Friday, September 26, 2014

Annual Love Affair and More

 One of the most asked questions of Carl and I when we have garden guests is:

"Why do you plant so many annuals?"

My semi-sassy comeback most of the time is:

"Why not?"

We all know I have a bit of a fetish for the Bubblegum petunias in the Riverbed and on the Quarry hills in the full sun, but as we move into the shade after passing through the Egress Gate, another of my favorites come into view.

No annuals at the entrance.  (But hey, we got the Egress Gate welded and repainted this spring after I ran into it with the lawn mower two years ago.)

Looking back through the gate to the north. No annuals here.

 Here we are entering hosta territory and along with the hostas are my favorite shade annuals.

Holey Rock Collection bordered in wax begonias and below:
Tuberous 'Nonstop' begonias in a planter
The begonias have been in bloom since June and these pictures were taken last week in late September.

The plant stand above was an art project Carl made in high school in 1972, it is actually a replica of a huge nail.  It sat in our garage for years until I asked Carl if I could use it as a stand for flowers. When he said yes, it was whisked off to Mom's for a fanciful paint job of butterflies and flowers before coming back home to hold flowerpots for me.

At the base of the Nail Stand are more wax begonias and some red New Guinea impatiens from my friend, Brenda.  Back in July, Brenda closed her greenhouse for the season and brought over several minivan loads of annuals.  I was like a kid at Christmas!  All those beauties to plant, oh, it was wonderful.  

I do grow 90% of my own annuals from seed, but begonias take a long growing season under good strong grow lights to get started from seed, so I usually do end up buying them.  They are powerhouses of bloom that can take shade, some direct sun, and can even withstand very cold nights, though a killing frost will do them in.  And thanks to Brenda, this year I have them in drifts.

When I walk through the hosta beds at night, the white borders illuminate the trail.

I admit to not appreciating begonias very much early on in my gardening career.  I used to think they weren't much to look at, but that's changed over the years when I realized how silly I'd been.  

Brenda also brought me some Angelwing begonias:
It takes a big plant to fill a big urn, and this urn is big.  This is our 2014 Junk Recycling addition to the garden.  We took an old tool stand from the shop (the base/rectangular part) and put a decorative cast iron riser in place on the tool stand and added the top off of a stainless tank which measures some forty inches across and then a can of Rustoleum Bronze paint and there we had it, a big ol' urn for the hosta bed.  And with the addition of the Dragonwing Begonia, it was fantastic from a distance and.......

up close and personal.  

The hosta bed is nice and green, but the splash of color steals the show.  

Annuals make me happy.

As I stroll through the hosta bed, appreciating the delicate tracery of the white pine needles in the sunset, the white begonias catch my eye once again.

I'm already thinking about next summer's annuals for a very different reason.....are you ready?

There's going to be a wedding in the family.

Our eldest son Joel and his beautiful fiancee, Abby, are getting married in June!

I've been poring over my seed catalogs from years past and when the new catalogs come in, you better bet I'll be ordering early.  

We have to get this ol' Quarry Garden looking fantastic for this Most Special Event.  (Can you tell I'm excited?)  I keep thinking of all the stuff I'd like to change before next summer, but time is growing short.  (Castle Aaargh....aaargh........) 

But we'll do what we can as fast as we can.

June will be here before we know it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Walking Excursions

 I'm just going to throw random photos of the end of summer garden as we go along.  The pictures won't have a thing to do with the following story. 

The garden season is definitely winding down now and things are looking a bit tattered.  We had a mini-drought earlier in the summer which was made up for by a near-monsoon season for the last few weeks.  In one week alone we were inundated with six inches of rain which put the kibosh on weeding or mortaring.

Though we should be working on Castle Aaargh by now, Carl and I find ourselves at loose ends lately since the tours have come to an end for the year.  When it's not raining we've been working off and on remodeling the back side of the Quarry Hill, adding more rock to the planting areas to reduce the amount of weeding.  Earlier this summer we limbed up about a dozen blue spruce trees so visitors could walk around behind the hill instead of going up and over if they weren't of the Mountain Goat persuasion.  The trail up and over by the waterfall is a bit tricky so it's nice to have the bypass in place.

Quarry pond and Goldsturm rudbeckia
With all the rain we've had the lawn is soggy, so the thought of hauling up a hundred or so pallets of rock from the Back Eight wasn't on my to-do list as the tractor would leave ruts in no time.  We may or may not get to working on Aaargh this year.  We'll see.

