We are thrilled that our petty, vindictive, mean-spirited, lying governor has dropped out of the presidential race. So thrilled that we went out to the garden, sat in the Tea House and drank martinis and followed up with a steak on the grill.
We figured we only have a small window to enjoy Walker's fall from the big political stage, before he comes back to Wisconsin where he will likely take his frustration out on the already abused citizens of our state. Solidarity forever. On Wisconsin.
2014 was an odd year for me. I always felt a bit "off," gardening and otherwise. It may have been because Mark's mom died just before Christmas 2013 and much of this year was spent dealing with her estate. At the same time we were experiencing the winter that would not end, stuck indoors watching both long-lived and new shrubs and trees die. But looking back, much was accomplished in the garden and there was still a wonderful profusion blooming as soon as Spring arrived. And we made it through another year intact and in generally good health.
February: I managed to keep Geraniums and orchids growing and blooming during the indoor season. Seeing this image reminds me that we sold this 19th C. Chinese chair at our garage sale last summer.
March: We had pros in to prune our massive Honey Locust tree before the garden got going for the season. Always a wonderful feeling to have a project like that done. Mark, however, had the unhappy job of removing most of the dead trees and shrubs that fell prey to the winter. You can see browned victims in this photo. You can read about them here.
April: At last Spring sprung with my double snowdrops outside the back door.
May: As the season progressed it was clear that the majority of perennials made it through the winter with no problems.
June: While I reworked the main perennial beds after dead trees and shrubs were removed, Mark began a building program that went on most of the summer. His first project was this covered gate on the east side of the house leading to the garden work area. It's officially known as the East Gate and will eventually have an unmatched partner on the west side.
July: This year we hit the milestone of twenty years of living and gardening at this house. We celebrated with friends and Mark finished more of the interior carpentry on the Tea House. He's hoping to wrap up this project in 2015.
August: The next step on the east side was re-working the dry stream that leads rain water down our sloping property to the street. We've always tried to solve these practical garden concerns with a design that maintains the look of the garden while doing its job.
September: When we put in our pond 20 years ago, we lined it with a double layer of rubber. With a project this big and expensive Mark wasn't taking any chances. It has worked well until this past summer. It appears to have a leak which allows water to collect between the two layers of rubber, creating what's called a "whale" — a giant bubble covering much of the pond. He spent the late summer pumping the water out from between the layers and trying to figure out a cure. Jury is still out on this one!
October: Suddenly we're hitting an age — along with the garden — where maintenance is becoming an issue. As a first step we're replacing some perennials with shrubs, creating larger swaths of the best groundcovers and getting rid of features whose enjoyment is outweighed by the work they need. Case in point is the moss garden which will be replaced with evergreen shrubs a la Jacques Wirtz. As is our wont, we cut out big cardboard circles to help us decide how many shrubs we want and where they will go.
November: Though we had plenty of cold and snow in November we still got lots done. We chopped and bundled up 11 bags of leaf mulch and collected an equal amount of white pine needles. Both will be put down in the spring: one to refresh the beds and the other for the paths. Mark also built a storage unit so we could keep our garden pots outdoors but protected in the winter.
December: Though I tend to assume December means snow, that isn't always the case. After two snowy winters, we had a big break this December: hardly any snow and pleasant temps. I can look out at the garden or even walk around it if I want; checking on how things are doing and making plans for Spring. All in all not a bad garden year and I am looking forward to seeing how all the new trees and shrubs do this coming year!
There's nothing like company to inspire Mark to look around the garden and decide if there's anything extra he might do to spruce it up. Case in point: these bamboo hoops he made to replace our old apple hoops. He took old bamboo poles and split them vertically using a heavy-bladed garden knife and a hammer.
He put the first few hoops near the edge of the pond where we don't want visitors to walk. Then he lined the rest of them along this curving path where we're replacing small perennials with ferns that are barely visible as they send up new fronds. (If you look closely you can also see the bare spots in the ivy on either side of the path. It still has not all filled in again after last winter took its toll.)
This is the view from the opposite end of the path with new ferns also visible on the right side of the path. The next project is replacing these logs with a more attractive and more permanent wall. We had been thinking about building a wall using narrow blue stone slabs similar to something we saw on one of the recent garden tours — until we priced it out. We're now working on Plan B.
"If you could line it up, why wouldn't you?" is Mark's mantra. His final project was rounding up my scattered watering cans to make his point.
We love our neighbor's huge Forsythia that is visible from our garden and their Kiwi vine that prowls along the top of the fence between our yards. But sometimes things get a little out of control.
