Monday, March 24, 2014

Color Returns to Cheekwood: Patrick Dougherty's Sitckwork

We were supposed to have rain this weekend, but thanks to the inaccuracy of the meteorologists in our area, it was sunny.  I headed to Cheekwood on Sunday for my first visit of the season.  Upon pulling up to the gate, I heard a shriek that sounded like a cross between a bird of prey, a mountain lion, and a human scream.  Apparently, they have a recording set up to deter deer from entering the gardens. 

I like to go early each year, before the maddening spring crowds descend.  It's absolutely tranquil.  Some of the flowers have begun to bloom, mostly violas, daffodils, and hellebores.  The feeling in the air is one of happy expectation with bright purples and yellows dotting the scene.

The tulips are waiting for warmer days before being coaxed into color.  They were surrounded by an electric fence which I assume is another deer deterrent.  This year the garden boasts 100,000 tulips of different varieties.  I cannot wait to come and see what the place looks like when they're blooming.  They are everywhere!

Upon rounding the bend that overlooks the ponds, one can see the newest outdoor exhibit that has been advertised lately, Little Bitty Pretty One by Patrick Dougherty.  One can't help but feel like they've just stepped onto a page in a storybook when they see this incredible structure composed solely of intertwined sticks.  There is a bit of whimsy created by the natural bends and curves of the branches used to construct Dougherty's sculptures.  I was fascinated.  When you step inside, you can still feel breeze and light in a way that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "tree house."  Looking up, the sky is visible, and upon examination of the sticks, it's incredible the level of detail woven into the structure.  I'm so glad I was able to enjoy it by myself for a moment, completely lost in my imagination of hobbits and Harry Potter and Narnian creatures, all of whom would have been quite at home in such a place.  I wish these structures were all over the garden.  I was disappointed that there was only one, but I'd love to see more of these in other places!

Last year was a special year for Cheekwood with Bruce Munro's Light exhibit.  Most of my visits to the garden happened at night.  The last time I saw this pool, there were orb's of fiber optic light called Fagin's Urchins floating on the surface.

The fountains bubbled happily again, echoing the sentiment that spring is finally here and we can look forward to color and life and moments out in the fresh air.

The tulips should start to put on a lovely show in the next couple of weeks.  There is the nasty rumor we might get snow one night this week, but let's hope that's all it is.  I mean, do these flowers look like they want more snow?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting Outside Again: Spring Stretches Her Muscles

The edges of winter are softening here in Tennessee and spring is starting to show off in small ways, like early daffodils and the first blush of pink cherry trees.

Yesterday it was 65 degrees so I started cleaning up the flower beds and pruning the purple plum trees, a task I thoroughly hate.  I have to keep the plum trees pruned because in the spring when we get prolific rain, the branches are not able to hold themselves up with the weight of wet leaves.  The trees are rather tall, but not too tall that I can't reach most of branches when on a ladder.  But being on a ladder in the middle of a tree on tiptoe, reaching for branches in the centermost part of the tree is not my idea of a good time.  The result is that the plums look like they were given a $5 haircut at a strip mall salon.  At least they will be in bloom shortly and the embarrassment won't last for long.

Cleaning up the flowers beds, another unenjoyable task, at least yields some reward because I get to see what the perennials have been up to under all the dead leaves.  The fall seedum is already popping up.

 Many of the bulbs are getting ready to put on a show.

Black tulips purchased on Long Island.  Outsmarted the squirrels by covering the freshly planted bulbs with dead leaves.  It worked!

 The allium I planted last year have nearly doubled in size. 

Dianthus which remained in lovely evergreen mounds that are full of buds already!

This year was time for the herculean task of moving a very established patch of peonies.  Obviously these things were planted at the beginning of time because it was like digging up tree roots to get them moved.  I ended up having so many roots, I put them in three different spots.  They were originally located under a shady tree and were no longer blooming, so hopefully the extra light will coax them out.

