One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

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Bluebirds and Wishes For Spring

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It’s kind of amusing how this blogging business is really a different sort of journalism, with that possibility of changing at the last minute always there.  I sat down this morning, prepared to put together the latest post and I was going to lead with a great sparrow shot I got yesterday down by the harbor.   But as I was about to upload that pic, I heard a noise outside the window by the computer and there I discovered a pair of bluebirds(!!!)  resting on the deck.  

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Zippity-doo dah and stop the presses – we just got a new lead photograph!!

 I’ve never seen bluebirds before, though I’ve been hearing they were all over the Cape this winter…Lenny had even mentioned having seen them in the feeders downstairs.  This, though, was the first time for me and I’m kind of excited about it.  

The poor things; it’s 24 degrees out there today, which is cold, even if its warmer than the 18 degrees (or colder) we had here overnight.   I wonder where it is they are going to keep warm when they aren’t visiting local feeders.

Yes, winter just goes on and on here this year.   Like many parts of the world, our temps seem just a little colder this year.  There’s another round of snow coming this way tomorrow…and much of the state is expecting 6 – 12 inches of snow.   Here we are supposed to see snow at the start, changing to sleet and rain and other things which are less pleasant than snow, but indicate rising temperatures, so I’ll wait and see what happens before deciding to complain.   And seriously, how does one complain when a pair of happy little bluebirds are just outside the window, offering to make one’s kitty a new frock?

And anyway, there’s plenty indoors to help me create the illusion that spring’s already here.    The amaryllis is sporting a fourth flower now, it’s towering stalk beginning to list from the weight of all that beauty.  In fact, it shows signs of another flower stalk beginning to rise on the far side of the bulb.

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blue-primrose

Down at the feet of the towering amaryllis stalk in an adjacent pot you’ll find some of those primroses which I brought home a week or so ago, continuing to bloom merrily, since I’ve been remembering to water them every other day (they are in tiny pots and experience tells me they dry out pretty quickly…so water and some regular deadheading will keep them blooming a while longer, anyway). 

It’s a good time of year for snuggling in with some gardening catalogs and spending a little time daydreaming and wishing.   Here’s a few pictures from the Park Seed catalog which has recently captured my attention.   It’s a good thing I know I traditionally buy flowers in so many other colors, since so many of the purple things are drawing my attention here.  I’d love to try some of this Angelonia…what a great look potted up like that.

angelonia-catalog

corkscrew-and-monarda-catalI’ve always been a fan of beebalm, aka, monarda, so it’s no surprise I’m drawn to that version which blooms purple so far down (or up) the stalks.   And the Corkscrew vine has always intrigued me, though I’ve never tried to grow it before.   Maybe this will be the year for that.

amaranthus-catalogAmaranthus always fascinates me, too, the way they, like the poinsettias of Christmas, are known for flowers that are actually bracts of leaves which change color…and boy, do the leaves of these amaranthus change color, eh?  

Right now, I’m simply daydreaming with the catalogs, since I’m still getting my sealegs about just what form my garden may take in this new year.   But someday, I’ll get around to playing with some of this amaranthus stuff.  It looks spectacular.

Meanwhile, this variety of amaranthus (below) seems like a good one to plant if you are trying to get a particular message across to your neighbors, eh?

amaranthus-fingers

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This past Sunday was actually not such a cold day, although it becomes such a relative business after so much cold.   It might only have been in the high thirties, but it seemed warm to me.   Not enough to draw me outside, though – there was much I hoped to accomplish indoors – but it felt warm enough to turn the heat down a bit and crack a few windows to get some welcome fresh air blowing through the Nest, while I tended to some housekeeping stuff.

Of course, I also continued the recent campaign of pampering some of the houseplants…and the large pothos above was featured that day.   It was long-stemmed and many leaved when I brought it inside from outdoors in the fall…but I’d watched over the course of teh autumn as almost all the leaves feel off and I knew there was some issue I’d need to address.   

I discovered that the soil in this gifted pot was  quite depleted and the pothos had few roots remaining, so I ended up discarding some of it, and repotting the rest (knotting the base of the stems to help them create some fresh roots down there in the dirt) in a pot full of fresh soil, before pruning and giving it a good soak.   It’s back in the living room and we are hoping it will rally.

canna-with-seedbed

Meanwhile, here’s another look at the canna, which you can see is thriving, but only in one corner of a very large pot.   You might recall I’m a fan of the over-planted garden and so I added a bit of topsoil to the pot and have planted some cosmos seeds here.   You might also recall the cosmos were very slow growing for me last summer when I direct-seeded them, so we’ll see if this early seeding date helps them to bloom any sooner.   Fingers crossed.

