LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 24

Three-quarter of an inch of rain in a wondrous thunderstorm this morning (Wednesday) started the day off right here at Red Oak House. For the second day in a row, it will be cool enough for us to leave the windows open all day.

Vegetable harvest has begun in earnest and Jim has frozen many bags already.

Last night, we had what we call “nothing from the store supper.” The first new potatoes, beans, broccoli and walleye. Who needs a restaurant?

As you can see from the plate above, we’ve begun to eat our heirloom tomatoes. These are bloody butchers. The jungle promises much more tomato bliss to come.

Other blooming plants make our garden a real oasis of tranquility in the midst of a bustling city.

On a different note, this song I’ve been listening to on Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic is running through my head:


Everybody I talk to is ready to leave

With the light of the morning

They’ve seen the end coming down

Long enough to believe

That they’ve heard their last warning

Standing alone

Each has his own ticket in his hand

And as the evening descends

I sit thinking ’bout Everyman

Seems like I’ve always been

Looking for some other place

To get it together

Where with a few of my friends

I could give up the race

And maybe find something better

But all my fine dreams

Well thought out schemes

To gain the motherland

Have all eventually come down

To waiting for Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman

Make it on your own if you think you can

If you see somewhere to go I understand

Waiting here for Everyman

Don’t ask me if he’ll show, baby I don’t know

In different lighting, Wide Wide World daylily, shows off different hues so why not one more photo? It’s my blog after all.

Time for Manhattans in the shade of the front patio.  Cheers!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 23

Peak daylily time rewards me with new blooms each day.  Here are today’s (Friday’s).

Jim did a big-time bean harvest today (Friday) and has frozen a bunch for our winter enjoyment.

We are triumphant over winning the battle with the rascally rabbits this year! Pesto/shrimp pizza with our broccoli and tomatoes for supper.

And how about this glorious cloudburst? A horrific drought makes such a rainstorm ever so sweeter. All of our plants are so stressed by nothing but city water for so many weeks (not to mention our water bill).  Both Jim and I stood outside and got WET we were so tickled by it.  Three-quarters of an inch and counting …

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 22 Showstoppers

Gavin Petit Daylily opened this morning (Thursday) and it is, indeed, a showstopper. Out loud I say, “Wow!” each time I first see it.

Others are reaching their peak bloom, too. Worthy of sharing.

On a pass through the vegetable garden, a bonus was the discovery of the first shelling peas.

I added the peas to the cold pasta salad waiting in the fridge for supper.

Time to make a run to deliver peas to my mother. She loves ’em.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak Garden Notes No. 21 — Daylily Time Has Come

Gentle reader, I’ve been writing about the past, but today, it is time to return to my garden notes as the daylilies are exploding in all their glory.  Between my sister and I, we have 219 varieties of daylily. They are fairly easy to grow and hardy in our northern climate.

Little Audrey Daylily.
Little Audrey Daylily.

I was first exposed to daylilies by my friend and mentor, Bernnett Reinke, who was a very enthusiastic collector. Every three years or so, in order for these to thrive, the plant should be divided. Thus, it was that Bern gave me my first daylilies.

When we bought Red Oak House, I joined the Central Dakota Daylily Society and attended my first member auction in the basement of the Bismarck Public Library. At the auction, the bounty of the club’s divisions are sold. Pictures of the cultivars are shown on the screen as well as the particulars like color, height, time of bloom and so on. The club chooses the daylilies carefully for our growing zone and also selects for beauty. Since, then, it has become an annual event for my sister and I, and we come armed with our Excel list of varieties we already own and our newsletter list marked up as our wish list.

In addition to my database, I have markers for all of my perennials. My sister does a better job than I, as she also has a map of her flower beds.

In the fall, she and I are going to have a plant sale. It will be lots of work, but our plants have grown to the point that we can do this with those we both have, and we can build a slush fund for purchasing new varieties.

Peak bloom time has not yet arrived in my yard, but it is almost here. Meanwhile, here are more photos from today.

