December 31, 2018

Tales From the Orchard

I was trying to make this one sound like an L.M. Montgomery book. Ha!
Not quite.

So, the orchard.
I am sad to relate that it is dwindling.

We lost another tree this year--I believe it was a plum?
It was already the most sickly of the bunch, then when the Attack of the Aphids happened in early summer, it succumbed completely.
Cut it down and pulled up the roots, which weren't very big actually.
Maybe that was part of the problem.

Also, our sweet cherry tree experienced some die-off as well.
Specifically, the half of the tree that had been grafted in.
All along, there's been this crack where the graft didn't take right.
Anyway, this summer all the branches attached to the grafted portion died off. They were pretty good-sized, too, which was sad.
So I took out my pruning saw and hacked off half the tree.
This tree also suffered badly with the aphids. 
I need to get some kind of spray or something for next year. They were so bad!!
We'll see if it makes it through the winter.

So as of now, we have 1 cherry tree, 2 apple trees, 2 peach trees, and 1 plum tree in the orchard itself, plus the big apple tree on the side of the house, and the 1-year old pie cherry planted in the oval bed.

Our best crop this year was: 

All from the side tree. The two in the orchard didn't even bloom.
This one, though, was loaded!
Most groups of the apples had 4-6 apples developing on them.
I went through in June and July and thinned them down to 1-3 apples per bunch, which noticeably gave them all room to grow to be full-sized.
Didn't spray this one, and there were some worms, so may have to look into that for next year.
The apples were very mild-flavored.
We harvested a couple of buckets, plus a big crate full.
I used quite a few as additions to applesauce with more tart apples, and the rest I ended up slicing, blanching, and freezing.


Both of our trees had a good number of peaches on them this year!
I should have thinned them the way I did the apples.

As it was, we ended up with a bucket full of very small peaches.
Tasty, for sure, but a pain to process!

I'm trying to remember what became of them.
I think most of these from our orchard became jam, due to size.

The plums were a gift from our  neighbor.
Peaches were ours.

Look how beautiful they were!

Interestingly enough, the other peach tree didn't have nearly so many, but they were quite big.
Also, they ripened 2-3 weeks later than the smaller ones.
I was afraid I had missed the harvest window, because they were so bitter when we first tried them.
Nope, they sweetened up, but not until early September or so.
So, note to self for next year: leave them on the tree and don't worry about them!

Our plum tree didn't do anything this year.
Well, I take that back.
It lived. That was good.
It was looking great prior to the aphids, then it was touch-and-go there for a month or so.
Finally pulled out of it, but no fruit this year.

The pie cherry didn't make any noticeable progress, but I'm hoping it takes off next year.

Also, I've got to add in a little note about RASPBERRIES.
They have struggled!
I planted new starts this spring, trying to fill in the spaces where the ones from last fall didn't do anything. No luck there either. They all died.
So then I moved my raspberry patch--what was left of it--from the back of the orchard, to inside the garden proper, all along the fence. I had a few survive the summer. Not as many as I had hoped.
I got some free plants from a lady who was tearing out her whole flowerbed.
I dug up more starts from my dad's lawn (former raspberry patch), and planted them.
Still struggling to live, even with the regular watering in the garden.
I have never had this much trouble with raspberries!
Here's hoping they all make it through the winter with flying colors and actually grow big and tall and give me some berries at some point! 

Still want to put in grapes and possibly strawberries.

So overall a mixed bag this year, but hey--YAY PEACHES!

December 29, 2018

Let's Talk About Those Vegetables!

With all the flower-growing going on this past year, the vegetables were a bit overlooked--at least in blog posts. Well, we did grow some, and had quite a bit more success with them than last year.
(Admittedly, not hard to do, as last year was almost completely a failure in that department!)


Sweetmeat Squash

My oldest, in the midst of the squash's garden takeover.

We planted 2 hills of sweetmeat squash, each with 4-5 big, flat seeds.
Boy, did they ever take off! 
Perhaps it's a good thing that none of the other stuff we planted next to them (5 feet away) came up, because they would have completely over-run it anyway!

From those 2 hills, we harvested around 11 squash.
The smallest ones still weighed at least 7 or 8 pounds, and the biggest were probably more in the neighborhood of 15-20 pounders. 
When ripe, they are a silvery greyish green color that was really pretty.

