AN URN-EST EFFORT
Fall arrives in snippets around here. Even though I tend to hang onto summer as long as I can, once September arrives, there’s a yearning to dig out the fall decorations.
When I decorate for fall though, I like to mostly do so in a way that will remain relevant on through Thanksgiving.
I decided yesterday was the day to swap out the three urns in front of our garage doors. For too long, I tried keeping small green living shrubs planted in them. But in long or short order, the shrubs would die, I’d yank them and start over. Yes, the definition of insanity!
There is no shade on these urns and the evening sun drills the space. So real plants aren't really an option. But the space calls for some softening and decoration. What to do?
I fake it.
This spring I filled the urns with the most real-looking fake lavender I could find. The stems held up so well that I’m stowing them away for a future spring.
I decided to go a similar route for the fall version. I started with stems of autumn leaves I have had for years, along with some faux pumpkins.
A couple months ago, friend Patty Redmond had a trunk full of things destined for Goodwill but asked her friends if they wanted anything in there. I spotted the long twigs and was glad to get them, knowing they would be just right for this arrangement. From those three “elements,” I added stems (on sale) of fake mums and some sticks with small pumpkins on the ends.
I still have the porch to change out but that won’t come until probably next week. I’m giving away the summer summer ferns and they will be picked up this weekend.
In the community where I work (30 years this month!) there’s a successful program called New Castle Downtown. It’s a localized version of a program you might know as Main Street.
Director Carrie Barrett told me that when she first heard the organization’s recommendation to place pots of flowers downtown and keep them maintained, she thought, “Flowers?”
But the pots are a big success. She said they show that someone is home, and that someone cares.
In New Castle, the plants are real, and at Christmas, the greenery is real.
My urns have fake foliage. But I’m OK with that. It’s not your great-grandmother’s plastic flowers anymore. And the material will be around for years to come.
Here in the Hoosierland, recent temperatures have been a delightful preview of fall. Ideal weather. Today they are headed back up where they will remain for a few days.
But cooler days will follow those. And my urns are ready.
How and when do you decorate for fall?
So this was the scene in our driveway yesterday morning. That's seven yards of black mulch. Perhaps we misunderstood the measuring process. When they said we needed seven yards, well, did that mean enough to mulch seven yards in our neighborhood? No?
I've put down bagged mulch for decades. The sight of mulch bags stacked to the sky in parking lots of gas stations are one of the first signs of spring in central Indiana. Through the years I've hauled countless bags of the stuff, about 50 to get the job done every other summer.
I always wanted to get a truck load instead of driving back and forth to stores multiple times. But Brian balked at the bulk.
This year is different. We decided to take a DIY approach to updating our landscaping. We moved here 21 years ago. Things needed refreshing. A big old load of mulch, I convinced him, spread liberally over our landscaping next to the house and on the island out back, would be the finishing touch on our hard work.
And there it was, at the exact time it was due to arrive Friday morning, one mountain of mulch.
Brian took out nine shrubs, and our friend and professional tree man, Rob Tuttle, took out an additional bush, plus ground down all the bush stumps. He did such a great job, you would never know there had been a bush in any of the locations.
Since we had him on the grounds, we marked a dozen or so branches to take off our backyard trees.
Here Brian is after removing green from one of the largest shrubs that has needed removed for some time. Rob would take care of the stumps a few weeks after this scene, recorded earlier in the summer.
Back to yesterday, we got busy! Brian filled our wheelbarrow many times and dumped loads on sections of our landscaping. I spread the mulch to the suggested three-inch depth.
Our neighbor, Dusten, came over to chat about our mulch. He is an avid gardener and used to work as a landscaper. He said three inches deep is ideal because anything less and the weeds will come up; anything more and the mulch might mold underneath.
We were concerned what to do with any leftover mulch (there was little concern that we under-bought). So I asked Dusten if he could use our excess. He said yes! Problem solved!
We mulched everything in sight until we were mulched out, about 2:30 p.m. after starting at 9, and taking a break for lunch. We were both surprised that we got through it so quickly. We both thought it might be a job that would string out over the weekend into Monday.
Dusten said he'd have the remaining mulch out of the driveway by sundown. Brian helped and the task was done well under that goal time!
Another neighbor asked if we were moving. He said he thought maybe we were since we've been doing so much work around the place.
This spring we also got a new back door, this one a slider, as the other one went kaput. Our friend and home remodeling and handyman CEO Monty Foust installed it for us. Brian got a power washer and has been using it around the place, and we put the window air-conditioner in the upstairs study. Yes, guess we have been getting things done in recent months.
So today, we went to the grocery store and we're just chilling the rest of the day, celebrating the move of all that mulch, and the end result. Brian said he went 66 years having never moved a mountain of mulch. He said we can do it again in another 66 years.
I love how clean and neat the landscape looks and how every shrub and plant seems almost under a spotlight now. And I love it that we're done with our season of landscaping projects.
