We've been lolling around reading on all these cool, rainy days. Between books, we're fantasizing about updating and upgrading our library. We call it the "library" because it's the only room in our house with built-in bookshelves rather than the free-standing units we have elsewhere. We are both inveterate readers and book-buyers. And I am a magazine junkie of long standing.
With the rapid demise of so many of my favorite publications over the last few years, I am loth to part with magazines that I used to routinely recycle via the public library swap cart. But they've been threatening to take over all available space — until now.
Designer Arik Levy has come up with the perfect way to organize, file, and store my magazines in plain sight while giving me additional seating wherever I need it with his Book Stool. Stack your favorite books, mags or catalogs; affix the straps and problem solved. Best of all, the straps now come in red as well as basic black.
The little black dress may be a wardrobe staple — actually just about black everything if we're talking about my wardrobe — but black flowers don't play the same role in my garden. I can't think of any gardens I know where black is the backbone of the garden.
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
I love the idea of black flowers, but a dark clump of even the most beautiful plant can easily become a black hole in the garden. That was the big surprise when I added touches of black to my garden. A tall, dramatic plant like a hollyhock (Alcea rosea 'Nigra') can stand on its own, but smaller ones — columbines (Aquilegia), carnations (Dianthus), Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus) — disappear without a contrasting background to make the dark flowers or foliage pop.
Having grown dark bugbanes, columbines, daylilies, Hellebores, hollyhocks, tulips and Trilliums to name a few, I've also realized that "black" is a relative term. If you look closely, you quickly realize most black flowers tend towards red violet or blue violet. If they lean towards red, they pair best with gray-greens and blue-greens like rue, Dicentras or junipers or powdery Hostas like 'Halycon.' The blue-blacks look good with yellow-greens like Alchemilla, Hostas or threadleaf Chamaecyparis.
'Black Parrot' Tulip
There's no time like Halloween for thinking about all things "mysterious, sinister, strange" as "Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden," calls these dark beauties. If the idea of black flowers or leaves intrigues you, then this new book by Paul Bonine from Timber Press is a must. I snapped it up as soon as I saw it on a recent electronic press release. It's a quick read and a handy little size with each plant given a double-page spread; one page for the photo and one for cultural information.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I purchased this book and am not receiving any remuneration for this review. All photos in this post by Mark Golbach.
Someone brought the October issue of Martha Stewart Living to work the other day, so I flipped through it during a lull between customers. I was immediately captivated by Martha's arrangement of seedheads and dried flowers from her late fall garden.
I am not concerned whether Martha actually grew the flowers used or made the arrangement herself. I think she's a brilliant entrepreneur who's surrounded herself throughout her career with other creative people (think Margaret Roach). And Martha loves flowers and gardens as much as I do — as much as all of us garden bloggers do — which makes her magazine a font of ideas.
Of course, I looked at the beautiful urn on a pedestal in the photo and thought about how much that contributed to the arrangement. That and having a big, bountiful garden to provide the materials. And then I thought about my garden and how bedraggled it was from the frost and wind and rain.
But then I remembered that image as I was cutting everything back and starting my end of season garden clean-up on Sunday. So I went into the basement and pulled out my most traditional urn-shaped vase and set it on the driveway where I was working. And as I worked, I plopped clippings into it.
Everywhere I looked, I found wonderful seedheads from peonies, Martagon lilies, Dodecatheon (shooting stars), Carex greyii, Hostas and coneflowers. But I needed filler and a bit of color to pull it all together. That's when I remembered the Sedum in the traffic island bed, the Annabelle Hydrangea bordering the moss garden and the Artemisia still in the driveway border.
Et voila, a Martha bouquet! Best of all, when I took another look at Martha's inspirational arrangement, I realized that I liked mine better — a very satisfying end to a day in the garden.
This morning Fall arrived in Madison, the Fall we've all been waiting for. The sky was clear, the temperatures mild — a perfect day to get started on those autumn chores we had been avoiding during the wet, grey, cold recent weeks.
We threw together a quick lunch . . .
. . . gathered our tools and headed outdoors with every good intention.