There was also a marine heliotrope plant I’d rescued during my hasty departure in September, which was potted up in a pot not quite bit enough for it and sitting in a southern window.   It’s survived the winter nicely and had a nice tall stem with lots of foliage on the top of it.   

However, the stem itself was long and bare and down at the base was some fresh foliage, so I replanted in a larger pot and pruned down to those fresh leaves and I’ll see about encouraging it into a nice bushy shape for the summer.   They are annuals, but not inexpensive ones, so the extra effort seems justified.

marine-heliotrope

speedwellYou regular readers, at least the one with fine memories, might recall the on-going discussion I was hosting here last summer, about what’s a weed and what’s simply a valuable plant in the wrong place, or perhaps a little  too eager for a particular place.

It all started because I’d preserved some of a particular plant in building the Harwich garden.   The plant – speedwell – sported tiny blue flowers in spring and spread like crazy, including up the side of the split-rail fence.    Remember

While re-potting the heliotrope, I discovered that a small slip of that eager little beauty had stowed away on the move to the Nest and so I was able to hold it aside and give it a tiny pot of its own.   We’ll see what it does there.

Sunday was also a great day for getting a few more of the many things I moved into the Nest last fall, to fall into the right places where they are supposed to live, as I continue the business of getting the place (and in the process, my own brain) into some better and healthier sense of organization.   Not too much, people, but some.  ; )

Anyway, I was able to create some more shelving opportunites to raise some of my bigger plants up into the great sunlight the front bedroom enjoys each day.   Here’s another look at one of those magnificent canna leaves, with the fuschia plant hanging in the background.

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bird-watcherAnd what, you ask, does my roommate do during these activity-filled afternoons?  Well, often he uses the opportunity to express his opinion about new ways and places where the small rugs might be displayed/arranged, sometimes tripping me up in the process. 

But I’d taken the opportunity to hang the carpets over the railings of the deck outside to give them a bit of airing out and wash the floors, too, so he contented himself with some bird and squirrel watching in one of those warm southern windows not crammed with plants (I keep this one free especially for his use, actually), or finding open patches of floor to lay around on his back.

Of course, he also tears about the place according to his will and is a very chatty cat, instigating conversation as often as he is simply responding to whatever it is I’m saying and on those rare occasions when I sit down to check email, or lounge on the couch to watch a bit of television, he is right there on top of me.   Heh…It’s nice to have a roommate who’s so (mostly) thoughtful and cuddly, to boot.   Especially on these cold January days.  

snowflakes-and-flowers

Some of you may have already seen word of, or downloaded this program, from the link at Sticky Crows.   To others, this may be a new discovery.   But here I am, adding my endorsement to Torn’s.  The download is a program which may be set up to sift through all (okay, most…) of your photo files and create some interesting displays on your computer desktop, changing the background at regular intervals which you determine.   

It’s a fun way to look through your old photos to remember just what is there.   For my part, it’s been an interesting way to look back at the last year and see just what all it’s entailed…and yes, ahhh, how many flowers there were!  

If you’re looking to transform your desktop into a digital photo frame without the expense, you should download your own copy here.

sparrow-chill2

And in the category of Just Because I Think Everyone Should Know of Brilliant New Talent, I must share with you this new video by Matt Alber, which you might’ve seen elsewhere (Joe.My.God, or perhaps LOGO…)…but even if you have, you should watch it again.   It’s sad and beautiful and lovely and wonderful and sweet and hopeful…and that kiss at the end, oh, my…we just don’t get to see that sort of thing often enough.  “End of the World”, folks.  Check it out here.

There’s that poor sparrow who got bumped from the lead of this post.  He was soaking up some sunshine on one of those cold and windy days recently, as nearby a fishing boat tried to break its way through the ice of high tide.  

