Mark and I were invited to a dinner party at the end of last week on an absolutely beautiful evening. The table was equally beautiful; so much so that I made him grab a few pictures on his phone. There was seating for 14 guests which meant Mark had to take more than one photo to get the entire table. There were lap blankets and throws in case it turned chilly and we needed to cover up but the temperature never fell so much that anyone needed a wrap.
I particularly liked the look of those French park chairs all in a row, looking so pristine with their white enamel paint.
Mark and I brought easy hors d'oeuvres: olives and breadsticks. Gardeners, note that I used a vase to hold the breadsticks. I needed a tall plain container and I realized nothing fit that description as well as a vase!
In case you are curious, the entree was Cioppino with cornbread. Dessert was a fabulous lemon poppyseed layer cake served with coffee and glasses of iced Limoncello. A wonderful way to welcome September. Thank you Jane and David for including us.
Since it's Labor Day in the U.S. I thought I would look at the work of putting a flower arrangement together and write about the tools I use to do that. I'm guessing many of you have the same weapons in your arsenal, but perhaps you'll find a new idea or product here.
In addition to vases, I also have a selection of attractive containers to use when I just want to disguise a plastic pot. Wondering about those bits of white paper towels that you can see? I always put something between containers so I don't chip the edges when I stack them up and rudely shove them into this fully stuffed cupboard. (This cupboard is in the basement and still boasts its 1960s paint colors).
A few pieces from my massive stash of containers. These are all ceramic. One was made by my best friend from college, one came from my favorite antique shop before it closed, one belonged to my grandmother but most are by Midwestern potter friends.
For cutting flowers in the garden or while arranging them indoors, nothing beats Japanese Koshiji pruners. The pair I use in the garden have pink plastic wrapped around the handle so I can find them again when I set them down. The small clippers are by Fiskars. I have a number of Japanese flower holders (Kenzans), including this shaped one in the center of the tray.
There's a spiral flower holder that can also hold a candle in the center that was made in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in the 1950s. It's in its original box which is slowly falling apart. That odd green shape on the left is meant to hold a candle in an arrangement when you are using floral foam. It's upside down here; the sharp point gets stuck in the foam and the fat cup holds the candle.
I have a jar of smooth pebbles that I got at a nursery as well as two small boxes of black Mihama pebbles from Japan. I use them to hold stems in place in a vase or just scatter them across a table around a vase. There's a roll of fine green wire which I have rarely used as well as a box of tubes with rubber caps with a slit in them. They sometimes come on flowers that are delivered and I save them anytime I came across them. I use them to hide a flower in a quirky location where I can't fit a vase. I have dried moss and birds' eggs — anything that might come in handy to create an effect. But if you've been following my Monday vases, you may have noticed that I don't take advantage of all these nice tools and objects nearly as much as I might!
We hiked Whitefish Dunes State Park on our third morning in Door County — after our third massive breakfast at the Viking Grill just down the road from where we were staying in Ellison Bay. Fabulous potato pancakes with a big dish of applesauce. Heaven
At this park there were many more visitors than on our first two nature walks. I think it was partly due to the fact that it was the July 4th weekend and also that Whitefish Dunes has an area set aside for people who want to bring their dogs to the beach. And they were there in force, as were the kayakers.
Whitefish Dunes State Park protects the fragile dune environment on the eastern Door County Peninsula. It is the largest and most significant Great Lakes dunescape in Wisconsin. We left the crowds behind and ambled and scrambled along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, as well as hiked some of the trails throughout the forested sand dunes and beech forest. If you look closely at the image below you can see the sand building up underwater and slowly re-shaping the shoreline.
Blackened sand (below) indicates the presence of Magnetite, an iron mineral found in the Lake Superior basin. These sand grains are debris that glaciers eroded from the bedrock of Canada and dumped into Lake Michigan. You can use a magnet to pick it up!
This area is stabilized with a variety of beach grasses. The photo below is right at the edge of the Lake Michigan shoreline and really gives you a sense of how this sandy landscape is held together. This whole area is such a different landscape that we watched the movie in the Visitor Center that showed how dunes are formed. If you are interested, here's a good description from the Wisconsin DNR site.