'I'M SOLAR-POWERED,' SHE SAID
Like flipping a switch, dark to light, I saw central Indiana go from winter to spring yesterday. On a warm but windy day, I witnessed the change when I stopped at the grocery store after work.
I couldn’t get through the entrance without noticing the change. There, bringing color, refreshment and, yes, spring, were flats of annuals. Vibrant purples, reds, yellows and oranges abounded. After a winter and early spring of browns, grays with the occasional white dusting on top, this moment could have been inside a botanical garden, but no, it was only Kroger.
Still. I’ll take one of each. Oh wait, no I won’t. But I wanted to as the frail-looking, but deceptively hardy pansies danced in the breeze.
This morning I got up to go to Weight Watchers, sliding into my spongy flip flops until I got ready to leave. By then, I realized that yes, something had changed, and I could wear them out! Never mind that I haven’t gotten around to painting my toenails yet in 2018. I was in flip flops and not freezing. And I will continue wearing them until one October day when I realize that it’s time for socks and soles with leather uppers.
The sun shone, there was a loss on the scales (best news of the day) and I greeted a snowbird from my church who is back. We chatted about the day and the sunshine. I mentioned the wind. She wasn’t fazed, the sunshine overriding any such inconvenience. “I’m solar powered,” she beamed.
Also in the course of getting ready to leave the house this morning, I got a call on my cell phone from a reader with a story idea, and an instant message from another with information about a story idea of her own.
So it’s not just me. Midwesterners, tired of the late snows, the winter coats still on the racks by their doors rather than swathed in dry-cleaner bags for the summer, are coming back to life! As I type this, I hear roofers down the street working on a house. Last night as I pulled into our neighborhood, there was the delicious, distinctive scent of newly mown grass, an Irish green right now from all the moisture.
Sometimes spring comes late to these parts. But it’s here. It’s finally here.
MY FOXY FERN
While in Jerusalem last year, specifically in a courtyard near the Pools of Bethesda and the Sheep Gate, I took a close-up photo of a beautiful fern-type plant.
I had never before seen (or maybe never noticed) such a specimen. Perhaps it was indigenous to the Middle East and wasn’t available in the Midwest. But when I posted it on Facebook, I was quickly informed that it was a Fox Tail Fern. Kim, owner of Garden Thyme, said she carried them and this spring, I picked up a small one at her place.
The plant thrived in a pot on the front porch all summer as it rapidly grew and produced new shoots that filled out nicely in all directions.
Last week, I noticed that while my hanging Bostons were browning and sadly, finished, the Fox Tail still looked as pretty as ever, thriving.
Early in my marriage, I enjoyed house plants. Most of the time, I didn’t even kill them. Their appeal was that they were inexpensive to acquire and maintain, and added color and decorative touches to our mobile home, then our rented farmhouse. Even when we were broke, I could scrape together enough to buy a small jade or “airplane” plant along with the groceries. Through the years, I moved on to other interests. Every now and then I’d take a notion to bring home a big, beautiful Boston Fern but they didn’t fare well as indoor plants, and they shed like crazy.
I always wanted to raise African violets in various shades of purple like my childhood neighbor, Mrs. Rigsby. Hers were sequestered in a back room under a special light. When we went to her home for fresh eggs, she showed me those plants and once, she gave me a start.
The only indoor plants I’ve tried keeping alive in recent years were a trio of African violets in the kitchen window. I got them one spring, and they did well all summer. But as soon as cool weather hit and the window chilled, they started to die.
Going back to my Fox Tail Fern, I just couldn’t take letting it sit there on the porch for nature, in the form of cold weather, to send it the way of those African violets. I love it because it is one easy plant to love, and more, because every time I look at it, it reminds me of the heart of Jerusalem.
I moved the plant inside, positioning it on a wicker stand from the back porch, and placed in front of the newly cleaned window in Ben’s old room. There it will soon look out on frosty mornings, and then snowscapes. There the window glass will turn cold.
I have no idea how the plant will get along. It may shed like its Boston cousins. It may turn brown. It may, I suppose, in the most unlikely scenario, survive the winter.
I’ll keep checking on how it does in that bedroom all by its lonesome. I’m leaving the curtains open in there and as I drive home, I glance in and see the plant front and center in that window view. It looks so cheerful. Right now, anyway.
I’ve changed the ending to this blog because originally I planned to appeal to anyone with a warm, sunny Florida room or greenhouse to board my fern for the winter. But I’ve changed my mind. The plant looks so sweet in there, I’m taking a chance.
Sometimes on people’s Facebook pages I see huge, blooming Christmas cactuses or poinsettias that have quadrupled themselves and live out their years on coffee tables. I marvel.
I’d like to think that maybe, my Fox Tail Fern could be like those plants. I have my doubts, but I am at heart nothing if not hopeful.