Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Unsolved Mystery: the Rock That Came From Nowhere

I spend a lot of time wandering about the overgrown, honeysuckle cloaked woods that lie past Out Beyond, along the interstate; watching the birds, hunting mosses, making trails, gathering morel mushrooms in the spring, walking meditations, sometimes just being in Mother Nature's's sacred space. I know that woods intimately, every tree, every stone, every groundhog hole, every hawk nest and fox den. So it came as a complete and astonishing surprise one day to find a huge stone, what in this Ozarks mining country is known as a mineral egg, lying on the ground where it was not the day before. A "mineral egg" is a type of geode, often round or egg-shaped, sometimes hollow in the center but when it is solid all the way through, it is called a nodule. Usually they are pretty small. I had never seen one bigger than my head, but this one is some 60 or 70 lbs, and at least a foot and a half thick, maybe 2' tall.

No idea where it came from. I thought at first possibly from the direction of the interstate, maybe it had rolled down hill when the state highway mowers came through with their brush hog, but that was too far away to be realistic, besides there was too much brush in that direction. Down the hill from the back neighbor's property into the shallow ravine where it came to rest? Except there is a fence. Down the hill in the other dirrection from the woods? Noooo, I would have already found a rock that big. There was no sign where it had been settled in the ground, it was perfectly clean all the way around, resting on top of the dry leaves in the ravine. There was no sign where it had rolled down any hill, no crushed plants, no broken limbs, no disturbed ground. It was as if it had materialized from another dimension or floated gently down to earth from the sky.

 Having gotten previous permission from my elderly neighbor who owns the neglected woods to collect interesting stones from her property, it just remained to figure out how to get it home. It lay there a couple of weeks (during which time I fully expected it to have disappeared as quickly as it had come) while I thought about the logistics of carrying it, before I had a duh! moment. It's round! Round things roll!

Even as big as it is, it came home pretty easily with me. Being nearly round, it rolled very well up the side of the ravine, up the trail, and halfway home before it got stuck behind a deadfall log that I couldn't lift it over, and Jim came to help get it the rest of the way.

It now has a place next to the gate by the lower pond, where it keeps company with others of its kind, though much smaller; that came from a pile of stones with much less mysterious origins under a tree in my front yard.

When it was formed from the mud millions of eons ago, it rested on scallop shells that left fossil imprints on the tip, like a bow. How cool can that be?
Do you see a face in here? I think it is smiling at me!

I'm certain I will never know how it materialized in the woods like that. But it seems very much at home as guardian of the gate!

                  "If there were no mystery to explore,
                life would get rather dull, wouldn't it?"
                                                 --Sydney Buchanan

Friday, December 10, 2010

What the Heck IS That???????

The light and the angle were just right the day I climbed the hill Out Beyond with my camera, looking for good shots of birds, late flowers, interesting fungi, anything that would make a good photo, when I looked up towards a deadfall tree that I have seen a hundred times before, to be startled enough to make me jump by the image I saw. even though I knew what that was! There are deer out here, and that was my first thought before I recovered what was left of my mind and burst out laughing at myself! This dead tree really looks....well. not dead!

You lookin' at me?

Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. ~George Scialabba

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside!

As is typical for Ozarks weather we went from
70F  a couple of weeks ago to 12F forecast for tonight, and tomorrow it's supposed to bounce back up in the 50's, with snow on the slate for this coming weekend. It's no wonder the plants and small denizens of the garden are confused! Most of the more sensible ones have gone dormant, but I look out and still see Japanese maples with most of their leaves, white violets that insist on blooming with the first ray of sunshine, an echinacea with one brave flower, and even a hosta that has a couple of green leaves. A lot of the garden seems to be stuck betwixt and between, and I worry that the low teens are going to do some damage to plants exposed without full dormancy or at least a good snow cover to protect them until they finally give up and go to sleep for their long winter's nap.

None of the violets seem to be ready to give up
yet, and oxalis was even blooming a bit yesterday.
There are still Knockout roses in full leaf with a few flowers. As I was pulling some errant honeysuckle vines down out of a bridal wreath spirea, I noticed buds had formed and were about to open on some branches. Daffodils are poking their leaves up in sunny spots already, and that doesn't usually happen until the end of January. I haven't looked yet, but I have a suspicion I'm going to see a bit of yellow on the forsythia before Christmas!

On sunny days,
garter snake
can be found sunning itself under the crabapple tree by the pond. It must have been cold, because I got this close with my camera: even stroked it with my finger. It raised its head and regarded me with suspicion, but didn't move away. It stayed until the sun began to go down.

