Singing the Praises of Warm Fall Weather

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When I opened my eyes this morning, still toasty under the blankets, the room was aglow with a warm, radiant light.  Recognizing the signs I jumped out of bed (no easy feat with these achy joints) to be treated to another breathtaking sunrise.

Autumn through spring these are expected but every single one starts the day as a huge gift.  I never see them as predictors of the weather, I see them as the beginning of a string of little gifts for the day.  It reminds me to look for them.

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Minutes later the fog was there and the sky had dramatically changed.  The most amazing part was it being so warm outdoors that I could throw on my Mucks and go out in my bathrobe to photograph the changing sky. I seem to recall there being snow on the ground by now last year or at least so cold I would have considered getting dressed first.

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The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year with it predicted to last through next week.  Thank goodness, there is so much garden work to do.  The cold doesn’t usually stop me but it definitely slows me down.  Fires have to be lit – physically and mentally in order to get going in the morning.  This blessed warm weather keeps the heating costs down.

There are a million things I should be doing indoors, this is usually the time of year when the cold weather projects come out.  I look forward to it – the weaving, rug hooking, quilting but it looks like all of it will be put off until after dark at least.  My carrots and rutabagas are still in the ground, the perennial gardens need cleaning out.  More wood needs to be cut and split.  The coop needs to be moved, buildings buttoned up for the winter.  Yeah, time to get moving and mentally sing the praises of warm fall weather.

Gifts of the Garden

150726 Amanda's Wedding

When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house.  The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost.  Our girls were probably in their early teens.

I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option.  They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had.  I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.

This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens.  Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited.  Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there.  The horror.

With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only.  That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday.   For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was.  From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them.  It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.

150716 Aerial view

Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path.  It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before.  They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.


Draped and decorated.

Arbor Flowers

I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs.  Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too.  Sort of temporary art.


I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty.  Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.


A garden riot of flowers on the table.


Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit.  Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.

Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives.  They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom.  It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry.  As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment.  In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way.  I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.


Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day.  They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way.  A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.





The Body Can Take Only So Much

140818 Patio Garden

Ever feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?  That’s what I’m feeling today.  The photo above is of the stone patio on the southeast side of the house.  There is (was) a perennial garden that ran around the edge of it that has been there since the beginning of time, I swear.  It had irises, phlox, peonies, various herbs and enough daffodils to populate the sides of every road in town.

I have been thinking about digging up this garden for a few years now but every summer it has been just too hot to do it.  With all the other gardens I’ve dug so far this summer I figured I would tackle one last one.  The decision was made earlier in the year when only a few of the irises blossomed.  They were too crowded.  The daffodils were insane every year for decades but this year there weren’t quite many blossoms as I’m used to seeing and I took that as a sign as well.

Today was the perfect weather to spend outdoors doing anything.  Blue sky, breeze, cool.  I started digging at 8:30 and finished around 3:30.  Well, I stopped because I couldn’t dig anymore, my body wouldn’t let me.  I dug and divided oregano, three huge clumps of iris, three huge garden phlox, a sedum, a patch of chives about three feet in diameter, a small peony and hundreds of bulbs.  I must confess I divided the first phlox and planted six good size plants in the front garden but the other two I dug up went out to the compost heap except for a small piece that I gave to a neighbor.  Other things were moved to other gardens but the rest of it is in buckets waiting to go back into the ground.

I have a very large bucket full of bulbs, it weighs over 50 pounds and the digging is a little over half done.  Those daffodils started out as a forced pot of six in 1978 – a gift sent to my sister during a hospitalization.  My mother planted them in the spring and for the last 36 years they have been expanding exponentially.

The interesting thing about this garden is how it has gotten higher up on the wall as the years have gone by.  The lawn has gotten higher and the garden seems to have gone along for the ride.  In digging this side out I have been able to expose more of the wall of the patio.  I think this is due to mulching the grass where it’s cut over so many years.  It creeps up on you and always comes as a surprise to me when I start digging.

The plan is to finish digging the rest of it in the next day or two and plant everything that’s staying by the end of the week.  Fortunately most of the heavy digging is almost done, I have about a third of the garden to go but I have to tell you, the way my body feels right now getting back out there tomorrow morning is making me wish for rain.

Garden Bounty

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My vegetable garden has been somewhat of a disappointment this year.  The tomatoes have blight, the cucumbers are slow, everything is 2 to 3 weeks behind because of the cool temperatures and copious amounts of rain we have had.  The things that are doing great are my perennials.

