Hydrangea Paniculata “Limelight”

These hydrangeas are fading and turning a lovely shade of mauve, but here is one that is still going strong. The bees have loved them, and so have I. Goodbye summer! #FridayFlowers #gardening #bees

hydrangea

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Black-Eyed Susan

After lots of rain, Rudbeckia hirta provides the sunshine in my garden today. #Fridayflowers #gardening #summerinWisconsin

Yellow flower

In the Midsummer Garden

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” –Gertrude Jekyll
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Summer in the Midwest is fleeting. Here it is, July 25, 2016, and though we’ve been suffering in the heat and humidity (though not as much as you Southerners!), we will soon bundle ourselves in woolen sweaters and goose down to fend off the cold. This spell of warm weather with the humidity induced mists over the fields will be but a memory. That’s why I decided to share with you some of my favorite parts of my gardens, my favorite place to be this time of year.

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When we moved into our house, we had no gardens at all, only sandy dirt and rocks. Over the course of the last ten years, Bruce and I have worked to create gardens all around our house. I cut out pictures from magazines of what I liked. With his own artistic vision and the muscles to help me realize my own, Bruce and I have nearly “finished” our landscaping. Here is the vegetable garden. Two years ago we decided to take up square foot gardening. It has been a qualified success. We don’t get quite as much produce as we once did from approximately the same area, but the garden itself looks beautiful, I think.

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The picture above shows our vegetable garden where we grow all our vegetables in raised beds, except our tomatoes. This year we’ve experimented with growing tomatoes in pots. I’m not sure I like that as well–lots of hand watering–but they have not been afflicted with the diseases they were plagued with before. We’ll see how they taste this year. My hubby is the muscles and brain behind the design of this garden. He’s a landscaping artist! In this area we are growing carrots, parsnips, collards, ground cherries, kale, peas, basil, eggplant, bell peppers, pole beans, cucumbers, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, mesclun mix, raspberries, and just out of the frame, rhubarb and some herbs.

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In the rest of the yard so many flowers are in bloom or have just finished blooming. I love all the natives and the easy growing flowers like purple cone flowers and liatris. I’ve said since I moved here that I won’t have a flower that is not tough enough to withstand a sub-zero winter. If it wants to be in my garden, it has to be tough. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve tried out that just didn’t have what it takes to withstand the cold and less than hospitable conditions here. I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere….

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Nature Feeds the Muse

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Water Lilies and Cattails in the Pond

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

My life this week has been a reawakening, a slow revelation of moments of natural beauty I have missed buried in student papers and teacher preparation as I was for so long. With my hubby’s help my neglected gardens are coming to life once more, each day showing more of “the pretty” Leopold talks about. False indigo flowering, Onondoga Viburnam and pagoda dogwood flowers, potentilla, dianthus, and roses unfolding.

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Pagoda Dogwood Blossom

This past weekend thunderstorms rolled into my area of Wisconsin and reminded me what true power looks and feels like. Raccoons, chipmunks, deer, hawks, snakes, mice, butterflies, and songbirds too varied to mention are making my backyard home. The river is full and fast, and the deer flies and horseflies are plentiful. These days I smell like a piquant combination of Coppertone Sport sunscreen and Deep Woods Off just to keep my skin from burning and the bugs from biting. Stella and I are fixtures on the roads in the morning  where we routinely walk 5 miles, and I’m sure the bugs expect a free meal.

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After the storm sunset in Wisconsin

For the first time since I left school, I finally don’t feel like I have papers to grade or the coming week to prepare for. I have had time this week to see, to notice, to experience my corner of the world without preoccupation. I have paid attention both to my surroundings but also to my writing, my art. One feeds the other. I feel inspired to write when I’m running or gardening, and those moments of introspection feed my writing. I can think when I’m engaged in a repetitive activity or one that only requires  the body to be engaged and leaves the mind to wander and romp. Through gardening I create gorgeous natural scenes, flowers and trees, frequented by birds and butterflies, hummingbirds and deer. Nature feeds the muse.

What at first drew me to writing was, in fact, the same thing that drew me to gardening, “the pretty” that Leopold talks about.  I tried to understand how to craft a beautiful turn of phrase. When I was in college, I majored in English. I read A LOT: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Alice Walker, Faulkner, Shakespeare. These authors expanded my mind and allowed me a glimpse of what was possible with the written word.