Listening to the radio as we drove home, we heard news that some parts of the Bad Lands received 1 inch of rain in Monday night’s storm. That is terrific news,m and I hope it is helping them in the efforts to tamp down that monster (fire).

It is good to be home. My sister has left a container full of her raspberries in our fridge. It is cool in the yard this evening — all things being relative.

I’ve got some de-heading to do.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Making Pesto Day

After a pleasant morning drinking coffee and reading the paper on the patio, it was time for some work around here. I weeded the asparagus, cut basil and mowed the lawn, while Jim peeled garlic for my later project, homemade pesto.

He even had me shoot video of his method of peeling garlic. You can see it here.

I use a recipe given to me by my friend, Valerie Naylor. Pine nuts, freshly grated Parmesan, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and garlic — voila! I scoop it into an ice cube tray, freeze, pop out and bag it in a Ziploc.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Hosta Meditation

When we purchased Red Oak House, we were thrilled to have so many mature trees, however, we recognized how these should shape what we would do with our landscaping, especially in the smaller front yard.

Sum and Substance (lime-colored) with Humpback Whale (front left). I'm excited to watch Humpback Whale grow as huge as the name portends.
Sum and Substance (lime-colored) with Humpback Whale (front left). I’m excited to watch Humpback Whale grow as huge as the name portends.

I’m no fan of mowing grass, and it grew in a rather insipid fashion under the shade of the red oak. Hence, I purchased these two books straightaway and proceeded to transform the front yard to a shade rock garden, dominated by hosta.

My dear friend, Bernnett, first turned me on to hosta and directed me to the Minnesota Arboretum, where they were displayed in glory. Yet, I’d not had the opportunity to grow them in earnest until we bought this house.

Once we’d identified the sprinkler lines, Jim tilled up the grass, and we began to haul rocks. I’m certain the neighbors thought we were nuts, particularly when we had the two huge boulders delivered. (In fact, just this spring, Dave, from across the street, the senior inhabitant of this block, informed me that in spite of his misgivings, my yard had begun to look quite beautiful, confirming my suspicions.).

It takes patience to complete this transformation and, indeed, it did not look very nice the first few years.

I love hostas colors and their clever names and different sizes and shapes and textures. As I tend these, I think how much fun it must have been for the propagator to cultivate and name these.

Now my garden is the peaceful place of meditation and shade that I had envisioned, and I’ve accumulated 120 varieties of hosta. These are punctuated by other shade plants such as astlibe, ligularia, ferns, globe blue spruce and impatiens. (These I buy by the hundreds in the spring from nearby greenhouses.) For some reason, the impatiens are slow to bloom this year.

Gentle reader, I hope you enjoy these photo highlights of some of my hosta.

Thursday, I capitulated to a dear friend in her request that we put our gardens on the Bismarck Mandan Garden Club tour in August. Please stop by if you are in the neighborhood and enjoy these in person. I hope we don’t get any hail storms between now and then, but abundant rain. Namaste.

The kitchen project is completed

On Thursday, I spray-painted the old stove hood to match the new stove we bought last fall and my newly refinished countertops.

All of the new light switch plates are installed.  The kitchen re-do is complete!

Let the cooking commence.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 20

A drought sky (above) here in North Dakota. Everyone who has half a brain is worried about the drought. July has turned hot, hot, hot.

After a pleasant interlude at Crooked Lake with family for the July Fourth holiday, where we talked with our brother-in-law about how sparse few hay bales he’s been able to make this year, we returned home to garden chores and a trace of evening rain. The thunder was nice, too, and the storm cleared away in time for the fireworks and symphony festivities on the Capitol lawn.

When I turned on a fan in the kitchen just now, memories took me back to the keen little window fan we had on the Slope County ranch, one of those rectangular units that would pull the hot air from the upstairs room outward.

In the heat of the summer, we would erect our pop-up camper and sleep out in it, desperate for cool air, since we did not have air conditioning (only a “swamp cooler” we’d brought from El Paso).  When one would make the trek to the camper in the darkness, the smell of skunk would sometimes enliven the evening. We co-existed with any number of critters.