We stacked them all up in our back pantry and have slowly been eating them.
They are delicious!
However, one squash cut in half and baked yields enough meat to keep us in squash for 2-3 weeks! So, yeah. We've been spacing them out a bit.
In fact, I think it's about time to cook up another. 

A bonus in the garden: where the squash spread, the weeds weren't nearly as prolific.


I'm giving tomatoes the 2nd Place ribbon this year.

With all of my seed-starting failures learning experiences, I was tickled when these tomatoes actually came up and grew strong! These were seeds that Adam received from his Grandma--and we realized later that they were actually nearly a decade old! It's amazing they grew at all!

So, we started them in jiffy peat pellets, inside this makeshift little seed-starting chamber, made from a large water jug with a lid cut into it.
They did great!
After some hardening off (probably not enough), they went into the garden in early June.
They were all cherry tomatoes.
We also bought some regular-sized tomatoes as starts from the high school's spring sale. they were in August. 
It's so incredible that a handful of tiny seeds yielded this kind of abundance, but it really happened.
We picked many tomatoes.

You may notice in the photo above, that they look rather gangly and flopped over.
Well, that's because they were! 
Our soil is so rocky, that our usual 4-pronged round tomato cages didn't work at all!
You couldn't get the legs deep enough into the ground no matter where you placed them.
They would just hit a rock and stop.
So the tomato cages were useless. They fell over and we were stepping over tomato plants all season long. I'm looking into other ways of supporting tomatoes for next year.

The regular-sized tomatoes that we bought did fine also, planted over in the kids' gardens.

We harvested enough tomatoes that I decided to give homemade tomato sauce a try.
I never have done it in the past, because it takes something like 40 POUNDS of tomatoes to make 7 PINTS of sauce. Then my parents brought a couple of buckets of tomatoes, on top of what I already had, so I went for it. Used my Vittorio strainer with it and was quite pleased with the results.
As expected, however, all those tomatoes yielded only 4 pints of sauce, which I froze.

The Rest

We actually harvested peas this year!

So, a quick rundown on the rest.

PEAS: planted a mix of shelling and sugar snap in one long double row.
For the most part, they did fine. I did have to reseed in a couple of spots, but nothing major.
We harvested enough to keep us happy in late June/early July.
Like I say every year--I need to plant more peas next year!
Maybe next year I'll actually foray into fall peas.

CARROTS: Had a pretty good row of these planted, and after a long time, we got some decent germination. It was really hard to keep the weeds out of these! Bindweed, in particular, was my nemesis amongst the carrots.
We harvested enough to process some for the freezer.
I did not take nearly enough pictures this year, and I'm too lazy to go see if I wrote in my journal how much we did! In any case, some for the freezer and quite a few for fresh eating.

BEETS: What is it with beets? Why do I continue to plant them? 
We actually got a decent crop this year, and yet they have sat in my refrigerator for 4 months now and recently went out to the compost bin. The ones we ate were good. 
Still--no more beets!
I like eating them fine, it's just cooking and peeling them adds about 45 minutes on to my dinner prep--at least it seems that way--so I generally don't choose to do it.

CUCUMBERS: With one whole row planted to cukes, we should have been swimming in them! Alas, only 2 plants came up--total. Even with a second round of seeding in early June.
Not sure the deal with those. 
We harvested maybe 3 or 4.

CANTALOUPE: A surprise success! I wasn't expecting much, but we actually harvested some about the size of softballs. They were the perfect size for one meal, and tasted delicious! 
I'm sure we will be planting more of these next year!

WATERMELON: Also harvested 3 or 4 of these this year! Very small, icebox variety. We need to do better at waiting to harvest until they're completely ripe, but we had enough to share with my son's soccer team one day, so hey--it's a win! 

BEANS: Surprisingly, these did not do well at all! 
Late to come up, and didn't thrive once they were up.
We maybe harvested a couple of handfuls total.

PUMPKINS: Also complete no-shows, even with multiple seedings.

I'll have to ask the kids to remind me how their gardens did.
I know they harvested peas, radishes, and tomatoes.

We didn't plant corn or potatoes this year, since my parents planted a lot of each and very generously shared their harvest with us.

December 26, 2018

Greenhouse is finished!

I am very happy to tell you that the greenhouse is finished!!

Okay, okay, it's been a couple of months now. 
We were going to do actually glass or PVC something or other, but then looking up more information, we realized that 90% of the farmers we saw just used the 6 mil. plastic sheeting.
It's not nearly as durable as glass, but apparently does a pretty comparable job when it comes to heating the place in the sun.