And then we get to the good stuff...the vegetable garden!  Last weekend, Rob and I got bags of manure and compost, along with some lime, an re-tilled the plot.

 The soil looks really good, and now it's just a matter of planning the whole thing out.  I planted beets and asparagus.

 I've always wanted to try asparagus, but you have to be really patient and committed with these  plants.  Normally it takes 3 years to get a crop.  I purchased 2 year old roots, so we'll see how they look next year, otherwise I'll give them another year before starting to harvest.  It's asparagus season now and tonight I pan seared a bunch for dinner.  I cannot wait to be able to run out to the garden and bring dinner inside!

Other crops this year include snow peas, beans, three different types of squash, and some onions.  All the seeds were ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co

Aside from making the garden larger this year, I switched up my hoses.  This might not seem like a big deal, but I've read several articles about the use of lead in watering hoses and immediately found cause for concern.  If you are planning to water a vegetable gardening filled with food you will be eating, drinking water safe hoses are the way to go.  I got two 50 ft. drinking water safe hoses at Costco for $14.97 apiece, which is well worth the money for the peace of mind that no lead is leeching into the plants we plan to harvest from.

Another issue I had last  year was the immense problem of crab grass around the garden area.  The density of the grass caused many headaches with the lawn mower and was a total nightmare to deal with since it was also being unintentionally watered by the vegetable garden sprinkler.  I went to Home Depot to get some crabgrass preventer and had a bit of sticker shock.  That stuff is pricey!  The only kind they had in the store was the Scotts version, which a bit of research on my iPhone revealed that the main ingredient has been proven in multiple studies to be carcinogenic.  Well, crap.  Obviously that stuff is not going anywhere near my garden or my lawn.  I did some more research when I got home and the most effective natural product for crabgrass prevention seems to be corn gluten meal.  The biggest challenge will be finding that around here, but I'm going to see what I can come up with. 

This week marks the beginning of spring, and while it's still too early to plant the main veggie seeds, spring always brings the hope of new life.  Small, dead shoots sprouting tender leaves and flower buds remind us that even in the bleakest of times, beauty lies beneath the surface waiting to burst forth. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Maddening Business Of Planning A Wedding On The North Fork...While Maintaining Perspective

I haven't written much lately because I've been throwing all my creative energy into developing a wedding website.  Did I mention I got engaged?   Yep.  That happened.  It's all very exciting now that the stress of planning this whole thing is dying down.  These websites like WeddingWire are really fabulous because they enable the frazzled bride to distribute copious amounts of information in one easy place without sending an invitation in the mail that has 14 tiny separate cards attached to it, all with different bits of crucial information that are bound to be lost or thrown away at some point in time.  And even better, these websites are FREE!  Thank God for SOMETHING that is free, because I will tell you my lovely cousin so wisely told me, "the wedding business is a f*cking racket."  And, boy, was she right.

One of my friends asked me if I was going to blog about this experience of planning a wedding, and I enthusiastically replied that I would, but honestly this is something that is very difficult to put out into the void because there are so many personal moments wrapped up in the whole business.  There are arguments with family members, disagreements about what should be said in the ceremony, where it should be held, who to invite (my God, the guest list alone is going to kill us!), opinions on colors, flowers, is ENDLESS.  If you are a control freak (raising hand) and you were born into a family of control freaks (who you love dearly, btw), you are bound to clash on some things, and those things are personal, and feelings get hurt, and one just doesn't want to blog in detail about that stuff, you know?

One thing I would advise is to get yourself a good, understanding, supportive fiance who is on the same page as you.  This is always a helpful first step.  (I hate the word "fiance," by the way. Hate it.)

Once you have this supportive man/woman in place, find a venue, because until you do, you will lose your mind, lose sleep, lose weight from not being able to eat, and basically lose perspective on life in general.  Once the venue is decided upon, things magically start to fall into place all at once and you realize all that worrying was for nothing and you must now reward yourself with a box of Cheez-Its and a glass of wine.