I don’t deal well with heat. I guess this is from so many years living in a Northern climate. My daughters suffer from heat as well. I just saw some research last night about how heat makes people cranky. I’m really not certain how I survived the time living in Nashville, Tenn., when I was in graduate school. I know when we were at Fort Bliss in Texas we kids practically lived at the swimming pool.

Thinking about how hot it was in Slope County and how hard we worked baling and stacking hay puts it all in perspective though. We couldn’t wait for the days when we’d get a reprieve from field work to go to the Deep Creek swimming hole with our inner tubes.

Nowadays, I’m very grateful for my relatively cool house and all the luxuries electricity and natural gas provide me in the 21st century.  It was in the high 90s here today, but I’m hearing 103 in Williston, N.D., from my brother-in-law. That is, simply put, too freaking hot.That said, I can’t help but tell myself I’m just whining about the heat.

A few of my daylilies are making an appearance and this heat is going to cause them all to start popping.

The shady front yard continues to please us.

Jim has gone to the store for Juneberry Ice Cream. Life is good!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 19

Spring flowers have given way to the summer blossoms in our garden. We eat fresh greens every day and give away radishes. The garlic crop is pathetic, and it makes me sad to look at it as, the new bed Jim prepared last fall was too rich. Our purple-hulled pea crop is also a disappointment, as I fear we were too frugal in using last year’s remainder seeds.

I cannot buy purple-hulled peas here and, in my estimation, the black-eyed peas I can buy in Bismarck are like cheap whiskey is to Jack Daniels, much less savoury, no matter how they are prepared. My Aunt Frances from Alabama agrees with me on this point, so you don’t get much more of an authority than her.

It is time now to spend huge swaths of time sitting under the patio umbrella and reading. The house wrens have raised their first clutch and may be started on the second.


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Riding My Bicycle

These lovely summer mornings I’ve been riding my bicycle on Bismarck’s trail system.

This morning, as I pedaled, my mind wandered back to riding on Slope County dirt roads. On many occasion, I had to dodge bullsnakes and rattlesnakes, giving them a wide berth. Once, a pair of raccoons wandered out from our shelterbelt, startling me. I remember them as being huge. I know they tormented our farm dogs in the night, and, thus, us. My Grandpa Andy would rise from his bed, grab his gun, and off he would go into the darkness. The .22 — which he had bought from someone near Camp Crook for $10 — discharged in the house causing no harm to anyone, but a great commotion and a hole in the ceiling.

When I was a youngster, I spent many days at the nearby Pearson farm. They had three boys who were all the same age as my brothers and I and were thus our playmates. I can remember taking a very bad spill on my bike on their road and coming back to the house where the ever-patient Dorothy doctored my road rash with hydrogen peroxide. I was fascinated by the resulting bubbles, and soon forgot my woes in order to catch up with whatever the five boys were up to next.

While living in Dickinson, I would rise early on summer mornings, before the twins were awake and would ride my trusty green Schwinn.

Once, I entered a bike race. As we all arrived early that morning, it was clear that I was out of my element as I was surrounded by sleek racing bikes. I came in second to last, but my family cheered me on nonetheless. It gave us a good laugh.

When the twins were born, we purchased one of those nifty yellow and red bike carts that we could pull along behind us. I have many happy memories of looking back at those two faces as delighted to be outside as I was, and I’m sure that bike cart helped me get through maternity leave with a level of sanity.

When I married Jim, I “inherited” Rita’s shiny mountain bike, purchased at Dakota Cyclery, and we donated my Schwinn to a child in need of a bike. While living in Medora, Jim and I rode our bikes everywhere in all but the coldest weather.

Our springer spaniel, Lizzie, would get so excited when she would see me get the bike out as she would run alongside me. Never would I attach her to a leash as that is too dangerous. Only once did she tangle with a tourist’s boxer dog as we rode by the Red Trail Campground. Nowadays, she just looks sad when I take out my bike because it is not a good idea to take her along when I ride in Bismarck.

