Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Second Season

Here in the Shire, it's common to start planting in late August and September
for the second season of gardening.
Cool weather crops like spinach, lettuce, and other greens are common.
Lots of people plant ornamental kale and pansies in September.
The best part of planting pansies 
is that they will bloom from now right through late June.
This year, I have a plan that will bring those winter flowers  a little closer., uploaded by irish eyes

Because we live at sea level and near the river,
our heating and air conditioning units 
are elevated on a small deck of their own.
There's an unused space on the deck just outside the breakfast room window, 
and it always seemed like a good place to have some flowers.
Earlier this summer, I found a wrought iron stand
to hold a 24-inch planter outside the window.
So for the "second season," I plan to plant pansies there.
They should be beautiful.
And I'm looking forward to opening the window
and watering them from inside the house!

Still Waters blog goes on hiatus beginning tomorrow,
Monday, September 1, 2014 through Monday, December 1, 2014.
With nearly 1,000 daily blog posts from the Shire available 
 in the archives, this will be a good time 
to catch up on what you might have missed.
(Please report any problems with the archives
to me at Thanks!)

I'll check in from time to time between now and December. 
Till then . . .

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Autumn Leaves

Even though it's not officially autumn for three more weeks,
a few leaves are already turning colors.
Here are three I found this morning while I was walking:
This scarlet leaf is beautiful:

I love the orange ones even more
because orange seems like such a happy, exciting color:

But the red and yellow ones are sublime,
even with a little wear and tear:

Ready or not, autumn is on the horizon.
Just one more post before the Still Waters blog goes on hiatus from
Monday, September 1, 2014 through Monday, December 1, 2014.
With nearly 1,000 daily blog posts from the Shire available 
 in the archives, this will be a good time 
to catch up on what you might have missed.
(Please report any problems with the archives
to me at Thanks!)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vinca Jams and Jellies Blackberry

About this time of year,
I start to think about fall flowers.
Fall flowers here will grow and bloom up until November, generally.
So it seems like a good idea to plant some flowers 
that will look festive around Halloween.
Usually people buy orange marigolds and chrysanthemums in autumn colors .
And if they've planned ahead,
they will also have planted some of the dark purple-black sweet potato vine.

Image from growertalks:

But I was in the garden center recently 
and ran across a nearly black vinca, a dark purple color I'd never seen before,
called Jams and Jellies Blackberry.
That name is so delicious you could practically eat it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Scarlet Runner Beans

Decades ago, we lived in a small townhouse with no backyard. 
It did, however, have a concrete patio with fencing on three sides.
I decided I would plant flowers in the narrow dirt strips
where the fence's support posts were anchored.
I don't know why, 
but I never considered planting anything in a pot or planter.

So on one side I grew marigolds in the few inches of soil  available.
On the other, I planted scarlet runner beans.
Unfortunately, the runner beans I grew 
looked nothing like the lush, colorful vine pictured on the seed packet.
The foliage was straggly and pale, leggy at the bottom, weak at the top.
The only parts of the plant that were beautiful
were the tiny scarlet blossoms.
This image is a good facsimile:
photo credit: <a href="">
Jason Riedy</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> 
<a href="">cc</a>

I hadn't thought of that gardening adventure for years.
Only today because I ran across a photo of scarlet runner beans
in an article about the best flowers for late August/early September.
The photo showed an incredibly lush vine 
covered in a profusion of vermilion red blossoms.
My mom used to say, believe none of what you hear
and only half of what you see.
Good advice, particularly when looking at incredibly 
beautiful photos of scarlet runner beans.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Annual flowers are supposed to last only one season,
but I've found that many will re-seed.
That's what's happened with the vinca we planted last year.
But I didn't realize it had re-seeded until I noticed a bright green plant
growing up through a crack between the bricks in our front walk.
This week, it bloomed:

At first glance, it didn't look particularly spectacular,
but up close it was flawless:

And then I found another vinca volunteer, and yet another one.
They were easy to miss there among the impatiens, 
but on closer examination, so pristine and beautiful:

To find that beautiful flowers have volunteered to grow in your garden
makes a lovely late summer surprise.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gladiolus, the Flower for August

Before the last sands of August slip through the hourglass,
I wanted to mention the symbolic flower for August.
It's the gladiolus.
The gladiolus is a long-stalked plant with large opened trumpet flowers
that sport a ruffled edge and  an assortment of vibrant colors.
They are beautiful and delicate, given to falling over when their blossoms are full--
kind of like a Victorian lady on a fainting couch.
Image uploaded by: twdragon 2008

So to me, glads just don't seem like an appropriate choice for August.
They seem like more of a late May, early June kind of flower.
Gladioli are just too refined and frilly to symbolize 
the rough and tumble, the grit and sweat of hot August days.

