Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shadows and Blue Sky

I took these shots a while back (July 13, I think?) one weekend afternoon while taking a break from weeding ... on one of the last few really wonderful recent summer days in the garden with low humidity, mild temperatures and comforting breezes. Since then, however, we have lapsed into a high dew point, high temperature, thunderstorm pattern recently ... So progress in the garden has suffered as we can't spend much time outdoors of late (or when we have the time together, it's raining!). This weekend promises to be brutal as well, but we'll just have to limit the time we're actively working on stuff. Major weeding of course and just 4 more perennials to get in, so we should be able to handle that! (Or I will, lol.)

Anyway ... I was enjoying the play of the shadows from the maple on the back of the house, so I did a series of them (I should have experimented with the video ... next time), just to see what they would look like. I ended up liking this one the best, so there it is ... I think that finding things in clouds, rocks and other everyday phenomena really leads one to look differently, see differently, and these shadows of the maple swaying in the breeze provide just such an opportunity. To be honest, I tend to focus more on the 'negative spaces' between the shadow and light than the shadows themselves, which I had hoped to be the primary subject. So, see what you will, and let me know ...
Though this is a familiar shot from our back yard, I just had to try to get the spectacular, cloudless blue of the day ... here you can see a bit of the big maple, the spruce and one of the gingkos, across the street. (Fortunately, they're both males ... whew!) We may be smack dab in the middle of the older city, but we have no dearth of trees, and we like it like that. No McMansions for us (we couldn't afford it anyway!), we like being in an old established neighborhood close to downtown, but far enough to be relatively quiet most of the time. We'll have been here 10 years come September, and we've decided to stay, of course. It's an ongoing project and collaboration in dirt, so to speak.

Sometime I should post a couple of pages from my now defunct website that document how we have changed the overall look of the house from the front ... one of these days.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Late July Firepower

It seems only fitting that some of our fieriest flowers really get going during one of the hottest months of the year around here, so tonight I thought I'd share a few, along with a bonus bug. The first two shots are of one of the many Calendula ('Pot Marigold') we have here and there in the boulder bed out front. Fernymoss originally introduced me to Calendula, and I've been hooked ever since, especially since they're such great self-seeders. Once you've grown them successfully one year, just let them drop their seed (or spread it around as we do), and you're virtually guaranteed that they'll be back the following year. What's also nice is that their seedlings don't resemble any kind of weed (at least to me) and make me think more of emerging lettuce seedlings, though they quickly get hairier and grow much taller (topping out at about 18-24 inches). For us, they usually start blooming in late May or early June, and just keep going right on till frost ends their season. And, as I've noted in a few previous posts, Calendulas cross-pollinate freely and produce some rather interesting sports and mutants....

Fernymoss says that the beetle on the Calendula is called a "Spotted Cucumber Beetle," which I suppose might pose some threat to cucumbers, but alas, we couldn't find the variety we usually plant this year, so we have none for it to pester.
Calendula has a long, fascinating history of cultivation that dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, and has continued up to this day. It has been used in medicines, dyes and more importantly today, it's still used in many preparations destined for skin care. Tom's of Maine's natural toiletries even has a Calendula based deodorant that Fernymoss likes very much. (He's a bit of an amateur herbalist, which is why he wanted to plant these originally.) I also have seen a lot of lotions that contain Calendula as an ingredient, so its cultivation for therapeutic uses appears as popular as ever.

And in case you didn't know, Calendula is the true Marigold, so what one usually thinks of when one hears Marigold are the French varieties, which are an entirely different species of plant. I've never tried growing them in pots, but according to what I've read (and its popular name), it's an entirely workable proposition that could be really cost effective and pretty if you're limited on sunny spots or funds ... seeds are gardening on the super cheap, but you just have to be a little more diligent getting them going. I think I'll try some in pots next year, just to have them move around a bit more in the garden.
I took these last two shots on July 17, just as these Rudbeckias started blooming. Then every time I got out and about town, I couldn't help but see that they had conspired with all their area cousins to burst into bloom all at once. What a lovely sight it has been to see them sharing the sun with Coneflowers and other sorts of plants (Lilies, Cleome, etc.) in others' gardens around town. What's not to love about these sturdy, reliable sun lovers? I'd like to hear at least one horror story about them ... I have a feeling I'll be waiting a while for that....
Here's a larger view of this particular clump, and they're leaning every which way in the late afternoon sun, looking oh so wild and happy where they are, in some of the poorest soil on our property along the fence line we share with our neighbor's driveway. Though I've probably mentioned this before, it bears repeating: they're great clay busters, and the ones we planted several years ago in our neighbor's (the one who gave us the boulders) flower beds are doing just fine and blooming their hearts out too. And, to be honest, in his beds, they get less than no attention at all and are thriving in the very heavy clay he used to fill in his garden terraces. (To paraphrase Mr. T, "We pity the fool who willingly filled that all in with clay ... just because it was free!")

I'm still tapping my foot and getting a bit impatient for the perennial hibiscus to start blooming, but I just keep reminding myself how everything is 2-3 weeks behind this year due to the exceptionally long winter and rough spring we had this year. Yesterday, Shady Gardener told me in a comment that she had heard that Iowa has already surpassed its normal annual rainfall ... and it's only late July! Given all the rough spots we've had this year at Casa IVG, I'd say things are looking pretty good around here, though as is typical, there are some really unkempt and wild spots we still need to address. Once the brutal dew points (at one point today it was 78! Positively tropical!) and heat we've had the past few weeks lets up, we'll be able to dig in a bit more to tidy things up. I know that's what I'll be doing for at least a little bit this weekend if it doesn't rain again....

Why am I such a fan of fiery colors in my favorite flowers? The answer is simple, so I'm told: I'm a 'clumped up' Leo according to a chart Fernymoss did a few years ago, which basically means I have tons of planets clustered around me on the chart. I guess that's unusual, and Fernymoss would have to explain, but I'm apparently a Leo's Leo in astrological terms. Thus the sunny flower and general color predilection, I suppose.

Oh yeah, and Old Man Time just bitch-slapped me one more time just before I posted this, lol.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Checking in on the Trilliums: Fall Color?

In this photo taken July 17, this Trillium is still looking pretty perky for mid-July and another recent spate of punishing heat and heavy rains ... This specimen is slightly to the right of the two depicted below, and has nicely nestled itself among the Leatherwood ferns, ivy and Maidenhairs.