After walking the shore, we hiked — slipping and sliding — up the dunes to the various trails. We also hiked up to Old Baldy, the highest dune on this side of Lake Michigan: 100 feet. Doesn't sound very high but it certainly seemed like a good climb by the time we got to the top. Then we walked through some of the meadows and woods back to our car.
Again we saw a large variety of ferns, many of them not only growing in a very sandy soil but also in lots of sun. Though many of them looked familiar to me, I was able to positively identify very few. We also saw more Reindeer moss but were unable to determine if there are two kinds of moss growing here or one kind at different stages. All three of our "nature hikes" left me with questions and a desire to read more about these landscapes, to say nothing of visiting them again.
Whitefish Dunes is a day-use park, there is no camping. One area of the beach is closed to swimming because it has such strong rip tides. Every day it seems I saw or learned something new: my kind of vacation.
Note: Some of the specific information about the park came from the Wisconsin DNR website.
Thanks to Beth, a fellow-Wisconsin gardener who blogs at Plant Postings, on this trip I saw what I had missed on previous visits to Door County up at the top of Wisconsin's "thumb": The Ridges Sanctuary. The following information is from the official DNR description of the area:
The Ridges Sanctuary encompasses a diversity of unusual habitats, resulting in one of the greatest concentrations of rare plants in the Midwest. It was established in 1937 as Wisconsin's first area set aside to protect native flora.
The natural area consists of about 30 narrow, crescent-shaped sandy ridges and recent research has correlated the ridge formation with the cyclical changes in Lake Michigan water levels which have occurred during the past 1400-1500 years. Each ridge represents a former beach line of Lake Michigan and took an average of 30-50 years to form. The narrow ridges are forested with wet swales between them.
We hiked the various areas of The Ridges on our first morning in Door County as well as toured the Upper Range House.
Built in 1869, the Upper Range Light and its companion Lower Range Light (below) are the only lighthouses of this design that are still on range and functional as navigational aids. Each building houses a light and ships position themselves so the lights line up in order to make it safely into the harbor through the rocky coastline. Except for touring the Range house with a small group of people, we barely saw or heard anyone else during our morning at The Ridges.
The view from the room that houses the light in the Upper Range building down to the Lower Range Light and the lake.
Fundraising is going on to restore the Range Lights. When they pulled up the old linoleum flooring they discovered WWII-era newspapers which are framed and on the walls of the keeper's bedroom along with historic photos of the light.
Everywhere we hiked we saw memorable landscapes and plants.
Nuphar pumila (above) was growing in the expansive bogs (below).
We saw orchids and lots of this orange "wood lily" as well as incredible lichens and mosses.
This thistle is rare and endangered and only grows in a few places in the world, the Ridges being one of them. The day we were there folks from the Chicago Botanic Gardens were also on hand. They are trying to help the Ridges' staff figure out how to propagate the the thistle to help save it.
When you enter The Ridges the initial area where you walk is all new boardwalk raised above swampy areas where we saw Iris growing.
Friends who've visited at other times of the year say that no matter what season you go you will see something wonderful and unusual. Our time spent hiking at The Ridges was a revelation and certainly makes me eager for another visit.
We've just jiggety-jogged down the Door Peninsula back to Madison after a wonderful week spent in Ellison Bay. We stayed in a 19th Century log barn thoughtfully re-purposed into a contemporary home. During the day we hiked in assorted parks or lazed on the porch with its view of a meadow surrounded by trees. At night we hunkered down with books or went outside to enjoy the dark skies filled with stars. It being Door County, we also ate and ate and ate. A perfect vacation, made even more so by ignoring emails and news. Now it's just memories and photos.
A storm arrives with us in Bailey's Harbor.
Next 3 pix are all from the house where we stayed.
I took three or four photos during the week; Mark took hundreds since that's what photographers do.
Coffee and marigolds in Fish Creek.
The famous goats on the roof of Al Johnson's restaurant in Sister Bay. Despite visiting Door County many times over the years, this was only the second time I've ever seen the goats.
A family snaps souvenir photos outside the Greenwood Supper Club which has been in business since 1929. For those who live elsewhere supper clubs are staple of Midwestern dining.
We sampled that great Wisconsin culinary tradition as well as the Fish Boil at the White Gull Inn complete with cherry pie a la mode.
