Out the Back Window

Who says there’s nothing beautiful to see in a winter garden?   Every morning, about 90 minutes after sunrise, I am treated to the sight of the sun pouring through the flower heads on the ornamental grass.  It is as if they are turned to gold!  I never get tired of it.


While you are in the midst of this crazy season with all the running around, I hope you can find something to give you the same soul-restoring moment as this grass gives to me.

I hope Santa brings all good things to you and your family gatherings go well, filled with good food and good company.



It’s raining rabbits!

Okay, it isn’t really but that was a cute way to get the rain and the rabbits in a short headline, right?

It’s been raining since I got up this morning and I couldn’t be happier.  A slow, steady rain, with little breaks to give the earth a chance to absorb and no vicious winds or lightning.

Of course, it’s too late to do much for this year’s garden.  Remember when I started out all full of enthusiasm in May?  There wasn’t enough rain then and most of the annuals never got much bigger than they were when I brought them home.  I do water, but it is never my aim to replace Mother Nature.  I walk around with my hose in hand rather than leaving the sprinkler on for the hours it would take to deeply water all over my yard.

We didn’t get any figs in the spring but we have a bumper crop this fall.  I haven’t gotten used to this variety which stays green even after it ripens.  Makes it hard to beat the insects and birds to the fruit.

Lovely plump figs, apparently enough for everyone

Fascinating or gross?  I couldn’t decide

Soaker hoses were my dream but with tiered planter boxes and lots of pots, we couldn’t figure out how to make them work for most of the garden. The heat defeated me, too. It got so hot so fast, I retreated into the house like the little weenie I am.

Not that I am really complaining.  This is just a hobby for me and my livelihood doesn’t depend on the crop.  It was the farmers I really felt bad for.  The corn crop around here was nearly non-existent.

I heard there were some fresh bean plants back here

But I can’t find them, can you?

And then there were the rabbits.  There are three of them for sure.  Sometimes they play tag on the lawn and I can see them from the window.  I was outside taking pictures of the sad remains of the garden this week and they obligingly played frozen statues for me.

I think they were looking for the new bean seedlings. Hopefully, I have outsmarted them.  I planted the new seeds in tall pots AND put the pots on top of other containers full of mulch.  So far, so good!

I mentioned my camera problems in an earlier post.  My sister brought me two of her old DSLR cameras to try.  These photos were taken with the Olympus.  It comes with an assortment of complex and enormous lenses.   I was at least 20 feet away from each of these rabbits and the pictures are as clear as if we were sitting next to each other.  However, the idea that I would be comfortable walking around with 10+ pounds of camera slung around my neck is another thing altogether.

You looking at ME?

As a journalism major, I took photography in college in 1968.  I tell you the year to give you a sense of time.  I needed a single lens reflex camera (SLR) for my class.  I worked in a department store at the time for about $1.25 per hour.  That made my take home pay for a part time job somewhere between $25-35 a week. 

So when I came home with a camera that cost $114, I thought my father would have a stroke.  He walked around for a week saying “A hundred and fourteen dollars!”  Always in that same amazed tone.  It became our family’s benchmark for something really expensive.  Except it wasn’t.  Not even then.  Not for a camera with extra lenses and a carrying case.

I didn’t price the two cameras my sister brought, but I know enough about what they cost to want to let the armed guard carry the camera when I am not actually taking pictures with it.  Yes, I turned into my father and am appalled at the price some things have gotten to be.

The next thing you know I will be talking about walking to school in the snow and how we used to buy a loaf of bread for a quarter.

Butterfly wings

I’ve finished processing all the butterfly pictures.  The bulk of them will be on display starting this weekend at www.quiltuniversity.com on the Student Commons page, but I wanted to share a few more here.


This is one of my favorites.  All the parts of the butterfly are so clear.  Makes me feel like a good photographer.  Actually, I have one of those digital cameras where you can only look at the screen and not through the lens.  My husband picked it out and I will never buy another one like it.

