Sunday, August 17, 2014


She has been gone two days now.  I'm full of sobs.  Not fair, not ever fair.  And yet, lucky for her that she went peacefully, in sleep, shortly after we spent an hour on the couch in the living room, and I brought up every memory from our big pond of lucky, happy moments.

The smile was bigger than the woman.  The eyes!  I told her she had the prettiest eyes I'd ever seen.  I snapped this picture in 2010 when members of her family visited us in University City before our move to St. Peters.

Today I went through my pictures and selected a nice set for Kathy's memorial visitation.  They bring back memories, and it's as if she comforts me in my grief.

We had just fallen in love a few weeks before we set up this "selfie" in University City on New Year's Day, 2009.

We were made for each other.  That's what it felt like every day we were together.  We had done the work of growing up and shouldering the pain of loss, and when we discovered our pathways of communication it was as if our late spouses had manipulated Fate to bring us together.

Kathy had bought a collection of daylilies at her West Plains home several years before we got together.  I was a hybridizer; she wanted to try her hand at hybridizing.  Her intellectual gifts were formidable.  She applied them to our daylily collection -- the dozens of plants I bought for her and "my" plants at the top of our lot.  She evaluated all the collection and gave me a list of "my" plants that she wanted in the back yard with her collection.  She would have become an outstanding hybridizer, though she only had two seasons available to her.  Here she is last summer in the back yard.

She was so thoughtful about the process that she never made a high number of crosses.  She ran out of time each day.  She was one for the proper equipment and clothing.  A shady hat, a vest from the Bass Pro shop with innumerable pockets and places to clamp things.  She worked at exploring the potential of various color combinations, always trying to make the most use of her favorite cultivars, FLYING TRAPEZE and WIZARD'S WAND.

I planted Kathy's 2013 seedlings two weeks ago, when she was too weak to walk the property with me.  Today I spent the morning replacing the plastic labels in the seedling bed with sturdy metal ones.  I love the way Kathy worked at hybridizing; I love the plants she made.  I miss her like crazy today, when I would have told her about the growth of those new transplants.

She struck poses for me wherever we went.  She knew I enjoyed her animation.  Here she is on the beach during our Florida trip in 2011.

She struck this pose for my iPhone in Santa Fe a year ago.  She had lost about 60 pounds due to the difficulty of eating during and after radiation to the throat and neck.  But when this picture was taken, we believed she had been cured.

I love this pose from that Santa Fe trip.

And then....  And then....  
When she complained about pain long after she should have been pain-free, her ENT specialist ordered a biopsy of the "fried" node in her neck.  There were live cancer cells there.  He said, "I don't like what I see; it has to come out."  So at the end of October, he performed what he later called "the hairiest operation I have ever done," and followed the legs of an octopus-like tumor wherever it went and was confident that he "got it all."

Before this operation, Kathy asked me to take some pictures of her in case the surgery would disfigure her.  This is my favorite of the set, from October, 2013.

Oh, if only that had been the end of it.  But there was more cancer, this time eating away at her neck bones, discovered when she suddenly lost the use of her left arm on Christmas Eve. And so, from then until she died peacefully two days ago, we became a couple using our wits and ingenuity, and all our talents, to survive a killer condition.

It was not all-consuming, though it was a dominant feature of our lives.  Under that dominance, we wallowed in the joys we shared.  Kathy had collected all the Erle Stanley Gardner stories of Perry Mason, and she was reading her way through them and giving me the best for my bedside reading.  We grew up with that TV series in the 50s and 60s, and so we watched all the DVDs of those programs all over again.  We had loved the work of James Garner, beginning with the "Maverick" TV series, so I bought all the Maverick DVDs and we watched them starting in her hospital room in January when she was in for several days of tests and strategizing before surgery on her neck.

As we got to the end of Maverick, I bought all six seasons of "Have Gun - Will Travel" with Richard Boone.  We were on our second time through that series when Kathy ran out of life.

She set up a little "desk away from my desk" at her favorite Living Room chair, a little area of essential office supplies and a rack for storing her current magazines, books, and her tablet.  She used the tablet to read her daily newspaper after she lost the ability to hold up the pages, as in this photo I took at a Starbuck's a couple of years ago.