Fernymoss recently decided to revisit the Trilliums, which were the subject of a post I wrote back in May,
and he came back with some decidedly interesting results ... the subject of tonight's post. As you can see, they've changed quite a bit in the ensuing months, but are weathering the recent storms and scorching temperatures fairly well, all things considered. I'm sure most gardeners who have Trilliums really don't expect much from them (if anything) at this point of high summer, or even that they'd still be hanging out somewhat green in the garden. But that's just what ours are doing, still looking very attractive though in a very different way from the way they appear in the spring.
I have to admit that lately, my efforts have been mostly focused on finishing up and weeding the front boulder beds, as well as my herb/tomato/pepper garden behind the house so I haven't really ventured up close to see how the Trilliums have been doing since they quit blooming. (As proof of how distracted I've been lately, I could have just looked out the dining room windows and seen these!) I don't think we've noticed this gradual depigmentation before (or else we just missed it), but they are sure going through some fascinating permutations, no? (Make sure you click through to the larger version to really appreciate that feathery veining they now have.) Of course, it's a sure sign that these plants are winding down for the year, but given that they have stuck around this long (and so green until recently), it looks like they had a good growing season and we hope they'll reward us by bringing even more friends or offspring with them next spring.
This last shot really reveals a lot of detail about their growing situation and the neighbors who share their space ... in the foreground at left, you can see one of the Toad LIlies planted nearby, on the top right is more Toad Lily along with the Leatherwood Fern... If you look closely way down under the plant, you can see the ivy, violets and even moss that makes up the floor of this planting situation. One thing we really like about the apparent symbiosis between the Leatherwood Fern and the Trilliums is that when the Trilliums are taking over the show, the Leatherwood is still emerging and unfurling its fronds, so there's plenty of room for all of them to shine in their own moments. Then in the parts of the season where the Trilliums could really use the shady protection, the Leatherwood serves as a handy canopy to keep them from too much sun.

I'd like to say that we had this all planned out years ago, but it's purely a happy and beneficial quirk of planting. We may have had that idea in mind, but when we go about planting in our Woodland areas, we're mostly concerned about the soil moisture, light conditions and such, and we just thought they'd probably make great companion plants to the ferns. Looks like the hunch has worked out, and we're quite pleased at how it seems to be working out for all of them!

Photos by Fernymoss, taken on July 17, 2008.

We set a record rainfall for the date on Sunday, with all the storms that moved through, some dramatic, others less so, but a lot of rain came down throughout the day and the night. As a result, there's more flooding happening again in lower areas of the city (nowhere near us, happily), but it should just be temporary and nothing like what we experienced in June. Still, this has been an unusually rainy July here, and as with July storms, they've been pretty dramatic of late (see the video I posted a while back). The garden is looking a bit beaten down, but should recover soon, I think. The good thing is that we haven't had any substantial hail at all this year, so I suppose I just cursed myself and that will be next, lol. Nonetheless, the growing goes on here at Casa IVG. I'll have to post again soon on that "Punkin-Zilla" patch we have going back in the veggie end of things ... those plants are sure on a mission, growing right out of the compost! Uh oh ... but then maybe we'll be able to set up a pumpkin stand out front in the fall and sell them, LOL.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Liatris spicata: A Lavender Lovely

Liatris spicata, is for many (or at least should be!) a foundational staple plant for gardeners interested in midwestern prairie natives, and is often seen planted in with purple coneflowers (we have a couple such areas), but does best and shows off its most dramatic effect when massed together. The examples shown here are in the original bed I planted probably about 9 years ago, when we first purchased some 10-20 bulbs to plant in various areas of the garden. As I recall, I only planted 5 or 6 of them originally, and now they have completely taken over this small bed, that also once held a couple of Columbines (since deceased) and a 'Blue Butterfly' Delphinium (since disappeared). It should come as no surprise that given it's in the Asteraceae family, it has a penchant to proliferate profligately and fill in a small area within a few years. But Liatris is such a beautiful, wild looking flower, it's hard to begrudge them the space (this bed is probably about 2 ft by 3 ft). And, if you grow this, you already know what a magnet it is for Butterflies and Bumblebees, though the day these shots were taken, the bees were much more interested in the coneflower profusion out front, but have since been visiting this bed regularly.
This second shot reveals a bit more perspective with its immediate neighbors, the Peonies and our magnificent chain link fence ... And you can even get a long distance view of our back yard, with the veggie garden at the far end by our neighbor's driveway. It's easy to see how Liatris earned the common name of 'Gay Feather,' due to its profusion of feathery tendrils around the actual flowers, something the first shot in this series shows to great effect. As you can see, they start blooming from the top of the bloom stalk and work their way down as their bloom time progresses (which is usually 2-3 weeks of maximum effect for us). When these shots were taken (on July 17, 2008), they were just getting revved up, and though they have since declined a wee bit, they are still looking pretty as can be, despite being pounded down a few times by those recent heavy rains we've been having. (And today was no exception, with storms moving in from about 2:00 p.m. on, and continuing through the night.)
This final shot demonstrates quite nicely how the entire plants look when massed together, which has the function of not only giving them maximum "pop" but also helps to provide support for their immediate neighbors. When you examine them closely, you can really see why they are such a great prairie wildflower because they have adapted nicely to going vertical amidst a profusion of other tall plants such as coneflowers, mallows and rudbeckias in a wilder type setting. Note the tag along Cottonwood fluff that stopped by to visit temporarily....

As for cultivation, Liatris really doesn't ask for much other than a fairly good loamy soil to grow in, adequate moisture (we hardly ever water them, and only in the most extreme of dry periods) and full sun to part shade. Plants grown in the shade are less likely to put on much size (these get about 3-4 ft at their high point), or bloom quite as profusely, but it can still be done, if only to provide a nice bushy bit of foliage. This bed gets a very bright early eastern exposure in the morning, some midday sun and direct western sun in the late afternoon, and they appear to be liking their situation quite well. Of course, if you're starting them out the first year, they certainly will appreciate the extra water here and there to help them get a firm footing, but in successive years, they truly are able to be pretty much ignored ... that is, until Mid-July when they burst into their glory in rapid succession. Both bulbs and plants are widely available and either method of planting is easy enough to maintain, though I suspect planting good sized plants first would really give them a running head start.

I mentioned above that they spread pretty rapidly, and if the thought of too many invading your space worries you, all you have to do is deadhead them before they set on seed. You won't get another flush of blooms, but you will avoid getting many seedlings the following spring, if that poses a problem for you. We NEVER deadhead these, mostly because the Goldfinches love to feast on the seeds (they seem to have a thing for the Asteraceae), and we don't mind having too many around, because we can either give them away or spread them around to other garden areas. A hint though: when the seedlings come up, they look a lot like some kind of lush grass, but if you pull them, you'll quickly notice a small bulb at the base of the plant, a sure sign that it's not just some grass horning in on their space. (I discovered this quite by accident the second or third year, and quickly reversed my action to preserve them.) If you divide them, you can use them in other parts of the garden or pass them along to another admirer, and not have to worry at all that they won't replace themselves quickly the following year. What's not to like? Indeed, adore!

I've always been a bit curious about its common names ... I get the 'Gay Feather' appellation, but 'Blazing Star?' That to me sounds like something that would be red or orange, colors non-existent among Liatris species (as far as I know, they only come in lavender, deeper purple and white varieties). And as for 'Button Snakeroot' ... I have no clue where that comes from, so if anyone knows, please enlighten me in in the comments!

