Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lazy Blogger's Garden Tour, Part 2

This will be the herb edition, starting with lots of mint. Semper Mentha! As I mentioned in Part 1, my primary philosophy of gardening is to plant nice weeds and step back. I plan to have a more well-rounded herb garden eventually, but for starting out it's always a plus if the herb has an invasive growth habit.
From earlier this month, l-r: Apple Mint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint(?), Lemon Balm. I researched the mints and their larger family, lamiaceae, lest you think I'm making this up about invasive growth habits. The Force is strong with this family; almost all of our longest-established herbs are part of it, including the long row of mints up against the back fence. Over the years, they have grown together and I'm not sure if there's any Peppermint left. So we're attempting to weed them back to a modest and more clearly defined patch for each variety.
Chocolate Mint seems to be easily overwhelmed by the other mint cousins. I found this patch and pulled out all the Apple Mint around it. Chocolate Mint is a hybrid of Peppermint (mentha piperita).
Here's the long view of the fence, starting just after the Chocolate Mint; it's mostly spearmint (mentha spicata) in the immediate foreground; that's the legendary plum tree in the background.
Orange Mint... we had some years ago planted in a different spot but it died out, proving that mint doesn't always invade. This was bought this spring, and we planted it where we had cleared out some Apple Mint.  Orange Mint is also a variety of Peppermint. I am not at all sure that we have any true Peppermint left in the mint bed, and so we may need to buy some of that too.
By far the dominant mint, with the most invasive growth habit, is Apple Mint (mentha suaveolens). It's fuzzy, and not quite as strong-smelling as the other varieties. It's nice enough, but it's the variety we've been weeding out the most lately. We've been making plenty of mint tea.
Moving on to the L-shaped brick raised bed, which I have been thinking of as an herb garden for many years; this is the year I'm really trying! I planted a packet of Cumin seed here; I've never tried growing this herb before. It's a member of the Apiaceae family, which also includes carrots, parsley, celery, lovage, dill, fennel, cilantro and caraway. I am letting the broad-leafed plant grow because I think it might be Borage, reseeded from a previous year. The hydra-headed bindweed is a real problem in this bed, but I am going after it regularly and it's less discouraging than in the past.
Oregano, another member of the mint family, is naturalized throughout our yard. This may be close to where we originally planted it, but it is quite literally all over. It's at least a good-flavored variety.
I planted two Cilantro plants and sowed two beds of seed around them; so far so good.
 Here's a gift from the VP's garden last year; Feverfew. I had no idea it would get so tall. It's already overshadowing the Lemon Thyme I planted this year.
Two well-established Rosemary bushes; my long-term plan is to thin out virtually everything else around them and put in some more herbs, but the wild phlox and daisies and other unidentified plants need to be pulled out.
When I planted this sage 17 years ago, I did not know there was a peony almost right under it because it was late in the season. There might be two inches separating them. I want to grow more sage and thyme if I can. I didn't get a picture of the parsley, basil, marjoram, chives, dill, pineapple sage, lemon verbena or fennel. I'd like to relocate my lovage from its current location by the back door. I'd also sometime like to try savory and caraway.
Closing with a picture of lavender because it's so pretty, and one of my favorites. I toy with the idea of getting a still to distill my own essential oils; it probably would not be cost-effective though. But with multiple lavender, rosemary, mint varieties and lemon balm, it might be fun to try.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Lazy Blogger's Garden Tour, Part 1

The trouble with being a lazy blogger, or even just giving yourself a much-needed break, is that life keeps barrelling ahead. Thinking about blogging doesn't count, but sometimes you take a bunch of pictures while thinking about blogging. And then two weeks pass, and you take another bunch of pictures while thinking about blogging, and then you have a multi-part series and a quick photo-dump on Facebook just won't do. So let's just go into this with the pics from 2 weeks ago and see how far I get.
The Foxgloves were really pretty this year. They re-seed themselves and do well in our soil. Steve and I believe the secret to gardening success is to live in a favorable climate where even the weeds are nice to have around. Most of our flowers require no effort on our part.
The only real challenge with foxgloves is that they're so tall, they'll need to be taken out after blooming so they don't block the sun from the tomatoes behind them.
Forget-me-nots also are weeds in our garden, and I took this picture on the tail end of the brief time they look nice.
California poppies, also comfortably naturalized, along with lemon balm.
More foxglove, hanging out by the grapevines.
See, this is the trouble; we could be better vegetable gardeners if we weeded up the things that just settle in, like these columbines...but they're too pretty!
And of course, with our 100+ year-old house and a flowerbed made from the foundation of an old barn, plants just settle in.
Here's my sage in blossom. I have a master plan for the L-shaped raised bed with the brick border, made from the old foundation. I've had it for seventeen years, and by gum, this is the year I turn that bed into an herb garden. The sage has been there since we moved in, but it has to fight with some wild phlox and daisies and peonies
Every year I like to have a hanging basket and see how long I can keep it alive. I favor lobelias because they are such a pretty blue and peonies because they usually do well in hanging baskets.
 The rhododendron bushes are probably at least 75 years old.
We pruned this red one back pretty severely last year and it did pretty well.
Some of the peonies. That narrow strip by the driveway is tricky, but they are content.
So is this shrub, whatever it is. Now that Tertia is almost 17 I suppose we need to remove the gate we used to keep her off the street when she was a toddler.
 I love living in a climate where you can grow lavender so easily.
All these pictures were taken when Steve and Daniel were on their road-trip back from graduation, about two weeks ago. Parts 2 and possibly 3 coming up soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Time, Like an Ever-rolling Stream

