Friday, June 19, 2009

Speaking of pigs....

Since I've been home, after being gone a month, my piggy bank is taking a beating. I started to do my laundry and the dryer died. As I was sorting the clothes, I noticed water on the floor and then felt it dripping on my head. I went upstairs to investigate, opened a newly-built cupboard in the bath, and water ran out onto the floor.
In addition to home repairs, the brake warning lite in the MINI popped on when I was driving the backroads home on Friday. I kind of freaked. I gently tapped the pedal to see if I could even stop. Yeah, I had brakes. What was going on????

I am reluctantly happy to report that all has been repaired/replaced. The new dryer is installed to the tune of about $600; the water pipe enclosed within the recently built cupboard has been replaced for about $300. And the front brake pads have been replaced on the MINI for watching my language $650!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pigs, pigs, and more pigs...

I've been collecting pigs forever... I think the first was this one, a birthday gift from my sister. It is one of my favorites, a beautiful Belleek china pig. Over the years I have collected many, and then more. Here are a few from the cupboard.

The largest one I have is a cast iron bank that I received from Ruby, a loving relative from long ago. The pig in the tub is from an old boyfriend. No comment!!!!

I received the cloth pigs for Christmas tree decorations, one each from Ev and Tess.

The clay pigs have been acquired more recently

Don't ask me why....I just love 'em all!

Catalpa speciosa

Ev called the other night. I was in bed, asleep. It wasn't late, maybe 10:30, but I usually get up around 5:30 am, so I was out. The phone next to the bed startled me out of a deep sleep and when I answered, I heard my son's voice. I could hear that he was walking - his breathing, the traffic, others talking as he passed by...I held my breath for a second, not sure if this was a good call, or one of those you always dread late at night.

It was a good call. Actually, after I hung up, I laid in the dark and smiled. He had been biking around town earlier in the day - to work, to his internship - and now walking home. "Everywhere I've been today there are these HUGE trees covered with the most beautiful blossoms and..." Before he finished his sentence, I just blurted "catalpa".

There was a pause, then he asked how I knew, without more description. I just knew. They are blooming all over Iowa and they are magnificent. Catalpa speciosa was on our "native plants of the Savanna ecotone - south country" list last semester. They are a canopy tree over 50 ft. tall found in hydric (wet)forests.

Last summer I did an internship with an extension outreach program and was assigned a small railroad town in Central Iowa. The town is on its deathbed, sorely run-down. It's seen better days. But the Northern Catalpas are everywhere! They can be found in the city park, forming an allee down main street (old Lincoln Highway), dotting adjacent streets, and all around the old school. One of my duties was to research the history of this town, and with my partner, come up with a landscape design that would contribute to the quality of life in this tiny berg that is gasping for its last breath.

The local librarian gave me a book on the history of this town, founded at the crossroads of two major railroads bisecting the state both north-south and east-west. In the glory days, there was a roundhouse, a depot, 2 major hotels, a booming main street, and a burgeoning population. Today, things are a lot different, but the one constant over the years has been the catalpa trees.

They were planted by a Johnny Appleseed, of sorts. This flamboyant young man, who never married, preferred to be called "Uncle Jimmy", or some such name. He opened and managed the opera house for years, bringing in shows from Chicago and beyond. Folks from far and wide came to town to see these spectacular shows in his theater.

This town was located on low land and, to this day, the townspeople still battle standing water. After a good rain, the ball field behind the school, certain streets, and the south end of City Park all become shallow lakes. Back at the turn of the century, Uncle Jimmy traveled to Iowa State College to ask a forester to suggest some species of trees that would survive in this wet environment. He came home with his list and set out on a mission. He planted the entire town with trees from that list, but his favorite was the Northern Catalpa, and his legacy lives on.

I have not been back, but I bet it's gorgeous this time of year. Some of the residents complain because these splendid trees cast down long seed pods (they look like a vanilla beans on steroids) and they "won't go through the mower!" The trees in bloom are covered with heavy clusters of large, white, orchid-like flowers displaying orange stripes and purple spots. The leaves sometime grow to be a foot long. When the blossoms start to fade, the tree lays down a floral carpet. In the winter, the seed pods dangle from barren branches, then pop open in the spring, letting loose silvery winged seeds.

