LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 45: Life Is A Garden, Friends Are The Flowers

The riotous beauty of the daylilies has me feeling that I’m somewhat neglecting the glory of my hostas, so today I’m featuring the front yard.

As I’ve written in the past, I’m no fan of lawns and mowing, thus we’ve converted nearly every foot of our yard to beds, including the front yard.

The sight in the first few years was not good, but I had a vision. It started with the removal of the pitiful grass under the shade of the Red Oak Tree and the delivery of two very large rocks, one for Christmas and the other my birthday present, eight years ago. Then we started hauling in smaller prairie rocks ― lots of ’em. We used our trailer and a ramp and the wheelbarrow. We kept the neighbors amused, no doubt.

 

Then, I started with about a dozen hostas or so each year. I’ve recently learned this about hostas: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap. It certainly does take patience, but this year they are spectacular ― all 126 varieties.

Here are some of my favorites:

The ones shown below were just tiny sprigs when I received them in the mail, and it has truly taken patience to see them become worthy of their names.

And what the heck, I’ll wrap this up with some of the latest daylilies:

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 44: Daylilies, Daylilies, Dayliles … And A Bunch Of Voles

The daylilies are coming fast and furious, accompanied by a fierce outbreak of mosquitoes. I have 189 varieties of daylilies. My sister, Beckie, and I collect these and together we have 225 varieties. We also belong to the Bismarck-Mandan Daylily Club and have great fun together at the annual auction.

On Sunday, my absolute favorite of all of the 189 burst forth with its first blooms: Wide Wide World. There will be weeks of pleasure from this plant, which I strategically placed right next to my patio for maximum enjoyment.

In the vegetable beds, Jim has so far trapped 15 voles, so he is triumphant. The magic formula turned out to be half a peanut superglued to a mousetrap, and he runs his trap line twice a day. The photos below show the initial crop of new potatoes and the damage the varmints can do if left unchecked.

He also spends a good portion of his time harvesting vegetables. The cucumbers are coming on big and pickle-making will commence any day now. His special thrill was discovering that his pepper crop is ripening early this year. Peppers are tricky to grow here in the north country and last year, he had to ripen these in brown paper bags, late in the autumn.

Below is a gallery of some of the newest daylilies to open, along with a few zinnias for good measure.

Further in Summer than the Birds –

Pathetic from the Grass –

A Minor Nation celebrates

It’s unobtrusive Mass –

No Ordinance be seen –

So gradual the Grace

A pensive Custom it becomes

Enlarging Loneliness –

‘Tis Audiblest, at Dusk –

When Day’s attempt is done –

And Nature nothing waits to do

But terminate in Tune –

Nor difference it knows

Of Cadence, or of Pause –

But simultaneous as Same –

The Service emphacize –

Nor know I when it cease –

At Candles, it is here –

When Sunrise is – that it is not –

Than this, I know no more –

The Earth has many keys –

Where Melody is not

Is the Unknown Peninsula –

Beauty – is Nature’s Fact –

But Witness for Her Land –

And Witness for Her Sea –

The Cricket is Her utmost

Of Elegy, to Me –

Emily Dickinson

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 43: The Daylilies Enter The Stage With A Bang

Now is the time when all of our hard work in the gardens of Red Oak House pay us with the joy of abundant blossoms and fresh vegetables. We’ve eaten the first of our tomato crop ― all juicy and scrumptious, along with fresh peas and beans. Now are the days of meals we call “nothing from the store.” Meanwhile, Jim is busy trapping a vole outbreak before these ruin our potato crop.

The daylilies have entered the stage with a bang. Their abundant blooms salve my displeasure that most of the zinnias have been consumed by slugs. Here is a gallery of some of my favorites from this week.

The winner for today was Happy Returns daylily, with 42 blossoms!

Wednesday, I counted 31 blossoms on Itsy Bitsy Spider daylily.

Although their beauty is more subtle, the hostas are blooming, too. What a great time of year it is.

“Each day you must say to yourself, Today I am going to begin.” ― Jean Pierre de Caussade

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Missouri River Reverie

My sister and I slipped away Thursday for a Missouri River kayak trip, on a perfect blue sky, windless day.

We launched at Washburn, N.D., with her son and his girlfriend, their first kayak trip on the big river. The current at the Washburn boat landing seemed a wee bit intimidating, but as soon as we were under way, it was clearly going to be a smooth float.

Because of the high water, there are not as many sandbars as in previous years, however, we did find a nice, little sandy beach for a break.

Although I’ve canoed and kayaked many lakes, including several trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, rivers are where my heart is happiest, and we are blessed to live on one of the finest rivers in the world, with clean water that runs in our section of the river mostly through prairie, thus does not suffer the severe effects of agricultural run-off. Right now, the water is very cold and we could only keep our feet in the water for short stretches.

Near the north border of Cross Ranch State Park, on the Nature Conservancy land, we spotted two adult bald eagles with two juveniles, right on the water’s edge, in the big cottonwoods. They just watched us float on by.

My kayak mascot, Baldy (which perches on my desk when I’m not on the water) was happy to see her kin.

Yellow warblers, spotted sandpipers, and swallows were all about. We spied on mama ducks (mallard, wood, and mergansers) with ducklings and a few Canada geese gathered with 14 goslings hugging the bank as we floated by.