But the book that spoke to me was Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s writing blew me away, so much so that I committed passages of it to memory, particularly this one: “His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

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Onondaga Viburnum Flowers

“The pretty” of Fitzgerald’s words and Shakespeare’s and Thomas Hardy’s and countless others initially pulled me into the world of words and communicating ideas through writing, but something happened to me when I began to appreciate what authors did. I found myself wanting to become one. Over and over I would read and try to figure out what authors I admire did to involve me in the stories they wove. Reading became a study in technique, but often I became so immersed in the stories  I lost myself there. I ended books without a clear idea of how the author crafted scenes, characters, or dialogue. Now I work to remain aloof from the story to understand before I become emotionally involved. Sometimes it is harder than others to do so. That is when I know I’m reading a masterful writer.

I don’t know if writers, the really good ones, understand what they are doing when they write. I’m still finding that out about myself and my writing.  When I feel the muse take hold. I itch to get some niggling thought out of my brain and express it. Where I believe the muse and craft of writing come into play is in the transcribing of whatever the idea is into eloquence. How do you take a raw idea, even if it is just a whiff of an idea and translate its essence into words?  That is the task, one which is utterly difficult and ultimately fulfilling.

Here is how  Wisconsin author, David Rhodes, describes the feeling of a writer–this time a songwriter–trying to express an original idea in his book Driftless (one of my favorites).  “The feeling inside her had never been expressed before, yet it longed for expression and had chosen Gail to accomplish the deed. It was jiggling out of the primal psychic strands of whatever memories and passions made her. She had been chosen, and though she couldn’t quite hear it yet, she felt the inspiration trying to make a sound through her. It wished to be born.” He pretty much captures it.

Grappling with ideas that have chosen me is what I’ve chosen to commit my life to. I will still try to express “the pretty,” (that’s the seductive, fun part) but even the ugliness of life will find expression in my prose. I want to be a faithful steward of words, to capture the ineffable yearnings of the human spirit to make them accessible to all, to transcribe the smells, sights, feelings, tastes, and sounds of my corner of the world so that through my words others can find their way into the beauty of art but also through  their own poignant struggles, recognizing those “values as yet uncaptured by language.”

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False Indigo

 

Graziano Gardens

 

Graziano Gardens

Last Saturday I was feeling lonely because my hubby was away, my friends were camping or otherwise occupied, and I needed a little inspiration for my house and garden. I’ve also been trying to do something creative other than writing to, as my husband says “keep my saw sharp.” We writers need to use our creative energy in more than one way to keep the creative juices flowing. Since the main character in my book is also a gardener, I thought getting back into gardening would not only be good for my creative spirit and let me feel some of what Faith feels, but it would also be a good way to be active, a real challenge when I sit so much at my desk writing. It is definitely a workout.

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I use to really enjoy gardening, but the past few years I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do, and I’ve been lazy and uninspired. We have lived in our house now for nearly ten years, and all our landscaping needs overhauling. After a time, shrubs reach their full height and need radical trimming or removal, perennials need dividing–especially when you neglect doing that year after year, and some overzealous plants reproduce and take over–Siberian irises anyone? That’s where my gardens stand right now. I’d really like to pay someone to come in and redo everything, but who can afford that?

20150801_143255That’s why on Saturday, August 1, I went to visit my friend Shelly Christie, the owner of Graziano Gardens.  That’s us: she’s in pink looking lovely even in the heat! People display their creativity in numerous ways, and I’m glad Shelly lets her creativity shine in the garden. You can see it even in my less than stellar photography. Last Saturday was the first in her new Super Saturdays at Graziano Gardens. I visited to get some inspiration for planting and also to go to the Barn-tique sale–the barn on the property has all kinds of antiques and collectibles to restore and up-cycle into some new treasure for your house or garden. Pinterest anyone?

In addition, I listened to the very knowledgeable Rob Zimmer discuss gardening and designing with native plants. Rob is a columnist for the Appleton Post Crescent and is also known as the Yard MD. I did get some inspiration for next spring, but still have too much to do with what I already need to divide and move to buy anything else, except for two daylilies–there is always room for more daylilies, and Shelly had some beauties. I purchased two called Pardon Me (love the name!) miniatures with cranberry red flowers with green throats. They are re-bloomers too. I can’t wait to get them in the ground. Today, I promise.

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If you need an injection of creative inspiration and haven’t been to Graziano Gardens yet or haven’t been in a while, I urge you to go. The gardens surrounding the garden center will inspire you as will the numerous plants and pots for sale. Shelly and her crew are wonderfully  helpful and friendly! Also mark your calendars for the next two Super Saturdays this fall. The weather will be cooler, perfect for gardening. Here’s the info! I hope to see you there!

