At the end of last week we were sitting in the teahouse with the doors and windows open, reading and drinking coffee. We enjoyed our first margaritas of the season — along with chips and two kinds of salsa — lounging on the deck and enjoying the view.
As of yesterday (Tuesday), it was so wintry I spent the afternoon making beef stew. About 4 p.m., I went out into the garden armed with black plastic plant pots, bamboo stakes, old sheets, clothespins and bricks. Starting last night and going through the rest of the week overnight temps are predicted to be dipping just below or just above freezing, so I covered Martagon lilies, Erythoniums and woodland peonies. All are well up and budded out. I think they would survive but I don't want to learn the hard way that they won't. This kind of weather is pretty typical for April in Wisconsin, yet I always find myself surprised when it happens.
When I came back indoors after spending an hour working in the cold and wind and bits of swirling snow, we opened a bottle of wine and sat in front of the fire before dinner. Looks like my week will be spent alternating between covering/uncovering plants and sitting by the fire.
There was another large protest against the efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature to push through a bill making us a "right to work" state. Regardless of how you feel about politics or this issue, Mark and I both think it is important to see what these protests look like. And to see who is protesting along with multitudes of union workers, all caught on film by people like us who were actually there.
Most of us don't trust the media to get the whole story anymore. So here are Mark's photos about Saturday's protest. The day was sunny but cold, as you can see from people's clothing. The temperature was only 16 degrees Fahrenheit (8.88 C.) when the protests began. That was also the day's high temp.
There was music and lots of intensity inside the Capitol.
When Mark was returning to his truck at the end of the afternoon he met these two union men, along with a future union member.
Mark took 500 pictures at yesterday's protest. Last night and this morning he narrowed down the "keepers" to half that amount. Though this is a small sample, I did not leaves out anything that indicates the event was other than these 16 photos imply. And, no, I did not attend. Stayed home and read and made art.
Four years ago this blog interrupted garden coverage to concentrate on the political turmoil that engulfed our state. We are still embattled but, this time, I will only do an update on events. This is for friends around the state who could not come to Madison but want to keep up with events.
Suffice it to say that our governor, Scott Walker, has no interest in governing. His entire career has been about seeking office and immediately using his new position as a springboard to the next power point. Walker has nothing but disdain for the citizens, the environment and the progressive history of Wisconsin.
Walker practices the politics of resentment, turning rural communities against urban dwellers, northern residents against southern Wisconsinites, scapegoating teachers, public employees. Wisconsin is merely a convenient platform that Walker is using to propel himself into the highest political position in the nation, the presidency.
Do not dismiss Scott Walker. Do not underestimate him. Instead, educate yourself about this darling of the GOP. If you are looking for information on the ground, here are three good Wisconsin sources.
The Political Environment, Jim Rowen's "Forum and News Service about Politics and the Environment" mainly in Wisconsin. He posts multiple times per day and is always worth reading.
Walker Watch, a site the corrals all the news about Walker in The Capital Times newspaper
Here is a look at the response in Madison on Tuesday to the Republican legislature's rush to push through "Right to Work" (RTW) legislation with a proper hearing or time for citizens to speak. Mark spent the better part of the day at the Capital with his camera. I believe it is important for people to see who showed up to protest because most of them are concerned Wisconsin citizens just like you.
My former co-worker, Bill Dunn (below), who has been at the Capital with the Solidarity Singers since the beginning in 2011.
Just like the protests in 2011, many parents brought their children with them for this "teachable moment." But there is always time to enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin's Capitol building.
The crowd was much smaller this time — 2,000 rather than 150,000. It was also much colder weather than in 2011 and all of us who came out then unhappily learned that citizens wanting to be heard will not slow down the Republican juggernaut one little bit.
The protest and hearing were pretty much an all-day affair so some folks made sure to bring lunch.
Local 420 is the International Union of Operating Engineers.
For those who might not know, the UAW is the United Auto Workers.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Capital Times columnist John Nichols have both protested the RTW legislation. They are posing with one of the union members who asked if he could have his picture taken with them.
Historian, educator, author, musician, and artist Bobbie Malone at the protest. Bobbie is co-author of "Wisconsin: Our State, Our Story," the 4th grade textbook that tells the story of Wisconsin's history. A book that is as beautiful as it is educational. Musician Arvid Berge is behind her.
Lest you think the protest was mostly men or older folks or union members, this group on its way to the Capital Square clearly shows how these concerns cut across all groups and all ages.
The current cold and snowy weather has garden bloggers ranting and raving about "winter interest" in the garden. Elizabeth Licata, a Buffalo gal like me, says it's a myth. Evelyn Hadden, who left Minnesota for warmer climes, says we just need to get out into the winter garden to love it. Beth, an Iowan who blogs at Garden Fancy, looked at the books on the subject and the realities of cold weather for those of us who garden in the Upper Midwest. As she says, where we live the cold can kill you!
Readers of this blog know that Mark and I moved to this property specifically to creat a garden. We spent a lot of time looking out the windows the first winters we lived in our house, well aware that we'd be seeing snow for a good part of each year. We looked forward to an annual break from garden work but we didn't plan to turn our backs to the garden in winter. Certainly not given the expanse of glass that brings the outdoors into our house.
We read all the books that Beth mentions on her blog, like "The Garden in Winter" by the late Rosemary Verey, and a number of others. Currently I own seven books on the subject. They all had something valuable to say and we listened. Here's our take on winter interest.
We added art to the garden that would be visible even in deep snow, including this lantern and a sculpture of Buddha that sits on the deck. We also added a number of very large rocks.
