The Giveaway Goes To . . .


The Backyard Parables

At last, we have arrived at the big reveal — the announcement of the winner of Margaret Roach’s most excellent book, The Backyard Parables.  So without any further delay, the book goes to . . .

Now did you really think I would jump right in with the winner’s name?  Not only am I nitty and gritty, I’m also wordy — and a post just wouldn’t be complete unless I added a few hundred words of my own (as well as a few photos, each one dedicated to a season in my garden in honor of the chapters in Parables).

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Wish I Was There . . . Again (Part 1)


SicilyThere was a time when cameras used film, and that film had to be brought to a photo developing retail outlet, and that outlet would print your photos and supply a free second set.  One set for the photo album; another set for . . . well, I guess, a box.

That’s the box I recently came across while in the attic — for Joe and me, that’s 25 years of negatives and photos of vacations gone by, and so many “ahhhhh” moments captured — the sort of moments that begin with a single picture and then goes something like this, “Remember when we. . . and that’s when . . . and we saw . . . “

Soon, the moments are stitched together, like a verbal photo album.

In the photo above, Joe and I were driving through the heart of Sicily in search of the village from where my maternal great-grandfather began his journey to America.  At one point, there was a curve in the road and a view of the valley, orderly rows of olive trees caught in a game of hide-and-seek sunlight.

Join me as I take a walk down memory lane, or, rather, down the global garden path . . .

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A Hummer Of A Summer Day


Photo courtesy of The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary

I don’t think I’m too far off when I say that most people are fascinated by hummingbirds.  Delicate yet swift, they confound gardeners, bird watchers, and photographers alike – all of whom wait patiently for one to appear.  And when one does, an excited whisper passes through the crowd, as if Beyonce has just walked up to the feeder.

“Oh, there she is.  She’s right there.  Oh, look at her . . .” Then, as quickly as a hummingbird appears, it zips away.

I haven’t seen a hummingbird since I was a child, but that certainly hasn’t dampened my fascination.  So when my friend Michele suggested a field trip to the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance.  Would I see one?  Would I even be able to snap a picture?

Located on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, the Sanctuary is more than a labor of love for its founder, Paul Adams.  It is a passion.  His three-and-a-half acre garden is, at first glance, in a natural state – filled with native trees that provide perches and nest building materials for his guests of honor, hummingbirds that migrate from Mexico and Central America.

Then, all around, are splashes of sweet nectar and color, thanks to butterfly bushes, salvias, cardinal flowers, trumpet vines, honeysuckle, and a selection of tropical flowers to make the hummingbirds feel more at home.

There is a small, tree-shaded area for parking and, fortunately, I listened to Michele about wearing a good pair of walking shoes.  The ground is uneven, and there are some crudely built steps to help visitors negotiate the ups and downs of the garden.  And be sure to mind the hand-painted signs – all of which are there to help you safely explore.

The first stop for Michele, me, and two other friends, Jeannie and James, was a hollow, accessible by a tighly packed dirt steps.

At the bottom, a large sign reminded us to be quiet – and it was like entering a church.  We were dwarfed by walls of butterfly bushes, accented with the stained glass hues of butterfly wings.

We then strolled under a canopy of wild cherry, oak, and beech trees, all the time keeping our eyes glued to the various feeders, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird.  My hands gripped the camera.

Eventually, we made it to the cottages, one of the most peaceful locations on the property.  Here, visitors sat patiently in Adirondack chairs, cameras in hand, waiting for a hummingbird to arrive by a feeder or to enjoy the nectar from any of their favorite flowers.

Behind the cottage closest to the bluff, there was an amazing view of Long Island Sound and the steady buzz of bees.  A hummingbird made a quick appearance, but then flew away faster than I could say, “Hum.”

We ultimately returned to the garden between the two cottages, one of which is where Mr. Adams spends his summer months.  The rest of the year, he’s a professor of neuroscience at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.  On this visit, we were his pupils, as he taught us about the life and habits of hummingbirds.  Then, in midsentence, he said, “There’s one at the feeder now.”

Every head turned and there was the collective whisper of awe.  Instinctively, I snapped a photo.  There was no time to zoom and I hoped the digital camera would be able to focus faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

At some point, I began to wonder if the hummingbirds were playing with all of us.  It’s as if they knew we were waiting to capture their image, and when they saw all of the cameras take aim, off they flew.  One even hovered above the deck where Mr. Adams was speaking to us, but as the cameras were lifted, so too did the hummingbird.  Gone.