This week, we sold Jim’s bicycle to a man from Donnybrook, and I was rather sad to see it go, but Jim said he wasn’t going to ride it anymore, and we saw no point of it just gathering dust in our storage space.

In our garden, my Arizona Sun and Amber Wheels Gaillardia is making me quite happy. Wednesday evening, we returned from the Paul Simon Summer Solstice concert in Billings, Mont., I told Jim I don’t have a desire to go much of anywhere for the next couple of months as I just want to enjoy our garden.

That is, except for trips to the Bad Lands and long bike rides.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 18

On Thursday, I spent the day on my hands and knees pulling weeds at Red Oak House. I have no complaints, as this is a quiet task, and I like quiet, solitary tasks.  The millions of elm seeds that blew in have sprouted and needed to be removed, and aspens sprout in all sorts of unwanted places. While I worked, I was serenaded by my resident house wren.

Midmorning, Daddy stopped by to pick up his fresh radishes. And after Jim gave him a tour of the gardens, Jim surprised him with an early tomato. I wish you could have seen the grin on his face as he held it in his gnarled hand. This caused me to remember how valiantly he tried to grow tomatoes in Slope County, naturally with far less success than his kin in Mississippi.

Daddy asked me if we had our flag out for Flag Day, and my answer was, yes, we have it out every day. (Well, we do put it away in the darkest months here on the northern Plains, January and February.) Being retired U.S. Army, Daddy is a stickler for proper flag etiquette, and rightly so.

A few daylilies have made their appearance. There will be hundreds more in the upcoming months.

Dark Towers Penstemon.
Dark Towers Penstemon.

The peonies and irises are beginning to fade, and so I deadheaded them. I go around the yard each day now with my bucket and my clipper and cut back spent blossoms.

When I work in the garden, I often think of my friend and longtime mentor, Bernnett Reinke, for whom I worked for 20 years, who was not only a top-notch librarian but also a master gardener. Bern generously gave me many plants and taught me much of what I know about flower gardening.

We had to take our mower to the shop Monday, and if I don’t get it back soon, I’ll be needing a swather for my tiny patch of grass.

It is a privilege to be able to quietly work in our gardens. My last task outside today was to weed the strawberry patch. I rejuvenated it last fall, pruning back the plants hard and composting from our compost pile (located in the very back corner of the yard, fortunately, near to the strawberry patch). Thus, it is that we are not harvesting much fruit this year. A blessing was that the wood rose bushes are blooming, and I got to revel in their fragrance.

My lavender has begun to bloom and will continue now for many weeks. I use a great deal of lavender oil for my bed sheets and such because it is such a pleasing and calming fragrance.

Jim spent all of Thursday weeding the vegetables, and today he has spent the morning writing on his blog. The wind is blowing too much for the “boys” to fish.  He wrote about a topic we are both passionate in opposition to: the proposed refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Gardening, writing and reading are three of our main activities here, punctuated by camping and going to concerts. My husband, Jim, says “he created a monster” when I started blogging, but I laugh and remind him that I created my blog all on my very own, thank you very much, and I’ve lived with him blogging for years now!

The temperature returned to a more pleasant 81, and we’ve been able to keep the windows open all the day long.

I got my bike fixed at the local shop and took my first ride of the year Wednesday on the neighborhood path around Tom O’Leary Golf Course. It felt good to be out with fellow North Dakotans enjoying the beautiful day, and I’m grateful that Bismarck has a great system of walking paths scattered all around the city. The path I took was busy with dog walkers and children.

My husband says that the most satisfying thing that he does is his vegetable garden. He actually bought more stuff to plant. Sweet potatoes and jalenpo peppers. Let the record show that he made the most recent trip to buy plants.

As for me, the most satisfying thing I’m going to do today is to take a hot shower!

The day ended with Caprese salad on our shaded front patio.  Doesn’t he look content?