I wonder if this huge stick bug will find a warm place to spend the winter? I don't think I have ever seen one this big!

As climate change causes our ocean currents to change, which drive the jet stream, which in turn drives our weather, I expect we will see more and more things in nature that will seem puzzling to us. It has been going on for a several years now, but only lately is it obviously noticeable in temperate regions that have gotten colder, less rainfall in areas that used to get a lot of moisture, hotter summers and definite changes in the winters as natural cycles continue, accelerated in part by human activity. Whether or not we can actually do anything to slow down or reverse climate change, we are probably going to see more drastic swings in the weather for years to come. It didn't start in a day, and it won't end in a day. It promises to be challenging, frustrating, sometimes sad, perhaps exciting, certainly scary but interesting to see what gardening is going to be like in the future. Indeed, life on this planet!

One of the most fun things, a soft furry red kitty belly can be found, soaking up the rays in a sunny spot on the deck! Sooo tempting but a ticklish cat can be a dangerous thing if you dare to touch!

It's worth the risk! I love kitty bellies!

"The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes-and ships-and sealing wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings."

                        Lewis Carroll
                                              "Through the Looking Glass"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There are Vegans in the House!

Thanksgiving is two days away, and there are vegans to cook for. Now, that thought might strike terror into the heart of a cook that caters to a bunch of hard-core carnivores, but I've been doing this for years, and I think I might have it down pretty well. Other than the turkey, one batch of gravy and the deviled eggs for our family's carnivores, the rest of the dinner will be "vegan". I put that in quotes because that term is often misunderstood by mainstream traditionalists and conjures up thoughts of tofu, salads and tasteless veggies, but that ain't necessarily so.

Just the opposite, in fact. There aren't any rich cheese and sour cream dishes, to be sure, but that isn't healthy, anyway. There are many "mainstream" meals that don't use dairy, eggs, or meat if you think about it. Many recipes can be easily made vegan with just a few adjustments, and also healthier for you at the same time. My daughter makes a bruschetta to die for, and oh what she does with pasta! but that is another story.

It has become second nature to reach for miso soup in place of turkey broth for the dressing, olive oil instead of butter, coconut or palm oil in desserts instead of butter, Veganaise dressing base for the Waldorf salad, and soy or almond milk instead of dairy. And really, it doesn't taste any different, and if we don't mention it to our other guests, they never know they are eating vegan-friendly food that is actually healthy for them; and there is butter on the table for them or they can use olive oil, Mediterranean style.

On the menu at our house this year:

Oven-roasted turkey w/gravy
Sage/nut dressing
Vegan gravy (made with miso)
Cushaw Squash and apple soup garnished with chopped nuts and fried sage leaf garnish
Deviled eggs               Creamed peas w/mint
Some kind of roasted veggie/rice dish by the family vegans, it will be yummy!
Waldorf Salad              Cranberry salad
Winter green onions from my garden  
Jellied cranberry sauce
Swedish hardbread (a tradition at our house)
Apple Crisp
Rice Pudding
Pumpkin pie

Iced tea    Hot cider   Coffee

The Cushaw squash soup is scrumptious this year. I made a really big batch so I would have some to put in the freezer for quick and tasty winter meals. Cushaws are an heirloom variety, green and white striped that can weigh up to 20 lbs. It has a fine, grainy yellow flesh that is delicious in soups.

The recipe: It started out as a sweet savory apple squash soup, but of course I had to tweak it, and made it up as I went along.

Squash and Apple Soup

One Cushaw Squash, 8-10 lbs, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed and scraped.
2 TBS olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
5 lbs; (or 8-10) Jonathon apples (or other hard cooking apple such as Macintosh) peeled, cored, and cut into about 1" chunks
6 cups red miso soup
8 cups water (or enough to cover vegetables)
1 TBS fresh thyme leaves
1 TBS garlic powder
1 tsp ginger
1 TBS chili powder (or other hot pepper, sometimes I use ground Thai pepper but this is very hot so adjust for taste. 1 tsp is enough for the whole batch.)
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 450F. Line 10" x 15" jelly roll pans with foil. Place squash halves, cut side down, in lined pans and roast about 45 min or until very tender when pierced with fork. Cool until easy to handle, scoop squash from skin and place in large bowl. ( I found that the thick, solid neck of the squash took longer to cook than the hollow body, so I cut them in half and let the necks bake longer until done).