The cooler temperatures have allowed me to begin a long, long overdue garden rehab project.  Yes, new gardens are going in but one of the reasons for the new gardens is that there are so many things that need division in the old gardens.  I have to say that it has taken me by surprise.  One iris, planted about 5 years ago, yielded a garden full of new ones.

I’m never one to complain about free plants mind you but this is a little concerning to me when I look at what I have to divide.  I dug up three plants yesterday, an iris, a balloon flower and a Stella di Oro lily.  The iris yielded about 30 usable rhizomes, the balloon flower maybe three separate plants and the lily went from one larger clump to six good size plants.

The distressing part for me is the fact that I haven’t even begun to dig up the garden that needs to be redone.  I’m not one to throw plants over the bank but foresee that happening.  How many haphazard gardens are there from plants being pitched when the gardens are redone? (You gardeners out there know what I’m talking about).  I have two of those right here.  Daffodils come up all over the place now where they were thrown purposefully or accidentally over the years. Hostas, myrtle, daylilies, even Jack in the Pulpits.  I prefer to refer to those haphazard messes as reserves for the day when I need them.

Yesterday I gave away half of the iris to a friend that was here in the morning.  I didn’t give him a choice – I told him he could pitch them over his bank, I would never know.

This is how friendship gardens happen. Someone is dividing up their plants in order to have them be healthier and bloom better, they are overwhelmed with the number of unexpected plants they end up with, they force them onto their friends and family.  That gives me a whole new perspective on a couple of the gardens that I always thought of as “friendship” gardens.  Maybe all those special plants are really things that were being cast off and rescued by my mother, similar to things that have happened to me recently.

Regardless of how the plants have ended up in my garden I love most of them.  Even if some were cast off from another’s garden renovation I look upon them fondly.  Some of them have been here since 1968 when we moved here and my mother began gardening in earnest.  To identify certain specimens with certain people in an aspect that I love.

So as the garden renovation continues I will be giving away a lot of things and hope that some years from now someone will say,  “Oh I got that from Joanne in 2014 during the big dig”.  For that reason I’m careful what I give away and make sure it is weed free.  The last thing I want is someone cursing me out for some invasive species that I introduced to their garden.  Although at this point irises are feeling a little invasive.

140805 Stellas

Birds, Bees and Butterflies

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This garden was one we put in about 3 years ago (time all melds together at this point – maybe it was four years, maybe two).  It is pretty spectacular this year.  All of the plants have matured and I put in a few annuals that Bill brought up.  The best part about this garden is its attraction to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

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If you are within sight of this garden you can see it is a hub of activity.

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I was thrilled to see honey bees on a lot of my flowering plants this year, it’s been a while.

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There is always something to watch.

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I originally planted this for the color it would give our view of the back forty. When I sit in the Adirondack chairs and look over this garden I realize I planted the perfect wildlife garden.  There’s a hummingbird feeder that I have to fill every few days and I have seen finches in and out of it all day long.

There are also a critters that I could do without – chipmunks, red squirrels and woodchucks.  Although, truth be told, I love watching them too. They don’t really bother anything, they do dig holes all over the place.  If and when they get into the vegetable garden I might have a change of heart but for now I’ll share this beautiful space with anyone that wants to visit.



Digging Sod

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I have been thinking about expanding this garden for a couple of years now.  I blame the weather for my lack of commitment to the project.  It’s been too hot during the window I have every summer to move things around.

An opportunity presented itself in the past week or so that has pushed me to do this.  A lifetime gardening mentor is dismantling her perennial gardens and I am the recipient of a lot of her plants.  This is a mixed blessing.  I’ve written before about how I feel about plants in my garden that come from friends and family, they hold a special place in my heart.  For the most part perennials last more than a lifetime, that’s the reason you often see flowers blooming in odd places.  They are very often in spots where homes once existed that are long gone. I have many, many plants that I can tell you came from people I love.  Friendship gardening.

The difficulty in this particular gardening adventure is that I have been visiting Mabel’s gardens for decades.  They were spectacular in design and there were always new and unusual plants in them.  I learned a lot about the gardening of perennials from her.  There are many reasons why she has decided to dismantle her gardens but for me to go there and dig plants out of it seems so wrong to me.  They are part of how I think of her and it seems so sad to me to know that I will not be visiting an amazing array of plantings and have the narrative to go with it.  And it’s not that I visited often but it was just knowing it was there.

At the same time I will be taking a piece of her for my yard.  My sister and I walked her gardens over the weekend with her and she made a mental list of who was taking what.  There were tips on how to dig up certain things and where they might go.  There was also the excitement of having practically a ready-made garden for the moving.