File:Indian blanket, gaillardia pulchella (8472085600).jpg
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
 [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

August needs a flower that's bold. Something orange or golden yellow,
something that defies the heat of the season and the scorching summer sun.
Maybe a sunflower that grows straight and upright along fields awaiting harvest.
Or coneflowers, with their crew-cut seed heads 
and petals down around their prickly necks.
Perhaps even an Indian Blanket flower.
I've seen them co-mingling with sand burrs near the beach
and growing out of the burning hot sand along a Florida sidewalk.
Now that's a rugged flower.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25th

Another cool, windy day today.
I have to remind myself this is August and not October.
It feels at least like late September.
Even so, it's too early for the colorful flowers of fall: 
asters, chrysanthemums, and goldenrod.
The flowers of summer appear less robust than they were,
with fewer blooms and more seed heads.
Right now, things are primarily green.

When I was walking this evening, 
I noticed the thorny greenbrier vine
 thick all along the edge of the wood.
And the pine needles are still green, as are the maple saplings,
leafy oaks, and the star-shaped gum tree leaves. 
Even the water in the ponds is collecting green moss.
One last dance in an emerald gown
before the autumn gala begins.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Wind

The summer wind came blowin' in from across the sea ...
                                                              --Johnny Mercer

This August in the Shire has been unusual 
in that there have been few days with temperatures in the 90s and 100s.
The milder temperatures have made it easier to take care of my flowers,
but it seems odd that we've had fewer "dog days" than normal.

And today, the wind has blown and blown.
Leaves and pine needles have been hastened from the trees
and scattered to the four corners.
Summer wind, bringing with it what may come.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What the Trees Know

Even though it's still summer, 
there are signs that autumn is stirring.
It starts one leaf at a time

as the light grows softer.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Robins in Late Summer

This morning there was a small commotion
in the tall Chindo viburnum shrubs.
This time of year they get beautiful red berries,
and apparently those berries attracted a few robins
who were feeding with a lot of unrestrained enthusiasm.
They left only a few:

While the robins this morning indulged in a happy frenzy of eating,
 the ones I saw yesterday were more subdued--
so much so, I wondered what they were up to.
The entrance to our part of the neighborhood has a median full of crape myrtle trees.
Very shady, very pretty.
And it's the place where I've seen lurking vultures 
evenly spaced along the sidewalks on each side of the street.
Yesterday, a dozen robins were doing the same thing:
lined up, evenly spaced looking out into the street.
Must be something about the air currents there; 
on the other hand, they could know something we don't.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Pachysandra, commonly known as Japanese Spurge,
is a great ground cover for shady areas,
so we had planted it at our first little house in Virginia
and then again our current home here.
It's supposed to be an aggressive spreader,
but we had never seen that kind of behavior from it.
If anything, it's been a slow grower for us--painfully slow., image uploaded by krosseel

However, this summer, after a few years of it just sitting there,
it's started to show its true colors.
It's spreading, but from my perspective,
it's spreading in the wrong direction--right across my moss path, 
 not in the little bed I've cultivated for it.
I guess it's true what they say, be careful what you ask for.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Picking Fruit

My dad once remarked that there was nothing better
than coming home from school, climbing an apple tree,
and eating a juicy apple from his perch in the branches.
It always seemed like a charming memory to me.
But today I think I found out why the simple act of picking fruit
was such a primal, spiritual experience for him.

Our little fig tree before it set fruit:

I've had a stressful few days, 
trying to get some things ready in time to meet an impending deadline.
But this evening I picked figs for a crostata I plan to make.
It was then I understood the profound attraction that plucking
one perfect apple had for my dad.
Inside the cloak of the fig tree, I felt the supple bending of the branches,
 the massive fig leaves brushing against me,
my fingers touching the soft fruit,
the fig's golden skins glistening with sticky sugar.
Arms reaching up as high as I could make them.
Seems like heaven to me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Arnica Montana

Today I saw a flower bed full of what I thought was calendula officinalis,
or pot marigold. But as I was looking for photos of it,
I realized the flowers I saw aren't actually calendula,
which looks like this:
by TeunSpaans. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

I started hunting for what those yellow-orange flowers might be
and ran across references to arnica montana,
a little-known flowering herb that I've been familiar with
 and occasionally used as an ointment a couple of decades now.

