"I saw Autumn in the misty morn Stand shadowless like Silence, listening To silence."
Apologies to Thomas Hood, but — if only for today — Autumn is listening not to silence, but to children scuffling through the leaves; laughing as they come up the paths to hundreds of lighted doorways in search of one thing: sweet treats.
This handmade German doll with a hand-painted face is from the 1920s-30s and stands about 10" tall.
I can just imagine what you were picturing when you saw the words “island garden.” Alas, for me, you’re wrong. Not only is my island located in the decidedly non-tropical state of Wisconsin, it’s right in front of my house out in the middle of the street. In the parlance of our town, it’s what’s called a “traffic-calming island.” Not an ideal location, nevertheless, it’s free garden space — in a spot that gets more direct sunlight than anywhere on my own property.
Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons' (above) continues to bloom in late October.
The idea is that these raised garden beds, running like a dotted line down the center of neighborhood streets, force cars to jog to the side thus keeping drivers alert while slowing them down. Before the traffic islands went in, my street was pretty much a speedway — a hilly but straight stretch of pavement with no stop signs for a mile. Most drivers have accepted the lowered speed limit as well as the physical changes to the roadway. That seems to be the case with drivers in other neighborhoods as well, judging by the gardeners I’ve talked to around town who tend their own island gardens.
Alas, there's still a handful of hardcore speeders who travel down my street who have not accepted the changes or don't see them in the dark until it's too late to stop. As a result they now hit the sign in the middle of the island (which barely slows them down) or they bounce off the island's curb and crash into the 160-year-old Bur Oak tree at the end of my driveway, which is a marginally more effective deterrent.
Lilium 'Time Out' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs (above).
Tending this garden is sometimes more along the lines of a sociological study than gardening. As I’m out there on my little mound of dirt and concrete I watch to see which drivers will slow down for this highway worker; and it’s not always the ones you would expect who make eye contact, nod or wave. Some even roll down the car window to offer compliments.
One of the positive side effects of working in the middle of the road is that it also makes drivers realize these island gardens are — for the most part — planted and maintained by citizens. They’re a variation on community gardens. And interestingly enough, neither pedestrians, bikers or drivers have so much as picked a flower from my island garden; not even the flashy lilies. The flowers are left for the community and the commuters to enjoy.
Look closely and you can see how narrow this island is with roadway on both sides of it. My own garden begins at the street curb and slopes upward. There are no sidewalks on this street.
Last week I stuffed 40 tulip bulbs into the crowded bed: ten each of Orange Princess,Orange Favorite, Prinses Irene and Sensual Touch (from Old House Gardens and Brent and Becky's Bulbs). They’re all orangey reds so, come Spring, they’ll act as mini caution-lights while complementing the bright yellow traffic paint that edges the island. They’ll glow so brightly I won’t even notice the periodic beer can or fast food wrapper that winds up in the foliage.
Alas they’ll only be visible in the daylight which won’t help the night-blind speeders. I need to find glow-in-the-dark tulips — something, anything — that will spare my island garden and my historic tree any more bumps in the night.
Among other things, my island garden contains catmint (Nepeta), old varieties of German and Siberian irises, daylilies (Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro' and 'Little Grapette'), Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa aureola), Sedum hybrida 'Matrona' and a falling down Echinacea 'Sundown.' The yellow traffic paint on the lily stem gives you an idea of how hardy these island plants need to be. And the passing car shows how hardy the gardener needs to be!
It snowed here in
southern Wisconsin on Monday. Heavily enough to see it swirling through the
air. Heavily enough to turn on the car wipers while driving. Heavily enough
that the only way to cope with this first snow sighting was to spend the
afternoon in the kitchen making cookies.
I've been obsessed
with sweets that use cornmeal since I first tasted Zaletti at Pane e Salute, a
small bakery cum restaurant in Woodstock, Vt. Zaletti are just one of the
subtle Italian treats — along with Meino (cornmeal buns like scones) and
Ciambelline (crunchy anise cookies) — that were lined up in the bakery cases on
my memorable visit. I immediately added the restaurant's cookbook, “Pane e
Salute: Food and Love in Italy and Vermont,”to my shelf alongside Carol
Italian Baker” and a bulging folder of cornmeal recipes clipped from
Italian cornmeal cookies: Zaletti (left) and Meini.
cornmeal cookies are easy to make but “they’re cookies for grown-ups,” as a
friend put it. They have a subtlety that is a world away from American baked
goods. According to theIl Fornaio baking book, cornmeal cookies are often made in the fall,
particularly around the remembrances for All Saints Day and All Souls Day at
the beginning of November because fewer fresh ingredients are available then.
If it’s getting
cold where you live, turn on the oven and give these cookies a try. Otherwise,
crank the AC and bake away!