Also it's WAY cheaper! A couple hundred dollars vs. thousands.
So even if we end up having to replace it as some point, it will still be much cheaper.

On the inside are these shelves made of hardware cloth, so the dirt can drop through (and water).
The floor is gravel/pebbles.

I haven't had much growing in here yet, since it was finished right at the end of the growing season.
However, I have spent some very pleasant hours, potting, dividing, and re-potting various plants and houseplants, including the amaryllis I'm selling right now.

When it's 40 degrees outside, it's probably in the 60's inside the greenhouse, as long as the sun is shining! I need to get an actual thermometer for it. Anyway--coat weather outside = sweatshirt weather inside. I love it! 

Another advantage to using the plastic: the long sides can roll up.
The white you see along the bottom is a plastic pipe holding that side down.
To get a breeze, you just pop out the pipe, roll up the plastic, then hang it on some handy little hooks just under the roof.

I am so excited to have this space to grow in next year!
I've already got plans to put my crates in there as soon as new growth starts popping through, so the deer don't get the tulips and lilies. I'll probably line the bottom shelves with them.

I also plan to get my dahlias started early, and get the seed starting in full swing!

It is unheated, so as long as we're still freezing at night, I may have to add extra protection out there for anything that shouldn't freeze. 

I'm sure I have a lot to learn about greenhouse propagation.
Bring it on!  

December 23, 2018

If I Knew Then What I Know Now: End of Season Thoughts

By the way, yes I did get all those bulbs and trees planted.
Phew! Onward and upward!

Looking back at the last 6 months, it's incredible what I've learned this year.
First, I want to do a run-down of my flower crops:

Buttons and Bells

By far, Best Field-Grown Flowers this year was a 2-way tie between Bells of Ireland and bachelor's buttons.

Bells of Ireland
I winter-sowed them (only 1 germinated), I planted a bunch inside (almost all germinated and most survived), and I direct-seeded a section of a row (I had around 6 come up.)
Despite the dismal germination rates outside, the direct-seeded did way better than any of the others. Once they started growing, they grew strong. Meanwhile, the ones I had started in the house, then hardened off, were weeks behind and never got as big in the end.

Even with all of that, my little patch of 8-10 total kept pumping out the flowers all summer long!
They were a staple in my weekly arrangements from end of July-September.

I loved the apple green color, then as they aged, they started turning a mottled eggplant color.
Beautiful ivory color when dried, however the blooms are rather fragile and pop right off the stems when dried, so I'm still figuring out the best way to use them now.

To change for next year:
1. Start them way earlier outside.
I have learned that Bells of Ireland are cool weather flowers--or at least, can handle cool weather. I didn't direct seed until first week of May. I want to direct seed March or April, and see how they do. Also, no winter sowing for these guys--they don't need it!

2. Use netting.
I didn't net them this year, and by the end of the season, most of them had such a curve on them that they were hard to put into arrangements. Also, the lower blooms got to be filled with dirt after every hard rain or sprinkler watering.

3. Don't bother cutting them to dry.
They dried just fine on the stem after a couple of frosts. Could have saved myself the trouble!

4. Always wear gloves when handling them!
I think the spines got more stiff as the season went on. I got a couple lodged in my fingers that hurt for several weeks. It's easy to peel off spines/unwanted blooms by pushing on them sideways, but watch out for those sharp points!

5. Don't buy any seeds. Bees loved these flowers!
I've just collected a whole bunch of seeds from this years' crop.

Let's talk about those Bachelor's Buttons!

Also winter sowed them (again, just 1 germinated), and direct seeded them twice (once at the end of April, and again a month later). I had around 30 germinate from the first round of direct sowing, and a handful more with the second. I spaced them 6" apart, which seemed crowded.

Like the Bells, this patch kept blooming all summer long and even lasted through the first frosts. There were really more than I could use or harvest. I discovered I liked them best in arrangements with very few leaves, if any. So I got to where I was stripping down the entire stem pretty much, before using them, which was time-consuming. Also, great for filler, but not a high dollar flower.
By the end of the season I was charging just 25 cents/stem.

I liked the single colors best: burgundy (my favorite), blue, purple, light pink

To change for next year:
1. Rather than planting mixes, seek out single colors that I like and plant those in blocks.