I probably told Ev more than he wanted to know, but when I finished, he thanked me for the story about these trees. Then he told me he loved me.

"I love you, too, Bud. Good night."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Foto by Tess

My daughter Tess takes the most incredible photographs with her little digital camera. She has an eye that captures what most of us never see. She snapped this photo one evening when it was raining. She went out to play in the rain with the little kids next door and this is what she came in with. I am in awe.

For Mother's Day, she gave me one of those electronic picture frames that pan through whatever photos are uploaded to it. I packed it in my things going up to Lakeside Lab and I figured if I got homesick, I could turn it on. Since there was no TV in my room, that first nite, I turned it on and watched the little black screen. I got a little choked up. I laid in the dark and watched as my family, my dog, our vacation shots, my garden, and various other brilliant fotos scrolled by.

Not only is she talented, but she is so thoughtful. She understood what I needed to see to stay grounded for the month I spent away from home. Bless her heart.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another Gardener's Bed-Book by Richardson Wright

Here's an excerpt from the 1933 gardening book...

Obvious never know, until you ask them, what kinds of answers the masters of gardening will give. One day, having admired an especially splendid exhibition of vegetables, I turned to the man who grew them and asked,, "What time of year do you start preparing the soil for such a crop?" He removed his pipe (and I remove the burr from his robust Scotch) and answered, "We never stop."

Another doyen of the alpine world, was confronted with the direct question, "Why does Primula minima pine away when put in granitic soil?' The Great One thought for a moment and replied, "Evidently , it doesn't like it."

June Harvest

Here it is...radishes and cilantro. Beautiful, fresh produce from my veggie garden.

Several years back I became bored with my flower gardens, so I decided to reclaim an old patch on which the former owner had grown his vegetables. I tried a method used by the founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa, Richard Thompson. My crop was planted on top of a ridge pushed up to make the row, ie, ridge tilling. That fall I planted a green mulch of rye and it took forever to decompose and tied up all the nitrogen that next spring, so my veggies suffered that season. Then I decided that the 'tried-and-true' would be good enough and I just planted straight rows with string and stick. I oriented the rows north and south so they received max. sunlite. That worked pretty well, but I felt like I was compacting the soil every time I walked down the rows.

One early morning when Dewey and I were on our walk, I ventured down an alley in an old neighborhood and found the most beautiful garden hidden on the other side of a hedge/fence. It was a 4-square with beautifully laid brick walks. The beds held both veggies and perennial plants and my passion for gardening was re-united with that one serendipitous find!

That summer I searched hi and lo for old paving bricks, an old garden gate, and rusty woven, scalloped top fence (the owner of Cyclone Fence became a good friend that summer! ;} I hauled sand/pea gravel from the local quarry in 5-gal. buckets. By the end of July, I laid out a 4-square garden with beds 4x4 so I could reach into them from all sides. Two-foot deep beds surrounded the perimeter of the fenced garden so cukes, peas, and flowering vines could grow up the old-fashioned fence. Needless to say, I haven't changed my garden for three years now. It works great. Spending that summer concentrating on veggie garden surprisingly renewed my passion for my flower gardens, altho I do get more excited planted, weeding, and then harvesting those scrumptious veggies.

I think tonight I'll make fajitas - grilled sirloin, sliced avocado, and fresh cilantro from the garden.

Working on the Egralharve project, I noticed a unique wetland plant growing along the edge of the mineral spring. The plants expert at Lakeside Lab thought it a rare carex, but unsure of the particular type. A friend recently suggested a plant site for Missouri, and Bingo! I was able to identify it.

Carex lurida is "found in fens, a rare praire bottomlands plant."The photo on the right is the one I took at the Egralharve mineral spring site; on the left, the one off the internet. The water in both these photos is tinged with iron precipitates flowing up from the depths; this rare wetland plant is an obligate species, dependent on the minerals in that water for its survival. What a find! Thanks, MO Grower.