¾ cup dried
currants, soaked in rum to cover
½ pound unsalted
¾ cup sugar
1¾ cups cornmeal
1 Tablespoon baking
1 teaspoon salt
2¼ cups all purpose
½ cup flour for
About 30 minutes
before you begin: put the currants in a medium bowl and add just enough rum to
cover them. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes then proceed with the rest of
In a mixer: cream
the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. In a
separate bowl, mix the cornmeal, salt and baking powder together. Add 1/3 of
the cornmeal mix to the butter-sugar mix and combine well. Repeat with the rest
of the cornmeal until the two mixtures are thoroughly combined. Add sifted
flour to the dough, mixing thoroughly.
Drain the currants.
In a dry bowl, toss them with the extra ½ cup of flour until coated. Remove
them from the flour and add them to the dough. Divide the dough into 3 or 4
pieces and roll them into thick logs. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30
minutes or overnight.
Line a cookie sheet
with parchment. Slice the cookies about ¼” thick. Bake at 375 degrees for about
15 minutes until golden. Make 4-5 dozen cookies.
Italian cornmeal cookies: Meini (foreground) and Zaletti (rear and partly munched).
In some areas of
Italy the word “un meino” is slang for money; in this case a round, gold coin
similar to the cookie.
1½ cups all-purpose
2 teaspoons baking
1 cup fine-grind
1½ sticks unsalted
butter at room temp
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons honey
2 egg yolks
¼ cup whipping
¼ cup milk
freshly grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla
For the tops:
½ cup granulated
½ cup powdered
Preheat the oven to
Sift flower, baking
powder and cornmeal together into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a large mixing
bowl, cream butter, sugar and honey until fluffy. Continue beating while you
add egg yolks one at a time. On a slower speed, add half the flour mix and beat
until thoroughly combined. Beat in cream, milk, lemon rind and vanilla. Add
remaining flour mix and beat until a soft dough forms.
Turn dough onto a
lightly floured surface. It’s sticky, so I dust my hands with flour while I
divide the dough into about 30 equal pieces. Roll each one into a sphere and
press with the center of your hand into a rounded — not flat — shape about ¾
Brush the tops
lightly with water and dip them into the granulated sugar. Place them on a
parchment-lined cookie sheet. Then sprinkle the powdered sugar over the tops.
Bake about 15-18minutes until the
edges are golden and the tops begin to crack.
I am just not a
big fan of Halloween, maybe because I don’t like dressing in costumes. I think
it’s a throwback to my hippie days when my everyday clothing was as evocative
and elaborate as any costume. Costumes are
something I expect to see in a museum — which is where my hippie garb ended its
useful life — or in a book. Luckily there is a perfect book for anyone like me
who’s more interested in the history and style of costumes than in personally
Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade” came out in 2002 and
paging through it today is just as wonderful as the first time I saw it.
Photographer Phyllis Galembo has amassed a collection of over 500 Halloween
costumes ranging from homemade and heartfelt 19th century outfits to
early examples of disguises based on popular cartoon characters Minnie and
The costumes, masks,
wigs and treat bags were discovered in attics and barns, at secondhand shops
and flea markets and everywhere in between. But what sets the book apart is the
way Galembo has brought the costumes to life with lighting, props,
atmosphere and models to create more than a mere record: a work of art in
copies of the book are available directly from Galembo as well
as other online sources.
c. 1890s, polished cotton dress and some 20th-Century ornaments added later,
homemade. Cibachrome 30x40" by Phyllis Galembo.
Disclaimer: I met Galembo, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with a degree in photography/printmaking, when we were both supporting ourselves during our student days working in the same restaurant. Galembo is currently a Professor of Photography at the State University of New York-Albany.
The locust has been showering us with leaves all during this
windy week. But the leaves of my big Ginkgo biloba — which I can easily see
from the living room window — are just faintly turning color. It usually changes at the very end of October. The two dwarf Ginkgos, however, are both in
full fall color mode: clear, luminous yellow.
Ginkgo trees have an architectural structure that is
beautiful any time of year. But the real reason most of us plant this
slow-growing tree is for its distinctive fan-shaped leaves. Once you see a Ginkgo leaf,
you'll recognize it anywhere. And for the ultimate viewing of those lovely
leaves, nothing beats a dwarf Ginkgo tree. I have two that I purchased a couple
of years ago from Klehm’s Song Sparrow.
A lone Ginkgo leaf on a bed of Honey Locust leaves and Ajuga.
Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’is a “dwarf dense grower, one of the
most compact of all Ginkgos, according to Klehm. It has “diminutive leaves and
an extremely slow growth habit.” In ten years, it will be 2’ x 2’ but right
now, at two years old, it is a strong presence at any time of the year. But
it’s a standout today in full autumn glory.
Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'
Ginkgo biloba ‘Spring Grove’ is described as a dwarf or
semi-dwarf plant with “a very dense, symmetrical appearance and a somewhat pyramidal
habit with a strong central leader and good branching.” This one is narrower —
only about 1½’ wide in five years and about 3’ tall in that time.
Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove' with the yellowing foliage of crested Iris.
Right now the two tiny trees are almost identical. I’ve
planted them only a short distance from each other so I can compare their
growth habits and changes. They’ve been a daily delight — so much so that I plan to add
more variations as Klehm offers them.
My husband and I
garden on the half-acre lot that surrounds our urban ranch house. In the dozen
or so years that we’ve been living here, we’ve added about 70 trees to the
property — not counting what was here when we moved in. We didn’t know we loved
trees until we started planting them. Now, we can’t seem to stop; there’s
always room for one more.
Honey locust leaves cling to water lily pads and a large rock at the edge our pond.
Every tree has
its place and its moment of glory during the year. This week belongs to the
Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos form inermis). It’s a thornless variety
that was planted in 1954, the year our house was built. We have the
landscaper’s plan so we can identify what is original to the property. And we
have his bill for $149.85 for exactly 50 trees and shrubs. The locust cost $17.
Locust leaves almost obscure both the rock edging (left rear) and these stepping stones in a gravel garden. The gravel is definitely obscured!
The locust is
quite simply: stunning. When people stand at the back of our garden with the
tree towering over the house, they always want to know what it is. And the
answer seems to surprise them. I think so often in urban landscapes trees are
cut down before they ever reach maturity. We rarely get to see a proper
specimen like our 50-year-old locust outside of an Arboretum.
Our honey locust makes a dramatic statement with its golden leaves. It's seen here from our neighbor's side of the fence. It towers over our house which is not visible.
complain about locusts being messy but I think they’re a perfect landscape
tree. Every few years we do get seed pods that litter the ground in fall
looking like fuzzy snakes. But I just make “lemonade” and put them in a big
wooden bowl and call it my autumn decor.
That's the trunk of the locust and you can see how the leaves pile up under it.
Locusts leaf out
late and drop their leaves early so you get optimum sunlight in spring and fall
when you want it shining in the house the most. Their leaves are tiny so they
provide dappled light allowing grass, perennials or even small trees to grow beneath
them. Finally, the leaves turn a glorious golden color and drop quickly on the
first really windy day. Because they’re small they don’t need to be chopped up
to be composted. Usually I just sweep the locust leaves up, take them to
another spot in the garden and use them for instant mulch. And then I look up
to find the next tree whose moment has arrived.
A sea of locust leaves on the deck in this view from inside looking out. Some of the leaves have been blown off the roof to keep the gutters from getting clogged. (I guess some would consider that a downside to locusts ...)
Halloween is an
occasion devoted to creatures both silly and scary. You can see some of each in
a new book that showcases the numerous hand puppets made by artist Paul Klee
for his son, Felix.
Untitled (Self-portrait), 1922.
Thirty of these
amazing and amusing creations—
made by Klee between 1916 and 1925— are still in existence and have been gathered together in “Paul Klee: Hand Puppets.” The heads and bodies are made of a wide variety of
materials — plaster, meat bones, electrical parts, nutshells, bits of brushes
and fur — with costumes of linen, silk, velvet, corduroy, and leather. Klee
made a theatre and sets for the puppets as well.
Untitled (Big-eared clown), 1925.
intended as art, it’s a rare artist whose talent and interests don’t figure in
almost everything they do. One can easily see how these supposed toys show the
influence of the art and political movements of the day.
The book looks at
links with other puppets, the theatre and Klee’s sculpure. Chapters by Klee's
son, Felix, and grandson, Alexander, describe how the figures were created.
It’s perfect for browsing before you decide on this year’s costume.
Our young Piony (peony) at the foot of the Fir tree has just blown and looks very handsome; & the whole of the Shrubbery border will soon be very gay with Pinks & Sweet Williams, in addition to the Columbines already in bloom.”
What a picture of spring perfection famed novelist Jane Austen paints in this 1811 letter to her sister, Cassandra. And it’s a picture that can still be seen at Chawton Cottage: Austen’s home and now a museum. The gardens there have been restored using antique varieties of plants that Austen knew and grew. You can see them in person if you chance to visit.
Now armchair travelers can visit Austen’s garden as well. It’s
one of many captured in Kim Wilson’s book, “In the Garden with Jane Austen.” The colorful paperback volume will appeal to
those who know Austen’s novels as well as those who’ve fallen under the spell
of the various movie adaptations. But it will utterly charm those — like
Wilson and me — who love both Austen and gardens.