Rob and I went to Long Island and looked at 9 places.  I had called 42.  I'm not kidding, I have a spreadsheet.  Now, understand that I am specifically speaking about the North Fork of Long Island, not like crazy-suburb-wedding-mecca Long Island.  The North Fork is covered with vineyards, farms, and seaside locales that are all amazing spots to have a wedding.  The even more amazing thing about these places is the prices they charge to have said wedding on their property.  I mean, I am in the wrong business, people!  We're talking site fees that range anywhere from $4,500 (which includes nothing, not even bathrooms) to $17,500 (which includes use of a waterfront winery, but does not include, tent, food, wine, or anything you actually need to have a freaking wedding).  It was astounding to me.  I grew up down the street from these places, rode my bike past them as a kid, and they are now official destinations for weddings.

We looked at one winery, two restaurants, one historic mansion, two parks, one community hall, two marinas, and one historic farm that were all in the range of our budget.  Anyone who knows me well already knows which one we picked.  We ended up going with the historic mansion.  Brecknock Hall in Greenport is simply beautiful.

Of all the places we saw, this one had the highest site fee, but they negotiated with us on the price and the "pros" were well beyond any other place we had looked at.  We have access to the building for two days.  There are places where the whole wedding party can get ready.  If it rains (please, God, no) we can have the ceremony inside the hall and it will still be lovely.  We don't need to over-decorate because the place has a loveliness all its own.  The ceremony can be held outside, dinner and dancing inside, and we can even get pictures by the water.  The second we stepped foot in the building we were sold.  The site fee goes toward the historic preservation of the building, plus they do a free wedding for a local veteran every year on Veterans Day, which I think is really special. 

The building holds 90 people, so we have cut our guest list to shreds and are bound to offend people we really love, but if there were more than 90 people there, I would have a total nervous breakdown the day of the wedding.  Not because I'm getting married, no.  I'm very sure about Rob.  It's the thought of walking down an aisle without tripping with everyone looking at me in profile.  I can only have very very very close people who have known me most of my life looking at this nose from the side because they're all used to it already.  All kidding aside, the guest list thing has been gut-wrenching, but we're doing our best and are so thankful for the people in our lives who have shared their happiness with us. 

You know, Rob and I have been dating for a long time and I just love him to pieces.  As full and wonderful as my life is, it would feel emptyish without him, and that is the most important thing to remember, to hold close at night.  All this wedding nonsense can really get in the way of remembering what truly matters, the person you are marrying.  As he has reminded me many a time over the last month, we could go to a Justice of the Peace and the result would be the same.  I'm thankful that everything seems to be falling into place just as it should with all our plans, but I'm more thankful that we have each other right now.  Because life is so short and I don't want to take any moments for granted or lose sight of the true things that bring meaning to life: loved ones, faith, and cats obviously.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Life in Winter's Quiet

With the onset of winter a quiet settled onto the yard.  We were able to expand the vegetable garden with the tiller, and the open ground waits patiently for some compost fertilizer and a fence.  I am going stir crazy, retreating into my books for adventure and solace.  I feel like I will go mad if I don't get my hands in the dirt again.  Something about occupying the mind with creativity in the form of petal colors and vibrant spring greens is making me miss the outdoors.

We've had a confusing mixture of weather here with temperatures dipping into the 20s only to pop back up to 70 degrees the week before Christmas.  This morning it snowed.  This sway of weather patterns leaves the plants confused.  The birdbath is frozen solid and yet all of the new allium varieties I planted in the fall are starting to sprout.  We had a little pep talk the other day where I sternly told them they must stay put until spring.  We'll see.