Yesterday when I went through her little "office" area next to her chair I found a doodle that I think she wanted me to come across on my own, a little light-hearted surprise.

One of our running jokes had to do with Kathy's "recommendations" or "tips" about how to drive, do laundry, wash her hair, etc. etc.  I would say, "Thanks for the TIP!"  So I suppose she worked out international symbols for tips and reminders and tucked her doodle away for me to find.

Kathy was a great organizer of space.  She could hang pictures in a gallery, design home renovations or an entire house (she did this in West Plains), and equip her household with all manner of organizing supplies from the Container Store.  We moved into a thirty-year old house that needed a lot of work.  Kathy mapped out the changes in the windows, the floors, and the spaces of the house, including a total remodel of both bathrooms.  Here she is with our beloved contractor, Steve Brandt early in the demolition of the wall separating the living room from the two bathrooms.

I fell in love with Kathy's nature, it's as simple as that.  I thought of her as the adult embodiment of the child on a hiking trip with her dad, one of my favorite pictures of her.

This vivacious ten-year-old was present in the adult.  She was hungry for life to her last day, when she allowed her death to complete its work while she rested.

I have resolved to honor her nature in all my days ahead, as I still honor San, who died in the summer of 2008.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Personalities of Plants

Many of the plants here have personalities.  Take, for instance this colonnade of the ornamental grass, Karl Foerster.

Sometimes I think of these as an honor guard.  Other times they are a chorus line of dancers with big plumes waving in the breeze.  We planted them along this series of paths that provide an easy way to walk though large beds of daylilies, with a wheelbarrow, a watering hose, or a friend.  

From this vantage point, you can see that the paths form a diagonal line with respect to the curves that define the edges of the beds.  Hidden Lake Drive is not visible in this picture.  It's on a horizontal line about 2/3 of the way up the image.  People walking from right to left on Hidden Lake Drive would take notice of this colonnade cutting across the opposed curves of the flower beds and converging on a berm that defines the corner of our front lawn.

Kathy placed these bright coneflowers against the block wall that was three feet farther back when we moved in.  The planting area on this side of the wall was too big.  The planting area on the other side was three inches!  Kathy asked our "resident contractor," Steve Brandt, to move the wall so that we could plant on both sides.  The wall reminds me of many walls I saw in two trips to Italy some years ago, so the wall has "personality" that I invest in it.

A little farther up the wall, there's a zigzag to make the wall meet the column supporting a white globe "night light."  I wanted some lavender plants, and Kathy dressed one of them up with this bright raspberry Yarrow, backed by the feathery foliage and small cream pink flowers of a Potentilla bush.

Another effect I like very much is the juxtaposition of sedum plants (Kathy has a big collection) with plants of contrasting texture.  In the upper left, a native Baptisia plant with yellow flowers in May.  Garden phlox on the upper right.  Yarrows here and there.  It's the sedums, though, that speak to me of Kathy's nature.  I am fascinated with all of her collections; her buttons, her Shawnee china, her full set of Perry Mason books by Erle Sanley Gardner.

There are several personalities in the circular bed above.  I planned this around the "patient presence" of a Crimson Pygmy Barberry plant.  I first bought one of these to anchor the end of a long bed of daylilies at The Green Center in University City.  I loved the effect of pink or rose daylilies with the Barberry as a background presence.

Here I think the bed is crowded with too many nice ideas.  I love the coral pink annual poppies.  I also love the blue violet Geranium, Rozanne, but it grows pretty big for the space it's in, and I love the blue flowers of Plumbago, which is not quite visible in this picture and is not yet in bloom.  The big clump of the daylily Barbara Mitchell in the foreground is going to overpower the bed in another two weeks when it's in bloom, so I have to think about reducing the bulk of that plant.

Here is a daylily that carries a twenty year memory for me, BITSY.

This plant was a Father's Day gift from my late wife, San, back in 1993 when we lived in Hyde Park, Vermont and bought many of our garden plants from Don and Lela Avery at the nearby Cady's Falls Nursery.  Bitsy starts the daylily season for us and it comes back with another round of bloom in the fall, continuing until a killing frost in November.  

In another bed in the back yard is a daylily named RIVER WIND by my California friend, Bonnie Holley.  What a personality this plant has!

