People make progress but do not reach perfection because imperfection is the nature of the beast. — Idiom
This morning it is straight to coffee, not my usual glass of lemon water, as I eye a tentacle of bindweed growing inside?! ... yes that beast is inside! ... our "Board Room" the name we have given our five-six-seven?-year-and-counting back porch renovation project. The coffee because I didn't sleep very well wondering just what it was, or is, scratching in the bedroom wall because it sounds much larger than a mouse. It is a dark and stormy morning and there are new leaks in the yet to be renovated roof. All the gutters are clogged and water is falling like Niagra from their rims. There is a tiny trickle running down the rain chain that is, when the gutter is not clogged which is perhaps 1% of the time, a wonderful sight to behold when it rains. And so it goes.
I had such high hopes for this summer. I was going to spend beautifully North temperate summer days toiling in the garden for which I would be rewarded for my hard work with flourishing blooms and tasty vegetables. I would open my gallery and occasionally receive the stray curious-cat-of-a-customer who might just buy a piece of art. I would enjoy the sighting of a new bird or butterfly visiting the garden because I would be present and immersed.
SFX: Lightning flash. Thunderous boom. Scratched vinyl.
It is not so. I am embarrassed by the state of the garden, in spite of my toiling, and afraid to hang my sign for fear of extremely disappointed customers. My neighbor has grown a field of sunflowers, literally, at least a 100 among straw and I should think any potential customer of mine might be confused as to which property is the art studio and garden and to just where the property lines even are since my neighbor has planted right up to the line. The sunflowers I attempted to plant? Eaten by ants that I've resorted to feeding sugar and boric acid on more than one occasion. I spend my days stressed in the garden swearing like the ancestral sailor I must be. The basil and cilantro seeds I've sown like a thousand times must be eaten by snails as evidenced by the holy chard and kale. Ironically, I remember the day I was so excited to find a, as in one, snail in the garden taking it for a promising sign of the wilderness I was trying to build at that point. Ha! The bindweed grows a foot a day. The rudbeckia and cup plant refuse to die. The perennial sunflower and Joe-pye are walking all over me. Susan is unabashedly flaunting herself, the whore! If bindweed isn't bad enough, there is bishops weed which has mysteriously appeared just about everywhere. And once that is hacked down, and the bindweed pulled, then there are grape vines to wrestle from the trees and saplings to mow down that I (fluently) swear grow overnight. Once all is clipped, I circle about and repeat. I could do this dance five times a day and ... well, such is the nature of the beast. Progress is very, very slow but alas everything is progress. Still, I'm afraid that instead of claiming creator of a beautiful wildlife garden, I've made a rather large jungle of a mistake as I eye the grackles swarming the bird feeder. Not the wildlife I had hoped for either. I secretly admit to myself (and you) — that it would be so much easier to hack it all down and grow grass that is simply mowed and become the very thing that I have admonished for so long!
There are some things that redeem themselves. The morning glory that has finally taken off is absolutely true to its name, glorious. The clematis that has finally wound its way through the Dogwood shrub is quite a looker. The last ditch effort to thwart the bishops weed with some native plants is working — Doll's Eye is rising above and is quite eye-popping or, er, will be. The trumpet vine is gorgeous in bloom. When Joe and Susan start flirting it will be so romantic. I love watching the trees grow even if they grow more slowly than the grape vines. Queen of the Prairie! — I don't need to introduce her. The winterberry shrubs, when revealed, have grown considerably. Miss Spikenard has risen from ashes and I promised her I wouldn't ignore her this year but I have so far because she is in the back nine and I haven't quite gotten past the bindweed barrens. Black Lace is growing unbelievably large this year due to all the rain I am assuming. The common Milkweed masses, still growing out front because that is where they want to be, were beautiful in bloom and smelled delicious even if I have yet to see a Monarch in the garden. The back patio in the Potager with the backdrop of Red Elderberry, is a peaceful place to sit and list all the things that need doing in my spinning head. The bursting red berries are now completely stripped, indicating the birds did enjoy them even if I didn't witness their dining experience. (Red elderberries are not edible for us.) So, there are a few rewards but mostly it has been all out war. Tomorrow, given a bit of sunshine and dryness, I will don my camo and weaponry and send myself into battle once again. I feel like I should pick up some kind of bugle to announce the attack.