I hope you’re finding your own patch of sun in which to lounge about.   : )

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January This and January That

brilliant-amaryllis1

How nice it is to have such a big and showy blossom to brighten up the winter pages of this gardening blog.   The amaryllis was even more spectacular in this morning sunshine.  Since it has been so snowy and cold, I think you’ll happily indulge me sharing more than just one shot of it.  By evening the second blossom had fully opened, but I’ll wait ’til morning to get a few more shots of that.

amaryllis-front-window

Having posted so recently, I don’t necessarily have lots to say.   But I do have a few photos I haven’t shared with you yet and a few miscellaneous things to tell you about.

Last summer I discovered a great host of wonderful blogs and bloggers out here in the Internet.   One of them, Large Tony, was a particularly bittersweet discovery.   Tony’s posts were a joy to read:  smart, funny, sensitive, dirty, honest, sexy.  Lots of other adjectives, too.   He mostly made me smile, and often laugh right out loud (but never LOL) but every now and then brought a tear to my eye with stories of life with his Granny, or his courtship with the Attorney.

The bittersweet part came in realizing that he had already made the decision to stop blogging at summer’s end as his fourth year came to a close.  As August turned to September, Tony bid us all, and the internet, a fond adieu. 

Or so it seemed.  This week, however, I happened to click on the old link to Tony’s blog, in hopes of some update or perhaps news of a book deal or something.   And there it was, the announcement of a whole new blog for this next chapter in Tony’s life, called West of Mayberry.   It’s nice to have Tony’s voice around again…and I wanted to make sure you all knew.  

Surf on over and check him out, won’t you?

yellow-dingy

cold-sparrowIn other news, my friend Heather recently reminded me that the impending start of February doesn’t mean only more snow and cold.  

 The turning of the calendar page will bring us that much closer to the 2009 Great Backyard Bird Count, in which I do hope to participate this year.

The GBBC is a joint project sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audobon.  For four days, February 13 – 16, we are all invited to do some bird watching.   You can do it for just 15 minutes, or you can count as many birds as you can during the whole period, filling out an online survey report for each session/location.

This is an important effort, as the tallied results will provide valuable information about changes in migration patterns, the impact of winter weather and diseases on local bird populations and the different human landscapes which attract different species of birds, and plenty of other things, too.   If you have the time and inclination, you should try to participate.  

You can find all the information you need at the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

cloud-bank-first-encounter

trees-and-skyHere’s an interesting sidebar to the harsh winter conditions of our discontent.   In the last week, two different ivory gulls have been sighted in the Cape Cod area.  

Ivory gulls, which are the similarly-fated neighbors of polar bears, are generally only found in and on the pack ice of the Arctic Circle, so seeing one here is highly unusual and, as you might guess, local birders are all a-twitter.  Heh

I shall definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for them on subsequent winter beach visits.   This time of year, winter storms often blow birds from other areas off course and I did hear that a number of dovekies (they look like tiny penguins, something I discovered a few years back when one memorably appeared outside work during the Christmas party we were hosting…) were found recently in the Provincetown area.

On a winter’s day around here, you never know quite what you’ll get.

cloudbank-two 

NOTE:  I had intended that the original post would end there…but then I had some troubles with my internet connection (it seems my cable modem may be dying a slow death…oh, yay…) and my time online last evening was brought to a premature and frustrating close.   Grrr.  

Still, I’m back now and I was at least happy – after restoring service this morning – to discover that the whole post draft had not been lost.   And as it turns out, now I have a new photo of the amaryllis from this morning, with TWO blooms.    Beauty, eh?

amaryllis-two

Winter Survival Skills

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Hey everyone, mid-January greetings to you.   Here’s what the garden looks like this time of year.  Pretty sleepy, by all appearances, but it was only last week I saw signs of growing there.   Of course, the last week has been pretty arctic hereabouts, with temps down in the teens and single digits here and there, so I’m happy we had this bit of snow cover to start the week, to offer a little bit of an insulating blanket to protect my outdoor green friends.

Sorry not to be posting so much lately, but it IS January and this IS a garden blog and there just isn’t always lots to say.  Consider it balance for those golden days of June and July when I sometimes post twice a day!  I’ll also cop to falling prey to just a bit of seasonal depression last weekend.   Mostly, t’was the usual business of “Gee, the holidays are over and the bright lights are gone and wow, its gray and cold and miserable and…”, well, I bet you all know that old story.

