LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Got That Darned Garage Sale Out Of The Way!

Finally, that darned garage sale is finished! My sister, Beckie, and I pulled it off Saturday, in my driveway.

Since we both had perennials for sale, I figured why not? Just when I figured the whole exercise was a waste, someone would drive up and buy stuff. We did best selling our plants. Had I charged for garden tours, I would have cleaned up!

People were very kind in their admiration for the front yard. Late this summer, we will have a perennial-only sale in her driveway. Watch for notices on that.

After assisting with setup, both Jim and Beckie went back to their chores (well, Jim went fishing, so I’m not sure that counts as a “chore”). I managed to multitask, and while I kept an eye on the driveway, I got my impatiens planted.

I put in a small handful of bone meal with each plant and they thrive. \It is so nice to have the bright pops of color here and there in the midst of the hosta/rock garden.

My garden has 114 varieties of hosta. Between Beckie and I, we have 220 varieties of daylily. We belong to the Central Dakota Daylily Society and have built our collection over many years of gardening.

Today, life gets back to normal. I can hang out in the backyard, planting the last of the annuals there. Well, that is, until I make another run at an area plant store.  I have a little jingle in my pocket after the garage sale, and I will reward myself with more beauty for the yard.  Then, to the bank with the balance.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Gardening In North Dakota In May

So here we are. Gardening in North Dakota. Not for sissies.

The weather has changed. Again. Frost warnings. I’ve taken in some of the patio pots.

It’s a drag, but it is what we must do. Too much invested in these plants, after all. It’ll just be a couple of days, and we’ll be back to normal.

The columbine have begun to bloom. There will be more.

And I just love the tiny lime green shoots that the globe blue spruce send out this time of year.

This cold snap will pass in a couple of days, and then it’ll be time for me to put out my annual seedlings. Remember, I’m the more cautious gardener of this household. Then, besides the constant pulling of weeds and dead-heading, it will be time to enjoy the beauty and wait for the vegetables.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Busy Times At Red Oak House

It is such a busy time at Red Oak House. So much is happening in the garden.  More on that later.

But first, this past weekend was filled with the gift of family. My sister, Sarah, brought my daughter, Rachel, from Dickinson, N.D., for the weekend. Sunday, my day started with brunch with my daughters and husband. They presented me with perhaps the nicest Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever received, a print of one of my daughter’s standout photographs of a wild stallion taken in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Then we had my mother and my sisters over for a picnic of fried chicken and the fixings on the patio and sat and visited, honoring the tradition much like so many across the U.S. Our good-natured husbands and my nephew, Ryan Walby, joined in on the fun, but dodged the picture-taking.

There are new blossoms in the garden daily. After company left, I completed the hard labor of dividing and moving daylilies as per my notes of last summer. There is already so much new growth on the daylilies that it is difficult to cut them back and dig them up, but this is what must be done. I make a mental note and confer with my sister, and we hope to confine our future dividing to fall instead. (Last fall, we were too busy settling our mother into her new apartment to get to it).

I brought a huge vase of lilacs into our bedroom and sent home a vaseful with my mother as this is perhaps her favorite flower.

New birds in the yard this weekend were the yellow warbler and a least flycatcher. This evening, I captured this charming one-minute video of the house wren adding material to the wren house. In this case, he is placing a blossom from the crabapple tree to pad his nest. I would have liked to have captured his song, but oh well …

Now it is time to turn attention to pulling off the rummage sale this weekend I’ve been planning for months. I’ve not held one for about 12 years, and the last time I said I’d never do it again, and this time I’m saying I’ll never do it again. It is nice to have the basement clean and tidy.  Wish me luck!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — 1 Corinthians 13 and Birdsong

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  1 Corinthians 13

Speaking for myself, I cannot fathom all “mysteries.” I can only give thanks for the blessings I’ve been given.

I think of this as I savor the quietness of my backyard. Last week, I heard the season’s first brown thrasher on my block, with his lusty and complicated song. Wednesday, the first house wren heralded his arrival, and Jim came home from fishing with stories of a mystery bird call they’d heard and a request that I try to solve that puzzle. I deduced black-billed cuckoo and played the call for him on Audubon Pro app on my Google Pixel phone.