According to Wikimedia Commons, arnica has many names: 
leopard's bane, wolf's bane, mountain tobacco, and my favorite:
Celtic nard (narde being an archaic term for ointment 
prepared from a plant rhizome).
I've never seen arnica growing anywhere, 
but this is what it looks like in bloom:
"Arnica montana 180605" by Bernd Haynold - Own work. 
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 
via Wikimedia Commons -

The cream or gel  prepared from arnica 
has been used for centuries to alleviate the discomfort of muscle sprains, 
aches, pains and  bruising. 
All that and pretty flowers too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Redbud Trees

The Irresistible Nature of Redbud Trees in Late Summer

 I discovered something new about redbud trees.
The two redbuds we planted outside the garage
are in full leaf and hundreds of thin brown seed pods 
are hanging from the branches.
And I have been anticipating their dropping
and eventually showing up as tiny green seedlings in my flower beds--
which is how these two trees started out eleven years ago. image uploaded by pippalou

But today I heard a flutter of titmice in the branches.
I thought maybe they were fledglings with a parent,
but after I watched them awhile, I realized they were adults.
And they were pecking at the slender seedpods, 
cracking the seeds, and eating them.
Soon they departed and a few chickadees flew in and did the same thing.
I guess you just can't keep a good thing quiet.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


This summer, dragonflies have been very prevalent.
They fly all around the house, above the flowers, along the edge of the woods.
One spot they seem to like the best
is the very tip of some forged iron hitching posts 
we have placed among the flowers and by the fig tree.

I don't know why they favor that spot,
and though I ordinarily try to unravel such mysteries,
this one I won't.
Sometimes you just need to preserve the wonder of it all.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Walking through the Cosmos

Actually, we walk by the cosmos at our house.
Most cosmos flowers grow quite tall,
 forming a colorful cloud of blossoms atop feathery foliage.
Our cosmos are much more delicate and low to the ground.
Probably because they are intermingling with the impatiens.
Impatiens easily outgrow most of their companions--
they've completely consumed our lime hosta for example--
and the cosmos are no exception.

But I like the way it looks with them all nestled together.
Cozy and pretty too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wild Violets

Sometimes while hiking, I have come upon small wood violets
nestled in the detritus of the forest floor. 
Full of charm, they look lovely.
So one day when I was at my mom and dad's house,
I took a start of the violets
 they had growing in a small bed near the back door.
I brought the violets home, planted them,
and spent a couple of seasons nurturing them
until they were lush and full enough to shelter the nesting wrens.

I knew violets could be invasive, 
and I was aware some propagate by springing their seeds out into the air. 
Even so, I was pretty confident 
 they would not be able to throw them very far
from the window box on our wood deck.

The violets are coming up everywhere.
Yards away in our moss path,
yards the other way in a flower bed around the corner of the house.
Violets with a mind of their own.
It's a good thing I like them.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blue Geraniums

I really like blue flowers;
they are great for cooling your view on a hot August day.
And they offer a kind of tranquility 
that bright red, yellow, or orange flowers just don't attain.
There aren't many blue flowers in comparison
when it comes time for spring or fall planting though.
I seek them out each year, but ultimately I kill blue lobelia every spring, 
and ruin the summer's blue ageratum a few weeks later.
 But when I was reading about geraniums this week,
I discovered there are hybrid blue geraniums that will tolerate partial shade.
The most popular is the Johnson's blue although it seems a little like a fake geranium.

Here's a Johnson's blue geranium:, image credit: Jusben

Here's an image of blue geraniums in the garden:
File:Geranium 'Johnson's Blue' 01.jpg
By Kor!An (Андрей Корзун) (Own work) 
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], 
via Wikimedia Commons

They remind me a little of bachelor's buttons.
I've read that what most Americans call geraniums are not true pelargoniums,
and surprisingly, the only true pelargonium has blue flowers. 
The red geranium is the imposter.
I guess that means the blue geranium is really "true blue" after all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scented Geranium

It's not summer without a few fragrant herbs growing nearby.
I have a small sage plant, rosemary plant, basil, thyme, and mint.
But my recent post on the standard scarlet geranium
got me thinking about the other kinds of geraniums:
different colors (salmon, pink); different habits (trailing, upright);
and scented.