2. Again like the Bells, BB are cool flowers, meaning they can be direct sown way early. I won't winter sow them (pointless), but try direct sowing even a month earlier, so end of March. As early as I can get out in the garden and work in the soil, they're going in.
Very curious to see how many reseed themselves, if any. I will also be on the lookout for those seedlings and transplant them into the space with the others if needed.

3. Space them 9-12" apart to give each plant the room it needs. See if it effects stem length.

Okay, what else?

Cosmos--several varieties
I used to have a cosmo jungle in Washington. Here, not so much.
I direct sowed them beginning of May and reseeded a month later.
Originally just 2 or 3 germinated. After a couple of wet days, I had 5-10 more come up.
So, I'm going for it much earlier this year.
I want to try starting them in seed trays in April, ready to plant out by early May, then cover them with frost cloth if a frost is predicted. I think they need that early moisture to germinate.

I did get a few weeks of some nice (though short-stemmed) cuts, before September frost completely took them out. I going to try some of the more unusual varieties, use the methods described above, and see if I can't get another jungle going!

Cynoglossum, (Chinese Forget-Me-Not)

[That carpet of green in the picture? ALL WEEDS! UG! The blue flowers are the cynoglossum.]

After a slow start, I did end up with 5-6 of these plants that grew.
Tiny blue flowers.
Pretty, but I wasn't enamored with them.
Plus, the seeds stick to EVERYTHING!
That's why I decided this was a good ditch-bank flower. At the end of the season, I pulled them all up and scattered those sticky seeds along our back ditch bank.
If they come up, awesome! I'll use them. If not, no big loss.
If they reseed in the garden, I may transplant them over, or just pull them out.

Orlaya (White Finch Lace)
Another cool weather flower, that I started from seed too late (end of April.)
I had around 20 that grew, but the stems were very short and it was hard to catch the blooms at the right time to cut. I harvested maybe 20 stems from them, total. I think the issues were because of the heat. So this year I'll be starting from seed inside much earlier, and hope to have them transplanted outside by mid-April. I may try planting some later, in the shade, and see if they'll last through at least early summer for me that way, with some decent stem length on them.
I collected seeds from the ones I grew.

Snapdragon (Chantilly Mix)
I sowed them inside in early April. Had quite a few germinate, but then they just sat there for a month and half, not growing much at all. It took them FOREVER to grow! By the time they were big enough to put out into the garden, it was the end of July--probably the worst timing ever.
I had a grand total of 8 that I planted out. From those, I cut 4 stems.
These are, once again, cool flowers! They can take frost better than heat.
Next year, I'm starting them much earlier, indoors again. I'm going to try individual pots or soil blocks this time, instead of the broadcast sowing method.
Then I hope to get them into my garden by mid-April, like the orlaya.
I'm switching to the Rocket mix, which is supposed to be a prolific spring bloomer.
I may overlap with another variety to get them through summer.

Sunflowers--several different varieities
I direct sowed all of these. It took awhile for them to germinate and get going, but once they did, I was inundated with sunflowers! These were almost all branching varieties, with pollen.
The pollen was a pain--it got everywhere!
Next year I'm doing all pollen-free.
Branching was okay--good because I could get more than one cut, but bad because the sunflowers took up the space all summer. With single stem varieties I could cut it once, then pull it out and use the space for something else.

Also, these didn't sell as well as I was hoping. I am getting some different colors this year--straight packets, no mixes--to see if that will help sales go up a bit.
I think I want to plant these closer together--the ones that came up a foot or more from any others had broomstick sized main stems.
Also, I want to try planting some day-length neutral varieties in a crate in my greenhouse in early April, to see if I can have sunflowers by June.

Zinnias--several varieties
I winter sowed these (none came up), and direct sowed a whole row, out of which approximately 7 germinated and grew. I cut maybe 6 stems from the ones that did grow this year.
Zinnias are supposed to be dead easy, so I need to figure out what I did wrong and fix it for next year! I did discover rodent tunnels under the far end of the row where I had planted these, but not sure if that's what happened to seedlings or if it was something else.

I want to try starting some in the greenhouse in the beginning of May, and see if I can't get some healthy transplants ready for the garden by beginning of June.

Next up: The Veggies!

November 3, 2018

Busy Planting

Just like the way you can have 15 books on hold at the library, then 10 come in all at once, all my planting chores have piled up this week! 