Late on the night of the first hard freeze, I had gone out in the yard with a flashlight to empty any standing water from our garden pots. I thought today would be a good tome to finish the job of storing them for the winter.
But, under the overturned waterlily pot, I found this branch of from the nearby purple Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria).
"I should probably get a shot of that," I told Linda and headed back inside for the camera.
She had started cutting back the toadlilies (Tricyrtus sp.). I made her stop while I took this shot of the wilted leaves and dead blossoms.
There was one survivor — taunting us with what might have been in a milder autumn.
I also noticed a very few leaves still clinging to the weeping Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), as well as the distinct aroma of cotton candy as I set my tripod among the fallen leaves.
The sight of hoses in disarray, waiting to be moved to the safety of the garage, didn't distract me long from the drama of the maples.
My sense of responsibility was briefly awakened by the sight of the leaning retaining wall that I promised Linda I would rebuild this year.
It wasn't my fault that she called me over to see the first emerging blossoms of the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). I headed into the house for the macro lens.
And while I had it out, I thought I might as well grab a few tight shots of those maple leaves.
The Gingko never had a chance to color up this year before the frost, but the few remaining leaves clinging to the tree are pretty dramatic.
And what do you know — another survivor!
But speaking of surviving, we really should untangle the wire rabbit-proof fencing before it gets much later.
But before I do that, I'll see if I can get a good angle on the locust pods hanging by the tea house. That limb needs to come down, so it may be my last chance.
While I'm up here I can probably make one good picture from the sickly Amelanchior. I doubt that it's going to survive another year. What a shame; the leaves are really lovely.
Oh heck, look at the time!. I think I can still get one more shot of the Stewartia before I have to go to work.
Since Robert Goolrick's novel, "A Reliable Wife," is all about deception, readers can start off by not trusting the pretty, woodsy scene on the book's cover to depict the winter hidden inside these pages. Nor should you trust that the spouse in the novel is going to live up to the title. As it turns out, none of the book's main characters are reliable. And it's the labyrinthian twists and turns the reader must make to ferret out the truth that make this story such a fascinating read.
"A Reliable Wife" is a Gothic tale of lies, lust, unrequited passions, and murder. The backdrop for most of the story is a fictional rural community in Wisconsin — in the winter. The date is 1907/08 which places it firmly in the timeframe of "Wisconsin Death Trip," Michael Lesy's classic 1973 illustrated portrait of small-town life gone mad. Lesy peopled his book with a selection of photographic portraits produced by Chares Van Schaick between 1890 and 1910, along with newspaper accounts of ghastly murders, suicides, failures, foreclosures, fires and all manner of sad and tortured lives. Goolrick encapsulates the era in one brilliant sentence: "Every day there was some new tragedy, some new and inexplicable failure of the ordinary."
We own three copies of "Death Trip," and my husband has used it as inspiration for paintings and woodcuts, so I instantly recognized it as the novel's subtext. Later, I discovered that Goolrick has been fascinated with the book — and owned a copy — for just about as long as us. You don't have to be familiar with "Death Trip" to enjoy Goolrick's book, but I must admit that having Van Schaick's images in mind makes the novel even richer.
Goolrick lives in NYC but he clearly knows Wisconsin, and his depiction of it is spot on. I was captivated by his description of the winter landscape from the very first page where I read:
"It was not snowing yet, but it would be soon, a blizzard by the smell of it. The land lay covered already in trampled snow. The land here flew away from your eyes, gone into the black horizon without leaving one detail inside the eye. Stubble through the snow, sharp as razors. Crows picking at nothing. Black river, frigid oil."
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The reliable wife of the title, Catherine Land, is a mail-order bride who comes to wed a wealthy businessman, Ralph Truitt, who's looking for companionship, not romance. He's had romance, passion and despair with his first wife and hopes to redeem himself by finding his son from that disastrous earlier marriage. It's a long time before we know what Catherine is looking for, where she's been and why she really answered Ralph's newspaper advertisement.
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
The book is complex and layered, revealing the story and the characters sometimes in tiny fragments, and others in shattering bomb-blasts. This is a story filled with sensuality, from the details of fashion and fabric to "foods that frightened Catherine with their beauty." With a different cover, you could sell the book as a bodice-ripper, it's so over-heated and over-wrought. Everything is overlaid with sex and longing. Though whether sex is pleasure or torture is rarely clear.