This weekend was another washout to me getting those last plants in, yet again. The heat and humidity (then rain) made it very uncomfortable to be outside, but once it cools down just a bit, it's only going to take me an hour or so to get the rest in and call it quits. Oh joy, and then I get to do weeding duties! LOL ... At least we haven't had to water the last couple of weeks, and these regular rains sure do seem odd for the height of July, not that we're complaining too much. But they have been knocking the corn down regularly, though lately it's just been righting itself a day or so later, so we have fewer worries about it ... and at this point it's about at the 5 ft point, so can tassels be far behind? As for the tomatoes, it's still the waiting game ... they're there, getting bigger and enjoying this recent blast of heat and humidity, but still green ... You'll know when the first tomato is harvested, because you'll see it lauded here first! Given how much behind the veggies are this year (due to the adverse spring planting conditions), I suspect the earliest will be the second or third week of August. I'm getting mighty impatient, nonetheless....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ligularia: The Rocket

Here's a shot (taken on July 17, 2008) facing East into the Ligularia planting where they are surrounded by the hollies, ferns and other Woodland Garden denizens ....

I'm sure this plant is no stranger to those who have woodland gardens or garden extensively in shady areas. This is one of our very favorite shade plants, Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket,' which has been happily growing in this spot for about 6 or 7 years now. Of course, right in front of this specimen you can see our other favorite, Ligularia dentata, 'Desdemona,' whose blooms couldn't be more different from 'The Rocket.' Whereas 'The Rocket' sends up spikes of yellow flowers that bloom from the bottom and work their way up, 'Desdemona' adopts an entirely different tactic of clusters of intense yellow flowers, that when seen from a distance almost fool you into thinking it's some sort of bizarre Black Eyed Susan. We used to see these driving around, but never quite knew what they were when we only saw them from the street. So we did a little digging around on the net and found out that they were relatives of our other Ligularia, though oh, so different in aspect.

Though I suspect that most gardeners probably choose both Ligularias for their striking foliage, (which is indeed reward enough for growing them), but I think the flowers, however fleeting, are a really great bonus that help cheer up sultry summer days in July and August in our Woodland Garden. If you grow Ligularia, you already know how crucial a consistently moist area is to achieving success with them. But if you're not familiar with it and would like to give it a try, here are a few hints to get them to excell for you.

They will tolerate a fair amount of indirect sun (ours is planted on the north side of the house and gets early morning and late afternoon light, but is otherwise in shade most of the day), but they will not tolerate drying out, and that's the surest way to kill them. So if you plant it, and see the slightest sign of wilting, don't wait, run to the garden hose and give it a good drink. Yes, it does look a bit wilted in this shot (it was a hot day), but don't worry, we had some storms move in that night and they took care of the watering for us, but when we have extended dry spells, this whole area gets significant attention when we water, because so many of its neighbors also want the same conditions. Aside from those cautions about light and water, Ligularia is really a very easy plant to grow ... just take into account that it will increase in size over time, so give it a plenty of room to stretch out. It prefers a fairly ordinary loamy, well drained soil with a good degree of organic matter in it (which, if you have a woodland garden, you probably already have). We have never fussed over ours in any way, other than to make sure they get watered when we're not having regular rains.

This shot makes me chuckle a bit about how Fernymoss framed it ... Yes, that Holly is pretty big, but it's not as tree sized as this shot might suggest, but I love this perspective on this particular section of the Woodland Garden. If you look closely, you'll also see one of our Polygonatum sneaking into the frame....

Ligularia stenocephala really begs that the flowers be seen up close and personal ... just look at those stamens! They've really got a party going on all the way up the bloom stalk! I've always thought they look like those paper blowout noise makers of birthday parties of yore ... and this year it's really on track to outdo itself, with no fewer than 10 or 12 bloom stalks from this one plant. 'The Rocket' has never disappointed us in the time it's been in our garden, and I wish we had the room for even more ... maybe when we finally start that shade garden under the maple in the back, we can plant more, but that's still a pipe dream at this point. I'd go all salesman on Shady Gardener, if I didn't already know she has it in her shady garden, but if by chance, some of you other readers haven't had the pleasure to grow Ligularia, I extend my heartiest recommendation to find a nice spot for it in your garden.

Fun stuff: For Harry Shearer fans out there ... Harry was on Countdown With Keith Olbermann, on July 23 talking about politics and his new album, Songs of the Bushmen, which is now available. Harry, as always, was entertaining, and sent up some really great barbs about the past 8 years. He was kind enough to allow KO to post three of the songs here, so if you'd like to see what he's been up to, check them out. (I particularly loved 935 Lies.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

I'm sure by now just about everyone has heard (or seen soundbites) the stirring and sweeping speech that Barack Obama delivered today to an enthusiastic crowd estimated at over 200,000 in Berlin. I watched several of MSNBC's programs tonight, who had extended (endless) chattering about the speech (Chris Matthews was especially nauseating tonight), but very few real excerpts that provided the larger context of the speech.

Fortunately, MSNBC has posted the entire unedited video of the speech here, and for those interested, I really recommend you watch it in its entirety (it's about 25 min long).
The MSNBC version is very high quality, and you only have to suffer through a 30 second commercial before it begins. If Youtube is more your style, you can see it there as well, but the people posting it have broken it down into three videos.

This is what a real president looks like. This is how a real president speaks. This is how a real president strives to be a true uniter, not only for us, but the world at large. This is the moment....

The Great Phlox Inphusion Has Begun

I liked this nice macro I got of the emerging bloomhead, on which the buds are almost prettier than the actual flowers ... (Photos taken July 20, 2008, late afternoon in the 'wild bed.')

Ok, confession time here. I used to badmouth Phlox as too common and too pink for my tastes. Which, obviously, have been changing the past few years since we've had this one in the back (insanely wild now) corner garden. Oddly enough, it's from the same friend who gifted us with several aggressive plants (White Yarrow and the Lysimachia I profiled last week), but this one is, pardon the pun, really growing on me! Now, no one is ever going to convince me to plant that horrid creeping Phlox that looks fantastic for about a week or two in the spring, then turns into a prickly mat that you avoid instinctively ... nope, not at Casa IVG. The sedums do quite nicely in that regard, thank you very much!

Let's move in a bit closer and see what's going on with these blooms ... no wonder the butterflies love them (and I'm hoping Hummingbirds will too), because it looks like they probably have some tasty nectaries for those who can reach them.

When I posted a photo of this Phlox recently, Gail was kind enough to ID it for me as Phlox paniculata. Now, some may wonder why I never knew what this relatively common plant was. To be really truthful, I never really had any interest in it, nor did I know of its potential benefits as a garden denizen. Thus, I never researched it, passed it by in garden centers, and basically just ignored it. I'm just that way (well, both of us are) about certain plants, until something about them interests me (or someone gives me a pretty one, lol). But now I've seen how this plant behaves and what it gives us, I think it's earned its spot here.