One thing we have been doing since the excitement died down is taking little trips here and there.  Our two faithful doggies, Teddy and Pudding, are both fourteen years old and on diuretics and my mom needs me around a bit more, so our trips are short and sweet.

Take for instance this past Friday.  I noticed we were nearly out of dog meds, so a trip to the vet was in order for refills.  The vet's office is about 20 miles away so we had an enjoyable drive through the countryside, and for a change, the weather was very pleasant with bright blue skies and a strong breeze.

We arrived at the veterinarian's office at 5PM and after making our purchase, Carl asked me if I'd like to go exploring somewhere.  Since it was late in the afternoon and I hadn't gotten all my * steps in yet, I was happy to suggest a nearby park.

* (I don't know if you remember, but I have a FitBit One (fancy pedometer-y thing) I bought in March. I'm in some FitBit challenge groups online and well, let's just say I'm obsessed with trying to get no less than 20,000 steps six days a week which equals about ten miles a day, but on Sunday I drop down to five miles, give or take for a bit of a rest.)

There's a windmill in the pond, do you see it?
Why do I walk so much?  I don't know. My friend Ann thinks I have OCD and she may well be right; I do tend to go overboard on things like rocks, flowers, stained glass lamps, etc.  But not cleaning.  Definitely not cleaning....anyway---where was I?  Oh, yes.

I've got this FitBit addiction, I fully admit it.  I walk with Leslie Sansone for an hour in the morning which is usually equal to five miles and if the weather is nice and I'm in the garden, the rest of the day easily racks up another five miles, so it's really not that big of a deal.  Except for the days it rains or something else comes up and I can't get my steps in.   Then I get a teensy bit antsy.  Carl supports my decision to put in the steps, but I know it's gotta be annoying sometimes.  He's in the house and I'm out on the road pacing back and forth in the dark.

"I've only got another 4,000 steps to go, be back real soon!"  Sometimes he goes with me, but for the most part I'm on my own.  The road is quiet, I have my cellphone and if a car comes, I jump in the ditch.  What's to worry about?  Well, there are the occasional skunks/raccoons/things that go bump in the night/unidentified walking objects that make me pick 'em up and put 'em down a whole lot faster, thus shaving time off my efforts.   

Looking at where I rank on the leaderboards on FitBit's website, I'm rarely any closer than the top fifteen or twenty walkers.  There are some people walking over 26 miles a day.

See, I don't have a problem.

I can quit if I want to.

I can.

So, back to our story.  I directed Carl to a park he'd never been to before.  I'd gone to this park with Joel two years ago in the late fall but it had been such a raw day with spitting snow that we didn't feel like exploring much.  I don't have any photos of the park, the scenery wasn't really fantastic anyway; I think it was part of the wastewater treatment plant, actually, as there were four very large square ponds at least an acre in size apiece separated by earth berms.  There were some ducks floating on one of the ponds and since it was so windy, actual waves on the surface.

There was only one other car in the parking lot which was fine by us.  Neither of us like crowds.  I just happened to have my Exerstrider walking poles in the backseat, and Carl's pair in the trunk, so off we went.  Carl doesn't mind walking if the destination is new and there is something to see.  He can't abide pacing back and forth on the same route day after day for no good reason and I don't blame him.  He's not addicted.

"How many steps do you need yet today?" Carl dutifully asked.

"I have 8320 on right now," I said, "so another 12,000 ought to do it."

"Another six miles?  I don't think this park is that big."

We set off at a lively pace going north around the west end of the biggest pond.  We climbed a small hill and found the trail branched off to the east for a few hundred feet and then went north again between two older ponds bordered in cattails.  The trail was grassy and hadn't been mown for a few weeks but the walk was pleasant.  We discussed his day at work and the projects he's got in process as we strolled along.  We came to a small patch of woods and followed the trail through the ash trees and back to the mowed lawn again.

We've had a lot of rain, high water in the Quarry for September.

"How many steps do you have now?" he asked.

"Let me check," I said, as I peered down my shirt.  Yes, the FitBit is clipped to my, gasp! bra.  I try to be discreet about it, but know I fail sometimes.  Hey, I've seen other people peeking down their shirts, too.  I'm not the only weirdo.


"That's it?  I thought we walked farther than that."

We started to head back around the last pond in the park when we came to a fork in the road.

"I wonder where that trail goes," Carl said.  "Do you want to find out?"

We set down the narrow path until we got to a chain stretched between two posts with a sign on the other side.  Carl stepped over the chain and said, "Look, it's the old railroad tracks."

