Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chopped Poinsettias

Yesterday was the day for the poinsettias and paperwhites,  took them outside and emptied all the pots in the garden, and chopped up the flowers and and stems. But not before cutting a few blooms to enjoy for a little while longer (thanks for the tip, Eileen). I usually throw them out earlier, but they were so pretty this year I kept them a little longer. And with March approaching, I'm starting to think spring, and poinsettias don't really say spring. Today is supposed to get into the 50s, so I may try to get outside this afternoon and clean up the hellebores. I'm seeing lots of blooms, but they are mostly hidden by the old and battered foliage.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


This is a lovely book by Colm Toibin that I read for my book group at the library, which is meeting tonight. I first read this several years ago and liked it, but on my way to Chapel Hill this past weekend,  I listened to it on CD in the car, and I liked it even more the second time.  Eilis Lacey is a young Irish girl from Enniscorthy, Ireland, who is living a pretty narrow life in the post-WWII years, under the thumb of her mother and older sister, and with few prospects for any meaningful work. When an Irish American priest, Father Flood, visits her family, he tells her mother and sister that he can find Eilis a job in America and before she knows it and without ever asking her if she wants to go,  Eilis is sent to America, where a job is found for her in a shop on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and a room in a girls-only boardinghouse.  Eilis must adjust to everything new in this strange new country, and deal with her homesickness, but she does adjust, and gradually she makes friends, goes to dances, volunteers at the local parish, enrolls in night school, and falls in love with a big-hearted Italian guy. She learns that there is a big world outside of Ireland. Her teacher is a Holocaust survivor. Black women begin to come into the shop where she works. Eilis is a very well drawn character and it is fun to watch her grow and flourish, both intellectually and emotionally.

But then a death back home calls her back to Ireland and Eilis finds it hard to hold on to her two very different lives, the comfortable and secure life with family and friends  in Ireland, and her new life back in Brooklyn, which now feels like just a dream to her. Where is her home? This seems like a simple story, but there is a lot to think about in it, and Eilis especially seems so real and developed. This isn't a fast moving book with lots of action, but at the end I just kept thinking, what a great story it was. Beautifully written and a pleasure to read.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Food, Flowers, and Julia in Chapel Hill

Julia at the arboretum

 I took a road trip this weekend to visit Julia in Chapel Hill, and even though it poured rain on Saturday, we had a great time. There are a lot of fun restaurants in Chapel Hill and Durham, so it seemed like we spent most of our time planning our meals (nothing new).  On Friday evening after I arrived, we went to a cool place in Durham,  Fullsteam Brewery,  to meet some of Julia's friends and to try their sweet potato beer, which Julia really likes. After enjoying a few beers, we headed back towards Chapel Hill and had dinner at a great restaurant, Venable, in nearby Carrboro. On Saturday, I was hoping to visit Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, a mostly mail-order nursery that is only open four weekends a year,  and this was one of them! Unfortunately, the weather was really miserable, cold and pouring rain,  so we skipped that and drove around the Duke Campus for a little while, stopped in at the  Duke Chapel,  had breakfast at Gugelhupf Bakery in Durham (sticky buns are amazing), and then were forced (haha) to go to a mall for awhile. We didn't stay too long, and then we went to a bar in Chapel Hill to watch the UNC-NC State game, which was a lot of fun (UNC won). College basketball is the best. We then went back to Julia's house for awhile to relax and try to regain some energy after an afternoon of drinking beer.   It finally stopped raining, so we walked along Franklin Street for awhile, always a hopping area, and then stopped in an Italian place, 411 West,  for some pizza.

Luckily, Sunday was sunny and much warmer, so we started out with a long walk around the Chapel Hill campus to work up our appetite for brunch,  and walked through the arboretum on campus where I was happy to see lots of hellebores, daffodils, primroses, and flowering quince in bloom. Felt like spring! It was so nice to be outside and walking around on such a beautiful campus.  Only three more months of school for Julia, and then she will graduate in May. Wow, that went fast.


