this year. Better late than never!

At the top looking down. Finally, in September, I have as many flowers as I want. ;)

September always reminds me of one of my favorite songs as
it was sung by Eva Cassidy (a cover of a song written by Sting).

Fields of Gold

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