In our area, many railroad tracks have been abandoned, the rails removed and gravel put down to make recreational trails for pedestrians.  These trails go for miles across the country and we've walked on many stretches of them in the past. 

"How many steps do you have now?" he asked.

"9998.  We could walk west until my FitBit hits 15,000 and then turn around and come back.  I should easily hit 20,000 that way."

"Ok, sounds good," Carl said and we headed off the park property and onto the railroad trail.

Since the trains don't go down these trails anymore, the trees have grown quite a canopy overhead forming a tunnel of sorts.  In places it is very dark and the gravel grows moss.   As we rounded a slight bend we came upon a wooden bridge crossing a small stream.  There was a man in his forties sitting on the floor of the bridge, smoking a cigarette,  His bicycle was propped up next to him on the railing and was loaded with what looked to be camping equipment.  He was a rather tough-looking character, but then I know appearances aren't everything.   Carl hadn't shaved or had a haircut for over a month himself and looked scruffy too, but truth be told, it sure was nice to be walking with Carl.

As we crossed the bridge, the man took another drag on his smoke and looked up at us quizzically. With one laconic glance he took in our spiffy Exerstrider poles, exhaled as he snorted out a cloud of smoke and said, "What?  Y'all expecting snow?"

"Never can tell when we'll get lucky," I said as we smiled and went on by.

"Get lucky?" Carl said when we were safely out of earshot.  "That's a new one coming from you."

Ok, it was a silly response, but I do hear those comments all the time when I'm exerstriding.   Yes, we do look odd, but it is an upper body workout too and takes the weight off your feet and joints and well, never mind.  Soon it will snow for real and I'll have skis to go along with the poles and all will be right with the world.
East hill of the Quarry at sunset.

We kept plodding westward into the setting sun.  The wind was picking up a bit more and the sky to the north was dark blue.  We went by a huge grain storage feed mill and watched them load a semi of ground feed for awhile before continuing on.  The grain bins are absolutely huge, I think we made a mistake making Castle Aaargh out of stone, we should have bought one of those round grain bins and we'd have been done a decade ago.  Oh, well.  Next time.  We both kept checking over our shoulders for the scruffy bicycle guy, but he never reappeared.  Apparently he was headed east on the trail.

We crossed two roads and finally after checking my mileage--14,698--time to turn around and go back.  The walk back was a little more pleasant as it was slightly downhill and the wind kept the mosquitoes from getting a toehold.   For some reason the walk back seemed to take half the time which is good as the sun had just gone down behind the trees.  We climbed back over the chain fence and were back in the park.

As we headed down the other side of the ponds, another trail appeared in the woods to the south.  We debated which way to go, and Carl opted to take the woods path while I continued on around the pond.  We don't usually split up, but sometimes it's fun to each take a different route in the interests of time and then compare notes when we're done.  Since it was getting dark, there wouldn't be any time to take both trails.

I went on alone.   Suddenly my attention was caught by a flash of white in the pond to my left.  It was a huge white heron or egret, flying up slowly over the pond's surface and then gliding back down to rest on a tree stump.  He kept repeating this performance, up and over, back and down and with the last glow of the sunset on his white feathers, it was a beautiful sight seeing him reflected in the pond's surface.  I wished Carl could have seen this too, and reached in my pocket for my cellphone.  My cellphone...which wasn't there because I'd forgotten it on the kitchen table at home.

It is continually amazing to me how dependent I've gotten on gadgets.  For the first 53 years of my life I did not have a cellphone.  Just think, Carl and I ventured out into the wilds of the world without one all those years.  My, we were pioneers, weren't we?  I can't describe the sinking feeling of dread I felt when I realized I didn't have the silly thing on me because truth be told, though I'm not a fraidy-cat in the woods or the dark, a cellphone is a nice thing to have in case of emergencies.

 Darkness was now falling fast.  The trail I was on came to a fork in the road again with no Carl in sight.  I had my 20,000 steps on by this time, but thinking Carl's trail might be a lot longer than the straight path I'd taken, I opted to walk around the north side of the last and largest pond of them all. There were actual waves on the pond's surface and when they hit the concrete breaker rocks, it made an eerie sloshing sound.  The trail grew narrower as I reached the east end and I found myself walking alongside a huge pipe which appeared to be coming from one of the buildings on shore.

As I got even with the middle of the pipe, there was a loud hissing noise as if something were under a great deal of pressure.  My common sense told me it was just a normal, industrial noise, but my instincts were to move away from the hissing.  The trail became more narrow and the only way through was forward unless I wanted to go for a swim.   I picked up speed then, all the while kicking myself alternately for forgetting my cellphone and for letting my imagination get the better of me. The scruffy guy wasn't hiding in the shadows, was he?  Really, that sort of thinking will never do.  Get a grip, woman.