Now, let's pull back a bit to see the extent of its spread this year ... and remember, this was a plant we first put in in 2004, a clump from a friend (who I met at the Iowa Caucuses, in fact!), and it was reputedly the magenta variety though it seems to have strayed from that since then, though I guess it's not unusual for them to morph from seedlings that are not true to the parent. (That's precisely why I never collect Zinnia seeds.) Whatever has been going on back there, it's definitely going to need to be brought a bit under control later this summer, because this plant is quickly outgrowing its space. Actually, I think what I'd like to do is just dig up several big clumps, plant them along that (hard to mow) fence line along our neighbor's driveway. That's one plant that she'd probably approve of growing there (after the great Castor and Broom Corn Disaster of 1999 when they "tickled" her too much). And Why Not? The flowers are really pretty, abundant, attractive to the flashy garden visitors and bees, and smell really good?
And for a wider view, here you can see how it fits in with the Monarda, Coneflowers, Baptisia and the numerous tree saplings we have to eliminate (grrrr.... don't say the word Mulberry around here!). I think at this point, we should just let these guys duke it out for territory in the back bed (unless someone needs starts of them) and surrender this space to the victors, Monarda, Coneflowers, Rudbeckias, Baptisia and the Phlox. It would be a lot less work for us, would lend a nice wild effect to the gardens.... I think we'll do that. As soon as I get that Coreopsis moved in there, and we move those poppies, I think this could morph into a quite nice corner, with some more Hollyhocks ... time will tell whether we can pull this off!

Ok, so now I've moved over to the Phlox Side ... I'm even going to look next spring for this 'Nicky' Phlox that Mr. McGregor's Daughter posted recently, that's a Phlox that I'd really like to have around!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Did I Just See a Squinny?

Late night doggie cuteness on display. Pepa being vigilant on Saturday when we were taking a break from our work out front ... A squinny (IA term for ground squirrel, chimpmunk, whatever you call them) had just scurried by in front of our little Queen Pepa (approximately). Note that the Prairie Mallow is about done and putting on seed pods destined to be sent to some readers' gardens this fall.

Pepa never fails to dominate the scene she's in ... and this one really demonstrates her terrier heritage ... but she never catches the squinnies, but where the bunnies are concerned, she really gives them a run for their lives! Hehe, go Pepa!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beware this Cheerful Flower!

Tonight I thought I'd highlight the lovely, yet dreaded Heliopsis helianthoides, aka 'Ox Eye Sunflower,' which has become a pretty, but aggressively invasive thug in our front beds, as well as around the other garden areas in our yard. Yes, it's a midwestern native, deceptively pretty, makes an excellent cut flower, and blooms basically non-stop from June to frost ... but if space is at a premium in your sunnier parts of the perennial border (as it is in ours), think twice (then twice more) about letting it loose in your garden! Because, when left to its own devices it is (much like Daleks) bent on world domination, and will just march right over more valued plants, and as in the second photo, it will even pop right up in the middle of a well entrenched (and also invasive) patch of Lysimachia ... a true rogue's rogue that needs to be at least well controlled, if not downright eradicated, which is what we are currently attempting to do in our garden.

Granted, it was here when we first moved in ten years ago, and since there were very few flowers here to speak of, we thought it pretty and decided to just let it grow at will ... that is, until about the fourth year here when we started to realize what thug potential it had. I guess our first clue should have been how quickly it horned in on our newly developing Monarda stand, which we were pampering to keep it thriving. So, we thought, we'll just thin it a bit here and there and keep some around because we really did find it pretty. Big mistake. Don't believe these deluded gardeners at Dave's Garden, because Heliopsis cannot be appeased, and if you give it a spot and try to contain it there, you'll just be setting yourself up for an invasion that you will be battling for years, as we have been for the last 4-5 years!

Several years ago, after digging up huge clumps and pulling the hundreds of seedlings that came up every year, we had a Garden Council Meeting of the Elders (Me, Fernymoss and The Pups) and decided to vote it out of the garden. Unfortunately, unlike certain reality shows, it didn't just leave peacefully, and continues to kick, scream and generally connive to maintain a presence in the garden to this day. This year, though, we're hoping to achieve victory at least in the front beds and the only other area where it's rampant is in the wild back corner bed, where it's under serious competition with two kinds of Monarda, Phlox paniculata and others. We're going to go at it there as well, but we're really focusing this summer on eradicating it out front.

I'm sure that, even so, we'll still be pulling seedlings for a few years and we can live with that, because when they're young, they're much easier to deal with than plants that have had a chance to dig in and bloom, thus perpetuating the cycle. I speculate that some of you may be thinking, well, I could just cut the flowers for inside or deadhead it to keep it from going to seed ... Good luck with that, and let me know how that works out! (From the been there, done that, dept.) It blooms so profusely that, unless you have unlimited gardening time (which we don't due to work and such), that's a true fool's errand.... My advice is: if this shows up in your garden, don't succumb to its superficial charms, just dig it up and get it far away from your garden. We won't even compost this in our compost, and promptly send it to the city compost in a garden waste bag. We have plenty of other lovely yellow flowers (Rudbeckias anyone?) that we will not miss it one bit, and will just chalk it up as yet another plant that seduced us for some reason or other and then proceeded to force its invasive agenda upon us.

For certain situations, this could be a really useful plant IF you have areas that need to be filled in with just anything that looks pretty, but for a relatively small urban plot such as ours, there's just no room for co-existence, given the many things we would love to have growing here, but lack the space for them. Maybe you have an ugly ditch? It grows great there, along with other natives in Iowa. A fenceline that needs disguising? Yep, it could work there too. However, if you're more prone to a structured, formal type of gardening (and we are not, as you well know), don't let this anywhere near your sunny areas! In this instance I will agree with the Dalek war cry: EX-TER-MIN-ATE!

I know that every gardener has rueful memories of well intentioned planting of certain charming thugs and has lived to regret the decision in later years ... for us, we've had a number, including planting Yellow Tansy (for its flea repellent properties), Feverfew (aka, Fevermany) for its herbal value, and Agastache 'Mexican Mint' just to name a few. And after about five years, we've pretty much eliminated most traces of them from the garden. I (and I think other gardeners) would be curious to hear what some of your 'I thought it was pretty and then it took over!' experiences have been in your gardens, so let us know your thoughts in the comments ....

Photos by Fernymoss, taken July 17, 2008.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Bits and Bobs

Tonight we have a bit of a potpourri of shots from Saturday and Sunday at Casa IVG ... I don't really have an organized theme here, but if we're lucky, maybe one will emerge! Just some pretty mundane pictures of a Saturday and Sunday spent outside in the garden, weeding and planting more of the remaining perennials in the front Boulder Bed.

ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT! If you're seriously freaked out by spiders, you should just cruise by photo number 4 (there, Manny, I warned you!)

The dainty purple flower depicted above is a Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta), though I've lost the tag with the specific cultivar, so if any Toad Lily fans out there know the cultivar (iaBoy, can you help out?), I'd appreciate hearing it, so I can definitively ID it. Now, aside from being positively lovely, it's really playing a little trick on us, by blooming pretty early for most Toad Lilies (who come into their own usually in September when everything else is done blooming). I planted this particular plant last year in the bed with the primroses (it's right behind them toward the back) and it's really happy where it's growing. Not only did it winter just fine with several feet of snow over it for months on end, but it was up pretty early, bringing some of its offspring with it, and we discovered yesterday that more are on the way. At first, the main plant came up, swiftly followed by an offshoot that has been growing quite rapidly, and yesterday Fernymoss was weeding a bit around it and discovered that it's also putting out a long runner from the base of the plant, which he carefully covered with a bit of dirt so it can do its thing and produce yet another offshoot. Toad Lilies are wonderful colonizers for whom only the meanest gardener (and I don't meet too many of those!) would begrudge them the space they seek to occupy.