While I was fighting off the kiwi vine, Mark had his own powerful lines swirling through the garden from the back door all the way to the Tea House.
Nothing adds a touch of glamour to the garden like the yellow extension cord that Mark uses when he's working on construction projects.
He's starting work on the final projects in the interior of the Tea House; specifically the platform for the display niche known as a Tokonoma.
I love the mix of subtle colors and textures in evidence as the Tea House comes together. After I shot this picture, he took the display platform back into the house for the next step: finishing it with a linseed oil and wax treatment.
Very exciting to be nearing completion of this complex creation.
One of our massive 58-year-old Austrian pines came down in a storm at the end of December. It took out a couple of smaller trees as it fell but amazingly did not damage the fence. Mark and an arborist friend carefully cut it down in January.
I barely blogged or looked out the window I was so depressed over the loss of my big pine tree since it meant my shade garden was now pretty much in full sun. I cocooned indoors with good food, books and lots of candles.
It seemed like it took forever, but it turned out the snowdrops appeared right on schedule when I compared their arrival date with prior years. However neither winter nor the snow were over.
Fred and Ethel flew in with barely enough open water on our pond for a smooth landing. Looked painful to me but didn't seem to bother them. Look how much snow is still on the ground on April 7th!
The garden finally burst into full bloom with a spectacular month of flowers. Everything from our ancient apple trees to these primroses and Trilliums was lush, given the drought of the prior year.
Record rains kept the garden green and going strong. It also sent water into our basement and Mark spent much of the summer re-landscaping one side of the house to try to send the snow-melt and rainwater away from the house.
After 13 years our Stewartia finally flowered on its lower branches. For years we mostly enjoyed the flowers as they fell to the ground from the top branches. A real thrill!
Despite the wet spring, by late summer it was dry enough that I had to drag out the hoses to water my new shrub and tree purchases as well as all the plants that got new homes after the pine tree came out.
Plenty of flowers were happy with the sun and dryness like this geranium. It's growing in a pot on the deck with a fern and a clump of Tiarella or Heucherella, both of which I just dug out of the garden. I brought the pot into the house at the end of October; the fern has mostly faded but the other two plants are looking great, as is the pot of rosemary just visible on the far right.
Mark spent late summer and fall working on the Tea House. He finished all the doors, windows and a couple of protective shutters. Next summer he plans to do the finish carpentry on the interior. We sat inside with the doors open having a cup of afternoon coffee quite a few days during the fall.
We had a fence built on the east side of the garden, mulched many bags of leaves and also gathered 4 or 5 bags of white pine needles from our neighbors' trees. They will be used to refresh all my pine needle paths in the spring. From my first, rather sad little garden up to the present day, I have no qualms about cutting flowers to enjoy indoors. Making my own bouquets is the main reason I grow flowers. The last thing I did in November was to cut a couple of bouquets of leaves and seed-heads for the Thanksgiving table and for arrangements to put in the bathrooms. One small vaseful of dried seedheads remains, refreshed with evergreen prunings.
Twenty-eight new or favorite trees and shrubs — mostly dwarf varieties — were caged for the winter. We seem to have Peter Rabbit and his family living under our deck. But tracks outside the windows show that someone who travels on four feet has been trying to find the bunnies. Not sure if it's a fox or coyote. So far we can't tell if he's had any success. I am one who likes her plants more than Peter R.
These pictues show the two doors that Mark added as the finishing exterior touches to the Tea House. The only thing that's changed in the month since these photos were originally taken is the fall foliage. Most of it is now on the ground rather than still on the trees.
The door above is a bi-fold so it folds back on itself when you open it. It is about the same size as the stucco wall panel on the left. This entrance requires you to bend down and essentially crawl inside.
This door is for those days when our backs and knees need a break!
Next Spring we'll do the landscaping around this door and decide exactly what size and kind of step is needed.
Note the interior side of this door compared to the exterior design.
His next projects include adding the wiring for an electric tea kettle and all the interior finish carpentry work. Those odd pipes are the unfinished water line and electric line (to the right of the door).
After a long hiatus, Mark has been making progress on his Tea House in recent weeks. The plastic sheeting that has covered the windows lo these many years has finally been replaced by glass!
This project has been years in the making because every step has pretty much required Mark to not only design the given element but to teach himself how to build it — and often requires buying new kinds of tools and materials to do the specific job at hand. Currently our garage is a wood shop and both cars are living in the driveway.
The two windows above now have permanent glass panes in them but the door between them is still temporary while Mark ponders its ultimate replacement.