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Though Goolrick doesn't give us many lovable characters or couples who form lasting bonds, he beautifully describes love and marriage, even as characters reject it:
"She had agreed to marry him without realizing that marriage brought a kind of simple pleasure, a pleasure in the continued company of another human being, the act of caring, of carrying with you the thought of someone else."
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
"A Reliable Wife" is an almost perfect book. My only real criticism is from a Wisconsin gardener's viewpoint. The house Catherine comes to has a conservatory and a ruined secret garden. She begins to be interested in horticulture, and thus, there are numerous very specific references to flowers and plants. While this element of gardening and rebirth is important to the story, I found the specificity disruptive since no other elements were described in such detail.
Frankly, I stopped dead in my tracks at least three or four times, and pulled reference books off the shelf to see if the plants mentioned — like Japanese painted fern — were really in cultivation in the U.S. in 1907. I did not find any information to the contrary but I've put down enough novels when the gardening part of the story was wrong, that I think I am overly sensitive on the subject.
WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE PHOTOS:These images are part of a collection of over 6,000 glass plate negatives created by Charles J. Van Schaick. Van Schaick learned the art of photography after moving to Jackson County, Wisconsin. In 1885, he opened a studio in Black River Falls, Wisconsin and served as the town photographer for over 50 years. His work includes both studio portraits and richly varied and intimate snapshots of small-town, Wisconsin life. A portion of his photographic work is represented in Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy. You can view some of those images on line at the Wisconsin Historical Society's flickr site.
People in the above photos are unidentified except for the studio portrait of deceased twin infants in coffins(directly above). They are Robert and Janet Fitzpatrick, born July 5, 1885, and died April 20, 1886, children of Robert and Martha Fitzpatrick.
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: While trying to learn if Goolrick was familiar with "Wisconsin Death Trip," I discovered he had written a memoir before the novel. It was on the shelf at my local library, so I grabbed it to take on a garden tour bus trip. I sat there absolutely engrossed in the memoir, "The End of the World As We Know It: Scenes from a Life." I raced through its 213 pages during the hours we were on the bus, finishing it shortly before we arrived at our hotel.
Though "The End of the World" was laugh-out-loud funny in some parts, most of it was unutterably sad. Reading in the midst of gorgeous heartland farms and gardens — where I could take periodic breaks to absorb the life and beauty around me — may have been the only way I'd have made it through this book. Alcoholism is a prevalent force in the life of Goolrick and his family, and there were deeply disturbing scenes of attempted suicides.
But I am glad that I managed to read those difficult parts, enabling me to understand Goolrick's story. It's a book that reminded me again how lucky I've been in my parents, my happy childhood, my whole life. A book like "The End of the World" paints a painful picture of what can happen when parents fail their children.
What's blooming here in my Zone 5 Madison, Wisconsin garden? After weekend temperatures that went down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.66 C), the answer is not much. The shock of the sudden cold sent the leaves of the Honey Locusts and Black Walnuts down in great gusts, while the Ginkgo leaves are limp but still hanging on. I can create a Ginkgo shower, however, by merely tapping a branch.
The landscape in the garden is still mainly green, though it's a bit hard to tell from these pictures. Here, the assorted Maples — Sugar, Silver, Manchurian and Tschonoskii — in front of the house have turned color along with the the Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesi'). Still to come are the Dawn Redwoods, the Paperbark Maple, the Fothergilla and the lace leaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum 'viridis').
Indian Summer arrives after the first hard frost but it's nowhere to be seen. We've had little but cold days interspersed with all the rain that didn't come during the summer. Given that nothing this year — from snow and rainfall to summer temperatures — has followed what used to be an anticipated seasonal schedule, perhaps I'm waiting in vain for a show of brilliant fall color that's never going to arrive. I may have to content myself with the leaves that have colored up already and that are presented here for October Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, sponsored by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
For those of you interested in tree id's, here they are: Photo No. 1 is Acer triflorum (Three-flowered Maple backed by Korean Maple just beginning to color); No. 2 is a close-up of Acer pseudosieboldiana (Purplebloom or Korean Maple); No. 3 is a close-up of Three-flowered Maple with a big Sugar Maple behind and above it; No. 4 is a close-up of the leaves of Acer mandshuricum (Manchurian maple); No. 5 shows Sugar Maple leaves on the ground; No. 6 and 7 are Stewartia pseudocamillia (Japanese Stewartia) which colors beautifully even with a fair amount of shade.