I finally made it to the south side of the pond where I knew our car was parked though it was too dark to see it.   I went around the pitch black backside of a building rather skittishly while clutching my walking poles tightly; they have carbide tips on them and probably could be used for self defense as well as walking. (Maybe I should take up the martial arts?)

Where was Carl?  In the time it took me to make the detour around the big pond he should have been back to the car before me.  How long was the trail he took?  I wonder if it even came back to this park?  Maybe it went into the city or back to the recreational trail.  He could be walking in the wrong direction entirely.   Did he fall and break something?  Did he step off the edge of one of the ponds?   If I'd only brought my phone!

Just as I was cussing myself out for the umpteenth time stumbling across the uneven lawn in the dark, a familiar shape came into view. A square structure on a pedestal that looked at once foreign and yet very familiar--and written on the side in big blue letters, PHONE.

A phone!  Yes! Now I can call Carl!

Except the booth was empty with only holes in the post where the phone should be.  My initial relief was rather comical now, looking back.  Come to think of it, I don't remember the last time I saw a public phone booth though they were once as common as mailboxes on city streets.  And even if this dinosaur had been a working phone, I would have been out of luck.  I didn't have any money on me.

I wonder what children visiting this park think of the phone booth?  Maybe it was left to stand as a historical relic for field trips.  "Children, way back in the 1970's people used to call each other from these structures."  A telephone on a cord with push buttons and a phone book that was usually always very damp and swollen twice its original size if it were there at all?  In the middle of a field?  We really did rough it in the olden days, didn't we?

I finally made it to our Pontiac with relief and tried the door, but of course, it was locked.

And, of course, Carl had the keys.

I stood there for a bit listening to the waves hit on the opposite shore and tried to calmly consider the predicament we were in.  It wasn't an emergency, no one was hurt (that I knew of) but what were my options?  Stay with the car and wait, or go look for Carl were the only two I could come up with.  The city this park belonged to was at least a mile and a half away, and if I couldn't find Carl in a reasonable time my next option was to walk into town and ask for help. 

I gathered up my poles and headed out the way we'd originally gone only three hours before.  The trail was rutted and had large chunks of gravel on it which made walking in the daylight a challenge, but now, in the dark with the wind whipping the trees around, I stumbled constantly.  I slowed down considerably; the last thing we needed was for me to break a big toe or something.  My mind was working overtime; I was picturing all sorts of calamities which could have befallen poor Carl in the hour we'd been apart.

A wrong turn?  A pack of stray dogs/wolves/coyotes/juvenile delinquents/scruffy bicycle rider-drifter types/a BEAR??  There goes the blood pressure up, up, up and away.  I had to slow down even more as there were big mud puddles on the trail and I had to sidestep them.

Bears? No there aren't any bears in this area....wait, there was a bear on the news just the other day, found wandering around in Green Bay.  Urban Green Bay, right in town.  But this park is twenty miles northwest of there.  Not to worry.  Where did they take the bear when they let it go?  Surely not this close to where he was caught.  Don't worry, there are no bears here. 

Keep calm.  Keep walking.

Did I yell for Carl?  No.  For one thing, it was so windy it wouldn't have done much good and for another thing I have an absolute distaste for yelling in public or private.  (Ask Carl, I had natural childbirth twice with no painkillers and never yelled once.)   I hate to draw attention to myself at any time and yelling will tend to do that.  My father hated (and I mean HATED) noisy kids, so I learned early on to squelch any boisterous shenanigans.  (I always use my Indoor Voice.  Just so you know.)

But as time and distance traveled went on with still no sign of Carl, I was getting desperate.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, maybe I would have to holler for him after all.

Just at that moment I heard a loud crack very nearby.   I stopped in my tracks and listened, but heard nothing but the relentless wind and my heart pounding in my ears.  Then I saw something move on the trail ahead of me.  I stood stock still and hoped against hope it was Carl and not an Ax Murderer/Bear/Bigfoot. 

"Carl?" I squeaked out.

"WHERE were you!?  The trail I was on came out on the other side of the park and by the time I got out of the woods it was dark.  I couldn't see you anywhere.  And you didn't answer your phone!  Which way did you go?  Did you get to the car yet?  You had me worried!"

It felt so good to hug him tight, I can't tell you how good.

"Did you get your 20.000 steps in?"