My big bulb order came in on Tuesday:
100 double narcissus (mixed varieties)
75 hyacinths (25 each of 3 kinds: 'Fondant,' 'Gyspy Queen,' and 'Pink Pearl')
100 Fritillaria meleagris (the checkered lily! can't wait for this one!)
50 anemone giant:  'Monarch de caen' mix

Plus, 10 Norway spruce and 2 lilac bushes from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I knew this was coming, so I was able to get a head start on weeding out the place for all those daffodils, at least! I put them along the left side of the garden.
I have peonies planted about 1 foot away from the fence and 3 feet apart in that area.
So I planted the daffodils in clumps of 10 (or so) in front of and between the peonies.
As I was digging the holes for them, I found a discouraging number of bindweed roots, but I got out as many as I could. I'm hoping the daffodils will help keep the weeds down along Peony Row.

In that same area, I FINALLY got the peonies planted that I got from my mom in August.
I don't know if they are even going to make it. 
There's still space for 2-3 more peonies on the end of the row closest to the lawn.
Probably room for 10 more on the far end--after I get it all weeded out and move the big logs next to the fence. My peony plan is to add some every year. They're expensive! 
They take 3 years to really start producing flowers for cutting, which feels like a long time to wait!

Today was a slightly warmer day (upper 40's), so I was able to get out there and do a little more planting. Not as much as I had hoped, frankly, because we couldn't get the little tiller going.
You see, my plan is to put the hyacinths along the back side of the greenhouse.
There was a small hill of dirt there from when my husband dug out the foundation for the greenhouse.
So I was able to remove that extra dirt and added a small amount of compost on top.
Then, while he was looking at the tiller and trying to fix it, I decided I had better keep going on the next things.

So I moved on to the 10 Norway spruce.
I put in 5 along the west-side fence, between the gravel and the back of the shed.
Assuming we can keep them alive (might be a big assumption), they should form a nice windbreak....eventually. They took a long time to plant, however, because I was digging out the weedy turf to make the holes. Then I brought in backfill from elsewhere in the yard (including the hyacinth hill), in hopes of not returning quite as many weed roots to the soil.
The other 5 I planted just 3-4 feet apart at the far end of the orchard. We don't really know where we want them to go permanently, but this will be a fine spot for them to grow for a year or two until we figure it out.

We have such a deer problem here that the next step was to put up some protection.We used our tomato cages, which didn't work at all for the tomatoes anyway this year, and flipped them upside down, securing them to the ground with extra long landscape staples.
Then we covered each cage with 1" hardware wire. Except that I estimated instead of measuring, so we were short on the hardware wire. By the time we got as many done as I had wire for, it was dark.
That was only 4 out of the 10. Yes. I was way off. 
So, assuming the other 6 last the weekend, I guess I will be going back to the store on Monday to get some more hardware wire. 

Never did get back to my hyacinth bulbs.
Oh well. I guess I'll have my work cut out for me on Monday, won't I?

After that it's just the checkered lilies, which are small and should go fast, and the 2 lilac bushes (which came as 2 tiny sticks--I have my doubts that they will actually grow.)

Last year we had our first big snowfall Nov. 16, so I can feel that clock ticking away.

Once I get these planted and get the garden tilled, I'll heave a sigh of relief and move on to other things!

October 30, 2018

End of October: It Is What It Is

As I was organizing my digital photos yesterday, I realized that I haven't done one of these posts all year! That's about 10 months too long.
I enjoy having a way to look back and see what my garden is like on a month to month basis.
Since we'll probably have snow by the end of next month, there's no time like the present to document this year!

Starting in the backyard:
Looking into the vegetable/cut flower space. Everything is done. 
The kids and I have spent a couple of full days now weeding this, in an attempt to get the worst out before tilling it. It's discouraging, to say the least, especially considering how many hours I spent weeding this summer. 

My goal for next year: NO BARE SOIL. 
Let's make it happen!

Also, please note the newly finished greenhouse!! Yay!
Unheated. Still figuring out how best to use it.

All that remains of the sunflower patch, hung on the fence to allow the birds one last shot at those seeds.