This calls to mind an extravagant daylily purchase I made fourteen years ago, when Matthew Kaskel introduced his TAR AND FEATHER and said that if anyone owned just one of his daylilies, that should be the one.  I bought it, and I was wowed by the bold color and pattern.  Tar and Feather is the grandparent of Bonnie's RIVER WIND.  I see the vibrant color personality of it, but this plant is not a knock-off.  It's a step along the path of discovery that is hybridizing.

Our vegetable beds have been planted for ornamental impact this year.  In one of them we've got four artichoke plants that seem to double in size every couple of weeks.  With any luck we will be harvesting artichokes in October.  Getting there with such a statuesque plant is going to be fun!

I have enough frozen pesto to last four or five years at the rate we use it, so there is no reason to grow Basil plants except for the look of them and the scent of their leaves.  Believe me, when the San Marzano tomatoes are eating size, they will be served with fresh leaves of green or purple Basil.  I have four plants of dill to the left of the green Basil.  That's for salmon dinners or just for the fun of having a self-seeding dill forest close at hand.

Beyond the Basil bed is a feeding area for bunnies or ducks, I don't know which.  I planted the whole bed in Swiss Chard.  Some of the plants have been nibbled to ground level, while others are beginning to look too big for nibbles.  I do hope some thrive long enough to provide me with ingredients for the saute pan.

To me, these associations with memory and with human qualities are the essence of gardening.  My garden is a collection of emotional triggers.  My life is in these plantings, hundreds of stories too involved to tell, hundreds of moments, a kaleidoscope of prayer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Day Camp for Toddler Geese

Carl Brandt and his helper, Jacob, are rebuilding our dock.  The grass along our part of the lakeshore is the favorite restaurant of several families of Canada Geese.  So when builders put on waders and enter the water, I wonder if the geese consider them some kind of water fowl.

They started the project yesterday by exposing the joists and piers to see if they were usable.  They are.  The challenge is to convert the dock's wavy profile into something straight and level.  They've attached a band board on the left side, leveled it, and begun the work of attaching the joists to this new level.

The green stuff in the water is the first big bloom of algae.

The area they're working on will be the lower of two levels.  The area with floorboards still attached will be rebuilt somewhat higher, with a dock entrance that is wider than the dock.

As the men worked in the mid-afternoon, several new families of Canada geese brought their goslings onto my neighbor's back yard for what reminded me of day camp.  The local duck didn't know what to make of it!

The two farthest goslings are "Teen Youth Leaders."  They were the firstborn on our lake.  Two younger families are down there, but only one is visible, with six goslings.

When the parents saw me taking pictures, they all moved together onto our back yard and down to the lake shore about twenty feet away from the non-threatening work on the dock.

Trailing behind them came a family of five.  This is how the trailing adult prods the toddlers to keep a move on toward the water.

While the procession moved into the water, the workmen shifted their attention to the band board on the right side.

When they leveled the right band board, they found that the piers on the right side were five or six inches taller than on the left side.  They will cut off the excess and continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Still Life with Peonies

We grow a patch of peonies and irises off to the right side of our big daylily show in the back yard.  We bought some from Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery, selected because of "self-supporting" stems, and we added one or two over the past couple of years.  We have several of the whopper Itoh peonies, too.  They combine features of the woody tree peony and the more delicate standard varieties, and their flowers can be as wide as a salad plate.

The show is on now, and sometimes when you're up close, what you see can remind you of still life paintings you see in museums.

This is a peony named White Cap.  The white blossom behind it is a fabulous peony named Do Tell.

This is the massive plant of Do Tell that I planted as just a small thing from Song Sparrow Nursery in 2011, so this is the third season we've seen it in bloom, and this is a wowzer!  Here's a solo blossom of Do Tell.

I am thrilled by the appearance of peonies that can support their flowers.  Here is Itoh peony Yumi.

I bought this in a large container at one of the local nurseries.  I had planned to add one more each year but the plants are growing so well that the space is already maxed out.

Here is White Cape again, with Itoh peony Mikasa on the right.

Do Tell is in the background, and the small mound of little purple flowers to the right of Do Tell is a fabulous hardy geranium, Max Frei.

Up around our small patio, we planted an alternating pattern of Hosta First  Frost and the geranium Max Frei, which makes for a wonderful display of color and texture in the second half of May.

And here's some of the work ahead in the next couple of days, a living To-Do List.