This view from inside the tea house is looking toward the front of the structure where a high narrow window wraps around the corner. In the lower left you can see more plastic covering the low front door. To enter by that door one needs to bend down and crawl in.
This is the view from the same window as above but at standing height. The view looks across the stepping stones that span the stream to the fence Mark built across the back of our property.
We had a group of out-of-town visitors to our garden Sunday afternoon after a mostly rainy morning. Though only .15" of rain actually fell, it still helped to perk up the garden. Once the rain stopped, we opened up the tea house and hung up our Japanese shop sign.
And I took a quick last-minute run though the garden to see how everything looked just minutes before they arrived — picking up fallen apples and black walnuts. I decided to wear my brightest shirt so folks could easily pick me out of the crowd to answer questions!
Even though the sky was still overcast there were waterlilies blooming which really emphasizes the pond as the focal point of the garden. Since it's been so hot and dry here in southern Wisconsin, a gray day was actually a nice change.
About two dozen members of the Northwest Horticultural Society came to visit our garden as part of their Chicago and southern Wisconsin tour. The event was arranged by Wisconsin native Daniel Mount. Like the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society (of which Mark and I are members), the NHS hosts lectures, garden tours and plant sale fund-raising events; but they have over 1000 members in the Seattle area while we're about half their size.
They arrived at 3 p.m. — luckily having called to warn us they were an hour ahead of schedule! But it meant that they had extra time to spend with us as we were the last stop of the day after Taliesin and the Cedar Grove cheese factory. We've had lots of local garden groups tour our garden but this was the first time we ever had a bus pull up across the street from our house with visitors. It is definitely a bit disconcerting!
Just about this time last August, Mark and I were taking Daniel Mount around local Madison gardens, helping him to pull together this NHS group tour. Daniel grew up in Milwaukee and actually went to Luther Burbank Grade School, "which may very well have been the beginning of this whole plant thing," he says. Currently he is an estate gardener in the Pacific Northwest, garden writer, blogger and educator. His column for the NHS recently won a silver award from the Garden Writers Association and one of his gardens is on the cover of the current issue of Fine Gardening magazine.
We decided just to let folks wander around at their own pace and then to answer questions after they'd had a chance to see the garden. Though we have lots of paths winding through our garden they are narrow (perfect for the two of us) but cause a bit of a bottleneck when curious gardeners are walking them. Some of the Seattle folks actually were stopped by a plant unfamiliar to them — Carex plantaginea —before they'd taken more than a few steps.
Carex plantaginea (seersucker sedge) is one of many sedges we have in our garden, and one that is usually familiar to local gardeners. Folks wondered if we grew any native plants and that particular sedge is one of them — growing just a few feet from some of our other natives like Bur oak, witch hazels and Pagoda dogwoods.
Another attention-getter was our large specimen shrub: Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum 'Mariesii' (doublefile Viburnum) which is spread out behind the two gentlemen from Seattle. Their presence gives you an idea of its size.
Luckily Mark and I both were doing pretty well remembering the names of plants, trees and shrubs in the garden, so we were able to provide information when people liked something.
See where I'm standing in the photo below? I'm trying to remember the name of the prostrate shrub on the ground below me near the birch trees. I couldn't do it nor could I find it in my file of plant names. That's because it was mistakenly filed under trees instead of shrubs. It is Pinus sylvestris 'Albyn Prostrata,' a prostrate Scots pine. Ours is more open and leggy than it should be as it needs more sun. Alas I did not get the name of the person who was interested in this pine, so I hope you are reading this!
Eventually we all wound up on the deck and then went indoors for Wisconsin cheeses and brews. Mark and I really enjoyed ourselves and it seemed as though our visitors did as well. They commented on a number of features that most folks don't mention and they wanted the names of some trees and shrubs that don't always get singled out for attention.
Who knows if this is the result of some special Northwest sensibility or just a reflection of individual tastes? What I do know is that I wished we could have spent much longer visiting with each other; everyone I talked to was so interesting and engaging. Maybe the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society will have to think about another Northwest tour.
Finally, a big thank you to whoever gathered up all the dirty dishes and nicely piled them on the kitchen counter by the sink. Now that's our kind of garden visitor!
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Seattle folks: If you are curious about the design and construction process of our garden, you can follow it step-by-step by clicking on "My Garden Odyssey" in the category list. Just be aware that the most recent posts are first. So if you want to start at the beginning, go to the archives for Nov. 2008 when the first Odyssey post appeared: "All in Good Time."