This time of year, we do not play the stereo nor listen to much music. Instead we listen to the birdsong or just … nothing.  Sometimes, we have the flyover of an jet, the occasional National Guard helicopter, our cell phone’s insistent jangle, the neighbor’s yapping daschund (the poor beast hooked up on a leash ALL DAY LONG).

Mostly it is instead the mourning dove, the chipping sparrow and my favorite, the house wren. The wrens are busily adding twigs to the wren house on our back patio.  As I write this, I’m listening to his complicated and joyful song, over and over and over, which he will sing without ceasing all the daylight hours for the next couple of months.

Gentle reader, it is my hope for you that you enjoyed some sunshine in your day. I’ve poured a glass of wine and I’m now going to enjoy it on my patio, and listen to the birds.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — The Fragrance Of The Day

Tuesday my yard was filled with the intoxicating fragrance of our blooming crabapple trees. Sunday there was a hint of blossom in the fat buds, and with Monday’s sunshine, these fully opened.

Bismarck is filled with crabapple and other blossoming trees, and the pollinators are quite busy.

Although we don’t have one, the fragrance of the plum trees takes me back to my childhood. When we would get off the school bus at the mailbox located on the main road, the air would be filled with the sweet smell of the blossoms of the plums growing next to the farmhouse, welcoming children happy to be home from the cares of the school day. In our pastures grew the wild plum bushes and one time, in the late summer, while baling hale, my father ate so many plums from the nearby bushes he came back to the house with a stomachache.

We have no room left in our yard for trees but I'm fortunate that my neighbors have plum trees and the fragrance wafts over to Red Oak House.
We have no room left in our yard for trees but I’m fortunate that my neighbors have plum trees and the fragrance wafts over to Red Oak House.

When my father retired from the U.S. Army, we moved home to the maternal farm in Slope County, N.D., in June. I was enamoured with the ritual of loading up what was called “lunch,” really a midafternoon snack for the men working the fields. Coffee in jars and cookies or cake were carefully packed into a cardboard by Grandma Lilly and my Mom. This was also a break for us from our chores in the house and the farmyard.

One of my fond memories is helping my mother and grandma feed the wet clothes from the washing into the electric wringer and watching these come out flattened, ready to take out to the clothesline (near the chicken coop) for hanging from the wire with wooden clothespins. The wringer washer was fascinating to little ole me, and I know I accidentally put my fingers into it for a time or two before I learned that painful lesson.

In my yard Tuesday, I mowed and then planted some flowers, marveling at the miracle of the tiny seeds that will hopefully sprout and bring us beauty and food.

The dandelion digger my mother gave to me
The dandelion digger my mother gave to me

My other tool of the day was the dandelion digger.  lthough I have a laptop, wifi, a Zen notepad, a big screen TV, an Apple TV device and a Google Pixel phone, the tool of choice for digging dandelions and other weeds is 16th-century technology that gets the job done. Yes, I do know the critical role that dandelions play for pollinators, but I assure you my neighbors provide them with plenty — and then there are the aforementioned blooming trees.

Leonardo da Vinci said the average human being “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

Strive to be above average.

My husband was a the best fisherman on the river Tuesday. His lucky green bucket helps, too.
My husband was a the best fisherman on the river Tuesday. His lucky green bucket helps, too.

My husband has called to alert me that he is feeding us walleye freshly caught in the Missouri River this morning.  What an amazing world we live in!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Wild Violets

It was a blustery spring day Monday at Red Oak House with the front passing through that brought thunder and rain to the northern Plains and a stiff breeze to rustle the new leaves everywhere. I could hear the chipping sparrows in the backyard. Any day, now the white-crowned sparrows will pass through.

We are mostly done with the cleanup from Sunday evening’s backyard party that brought together some of the finest friends and family that anyone could ever hope for — kind, interesting, smart and witty folks — and I’m basking in the afterglow of their good company.

In the garden, the wild violets that the Smeenks planted are fully in bloom (the original owners of the house — we are the third owners — I shall write about them more on another day).

Birch tree, still bedecked with this season's catkins.
Birch tree, still bedecked with this season’s catkins.

The new leaves are unfurling on the birch tree, but it is still bedecked with this season’s catkins. Soon this tree will fully shade Jim’s office.

With the ground saturated, it is time for a brief pause from gardening chores to catch up with indoor tasks and reading and such.

