Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Garden That Inspired Us

 When Carl and I first started gardening back in the 1980's we weren't sure what to do with the old alfalfa field which sat smack dab in the middle of our ninety-eight acre farm.  We had originally purchased the one acre from my folks to build our house on in 1978 and then gradually increased to two and then two and a half and eventually the Back Eight was added on, too. 

There I am in 2002, sorting rocks.  But, why?  What started this obsession of gardening with stone?
But in the beginning all we had was the one acre, devoid of any trees.  Just alfalfa.  So we planted 450 trees and made a half-hearted attempt at flower gardening.  We thought we were gardening fairly well, but something seemed missing.  Then we toured the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh in the early 1980's and had our first taste of true landscaping and what it means to garden on a large scale.

Here is a link to their website:
Paine Art Center and Gardens

The Paine Art Center Gardens were the inspiration for our own Formal Garden begun in 1988.   But instead of a rectangular sunken garden, we opted for a circle instead.  And we lined it with big field stones instead of ledge-rock limestone, until 2011, when we decided to renovate the entire garden.

Our Formal Garden was the start of using stone in the garden around here.  As time went on, we joined a few garden clubs and went on their tours.  Seeing other gardens is always an inspiration to us and we haven't missed the large local garden walks in over twenty years.  We've been privileged to see hundreds of gardens over the decades, each one special and unique. 

 But THE most impressive garden we have ever seen before or since was when we toured the garden of an 82 year old lady named Emily in Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin.  She had no fancy-schmancy name for her garden, it was simply known as The Emily Hickey Garden.  When Carl and I got off the tour bus on a little side street in the quaint little town we had no idea of the impact this amazing gardener's landscape would have on us.  We were awestruck.  I wish I had pictures to share with you, but this was before digital cameras and photography was frowned on as she was a very private person. 

The property was, in Emily's words, 'a mess' when in the 1960's she and her husband first moved into their tidy little home nestled at the base of a massive limestone outcropping overlooking Lake Michigan.  Emily said the neighbors above them used to toss their garbage off the cliff probably in attempt to fill in the ravine and also to just rid themselves of their junk.  There was brush growing which needed to be cleared and years of work ahead.  Some of the huge slabs of limestone had fallen down the hill over the centuries and were sitting on an angle in majestic configurations.  On the biggest rock, which was about the size of a pair of Greyhound buses, Emily had a handwritten plaque declaring it, "Our Piece of the Rock", which was a reference to an insurance company that used the term as their advertising slogan. 

When Carl and I walked around the garage to enter her garden we were completely dumbfounded; we never expected to see anything like this.  We were awestruck by its majesty.  The rock formations that were the garden's west boundary line soared to at least twenty feet and were wild and rugged.   Emily had tucked dwarf conifers, hostas, ornamental grasses, and ground cover sedums into the crevices between massive boulders and up against the outcropping itself and had done it with such artistry that the plants looked as if they had always been there.  The effect was naturalistic and stunning.  We had the feeling we had wandered into a paradise of a garden that had simply always existed.  Emily had a gift of working with nature to create a palette of ever-changing color and texture.  Farther away from the outcropping she had planted peonies and many other perennials; it was a feast for the senses.

Emily was a very meticulous gardener and despite her advancing age, she was adamant that her garden be presentable.  She couldn't bear to see spent peony petals on the ground and would pick them up if any fell.  I don't remember exactly what year it was that we toured her garden for the first time, but suspect it was in the 1990's.  How I hated to leave when it was time to board the bus; we were trying to take all the beauty in and wondering how in the world we could replicate something like this in our own yard.  We both knew we loved rocks and here was a garden built on, in, around and amongst huge rock formations.  No, we would never have a sheer cliff as a backdrop, but now we had more of an idea of what we'd like to try to create.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  We went home and started to ponder on our rock situation and our mutual love of quarries and with Emily's garden always in the forefront of our memory, we toiled away at making a rock formation of sorts here. 