In any situation where there is a lot of light, such as outside, the glare on the screen means you cannot see what you are taking the picture of.  Whoever thought of that should get the Moron of the Year award.

You would never mistake this gorgeous jade bush for the anemic version seen in my windowsill at home.

In addition, holding the camera out in front of you and pressing the shutter button practically guarantees it will jerk in your hand.  Holding it to your face is much better.

Yes, the camera obviously has a great stabilizer built in but the zoom feature means less clarity.  Are you getting the picture, no pun intended?  Some changes to streamline things are not progress.

The white space is an information board at the information table.The butterfly was oblivious and just kept drinking the nectar from the flower.

Imagine having to hold onto your food while balancing yourself,
just to get a little drink.

Ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille

You look at the amazing detail on the wings of all these creatures and you know that somewhere there is a power greater than we are.  This kind of thing couldn’t possibly happen by accident.

Garden therapy

No matter what I feel like when I step into my garden or what chores I choose to do while I am there, the garden never fails to make me feel better.  There is something about the concentration of looking for weeds and bugs and faded blooms that just won’t let any other thoughts intrude.

Tall lilies with pineapple sage in the foreground

I bought these lilies in a bag – $10 for 10 – the year we took down the giant willow oak.  They ground out the major part of the stump but there are still large chunks of thick roots just below the soil in many places.  It makes gardening a challenge.  I put the lilies in that first spring and a tiny bit of green came up and then died.  I was simply too busy to plant anything else.

Imagine my surprise when they shot out of the ground the next year and bloomed!  They have been growing, blooming and multiplying for the 6 years since then.  I moved some to another part of the garden where they continue to flourish.  I can’t say that orange and fuchsia is my favorite color combination, so I got a real laugh at the latest JCP catalog featuring a whole line of ladies’ dresses in just those colors!

The pineapple sage comes back year after year and is covered in small red flowers from the end of August until the frost in October or November.  Another nice surprise.  I thought it was an annual.

Astilbe, hosta, campion

Canterbury Bells, Verbena Bonariensis stems

I was surprised to see these deep pink astilbe peeking out from below the campion yesterday.  I don’t remember planting it there.  The Canterbury Bells (I think) on the right are hard to photograph since they face down.  The square stems you see are from the Verbena Bonariensis.  You can see their purple blooms in the lily picture.

These ferns and hostas do great even though they get lots of sun

They promised cool weather this morning and I rushed out right after breakfast only to discover that while it wasn’t technically raining, I was getting wet!  It was kind of like I walked into the middle of a cloud.  Did I give up and go back inside where it was nice and dry?  I did not.  I am a gardener!

Ideas in the Garden

I love bulbs and have literally thousands of daffodils, tulips, wood hyacinths, miniature irises and crocus.  The problem is what to do with all that real estate when the bulbs are done and the whole summer stretches in front of you.

Gardening books advise overplanting with something else, but in my experience, the bulbs are not willing to give up their space until June and, even if I had the patience to wait until then to plant, I run the risk of digging into them.

My solution is to put plants in pots.  For the area under my large oak, I have the pots in the small free spaces between the drifts of bulbs.  They cohabit well and I don’t have to move anything.

But in the other garden areas, the blank spaces are ugly.  Last year I found some little metal plant holders with feet only a couple of inches tall.  I could put them down over the dyeing bulb tops and put the pots on top.  In the fall, it was easy to tell which pots to move so the bulbs could come up next spring.

Wire holder on the left, plastic holder on the right

Sadly, this year I could not find anything like that in a price I was willing to pay.  What I did find was plastic paper plate holders.  They are not solid, but rather have a lattice structure in the center.  As you can see in the picture above, they clearly identify this pot as one that will need to be moved in the fall.  Not as classy as the metal holder, but they will do the job and there are now 6 of them placed around inside the garden spaces.