Super Saturdays, September 5th & October 3rd

  • Super Specials & Sales
  • Barn-tique Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Linda Otto Peeters of Willow Farm – Wet Felting / Jewelry Making
  • Mum Arrival
  • Fall & Seasonal Decorating Tips
  • WE-SHARE-A-COUNTY Fall Driving Tour

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A Magical Moment

Often I find living so far from my family difficult. Southerners are not a roaming people, at least they don’t travel up north very often. So I have been the one to make trips back and forth to see my family. One very important trip, however, was one I didn’t make in time. I didn’t make it home to see my daddy before he died. Many father’s days have come and gone since then, but I never forget him or how much I loved him. And I will always regret not being with him when he passed away into God’s hands. But God, I’m sure at my father’s insistence, granted me one blessing: he allowed my daddy to communicate with me after he passed away.

After my daddy died, I felt his presence near me several times but mostly in dreams or some dreamlike state in which consciousness floats just out of reach but sleep recedes. The last time I had one of those episodes, I woke with a terrible longing, missing my dad like he had only just passed.

Though we had disagreements regularly before he took ill, we seemed to have made our peace in the last couple of years of his life. We talked often on the phone and shared a love of conservative politics and good Southern food, especially peaches and barbeque. We exchanged recipes, and I treasure those, especially his barbeque sauce recipe. That one I can only make here in Wisconsin in warm weather because I have to open windows so the vinegar doesn’t sear our sinuses.

The other loves we shared were animals and gardening. I’m so thankful he was around when my two beloved cats died within a week of each other at age 16. He knew how I felt and, though he couldn’t hold me across the miles, his love transmitted itself through the phone lines in that soft Southern drawl of his. He was my daddy; I needed him, and he was there.

Daddy was a doctor, a healer and a nurturer when he obeyed his better instincts. He was also an animal lover and a gardener. He fed hummingbirds from numerous feeders on his deck at his house on Lake Sinclair and would name the different varieties. He especially loved the ruby throated ones. He grew azaleas, hostas, hollyhocks, and daisies among other flowers at his house and even sent me some of his hardier perennials which I grew in my gardens at our old house.

It was in that garden amongst his flowers when I experienced a magical moment. After waking from a disturbingly realistic dream about my dad not wanting to die but being called to heaven anyway, I felt as though I had lost him all over again. Knowing I wouldn’t go back to sleep, I rose to find it was already almost six o’clock, nearly full light. I put on my scarlet bathrobe and shearling slippers then headed down the hallway to the stairs.

I turned to grab the hand rail to go down, but my foot slipped and I missed the step bumping down the first three or four stairs on my rear end. Upset as I was by the dream, I started to cry because the fall had scared me and it hurt. Prairie Dawn, my chocolate Lab, came to investigate, consoling me by licking my face, so I decided to let her out for her morning turn about the yard. I sat on the front porch steps feeling sorry for myself. I missed Daddy horribly and put my head on my knees.

Over my sniffles I heard a humming noise, low at first but getting louder. I looked up to see an iridescent blue hummingbird with very dark eyes flitting from one flower to the next up the curved walkway toward me. I sat very still. It came closer until he hovered within a foot of my face. He hovered there looking at me, and I was overcome with the feeling that Daddy was trying to communicate with me, to tell me not to grieve, that he was okay. As soon as that thought entered my mind, the hummingbird flew away without stopping at a single flower.

I stared after it and felt such a rush of love and peaceful gratitude, like God’s hand had reached out and touched my heart. For a moment time stopped; the sun shone golden through the crisp September air and lit the purple flowers of the hostas and set the purple cone flowers aglow. Just as suddenly, the spell was broken. Prairie Dawn jumped up the steps of the porch and ambled over to me. The world was with me again.

I thank God for the moment he granted me, the peace he allowed me to feel knowing my daddy was safely with him. I couldn’t be with my daddy when he died and I have always felt I should have been. But at that moment I knew Daddy didn’t mind. He knew I loved him, and God allowed him to remind me just how much he loved me. I know I’ll never stop missing him. He and I were connected through life, through some mystical quality that manifests itself through heredity, through blood, eye color, particular gestures. We were connected spiritually through love, through God and His tender mercies.

God allows us to remember the good things about our loved ones when they die, and the bad just don’t seem to matter. I believe what remains of a person when they die is pure love, the essence of God which we discover quite by accident and which blesses us and renews us, a benediction and a promise of paradise, that mystical other world of which we can only dream.