It looks like we’re in for a real spring this year. And I am once more taking up my plans for the back yard…
In September, the house is sheathed with spiderwebs. At every corner of every window they build their deadly, gossamer castles and lie in wait, bloated and insatiable.
Crane flies perch and hover at windows and doors. Fledglings pick at the seeds of weeds I’ve left to grow unchecked all the hot summer long.
Grasshoppers munch, leap, munch, leap, fly.
Some flowers are spent.
Others are just beginning to bloom.
Others send out a few last blooms as an encore to June’s performance.
The nights are growing longer minute by minute.
Everything that flies or crawls or hops is preparing for the harder, colder season ahead.
I finally trim back the overgrown and uproot the unwanted.
I remember how much I like tea.
I go on a real grocery shopping trip.
School has begun. Summer, for all intents and purposes, has ended.
And I am not sorry to see it go.
I never am.
We are reveling in spring here in Michigan.
It feels like such a blessing after a very long winter that reached its grasping, scraping fingernails into April and was reluctant to let go.
But now, our spring flowers are in bloom.
Our foliage is stretching out to greet the sun.
And our feeders are being visited by exciting birds I rarely get to see, like orioles…
…and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
Along with our more common visitors: cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, house finches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches.
We even get to see quite a lot of the neighborhood turkey, who likes hanging out in our back yard and our neighbor’s in the morning.
The poor thing is rather frightened of my little chihuahua mix (all seven pounds of her) and seems utterly dumbfounded by fences.
The view out of my upstairs office window is improving day by day as the trees leaf out.
Even the rainy days are rather warm. The daffodils and scilla and crocuses are all gone now, but tulips and grape hyacinth are hanging on, and the flowering trees are just past peak. Rivers and creeks are running high with much rain. My thoughts turn outward, toward summer travel plans, as they always do this time of year.
In about five weeks or so, my sister and I will be hiking the Porcupine Mountains, one of the stops my son and I made on our epic UP Road Trip last June. Our chosen path will take us along rushing rivers, past seven waterfalls, along the shore of Lake Superior, along escarpments, and through forests that will be weeks behind in terms of new growth (which means we’ll get to experience this marvelous spring a second time). Our campsites will have us sleeping alongside the Little Carp River, on Lake Superior at the mouth of Toledo Creek, and up on the escarpment not far from the Lake of the Clouds.
Rocks and rivers, woods and waterfalls. 60,000 acres of wilderness. Time to reflect, to rest our minds and busy our feet. Alison and I look forward to our hiking trip each year. We’ve been lots of places. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Sable Dunes, Tahquamenon Falls, the Manistee River, the Jordan River Valley.
The Porkies have been on our Someday List. It takes a long time to drive there (nearly 9 hours drive time from my house in the state capital, plus time for rest stops and meals) so you need two extra days built in just to get there and back. Thankfully, timing seems to have worked out in our favor this year.
I guess after this, we may have to start saving our money to fly to more trails further away!
I’ve spent most of this holiday weekend outside — weeding, transplanting, and mulching until the front yard looked pretty spiffy and the backyard was a step closer to where I want it to be and the strip of skin between where my shirt ends and my pants begin is getting a respectable, though awkward tan.
Some plants aren’t all that bothered when you move them.
Some are. Deeply.
They need extra water and extra love for awhile.
So that’s what I’ll be giving them.
Not everything got schlepped around the yard. The peonies on the southwest corner of the house are at their height.
The clematis niobe are looking rather lovely, though their bluishy-purple jackmanii cousins have not started blooming yet.
The various roses look like they’re getting ready for their entrance into the grand garden drama, as does the lavender. The mint patch is robust. The shade gardens are thriving.
The only place that looks sad and forsaken is the south side of the house.
I’ve been pilfering good plants from this bed to move to the back and spraying or digging up weeds that remain. This hot, dry spot will be undergoing a revitalization this year, but for now it looks pretty pathetic. I’m thinking of trying some Russian sage, landscape fabric to combat the weeds, and lots of mulch. But it may have to wait until fall. Hot summer weather is finally upon us, which is not exactly ideal for establishing new beds.