Another thing we discovered this spring was the eco friendly edging you see at the bottom of the picture above.  It is made out of recycled tires and has a flat flange that comes out in the front to keep it from tipping forward and allowing you to run your lawn mower wheel over it if you have grass beside the garden.

It replaces the wooden edging you see below.  This is what is left of hundreds of dollars worth of edging put in about 6 years ago.  It appeared to be treated and I expected that it would hold up for 10 years or more.

disintegrating_border    disintegrating_border2
Rotted remains of wooden garden edging

Instead, it began to rot by the end of the first season.  It became a magnet for termites and I sprayed repeatedly.  I reported the problem to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, both of whom still carry the product.  In my opinion, this is simply outrageous in an area like ours where termites are endemic.

The eco border is about the same price, comes in easy-to-handle sections and snaps together.  Spikes can be hammered into the ground to hold the sections in place.  Be sure there are no rocks where you will be hammering the spikes.  It makes gentle curves but not sharp turns.

Our winter was so mild the snap dragons lived through it and were blooming like crazy by the first of April.

This large pot needs to be lifted over the bricks to stay by the porch steps for the summer.  The potato vine is a favorite for pots as it trails down and has that bright chartreuse green.


This is just one of the six pots of Knock Out Roses that are arranged on the western drip line under the big oak.  They cast enough shadow to protect the hosta.  If they just had that wonderful rose smell, they would be perfect!

My Passion for Color

I love color but I didn’t always know how to get where I wanted to go.  As a beginning quilter, I would choose two fabrics and muslin for the background.  All that work and the results were just BORING.

Having absolutely no art classes in my background, it never occurred to me to research color in the art books at the library.   In the mid-80’s, quilt fabric began to change from tiny, multi-colored prints to larger prints, more saturated with color.  I was still just buying enough fabric for a single quilt and working through it until I finished.  A 2-day class with Doreen Speckmann changed the way I bought fabric and my stash was born!  Doreen taught me to think of each piece of fabric as a dab of paint on my palette.

radiationEventually, the marketplace included wonderful books on color from authors like Mary Coyne Penders, Jinny Beyers and Joen Wolfrom.   They became my teachers.  I devoted the next year to working through all kinds of color exercises from their books.  I learned to speak the language of color.

As my quilts changed to richer, deeper, more nuanced colors, so did my choices in the garden.  Where I used to just buy whatever struck my eyes and plop all the colors together, I learned to make a bigger splash by grouping like plants or colors and introducing a spark of the complementary color.  Nature gives me green as the background color but it is never boring because there are so many tints, tones and shades.  Even the time of day will make the colors look different.


Mother Nature makes the best selection of greens

I learned to put artemisia, Dusty Miller and lavender in the garden to separate the greens and add light.  Look how the blue leaved hosta stands out above.  I want fabric in all those colors!

The more I studied, the more strongly I felt about sharing what I was learning.  I did workshops in my guild and eventually wrote a series of articles on color for The Quilter magazine.  That series became the basis for my Color Companions class at Quilt University.

Requests from my students and my own ongoing desire to dig deeper into the mysteries of color led me to develop a class called Gradations and Transparencies.  I sewed and wrote for a year!  The class focuses on using many  gradated values a color together in a quilt.  Sometimes, as with We are Insignificant (below), the palette is very restricted but the use of value results in a big impact.

we are insignificant_quilted

  We are Insignificant

In the kaleidoscope quilt at right, the palette is analogous, meaning all the colors used are in a row on the color wheel.  The values go from light to dark and alternate in each block to create the design.  The corner pieces create the illusion of transparency, as if you are looking through one color to another.  I struck it lucky when I looking for backing fabric and found a piece that picked up many of the colors used on the front.  This quilt was made for my daughter, Jennifer.  Her favorite color is purple and the walls of her bedroom are sage green.  This combination gave her everything she needed.