Our original plant in the Woodland Garden is currently over 4 ft tall and really gearing up for a spectacular show this year, along with the two other new ones we put in near it last year. Just be patient, and you'll be seeing lots more of them come late August or September. To my mind, Toad Lilies are one of the best kept secrets of the garden, because they're easy to grow (in shade only however!) and spring into action in the garden by producing their delicate orchid like flowers just when everything else in the garden has pretty much packed it in for the season ... and they bloom right up to (and sometimes after) frost! Perfect for deeply shaded, moisture retaining spots in the garden, where they multiply faithfully after the first couple of years. And there are so many varieties that there's bound to be a cultivar for every taste!
This is a view of where I was toiling in the heat and humidity yesterday, weeding out and rescuing that clump of Calendula that had been overrun by all sorts of weeds. Once I got the area cleared (which itself took quite a bit of time), I planted a couple of small rows of Zinnias by the Calendulas, and some Four O'clock seeds here and there, in the hope that they will take off again somewhere in the garden this year, even if they don't get enormous by fall, at least we'll get some blooms and with any luck, visits from the Sphinx Moths! I planted two Salvia nemorosa 'May Night' nearby, as well as one of my new Hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Red.' I placed it more or less in line with the 'Lord Baltimore' you can see in the background of this shot (near the front of the line with the Porcupine Grass in the distance). While 'Lord Baltimore' is quite stately, reaching heights of 5-6 ft, 'Luna Red' is one of the newer, bushier cultivars that spreads more, but usually tops out at about 3-4 ft (like the 'Disco Belles' and 'Blue River II' cultivars). Discerning gardener eyes will also spot quite a few other things in this shot ... like the Rue (Ruta graveolens) blooming behind the Coneflowers, a few Calendulas, and in that big pot (hidden from street view) there are three 'Carmencita Rose' Castor seedlings just peeking above the top of the pot. We had some annuals in the pot last year, and never got around to dumping it or moving it, so we just decided to pop a few Castor seeds in it to see what might happen this year ... yeah, one of our many garden caprices that may or may not work out!
Though Queen Pepa (approximately) was spending most of the afternoon indoors due to the heat and humidity, we heard her plaintively asking to join us out front, so when we decided to take a break for a late afternoon beer, she came out to keep us company, lounging obediently on one of the front steps. I mentioned recently how much of a treat this is for her ... I think it's the equivalent of getting to eat at the grown ups' table for her, because she rarely gets to run free in the front of the house (because our street does have a fair amount --but not insane-- of traffic). So these are special moments for her when she gets to join us on one of our breaks from weeding and planting.
And then, along came a spider ... which literally did sit down beside her, though Pepa was largely oblivious to it, which was probably fortunate for both of them! Fernymoss IDed this as a "thin legged wolf spider," one of the rare species of spiders who don't spin webs. This is clearly a female with her brood (thus the fluffy looking abdomen -- make sure to click for the large version) who happened by. Apparently the females of this species drag their egg sac behind them until the little ones hatch, then they all clamber up on her back and ride around with her until they are big enough to take off on their own.
Mallow Mania continues unabated around here, with the above shot being the most current bloom from one of my tropical species, 'Brilliantissima Red.' Though the late afternoon light doesn't do it justice in this shot, it's a lovely deep red flower that can arrive in profusion as the summer progresses. Unfortunately I missed the first 'Erin Rachel' bloom of the summer because by the time I actually noticed it, it was getting too dark to take a photo. But she's finally recovering from her winter slump and gearing up for more glory in the sun ....
This hollyhock may look familiar, as it's the one I showed a while back, growing in the truly wild back corner of our lot (along with the Monarda, Baptisia, Coneflowers and Phlox). It was looking particularly pretty to me today, so I had to shoot it! Don't worry, no flowers were harmed in the creation of this post....
If you remember my herb garden post from a while back, I had showed some of the emerging Basil seedlings, well this is how they looked late this afternoon as I wandered around the back looking for likely suspects to include in this hodge podge post. Aside from needing a good weeding, I also want to thin it a bit (my sister wants some plants, so I'll likely dig a few for her) and give it a good pinching to promote bushier growth. It smells great already, and I'm finding it hard to be patient for the arrival of the first tomatoes with whom it makes such a great companion. One of my favorite tomato season salads is a simple dish of tomato slices, with shredded basil and balsamic vinegar sprinkled over it. And if I have Nasturtium flowers at the time, I throw some of those in as well, and that's (as Alton Brown would say) Good Eats!
Talk about needing patience! This is the 'Bush Celebrity' tomato I have planted in the herb bed just behind the house. This particular variety never gets as big as other 'regular' varieties, but is a great tomato to grow if you're limited on space you have for them. They'll even grow happily in a big pot on your patio or terrace, which, if you decide to go that way, make sure to sprinkle some Basil seeds around the edges to keep them company. Basil should always accompany tomatoes nearby as they are perfect companion plants! In the garden and kitchen as well!
And finally, here's our corn patch today. Yes, it needs a good weeding, but we haven't gotten back that far yet in our never ending weeding sessions ... notice the bricks, tomato cage and stakes? Well, when I first went out back today, I was horrified to see about half the corn laying on the ground, beaten into near submission by those storms we had last night. Fortunately, they weren't snapped, so Fernymoss just hopped in and propped them all up with bricks, rocks and whatever we could find to give them support. The onions also took a bit of a beating, but that's less serious where they're concerned ... And now, I hear thunder in the neighborhood as we prepare for our next round of storms tonight. There are some really nasty ones moving in from Nebraska currently and I actually hope they miss us (supposed to arrive around 2:00 a.m. here). These storms have been producing high winds, large hail and torrential rains, and I think we can do without that. Yes, we needed rain, but with what we've had since Thursday night, Saturday night and now tonight, we can take a few dry days for things to recover a bit. I've really got to get working on that storm diverter to send them down Gail and Annie's ways when we've had our fill, but I'm not making much progress on it. Sorry, my Southern Garden Friends!

To conclude, I'd like to give a hearty shout out to Mr. McGregor's Daughter, a garden blogger in the Chicago area who has a fantastic garden and blog that demands to be visited. In perhaps one of the most informative and useful posts I've read this year on a garden blog, last week
she detailed her method of eradicating the vile, pernicious and downright infuriating bindweed, the scourge of our (and others') gardens. I encourage any of you reading this who don't know her blog to stop by, at least for this post, The Squirrelhaven Method of Bindweed Eradication. You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Iowa Summer Thunderstorm...

This is dedicated to all those garden bloggers out there who are needing rain right now. As I reported in an earlier post, we got a good amount of rain Thursday night, and tonight, shortly after 9:00 p.m. we had our very own light and sound show going on outside of us. And, since I'd been itching to try out the video on the S700, though knowing little what to do other than get it recording, lol. I didn't realize at first just how much time I had to record, because at 640 x 480, I have about 37 minutes available! I took almost 8 minutes of footage, then decided to see what I had ... then I had to figure out how to edit it down to a manageable size, which took me a while, but I think I did manage to assemble about a 2.5 min clip that gives a sense of what the storm was like. This one lasted well over an hour and really flooded the intersection and street, but fortunately, it hasn't come close enough to flood the basement again. And last I checked a while ago, it was still dry down there, so another bullet dodged this time around.