There's a tray of yellow zinnias not in bloom next to a tray of unusual red portulacas, also not in bloom, a set of Johnson Blue geraniums for one of the berms, some Wooly Thyme for the berms, several sedums for Kathy's collection, and what-have-you.

Yesterday I went to Home Depot for another 12 Lariope starts and paused to inspect the vegetable offerings again.  We've been searching and searching for the San Marzano tomatoes.  They resemble the Italian Romas but are meatier and sweeter; the best for Italian dishes.  You can find Romas everywhere.  The name is easy.  You can't find San Marzanos almost ever.  Many nurserymen don't recognize the name.  It's not easy, so it won't sell like Roma sells.  But Home Depot does not select which varieties it will sell.  It buys a collection of veggies from some supplier, a big collection to suit all needs, and the latest shipment, which I browsed yesterday, included SAN MARZANOS!!

I also bought a pot of feathery Dill, a pot of purple Basil, a pot of green Basil, and four pots of Artichokes.  I already have four plants of Anaheim chilis in the garden, so the California theme, or the Italian theme, will expand!  There are three Basil plants in each pot, so I will divide each pot and plant the Basil plants several feet apart so they can grow into edible shrubbery!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Curves and Diagonals

We live on the shore of tiny Hidden Lake, on a property shaped like a wide slice of pie that slants down from the street to the water.  Our lot is downhill from our neighbors on either side, downhill from the neighbors across the street and beyond, so when it rains, much the water that doesn't soak down into the dense clay soil runs off into small drainage channels and into a larger drainage swale that cuts down through the left side of our lot.

Much of the water does NOT get to that swale, though, so the primary strategic need of landscaping here is to manage the flows of all that water "on the run."  The aim is to convert regular washout catastrophes into occasional annoyances.

Here is a diagonal swale we made in the lawn when we saw how storm water found its way from the rain spouts on garage side of the house down to the lake.  Our contractor laid pipes to carry the outflow from the rain gutters under the lawn to a discharge point just below the feet of the bird bath.  From there it runs down a gentle groove between the flower beds into the lake.

This channel is a diagonal with respect to the sightlines from the house.  It divides the pie piece into smaller sections.  Meanwhile, the geometry of the beds is curved to mirror the shoreline.

The same thing was done last fall on the right side of the back yard where I had dug a graceless channel for storm water in 2011.  Our contractor used his tractor to widen my channel and add some grace to it.  Underground pipes convey water from the rain gutters to a point above the flower gardens and the outflow empties into the graceful channel.

To the right of the channel is an area for our daylily seedling beds.  Last spring we added metal edging to define all the beds and to deflect water.  Now we are adding lines of brick to help us develop a slight terraced effect in each strip of seedlings or paths.  The paths will be covered with cypress mulch.  Some of them were done last year.  Now that the scheme has proved effective in the upper section, we will carry it out in the lower section.

Where'd we get the bricks?  I imagine they are the former owner's patio.  I found them tossed or arranged in the main drainage swale on the left side of the property, part of the mound of rubble that prevented storm water from staying in the channel.  So I tossed 'em aside, one by one and chunk by chunk until the channel held the water.  Then we stacked them and waited for a way to use them.  We have recycled what I called "The Hidden Lake Rubble Museum."


Friday, March 7, 2014

Outdoors at Last!

I finished planting our daylily seeds this morning.  One final pot with seeds from a couple of short crosses I went back into the seed bag to hunt for.  One was Kathy's cross of WIZARD'S WAND x unknown.  WIZARD'S WAND has been one of her favorites in the garden, so even when a tag is lost or is unreadable, Kathy wants to see the outcome.  Here is WIZARD'S WAND, hybridized by the wonderful daylily mentor for so many people, the late Steve Moldovan from Avon, Ohio.

The other cross involves Rich Howard's PAWPRINTS ON MY HEART and again the pollen came from "unknown," though in this case there's a good chance the parent was Subhana Ansari's SECRET OF SECRETS, another favorite here.  This is PAWPRINTS ON MY HEART:


I took that picture just before sundown in late June.  The flower has all-day glamour!  Let's hope for great germination!

