Our time at my mother-in-law's cabin has been restful. Besides making Thanksgiving dinner, we've done very little. We've taken a few walks, built fires in the fireplace, and watched the lake for waterfowl. We haven't seen too many exciting birds, just a lot of coots, several scaups and a pair of buffleheads. The neighbor said that there was a flock of snow geese yesterday morning before we arrived, but there has been no sign of them today.
Last night Spouse did some casting (he was very careful not to call it fishing).
Dexter coordinated his naps with the sun.
Just a little while ago, we had a beautiful sunset.
Gardening is . . . a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby and sweaty, though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life.
This winter I will be planning at least one - and possibly two - new garden areas. So, as I read The Essential Earthman, by Henry Mitchell, for the Garden Blogger's Book Club this month, I sought out Mitchell's advice on garden design.
Although the entire book is full of juicy tidbits and witty bon mots about designing a garden, most of the design-related advice is contained in two chapters: "Up and Down the Garden Path - Or, Designs for Gardening" and "Reflections on Gardening." As per usual, Mitchell has a lot of specific advice - some of which he admits to breaking himself - about designing the garden. Some of this advice I took to heart, some not so much - which would be just the way that Mitchell would want it.
One of Mitchell's primary themes is that the garden must first please the gardener: " . . . it is more important for the gardener to be enchanted than for critics to be pleased" (p. 69). Of course, this being Mitchell, he then goes on for several pages giving his opinion about what should or shouldn't be done in the garden (make it rectangular; don't copy any particular style, especially Japanese; walks should be straight; walks should be paved; the center should be open; avoid any show of wealth; don't use sculpture)
I sometimes think Mitchell states his opinion very strongly so that we - his readers - will have a strong reaction. My impression is that Mitchell would probably write his columns with a little gleam in his eye and a smile twitching at the corners of his lips, hoping to incite a bit of argument, not because he cared if the reader agreed with him, but because he hoped that the reader would put up a bit of a fight in the process of discovering his or her own opinions on the matter.
Now, as a stubborn gardener, I have no intention of following all of Mitchell's specific advice. However, he has some important things to say about the big picture. One thing I found very helpful was his discussion of scale. He writes, "The scale of the garden should generally be much larger than seems right on paper. There should be fewer 'elements' of design than usual, and those few should be larger" (p. 70). Later in the same chapter he writes about planting an apple tree (or really, any tree), and reminds us that it is "roughly the size of a garage" (p. 80). This, for me, was an eye-opener. Somehow, it is easier for me to picture a garage - and it's bulk - in my mind's eye than an apple tree.
Mitchell advises that gardeners choose smaller plants than we think we want, because over time they will become bigger than we imagine. He says, "As a general rule, it works best to plant [a small tree] wherever you want a 'big' tree . . . . That is because 'small' trees like the crabs and dogwoods will reach the roof of a two-story house and are as big as you probably have in mind for an oak" (p. 76).
Along with determining the correct scale for your lot, Mitchell also recommends that any planning be done with the land itself in mind. "Garden plans on paper are all very well, but the lay of the land dictates almost everything. Therefore, no precise decisions should be made about the placement of important plants without an intimate knowledge of the land itself" (p. 78). It is Mitchell's argument that some of the best gardens are not those that are intricately planned, but those that evolve over the years as a gardener responds to the needs of his or her plants in relation to the gardener's specific little plot of land. The garden constantly evolves through trial and error.
That is not to say that Mitchell doesn't have ideas about what looks best in a garden. Throughout the book he advocates for symmetry, lines and borders. I get the feeling he wouldn't be too enchanted with a naturalistic garden. The symmetry, however, is there to contain the informal nature of plants: "Plan with severe formality, then plant informally within these formal bounds, and nature will tend to the rest, provided you correct your errors as you notice them" (p. 71).
In the end, though, each garden is a reflection of the person who makes it, and I think that's what Mitchell enjoys best about gardening. Although he delights in regaling readers with his opinions, I believe that he not-so-secretly reveled in the wide diversity and infinite variety of amateur gardens. As he says, "Your garden will reveal your self. Do not be terrified of that" (p. 71).
All quotations from The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell, First Indiana University Press paperback edition, 2003.
The super-sized Thanksgiving weekend is probably my favorite holiday break, and for me it starts tomorrow. For the past several years, neither Spouse's nor my family has been in town, so we head up to his mother's cabin in central Minnesota - just the two of us (with MIL's permission, of course!) We hike through the woods and build big fires in the fireplace. It's the last peaceful weekend until after the new year.
This picture was taken on a Thanksgiving weekend about three or four years ago. For me, it captures the season perfectly: the dock is pulled up on the beach, the lake has a skim of ice on it, and there seems as if there is not another person around for miles.
This year, the lake will most likely still be open, and we may get lucky and see some migrating waterfowl. The weather is supposed to be in the 50's and sunny for the next several days, so we will be able to spend a lot of time hiking through the woods across the road.
I had already planned to take Wednesday off, partly because it's my
birthday, but mainly to start getting the feast ready. However, Dexter
the dog has to go to the vet in the morning for an echocardiogram and
and EKG, so my extra day off has become a little less fun (and maybe even
a real bummer if we discover the potential heart disease is bad).
Heart disease or no, Dexter will spend a lot of his lake time on the daybed, luxuriating in pillows and sunlight. That's just what he does.