And of course this year, the end of that holiday season found me reviewing the life-changing last six months and finding a household that’s still in a state of mild disarray, with a head and heart to match.  So a little time to pull inward and think too much about all that seemed hard to resist, if self-indulgent.   Just one more thing January is good for.

rh-super-high-tide

 Here, by the way, is a look at Rock Harbor the morning after the perigee full moon.   The tide was much higher than usual.   The brown stuff floating at the edge of the water looks like the shoreline, but is actually bits of leaves and sticks and other flotsam floating as the tide reaches up to touch the edge of the roadway there.  Impressive, certainly, but hardly mood-lifting.

roommate-mesmerized

But have you met my roommate, Badum?   He keeps me from sinking too far into despair, pointing out the important things in life, like the rainbow he was stalking here (which you can see below), and patches of sun to lounge in and kitty bellies that need rubbing.  His zoomy episodes are always a cause for amusement, though continually make me wonder if he couldn’t be swiffering at the same time he’s dashing about like a madman…er, madcat.

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hot-chocolate-sparrowAnyway, with his help – and as always – the wise and encouraging words of a few good friends and family members, I was able to climb out of the Shallow Pit of Meh, get a little perspective, tie up a few loose ends in my thinking and get myself back on track.

Toward that end, I gave myself a little treat on Tuesday evening, stopping by our local cafe and candy shop, the Hot Chocolate Sparrow, where I ordered up one of their sinfully-wonderful hot white chocolates and found a table at the corner where I wrote for an hour.   What fun.   I’ve always enjoyed writing in public and hadn’t really given myself the opportunity to do much of that recently, so it was fun to discover a place to do so and let my pen dash across a few pages.

I think I have also mentioned here before that, while the summer sunsets on Cape Cod are nice and spectacular and all, it is the winter ones which also seem a little more special and amazing.   I had to consider this week the possibility that I just like them better because for a moment, they make me feel warm.   Whatever the case, here’s one for your viewing pleasure.

january-sunset

canna-leavesAnd I also remembered that, when the garden is covered in snow and frozen hard, there are other places to look for my off-season inspirations, like here in the windows of the Nest, where that gorgeous orange canna of summer’s end has begun to push up new flower stalks for the season to come. 

And that amaryllis planted just before Christmas?   It’s nearly two feet tall now and it’s big flower bud is just starting to get a little red.  In fact, today it appears the tips of the petals have seperated from one another.

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It huddles near the frosty windows with a host of other houseplants, whom, I realized this weekend, have been very patient about having been a little neglected through the last six months.  Oh, sure, they’ve been watered and each of them given the best window for their needs…but it’d been far too long since they’d gotten any real pampering.  

A few of them would benefit from transplanting or at least a refreshing of their pot soil.  Others could stand a bit of pruning, cuttings saved for (gods help me) a few new plants and so on. 

As the Fixx sang to us in the 80s, one thing leads to another, of course, and before long you realize you’ll need more plant hangers, and hooks and flower pots and soil and fertilizer and so on.   But this is the perfect time of year for that and so around mid-week I began planning for some time to give them a little of the extra attention they deserve…and which, in the long run, will also comfort me by A) getting to work with green things, which is always fun and 2) having the Nest look a little more like the greens-filled home I’d love it to be.

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Trust me, the mental adjustments and the project to plan for came at just the right moment, since Thursday we saw another little snowfall of a few inches, as winds continued to howl and temperatures barely rose high enough to allow it snow.  

At least the arctic temps made the snow light and fluffy and easy to clear away with a nearly-effortless sweeping.   It’s even sort of Zen, as activities go, this snow brooming.  But the timing of this little storm, and the cold temps going along with it did its bit to shutter things up here a bit, as the restaurant and others in the area made the decision to close a little early.  

It was probably a wise decision, too.   My commute is usually about five minutes or less, at least this time of year, and it was closer to fifteen or so.   I know, it’s still a laughably short commute, you urban types are no doubt grumbling at this point, and I don’t disagree.   I’m only saying conditions here that afternoon made for a longer commute, with some pretty slick roads and i was glad to finally get home.

And when I got home, I heard on the news that some of the geese Patrick has show us over at his blog might’ve gotten into a bit of trouble.   It probably wasn’t those geese, it seems now, but still, it’s a bit incredible to think of that plane coming down more or less over the spot where we walked along the river not long ago and splashing down a bit further south.    An amazing story…and an exciting one:  when we was the last time we had television anchors excited about good news?!   