To see what was blooming for last October's GBBD, click here.
A few years ago a book was published by Timber Press — "Design in the Plant Collector's Garden: From Chaos to Beauty" — that was geared to helping folks turn mere collections of plants into gardens. The danger of being a connoisseur of, say, garden conifers, is that it's very easy to have lots of land, lots of wonderful plants and still wind up without a garden.
A WHPS "tourist" takes notes in Gary Whittenbaugh's garden.
To be honest, that was my fear about our recent trip to Iowa with the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society. I envisioned seeing amazing plants — which I did — but less than inspirational gardens, which was far from the case. Regardless of the size, shape or location of each garden, the owners had created personal spaces that expressed their passion in individual ways.
A fastigiate maple tree in Randy Dykstra's front yard soars above the house.
If there was one thing that was consistent from garden to garden, it was the use of contrast. The contrast of turf grass against planted areas, of deciduous trees and shrubs against evergreens. Even the conifers themselves offered contrasts of color, texture, form and size.
Randy Dykstra's garden included personal artwork like this buried Mustang.
Though conifers were the specialty of these gardens, none of the gardeners limited themselves only to that genre, so there were alpines, herbs, perennials, and ornamental grasses as well. And everywhere there were trough gardens whose size, shape and plantings can only be termed inspirational. These gardens included lots of personal details: the Iowa mascot, buried cars, miniature buildings, full size sheds, gates, gazebos, shared and secret spaces.
We look for the "Big Idea" in the Rathje garden.
When visiting gardens, Mark and I tend to look for the "Big Idea": the concept that defines a garden. Here's our picks for the big ideas we found in the six private gardens we visited.
Gary Whittenbaugh's paths (above, with detail below) meander around the house but show you specifically where to walk.
SHE SAID: Gary Whittenbaugh's Fran Mara Garden (Oelwein, Iowa) proved that lack of space needn't mean lack of diversity or lack of plants. Every inch was crammed full and not just with miniatures. But a system of paths and edging kept everything looking crisp as well as giving order and direction to the garden.
Gary Whittenbaugh has extended his garden into his neighbor's so both enjoy borrowed scenery.
HE SAID: What I found especially interesting about Gary's garden were the ways he projected his garden into the neighboring spaces, both literally and by suggestion. By breaking up the actual property line he was able to avoid much of the claustrophobia that one experiences in many small heavily cultivated urban gardens.
We saw lots of great garden rocks on the trip, including this one at Diane Dave's.
Diane Dave (Independence, Iowa) offered the fascinating array of conifers found in all the gardens we visited on this trip. And she had a great gazebo (from a kit). But what I noticed in particular were the hard materials used to create paths and steps in this multi-level garden. Diane also had the best rock of the trip, this patinated piece plunked in the front garden.
Wide open spaces lead back to Diane Dave's densely planted garden.
HE SAID: I loved the contrast between the open, minimal design of the approach to the house and the way the "garden" wrapped around the house itself. Aside from a small bed at the road, which suggests what lies in wait at the end of the walk, Diane resisted the temptation to add "interest" to the large space between the road and the house. Linda and I even questioned the wisdom of that small bed, figuring let it all be a surprise.
Dennis Hermsen's garden on the Iowa prairie — where the wind comes right behind the rain.
Perhaps it's not surprising that Dennis Hermsen's garden (Farley, Iowa) contained some of the standout conifer combinations and contrasts of the trip. After all, he is a propagator with a big nursery on site (yes, I succumbed and bought a Picea orientalis 'Barnes'). The Hermsen garden also offered us the ability to see mature specimens as well as how these plants stand up to the forces of nature — especially wind — on the open prairie.