Scented Geranium (Pelargonium odoratissimum)
File:Pelargonium odoratissimum (14559814110).jpg
By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada 
(Pelargonium odoratissimum)  [CC-BY-2.0
 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I love scented geraniums.
They have such a deep, aromatic perfume,
one that is supposed to deter mosquitoes.
I've never had them work in that regard,
but scented geraniums smell so wonderful, 
it's hard to be disappointed in them.
If you've never had one,
they are a delightful cross between an herb and a flower.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Happiness is ... In the Shire

Happiness is found in little things ...

Here's what's been going on in the Shire the last couple of days:

An Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly 
floated through the air and lit gently on the parsley that has regrown
since the hungry caterpillars cut it down to a few stalks.
Another settled on a fence and open and closed its wings 
in the morning sun. Image credit: pippalou

Two hummingbirds had a gentle, but determined, disagreement
over which of them was entitled to the nectar 
in the impatiens and pale violet hosta blossoms.

Two juvenile doves hopped and then flew
when I approached their resting spot while I was riding my bike.

Black-and-white Warbler Photo
Image credit: John McKean,

A black and white striped warbler trekked up and down 
one of our oak trees.

The figs ripened  enough for us to pick about a quart and a half tonight.
Fig jam is coming!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dew on Grass

For in the dew of little things, 
the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
                                        --Kahlil Gibran

It's not surprising to see dew on the  morning grass,
but early this evening while we were walking,
we came upon a small circle of dew drops
 resting on a spider web in the grass.

If you look closely, in the lower right quarter the spider rests.
He looks pretty refreshed to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


One flower that is emblematic of summer is the red geranium.
Red geraniums are eye-catching and colorful and I love them.
However, for some reason, the classic red geranium doesn't do well under my care.
Like petunias, classic geraniums are generally antagonistic
to all my attempts to nurture them.
I do better with ivy geranium and scented geranium,
but, alas, my heart belongs to the standard.

Who could resist this kind of perfection? image credit: peeperman

Or this? image credit: cohdra

The symbolism of the geranium is rather peculiar. 
Some sources say it reflects grace, respect, value.
Other say stupidity. 
I guess you can take your pick.
But to choose stupidity seems rather--you know.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Giving a Fig

Last year, a friend of mine gifted us with a bag of figs.
I made fig jam and it was delicious:

I just noticed that the figs on our over-shaded fig tree are just beginning to ripen.
I'm excited about that because we like to pluck them and eat them right under the tree.
We don't get many, just enough. 
Here's last year's crop, all that was left after the birds and squirrels got their share:

Faced with an impending fig harvest of minor proportions, 
I started thinking about the expression "give a fig,"
as in "I don't give a fig."
According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
fig in this expression is not a euphemism for the f-word in English.
The expression dates back to Shakespeare's time
when a Spanish insult  was to display one's thumb 
tucked between the index and middle finger.
This gesture, called fico, was referred to as the Fig of Spain.
Displaying the Spanish fico meant something or someone 
was inconsequential, without value, or contemptible.
As often happens, the meaning takes on different nuances over time.
So the newer meaning of not giving a fig means you don't care
because it's beneath your contempt.
Even so, I have to say I do give a fig-- 
about sweet ripe figs on a summer day. ;-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Marigolds as Meditation

As most gardeners know, 
the best way to keep marigolds growing thick and full of blossoms
 is to dead head the flowers that have finished blooming.
Sometimes I do this early in the morning,
but more often I enjoy dead heading them  in the late afternoon,
after the heat of the day has gone.

There are some good reasons not to enjoy dead heading marigolds:
the strong odor, yellowed fingers, the multitudes of tiny "no-see-ums,"
little flying insects lighter than air and quicker than your ability to swat them away
as they rise from the flowers.
But this evening  I could hear bees buzzing,
cardinals chirping, and the low whirring sound of cicadas in the woods.
Dead heading marigolds becomes meditation.