We were at Grove City College last weekend for Daniel's graduation. Graduations are happy events, even when they have to be held inside because of the rain, with limited seating in the gym and overflow in the IM room.  The Baccalaureate on Friday night at least was on the quad, facing into a beautiful sunset:

Michael Horton spoke at Baccalaureate; and in a last-minute change from William Bennett, who was sick, the gentle doctor Ben Carson spoke at Graduation. It was mercifully free of political speechmaking, and full of the joy of life and finding one's purpose in life, with grace and humor. Afterwards, students and families crowded in spots all over campus, processing the momentous life change, connecting with old friends briefly before parting once again, packing up dorm rooms and reminiscing about old days.

I've written before of the disorientation of returning to my own Alma Mater as the parent of a current student. I see the archetypal faces of generations of students, of earlier versions of my own friends, almost rushing past me, superimposed on the fresh young faces of the current crop of graduates who are living only in this present moment. I see the places where old, diamond-leaded windows have been replaced with newer versions, or where 1930's bathroom tiles coexist with automatic soap dispensers, and I concede that the newer ways of managing things are probably better even as I am nostalgic for my particular group of archetypal friends and patterns of life from the old days, which can never come again. I remember the day of my own graduation, and how anticlimactic it was to pile into the family van and drive away, never again to experience the same heady mix of personalities and intellectual stimulation that made life intensely real and personal and engaging for four years. It was a loss, but also a beginning, and I wish for all graduates that they may be able to make a good beginning and keep the best of the good things they are of necessity leaving behind.

I am so grateful for the good friendships Daniel has made; the kind hospitality given to us by the McClelland family after packing up the dorm room and saying many good-byes, easing the transition to the future with good food and baby kittens. I'm glad Daniel and Steve get to travel back overland, taking one more version of the great father-son road-trip. So far they have seen Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, Lincoln's birthplace and boyhood home, Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, William Faulkner's home in Oxford, MS, Hot Springs National Park, Fort Smith...

The rest of the family flew out and back, and we are mostly but not completely recovered from that red-eye. Here at home, another school year is hurtling to its close and there are many details to manage and coordinate. I feel the ever-rolling stream of Time as it bears its sons away. It is good to hang on to the constancy of the Creator in the midst of it all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Last year the Republican Party was in great shape. We had a crowded field of candidates, many of them highly qualified. I was looking forward to a stimulating primary season, and the cream rising to the top. That didn't happen. I kept meaning to write a blog post about my favorites, but you'll have to make do with this. I took this article and arranged all the Republican candidates in my approximate, descending order of popularity. It isn't the exact order in which they dropped out of the race. However, it's close enough that I find it depressing. (I'm leaving out Gilmore and Pataki because I'm not sure exactly who they are and I wouldn't likely have voted for them even if I did).

Jeb Bush: what can I say, I've been a Bush loyalist since 1988. Executive experience and class.
Scott Walker: executive experience, nice Midwest buzz
Marco Rubio: solid, energetic, a Hispanic who speaks passionately about values I share.
Rick Perry: executive experience and, you know, Texas
Bobby Jindal: executive experience, articulate and principled
Carly Fiorina: passionate and articulate, better than anyone else on the pro-life issue.
Lindsay Graham: really solid on national defense and foreign policy
Ben Carson: gentle and appealing to our better natures, at least until he endorsed Trump.
John Kasich: executive experience; quirky but hey, he's from Ohio. I'm a little embarrassed I didn't know more about him.
Huckabee and Santorum: I like them both but they had their chances in previous cycles.
Chris Christie: big guy, big heart, fun to listen to until he endorsed Trump
Ted Cruz: Too Tea Party, too prone to fakey stunts like the government shutdown. At least he was good on the pro-life issue, but there were so many better candidates. I only started liking him when he was the only alternative to Trump.
Rand Paul: it's an academic issue whether I could have voted for him.
Donald Trump: He's toxic. I can't vote for him. He doesn't pass the decency test. He belittles, sneers, mocks military heroes and handicapped people, and lies. He's misogynistic, racist, narcissistic, and has no coherent plan for leadership. He would alienate our closest allies and ramp up an atmosphere encouraging constant violence, just to serve his own huuge ego.

Congratulations to Hillary, your spoiler did good work for you. I assume you'll manage to keep indictment at bay for the duration of your White House stay. Maybe you'll be able to pay Trump back some of his expenses with your $300,000 average speaking honoraria. You can take comfort in knowing you are preferable to Ebola. I can't vote for you either, but the country survived the first Clinton presidency and I suppose you're marginally more ethical than Bill.

I've identified as a Republican since 1976, before I was old enough to vote in anything but the 4th grade mock election. I look at those top 7 names on my list and think there are still some decent people left. But there may not be enough decent people left in the country to deserve decent leadership. I'll be interested to watch the Convention. I would expect the principled, decent people to make a significant gesture as they cut ties with the party of Lincoln.

*Utinam is the Latin word indicating a wish; translate it "would that" or "if only" and you can probably guess at the conclusion.