The ice is starting to form on the pond. It actually started about 2 weeks ago. We got a skim of ice that lasted a few days and then melted as the temperatures got over 40 degrees. Once the temperature dropped again, the ice formed again. This process will happen over and over until sometime around the end of November, when the temperatures will stay below 32 for good (or at least until spring).
As many in the garden blogging community know, Carol over at May Dreams Garden has organized the Garden Blogger's Book Club, which is reading Henry Mitchell's The Essential Earthman this month.
However, fewer people may know that Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening fame suggested using LibraryThing (LT) as one forum for discussing the book. She started a group called Gardening, to which some bloggers - and LibraryThing'ers - have posted.
In the past week, I've become hooked on LT. Over in the right-hand column of my blog you'll see a few random selections from my gardening library. To see my entire library (still a work in progress), click here. For anyone who is interested in books and has a perfectionist streak, I highly recommend checking out LT. A lifetime membership is only $25, which is a steal.
Just for the heck of it, I created a lens over at Squidoo. Today was a chance to create a lens and have 100% of the proceeds go to Room to Read, a charity that builds schools.
I built the lens more to learn about Squidoo - to try to see what the deal is. At this point, it seems pretty cool but I find it difficult to navigate or to find anything. For example, if I search the lens I just built, I can't find it. Maybe that's because it's just in the "My Favorite Things" area, I'm not sure. Without playing with it more, I'm not sure how helpful it would be for this blog or my business.
Also - now that we (finally) have both high-speed internet and wireless at home, I hope to be able to post a little more often. During the summer I tended to post from work (yep, I'm the boss so I can do it), but I've gotten really busy and haven't had time.
Anyway, we'll see. I want to start doing some vegetable reviews before I completely forget about all the wonderful bounty we had this summer (and are still enjoying with a few more potatoes and the first opened jar of pickles).
In honor of deer hunting season, which opened on Saturday in Minnesota, I thought I would write about our largest four-legged pest - the white-tailed deer. The deer population is exploding in Minnesota.
Someone told me that there are and estimated 1.8 million deer in the
state, which is one for every 3 people. This year, in some areas of the
state hunters can take up to five (!) deer as long as four of them are
antlerless (i.e., female).
Just 15 years ago, a scene like this would have been rare in an inner-ring suburb of Minnesota, even on a pond.
Now, we see these deer - plus about five others - on an almost daily basis. Here they are innocuously munching on buckthorn tips that are growing from the as-yet-unpulled roots of the bushes we had bulldozed out earlier this summer.
However, as pretty as they look while eating next to the pond, I have very mixed emotions about deer. I never wrote about it (I think because it pissed me off so much), but I'm pretty sure that the deer have figured out how to get past the deer fence we put up this spring. Either that or they are brazen enough to walk right next to the back door, up five wooden steps to the deck, across about 30 feet of deck situated next to several very large windows, and into the garden.
I had my suspicions about deer in the garden when the hostas started disappearing. At the time, though, I wrote it off to the rabbits branching out in new culinary directions. Then one morning as I went out for my pre-work garden walk-through, I found every last asparagus stalk eaten to about 8" off the ground. This was in August, so the fronds were about four feet tall.
I can't imagine that the rabbits could have done it: The fronds were too large, the remaining stalks were too tall, and it was all eaten in one night. The same thing happened last year, but there was incriminating evidence - hoofprints. (This one event was the impetus for putting up the deer fence this spring.) This year there were no hoofprints, so I don't have definitive proof that the deer did it.
Then, as we got closer to the end of August, I noticed that the Kentucky Blue pole beans - growing on a tepee - were starting to look sparse. There were still beans, but it seemed like there were fewer leaves. On closer inspection it looked as if the leaves were being nipped off.
There is only one creature that lives in the Twin Cities that could eat the leaves from the top of a six-foot-tall bean tepee - deer. Now, maybe the leaves were starting to fall off as the summer waned. We had a very hot, dry end to the summer, and maybe the plant was feeling the stress. However, the Purple Podded pole beans were on a trellis not four feet away and were lush and beautiful. Both the tepee and the trellis got watered at the same time, so that couldn't be the problem.
I'll never know for sure, but I'm pretty sure the deer had been in the garden again. Adding to my frustration at home, I had three incidents this summer when I almost hit a deer with my car. Each one was driving to and from work, which is only a 3.7 mile trip. Even if you're only going 35 mph, hitting a deer can cause substantial damage to a car and potential serious injury to those in the car.
Besides damaging gardens, white-tailed deer are decimating native plant populations in some parts of the state. Because there are so many deer, the native plants just don't have a chance. This year the DNR is allowing hunting in several state-designated scenic and natural areas (SNA's) thoughout the state to relieve some of the pressure. One of our neighbors, who spent years covering native woodland wildflowers with cages, finally put up a deer fence this spring. I know that when it comes time to start our own woodland restoration I'm going to have to think hard about how to protect it from deer browsing.
So you can see why I have very mixed feelings about the deer in our neighborhood. They are beautiful, and it amazes me that a creature that large can roam wild through the suburbs. But there are just too many of them. I am one of those people who believe that a deer hunt in the City is actually a good idea, as long as the meat goes to shelters and food shelves. Without natural predators - exept man and the very occasional mountain lion - and with the mild winters we've had over the past several years, the deer population continues to explode. At least on my 0.67 acres of the world, we are starting to feel besieged by Bambi.