That thing birds do where they all sit in a tree

So Doug and I were eating supper together the other night in our new, wonderfully empty nest, and the birds in the backyard were going bonkers. They were doing that thing they do in the evening when they all sit in a tree, or maybe it’s more than one tree, and yammer together, back and forth, like old neighbors sitting on porch rockers. The culprits seem to be regular ol’ house sparrows, practicing something known as “communal roosting.” So–what do you think the birdies are telling one another in their nightly recaps? “Wow, Tweetie, you did a terrific job escaping that hawk today!” “Hey, Joe, I saw you preening in front of the birdbath. Vain a little?” “So, does anybody else think the birdseed in the backyard at 474 tastes stale?” I mean, what exactly is the purpose of these loudmouthed gatherings? If anybody knows the secret and is willing to share it, I’d love to know.

Photo by J.M. Garg licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In praise of peacock orchids

I mentioned these earlier this summer, but I really feel they merit another nod. My peacock orchids, which I grew up knowing as acidanthera but am now informed are instead Gladiolus murielae, began blooming in late June and have been flowering steadily ever since, which is pretty amazing considering how hot July was. These natives of Madagascar (exotic!) aren’t not terribly flashy, but the flowers are graceful as hell, and they have a lovely scent, though you have to get right up on them to smell it. They’re not actually orchids; they’re related to gladiolus, which you’ll realize immediately when you see their foliage.

I wish I’d planted more of these. They really are so pretty in the rear of the border. They don’t spread or take up too much room or get unruly. They self-clean, so no dead-heading! The only drawback is that they aren’t reliably hardy here in Zone 7, though if global warming continues, I suppose there’s hope. Also, they’re best planted in groups or drifts, I think. I planted two sets this year, one of three and one of seven. The seven are very happy and fruitful; the three, not so much. So I guess they like being amongst their own kind–and who wouldn’t when their own kind is as lovely as this?

They’ve been such good producers for me that I haven’t had the heart to try them as cut flowers, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t last too long. They have such a droopy sort of elegance to them, and the blossoms are very delicate and soft, not at all tough or leathery.

Photo by Peter Forster licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Basil all over again

Last fall when I dropped my daughter off to college, she wanted to bring a basil plant with her. All summer long, she lives on paninis made with fresh chopped garlic, fresh chopped basil, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, on good dense bread. (Yeah, I know. And she still has boyfriends with all that garlic!) She wants to keep on living on them through the autumn and winter. So–the basil plant. The one she had last fall lasted into October before it gave up the ghost in her dorm room.

This year–big change–she’s in an apartment off-campus. And today we moved her in–her, and eighteen boxes full of clothes and shoes, and another eighteen bags of groceries/soda/water bottles, etc., and another basil plant. And as we were hauling all this up to her third-floor place (!), we noticed that on the fire escape on the floor below her was … a basil plant! So there’s a kindred soul there below her. They’ll probably bond over the smell of olive oil and garlic …

And wouldn’t you know it, my tomato patch was in a resting space for the past few days, so I had no fresh tomatoes for her to take with her. Heartbreaking. We had to buy grocery-store tomatoes–at $1.99 a pound! And they looked awful!

Photo by Rinini25 and Twice25 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

A jungle out there!

I have a birdfeeder in the backyard, and I love to feed “my” birds, even though my kids make merciless fun of me for it. I love it when the yard, the shrubs, the feeder, the sunflowers, are full of life and motion—when a flock of sparrows swoops through, when mourning doves pick at the birdseed the (damned) squirrels spill, even when a blue jay decides to stop by and make a ruckus for a while. And now that the bunny population is multiplying like, well, bunnies, there’s a constant parade of critters on display.

Of course, some critters are more welcome than others, and the black cat who stops by and sits in the shadows underneath the feeder, just waiting for some careless birdie to drop her guard, is NOT particularly welcome. It’s not that I don’t like cats; I don’t like little bundles of feathers, or, for that matter, dead birds in the backyard. So today, when I came down from my office for coffee and saw the cat sitting there, ready to pounce, I opened the back door and stepped outside to shoo him (her?) away.

As I did, I saw a mad fluttering in the shrubs two doors down from me—a BIG, mad fluttering. To my surprise, I saw it was a hawk, a good-sized one, that had just flown into a viburnum, causing a cacophony of flittering and twittering and tweeting among the birds—probably sparrows—who were hiding out there. I watched as he (she?) pushed amidst the foliage, but then I turned chicken; I didn’t want to see her (him?) get one of the birds. Funny–it never occurred to me to shoo the hawk.

Two predators in one trip into the backyard! I’m telling you, it really is a jungle out there.

Photo by Wayward licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Coming back to life

We’ve had about five straight days of cool temps and rain here on the East Coast, and all the plants that had given up the ghost after our hideous heat and decided to go into hibernation are slowly reawakening, like Sleeping Beauties, and blooming once again. The gardens look so pretty, and the grass is fresh and green. One of my Proven Winners plants that I’d practically forgotten about has dramatically reminded me how pretty it is: The lobelia above, ‘Lucia Lavender Blush.’ The flowers are much larger than my beloved deep-blue lobelias, and this puppy really fills out its pot. Also rising from the dead like a zombie, albeit a lovely one, is my anisodontea hybrid, ‘Slightly Strawberry.’ I still have my doubts about this one, though. It was supposed to grow up to three feet high; mine’s still less than a foot tall, and the flowering has been … “sporadic” would be being polite. Ah, I just went back and looked at the growing instructions, which say “High night temperatures can affect flowering; best with cool nights.” Well, PW, we all would be, but we can’t always get what we want.