In what looks to be 2001, the public television show, 'The Wisconsin Gardener' visited Emily's garden.  There is a video to view here.

Emily Hickey Garden

Several years later, we found ourselves on a road trip one Sunday and wondered if we could ever find Emily's garden again.  We were successful and parked in front of her house on the steeply slanted road.  From the the street, all that was visible of the garden was a glimpse of the glory; the house and garage were situated to make it very private.  We took a chance and timidly went up to her door and knocked.  Emily came to the door and I explained that we had toured her garden years before and wondered if she'd mind if we could see it once again.  She was very gracious and said we could go ahead.  I could tell we had intruded and didn't linger long, but it was just as impressive as the first time, probably even more so.  Over the years she and her husband had had bus tours from all over the state visit, so I know she was probably getting weary of the interruptions, but I was so grateful to her for letting us tour it one more time.  By this time her husband was not well and she was caring for him.  We did stay for just a little while and chat and I'll never forget that day, either. 

"This garden is not allowed to do just as it pleases," she told me.  "I have to continually battle with some of the sedums and other ground covers and have the hostas divided.  I don't like a garden to get out of hand."  It was certainly apparent that even in her 80's, she had the garden well in hand; it was immaculate as always.

Just for fun, I'm tossing in the video also from 'Wisconsin Gardener' taken of our garden in 2011.  (A rerun! Yes, it's yours truly, running off at the mouth about our garden.  Notice I had to do ALL the talking; Carl was only willing to appear on film briefly.)  The contrast between our garden and Emily's is striking; hers is so beautifully natural.

Quarry Garden on Wisconsin Gardener

Sadly, I learned a few years later that Emily's home and property had been sold; I guess Emily had decided to move. I'm not sure of where she is, or if indeed she is still living, but her garden was the stuff of legend to Carl and I and countless other visitors.  I always think of her whenever I'm working in the gardens here.  I often wonder what she'd think of our attempts at gardening, but I know it fell far short of her masterpiece.  From what I've heard, her home was torn down and a new house was built.  I'm not sure what became of the garden, but it lives on in our memories.

Emily's garden was a true treasure and we are ever grateful she allowed us to share her 'Piece of the Rock'.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Flowers & Vases

So, on Wednesday night Carl and I were watching TV during supper.  As I'm sure you've all noticed if you watch broadcast television at all, the commercials are running rampant as usual with Valentine's Day merchandise.  Everything from heartfelt cards and candy up to diamond pendants, engagement rings, necklaces and so on and so forth.

Tis the season of Love.  Carl and I became engaged to be married on February 14, 1977 when we were both nineteen years old.  Big decision for two kids barely dry behind the ears, but we haven't regretted it so far.  (Maybe I should speak for myself?)

Anyway, Carl is not big on the holiday commercialism.   He feels it's all a big guilt-trip to get people to prove their love by buying something they can't afford.  I agree with Carl.   We have a little tradition: when we're in a store together we both pick out the most gorgeous card and show it to each other.  "This is the one I choose for you.  Awwwww, thank you, I love it," and we smile and then put them back in the rack.  (Yes, we're both cheap, but what do you do with them after the holiday, anyway?)

I remember when I used to work in a big office how tense things would get on Valentine's Day.  In a department with seventy or so women, the competition was fierce.  Which lucky ladies would receive something from their sweethearts?

Calls would start coming in from the front desk early in the morning.

 "We have a package here for Trudy."

 And off Trudy would go, blushing and giggling to pick up her prize as the rest of the ladies sighed and exchanged glances.  In no time at all, Trudy would come sailing triumphantly back to her cubicle with the coveted bouquet of a dozen long-stemmed red roses held proudly in front of her.  Then we'd all gather round her desk and ooh and ahh over the beauty and thoughtfulness of her dear husband. Lucky Trudy, she's loved.

And as Valentine's Day wore on, more and more Trudy's would troop down to the front desk to claim their prizes as well.  Some bouquets had balloons attached, some had candy, oh, it was an exciting day!

