Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Staycation is now in effect...

The grandkids, (and their parents), will be arriving in a few hours, so for the next several days I will be on a "staycation" and in 7th heaven. Then, I will need to recover! Will return next week... probably exhausted but most likely very happy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Gardener's Saga - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Edible


A word to the wise...If you're an avid gardener who's lucky enough to own a nice, new, large piece of minimally planted property, don't start a blog at the beginning of the growing season. Trust me on this one, because I've got some experience here. You won't post at night when you're exhausted from hauling buckets of mulch or turning compost into beds, and you won't post in the morning when you're rushing through housework to get out to water, weed, plant, deadhead or putter.

On rainy days, with a list a mile long, you skip over to the local garden center to shop. You grab what you need for the next sunny day, and then you race home to read garden books, and search the internet for solutions to problems that may be plaguing your personal patch of God's green earth . (Important note: You may also have to toss a load of laundry into the washing machine or cook something to placate your neglected husband. This will insure that there are no objections the next time you head out the door to resume playing in the dirt.) Oh, and expect to lose all track of time. I'm warning minute it's Memorial Day weekend and the next thing you know it's the middle of August and you're starting to think about your spring bulb order!

Now that I've explained myself away, I have to confess that I've been one happy camper since the beginning of June. Working in the garden really never seems like work to me, even when I'm exhausted and aching at the end of the day. After all, it's the means to a (hopefully) beautiful end.

Part I - The Good

In early May, I started to get my usual spring gardening itch. The weather had warmed and our sparsely planted yard was in reasonably good shape from the fall cleanup. Our neighbor had seemed to finally deal with his drainage issues, which had been washing out one of our beds, and my husband was thinking tomatoes, so we trotted off to the local garden center. I wanted to plant the relatively empty slope next to our garage with perennials, and I had some definite plants in mind, but I just wasn't sure if they would fare well on our sun drenched piece of land in zone 5 Pennsylvania. Our last home was in zone 7 New York, and almost entirely shaded by large oaks. It's been 22 years since I had gardens that you could classify as sunny. I was really looking forward to planting something other than astilbe, hosta, bleeding heart, impatiens or hydrangea!

Here's the hillside that would become my canvas as it looked at the end of May.

The few perennials that I planted last year did survive the winter. There's lavender, threadleaf coreopsis, creeping phlox, a low growing sedum and euonymous. So far, so good, but what next? I posted a few photos on the HGTV 'Rate my Space' website and got some terrific advice especially from a gardener named Glenda who has must see gardens. Visit her at . She has been, in very large part, an inspiration for this bed. I also relied heavily on the expert staff at a local garden center. They were really good at helping me to navigate what I consider the uncharted waters of zone 5 planting. With all of this help and a lot of work, today the garden looks like this:

I did have a picture that showed almost everything blooming simultaneously, but a toxic computer glitch made it necessary to use my backup system to restore my PC's innards to a happier time and I lost two batches of terrific pictures! I was upset on two fronts. Not only had I lost the pictures, but I was spending oodles of valuable gardening time working on rescuing the computer! Bummer.

Before I went on my gardening rampage, I used to pull into the driveway and see a few unhealthy looking burning bush. Now, I pull in and see blossoms and pretty foliage peeking through the branches of healthy bushes. (More on the shrubs later.) It's always good to come home, but it's even sweeter when you're greeted by flowers...

that's why I always keep pots of flowers by the front door.

Last year, I discovered these beauties and I liked them so much that I planted them again this year. I don't ever remember seeing this plant on Long Island or in Connecticut. It's called Plectranthus, or more commonly mona lavender. The underside of the leaves are a gorgeous deep purple and the spiky flowers are fascinating. I guess I miss having the impatiens around because I did underplant the mona with just a few. There's shade at the front door in the afternoon and this combination seems to work well here.

This year, while I was in the bed weeding next to the pots, I took a closer look at the flowers and was amazed by the intricacies of each bloom.

Each one in like a mini orchid! I understand that down south, this plant is grown as a perennial, but here it's strictly an annual. As long as it's available in this area it will be somewhere in my yard!

Here's another plant that I had never seen before, and I just immediately fell in love with it. This is Platycodon grandiflorus 'Sentimental Blue' or balloon flower. Are certain flowers not popular in certain areas of the country so local nurseries don't stock them, or are growers just now developing strains that tolerate colder zones??? How could people in NY not worship this sweetheart?

The buds really are shaped like balloons, and they were a constant source of joy for weeks. Alas, they have stopped putting on their show for this year, and I understand that this year they won't re-bloom. I'll look forward to seeing them again next year, but for now the compact dark green foliage is pretty.