The book, in fact, is the tangible result of Wilson’s confusion as a gardener when reading some of Austen’s natural descriptions in the novels. Exactly what was a “shrubbery,” the location where Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma in “Emma,” she wondered. Or “the prettyish kind of a little wilderness” that Lady Catherine de Bourgh suggests as a spot for a chat with Elizabeth Bennet? How could one have a “wilderness on one side” of the lawn, pondered Wilson, thinking like an American of Yosemite.
The walled kitchen garden at Chawton House, the estate of Jane Austen's brother, can be seen through these elaborate gates. Used with permission from Jones Books.
“If I was curious,” Wilson said
in a recent phone conversation with me, “other readers must be, too.”Thus the book examines garden flowers,
features and philosophies of Austen’s era — like those confusing shrubberies,
an early 19th century term meaning a collection of trees and shrubs
usually arranged as a winding walk. It was typically laid out with
quick-draining gravel paths which made it accessible in most weather, offering
a chance for exercise as well as a rare chance for a private conversation.
The book also offers social history, quotes from Austen’s
books and characters, charming 19th century engravings, references
from garden literature of the period, and even recipes. There’s garden history
and information on landscape design giants of the era: William Kent,
“Capability” Brown, and Henry Repton.
While Wilson visited the gardens
she writes about and interviewed gardeners working at them, she also turned to
historic books for information. “If you don’t want a first
edition,” many useful books are available at reasonable prices on E-bay, Wilson
emphasized. She bought things that “are dirty and water-stained;” books that
clearly were “used like we would use them — out in the garden.”
Stoneleigh Abbey (above) belonged to a cousin of Jane Austen's mother and Jane is known to have visited the house and garden with its elegant conservatory. Used with permission from Jones Books.
A NEW LOOK AT AUSTEN: What’s most surprising about
Wilson’s book is that it offers readers a way to see Austen in a whole new
light; a feat not easily accomplished in this era of Austen mania. Austen uses
references to landscape to convey important messages about character and
characters, Wilson says, using Mr. Darcy of “Pride and Prejudice” as an
“Austen was telling us how good
Darcy’s taste was” in her description of his estate, Pemberly: “(Lizzie) had
never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had
been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.” Though he may not have been a
hands-on gardener, Darcy would have been the prime influence on his estate’s
landscape, Wilson emphasizes. The statement is about the man as much as his
I’ve read all of Austen and seen
all the productions, but until I saw all these references and quotations
compiled in one place, I didn’t consciously realize how much the landscape —
whether parks, estates or cottage gardens — figured in Austen’s work. As a
serious gardener, I’m prepared to reread her oeuvre with an eye focused on
nature and not on characters. I think anyone who looks at Wilson’s book will
want to do the same.
The remains of this greenhouse can be seen at Chawton House, the home of Jane Austen's brother. Used with permission from Jones Books.
YOUR AUSTEN GARDEN: For those who want their own
Austen garden, Wilson includes information on the restoration of the garden at
Chawton Cottage complete with plant lists and planting plans as well as similar
information and designs for a number of other types of gardens of the era.
TOUR AUSTEN GARDENS: Wilson’s book wisely includes
information not only on touring Austen gardens but also the gardens of the
great estates featured in the film adaptations and the 2007/08 Public
Television versions of the novels. And yes, locations used in both the Keira Knightley and
Colin Firth versions of “Pride and Prejudice” are covered. Wilson also includes
an extensive bibliography for Austen addicts and scholars.
MADISON MEMO: Author Kim Wilson will talk about her new book, "In the Garden with Jane Austen," and sign copies at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at Borders at 3750 University Ave.
A version of this review appeared under my column byline, Artful Living, in The Capital Times on Oct. 16, 2008.
My eyes were alert to flowering plants last week in honor of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. But by the weekend, the flaming foliage of the trees overshadowed everything in sight. The maples, in particular, are at the moment of glory that Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he penned his essay, "Autumnal Tints."
Acer tschonoskii ssp. koreanum (Butterfly maple) just begins to color (above). Notice the red twigs.
"Our appetites have commonly confined our view of ripeness and its phenomena, color, mellowness, and perfectness, to the fruits which we eat, and we are wont to forget that an immense harvest which we do not eat, hardly use at all, is annually ripened by Nature ... fruits which address our taste for beauty alone."
The color of this small Butterfly maple (above) seems to change and ripen hourly.
"October is the month for painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky ..."
Acer triflorum (Three flowered maple) is the red tree in the left foreground (above). On the right is Hammemelis virginiana (common witch hazel) with an Acer saccharum (Sugar maple) in full color above it. The orange foliage in the center background is Acer mandshuricum (Manchurian maple) with a group of river birches further back.