Julia at the arboretum
Loved this daffodil


Julia at Duke Chapel

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Obsessed With Ferns

Bird's Nest Fern
I am kind of obsessed with this bird's nest fern right now. I saw it at Merrifield a few weeks ago, and I didn't buy it, because the very last thing I need is another houseplant. But I keep thinking about it.  I love love love those ruffled edges.  Yes please. And then looking at this one made me start looking at my other ferns,  so here for your Thursday morning enjoyment are some of my gorgeous ferns. The first few are maidenhair ferns, their delicate lacy ferns were a favorite of my dear friend Patty, and I always grow a few for her.

And I love the dark glossy buttons of this button fern. They love water and are not very forgiving if you forget about them, so every few months or so mine crisps up and pretends to be dead. But if you cut it totally back and water it, new growth comes back and in a month or so it is back to life. This one is looking good right now. Until the next time it dies.

And of course I have to show my oldest and dearest fern (36 years old now!!), which is still going strong.  It is looking kind of crazy here, so it's probably time to divide it and get in under control.  If you are interested, you can read about its history here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Good Hours

Good Hours
By Robert Frost

I had for my winter evening walk—
No one at all with whom to talk,
But I had the cottages in a row
Up to their shining eyes in snow.

And I thought I had the folk within:
I had the sound of a violin;
I had a glimpse through curtain laces
Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

I had such company outward bound.
I went till there were no cottages found.
I turned and repented, but coming back
I saw no window but that was black.

Over the snow my creaking feet
Disturbed the slumbering village street
Like profanation, by your leave,
At ten o’clock of a winter eve.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Orchids and Butterflies

Yesterday was President's Day and a holiday for both of us, so we headed downtown on this chilly day  to the Museum of Natural History to see an orchid exhibit that I read about and wanted to see. We used to go to this museum all the time when our kids were little, so it was fun to see this guy again.

The exhibit is called "The Orchids of Latin America," and represents a sampling of the thousands of orchids (there are more than 17,000 species)  grown in the Americas. These specimens in the exhibit  are the best of the winter-blooming plants grown by the Smithsonian and the U.S. Botanic Garden. There are over 300 plants displayed at one time, with new plants continually being changed in as blooms fade.

I especially loved the orchid pictured below, and remarked to a woman standing by me that it reminded me of pansies. She said it is in fact called a 'Pansy Orchid,' and she grows them in her apartment.  Its official name is Miltoniopsis, so I will need to track that variety down, since she said it is easy to grow.  It was great to see so many colors and varieties all together--such a feast for the eyes on a cold wintery day.

Pansy Orchid,  Miltoniopsis

After viewing the orchids, we went upstairs to the Butterfly Pavilion,  where you enter into a small chamber, warm and misty, that is filled with plants and real butterflies flying about from flower to flower. Kids love it in there, as the butterflies tend to land on you, and you have to be checked from head to toe when you exit, in case there are any hitchhikers!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Drive

Yesterday was a really cold day, and Walt and I decided to take a drive out towards Aldie, Middleburg, and The Plains, taking back roads as much as we could and trying to find our way without the GPS. We kept crossing over this creek and of course I stopped the car every time to take a picture. We saw lots of horses and cows, lots of open fields, and of course my favorite stacked stone walls. We got out in Middleburg and walked around for awhile, stopping in a few shops and a cute little coffee shop for cappucinno. We also stopped in The Plains, one of my favorite little towns. There's not much there, just a few restaurants and a shop or two, but for some reason I really like that town, must be because they have one of the best little garden shops in Virginia, The Bittersweet Garden.