Feverfew around the base of the apple tree.
I planted these as starts from a neighbor this spring. I only got one cut out of them this year, but they are growing and healthy, so I'm hoping next year they will start pumping out the blooms!
Plus, they managed to survive maurading chickens, hot summer days, and an accidental weed-whacking. 
My only qualm is that I've read that they repel bugs, including bees, so you shouldn't plant them near anything you want pollinated. More research must be done on this!
(Not that this apple tree has bloomed at all in the 2 years since we've lived here, but still...)

Foundation of the chicken palace finished just last Saturday!
This will be more than twice as big as their current space.
Here's hoping it will go up quickly, so they can be in it for the winter!

Lilies in crates. 
These aren't looking awesome, but the whole point is for them to grow roots this year and then come back strong next year and bloom. I am finding more spots to tuck them into flowerbeds, as well.
They'll most likely spend the winter in the greenhouse.
Primarily trying to keep them safe from deer/voles.

Our sycamore is shedding its bark. 
I think it has grown. I keep trying to compare photos from last summer, with how it relates to the mountains in the distance. 

This back corner flowerbed has had a rather lackluster year.
Again, despite multiple and sustained attempts at weeding, it is chock full of bindweed. I am generally against using chemicals in the garden, but this bindweed may get a dose of Roundup come spring. Both clematis that I planted along the fence died. The honeysuckle in the far left corner along the fence doesn't look too happy, either. Peonies did fine for their first year--put up foliage. Roses stayed small, but did bloom. I have added yarrow, which is thriving here, and several other things, with mixed success. 

I feel like it needs a big shrub in that corner to anchor it. Not sure what to put there yet.

Moving to the tiny East-side flowerbed along the house:
More lilies! These are definitely looking better than the crate-planted ones.
This flowerbed is overrun with grass.

If the warmer weather holds out for me another couple of weeks, I'm hoping to get this weeded and mulched before winter.

The clematis I planted in this bed, a little further down by the porch railing, hasn't done much, but seems to at least be hanging on. 

Moving around the corner now, to the long skinny beds at the front of the house.

This is going slower than I had hoped.
I put 2 hydrangeas in this year, one in spring and one in fall.
The closest one is a 'Limelight' and the further one is an Oakleaf.
They were expensive! Hence 1 per season.
I also put in a couple of hostas, and moved the existing long line of tulips into a couple of clumps.

This is the other half of the front shade beds.
I've got some lovely pansies to show here, and not much else!
I plan to put in matching hydrangeas, and then go about filling in the spaces.

Moving to the beds along the front fence now.

This is the corner bed on the right, with the ornamental plum tree in it.
I just recently planted a patch of snowdrops in here, and when the rest of my bulbs come next week, I'm planning to fill that back corner with the purple-checkered Snake's Head Fritillary. I think the combination with the early plum leaves will be stunning.
I've also added some small purple alliums, a 'Banana Daquiri' geum, and a mini rose.

Looking down the line.
This bed did fine this year.
Nothing spectacular, as the peonies and roses are still very young.
A handful of blooms from the roses; the peonies all put up nice foliage.

I added some lilies to the ends, and the Nepeta 'Junior Walker' catmint, (on the left), which has begun to fill out nicely. I'm worried that the roses didn't get planted deeply enough for our winters, but they seem to be healthy and thriving, so I plan to just mulch deeply and hope for the best.

Now for the driveway corner bed on the other end.
This is where I have probably added the most new things this year: sedum, some heirloom irises, more alliums, another 'Banana Daquiri' geum, mini rose, lilies, more muscari.
Can't forget the scabiosa either!

I bought these 2 in the spring, one pink, and one purple, and plopped them in.
I have been cutting flowers from them ever since!
As the season has gone on, the flowers have just gotten bigger and more beautiful.
Plus, this was taken today and we have had several hard frosts that have killed just about everything else. Look at them go! Yes, I am adding more scabiosa (pincushion flower) next year!

Finally, we get to the oval flowerbed on the west side of the house.

This is another bed inundated with bindweed. I can't seem to stay on top of it!
I've been pleased this year with the roses and the agastache.
This bed has several plantings of perennial bachelor's buttons in deep purple, which have flowered nonstop all summer. I have had to keep pulling out dead stems and leaves, but doing so seems to rejuvenate it! I have used these extensively for cut flowers. 
I will say, though, the quality was by far the best in the spring.
Summer I couldn't use much of it, because all the leaves were bug eaten and the buds didn't look so great either. Fall it has picked back up again and even survived multiple frosts.