Purple barberries function as sentinels in a bed of yellow "Mother Lode" juniper backed by a weeping white pine.
HE SAID: Demonstration gardens at a nursery are didactic by definition, but Dennis clearly made an effort to make each of his island beds a unique composition. That being said, I still preferred the more complex plantings near the house. I am far from being a connoisseur of garden conifers, but from the reactions of others on the trip I gathered that his is a very important private collection.
The size and shape of the grass lawn is as well-defined and well-designed as any other area in the Rathje's garden.
Jeff and Lora Rathje's garden (Long Grove, Iowa) was all about layers, from the tree canopy to people-sized structures to ground covers. All of it tied together with turf grass. But not just grass; this was a lawn nicely designed into the garden to make it fit in with its suburban neighbors. This was clearly a plantsman's garden (Jeff is also a nurseryman) but it was about restraint and editing as well.
Dianthus "jumps" one of the many walkways in the Rathje garden.
HE SAID: I probably felt most "at home" in this garden because of the wonderful way they used paths to define the garden space. I can imagine Jeff and Lora, much like Linda and I, taking their daily stroll through all the open and hidden regions of the garden — a beautiful private universe.
The Dykstra garden has a strong personality that came from the artwork as well as plants.
Randy Dykstra's garden — along with his on-site Heartland Nursery (Fulton, Iowa) — featured a personal palette of plants as well as garden sculptures created by Dykstra. Like Whittenbaugh's garden, the property was packed but there were open areas of breathing space as well.
Every aspect of Randy Dykstra's garden was well-thought out and well-executed.
HE SAID: Randy has some spectacular plants, but it was his use of found and made objects that pleased my aesthetic sense the most. From the Mustang hood to the Japanese lantern on a stone pillar, he was able to add objects that were quirky without being overly intrusive. I thought this subtle water source was a particularly nice example of his use of natural materials.
The view from Dave Horst's front yard.
Dave Horst's garden was all about scale, how to incorporate everything from a miniature rock garden plant to mature conifers in a space with some very disconcerting elements. How do you compete with the Mississippi River and ominous black railroad tank cars?
Looking back toward Dave Horst's house.
HE SAID: I thought that Dave's site was clearly the most challenging of those we visited on our tour: a steeply sloped property of open turf backed by a straight line of dense trees, all facing a jarring mixture of big nature and big industry. His is probably the youngest garden we saw, but it already shows great promise. I was especially struck by the way Dave has been able to tie new elements to the existing ones. It would be easy, I think, to have elements appear to "float" in this fascinating space.
Dave Horst figured out how to have a rock garden full of miniature plants in a very large landscape (above and below).
Since I am a dedicated reader of the obits in The New York Times, I will let them present the details of the demise of Gourmet magazine — the nation's oldest food publication — earlier this week. As for me, Gourmet is the only food magazine I've regularly subscribed to for years at a time. When I got overwhelmed by unread copies and unmade recipes, I'd take a break and just purchase an occasional appealing issue on the newsstand. Until I realized I was buying it every month, and then I'd start over with a subscription again. For a long time, my sister Nan and I both had subscriptions and would each make a different dish from the current magazine before the next issue arrived. That way, we tested two recipes and felt like we were getting our money's worth.
The decision to pull the plug on the magazine was certainly about money. And Gourmet got a bit high falutin' in recent years with luxury advertisers and exotic travel destinations. But, at its core, it was about what it was always about: good food, interesting food, social and cultural history and culinary skills. If I pull out all the recipes that my friends and family consider my signature dishes — marinated flank steak, Greek beef stew, Daikon radish pickles, chocolate shortbread hearts and triple gingerbread — they all came from the pages of Gourmet magazine.
I hope Conde Nast does as Gourmet's editor Ruth Reichel suggested and donates the magazine's priceless archives to to an institution like the New York Public Library where they will be safe, treasured and used. As for me, I've got hundreds of clippings and dozens of back issues of Gourmet to keep me going.
At this point, I'm afraid Gourmet is gone for good and there is little readers can do about it. The one proactive step I'm taking, is to sign up for two-year renewals on all the other magazines I subscribe to in hopes of helping them survive.