Meanwhile, in 5-6 qt saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. When hot, add onion and celery, cover and cook 10 minutes. Add apples, cover and cook 10 minutes longer or until tender. (You don't need to add any water at this stage).

At this point, because I don't have a huge kettle, I divided my apple mix in half and put one half into another 5-6 qt pan and divided the remaining ingredients, half into each pan.

Add miso, water, and squash to saucepot, cover and heat to boiling on high. Reduce heat to low and simmer until everything is really tender and mushy. I stirred them a lot to keep it from sticking. Ladle squash mix into blender with center part removed to allow steam to escape; (I let it cool some first). Blend until pureed. Pour into large bowl. Return all soup to saucepot and heat through. Ladle into soup tureen. Serves a big crowd or freeze in meal-size portions.

Garnish with chopped nuts and fried sage leaves.

To make fried sage leaves: heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a small sacuepan until hot and "shimmering". Add 5 or 6 medium-size sage leaves at a time and stir 5 seconds. With slotted spoon, quickly transfer leaves to paper towels to drain. Cool completely. Leaves will crisp as they cool. You can fry leaves a day ahead and store in airtight container at room temperature.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gentle Inheritance

Every time I get to thinking of Chaos in the Parrillel Universe that is this garden spot, as MY garden, I get gently reminded that no, I'm just the caretaker here.

A while back in early summer, The Digger decided he didn't like an old Pfitzer juniper that has occupied a corner of the stone wall for the last 25 years, and he was right. It was half dead, besides being a prickly uncomfortable thing, so it had to go. And with it, a thick bed of euonymous ground cover that had taken over the corner, plus some Japanese honeysuckle that had sneaked in and was tangled around an overgrown pyracantha, which had also way outgrown its bounds. A couple of weed trees, a male mulberry and a hackberry, had insinuated themselves next to the wall and gotten tall enough to cast a disrespectable amount of shade, because the corner was a tangled prickly mess no one wanted to deal with.

When all the above was removed, pulled, chopped, and tamed, a Foster holly was set in the corner to provide an evergreen anchor to that corner of the yard, and I planted a flat of mixed periwinkles in front of it for a temporary spot of color until next spring when I can plant perennials there. With all that tall junk gone, it now was a full sun spot and the periwinkles soon reached lush heights and blazed with hot, happy summer pinks, whites and reds, glowing and growing through the August heat and drought without wilting a leaf. It was so pretty I may have to change my mind about perenials and just plant periwinkles there from now on!


And here came the surprises. Once upon a time, some 50 years ago, or so my neighbor to the south at the bottom of the hill tells me, the Lady That Planted the Garden grew hollyhocks in that corner that she could see from her porch, 2 doors down, blooming tall over the wall. Apparently, with pulling out all that euonymous and disturbing the soil, hollyhock seeds that had lain fallow for all that time were brought to the surface (they need light to germinate) and, germinate, they did! I first noticed them as I was pulling out pigweed and other undesirables, when to my astonishment, I saw---baby hollyhocks! There were some half dozen of them, tiny and hopeful behind the holly tree! So I left them. And they grew, oh my how they grew!

  Plants are beginning to fill in, this should be spectacular next year. There are tall phlox, thalictrum, paracanda, echinacea, mums, golden yarrow, a variegated miscanthus, daylilies, a sprinkling of daffodils, irises, and a winter jasmine on the wall. A row of white flowered mondo grass edges the front, hopefully kept in check with a strip of landscape edging which will be invisible as soon as the plants grow a bit. Hardy geraniums are planned where the periwinkles were. All of these plants were divided and moved from somewhere else in the gardens except the chrysanthemums, which will have cuttings taken next year to be planted elsewhere. (Quick tip: can't remember what color of mums are where? Take a picture or two for reference. I always tag them, but tags get lost.)
You can see the hollyhocks in the back.

I didn't put anything here for scale, but these plants are huge! They are overtaking daylilies and mums that I actually planted in this corner.

This one is about 5' across in it's first summer. I can only imagine how tall they will be next year!

Another surprise: This bed is also full of volunteer petunias. Since I have never planted petunias here, the seeds must also have been banked up in here for all those years. I love these old petunias that reseed and come up every year with no help from me.

Next spring, I will plant an antique climbing rose on the wall, yet to be decided upon, to spread across the top of the wall. Once there was a Seven Sisters rose here, but long ago it was shaded out by big lilacs that grow to the east. One cane of it rooted on the other side of the wall and now blooms in the neighbors' yard. I may have to go and get a piece of it.