I didn't let go of his hand until we got to the car.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fifteen Weeks of Fame (almost)

Mid-September already and where have I been?  Well, where haven't I been would be the better answer, I guess.  My dear mother has had some health issues, nothing serious, but she is in need of my help more now.  My health has been pretty good, but the new thyroid doctor I found less than a year ago is moving to another state.  I am jinxed in that department; I scare them all away.  I have a consultation with a new doctor lined up for November, but I'm not looking forward to the appointment.  Enough about that...

I was in the garden a lot.  Weeding, planting, repeat.  We had two big garden tours/bus trips followed by wedding parties for photography.   We attended three more weddings and there was another booyah party here in August.   I went kayaking once, did a little kite flying twice, and in the middle was a whole lot of tour-guiding visitors through the rock piles of good ol' Quarry Garden.

We had our fifteen weeks of fame this summer.  Way back in April we were photographed and written up in 'Our Wisconsin' magazine and with my cellphone number in the article, my pocket was ringing quite a bit with visitors from all over the country coming to tour 'The Prettiest Farm in Wisconsin'.  (My that's a big title for a humble hut in an alfalfa field, isn't it??)

'Build it and they will come' or have a magazine write about it and that works, too.

 This was the first week we haven't had company since early June.   I didn't keep a running total, but I would estimate we had over 1,300 people look at this rock obsession we call home this year. 

If you want to be a Phone Receptionist/Tour Guide here, these will be the most asked questions.  (Answers are in italics.)  Ready?

How long have you been working on this? A long time.
Did you have a master plan drawn up by an architect? Ah, NO.
How did you know what to plant where? Trial and error.  Lots of the latter.
Are you a Master Gardener/have you had horticultural training/degrees?  Nope.
How many hours a day does it take to weed all this?  32.6
How many people do you employ?  0
What are your hours?  When I get up and when it gets dark.
Is there staff available for tours?  No staff, but I'm here most of the time.
Do we need an appointment or can we come anytime?   An appointment would be great, also it will mean I am fully clothed on your arrival.
Do you have an underground watering system?  Yes and no, there is a well, and we move the water above ground with long, nasty, twisting hoses WHEN we water which ain't a whole lot.
Who built all the garden structures?  Carl with help from spouse and children when necessary.
Would Carl build a dome/stone house/stone wall/stone pyramid/ball fountain/propane tank balls/weird garden art/pan fountains, etc for other people?  Not if his wife can help it.
Why do you plant all these annuals?  Because I love long season color and I'm goofy like that.
How did you ever find a property with an abandoned stone quarry on it?  Refer them to the construction photo album.
Do you ever have weddings here?  Once in awhile.
This could be a real moneymaker.  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA...repeat.
Why haven't we ever heard of you before?  Faulty advertising staff.
Do you ever just enjoy it or are you always working?  No and yes.  (Ok, sarcasm aside, I enjoy it whenever I look up from weeding and see a flower in bloom against a blue sky.)
Why don't you spray weedkiller/fertilize your lawn?  No money in budget, plus, weeds are green.  And tough.
Do you ever sit out here and read a book?  No.
Do you take your morning coffee out by the pond and enjoy the sunrise?  Not a coffee drinker, definitely not a morning person, but have been known to weed by moonlight.
Is gardening a passion you both share?  Some days. 
Why don't you have a bottle tree?  We don't drink wine.
Why don't you drink wine?  We don't have the time, but Carl is an avid milk drinker.  Somehow a milk jug tree doesn't have the same appeal.
Who has the vision for the landscaping?  We're both guilty.
What is your favorite plant? That's like picking a favorite child, can't be done.
How much land do you own?  98 acres.
Are you going to keep expanding?  No, no, at least not today.
What is this stone 'ruin' thing?  We call it Castle Aaargh because......oh, never mind.
Do you intend to finish it?  How long will it take?   Yes and how long can you stay?  Do you know how to cut rock?  
Why do you make so many stained glass lamps?  We can't stop ourselves, they're like potato chips.
What will happen to this garden when you are too old/dead?  A bulldozer will push the rocks into the quarry and it will be an alfalfa field again.

Our fifteen weeks of fame are past now, but that's ok.  It was fun while it lasted.  The time flew by.

And speaking of time flying; Carl and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary earlier this month.  We were 20 when we got hitched, so you can do the math.  No, that's not our weeding attire, those were wedding duds as we were on our way to a reception when Joel took this picture in June. 

1872 Weeks of Wedded Bliss.  More or less. 

 And it went by like a blur.........