I hope, gentle reader, that the sky is as blue where you are as it is here.

P.S. I am rejoicing in the news that Macron was elected. Viva la France!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Update

Here at Red Oak House, it was a sunny 84-degree Saturday, and so many things in the garden are popping it is worthy of a photo update.

It was a very busy day here. Jim did some cultivating and got some vegetables planted.

It is pine pollen season, and everything is coated with the fine chartreuse pollen dust, including the furniture inside I just cleaned this morning.

Oh, and for the record, we did drink coffee and eat breakfast on the back patio.


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Grubbing Raspberries With Homemade Margaritas For My Reward

After my morning yoga class, I made another foray to one of our local nurseries, then it was home to the work in the garden. After I’d planted my new treasures, I had to turn to grubbing raspberries.

Until the last couple of years, I’d not had much experience with growing raspberries. When we grew them at our Dunn County place, the Gumbo Lily Ranch, I was busy with my career and raising my children, and raspberries are my husband’s favorite, so he was in charge of these. He likes to say if there would only be one fruit, it would be, in his view, raspberries.

We planted these the very first spring we were living in Red Oak House, and I had no idea that these spread by suckers (I guess I thought these spread by the billions of tiny seeds found on the fruit).

My sister, Beckie Walby, has her patch in a much more intelligent location, against her house, bordered by grass. Ours are along a side fence and, in front of these is a perennial bed. So, off I go to grub the suckers out of my perennial bed with my spade.

Ours produce fruit in late summer and early fall. My sister’s come in earlier in the summer.

This spring, we’ve added a raspberry bed on the east side of the house, and here we planted two different kinds, one a golden raspberry from our dear friends Jan and David Swenson’s patch and the other from my sisters’ patch (in the hopes that we will extend our raspberry harvest). I hope my neighbor doesn’t cuss at me when those suckers grow up in his grass as much as I cuss the ones that pop up here and there in my perennial bed.

A few days ago, I planted a shrub rose, yellow, my favorite color. I haven’t had a shrub rose for several years now and visiting my friend, Rhoda Hilden, reminded me how much I miss their beauty. Stay tuned for photos.

I think yellow is such a happy color, and many of my flowers are yellow. As I described in my blog talking about our household decor and our acquisition of one of our Navajo rugs, the yellow one, I am immensely cheered by the color yellow. Close your eyes just one moment and think of a lemon. Sunflowers are, as I’m seeing on various knick-knacks, “sunshine on a stem.” But, I assure you, gentle reader, yellow is mixed in both inside and out of the house with many other splendid colors.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, and as I worked in the warm sunshine, I kept in my mind the delicious homemade margaritas that Beckie is making us for a Mexican feast at her house. Everyone (of legal age, of course) loves these, and I know for her, they are a labor of love. If I’m going to spend Cinco de Mayo anywhere but in Mexico or the American Southwest, it should probably be at Walbys, where the food is always delicious and the margaritas are perfection.

When I was a kid living in El Paso, Texas, (my father was stationed at Fort Bliss Army Base), we would have pinatas for our birthday parties, and one of my mother’s best friend, Mercedes, was Hispanic. I loved going to her house in a beautiful part of the city (we were in a nice but ordinary suburban part of the city). In school, we all studied Spanish, as it was one of our classes along with math, science, English and social studies.

Sadly, once we moved to North Dakota, where Spanish was not taught at our local school, my Spanish skills slipped to almost nil. Now we joke that at least we know “uno cerveza,” an essential skill (look it up), however, I do wish I could speak Spanish as I did as a child. I made a stab at it this winter but failed miserably.

As my husband and I were winding down this day’s work in the garden, I announced that tomorrow morning for the first time this year, I’m having coffee and breakfast on our patio. He heartily agreed that this was an excellent plan, and so we shall.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Time For A Cold Glass Of Chardonnay

It’s time for a cold glass of Guenoc chardonnay on the patio of Red Oak House after a perfectly delightful afternoon in the garden, time to savor the goodness of life.

Late morning was spent at the local garden shops and then it was home to plant my new treasures. Is there anyplace as happy on a May day than Plant Perfect or Cashman’s Nursery or the Lowe’s garden section?

On Wednesday, I planted a new yellow shrub rose, yellow being my favorite color and the more hardy shrub roses being appropriate for North Dakota’s oftentimes severe climate.