A storm blew in on our last night while we were dining in Liberty Grove.
Didn't last too long and left double rainbows on Mink River Road and a beautiful sunset.
I went looking to see if there was something different than last week's snowdrops to put into a vase this Monday but the choices in my garden are still quite limited. I did manage, however, to find a Hellebore in bloom and some Tommies to add to the snowdrops. Since Easter is approaching I decided to put my tiny posy inside this equally tiny wire basket. Once I did that I realized I should get out my other Easter items and make an actual holiday display.
The basket got moved into the living room where it joined the stack of gray art books on our pair of Chinese wine tables.
But then I moved it again to showcase a bowl of decorated eggs. Joining them (from left) are an embroidered felt egg, a souvenir egg with articulated legs (from the gift shop at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle), and a large paper egg from the dime store.
This bowl of eggs lives in the china cabinet behind glass doors so I see them all the time. But I do enjoy looking at them up close and rearranging them in their bowl this one time each spring.
This lovely little bunny in her bright yellow embroidered coat is keeping watch over our carrot collection. My husband loves carrots, so I started buying him a carrot for his Easter basket each year. Sharing space with them are some felt peas in the pod.
I know there are many gardeners who have a lot more options to put into their vases this week. Hop on over to Rambling in the Garden where Cathy hosts "In a Vase on Monday" to see what they've created.
On St. Patrick's Day it is worth giving a thought to the reason so many Americans — like the Brazill family — are of Irish ancestry. A million and a half Irish left home to come to the New World during the Great Famine brought on by a late season blight on the potato crop. This poem was written by an Irish tenant farmer at the time and is a lament for the potato itself. This version, sung by Liam Ó Maonlaí, is on the soundtrack to "Long Journey Home" about the Irish in America.
It is also worth noting that Wisconsin's "state soil" — Antigo Silt Loam — is a perfect soil for growing potatoes. The Antigo area specializes in growing certified seed potatoes. Wisconsin is 3rd after Idaho and Washington in U.S. potato production.
A thousand farewells to the white potatoes for as long as we had them, a pleasant hoard affable, innocent, coming into our company as they laughed with us at the head of the board
they were help to the nurse, to the man and the child, to the weak and the strong, to the young and the old but the cause of my sorrow, my grief, my affliction them rolling away, without frost, without cold
what will buy a shroud for those to be buried? tobacco, pipes or a coffin of wood? if we are to die now may the high-king protect us and, of course, it would be a release if we could
We started celebrating Valentine's Day a little early. Actually my husband does not believe in made-up (aka Hallmark) holidays so he's not big on Valentine's Day — despite the fact that he's given me many lovely presents over the years.
We started the day Saturday with our usual group of friends for Saturday morning coffee. Then I went off to spend the morning with my textile group while he talked with his college-bound nephew about his potential options. We met up again to go to the gym for a brief workout.
And then we went off to our city's original shopping mall which is smaller than is common and was emphatically local until recently. Now it's being redesigned and relaunched with brand names like Kate Spade, Sur la Table and Madewell. What that means is there are a number of empty storefronts at one end of the older mall space. So they set up half a dozen pop up shops for the weekend, including Pleasant Living whose east side shop I still miss.
We bought a set of 1920-30s Sheffield nickel silver flatware for six.The knife handles are celluloid, I believe. It has four serving pieces and two kinds of soup spoons, demitasse and dessert spoons. I know. This is totally against the trend of downsizing and casual entertaining. Two things I think about but am not good at. Also picked up a beautiful Chinese ceramic garden stool, decorated in soft blues on gray.
Hit the grocery store to pick up everything I wanted to make a couple of the recipes in this week's New York Times food section. We started with Mark Bittman's Champagne cocktails, Hook's Tilson blue cheese and my favorite cranberry and hazelnut Raincoast Crisps while sitting in front of fire, candles lit and the two of us getting slowly lit as we worked on the NYT Sunday crossword.
Dinner (above) was David Tanis' concoction of Seared Sea Scallops with Ginger-Lime butter, sweet potatoes and greens. He used baby bok choy but I subbed a quick saute of arugula. He baked his potatoes and I roasted mine. A superb meal and one to make again.
So we'll be spending Valentine's Day sleeping in and doing what ever we usually do on Sundays . . .