The yellow leaves you see are ninebark 'Dart's Gold.'
I wasn't sure it would survive after last year, but both bushes have filled out nicely.
I'm looking forward to using more of it in my arrangements next year.
The pie cherry tree is still alive, although it didn't seem to grow much this year.
I'm hoping next year it takes off and provides some much needed height to this bed.
I also added 2 varieties of asters to the bed and some heirloom irises.

Well, that's the recap!
I know it was long--congratulations if you made it all the way through!

I am starting a whole bunch of perennials from seed, so next I should have all kinds of lovely plants to fill in these beds!

September 21, 2018

Mini Theme: Off the Deep End

Of the book reviews I had yet to post, a handful of them had a rather dubious connection: characters that went off the deep end, taking others with them. Unfortunately, these stories all happened to be true. Yup.

It is fascinating to read about dysfunction--more so than happiness, I'm sorry to say. Unless the happiness has been hard-won after some bouts of misery. I had a writing professor say once that "Only misery is interesting." I suppose that has some truth in it.

So these books have their share of misery, coupled with some generous doses of mental illness. So if you find yourself drawn to these types of stories, dive in! Leave me a comment letting me know which was your favorite on the list.

p.s. Yes, the first one on the list was from nearly a year ago! High time to get this review published and out the door!

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy, by Paul Thomas Murphy

3 stars: Interesting, but very detailed; a bit long to get through in parts.

Did you know that there were 8 different attempts on Queen Victoria's life during her reign? I didn't either. In fact, there's a lot I didn't know about Queen Victoria prior to reading this book.

For each assassination attempt, Murphy goes into detail about the man who was behind the weapon. His background, family situation, previous employment, mental health, and much more. The steps and planning leading up to each crime were similarly brought forward, with a blow-by-blow account of each attempt at the climax.

Then we learn about what happened to each of the men, including their trials, and any incarceration or other punishment meted out. This leads into side discussions of the judicial system in England at the time, various prisons and their histories, and so on. Back to the main topic, we also see how Queen Victoria and Albert handled each incident, and the effect on the monarchy itself. Surprisingly, each attempt greatly strengthened the love of the people for their Queen and the influence of the monarchy itself.

I liked this one; it was a good read. I just had to take it a bit at a time and keep coming back to it. I didn't realize that Victoria and Albert had 8 children, nor did I remember that he died so young leaving her a widow. Their love story was neat to learn more about.

Though they were diversions off the main topic, I was also interested in the way the law changed over the years, to deal with these men. The original crime for "taking a pop at the Queen" was high treason, with life imprisonment if the Queen pardoned him, or hanging if not. It became clear over time, however, that some of the attempts were copycat crimes, or for notoriety rather than actually wanting to kill the Queen, or even as a ticket out of poverty at the expense of the crown (prisoners had their room and board provided, after all) and so on. So the law and subsequent punishments were changed to administer public shame and embarrassment, rather than death or life imprisonment.

If you liked this one, here are 2 more for you about the lives of royal ladies: To Be A Queen.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

3 stars: Quite interesting.

Writing and compiling the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary was a huge undertaking, spanning several decades, and eventually filling several volumes. The head of the project for most of that time, James Murray, decided on an extra thorough and time-intensive approach. He solicited quotations from the general public. The idea being that each quotation, from all types of literary and old texts, would show the various nuances of the word in question. The quotations then had to be read and checked and decided upon one at a time for inclusion into the OED or not.

So, in the meantime, there was a Dr. Minor, who suffered from hallucinations and delusions and who murdered a man based on these delusions. Dr. Minor was locked up in an insane asylum for this murder. It was, however, certainly not a padded cell. He had a sitting room and over the years procured quite an extensive library. He lived most of his life in this asylum.

During his incarceration, he heard the call for submissions for the dictionary. This type of quotation treasure hunt amongst his books was just what he needed to fill the long days. He became one of the most prolific contributors to the OED, and even would contact Murray at times to see what words were being worked on and if there were any in particular that still needed quotations. Murray didn't realize that Minor was in the asylum until many years into their correspondence.

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I'm glad I read this one. I enjoy learning more about these niches of history that otherwise I would know nothing about. Now I want to go peruse the OED, though I doubt our small-town American library would have a copy.

Content: Many of Minor's hallucinations were sexual in nature. While not graphically described, I wouldn't give this one to my kids to read.

Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, by Tom Kizzia

3 stars: Chilling, but with some hope at the end.