Then comes the hard work.  I have been digging out the sod for a couple of days.  I finished yesterday early in the morning and have been thinking about other spots that should be dug up.  Plants will be moved in the next week or two to various spots around the house, some love sun, some shade. It has also forced me to do things that I haven’t done in the past.  I had to remove the forks from the tractor and put on the bucket – I’ve been shown once but never actually did it. As you can see that was a success.

All in all this project has given me perspective on my physical capabilities.  It’s easy to say I’m too old and out of shape to be digging this much space by hand but honestly it feels so good doing it.  Pace yourself I keep saying, stay hydrated my brain reminds me.  Focus remains a bit of a problem, I want to dig up all sorts of places and know that I could get myself into some trouble with the amount I’ve taken on.

I came in for another large glass of water the other day and my father said, “You know this place once had the most beautiful gardens in town”.  That, my friends, is something to aspire to.

In Between Seasons

130912 Morning Storm Clouds (1)The past two days have been hot and humid, the cicadas buzzing away.  I brought the dogs out at 6:30 this morning and this is what the sky looked like.  Something you normally see as the clouds build on a humid summer afternoon as the thunderstorms roll in.  It feels like July.

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This kind of weather does something to my brain – I can’t quite comprehend the garden being done (yes, other than digging potatoes and rutabagas it’s done). My mind has moved onto Fall jobs.  Bringing in and stacking wood, that’s what I should be doing but not it this heat.

Then I look out over my newest garden, still ablaze with color,  everything taking on the ochre colors of autumn and my mind knows that winter is coming.

130912 Colors of Fall


Little Gifts

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Every day I am given little gifts, natures way of showing me how wonderful the world around me is if I stay still long enough to see it.  I plant a lot of flowers (and vegetables) for the birds and bees, both perennials and annuals. Right now my bee balm is in full bloom along with a sea of Echinacea.  These are amazing, vibrant flowers well loved by birds and bees alike – and hummingbird moths.  These moths are something I wait for every summer, they are so much fun to watch going about their nectar collecting business.  There is a bright pink garden phlox planted around the patio in Rowe that these insects just love.  When it blossoms in mid July you can expect to see two or three of them hovering around in the early evening making their way from blossom to blossom.   The Mass Audubon site has an nice description of these furry little wonders.  It’s always difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that they are a moth – they are so fuzzy and bird like.

The Hummingbird moth is something you have to be aware of in order to see them.  I think that’s why I always consider them a little gift.  The first time I noticed them I asked my sister what they were.  She went to a flower and with a gentle hand grabbed one mid flight.  We examined it, she opened her fingers and it buzzed away, truly one of those memorable moments.

Take the time to observe what’s going on the next time you are near a flower garden or a potted flowering plant for that matter.  This time of year there are all kinds of creatures gathering nectar.  If you are still and quiet they very likely will come to you.

Pay it Forward

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All along the Mohawk Trail through the town of Charlemont someone planted daffodils years ago.  It’s probably a 10 mile stretch of the road on the north side where there are clumps of various types of these flowers.  I look forward to seeing them every year and am always sad to see them go.

Daffodils also grow in what seems to be random places.  You drive by what may once have been someone’s home, now gone and there are daffodils blossoming on what may have once been their front yard. I find the resiliency of these flowers amazing.  Not only do they come back year after year they multiply.  A few turn into hundreds.

This is one of the things I’ve learned about gardening over the years – it’s slow.  Whenever you are planting perennials, shrubs or trees you always have to think years down the road.  Don’t plant things too close together or you will end up digging them up.  Take into consideration the spread of some plants before you plant them.  I have echinacea that takes up a good part of a garden now, that was the intent.  It has other things growing with it but I love that sea of pink in the summer.

Bill thinks the idea of planting new maple trees in the front yard of the house as pointless because we won’t live to enjoy the shade.  I say plant them now so my grandchildren will have beautiful trees shading the front of the house in the summer like they did when I was a child.

Perennial gardens are gifts to future generations in my opinion.  Some of the gardens I have in Rowe were planted by my mother, most of the plants cames from her friends and aquaintances.  She planted them for herself and to beautify the property but as a gardener you know that she probably knew that the garden would go on long after she was gone.  I love being able to go through my flower gardens and know where the peony came from or the dark purple iris.  They came from people I loved dearly that are no longer with us.   I love my gardens because I remember a day spent with Bill or my sister sweating with a shovel or moving stones.  Year after year I will walk down the stone path and see how my flowers are filling in.  A few years from now I won’t have to worry about the weeds because the perennials will have taken over.  A few years after that I will be dividing things up and giving them away – to people I care about.  It’s all about paying it forward.