 I collect the spent flower heads in a bucket
and then toss them into the woods where I can see them from my kitchen window.
A beautiful golden swath of yellow and golden orange blossoms
brighten the otherwise dull tan and brown forest floor.
Marigolds as meditation--and as art.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Impatiens and Hummingbirds

In the last few days, 
hummingbirds have begun to appear all around the house. 
They flit from flower to flower, 
but they seem to have less interest in the hosta blossoms
and more in the impatiens.

The impatiens have loved all the recent rain,
and they are mounding--one of their best features.
The hummingbirds can't seem to get enough of them.

Here are some impatiens  in the front of my house:

And a few at the garage door:

I've always known impatiens were beautiful,
but this summer the hummingbirds have made me realize
that they must also be pretty sweet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Red Door

Last night we happened to drive by our first house.
Even though we moved in when it was built, about 30 years ago,
it looks pretty much the same. 
Same steep driveway, same Burford holly hedge across the front porch.
Same red brick and light gray exterior.
And the same gray front door.
When I lived there, I always said that someday I would have a red door.
And now I have four red doors on my house.
Here's the garage side door:

Sometimes you get what you ask for--
and it's pretty good!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Moss or Boxwood

This is my second summer spent painting kitchen cabinets.
It's really not a very big kitchen, 
but there are cabinets lining 3 of the walls, plus an island.
So I paint and think about how I'll decorate my breakfast room table
when it is no longer a painting station.

I'd like to have a Meyer lemon tree there, 
or maybe a rosemary topiary or a bay tree.
But I'm realistic about what will grow there in the breakfast room; 
I've already killed a rosemary topiary and a bay tree.
I figure a Meyer lemon wouldn't stand a chance.

So I'm leaning toward a dried moss topiary.
On the other hand, I really prefer a live plant.
Since I haven't killed the boxwood growing in pots on my front porch yet,
 I may try a live miniature boxwood in a pot on the table.

And if that doesn't work, well,
the Meyer lemon has been forewarned.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Partridge Pea

A very pretty, lacy bright green weed 
has sprung up all along one of our flower beds:

It's so pretty, we haven't yet pulled it up.
I decided to see if I could find out what it is,
so I googled "pretty weed in Hampton Roads."
And from what I saw on Google Images, 
our mystery weed may be a partridge pea, 
If so, the ones we have are young plants.

When partridge peas get older, they get very tall, the leaves are less smooth, 
and the plant puts forth lovely yellow orchid-like flowers
 that are attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees:

File:Bumble Bees Love Partridge Peas (7475614008).jpg
By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If our plant is indeed a partridge pea, 
we will need to decide if we are going to nurture it
or destroy it because it can be invasive and messy.
Que sera sera!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Magnolia Pods

Rain. Rain. Rain.
Three days worth, so I've been spending a lot of time working on projects indoors
and alternately looking out the windows, hoping to see some sun.
Yesterday I noticed the sweet bay magnolia tree near my front door
held a single creamy white flower.
Today I noticed it had turned brown,
 but the seed pods from previous flowers are now rose pink to red.

Soon the robins and mockingbirds will arrive 
to feast on the magnolia's red seed berries.
Let's hope they'll be eating them in the sunshine.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Grow Where You're Planted

Years ago I heard the saying "grow where you're planted."
I don't know why, but I've always remembered it.
And it came to mind this morning when I was in the historic district 
of downtown Portsmouth. I was hurrying back to my car,
balancing a cup of coffee, a small bag, a purse, and my car keys
--but no umbrella, which would have been handy since it was starting to rain.

But as I was hurrying, 
I saw a literal example of "grow where you're planted"
that stopped me in my tracks.
There are spot lights embedded in that particular section of sidewalk,
there to illuminate the side of a museum.
And growing in one of the lights, this weed:

The light created a natural terrarium and this bright green weed took advantage, 
growing where it was planted by nature's hand.
Pretty cool.

Friday, August 1, 2014

August 2014

It's August already. 
It doesn't really seem possible, but there it is. 
The paradox of time--it goes fast,
ergo the Latin term tempus fugit, "time flies."

Mayan Calendar image uploaded by kconnors

I was browsing the web and discovered that August 2014
will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays*
That means 5 weekends to enjoy the remaining weeks of summer.
And better yet, there will only be 4 Mondays--
that's right, Feriis quatuor!