Even though she left long ago, the Lady continues to surprise me in sprit with her gentle inheritances. I'm sure there will be more to come.

"He who shares the joy in what he's grown
Spreads joy abroad and doubles his own."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Be Careful Of the Little Things

So easy to get in a hurry with fall cleanup, rush through the leaf-raking chores to get them done. But take care----

This little cutie was hanging out on a brugmansia that I was cutting back

And this little fellow nearly got the business end of the broom when I was sweeping off the deck, as it was sunning, surrounded by acorns. It was so well camoflaged on the grey deck boards that I would have missed it if it hadn't moved a little. It was cold and moving slowly so it was easy to capture and move out of harms way.

This praying mantis egg case almost got tossed on the fire when I cut back hardy ageratum in the fall
 cleanup, but luckily I spotted it, 4' above the ground, before I cut off the stem.

I found wooly caterpillars today, assasin bugs, several  lizards and a garter snake sunning itself on a rock, as I was cutting back perennials. Fallen leaves are left to protect the plants, and add organic matter to the soil over the winter. In the spring, the top layer of leaves that didn't decompose are taken off to the compost pile. Leaf fall on paths and driveways is raked and shredded on a weekly basis, before anything can take up residence in there (and before it becomes one biiiiggg chore!), then added to garden beds where they break down quickly, nourishing the soil.  Lawn leaves are mowed with the mulching blade on the mower to add nutrients to the lawn.

The fall cleanup isn't so pressing that we can't take the time to enjoy the diversity that gives our gardens life, and to take care lest we in our haste, destroy a tiny life.There are many little treasures that live in the leaves and detrius of the garden that largely go unseen except by the most observant gardener, and keeping a spotless garden deprives them of a place to spend a cosy winter. It is so easy to scoop them up unnoticed among the leaves if we clean up all the leaves that fall into the beds, and toss them out with the trash or worse, into the shredder.

So let the leaves lay as they may! There will be plenty of time in the spring to divest the plants of their protective leaf blankets, and when the snow flies, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that in the spring, the butterflies will come again, the frogs will sing, the mantids will pray, and lightning bugs will fill our nights with gentle fireworks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's My Name?

Seems like there are always a few hostas with no labels anymore, and even though I know it doesn't really matter, I am always curious (besides, if there is a mystery I always like to get to the bottom of it!) and when somebody asks, what's that one? I would like to tell them. If anybody recognizes any of these, please let me know!

Whoever I am, I'm sure pretty!

This WAS a mystery, until it began to open its double purple flowers and I discovered that is the biggest Fuji Botan that I have ever seen, scapes fully 5' tall and the plant is nearly 4' across.

Cherry Berry sported and I divided the sport out of it. This is what I got. Does it have a name? Not Maraschino Cherry, I don't think, fat green scapes with pale purple flowers.

This was sold as Sea Thunder. NOT!  Crisp, glossy leaves, purple flowers. Pretty, small/medium plant.

Another beauty with a missing label.???????

They always look a little, well, lost if they don't know who they are!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going Native: Plants of the Prairie

There is so much talk about growing native plants these days: what is native, what isn't, what are weeds, what can be called "wildflowers", what natives belong in a home garden and what should best be left in the wild, on and on. In my opinion (which I don't think you asked for, but I'm gonna give it to you anyway, I'm shameless) there are many native wildflowers which can be grown in a garden. But! and here's the caveat: some just aren't suitable or even manageable in a small space. Some of them need room, lots of it! Many need the kind of environment most backyard gardeners can't give them, and may just turn up their toes and die in our nice rich garden soil with all the water they could ever possibly want.....or else, on such a rich diet, go absolutely kick-up-their-heels rampant and try to fill every available corner with their offspring or their greedy roots. A firm hand is needed with these characters. They are native plants because they have adapted to survive under specialized, and sometimes harsh conditions that exist in the local environment. A few  actually need fire to germinate!

Prairie wildflowers are among those that survive on neglect, producing zillions of seeds, only a small percentage of which will actually find the right conditions to germinate. In spite of being found in full, intense sun on open prairies, a lot of them are actually shade plants, growing in the shade of tall grasses that tower over them as they complete their life cycles.

 Those pictured below are all plants of the midwest. Many of them can be found all over the United States, wherever prairie-like accomodations for these hardy plants can be found: in pastures, on roadsides, empty lots, in sidewalk cracks where you would thnk they couldn't get a root-hold.
. They ask for little more than a bit of soil, sun,
and that it rains once in a while.