These flowers will soon turn to white berries with deep purple "pupils" resembling dolls eyes, hence the name.
It is a battle for me, this jungle of a garden that I've burdened myself with. Admittedly, it has become a burden and less a source of joy with each weed I pull. Another battle of mine, this "entrepreneurialship." I struggle with the fact that I barely contribute to our income. Among friends I jokingly comment that "I work for free," only it really isn't a joking matter for me. It is a running commentary in my head on a daily basis. ... I need to get a "real" job. I need to contribute more. I will do all the cooking and cleaning since I "don't work." I need to produce. I need to be more disciplined. I need to improve. I need to change so many things perhaps including accepting myself. Am I really embarrassed of the garden or just afraid? I need to put that sign out there regardless. I need to make more of an effort to do business. My husband is a natural entrepreneur and it easily comes to him. He gives me advice that sounds so simple and I think, yes, but when I try to implement something, I fall apart. I know that I belong in a cube — again, the very thing that I've admonished for so long! — in a 9 to 5er, being told what to do and completely happy with my steady check, complaining about overtime with vacation time that is actually spent vacationing and an office/job to leave behind at the end of the day. It's safe, it's compartmentalized, it's scheduled and I imagine I would probably be happier day to day and feel more accomplished. But this lifestyle, this freedom to work in our own way on our own schedules is really what we strive for. It's creative. It pays in different ways. It's just that one of us isn't so successful at juggling it or the income level and well, such is the nature of the beast. I take blood pressure pills. I continue to gain weight.
So, as I sit here in the Board Room with the bindweed growing through the walls, I contemplate. Ticking off the new career paths I shan't begin because it will limit our freedom. Sighing with the already depleted energy of beginning yet again. Staving off dangerously depressed thoughts and attempting to remain positive. Spiraling, landing and eventually relaxing into a transitional state of mind whereby we sell the house-of-a-1000-projects in the 1000 Islands with our (my) 1000s of problems and mistakes, and retreat to the sanctity and simplicity of the lake where our next project is to build a studio/meditation/guitar room (the midas touch hubby is learning to play the blues and believe me he will probably become a rock star) close to the lake and dock with maintenance free materials. I look forward to more time expended painting watercolors, creating, cooking instead of weed pulling and house renovation. The mantra is keep your eye on the prize.
It is bitter sweet communing with the garden. I've already decided that I won't be adding any more plants — a little too late if I do say so. Ha! I am giving up on bringing it into any type of glory and simply managing it into something presentable. Presentable as in PUT OUT YOUR SIDEWALK SIGN and chin up! The art is there. Simply don't garden tour the back 9 (until you finally get to weeding it). Presentable as in HOUSE FOR SALE with private, well-landscaped back yard. It seems so sad to reduce the Violet Fern Garden to this. I have whispered to the Pin Oak to please shed acorns so that I may plant your sister at the lake. Do I dare try to dig up and transport the Tulip Tree? Sigh, it is too large and I don't dare dig, transport and plant at the lake for fear of also bringing bind or bishops weed along for the ride. Yet in this bitterness, this stubborn gardener is already making new plans. And believe me I have learned from my many mistakes. Vegetables, ornamental flowers and herbs will be grown on the wrap around deck of the yet-to-be-built lake house in containers close to the kitchen and far from deer. I reiterate, there will not be any "gardening" per say at the lake, only enhancing the landscape with native plants. No weeding, no mulching, no mowing. The house will NOT have any gutters. The rain chain? Well maybe from a tree limb because I love that thing. The heron sculpture and other "ornaments" will come along. The greenhouse stays with the house. The wine garden (bottle border) stays. I take comfort — this is not really good bye. A simple tray of water at the lake on a stump attracted four chickadees, two black-and-white warblers, two cedar waxwing and a bird I've yet to identify all within the span of 20 minutes. The Violet Fern Garden divides herself and roams about as freely as I do. The Violet Fern Garden moves in spirit and transplants, transitions to the lake, to Cedar Kottage, to a remote, more generous and frightfully dangerous place in which she can grow wildly out of control. This is truly exciting and worth living.