Mind you, it's far from pro quality and it is a thunderstorm after dark, but with some nice flashes, thunder and rain ambient sound .... Honestly, I was just wanting some ambient footage, though the intersection was flooding (as it always seems to do with these type storms) and hapless idiots were stalling out trying to drive through the water... again ... At about 1:37 or so, you can see one fool who did manage to make it through driving by, but they were coming from uphill on our street, rather than trying to make it coming downhill to the intersection on Woodland, the truly fatal error. Fernymoss also took about 6.5 minutes of video as well, but he thought my first effort was best, because it pulled in a lot more of the ambient sound and lightning. So anyway, here it is, An Iowa July Thunderstorm. Enjoy, rain deprived gardeners ... I wish I could send this your way in a more concrete form, but this is as good as I've got tonight!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This is Great News for the Gray Wolves!

I was really glad to learn about this court ruling tonight (h/t to Chris at This is an issue I've been concerned about for quite some time,and have posted entries about them here, and here. Yet, in of all places, Montana, a judge has reinstated the Gray Wolf's endangered species protection in order to prevent public wolf hunts this fall. MSNBC has the details....

Here's the lede for this story:
BILLINGS, Mont. - A federal judge has restored endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, derailing plans by three states to hold public wolf hunts this fall.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy granted a preliminary injunction late Friday restoring the protections for the wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Molloy will eventually decide whether the injunction should be permanent.

The region has an estimated 2,000 gray wolves. They were removed from the endangered species list in March, following a decade-long restoration effort.

All we can hope for is that this judicial decision stands, because killing these wolves is just wrong. The very ancestors of our beloved dogs (and all their weirdnesses) are at stake here. I've known a lot of wolves and wolf-dog hybrids over the years, and despite some odd behaviors (overly shy and reserved attitudes) they are magnificent animals I'd be glad to see on a daily basis, if I could. Wolves have had a bad rep for far too long, and their near extinction (until restoration efforts in the '90s) gave me considerable reasons to despair for these noble animals.

In these days of scorched earth Republican policies, it's way past time that we work on reversing these reprehensible and callous affronts to our native species, and perhaps this judicial decision might be the opening salvo to putting the right priorities in scope again....

And one more reason that 'partisan me' might add is that voting for Barack Obama will go a long ways toward making sure that such decisions stand judicially. The alternative is far too horrifying to imagine....

Things are Getting Rather Phloxy Here

I have to admit I've never been much of a fan of Phlox, especially the creeping variety that turns into a painful stickery mat after blooming ... but I've been much more open to the upright varieties ... it was just the color that mattered to me. Well, it now appears that we have a major Phlox infestation going on in that savage back corner bed, where it has spread all throughout. The original plant that started this all came from the same friend who gave (cursed?) us the Lysimachia profiled earlier this week, and it has definitely self-seeded and multiplied freely. The original plant we got (which is just starting to bloom) is the more magenta colored variety though this pink that's showing up in droves is quite pretty, I have to say. I really don't know a lot about Phlox, so I've got some research to do, but I expect Gail and other gardeners can help out a bit on the phlox lore, since without researching it, I have no clue what this species is....

As I was desperately rescuing the Blue River and Kopper King hibiscus from bindweed last night, I caught a whiff of a delightful fragrance coming my way, looked over into the back bed and lo and behold, it's finally starting to bloom! Though it's really out of control in there (we're going to either move or thin a bunch of it), we're on board to let it duke it out with the Monarda for squatters' rights. And since we have so much of it now, I wouldn't even be adverse to cutting some to bring inside (a right usually given only to a few flowers such as Peonies and Zinnias). I doubt it can rival the lusciousness of Peonies, but it sure does smell good....

Lots of work in store for the garden this weekend, more incessant weeding, and the planting of the final few perennials we've been slacking on due to the brutal weather of late. At least we got some decent storms last night that dropped about 2.5 in of rain overnight, which was a welcome relief. When I was out last night, even the Monarda was looking wilted, and the Ligularias were looking thirsty too. But the corn and tomatoes have been loving this hot/humid blast of late, so maybe I'll get some shots of them this weekend, and the corn is about 4 ft tall now ... the castors are up and growing fast and the other plants we got in recently are looking much happier now. I've got tomatoes set on already and getting bigger, so it's down to the who will be the first to eat waiting game now....

I hope everyone has time to get out and get dirty in the garden this weekend! I may be a muddy (but satisfied) mess tomorrow night if it doesn't get too hot and humid tomorrow!

Just an aside ... I'm still thinking about The Fall, which I reviewed earlier this week. In the comments on that post, Annie in Austin kindly provided a link to Tarsem's earlier work in music video, namely REM's Losing My Religion. Youtube was acting up when I tried to view it earlier, but from what I was able to see, it's pretty much classic Tarsem as I know him so far.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Coneflower Daze Are Here Again!

I suspect that by now, any gardeners who happen by here are already quite familiar with the good old Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, a native prairie flower to a wide swath of states ranging from Zones 3-8. Around Iowa, it's virtually a must have in most perennial gardens, and can even be seen growing wild along country roads, along with various Rudbeckias, a delightful sight to see when driving into the more rural areas.... There's been quite a bit of coneflower coverage on other gardening blogs I frequent recently and Gail had a great post earlier this month about her visit to a Cedar Grove, which included several great photos of the native Tennessee Coneflower, which I'm now itching to get and try out here.

This first shot is an overall view of the front boulder bed as seen facing North from the steps in the front of the door ... As you can see, the Monarda is still blooming, though looking a bit rattier for wear in the recent very hot and dry weather ... At least we're getting storms off and on all night and into tomorrow, so the garden will get a good watering. Oh boy, all those weeds I saw out there tonight will be loving that, and I'll be hating pulling them this weekend ....

Joy! I think these two shots are pretty self-explanatory, given my recent obsessing about our sudden lack of bumblebees around here ... I do love how this almost captures the movement of the wings ... and as you should know by now, bee butt shots are a favorite around these parts ....
Yep, more bee butt, but isn't he elegantly posed as he works away? I love the early phases of the Coneflower bloom cycle, when the cones positively glow orange and attract droves of bees and butterflies to them ... I've often wondered what butterflies really get out of Coneflowers, but going over some of the hi-res versions of these photos tonight at various levels of zoom revealed a whole nectary concoction among all those bristles (?) comprising the cone. There's a lot more going on down deep in these flowers that the ordinary eye doesn't begin to document or appreciate. If you grow Purple Coneflowers for no other reason, you should definitely have it in the sunny perennial bed as a great food source for our favorite garden denizens ...
Here you can really see that glow ... those "bristles" remind me of birthday cake candles for some reason ... and you can begin to get an impression of the nectary concoction down further....