Rubra Pasqueflower in full bloom, so beautiful it deserves another pic.
Rubra Pasqueflower in full bloom, so beautiful it deserves another pic.

I love digging in the dirt. As I mow the tiny bit of grass we have here, I think of my Slope County family — my Grandpa Andy Silbernagel, my Daddy and my brothers — spending countless hours on the tractor, summer-fallowing the fields and planting the crops. They would come into the farmhouse with their faces completely black, dog-tired. We ate the food we’d prepared and they’d collapse in the recliner to read and watch TV — and get up each morning to repeat this ritual.

My paternal granddaddy, Earl Crook, grew a small crop of peanuts in Mississippi.   I remember his wife, Lena Belle Ellis, would always have a huge vegetable and flower garden at their home near Vaiden, Miss. When I close my eyes, I can conjure up the exact picture of me following her and my mother in that multicolored wonderland.

At the Slope County farm, down near the well and windmill, we had one vegetable garden and then another just beyond the barnyard buildings, plus a huge field of potatoes about a mile from the farmstead.

As a small child, my Grandpa Andy would pay his grandchildren a penny for each potato bug we could catch and drop into a can of gasoline, as much to get us out of his hair as to control the bugs. As a teenager, I was pleased to be assigned to go and hoe the large potato field as this meant that I got to drive a pickup solo, something I couldn’t get enough of!

On days like today, we’d be eager to get off the school bus and tear outside to check on our baby calves and see if there might be new kittens. Everywhere we looked on the prairie there was new life.

Jim's fishing buddies, Red and Jeff, taking a picture of Red with his fish.
Jim’s fishing buddies, Red and Jeff, taking a picture of Red with his fish.

Today, my husband fished with his pals on the Missouri River, and he came home with a bucket full of walleye, cleaned it and had nothing but happiness in his heart. We will share that with friends. We never “ever” take for granted the clean water that flows through our city, the Missouri River.

What a blessing it was to grow up surrounded by the people who grew our nation’s food and to live in a city where everyone is busy and happy with spring work.

I toast them all today with my Chardonnay.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Earth Day 2017

Jim and I spent Earth Day 2017 working in our yard in the dee-lightful spring sunshine. We might have joined the marches for science around the country, but the yard work beckoned.

I remember very clearly the first Earth Day in 1970. We got out of school that day to pick up trash in the ditch along state Highway 12 from Rhame to Griffin, N.D. Being self-respecting kids, we were thrilled.

My father and mother were home in the fields, planting spring wheat and mending fences. (My mother also worked as a nurse at the Bowman (N.D.) Hospital.) They would no doubt be busy getting ready for branding the year’s Black Angus calves. When we would get off the school bus at our mailbox after the long ride, we’d have to change out of our school clothes and put on chore clothes.  But on this day, we got to wear our chore clothes to school. Yeehaa!

I come from a long line of gardeners, on both sides. My parents love putting seeds and seedlings into the ground and watching them grow. To this day, my 92-year-old father garden. And if she could, my mother would (she has houseplants instead) too.

But back to our garden here in Bismarck.

We try to grow much of what we eat. Jim also hunts and fishes, and with reverence, we prepare these foods. On March 15, we plant heirloom tomato seeds in the furnace room, and there under the grow lights they sprout.

A few weeks later, we bring the sprouts up into the sun-filled dining room.

Today, we worked together to add chicken wire to the fence around our vegetable garden, to foil the dastardly rabbits. That was hard work. I don’t know how my parents did it all — and still went to church and meetings and had company to play pinochle on a regular basis and attended our basketball games and concerts.

Later while we rested on the patio, a Cooper’s hawk soared over. The only sounds we heard were the chickadees, the Eurasian-collared doves and some raucous robins.

This is the time of year that I seldom answer my phone. If you need to reach me, best to come on over and say yoohoo at my gate, or email or text me. The quantity of my writing will decrease also, although I will chronicle the photographs of our gardens.

Blooming in the garden today are the daffodils, the meadowlark forsthyia, and the Rubra Pasqueflower, shown in that order below. Now it is time to quit for the day, to shower, grill some mushroom and Swiss cheeseburgers on the patio and drink a glass of Pinot Noir.

“Live to fight another day,” says my husband, and he is a wise man.