The last time we went to Roaring River State Park, here in SW Missouri, we went hiking on the Firetower Trail (between trout fishing). It's a beautiful trail, through richly diverse woods, that eventually winds through a restored dolomite glade area with wonderful native wildflowers blooming in glorious abundance. It is a harsh, rocky area in full, blazing sun with competition from grasses, trees and predators to eat them, but somehow, they survive and are beautiful!

A few, like the puffy pink sensitive briar below, have their own defenses--the stems are thorny and hurtful to touch! Prickly pear cactus, also often found on certain types of glades, is very well armed. Some taste terrible, but all are host plants for some form of insect life or provide habitat for Mother Nature's pets, which feed on the insects that feed on the plants.....in the interconnectedness that is life.

Mimosa nuttallii (sensitive briar, cat's claw)

A wild member of the allium family

Prairie Larkspur

Prairie mallow

Echinacea (cone flower)

Asclepias (Butterfly weed)


Deptford pink



Prairie rose

Yellow clover

daisy fleabane

The wonderful golden seed puff of goatsbeard

Not your average garden! But this is where they all live, and do it so beautifully!

Many of these grow in my garden, and I find that they do very well. (Note: Most of them have come on their own, with no help from me, except to recognize them when I saw them.) Almost too well, in fact. With good soil and plentiful water, the majority of them tend to be a bit invasive, or at the least, extremely aggressive. They have to be tended to with a ruthless hand, pulling them out with no sentiment or there would be no paths or beds, just a sea of wildflowers to wade through! Which, come to think of it, might not be such a bad thing!

"A wildflower is just a weed with a pretty face. If ragweed was beautiful, we wouldn't care if it made us sneeze!"---Anon.
To learn more about the Roaring River Conservation Opportunity Area, please visit their website:
http://mdc4.mdc.mo.gov/Documents/17987.pdf And if you get an opportunity, visit in person!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For All You Hosta Freaks Out There

You know who you are, all you hosta lovers, freaks and geeks! Obsessive/compulsives, like me, who think there are no bad hostas. And we want all of them we can get! Lucky for us, there are thousands of varieties to choose from! (Oh, and don't be fooled by my knowing their names. I'm only telling you about the ones that haven't lost their labels, or never had any. I'm not that organized!)

Lower hosta bed, looking up. The pink in the middle is astilbe "Heart and Soul". El Nino is the pretty little blue and white in the foreground. Midwest Magic to the right. Two dogwoods, one pink and one white, will eventually shade this bed. We lost a small elm that shaded it, and poor Pizazz got its leaves burned this spring, but it is coming out of it.
On Stage
Of course, there has to be a Sum and Substance!
The big one in front is Regal Splendor. One of my favorites and a beautiful, reliable hosta that seems to be slug-proof. Left of it is Fire Island, Pineapple Upside-down Cake, Sum of all, and in the background, Blue Angel. This is the upper level. Someday, Sum of All, Blue Angel and T Rex (to the left, on the other side of the elephant ears and out of sight) will fill the center of this bed. These hostas were planted in '08 and '09., except Regal Splendor which is about 5 years old.

An assortment, next to the path going down to the lower level

Silver Threads and Golden Needles

Old bed under redbud tree, these hostas have been here for 6 years.

Pizazz at the top. You can see the sun damage.  Liberty is in front, left. Next to Liberty was labeled as White Feather, but it is not.

Sun Power

Great Arrival, in the center

Looking down into a new area, dwarf and mini hostas go down there.

Always beautiful and always reliable, Albo Marginata

New bed, just planted this spring (except for the A.M.'s.

Other side of mini-hosta bed. This area is new this summer, last week in fact. The larger hostas were transplanted out of spots where they were being crowded. A very young Big Daddy is in the back center.


Sweet Home Chicago. See the astilbe next to it?

This is when they were planted, in 2008. The astilbe has to come out! It doesn't stand a chance between Chicago and Veronica Lake, on the right! That's Paul's Glory, in the back.

Gold Standard in the back, Antioch in the front. Both old varieties but nice!

From left: Fragrant Summer, First Frost, Guacamole, Abiqua Drinking Gourd, underplanted with Kabitan

Albo Marginata Montana

Saving the best for last, Blue Angel. This plant is about 9 years old.
Hope you have enjoyed this sampling of my hosta collection!
Happy Gardening!

"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magick waiting somewhere behind the morning." ---Jpseph Priest 1753-1804