Even the hidcote lavender has perked up considerably since I transplanted it in the fall.  I honestly have no idea what to do with this stuff!  One plant was blooming beautifully, the other four were waning, so I moved them to a sunnier spot.  This one took off and is quite lush, yet the other three look like they are still trying to get their feet beneath them.  Perhaps this year I'll learn the secret, but right now I'll enjoy the evergreen loveliness of this pretty plant.

Garlic!!!  The hardneck garlic planted in November looks fabulous.  The bird netting has kept the squirrels from rooting around in there like a bunch of maniacal little coal miners.  What a wreck they make of things!  This year I was able to outsmart them from digging up my newly planted bulbs by covering the areas with fallen leaves.  Such a relief since they got half my tulips last year!

The Christmas lights have been taken down, the tree lays on the curb like a fallen soldier.  What a pretty tree it was this year.  The house felt especially cozy with the warmth of the white lights.  But nature still celebrates with colors that will last till spring.  The berries on the heavenly bamboo put on quite a show and the birds appreciate the extra food.  As annoying as these bushes are to prune, they really do spruce the place up in winter when everything else languishes in the cold.   

I'm excited for 2014.  All the main flower beds were dug last year, which means the work will be less backbreaking this summer.  The vegetable garden has more space for experimentation with new varieties, and dad's daylilies are posed to put on quite the show.  As much as I dislike resolutions, I am resolved to enjoy the garden even more this year, to appreciate the beauty it brings in butterflies and birds and fragrance and food.  We are hunkered down for the coldest months with long books, good friends, and warm hearts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Back To Myself On The East End

Burnout is a real thing.  After two weeks of doing something every single night, double booking the calendar, squeezing things in right after work or in the early morning just so I could keep up with friends, I wearily said goodbye to the kitties and left for Los Angeles to sit in meetings for two days straight.  On the plane I mentally checked off the things I need to do when I get back to the house: put up Christmas lights, buy a Christmas tree, cancel an evening doctor appointment so I can have one night at home before heading to St. Louis to visit another friend.  On Friday night I sat in my bed, hair dripping onto a notepad where I frantically scribbled notes for a short presentation the next day.  On Saturday night after spending time with work friends, I hurriedly threw wrinkled clothes into my luggage so I could jump into bed and indulge in one tissue worth of exhausted tears before heading to the airport at 6 am the next morning.  As an introvert whose time alone is highly valued and necessary, I had reached the peak of mental exhaustion.  It was time to go home.

In all my years of flying to and from Long Island, I have never flown into LaGuardia Aiport.  Crazy, right?  First thing I noticed was Lady Liberty in the harbor, holding her torch like a champ in the icy wind that tossed the plane around.  Then all of a sudden, there it was, the World Trade Center tower, the glittering lights of New York sparkling under the moon like a diamond under a lamp.  God, I love this place.  The airport was a frantic mess and I kind of never want to fly into anywhere but Islip again, but I am relieved to be here.

Today, the day was mine.  I dropped mom off at work and headed out east.  All I did was drive.  No music, no radio, no singing, talking, nothing...just sunshine and pretty seashore.  All the new green of the marshes has turned a golden brown and the deer blend in with their winter coats.  The wind had an edge to it in New Suffolk, cutting through to pieces of uncovered skin.  Everything was still and peaceful.  The only people on the roads were service people, vans, trucks, locals heading to the store to grab that last can of pumpkin.

I went to the end, to Orient, and snaked through town, along Narrow River Road and spotted a pheasant running among jagged rows of spent corn.  Ice is gathering on the reeds, a foreshadowing of a chilly week to come. 

Before reaching the end of the main road I turned left onto Land's End Lane.  Land's end indeed.  A giant rock faces the dead end as if to signify how much of an end it is. 

The water was so alluringly blue and with the wind blowing the waves into little caps, I decided to brave the cold and check out this new beach I've never walked on.  As I rounded a small bend I could see the Orient Point Lighthouse!  It's been years since I've seen this lighthouse.  And just beyond there lay Plum Island and the Plum Island Lighthouse, tiny in the distance.  Crazy to think that's where dad works and tons of scientific research takes place in this little corner of the sea.