Just as I was about to pack up the camera, one hummingbird seemed to feel sorry for us and sat on a branch, preening and posing itself.

And I had my close up.  At last.

Not only is it remarkable to have seen a hummingbird in the wild, it’s an inspiration to meet a man so passionate about his love that he is willing to share it with the public for free.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Sanctuary has no admission fee.  In fact, Mr. Adams will not even accept a monetary donation (his website encourages donations to other specified organizations), although sturdy old chairs and plants are always welcome.

The Sanctuary is only open in August.  For more information about the species, the Sanctuary, the battle to protect it from development, starting your own hummingbird-friendly garden, as well as days and hours of operation, please visit either the website or blog.

Bloomin’ Update 32: Lost In The Planting Fields


Anthurium

Gardening is a gift that keeps on giving – and this is especially true of the Planting Fields Arboretum, a jewel of a gift on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

William Robertson Coe, who made his fortune in marine insurance, built the mansion in 1921 in the style of a 16th century Elizabethan country home – but it’s the park-like 409-acre estate, designed by the Olmsted brothers, that brings gardening enthusiasts, walkers, brides, and myself back in time.

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Bloomin’ Update 27: Let’s Go For A Walk


I read somewhere – and I apologize to whoever said it because I cannot credit you – it’s a shame that so many gardeners keep their gardens locked up in their backyards. How nice it would be if the garden could be in the front yard for everyone and anyone to enjoy as they walk by. 

That was my thought as Joe and I walked around the neighborhood on this first day of summer, strolling by our neighbors’ homes to get a peek and to be inspired by what was blooming.  This is what we found.

To start the walk, we had to pass our Lace Cap Hydrangea. The flowers remind me of speckled Easter eggs.

This would be a close-up of the “lace” in the Lace Cap.

Across the street, we spotted a small bouquet of Dianthus.

Just up the street, another neighbor had Daylilies blooming everywhere.

Another neighbor had cluster upon cluster of Roses spilling over a rock retaining wall.

I couldn’t resist a closer look at the ruffled petals.

This Daylily seemed to scream, “Look into my eye.” So I did.

Around the corner, there were beds of Astilbe in full bloom.

Up close, the pink clouds reminded me of cotton candy.

Around another corner, we discovered a bed of Yarrow growing around a curbside mailbox.

Imagine our surprise when we spotted a bed of Cactus — in flower — a few houses away. The owner, Helen, came running out and offered us a clipping, and then showed us the rest of her front yard garden. We made a promise to return again for a tour of the backyard — a new neighborly friend.

When we returned home, there was time to stop and smell the Lavender.

Happy Summer!

Name That Garden


“Hello, and welcome to Name That Garden.  The rules are simple.  I will post a photo or two or three of a garden, and you have to guess where that garden is located.  Margo, tell us what the people are playing for?”

“Well, Nitty Gritty, they’re certainly not playing for a car.  But they will be playing for the fun and surprise of it!”

“That’s swell, Margo.  Now, are you ready to play, everyone?  Here is our first photo.”

 

“If you guessed C, then you are correct.  This display is part of a local gas station that is located on a heavy-traffic intersection.  Not only is it great to see a business doing its best to make the neighborhood look nicer, the waterfall is a welcome distraction as you sit in your car waiting for the light to change.”

“If you’d like to continue playing, click the ‘Continue Reading’ link below.”

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Bloomin’ Update 8: Summer Finale


At this stage of the summer, I feel as if I am as exhausted as the plants in the yard.  In fact, I am hard-pressed to find blooms that have not already been photographed and posted in previous “Bloomin’ Updates.”  But the task was not completely impossible, thanks to some friends, some surprises, and some guests.

This Pineapple Lily was given to me by friends, Catherine & Robert, when they arrived for dinner. I had never heard of a pineapple lily, but after reading up on it, I learned that they are from South Africa and require little care. In my cold hardiness zone, however, I will have to bring it indoors for the winter, and then restart the growing in the spring. I'll keep you posted on this new project.

 

Last year, I planted a bed of Celosia "China Town." This year, I was treated to this surprise, self-sown, and very proud of its hot red stem. Yes, I could have weeded this out, but if a seed has managed to live against all odds, then it deserves the chance to live its full cycle. That being said, I think I'll plant them again next year. A full bed of red leaves, red flowers, and red stems truly looked gorgeous.