A miracle, indeed.

snowy-carport

The geraniums in the greenhouse dining room at work are blooming nicely, despite the snow and cold just out the window.

greenhouse-geranium

frozen-first-encounter-mars

ivy-in-the-sinkFriday was a sunny day.   You shouldn’t be fooled though, it was still no more than 17 degrees outside, but at least the wind wasn’t blowing, which created the illusion of a little more warmth, anyway.   On the way to work I had the chance to do a little shopping, and while I felt a little of Goldilocks’ frustration, finding that most places only had flower pots which were either too big or too small, I did find some satisfaction at our local Agway garden center.  

They also have all the fixin’s out for seed starting for the coming garden season.   I found myself drooling a little over the little peat pot pellets (just add water!) and plastic greenhouses and – oh, my goodness – all the seeds to choose from.    I’ll go back again when I’ve gotten my head together, but I did pick up a few flower pots and a package of morning glory seedlings, which I hope to get started this week.

And when the day turned to evening and I was home again, I began the pampering, filling the kitchen sink with a few inches of warm water and starting to line up the evening’s participants.  With the dry heat of winter indoors, and the plants close proximity to cold windows, there’s plenty of ways to dry out, so it always seems like a good time to give them a little rainforest treatment and let them drink their fill, while I wipe off their leaves with a damp paper towel.   They always look so happy when I’m through.

wire-coathangersThis potted ivy has been growing steadily since we first met about four years ago and only recently had begun to look a little wild and unruly.   Which one of us couldn’t use a little guidance now and then?

So, after loosing up the soil in the pot around its roots and mixing in some fresh soil near the top of the pot, I dug a pair of old wire clotheshangers out of the back of the closet.  Contrary to what Joan Crawford would’ve had us believe, they do have their value, although anymore it is rarely associated with clothes-hanging.

They can be repurposed as a topiary form for your ivy who needs some guidance and encouragement, and so I unwound them and tried to bend them into more useful forms, with not dreadful results.    A professional form would’ve been six-sided, perhaps, and ended up a little more globe-shaped.  But still, I’m happy with my home-grown effort and I’d bet money my ivy’s happier, too.

I also transplanted this Christmas cactus which came to me this season.   It’s supposed to bloom yellow something I’ve never seen before in one of those guys.   I was hoping it might do so this year – it did arrive to me with buds on, but I think I might’ve given it a little too much water, or a window sill that was a little chilly and they fell off.  Anyway, I gave it a home in this nice blue pot and I’m hoping for better things next year.

christmas-cacti-with-primro

sunrise-thru-frost

It was a good evening’s effort and I got more accomplished than I managed to capture in photographs.   It’s a wet, dirty business, of course, and really no place for a digital camera. 

But there were snake plants (aka, mother-in-law’s tongue) – one plant turned into three, a couple of pothos trimmed and replanted and given some fresh soil.  I’m sorry to say my recent experiment with a cutting of aloe didn’t succeed.  But these things don’t always and I’ll just try again.  

The spider plants remain; the project of dividing and repotting them will be just a shade more complicated (that’s where the hooks and hangers come into play) and it was getting a little late.  But they’ll have their day in the sun…er, sink…soon enough.

Come dawn the next morning, though, everyone else was looking pretty great.   Of course, t’was one of those winter mornings when it just seems so bizarre that it can be 12 degrees in the dark before sunrise, and 6 degrees in the golden glow that follows.    Brrrr.   Before too long it was back to 12 and then up to 16.   Woo hoo.

Here’s how the ivy turned out.

ivy-climbing

I’m happy to say that I’ve awoken this gray Sunday morning to a temperature of 33 degrees, which feels just a little tropical now.  It looks like the snow forecast for us today will come as rain, which may put a hold on my plans to get out for a walk.  I bet the spider plants won’t mind at all.

Here’s a little something to crow about:  today, it’s been six months since that last dirty cigarette went between my lips.   I’ve actually gone longer with quit attempts in the past, but this one still feels like the one that’s going to take, so I’m willing to let down my guard and whoop it up just a smidge.   Woo hoo!!!!

Meanwhile, here’s a shot of Cape Cod Bay at Skaket Beach, which I captured last evening around dusk, as the bay began to freeze up after a week of arctic temps.   Pretty nifty, huh?  

Snuggle in and stay warm, everyone!

frozen-bay-and-sunset