The place is wild and beautiful and also dangerous – that's the nature of the beast. — Idiom
I sincerely hope I don't get that song in your head, and if I did soon you'll be singing a different one if you read on. I guess I'm hung up on letters at the moment. I am having so much fun with #the100DayProject and my #100Bs that I am throwing in an A and a C! (If you by some fleeting chance have missed out on all the times I've mentioned my 100 day project of 100Bs, follow along on instagram where I post my daily small painting of something beginning with B. Make a request if you'd like!) Read along to see what ABCs are blooming right now in the Violet Fern garden.
ALLIUMS! I am so thrilled with all the Allium bulbs I planted last fall. They really add some pop to the garden at this time and while some are already fading, new varieties are just coming into bloom. They are such an architectural marvel in the garden.
Here, you can see the Allium bouys "floating" along my "river view" garden. I have yet to paint the fish that belong atop the rebar stakes but it is closer to the top of my list. I love sitting here on this patio in the Potager with this "river view" of blue bottles which cast a watery blue hue on the interesting network of plants on the sandy bottom mulched in with pea gravel. I just acquired Dianthus simulans to plant here, too — can't wait!
One of my favorite native plants is also now in bloom, Amsonia, commonly known as Bluestar. I have three different varieties planted together. After the bloom, the Fall show is almost just as stunning as its foliage turns a brilliant yellow. I love the ferny leaf on Amsonia hubrichtii.
Side note: I am not seeing as many bees and butterflies in the garden this year as usual. I am wondering if it has been our rather wet weather and Spring. What are you noticing in your own gardens? If I take a close look at the Ninebark and Cranberry Viburnum blooms, there are plenty of bees but usually more seem to fly around the whole garden. I do notice more mosquitos in the garden this year! Right now I am listening to a Cat Bird sing (not meow), right on time with the ripening of all my strawberries, the blackberries and soon to be blue berries and raspberries. Much more pleasant than the very hungry baby crow.
BAPTISIA never fails to disappoint! It has become very large and in charge in my garden. I think a yellow variety would be nice to fit in some where but I have to stop myself as I am transitioning my energies to the lake property and merely trying to gain a bit of control and order in the Violet Fern garden. This means no more purchases! (Except seeds for veggies). It means native plant purchases only for the lake property. I did plant out some of my volunteer Cranberry Viburnum and trumpet vine at the lake over the weekend. I will feature the lake in a post very soon. I look forward to the "non-gardens" there, meaning I will only be enhancing the landscape with native plants. There won't be any babying, mulching, mowing, weeding, edging, etc. I love its natural state and only seek to add more blooms with a grow-or-not attitude. I came across some white spruce saplings that I also planted with the hopes of attracting more birds and wildlife in the far future. There are many, many birds there but I can never see them through the canopy! That's where identifying bird calls comes in handy. There's certainly no mistaking the call of a loon or whip-poor-will but knowing warblers' by sight and sound can take a lifetime of learning!
I was so taken with the Baptisia blooms that I painted them as a "B."
Black Lace, Sambucus Nigra, is stately this year. The mild winter was kind to her. She is in full bloom now and stunning!
COLUMBINE TIME! I was so thrilled to happen upon our native Columbine right here in my own garden! Then, I remembered vaguely emptying a packet of seeds a year? two years ago? in that section of the garden. I am delighted that one took and will encourage this plant to spread itself around. It is so beautiful and bloomed earlier than my other columbines, early enough to welcome back our hummingbirds of which it is an important nectar source for them early in the season and red in color by divine design.
These frilly Columbines were here when we moved in but have relocated themselves everywhere and painted themselves in differing shades of pink.
This pretty blue/purple Columbine I believe I gleamed from the Clayton Garden Club. It has also moved itself around much to my delight.
Cranesbill geranium is just beginning to open. The bees love this plant. I have some that are more blue, others that are more pink and another with streaks of white in the bloom which I think must be a virus of some kind? If only I had pursued a degree in horticulture instead of the arts. You know, I googled that geranium streaking flower and it turns out it has a name! Splish Splash. I can assure you I have never planted Splish Splash but I have let my geraniums go to seed (their seeds resemble a crane's bill and thus their name), and I'm thinking that is how Splish Splash was born into my garden.
