New Work: American Bullfrogs with Cosmos and Zinnias

Another “creature feature” from the garden this summer. Bullfrogs are a member of Ranidae, or “true frogs” and fill an important niche in the garden and nearby bog. They’re not shy, at least around here, so are easily observed. All you need to do is sit by the edge of the water and let the chorus wash over you.

bullfrogs and swallowtails with bouquet
American Bullfrogs with Zinnias and Cosmos, 36 x 24, oil on panel, 2020

New work: Finches and Roses

More wildlife in the garden – and in my paintings for 2020. Spinus tristis makes a tsee-tsi-tsi-tsit call in flight as they bounce around the garden from seed stalk to thistle head. While the female is on the nest she calls to her returning mate with a soft continuous teeteeteeteete sound, which we hear a great deal during early summer. The roses in this painting are from an unidentified plant that was a gift from a friend in southern Maine. It blooms once, gloriously, in early summer and has proved hardy in its little untended corner of the lower garden for twenty years.

Goldfinches on a blue ground with a vase of pink roses and daisies.
Goldfinches with Roses, 24 x 18, oil on panel

New work: Dahlias with Rooster

The working title for my series of paintings in 2020 is “In the Garden” and will highlight the many and varied creatures that live and visit the space outside my studio.

I’ve been working to improve habitats for creatures in and around the garden beds. Amphibians, reptiles, and songbirds are all at risk worldwide and I have the advantage of excellent raw material in two acres of freshwater marsh and a harsh climate that resists invasives and favors native species. I have compositions planned to include our three local frog species: grey, tree, and spring peeper, multiple woodpeckers, the ducks and geese that stop here on their way through the spring and fall migrations, and the domestics that wander through on a lovely summer morning, like my neighbor’s Black Leghorn rooster, below.

Red dahlias with a black Leghorn rooster, painting
Dahlias with Rooster, 36 x 24, oil on panel, 2019

This piece started with an underpainting of large tonal areas – a new technique for me this year. The underlying structure allows more freedom in the top layer to depict the complicated surfaces and textures of the creatures that will join the flowers in future paintings. Onward to “Roses with Goldfinch” in the studio!

Detail of Dahlias with Rooster underpainting
Dahlias with Rooster, underpainting in progress, detail

The August garden

I’ve been working to put a garden post together since June but honestly, WordPress, could you make your photo upload engine any more baroque? I have a dozen picture of (now dated) flowers and vegetables and I may figure out how to post that in the near future, meanwhile, have an August panorama!

Garden panorama
August has been kind to the tomatoes.

Hugels and Waffles, drought-proofing the garden

In the photo below you’ll notice a heap of garden refuse (the hugel) in back of a trench dug below grade planted with kale and bok choi varieties (the waffle).

 

waffle garden

Hugel plantings: daylilies, ornamental allium, elecampne, lupine (volunteers), valarian. Waffle planting: kale varieties, bok choi, arugula

Hügelkultur is a composting process using raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, and improves the insect and bacterial life of the beds around the hugel. Building several hugels around the garden makes a handy depository for the constant outflow of pruning and weeding debris, making it much easier to “compost in place”. I use the top and sides of the pile to stash plants that need a temporary home; clumps of daylilies that needed separating, unexpected plum seedlings, and the like. The top of the pile dries out in my very arid Downeast summer weather so I don’t plant vine crops or flowers there, although many people recommend the practice. Someday, when I have more water available perhaps that will be an option!

The hugel is paired with a waffle bed. Waffles are the opposite of raised beds and are built by removing soil in a small area, replacing and augmenting the best soil available, and then planting below grade. This practice has been used since ancient times in arid climates to preserve water and soil, and to shade roots and seedlings as they develop. The combination of the hugel acting as a windbreak, moisture reservoir, and beneficial critter refuge with the waffle offering fertile soil, bottom shade, and slower evaporation, is hard to beat.

The hugel/waffle combination can be quite small and still provide a significant benefit. Here a small hugel on a slope is planted with Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens). Note that this plant is generally considered a weed for it’s prolific seed production but is also a good drought proof pollination plant. The trenched waffle bed upslope is planted with onion sets, and the small, deep waffles below are planted with tomatoes. Both sides benefit from the hugel providing water diversion and storage and wind protection.

hugel waffle

Here a small hugel planted with chives borders a waffle planted with greens: kale, Australian yellow lettuce, spinach, and lettuce var. Pablo.

small hugel waffle chives kaleFor those of us with poor soil in an arid climate, just a little digging can make a big difference.

Early Spring in the Garden, 2018

Early May might not be early spring where you are, it’s not even early for Maine, some years. This year we’re still in the grip of winter long past the usual garden landmarks. I couldn’t plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day because of all the snow and when the drifts finally washed away under cold rains a few weeks ago I put them in south facing beds where they’re still sulking, under ground.