I'll say a little more about the Burpee bricks of coconut coir from Home Depot, costing $2.47 a brick and making 8 quarts of seed starter.  This is what the product looks like:

You don't see the words "coconut coir" there.  Who would know that that is?  Better to call it by a plain vanilla name, "concentrated seed starting mix."  It's a very lightweight material, highly compressed, and totally dry.  Unwrap it and put it in the bucket.

Then pour in 4.5 quarts of water and let the show begin!

The brick wicks up the water, all of it, without your intervention.  Just walk away for five or six minutes and this is what you'll see:

The brick has absorbed all the water, even into the driest recesses.  What you see is a fully decomposed brick needing only to be dumped into a larger container.  I mix this with an equal amount of Perlite to get a lighter and fluffier planting mix.  (The package says the material is ready to use in 2 minutes.  I have been unable to verify this claim and suspect it's the invention of the advertising department.  I've made a lot of these, and they all take 5-6 minutes to soak up all the water.)

With some reasonable pre-spring weather coming up, I moved all the trays outside this afternoon.  The seeds will germinate when the planting mix warms up.  That could be any time in the next three or four weeks.  Probably they won't germinate all at once.  I hope it will be fun to see all the green sprouts come up.  I hope there are thousands of them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Planting Daylily Seeds

Were it not for the prolonged Arctic weather here, I would have begun planting my seeds right after Valentine's Day.  However, it doesn't hurt to wait until the nighttime temperatures lift up into the twenties.  I'm watching the temperature because this year Keb and I are setting our trays of planted seeds outside.  The idea is to catch three weeks of "natural refrigerator" temperatures while the seeds are absorbing moisture from the planting mix or other causes; then to wait for germination when the temperatures warm up enough.

Here's the starting setup in our basement yesterday.

There's a plastic tub full of last year's planting mix.  I use Burpee bricks of coconut coir which I get at Home Depot in late February.  I put the brick into a bucket, add a generous 4.5 quarts of tap water, wait a few minutes, and then massage the decomposing brick into a moist bucketful of light and fluffy planting medium.  I make two batches of coir at a time and dump the material into a plastic container like the one pictured here.

Then I put on a face mask and pour an equal amount of Perlite into the container and mix it well with the coir to make a fluffier planting medium.  The face mask is important because Perlite makes a fine dust when poured or worked.  Once worked in, the mask comes off.

I have a supply of 5.5" square pots saved from previous trips to the nurseries, some water to add to the mix I stored over the fall and winter, and some 8" plastic stakes on which I have stuck labels identifying the seeds I'm about to plant.  I use a Brother P-Touch label maker with 1/2" TZ tape, black print on a white background so that I can put this year's labels over last year's labels on saved plastic stakes.  Everything is reused until it wears out.

Last year I planted 4 rows per pot and it was tricky separating the seedlings when it came time to transplant them.  This year, I'm using more pots and more mix so that I can have only 3 rows per pot.  I have a handy 4" tool for smoothing joint compound or applying spackle to a wall.  You can see it in the background.  I use it to define the rows in the planting medium.

Seeds go informally into each row, nestled close together.  You can see them in the middle row there.  I sort my seeds alphabetically.  If a numbered seedling is a pod parent, its number is the first part of its name, so all the numbered seedling seeds are planted first in my system.  The pollen parent is listed after the pod parent.  If you can read my labels, the pod parent at this stage of planting is 13-116 Truly-TX  which is shorthand for TRULY ANGELIC X TEXAS BLUE EYES.

Here's a picture of 13-116 followed by a picture of MAYA BLUE.

Sometimes I have only a few seeds from a cross I've decided to plant, and sometimes the packets with only a few seeds are next to each other in my planting sequence.  The result is a pot with a lot of plastic labels!

I care enough about the chances of success to bother with the inconvenience at transplant time.

This year I'm planting more than twice the number of seeds for which I'll have space for transplanted seedlings.  I'm allowing for some losses due to poor germination (once in a while a particular cross doesn't germinate at all), and also for my intention to discard wimpy seedlings when I'm ready to transplant.  The runts would be shaded by more vigorous neighbors, so they would never develop.  Seedlings I plant this year will come into bloom in 2015.  I'll make final selections from this crop in 2016 and compost all the rest.

There are at least 36 seeds to a pot, 8 pots to a tray, 16 trays to hold about 4,600 seeds.  I got half the job done yesterday.