Plus we’ve got lots of summer plans coming up — international travel for my husband, a road trip for my son and I, camp, friends coming to stay overnight. Before we know it, the summer will be over, the weather will cool, and the transplanting will resume. Until then, we’ve got laundry to do, suitcases to pack, routes to plan, and hopefully lots of relaxing to do as well.
Late October is still a great time for the garden when you have these beauties in your beds.
Minute by minute, another August is ending. September whispers at the edges of leaves. It’s time for bats in the house and flocks of blackbirds lifting as one from fields and lighting like raindrops on telephone wires. Young woodpeckers sit on my windowsill and peck at their reflections. Hummingbirds hover at my morning glories and anise hyssop. The bees and wasps get more aggressive, the chipmunks get cheekier, and my pantry shelves fill up with jars to see us through another year of toast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
It’s the time of big clouds and dramatic sunsets and morning rain. It’s the time when the squirrels steal my almost-ripe tomatoes and I vow yet again not to plant them next year. The weeds I should have pulled are spreading their seeds all over the garden to be sure I’ll have weeds to pull next year as well. I did manage one big day in the dirt recently when the humidity dropped a bit and the temperature was only in the low 80s. But by and large I’ve been a neglectful gardener this year.
And as others finish up their trips and put away their luggage, we find that there are still places to go. San Antonio for him, Albuquerque for me, and smaller jaunts around the state for conferences and book events and hiking trips. There are books to write and books to revise. In the evenings after the boy goes to bed, we sit in the Cigar Room pursuing our shared passion.
Soon the goldfinches will be lending their color to the trees and the nights will be cool enough for fires in the fire pit outside. Soon we’ll be able to give our poor overworked air conditioner a nice long break. They’re predicting a snowy winter for the Great Lakes Region this year. I hope they’re right. In the meantime, I look forward to fall and bid this summer a fond farewell. It’s been marvelous. But I’m ready for the next thing.
Sunday morning we finally had our first frost. Cold weather’s been slow in coming this year. Nearly a week of bright, sunny days in the mid-70s preceded this frost. But most of the leaves are finally down.
As they sometimes do, my irises bloomed a second time this year. They tend to put out one last effort before winter if we get a stretch of warm days. But time is short for what still remains in the garden. The burning bush holds to a few last leaves. The hostas have all turned yellow and collapsed. Another day of working out in the yard will erase it all. Then the snows.
We’ve been experiencing some very autumny weather the past couple days in mid-Michigan, which makes it the perfect time to start ripping out spent vegetable plants and replacing them with some perennial transplants. Since we plan to put the house on the market in the spring, there’s no reason to plant a labor-intensive vegetable garden next year, so I’m going to be filling those empty spaces with some perennials from the front yard that are crowding each other out and need some more breathing room.
The first immigrants to the back yard are four squat little hostas with chartreuse leaves that were in too sunny a spot in the front yard since the ice storm took the crabapple tree a couple years ago; a couple lady’s mantle that were crowding an evergreen shrub (and, as it turns out, hiding the cell phone my husband lost a month ago); and three lavender plants that had been subsumed by overzealous golden marguerites this summer. I also took two more lady’s mantle and put them in my front door urns to replace the annuals that burnt when we were away at camp. Once the tomato plants are done in a month or so I will fill up those spaces with other varieties of hosta and perhaps some cornflowers or black-eyed susans.
Strangely, I’m not that upset about not having a vegetable garden next year, despite the fun the boy and I have while planting it. This is largely because I must harvest my tomatoes before they are ripe in order to keep any of them from the ravenous red squirrels, who will take a few bites out of them once they start getting red and then leave them to rot on the ground or on fence posts. If I’m picking them before they are ripe, I may as well get them unripe at the store! So next year we will depend exclusively on the farmers market for our produce and make the backyard into an even more beautiful retreat to entice buyers.