We emphasized the sloping terrain in our garden with steps and walls and berms to give us a more dynamic scene.
We were lucky to have some big evergreen trees on site but we added lots more: Pines, Spruces, Yews, Arborvita, boxwoods to name a few. They offer a variety of colors, textures, forms — and size.
These apple branches mark the edge of paths in the summer and provide a graphic punch in winter.
Our deck furniture stays outdoors year round adding pattern and a bit of color.
Fences, gates and sculpture all add drama. This view has always reminded me of the garden shadows cast by a fence in Rosemary Verey's book (Pg. 24 if you have a copy).
This bell is too heavy to blow in the wind, but the smaller bells right outside our back door always alert us to the weather.
More sculptural drama in the front garden.
The grove of River Birch trees is in front of an evergreen hedge to highlight their pale color and peeling bark. Each tree was placed for viewing from inside the house.
These weed trees make a mess with berries in the summer but their bare trunks are gorgeous at this time of year.
The ivy looks great even though it's dead by now. I pull it down when the snow melts and let it start climbing again.
Every gardener knows about 'Autumn Joy' Sedum and grasses for winter interest. But my favorite is this Carex greyii which provides a touch of intergalactic glam.
When I realized we had planted trees that had persistent leaves, I was completely bummed. But after a few years I came to love their warm color and papery texture, so at odds with the season.
We did not think of Carolina Silverbell as a winter interest tree when we planted it. But it holds its seedpods which is a bonus. We just added a second one in a more visible location.
This is my lolipop lilac coated with ice and buried in snow right up to its crown. This is planted next to the driveway where we can enjoy it every season.
I am so in love with this view of the garden that I have a framed photograph of it. It's currently sitting out next to a picture of my sister's house in Vermont in winter. They both have white mats and white frames making them even more wintry.
Beth in Iowa says that you should include winter interest in your garden under these conditions:
If you enjoy being outside in your winter
If you garden in zone 7 or higher
I haven't been outdoors in five days and I garden in Zone 5a, so clearly I don't meet her criteria. But I can't imagine how long and dreary and downright disastrous I would find winter without my garden to cheer me up.
This year I was able to walk in the garden in December and cut branches to bring indoors just like the Brits. Some years I've had snowdrops in February, though March is the month they usually appear; definitely not on the same schedule as English snowdrops!
I believe winter interest in a garden in the Midwest is not only possible, it's necessary. I want to look out the window and see something beautiful in January, February and March. It's the only way I'm going to make it through the snow season. Though I love my flowers, I guess I like pattern, structure and green even more.
In mid-December I ordered snowdrops "in the green" from Carolyn's Shade Gardens. Since then I've resisted the siren call of on-line ordering. Everything always looks and sounds wonderful in catalogs and on the computer, but there's nothing like personal experience to guide plant purchases.
So here's a recommendation for anyone looking to add Hellebores to their garden. My newest Hellebore purchase, a white-flowered double variety Helleborus x hybrida 'Sparkling Diamond,' is a stunner. I purchsed this locally from The Flower Factory in 2012.
It came through our horrid winter last year and looked like this in its first season of bloom. I've never had a Hellebore perform so well so quickly, and am confident to recommend it — at least to local gardeners.
Saturday's warm temperatures melted the snow on the streets but the snow on the ground mostly stayed the same. Here and there it slid off branches but nothing changed dramatically in the garden. Once the snow arrives, the garden has a brief moment when plant structure and hardscaping stand out.
But that can all disappear quickly depending on how early it snows, how much snow we get and how cold the termperatures remain. In general, I want a good snow cover of a foot or two to insulate the plants from the wind, coldest temps and the sun here in the upper Midwest.
The Yew and Boxwood balls are just soft mounds now.
Looking back in the other direction.
The view across the garden. The gate in the second photo is on the left edge in this picture.
This sudden slide into unseasonably cold weather has made me want to spend all my time in the kitchen. Pots on the stove, pans in the oven, and hands in soapy dishwater mean I am warm. And that soon I will be seated at a table for a fabulous meal: Burning River chili. Fish Chowder with smoked whitefish, shrimp, scallops and lots of cream and butter. Sauteed Chicken with Parmesan/Panko Crust. I can't stop cooking.
Sunday I began marinating a nice big rump roast for Sauerbraten with Three Ginger Gravy from one of my favorite cookbooks, the wonderful "Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland," by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson. It will be ready to go in the oven on Thursday. Not sure what I will serve with it: dumplings and red cabbage, potato pancakes or spaetzle, applesauce, spiced red beets. Too many tasty possibilities. The above photo shows the pot of marinade after its been simmered to meld the flavors of all the spices, onions, garlic, ginger, and cider vinegar.
The book contains lots of cooking and cultural history along with a great group of historic photos. Facing the Sauerbraten recipe is a picture of the members of the Wausau German Men's Choral Society of Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1913 enjoying themselves in the beer garden (below). Those days of German-Americans celebrating their heritage would come crashing to an end the next year when WWI broke out. On the hundredth anniversary of that conflict, it seems like a good time to resurrect those wonderful dishes from the German side of my family.
A friend brought me two big pots of Ajuga 'Catlin's Giant' late yesterday afternoon, along with poppy seeds and a big cutting from a Pelargonium I admired in her garden. She spent the day putting her garden to bed while I spent the day on indoor chores. I quickly planted the Ajugas, watered them in, brought in the last Begonias on the deck and planned to do more watering today. Given this was the scene in the garden when the light came up, I think I will put off the rest of my garden chores until Monday when the high is supposed to climb up to 58 degrees F (14.44 C).
Photo shot through the window at 8:30 a.m. this morning with my phone.