Category Archives: the backyard

July in January

I’ve been working on my 2015 seed order this week and talking with a few garden friends about preferences in paprika peppers; rabbit and pigeon predation (I thought I had it bad with deer – at least they don’t fly!); cover crops, and the Eternal Chicken Question. All this brings to mind images of the garden in full green swing, not the current landscape of dingy grey snow with muddy patches and with a buzzcut of bare twigs and pale grasses. Here are some of my favorite images from July, 2014. (I was planning to take some side-by-side photos of today’s garden but it was too depressing – we don’t need a reminder that the ground is hard as iron right now and it will easily be four more months until it begins to soften and “green up”.)

Just outside the dooryard, on the southfacing hillside: broccoli, breadseed poppies, sorrel, mullein, strawberries, parsley, and a Beta pie cherry tree all held in place by withy rows of Black and Scottish basket willow. Down on the lower level you can see the Washington Hawthorns providing a thorny barrier against deer (and almost enough haws for a batch of jelly in 2014) and the silver foliage of the snake willow.

Broccoli withy

More from the dooryard: purple basil, pinks, calendula, and carrots grow under the Seckel pear tree. There’s an elderberry bush coming up on the left that will need to be transplanted (again!) into the swamp during Garden 2015.

purple basil and calendula

Entrance to the lower garden: rhubarb, German paste tomatoes, mustards (in bloom), columbine, Joe Pye weed, and rugosa

rhubarb, tomatoesPink and white rose-mallow, well, mostly white this year! It was nearly smothered by pole beans in August but managed well enough to be featured in several still life paintings.

mallowThe chaos that is the lower garden center: mullein, Russian crabapple, marshmallow, goldenrod (for bee fodder), and one of the glacial erratics that characterize the Maine island garden. There’s a path in there too, somewhere. . . .

lower gardenIn every photo set from my garden there should be at least one very, very confused plant. This Angelica decided to grow up through a cinderblock amidst the nasturtium and pole beans, and it did very well, considering.

sugar cane

Can’t wait until July, 2015!

 

 

 

The Social Capital Owl FAQ

hOWLaween

1. How long has this foolishness been going on?   About 15 years now.

2. What is Social Capital?   The Wikipedia article is pretty good. I find myself aligned with Francis Fukuyama as opposed to Bill Putnam, who wrote the most commonly accessed book on the subject, “Bowling Alone”, and who I feel is heavily influenced by a false sense of nostalgia for the white male nirvana of the 1950’s in the US. Fukuyama describes social capital as “shared norms or values that promote social cooperation, instantiated in actual social relationships”, which I feel describes the owl-community fairly well.

2. How did the SCO get its start/How can I start a SCO on my road?   One day I started cutting down a small spruce at the edge of the road and was interrupted (as one is with small children) before I chopped down the stripped trunk. A neighbor came by and plopped a yard-sale scare-owl on the convenient pole. Someone with a great imagination decided to dress it in a baby tee-shirt advertising the Common Ground Fair and here we are. I imagine you could start by setting a naked owl statue out by the side of the road and then quickly walking away –  the key seems to be allowing anonymity, at least to start. Don’t spy on the owl goings-on!

3. What’s your favorite owl outfit?   Someone added a mortar board (it might have been a party favor?) when our son graduated from high school. That was very sweet.

4. Do you ever dress the owl yourself?/What’s the easiest way to dress an owl (statue)?   Generally the owl just shows up in a new outfit based on the season or an upcoming holiday. Patriots games are a big inspiration, and so is Halloween. Baby clothes from a thrift shop or yard sale used to be the easiest costumes to use, but now I buy small dog outfits when I can find them cheaply. They come with velcro fittings and come in a frankly frightening array of holiday/sports/occasion choices.

5. The owl has been exposed to 15 years of road salt and blistering Maine summers; will you find another one when the plastic finally crumbles?   The owl is indeed faded and worn, and his/her eyes are not their original sparkling yellow. I think we’ll probably have a neighborhood wake and family burial in the back yard at some point, and then go looking for alternatives. Suggestions, anyone?