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®,

Nothing says August …

Like a big ol’ bowl of dead-ripe tomatoes and a bouquet of zinnias on the kitchen table. And that’s what I’ve got.

I’ve also got the usual August wild-morning-glories-climbing-all-over-everything problem, and the sunflowers-so-heavy-they’re-caving-over problem, and the I’m-so-tired-of-deadheading-calendulas-I-think-I’ll-just-let-them-go problem, not to mention CRABGRASS EVERYWHERE!

But I noticed that last time I mowed the lawn, entire flocks of sparrows and the like moved in afterward and hunted and pecked all over the yard. So maybe they were after crabgrass seed that got displaced by the mowing, so crabgrass is good for something.

Did I mention that my lawn mower broke? And I put it back together again with duct tape and a couple of metal tent spikes? And that it’s still pretty shaky but I think maybe I can get through the rest of the grass-growing season with it? Cross your fingers for me.

Who says orange doesn’t go with purple?

Nature knows better even than the experts on Project Runway. I’d never have planted an orange flower next to a purple one, but this, my favorite zinnia in my garden, shows how little I know. The purple halo absolutely MAKES this blossom. And the best news is, this puppy is prolific. I have orange/purple beauties to spare! Sort of makes up for a tapering off of tomato production, which may be due to the virus my plants seem to have contracted, or may be simply part of the ebb and flow all gardens go through.

I spent a good hour this afternoon ripping crabgrass and weeds out, including back in the alleyway. It seems unfair to me that I should have to weed there, since it’s not really my property. I used to just let nature have its willful way there, but then it dawned on me that invaders there were only going to wind up in my yard anyway.

I love that crown of yellow at the center, too. All in all, a real beauty—even if it does appear my bunnies have been doing a bit of damage along the sides!

Hey hey hey that’s some bouquet

All right, I’m just flat-out made happy by having big bouquets of my zinnias all over the house. Some years, I buy zinnia plants before they bloom, plant them, and end up with all red zinnias. This year, I bought zinnia plants before they bloomed, planted them—and ended up with the most wonderfully harmonious mixture of pastels. There’s a sort of salmony-pink there on the right that I especially love, along with a deep orange that has a circle of pale purple at the center. (!) I wasn’t sure about the quilled petals—for a while, it looked as though ALL my zinnias would have quilled petals—but they don’t. The variety of shapes and the glorious colors have really made my week, which is about as long as this bouquet will be in good shape.

And by then, there will be lots more zinnias to pick!

The Eagle has landed!


My son completed his Eagle Scout project today, with the help of his buds from Troop 99, the wonderful Eric Schmidt of Colonial Gardens, a couple of Scout leaders, including the husband, and me. Well, mostly I watched, but I got pretty dirty just the same. I was so delighted when Jake decided to adorn the local signage with plants for his project. He did four signs at three different areas of town. The plants Eric helped him select for the plantings include ornamental grasses, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, ‘Red Glory’ hemerocallis, and ‘Goldsturm’ coreopsis.

Eric had the boys kill the weeds on the site and trench them ahead of time. Then today he trucked in a truckload of soil, the plants, and mulch, and the boys got to work. There was a light, steady rain for most of the day, which made for perfect planting weather. It was nice and cool, and it never really rained so hard that we didn’t dry off between sites.

We now have to water for the next two months–unless the heavens continue to be so accommodating as they were today! I thought you’d enjoy a before-and-after set of photos.


A blossom of a different sort

Okay, I’ve been light on posts this weekend, but that’s only because my hands were busy. Marcia, get your mind out of the gutter. My daughter heads back to college in a couple of weeks, and she’s been shopping for a tote bag to hold her books. She had in mind a specific sort of bag, knew how big it had to be (big, because she has the ((required, or she wouldn’t be taking them)) math and science courses both this semester. To make a long story short, we couldn’t find anything she liked that didn’t cost, like, $100. So I offered to sew her a bag. Now, this is not the sort of sewing I ordinarily do; I stick to little, easy stuff like pot holders. But she was so excited as we went to the fabric store and wandered around looking at stuff. This was in stark, stark contrast to when she was a little child and I’d take her and her brother to the fabric store with me. There is something about fabric stores–perhaps the fact that Mom is contemplating doing something she enjoys, on her own, without her kids?–that makes kids go utterly ballistic. But I digress.

We found some brown corduroy with pink polka dots, and matching pink sharkskin for lining. We dressed it up with some contrast, big pink rickrack (a word that Marcy thought I was making up, as God is my witness–she was astonished when we got home and my husband also called it “rickrack”), some fancy buttons, some topstitching–and here it is, absolutely as gorgeous as we imagined it! That is not something that happens often when I sew, believe you me. 🙂

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