So there you have it, the ABCs of what's blooming. Sing Allium, Baptisia, Columbine!
I continue to paint: Bs, a couple paintings started in Cedar Key that I hope to finish — one that's been on my list awhile, the orchid house in Puerto Vallarta botanical garden, and a colorful and large Grouper — the wooden fish (for the garden). I continue to tend to the garden which translates to ripping out Bindweed daily. My June mantra is weed, weed, weed. My basil and cilantro have refused to germinate thus far but I'm hoping for some results with this warmer weather and a bit of sun. I am able to harvest lettuce, spinach, arugula and strawberries right now among the perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano and mint. The garlic is tall and (knock on wood) so far clear of leek moth which invaded me last year, (of course, planting more alliums adds to the attraction). I do so love to eat fresh from the garden. I planted some Supertunias in the wine barrel this year at the base of morning glories and their wonderful perfume drifts into the house. Summer seems to be settling in. Life is good.
It's close to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day which happens on the 15th of each month, and in which I used to participate religiously but honestly, I am so not a scheduled person. Sure, I like to plan and have a loose set of goals because how else does one get things done? But tell me I have to be somewhere at a certain time and immediately the anxiety level rises. Maybe it's PTSD from working in a cube for so many years? I just don't like to be boxed in. I work along these lines: I need this and this done by this date. Okay! Anyway, I got the urge to capture Spring. There's much happening in the garden in spite of the cold and rain and yes, even snow these past few days. Then I thought, why wait for GBBD? Why not just capture what's blooming in the garden when I feel like it? So, here you have it, what's blooming in the Violet Fern Garden right now.
I have many, many daffodils mostly because nothing eats daffodils. I add some every year and I apologize but I don't keep track of what kind they are, or the names of them, as long as they "naturalize" they are in my shopping cart. I am surprised this year to discover I have some really pretty varieties!
Lungwort or Pulmonaria always pleases. It is one of the first to bloom in Spring and she has been spreading itself around. She's welcome wherever she goes.
Bergenia is blooming! I have been trying her out in different spots because I love this early blooming perennial with its large, lush leaves that also put on a Fall show. She likes this spot if she's blooming for me, yay!
I seem to have lost one of my Hellebores (so now I will need to get another one!), such a shame, but this one is doing well and is still blooming! I finally got around to cutting back her old leaves so now she really is a looker!
The only thing to rival that gorgeous burgundy color on Miss Hellebore would be Miss Pasque Flower. She is moping from all the rain we had but I'm sure she will hold her head up high soon.
Little, polite Lady Jane is also in bloom. One of the few tulip varieties I have that big, fat rabbit doesn't seem to like.
I've been trying to incorporate more native Spring ephemerals into the Violet Fern Garden. Some Dutchman's Breeches from the lake driveway has come back (jump for joy!) but isn't blooming just yet. Shooting star is up but isn't quite blooming yet, either. My mom gave me this beautiful Trillium (along with some Bloodroot which has finished blooming) and it IS blooming! Aren't Mom's awesome? Happy Mother's Day Mom! Can't wait to see you.
There's nothing like blue in the garden to set off those yellow (white, peach, orange) daffodils! And I got it! Brunnera is the bluest of them all. Forget-me-nots are never forgotten and are always enchanting with their tiny, dancing blooms. I love when the bumble bees land on them and sway to the ground.
Virginia Bluebells, a native spring ephemeral, has my heart right now. I planted two plants last year with the hope of having a large drift of them someday and they're both up and looking slightly different from one another. One seems to have lighter green leaves and paler blooms while the other has a little pink in the blooms and deeper green leaves and seems more robust. I have to research and figure that out unless you can provide some insight?
I am reveling in the glory of Spring, grateful to be working in my own garden getting to know her again. The Serviceberry was a show stopper this year but sadly her show does not last very long until the berries. Next, the Dogwoods and Crabapples will be in bloom most likely in time for the Memorial Day Artists' Studio Tour. I hope you'll stop by.
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Author Kathy Sturr
In this blog I may write about the garden, flowers, plants, and the garden ... mostly the garden, but also new art and inspiration.