Here's a bit of a mutant that Fernymoss discovered among the throngs out front ... it has a small "fan" second row of petals emerging, and we'll have to keep an eye on this one to see if it continues to develop this way. Proof that they're ever evolving, even at the most basic level. I don't know about you other gardeners out there, but I'm pretty dubious about some of the newer Coneflower hybrids being developed over the past few years, and most leave me cold, except some of those true orange ones, but what's a Leo to do? Call me a purist or plant Luddite, I think sticking with the tried and true Echinacea is the way to go. Besides, we never lack in Coneflower stock, and have been pulling them lately ... the high price of success sometimes in the overall garden, alas.

So there you have it. The first blush of Coneflower lushness and glory currently in bloom. July is definitely here now: it's often intolerably hot and humid, yet dry. Tonight we're getting a much needed break with some rain, which ironically, was much needed. I think the garden is going to be looking much happier tomorrow (with more rain forecast), which is always a good thing. I think the corn is about 3-4 ft tall now, so with any luck we should have our own corn within a month, as well as the tomatoes, who have been enjoying the blast furnace heat of the last few days. And the pumpkin patch is growing like crazy and may try to engulf areas of the veggie garden ... but we'll put a detour in place, should that happen. Such is the state of things around Casa IVG today ... onward to weeding and planting this weekend. We swear those last few perennials are going in!

Photos by Fernymoss, taken July 17, 2008.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lysimachia: A Lovely Thug

Sometimes when you inherit plants from well intentioned, yet less informed gardeners than oneself, well, sometimes you're not quite sure what to expect. The friend from the neighborhood who initially gave us a clump of this Lysimachia ciliata 'Purpurea,' swore that it was 'Yellow Bee Balm,' something that we, of course had never heard of, though we were intrigued and said 'sure!' I'm sure that regular readers are chuckling by now at how anyone could mistake this for Monarda ... it's not even a mint (it's in the Primulaceae family!), though it has many of the semi-invasive properties of the mints (of which, of course Monarda is a member as well). Are you scared yet? Actually, you shouldn't be, because this Lysimachia is aggressive, but controllable. In fact, in the very near future it's going to be controlled to about half its current spread. We've had a few people express interest in taking some home and I sure wish they'd get here with their shovels soon, or they're going to be out of luck, because one way or another, this plant is getting seriously thinned out this year. We're not engaged in full scale annihilation (as with the Heliopsis, but more on that later), because we really do like this plant, but we just don't have the space for it to take over.
So now, after having damned this plant with faint praise, I should highlight the numerous good points about Lysimachia ciliata. Obviously, it's a tough attractive plant that requires virtually no attention ... so for certain growing situations, it's a really good choice. But for the more space-challenged gardener, one needs to be ready to be as aggressive about thinning it out as it is about spreading out expansively. For a thug, though, it sure is lovely ... with its purple-burgundy colored foliage (the intensity depends on how much sun it gets) and simple yellow flowers in profusion. When we first got this in 2004, we needed plants to fill out the recently opened up gardening spaces ... but we didn't quite expect this one to settle in so quickly. This would make a great fence line plant for a sunny situation, where it could within a few years line it ... but in our front gardens where we prefer to highlight some of our more dramatic performers, it has gradually become a bit of a pest, thus the imminent thinning out.

It's all part of the gentle taming of our (self-described) Savage Cottage Garden style of doing things around here ... we're willing to let some rogues in on the space, but we definitely reserve the right to determine appropriate boundaries. Keeping this in mind when planting this Lysimachia, should, I hope, put this all into perspective. Lots of positives and pretty, but caveat emptor! A lot of what we have is going to the compost soon, but that's not a reason to banish this one from the garden entirely. It will remain, however, a bit diminished in scope...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This Inspiring Film Will Haunt Your Dreams

We've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of this film to our local (favorite) art house cinema, and it's finally here, so I ducked out of work an hour early today (Fernymoss had the day off) so we could catch the 4:30 matinée. To say that I enjoyed this film immensely is an understatement, because it is so visually and narratively rich, complex, and indeed stunning that I'm still wowed hours later, and likely for some time to come.

I first learned about The Fall in a post in early June by Annie in Austin at The Transplantable Rose, who originally (thankfully!) tipped me off on the imminent arrival of this amazing film by the director of The Cell (2000), Tarsem Singh. If you've seen The Cell, you'll know what you're in for ... dazzling vistas of images saturated with color, visual bravado and sound ... this is pure film making that will engage your mind, grip your attention and give you one helluva ride through this unique Director's vision. And Tarsem has a vision so distinctive, that after having seen at least one of his films, you'll recognize it instantly from then on.

So, if you'll allow me to diverge from the garden path for just a while, I'd like to give you my take on this remarkable film, now making its way slowly around the country in what is a shamefully under-publicized and lackluster limited release. You have to know to look for this film or you'll miss it (until the inevitable DVD), but trust me, it is so rewarding on so many levels it's worth the effort!

On its most basic level, this film is all about storytelling, both verbal and cinematic, and as such, it mixes up all the classic elemental archetypes and tropes in a great big mental blender, producing a narrative that might at first appear fragmented and disjointed, but ultimately dazzles the viewer when it reaches its oh, so logical conclusion. Tarsem stretches the boundaries between reality and fantasy so skillfully that one can hardly help but get engrossed in it and even a bit confused at moments, but that's really the inspiring part of the process of experiencing this film. It's not a film for the typical Megaplex denizen, and definitely not for those who aren't a bit adventurous in their film choices. However, for film connoisseurs who enjoy the experience of truly savoring a great piece of film making, this is a masterpiece on the par with some of the greats of world cinema (surrealists Luis Buñuel and Dalí came to mind more than once for me).

The seed narrative of The Fall is quite simple: Alexandria, a young girl who fell and broke her arm is in the hospital where she meets
film stunt man Roy, seriously injured (in a fall) who spins captivating tales for her, much to her enraptured delight. The two quickly become friends as the stories become more and more complex, and we soon realize that she sees in him a father figure to replace her own murdered father. Gradually, they both begin to blur the lines between the stories and reality, as elements of both encroach upon each other, seemingly complicating the stories even more, though they all have their own intrinsic logic within the context of the film. Keep that in mind when you see this film, and just relax, let it weave its magic without trying too hard to untangle what initially appear to be narrative knots, and you'll be rewarded immensely for even a passive comprehension of the larger picture. Believe me, such is the skill of Tarsem to pluck all those narrative strands out of the air and weave them into a most satisfying dénouement that pays loving tribute both to classic epic tropes and early cinema.

Yes, it's complex, but it's never deliberately confounding as it unfolds ... and if you're not completely smitten by the performance of young Catinca Untaru as Alexandria, then you probably have a few mean bones in your body stashed away somewhere. Tarsem waited a long time to cast the perfect young girl in this part
(she was probably about 7 or 8 when this was filmed), and he was wise to hold out until he felt he had the right actress. She's such an engaging and natural performer in this role that you literally feel the emotional reactions she has to Roy's ever evolving stories. You'll get misty eyed more than once (I sure did!) and marvel at her wonderful presence. Lee Pace as Roy is every bit her equal when it comes to his performance, but it's really Catinca's film, because everything begins and is resolved within her perspective as listener and eventual participant in the stories....