The problem with learning a lot of about color – at least for me – is that I want to correct people when they do it wrong, much as I feel the overwhelming urge to correct their grammar.  I try to resist the impulse.  Unsolicited advice is hardly ever welcome.  But sometimes a student picture will cross my screen and it is such a wonderful example of good color use, that I just want to stand up and cheer.  That happened this afternoon as I was thinking about this post.  The blocks made by Barbara La Belle are an outstanding example of using complementary colors.

Barbara La Belle   _4635E

Barbara La Belle from Ripless Paper Piecing

I still study color every chance I get.  Often, that just means keeping my eyes open to the world around me.  Other times, a new book will come along to teach me a new way to look at things.

P.S. Gradations and Transparencies starts this weekend at www.QuiltUniversity.com.  Come join me!

A Good Kind of Tired

You know how sometimes you get to the end of the day and you just hurt all over?  Your eyes are tired from staring at the screen, your hands are worn out from typing.  Your shoulders hurt, your back hurts.  And you can’t figure out what you accomplished, other than putting in your time at work?

On the other hand, this week I spent about 4 hours every morning working out in the garden.  I came in at lunch time so tired I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  It was all I could do to peel off my grimy gardening clothes and get in the shower.

Once I was cleaned up and fed, I could look out any window on the back of my house and see what I had accomplished.

new_corner_garden2Remember the old grass garden that needed refreshing and redoing?  It took several passes but I am done!  Step one was putting the stones at the front.  That allowed me to raise the level of the soil and decrease the slope.

Step two was taking all the pieces of slate that used to run along the side of the path and arrange them about halfway back.  I was able to raise the soil level behind them to create a more level space in the next area.  Don’t get me wrong. None of this is flat and never will be, but we now have a gentle slope and some physical barriers to deter runoff.

The front section has one of my all time favorites – silver mound artemisia.  It not only looks cool and elegant in the garden, but it feels so sensual and silky.  A purple scabiosa is between the two artemisias.  Why would anyone name such a cute little plant such a disgusting thing?  Pincushion plant is much nicer and so appropriate for a quilter, don’t you think?

Next is some short lavender and sweet thyme, followed by a taller lavender on the other end paired with sage and veronica.

Behind the rocks are the only annuals – a row of white wave petunias that should cascade down over the slate wall.  I am not allowed to cascade onto any area where the grass will be mowed or there would be more of this happening throughout the garden. Behind the petunias are an assortment of phlox.

Most of these perennials will bloom throughout the season.  I am a greedy gardener and like to see lots of flowers.

bean_enclosureThe second major project was to create a space where I could grow beans and tomatoes.  This area was previously in the shade and was filled with hosta plants.  I moved them so they are nestled behind a large ornamental grass.  You can see them through the bean netting.

The netting is strung on three poles arranged like two sides of a square. This allows them to shade the hosta and still leave us a path along the back of the garden.  The grass you see in the far distance is on the left hand side of the new terraced garden shown above.  The taller grass on the left is on the front right hand corner of that garden.

These two new garden areas meant digging up lots of roots and rocks.  It also meant carrying literally dozens of buckets of compost.  As a special added attraction, I got to flip over two of my little cow pies so I could get to the most usable part at the bottom.  This is the kind of work that uses all your muscles and which I wouldn’t do for money.  Funny what we will do for love, isn’t it?  Like changing diapers but more tiring.  But it is a good kind of tired.

cinnamon_fernWith those two major projects behind me, I no longer feel like the little unfurling fern.  Now I am standing proud, just as the cinnamon fern is.  Don’t you love that tall spire it sends up?

That’s helleborus blooming in front and painted fern to the left, in case you are keeping track.  The helleborus makes me smile because a friend gave it to me from her garden.  Those are the best kinds of plants, aren’t they?

P.S. You might already know about www.perennials.com but I found it by accident as I was checking my spelling of plant names.  What a terrific resource!