 
 

I know this is technically not a bloom, but try explaining that to this guy. This spider creates a web each night. Joe and I tried to get a photo, so between my camera flashing and Joe's holding a flashlight, this is what we captured. The spider and the web seem to sparkle.

 

Never mind Broadway's "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark," this spider is probably telling us to turn off the light.

 
 

We turned off the light, and surprised ourselves with this photo. Actually, I'm okay with spiders, as long as they keep their webs away from where I have to walk. There's nothing like walking to the car and going face-first into a web.

Searching For Peace On Common Ground


The path leading to the Peace Labyrinth.

I was Googling the other day, looking for information on labyrinth gardens and I was surprised to find one practically in my backyard.  I took the short drive to visit The Common Ground, a community garden in Sayville, NY.  Its philosophy is simple: “A place where getting to know your neighbor is as easy as a walk in the park.”

Through the efforts of volunteers, grants, and donations, the park is a social-cultural haven for the  local community.  Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood, the garden was born in the wake of September 11, 2001, when local residents wanted

The Peace Labyrinth at the Common Ground Garden in Sayville, NY.

to create something positive for the larger community.  As more and more people and local organizations became involved, and with the help of fundraising, the little-used Rotary Park became a centerpiece for all.  Today, the garden welcomes visitors to enjoy yoga, concerts, and movies.  

If the pavilion in the center of the park is its crown, then the Peace Garden Labyrinth is the jewel.  The brainchild of Marianne Fulfaro, who designed, laid out, and funded the project in memory of her parents, the labyrinth is constructed of paving stones and red gravel.  To reach it, visitors walk down a paver path that is lined with shrubs

Echinacea along the path to the Peace Labyrinth.

and flowering perrenials, all planted by volunteers under the guidance of local master gardener Nancy Angermaier.  At the labyrinth’s start is a plaque with instructions on how to walk the circuitous path.

With a history dating back thousands of years, the labyrinth is symbolic of life’s journey.  While a maze has dead ends, the labyrinth offers the traveler a neverending path.  As the journey begins, the walker is faced with twists and turns, each one bringing the individual closer to the center and then sending them further away. 

I especially liked the blue of the evergreen and the yellow of the Black-Eyed Susans.

Ultimately, the center is reached.  The goal is that through a meditative walk, a visitor will feel more calm and centered, maybe even walking away with a solution to something that has weighed heavily upon his or her mind.

 The Common Ground Park and Peace Labyrinth is a true testament of what a community park can and should be.  For more information, please visit their website.  To find a labyrinth garden in your area, check out World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.  Special thanks to Suzanne Robilotta, this year’s Common Ground president, for helping me to fill in the gaps.

 

Bloomin’ Update 7: Before & After


I can never tell which I enjoy looking at more: the unopened bud or the full bloom. 

There’s something very exciting about looking at an unopened flower.  There’s promise and wonder and anticipation.  It’s like staring at a gift with your name on it that’s been sitting under the Christmas tree for weeks — only you can’t shake it or pry open the wrapping paper to get a peak.  But you know in your heart, that tied up in that puckered green bundle is a treasure of pure beauty: the flower that you always wanted. 

Since it is better to give than to receive, may I present two buds and the two ensuing blooms in the mid-August garden.

Before: Teddy Bear Sunflower

 

After: Teddy Bear Sunflower

 

Before: "Vancouver" Dahlia

 

After: "Vancouver" Dahlia

                                                              

Book Review: Anthill Antics In Alabama


A few weeks ago, I saw an excellent review of a new book, Anthill, by E.O. Wilson.  Still, after reading the review, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get bogged down in a book about ants and an environmentalist.  That’s what I thought until the other day, when I visited my local library and saw the title on the new book shelf.  Clearly it was calling me, and I took a chance.  I’m glad that I did.

The novel traces the life of  Raff Cody, an inquisitive, eco-friendly young man living “on the Gulf Coastal Plain, on the fringe of the North American subtropics,” also known as Alabama.  Throughout his boyhood, Raff is completely enamored of an undeveloped piece of pristine Alabama land.  His commitment to his environment follows him through high school into college, then onto Harvard Law and into corporate America. 

What is truly stunning in Mr. Wilson’s first work of fiction is the care the Pulitzer Prize-winning author takes in describing and celebrating the rich biodioversity that often comes into conflict with developers.  While most of the book follows the efforts of Raff to preserve his piece of the planet while balancing his corporate responsibilities, one section can stand on its own as an impressive piece of writing.

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