I could take pictures of these walls all day long, and especially the flower-like lichen. What a great color.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thoughts of Spring

I walked around the garden yesterday and realized how lazy I was in the fall. While I cleaned up leaves, there is still a lot of last year's garden remaining. All my anemones are still there, the asters, and the sedums, and they all need to be cut back to the ground.  I did cut back all the daisies and purple coneflowers, peonies,  yarrow and baptisia,  and anything that was blackened by the frost or mildew. I don't think it really matters in the long run--some people just like to clean up the garden and make it nice and tidy before winter (that's usually me) and others like to leave the garden intact for the birds to enjoy and for some winter interest.  I kind of like leaving it--it was nice this winter to see the seed heads of the sedums and the movement of the other perennials.

My little herb and lavender corner looks pretty good. Will need to cut back the lavenders in early March.

I cut back most of my peonies, but missed this one, peony ring and all. That's a big no-no in the garden, because of peony botrytis, which I have had to deal with in the past.  Oh well, I'll have to spray with fungicide again this spring.

And here is my beautiful tree peony in winter. You can see how I have staked it and tied it up to make it stand taller and less sprawly. 

We had a lovely little snowfall last night, but the sun is out this morning and it definitely feels like spring isn't far away. The days are getting a little longer, 10 hours and 44 minutes today from sunrise to sunset, 2 minutes longer than yesterday ( I know we could get some wintery weather, but my thoughts are definitely turning to spring. I have started looking through my garden journal again, and reading articles in the newspaper about seed starting. The daffodil shoots are coming up, I have seen some snowdrops,  you know my hellebores are blooming,  and my neighbor's crocus are starting to make an appearance. Now we'll get snow for sure!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Flowers, by Linda Pastan

The deep strangeness
of flowers in winter—

the orange of clivia,
or this creamy white rose

in its stoneware
vase, while outside

another white
like petals drifting down.

Is it real?
a visitor asks,

meaning the odd magenta
orchid on our sill

as makeup on a child.

It's freezing all around us—
salt cold on the lips,

the flinty blacks and grays
of January in any northern city,

and flowers

in the supermarket
by cans of juice,

filling the heated stalls
near the river—

secular lilies engorged
with scent,

notched tulips, crimson
and pink, ablaze

in the icy
corridors of winter.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

This is the story of a young man, Tom Sherbourne,  who takes a post as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a small isolated island off the western coast of Australia in the 1920s.  A WWI veteran, he has seen the horrors of war and the remote location and solitary work appeals to him,  and heals him. When he meets Isabel on the mainland before sailing for Janus Rock, he soon marries her and brings her  to the island, where they begin a happy and loving life together, isolated from the rest of the world.  Anxious to start their  family on the island,  Isabel becomes increasingly desperate after suffering multiple miscarriages. When a small boat drifts onto their rocky shore with a dead man and an alive infant in the boat, you can guess what happens. This is another novel about the decisions people make, and what they will do for those they love.

This book had been recommended to me by several people at the library, but as so often happens when people rave about a book, it didn't quite live up to the hype for me. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. It's kind of slow moving, and you know it's going to have a sad ending. But for me it was worth reading just for the descriptions of the island and of Tom's life as a lightkeeper. What an interesting and lovely life! Why don't we still have lightkeepers? I loved reading about how the light worked and Tom's meticulous record keeping of everything that happened on the island, and his careful work maintaining the light.  You really feel like you are there on the island and near the water,  and know the way around the paths and up the stairs to the light. Their isolated life on this remote little island appealed to me so much. But unfortunately another world existed outside of their island, and it's when that reality comes back into their life that their happiness is threatened, and the consequences of their decisions become known.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February Greens

It's no surprise to people who know me that green is my favorite color. I have been wanting to do a post for awhile about all the different greens in my garden,  but oh my goodness, I have about a million photos of green.  So maybe I'll do it month to month. Here are the greens of February, the dark dusky greens of spruce, hellebores, mahonia, boxwood, ferns, hollies, euphorbia, and the leathery leaves of rhodos.  More proof of all there is to see in the winter if you take the time to look.

And guess what, green is the Pantone Color of the Year for 2013.