I wound around farm fields just for the heck of it, just to see the open beauty of undeveloped land, to clear the cluttered mind.  And on the way back from picking up some bread at The Blue Duck Bakery, I chased the sunset all the way to the beach where there were still some remnants of color to be had. 

Part of me was restored today.  The water has its way of doing that.  Tomorrow brings more chill and perhaps some rain, but another day to drive in the peaceful stillness of home.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Another East End Sunset: A Sky On Fire

One day a couple months ago, a friend started talking about how breathtaking Tennessee sunsets are.  Rob was nearby while this was being said and he said he could practically hear my eyes rolling.  I am partial to seaside sunsets and the ones I've seen at home on Long Island are my personal favorites.  It's hard to describe the experience unless you're there.  When Rob and I were home in October, the sky decided to give us a sendoff on the last night of our trip.  These pictures were taken on Bailie Beach and you can see the jetty in the distance.

None of these pictures have any filters or editing.  The sky speaks for itself.

I'll see you in a week, Long Island!!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Becoming A Neighborhood Farmer: Dirt and Work

The weather here has been lovely the past couple of weekends, and since I am trying to get the yard in the best shape possible before winter, lots of outdoor work has been happening.  Getting this yard into shape this year has been a feat, but one that's been utterly worth it.  All of the major projects I wanted to accomplish got finished, so next year should be a lot easier with much less back-breaking digging happening.

So...the vegetable garden.  Huge success this year.  Got tons of produce from a small space, and since things went so well, I wanted to expand this year, so I have more space and can actually make some little paths and have room to get around in there.  Insane, right?  Maybe.  So much work, blah blah blah.  But we did it anyway.

My newest garden toy is a Maxim Till n' Plow TP50B.

This little thing may not look like much, but it comes with a dozen attachments that turn it into a plow as well.  It has 5 HP and a Briggs and Stratton engine.  I found it on Craigslist and Rob and I drove out to middle-of-nowhere-God-please-let-us-get-out-alive, Tennessee and we met a lovely couple who seemed like real decent folk.  The guy said one of his friends wanted to trade him a gun for it, but I'm rather glad that he sold it to me instead.

I'd read up on this thing before I called about it.  Everything that comes with the machine normally retails for $1100, and I haven't been able to find the white version online, so this one must be older, but the current TP50B is quite a pricey item.  I paid a small fraction of the cost and am very grateful to have it.

The plan was to extend the current garden of 16'x21' out to where the apple trees are.  Resulting in a new 18.5'x35' plot.  

The tiller worked great in the existing garden that had already been overturned last year.  The grass that we were currently trying to till was a whole different story altogether.  The ground in my yard is terribly hard with lots of clayish rocks and this thing had a bit of a hard time finding a hold.  Here you can see Rob trying to make the initial dent in the ground.

As the ground broke up, the job got easier.  I got behind the tiller for a little while and it was hard work, let me tell you.  I think next year I'll be able to do the whole thing if I need to, but the initial run would have been brutal without  Rob's help.  I tried to rake and pull grass and roots out as the tilling progressed, but I'm already dreading the weeds.  I'm thinking of mulching some leaves with the mower and throwing them on there for the winter in an attempt to block the sunlight.

The result is a really great new bed that will provide tons more room for spacing between the plants and a few paths for access.  The plan is to build a shallow box around the apple trees, add some top soil and plant some bulbs in there. 

The only thing I am growing over the winter food-wise is garlic.  I'm not a leafy-veg kind of girl, so no kale or any of that for me.  The Garlic was purchased at Marders on the South Fork when I was home in October.  They had the most gorgeous bulbs and hard neck garlic, so I picked up enough to fill a barrel.  Can't wait to try some garlic scape pesto next summer!