The Pilgrim family consisted of Papa and Mama, and 15 children. They moved up to the tiny Alaskan village of McCarthy, and proceeded to make themselves right at home. In fact, they set up living in an abandoned copper mine a ways out from the settlement, and began building a home, and making roads in to their place.

As far as anyone knew, they were God-fearing Christians, who all had a bent for folk music. They were quite charming in their homemade clothes, and the children were not shy about making friends and talking to the other folk in the town. They seemed like a happy, homeschooled, "back to the earth" type bunch, who didn't care what other people though about them.

The longer they lived there, however, the more trouble started sprouting up around them. It seems they didn't actually purchase the land they had settled on. Also, the National Park Service was getting pretty bent out of shape about the roads (bulldozed through federally protected land). When the NPS sent out a representative to start a dialogue about it, however, the Pilgrim family resisted mightily and vocally. McCarthy soon became split in its views as to whether or not the Park Service had the right to kick out the Pilgrims.

That wasn't the worst of it. The cracks began to show in the Pilgrim family's fa├žade of brightness and goodness, too. The children more often than not appeared woefully neglected; and became downright surly to anyone trying to talk with them. People began missing things from their homes or yards, and there began to rumors flying about the living conditions up at the Pilgrim's homestead.

All was not right in the world of the Pilgrims and before it was all said and done, their story would be big news.

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This book had me at "Alaska Frontier." I am quite predictable that way. Anything featuring my home state immediately perks up my interest.

This was quite the story. An entire family completely held captive, basically, by their father--a man who reinvented himself as needed to make his next conquest. A man who ruled his little kingdom with an iron fist, while claiming to have sanction from God. The worst kind of evil--evil that masquerades as God's will.

Those poor kids, growing up in a home rampant with all kinds of abuse and neglect. It goes most into the story of the oldest daughter, and what she did that brought everything to light. The author first came across this story as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.

I found the land use debate quite interesting as well. Though it was sparked off by this family's resistance to government "meddling," it was more of a backdrop to what was really going on with them.

Content: Physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. For adults.


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Have you read anything lately that would fit my mini theme?

September 19, 2018

Pat of Silver Bush, by L. M. Montgomery

I am slowly trying to read every L.M. Montgomery book and review them all on this blog! So, I found this one that I had never read before. I love the cover art in the edition I got. However, this book has sat on my bookshelf untouched for many months before I finally picked it up the other day.

Pat of Silver Bush, by L. M. Montgomery

2 stars: It was okay, I guess. My least favorite of hers so far.

Pat Gardiner lives at Silver Bush, along with her family and the family's old nurse Judy who has been with them forever and ever. Our little Pat is a precocious girl, who is fiercely attached to everything and everyone that she loves: each member of her family, Judy, and Silver Bush itself. She is violently opposed to change of any kind coming into her world, but particularly change that effects any of the inner circle.

In fact, she despises change so much that she is inconsolable when her father shaves off his mustache, and quite distraught when her favorite aunt gets married. Yes, little changes and even happy events cause no small amount of heartache to Pat. She does get over such things, eventually, and sometimes even comes to prefer the new state of things to the old. Not that she will readily admit it.

No matter what happens, though, Judy is there to give her counsel, tell her ghost stories, or comfort her. Judy is the rock around which her little world spins. Thank goodness for Judy!

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I had a hard time getting into this one. One obstacle was Judy's speeches. She was almost more of a main character than Pat, and had quite a bit of dialogue on nearly every page, all of it written in dialect form. It took some getting used to. You almost had to read some of the passages out loud to figure out what she was trying to say. So that was distracting and kept pulling me out of the story.

Secondly, and I almost hate to say this, but I didn't care for Pat all that much. She was so deeply affected by every little thing and would get so upset about it. I had to just shake my head a lot. She would be difficult to live with in real life, that's for sure. If you couldn't so much as rearrange the furniture without her heart breaking over it; as a parent, I would have a hard time putting up with it. Or I would I laugh at it, which no doubt would make her my mortal enemy.

Judy's sayings were at times funny, but she really stole the spotlight for most of the book. I think it should have been called "Judy of Silver Bush," really. She was much more interesting than poor little Pat of the deep emotions.

I think I will read Mistress Pat, just to check it off my list, but I'm not looking forward to it much.
(A sad thing to say about any L.M. Montgomery book.) Maybe the sequel will redeem the first.