I freely admit that I did get wooed by some new friends, but I remembered to get what I came for too. Monarda, (bee balm), was on my must have list as soon as I knew that we had sunny gardens. This is a nice compact strain called 'petite delight.' So far it's attracted its namesake...

and butterflies! Next year I will get some butterfly weed too, and maybe a butterfly bush.

The garden off of our back deck is coming along as well. This is how it looked at the end of May right after I planted canna bulbs. The cannas were here last year and filled the space quite nicely, so they're back for a repeat performance.

The barberry bushes were planted around the edge of this bed to keep the rabbits out. I wish that they would get at little larger, because the little stinkers are strolling right by them.

Here's a better peek at the cannas. My husband was so excited last week when he was watering and a hummingbird came to feast. We're finally attracting birds and insects to the yard.

Difficult to see, but this is also where I start the plants that were given to me by friends. All of these little ones came to me as cuttings or tiny plants. Nice to see them from the deck.

This Knockout rose was given to us by friends the first spring that we moved to PA. The poor bush had to live in its pot for several months until the beds were installed and it came through like a champ. Then it was attacked by gypsy moth caterpillars and eaten to a nub before I could bring myself to use and insecticide. It came through again! This Knockout is living up to its reputation as a rugged rose!

Just to reassure you that I didn't forget the old friends that I went shopping for in the first place, here they are.

Yes, I even wound up getting astilbe and a hydrangea for the front of the house! Old habits die hard!

Next time the bad and the ugly. Might as well lump them together and have it done!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

(St.) Cecilia Was Breaking My Heart

I belong to our church choir, so I spend quite a bit of time in the choir loft, yet I had never noticed the small statue that was standing on a shelf against the back wall. She first came to my attention last fall, when our pastor asked the congregation to help give the interior of the church a thorough cleaning. I had volunteered to work in the loft, and it was then that she first caught my eye. Covered with grime, and sitting on a very dirty cotton doily, was a lovely but battered St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

At some time in the distant past, Cecilia had obviously taken a tumble, because she was missing fingers and her paint was chipped in quite a few spots. She also had a crack in the top of her head, yet despite her "injuries" and tattered garments, she valiantly continued to play her lyre, and her countenance remained ethereal. This poor woman deserved better. I knew right then and there that she'd be coming home with me. She needed a lot of TLC that would take time, concentration and paints and materials that I had at home. At the end of the work day, I carefully wrapped her in the dry towels that I had brought for the cleaning, placed her in my wash bucket and drove her home. Our relationship had begun.

Now I'm not an expert restorer, just a crafter with quite a few years of experience, so I'm not sure if Cecilia is plaster or chalkware. I do know that water is poison to both, so I was extremely careful when I started bathing her. I used dozens of barely damp cotton swabs, toothpicks wrapped in bits of fabric, cosmetic brushes and eye makeup applicators. Once she was clean, I allowed her to dry for several days, then started to touch up her paint. The results were amazing. She was slowly returning to her former glory, but the finger repairs had to wait. I'd have to research the 'how to' and our litugical year was starting. To make things busier, we were also starting the year long celebration of our parish's 150th anniversary. Sadly, I returned Cecilia to the shelf in the choir loft and she remained there until one week ago.

Last Sunday, we had to clear everything from a large section of the choir loft to make way for a renovation project. Before we left, my husband and I took our music with us and I decided to take Cecilia home too. There was no sense leaving her in the way of the construction, besides, she's losing her shelf! This was the perfect opportunity to work on those fingers and finish the painting.

I've been working on Cecilia all week and she's almost done. I wish I had thought to take pictures before I started to build her new fingers! It really is miraculous!

Here's Cecilia with her new digits. It took four thin layers of spackle and a bunch of toothpicks to build them and I used a tiny piece of fine emory board to sand them down between applications. She's pretty petite at 13 inches so these fingers are teensy.

When I started painting, it became apparent that I needed to do more sanding! That one finger looked broken! I also decided to add some bling to C's outfit, so I broke out the metallic paint. I don't recall one Bible passage that prohibits a saint from being a fashonista.

The sanding did the trick, but now I had to add shading for definition. Custom mixing colors may have been the most difficult part of this project!

The finished project. Isn't she lovely??? I do think that I will try to make the hand a little more sallow to match C's face. I'll decide tomorrow in natural light.

And this I just couldn't resist. If a woman has a "new" outfit, shouldn't she have a new 'do'? Well I couldn't create a new hairstyle, so I just gave Cecilia highlights. Wish my hair looked this good!
I'm going to miss St. Cecilia lounging around my kitchen counters, but at least I'll get to see her at rehearsals and when we sing at Mass. We're going to have to find her a new safe spot, and I think I'll stick some museum putty on her base so she doesn't fall again.