And yes, ultimately this is an incredible feel good film and you'll likely exit the the cinema smiling inside, despite its violent moments. It's really the storyteller (Roy, Tarsem) listener (Alexandria, the Viewer) relationship that is the brilliant crux of The Fall. To me, this is what distinguishes cinematic Art from utter Dreck. I prefer the Art, thank you. Art leaves you satisfied and fulfilled at some level(s). Dreck is fast food that you forget a few hours later.

Spare, yet compelling, narrative. Visual storytelling on a grand scale (wow that veritable MC Escher scene still takes my breath away!). Natural, plausible (within the grand narrative) performances ... The Fall ranks right up there with some of the most rewarding world cinema of the past, probably, ten years!

This film definitely rates as a (never before awarded) rare High 5 Hibiscus Blooms! And those count around here ...

The official film website is here, and you should definitely view the very high quality trailer there (go to the bottom of the page and click trailer), though the site overall is really heavy on the Flash stuff, so be patient. It's worth the wait (and I'm on high speed).

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back to flowers again tomorrow, one way or another ...

UPDATE 7-21-08:
I saw recently that Amazon has announced pre-orders for The Fall here, so I had to order it tonight! I also ordered the long awaited US release of the classic BBC Series Spaced, starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jessica Stevenson. If you're not familiar but like the Simon Pegg gang (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), you need to check this one out! Why it's taken the BBC seven years to get this over the Atlantic, I have no clue ....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not the Canicular Yet, But Pepa's Feeling It

When I'm tired and not particularly inspired, Pepa blogging usually can perk me up, and Pepa sure doesn't mind the exposure! She clearly likes to pose, especially when she can be in a usually 'forbidden zone' such as this first shot taken on the steps leading up to the front of our house. Ordinarily, unless both of us are working out front, she's not allowed to venture out this far from the back yard, so when she actually gets to come out front, I suspect she thinks she's earned a very special reward. And most of the time, she is very obedient and stays pretty close to one of us at all times, unlike the Pepa of yesteryear who could be counted upon to take off in an instant ... Wisdom does seem to have come as she has aged, and these days she's really trustworthy ...
This second shot was taken on a pure whim, and it's certainly not the best photography I've done, but it really captures another Pepa moment ... when I was grilling outside last night, she had gone in the house for a drink and then decided to stay in. Though pretty soon, as the smell of the burgers on the grill made it her way, here she was peering out the door at me as if asking 'Dad can I come back out now?' Of course Dad had to oblige her ....
So here she is a few minutes later, relaxing on the wet concrete where I'd just watered the plants a bit earlier. Although it wasn't particularly hot Sunday (unlike today and the next few to come), she seemed to think this was a welcoming spot to rest and watch what was going on with the grill. Around her, you see the remaining perennials waiting to get planted this week, as well as a few of the houseplants that summer outdoors on or near the "patio," that slab of concrete surrounded by weeds (we have to deal with that soon!). A couple of weeks ago it was filled with plants waiting to go in, so it's looking much less encumbered now that I did a bit of tidying up yesterday. It's still a mess, but less of a mess now!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monarda and Friends!

For those patient readers who have seen me lament and sympathized for the apparent (at least partial) demise of our bumblebees this spring and summer, this one's for you! They were back today, bigger, busier and better than ever! With impeccable timing, I might add, since I was taking these pictures to do a follow up on a great post and conversation Gail had going on Clay and Limestone the other day. The putative subject here, of course, is Monarda didyma, v. 'Bluestocking' or in Gail's case, 'Marshall's Delight.' To my eye they are virtually identical though there must be some be some slight variation, but hey, I don't buy many plants for their pedigrees (there are some exceptions, of course)! I plant them for their beauty and potential to help feed the garden denizens, especially the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and whichever Monarda this may be, I care little.

In the first shot, we see a more 'head on approach' to work that this bee has adopted for tackling this angle of the bloom. It might be the same bee in the following shot, or maybe not, but there were so many working the flowers, that I put the camera in continuous shooting mode and fired away. I think I took well over a hundred shots, most of which have a bee in them somewhere, though sometimes hidden. It took us a while to comb through them all to select what we thought were the top four standout shots. And there were a great many other excellent shots as well, (for various reasons), but these rose to the top. I hope you agree ...
Here, our friend is treating us to a prime shot of his backside, but wow, check out those wings! In this and some other shots I got, I could see really clearly to what extent the color of the flower around the bee influences our perception of the color of his wings. I'd love to get a comparable shot against the red Monarda to see what that would be like, but today, our friends the bumblebees were really most interested in the purple, as the red has already been blooming a couple of weeks, and is probably bargain basement scrounging for these guys at this point. This 'Blue Stocking' only started blooming this past week, so is relatively fresh I suppose. But given the number of visitors it gets every day, there must still be a lot of the good stuff there for the butterflies (who were in abundance earlier, but wouldn't sit still for posing), and of course, the bumblebees. The hummingbirds, alas, were not to be seen today, but these shots were taken in very late afternoon sun ....
This shot is mostly about bee butt, because he's buried his head so deeply into the flower, but you have to admit, he does give an attractive view of his backside, eh? Call me weird, but I love getting shots of bees in such 'compromising' positions, and frankly, sometimes that's the only way I can get them successfully! But I guess it's true, if one loves bees, one also has to love bee butts, they're just part of the overall package, hehe.
And finally, though this might not really be the best of the best, I really like this shot for the lighting and glow it puts off, and though the bee may not be in perfect focus (the wings were really going there!), I think it at least constitutes a true 'impromptu' shot of the bee at work. For me at least, the intense juxtaposition of the red and purple glows made this an attractive shot, despite its faults.

Though today was a superbly perfect early summer day (especially for July!), I didn't manage to get all I wanted to accomplish done, and in fact very little other than household work and laundry (it was a great day to hang out the sheets on the line and I did). Thanks to all the humidity we've had this past week, my arthritic hips and knees just weren't in the mood for a workout, so completing the weeding and planting of the front bed has been delayed yet again for a few days. Fortunately, we're down to the last few plants and as long as they're well watered (they are), they can go in any time soon. I was somewhat disappointed in myself, but there are those days when I know that exceeding my limits will pay no dividends, and today was one of those days. But as you can see, I spent considerable quality time among my plant and insect friends, tending to them, watering and a bit of weeding, but not too much. I also got some wonderful shots of shadows on the house and the pure blue, unfettered sky we had today, and we both enjoyed grilling our dinner outside, because the mosquitoes have given us at least a brief respite! We still plan on spraying for them as soon as Fernymoss gets the yard mowed again ... no chances of rain until at least Friday according to Weather Underground. Who needs local TV for weather? They cop it all from this site and NWS sites anyway ... why wait through commercials for the middleman?

And a special salute to all my French friends, on this, Le quatorze juillet! I think we'll have set off a rocket or two in honor of the French ... After all, they were pretty damned important in sustaining the American Experiment from the start, let's not forget that. Besides, they have over 400 varieties of cheese (mostly delicious) and some of the best wines in the world. I salute them now, as I do every year, with undying affection (yeah, despite the inevitable 'quirks,' lol).

Oh, and happy birthday Aaron!! (You know who you are, if you happen to read this!) You've got a bottle rocket with your name on it coming tonight!