 

The July garden

Right now is when everything in the garden turns the corner into full production. We’ve just past the longest day of the year and now it’s all about beating that long, downhill slide toward the dark and cold. November will come, but meanwhile we can make hay while the sun shines and harvest broccoli too.

brassica larkspur

Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica grow well under a variety of conditions, but in my garden they also attract pests if too many are crowded together in one place. I spot plants around in odd areas to avoid cutworms, whitefly, and fleabeetles that find their host plants by scent. In the back is a row of larkspur flowering in its first year from seed – can’t wait to see the variety of colors.

green dinner

Tonight’s dinner is kung pao tofu with assorted greens.

long view of valerian jungleSome of the lower garden is buried in an onslaught of valerian. I don’t discourage it because it goes by quickly, the bees love it, and the roots make an excellent sleep potion (which as a bonus, smells like wet dog).

blue angel hosta

This is the season for big edibles, but the ornamentals aren’t far behind: Blue Angel Hosta maturing at 5′ by 6′ down in the swamp!

seedum

For most of the year this seedum is a flat green carpet, but in July it becomes an alien solar farm.

finger trimmed spruce

I have a finger-trimmed spruce going down in the swamp, next to the hosta. It’s ten years old and has been hand pruned at the tips each year. The “antler” is what happens when the gardener is called away without finishing the task! It’s not a fast growing tree, but it managed to put out this extension in four days – that’s a lot of pent up energy.

 

Taraxacum Season, blown away

A post of just a few weeks ago included photos of a sea of yellow dandelion flowers in full bloom. Today the gold has turned to silver as every floret matures into a seed, and each plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds. Multiply that out by the plants in these photos and you can see next year’s dandelion forest in the making.

The bee colony in as a rock in a river of gray flower-heads:

2000 seeds per plant!

Dandelions guard the path to the driveway, with some centura and valerian waiting in the wings.

dandelion path

Also in bloom this week; Dyer’s Woad.

dandelions and dyers woad

 

Blizzard warning!

Tonight there’s a scary-beautiful conflagration of low pressure and high cold air that will bring us 20″ of spring snow and 50 mph winds by early morning. The storm will intensify over the Gulf of Maine and bring even higher winds to the Nova Scotia reaches, scouring the highlands and dumping 2′ of snow along the way.

But isn’t it pretty? That’s us – right between the huge gray high and the Buddhist monk orange low.

Blizzard warning

Time to go fill the teakettle and grind some coffee before the power goes out. Stay warm, everyone!

 

New work, redux

March in Maine: wearing crampons over my boots to hike down to Four Seals Beach and wearing fleece-lined leather gloves to stand on the rocks and draw, white sky with black rocks and seals barking in the distance, the full moon and the sun glowing on different horizons. I’m happy with the work, will continue to use a Cadmium Lemon wash and different hues to make the underlying map on this set of paintings.

Square Rock at 4 Seals

Four Seals, Square Rock, 18 x 24 inches, oil on board

Seed order 2014, new directions

Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)

beanies beans

My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:

  • I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
  • I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
  • I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.

And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!

dutch popcorn

Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:

214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80

This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!

tomatoes, everywhere

The summer studio

It’s minus 7F this morning, but I have off from my day job and a heated studio to paint in so I’m feeling particularly fortunate on this first day of the New Year. This morning I’ll start a new piece based on photos, drawings, and color swatches from this summer. Here’s the set-up – the hoop-house in the garden is a frozen refuge for field mice this morning, but on a sunny Saturday in late July it was glorious place to work.

Painting in the hightunnel

Happy New Year everyone!

Welcome to the studio!

We’ve started to move in to the new space and make ourselves at home. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to see the work from more than a few feet away, and to have all my equipment close at hand.  Below is the interior facing north. The big windows give an even light over the course of the day.

studio face northThe harsh light in the photo above streams in through a set of sliders on the opposite wall. The drapes are light-fast and insulating, because that’s a lot of south-facing glass.

south facing exposureThe view from behind the palette. . .

dec studio sw cornerWe’re still trimming windows and moving construction debris but we’re painting anyway – I’m looking forward to being able to post about new work in the the new space very soon.

 

Studio update 4.0

Today we have stairs to the second story! This is the view from the alpine garden looking east.

garden view

. . .and a better view of the new staircase.
front stairs

Looking down the stairs to the driveway and our gravel road, just as the crew from John Atkinson Builders is leaving. . .

drivewayHere’s the view into what will be my workspace. . . all that north light is will be nice to work under.

APo interiorThe south wall with sliding doors facing the house. . .

south wallAnd finally, the view out the big north wall window into the swamp. It will be wonderful to see this change with the seasons – I can’t wait for snow.

north wall