And a bit catty, too....some ladies received carnations instead of roses...'Oh, well, how nice that he sent you carnations, but I prefer roses.' 

 'Oh, he sent you a single rose in a bud vase?  How thoughtful, he didn't want to burden you with a full dozen to carry home.'

 (Apparently the logic behind those types of comments were that roses cost more than carnations and a dozen was WAY better than one, so therefore the recipient was loved more?)   I was never sure what the deal was with that.

As the day wore on past lunch, those of us who hadn't received our prizes were getting a bit desperate.  One girl in our department ordered a dozen roses sent to her husband at work.  "If he won't send them to me, then I'll send 'em to him."

Another girl admitted to me that she ordered flowers for herself and had the florist sign her husband's name to the card.  "I can't have people thinking my husband doesn't care."

By 2PM, the calls from the front desk stopped coming in.  No more flowers.  Sigh.  If the flowers weren't there by quitting time, they weren't coming.  There were many long faces. (And I would hate to be their significant others later on that night.)

Many times there would be roses delivered on February 15; some poor guy thinking this would get him out of the dog house.  I wonder if it worked?  You know how some women can be, "If I have to tell you what I want, then you don't love me.  You should just KNOW!"  Yeah, right, he's a mind reader.  Maybe it's just me, but ladies, we have to use our words.  I know I don't enjoy guessing why someone is upset with me, do you? 

And, in case you're wondering, no, I wasn't one of the loved Trudy's trotting down to the front desk on Valentine's Day.  No deliveries for me.

 But I do receive a gift every year, and it's usually flowers, just not the kind an FTD florist would deliver.

Carl is a metal fabricator, so can you guess what I get?
Metal rosebuds.  They'll last a lifetime.
Yes, every year Carl comes up with flowers without fail.  Metal ones.  He makes them during his thirty minute lunch break at work.  He works on these projects for the first twenty minutes and then calls me to catch up on our day for the last ten minutes while he eats his lunch I packed him from home. 

I've got flowers made of copper, or bronze or aluminum or stainless steel.   The silver rose buds in the vase above are actually made from empty aluminum magic marker barrels.  (Did I ever tell you Carl has a 'bit' of a hoarding problem?)  He can see something in everything that most people throw away and I will admit, I do get crabby, ok, livid at times, about his refusal to part with junk, and then he goes and makes me roses out of it. How can I complain?  (Trust me, I still do carp about the junk more than I should...see, I learned how to use my words.  Carl doesn't have to be a mind reader to know how I feel about piles o' stuff.  Now he hides them a little better.)

 The bigger rosebud is made out of hammered carbon steel and heated up to darken the color. 

He's made me carnations:
And lilies, too:
Lots of detail, lots of lunch hours
He's made me so many flowers over the years that the vase he made is getting too small to hold them.

Which brings me back to February 13 and the two of us sitting at the supper table watching the high-priced commercials.  I yawned and said, "Well, another busy day for the florist's delivery trucks tomorrow.  Heaven help the menfolk who forget the 14th!"

"I was wondering when you were going to say something about what I got you for Valentine's Day," Carl said. "It's been in plain sight for two weeks and you haven't said anything about it."

"What are you talking about?  I haven't seen anything...wait, did you add a flower to the vase?" I asked.  "I was thinking I'll have to get another vase soon."

"No, not this year.  You'll just have to wait and see tomorrow, I guess," he grinned.

So this morning when I was on my way to the garage to go to exercise class, I came face to face with my Valentine's gift this year.  
Now, that's a Big Vase!
I stood there in my snow boots with my workout shoes dangling from my hands, staring at my gift.  (And blinking back tears...I know how many hours he puts into these creations.)    When he called me on his lunch break, I thanked him and asked him where he came up with this idea.  He said he saw the scrap stainless pieces from a tank job the shop had lying in the hopper and decided to put them to good use.  A few months ago he was drawing up a plan for something on his computer and when I got nosy he told me to 'never mind'.  I was curious, but let it go.  Carl's always dreaming up stuff.  As it turns out, this vase sculpture was what he was designing.