Pruning is a good task for days when I should not be planting seedlings out no matter how tempting the noon day sun. This is a wild apple planted from seed that my toddler son found in Acadia National Park. I probably would have let it grow for sentimental reasons, but it produces bushels of good-sized tart crabs, dark red skinned with snow white flesh, that are excellent for roasting and canning. It is extremely vigorous and growing on its own roots so when I let it go for a year it puts up a thicket around the main trunk. The whole pruning job took about an hour and resulted in a pile of thorny branches bigger than the remaining tree – sign of a job well done!                                                                                     crab apple, pruningcrab apple, pruning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I planted out four kale varieties and baby bok choi in a bed that grew potatoes last year. Brassicas are a great cleanser for soil that may have picked up potato-related bugs and virus issues. These are right out of the seedlings trays in the cellar, grown under shop lights. I covered them with a layer of floating row cover and they should be fine during the next few days of cold rain and wind.seedlings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhubarb is one of the harbingers of spring in my garden and it’s still tiny! Last year we were well on our way to pie by mid-April, this year we have just the first tiny leaves unfurling.Rhubarb

The bergenia by the corner of the house is always a good bet for first paintable flower of the year. The plant has large leathery leaves that overwinter. The common name “Pigsqueak” comes from the sound made by rubbing two leaves together.Bergenia

 

 

 

 

 

Garden 2018 – The Seed Order

It’s minus four degrees F in the garden today, the high temperature at noon was five above. I worry about the bees in their wooden boxes, the shallow roots of the strawberries under their blanket of snow, and the kinglets huddled together at the very top of the spruce tree singing like tiny tea kettles in the still air. Meanwhile, the gardener sits all snug in the Morris chair by the wood stove and plots next summer’s garden, row by row.

This is our seed order from Fedco, Maine’s premiere garden co-op, for summer 2018:

204A – Provider Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
230A – Jade Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70

We ordered more green beans this year and are committed to irrigating them for a better crop through the drought months of July and August. My general rule is to build in drought proofing, rather than add water, but we’re going to make an exception for this crop in 2018 and see what happens. Enough surplus to freeze, dry, and pickle green beans over what we eat for meals will be proof to go forward.

658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
1382A – Super Zagross Beit Alpha Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
1606A – Sweet REBA OG Acorn Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
1633A – Eastern Rise Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
2058A – Red Cored Chantenay Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2063A – Yellowstone Carrots ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

More carrot varieties, and more root crops overall, reflect 2017’s success with building waffle beds – beds that are recessed below the general garden soil level. We added more compost and soil amendments into these very discreet areas and they were sustainable with very little rainfall, resulting in much better crops.

2121A – Red Ace OG Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2485A – Rossa Lunga di Tropea Red Onions ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2510A – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2539B – Oceanside Spinach ( B=1/2oz ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
2766A – Australian Yellow OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2905A – Cardinale OG Batavian Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.10 = $2.10
2984A – Freedom Lettuce Gene-Pool OG Lettuce Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
3020A – Astro OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3063A – Très Fine Maraîchère Olesh OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3075A – Speckled Friz Chickendiva OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3216A – Lady Murasaki Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3217A – Garnet Giant Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3309A – Green Super Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3322A – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3327A – Piracicaba Non-Heading Broccoli ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3334A – Hestia Brussels Sprouts ( A=0.25g ) 1 x $3.00 = $3.00
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3459A – Darkibor Kale ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3834A – Early Jalapeño Hot Peppers ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4031A – Aosta Valley OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
4225A – Mountain Magic Tomatoes ( A=10 seeds ) 1 x $3.90 = $3.90

2017 was the year of fifty-five tomato plants. I hadn’t really planned to do that but it was a glorious harvest of sauce, paste, chutney, jam, and fragrant piles of fruit dried in the wood fired oven. I imagine I will have enough tomato “product” to last well into 2018 so I’m not looking for that result again right away. One package each of two varieties, Aosta and Mountain Magic, should provide a dependable, tasty, and not overwhelming crop in 2018.

4418A – Genovese Basil Basil ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4518A – Santo OG Cilantro ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4899A – Blazing Stars Blazing Stars ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5035A – Sensation Mix Cosmos Cosmos ( A=1.4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411A – Gentian Sage Salvias ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
5423A – Northern Sea Oats OG Northern Sea Oats ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5620A – Black Knight Sweet Peas ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5731A – State Fair Mix Zinnias ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

Subtotal: = $85.40

This is my inspiration for still life painting from the garden next year – look at the Sea Oats!

Jan Davidsz de Heem

Finished, and off the easel

Snowberry Branches in a Tan Vase, 36 x 24, oil on panel

The native Symphoricarpos, commonly known as the snowberry, waxberry, or ghostberry, is a small genus of about 15 species of deciduousshrubs in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. Most of the species are native to the eastern and midcoast of the US. In our yard the birds descend on the berries when they’ve turned soft and brown after a hard frost.

Snowberry Branches

Snowberry Branches, detail

Snowberry Branches, detail