There's Carl, and no, he's not thrilled about standing in the snow this afternoon, but he obliged me by posing. 
Carl thought about filling it with small stones, and having this be a vase-shaped gabion.
Not a bad idea, or I'm thinking it will make a great trellis for climbing vines.

We'll come up with some idea or other.  Carl said he has enough scrap to make another one.  A pair would be really neat.  Maybe for next Valentine's Day?  (Oh, and by the way, he had hidden the gift behind a cedar tree.)

And what, you may ask, do I get Carl for V-Day?  Well.....not much.  I usually make him his favorite meal.  (Hamburgers.)  Yes, that's right, Carl goes through hours of work to make me a homemade present and I give him hamburgers.  Oh, and I am waiting for a white cake to cool and I'm going to drizzle it with raspberries and cream cheese frosting.  The way to my man's heart is through his stomach.

I hope you all have a wonderful day full of love and laughter, too.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Blues

Watch your step, Quarry ahead.
No, I don't have the blues, well, not really.  Oh, I get a little bit glum once in awhile.  Like today.  I had to clean house.   Did I ever tell you cleaning isn't on my Top Ten List?  (I really shouldn't admit that in print, should I?)   But there it is.  Cleaning makes me a bit blue.  It just never stays done, does it?  In the summer my excuse for not having House Beautiful is the garden work and the winter, of course, is stained glass season.  I do dishes on a daily basis and all that good stuff, but gee whiz, eventually, I have to do something with the dust.  At least rotate it or something. 

Another reason I'm seeing blue is because I finished foiling the last piece of the Pony Wisteria late Saturday morning. 
890 pieces of blue (and green and orange and pink)
We had the repeats all propped up in the window in the living room checking to see if the colors work or not.  (And yes, the window needs washing, too.) 

They call it a 'Pony Wisteria' because it is a smaller size than the full-size Wisteria. 
I guess this is the look I was going for with this shade, different hues of mottled blue-purple ending in pink/purple blooms on the bottom.  I chose the background of an orange and green-yellow mottled glass, which I hope looks like a sunset. The thing about stained glass for me is I never know for sure if the colors work until the shade is done.    Being in a circular shape and depending on where the light bulbs are located all makes a big difference in the final appearance as does the 'color' of the light bulb used to light the lamp.  Cool white bulbs or warmer sunlight bulbs can bring out a completely different color palette.  Things didn't look exactly the way I hoped so far, but after cutting a few new pieces, I guess it's done. 

The next step is to put the glass on the form for soldering.  But first, Carl had to work on getting the    bronze crown and branches straightened a bit before he can start putting the glass on the form.  His part of the process has a long way to go yet, but as for now my part is done, at least until the soldering is complete.     I felt a little bit of a let down now that I've finished the layout and foiling.   I like having a project to work on, it gives me something to look forward to when the dishes are done.  (And a reason to delay my Dust Rotation duties.)

So, after lunch on Saturday, Carl was down in the basement working on the branches and I was face to face with the fact I had nothing else to do but clean.  Sigh.  Go get Dexter.  (Yes, I call my vacuum cleaner 'Dexter'.  He's a Serial Cleaner; hates dust with a passion.)

Then it dawned on me, there was something else I could do.  I hadn't exercised yet today.   We just had a good snowstorm a few days ago and the snow is back and the temperature was finally above zero for a change.

Time to go cross-country skiing again.  It's around 4PM, I'll have plenty of time to clean when I get back, right? 

See ya later, Dexter, I'm outta here.

Here we go.
 None of these pictures are going to be all that spectacular but there are so many shades of blue.
Skiing by the hosta garden.
The Lane Bed
We had a snowstorm on Wednesday with a total of about ten inches of new snow which covered up the treacherous ice very nicely.  My snowblower trails are obliterated, but the skis work very well.  The snow is extremely dry and powdery. 
We moved this rock late in the fall, along with the park bench after the cedars were limbed up.  Let's hope it looks better in the spring.

Through the Egress Gate, Aaargh dead ahead.

Snow does a great job of hiding the messy pallets of stone

As long as I remember where the rocks are, especially when snow blowing, we'll be ok.

Skiing past the Quarry.
Past the Aermotor windmill.
Around the corner and down the lane to the Back Eight.
Heading north....Joel had plowed me a trail a day ago, but it all drifted in.

Looking back to the windmill and home.  The snow is hard due to the below zero temperatures we've had, but I still broke through constantly.  The next time down the trail will be a lot faster and easier.
Looking west to Mom's house and the setting sun, there's a faint sun dog in the sky.  More snow to come?
Getting closer to the north line fence on the farm.
My father and I planted these white pines about twenty years ago.  Those in the background were transplanted by yours truly.
Now that I've reached the northern line fence, the lane bends to the east, along the neighboring woods, past the pine trees I transplanted here a few years back from the more tightly planted area farther south.

I wasn't sure these trees would survive the move with our tree spade, but out of the 40 I moved, only three died.
Looking back west again, must go faster since my feet are really feeling the cold. 
It was about five above zero when I went out which is cold, but not too bad, since there was barely any wind.  Wind makes everything colder.

There's the eastern view, I know, just a bunch of corn field stubble, but it's Home.
Going back west one more time, the sun is going down.  And my feet are getting colder.
Might as well go around the farm in the other direction now.  Heading west.

Going back west on the line fence.  Having fun yet?

This old oak tree was almost a chain saw casualty, but since it was on our side of the line fence, I told the neighbor I'd limb it up so he could farm under it and he reluctantly agreed.  It's one of my favorite trees.
The sun is sinking lower and my feet are really getting cold now.  Ski faster.

This big cottonwood tree is much larger than it appears.  It marks the boundary of our farm on the northwest side.  I know it's a dark picture, but if you notice the white stripe up the middle of the trunk, the tree was struck by lightning several years ago and the bark was blown off.  This tree has seen its share of hard times; when our barn was destroyed by an unconfirmed tornado back in 1981, the tree lost a major part of it's canopy.  But every year without fail, new leaves grace the branches.
By now, my feet are really starting to hurt from the cold.  Way off in the distance can you spot the white blob in the picture?  That's how far home is away yet.  
There, I zoomed in a little.  But I'm not any closer and ouch, my feet! 
Snow drifts abound on the west line fence.  (There's no 'fence' left any more, just trees and shrubs.)

Only ten inches of snow, but a good three feet of snow drifts have formed.
I ski in front of the drifts, I'm lazy.
 Getting darker now, and the solitude is wonderful.  I love this farm; the peace and quiet, the same views I've seen all my life.  You'd think I'd get bored with the scenery (and I'm sure you all are by now, sorry) but it never fails to make me happy.  I could easily stay out for another hour and another trip around the fields, but I'll spare you the monotony.  (And my feet are at their limit, I can barely feel my toes anymore and my fingers aren't far behind.)
But wait, maybe I'm not so alone after all.
Hard to see, I know, but there are headlights on the horizon.  Snowmobilers, out having a good time on this calm night.  Their trail doesn't cross our land, but zips right by my mother's on the neighboring farm land.   Earlier this winter, the trails were bustling, but then we had the thaw.  I guess the snow still isn't the greatest yet, but there's a chance of more accumulation this weekend.  I hope so, I enjoy watching them. 
And away they go.
Time for me to head for home, I have about a quarter mile to go yet.  My camera's battery went out so that's the end of the pictures of my mini ski trip.  I was glad to get back in the house and defrost my feet, but I felt refreshed and ready to face anything.

 Even housecleaning.

The dust has been rotated one more time.