We disembarked at the Sanger boat ramp, closed to boats because of the high water, thus all to ourselves (other than an extremely chatty camper at the adjacent campsite), and enjoyed cold libations. All in all, a perfect river day.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 42 — A Mostly Cool June

Although we had a few scorcher days in June, most days it was cool and the Red Oak House windows remained wide open. Late June also brought the blessings of rain, an inch and a quarter in the last days of this week. We can finally breathe a sigh of relief that the drought is over.

The vegetable garden looks terrific, although the rabbits got the replanted broccoli and have munched about one-third of the carrots (these in an area outside the rabbit-proof fence). Pea harvest will begin this week and the potatoes show great promise.

My meager strawberry patch, sadly in a shaded area, rewarded me to a few bursts of flavor in my mouth. We talk of converting this patch to another use, but it is difficult to decide what to grow without ample sun, this being in the vegetable garden area.

Other bacciferous plants are being attacked by the robins, especially the juneberry and viburnum bushes. We try to be gracious with the co-inhabitants of this place and let them gorge.

Between the rabbits and some insects, the 90-some zinnias I planted this spring are down to about 25. I’ve dusted them with an organic powder and sprayed with Liquid Fence to save at least a few. I really like these annuals, but doubt that I will bother with any in the future as it is not worth it when I have hundreds of perennials.

We had visitors here a couple of weeks back, family from Mississippi. It was a great pleasure to show my cousin some of the beauty of North Dakota on his first visit to the state, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the post-burn wildflower bloom is abundant, and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

These are the days of summer when there is a brief pause — the early season flowers have subsided and the daylilies will soon explode in color. The walleye bite on the river has slowed and all talk here is of how high the river is with the massive releases from Lake Sakakawea.

Soon each day will be filled with harvesting the vegetables. A few early season daylilies and hosta have begun to bloom, and much of our time is spent sitting on the back patio watching the never-still house wren pair busily raising their brood. I captured a short video here and if you listen closely, you will hear the little ones cheeping frantically as the adults arrive with insects.

Now for some thoroughly enjoyable Fourth of July celebrations in Bismarck-Mandan with lots of fun, family and fireworks!

P.S. About the time I was publishing this, the baby house wrens flew the nest box. Pretty quiet on our patio now.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 41 — Cutworms Get Broccoli, Grill Goes On Fritz

Every gardener experiences successes and failures and must learn to go with the flow.

The first of the Zinnias I planted in April in the basement.
The first of the Zinnias I planted in April in the basement.

Here at Red Oak House, the cutworms killed the heretofore vigorous broccoli. Mr. Green Jeans has replanted broccoli and protected the plants this time with milk cartons. On the bright side, the tomatoes look terrific, as does the rest of the vegetable garden. And for now, the beds are mostly weed free. The walleye are still biting, and, to our delight, we received over an inch of rain in the first two days of the week.

The tall bearded irises are vexing this year. I have only myself to blame as I had forgotten to order special fertilizer in a timely fashion and applied it late. I’m not certain this is the complete explanation, but I know it is a critical piece. I’m also struggling with increasing shade on the beds, a good problem to have I suppose. I’m going to have to decide whether to move all of the sun-loving plants into the two beds that receive (mostly) full sun, and I regret that I won’t be able to scatter these about all of the beds. Probably I’ll give it one more year to see if timing the fertilizer correctly is the trick. That said, I do have lots of irises I need to divide come August.

One large and healthy looking iris (right) sent up many new flower stalks, but they shriveled up without opening. Shade? Too much heat? I just don’t know. Everything around it seems to have had adequate moisture. A bitter pill to swallow.

We ate the first fresh radishes Wednesday and the house wrens seem to be raising a brood in their home on our back patio. Sometimes when I get too close, one of the adult wrens comes exploding out of the house right into my face. Gets me nearly every time. Look closely below and you will see one of the adults peering at me through the top opening of the house.

Today, I turned to the page in my book “Words for Birds” and learned:

“House Wren Troglodytes aedon. Wren is the modern form of Middle English wrenne and Old English wraenna and wraene, which were used not only for the bird but also to mean ‘lascivious.’ Why the Angles and Saxons thoughts this bird to be any more lascivious than others is not all clear. Troglodytidae is formed from the Greek troglodytes, meaning ‘cave dweller,’ and coined from trogle, ‘hole’ or ‘cave’ (literally, one made by gnawing), and dytes, ‘inhabitant.’ The word is thought to suggest the wrens’ constant seeking for cover. The Troglodytes of mythical fame were a cave-dwelling people of Ethiopia. For the house wren (Troglodytes aedon), adeon is Greek for ‘songstress,’ especially a nightingale. In the myth, Aedon, a queen of Thebes, was jealous of her sister-in-law who had many children. She plotted to kill her eldest nephew but by mistake slew her own son. Zeus relieved her grief by turning her into a nightingale. Some may think the call of the house wren is comparable to that of the nightingale. House alludes either to the care with which the wren builds its nest or the ease with which the wren can be attracted to a nest-box.” (pgs. 200-201)

My peonies are also something of a disappointment this year. I wait all year long, each year, hoping it will be better than the last, thus my occasional gardener’s blues. I moved many of the peonies just a few years back and they are taking longer to get established than I would like. I’m trying to be patient, but these take up a huge amount of space in the perennial beds and they’d better carry their weight soon or else. Some large plants have just a few blossoms at most, and a few have none. I’ve read the advice of North Dakota gardening expert, Don Kinzler, and know that at least one of my plants needs to be divided.

That said, peonies are bright color in the time when I await the daylily blossom — and have such heavenly fragrance.

The ninebark and viburnum are also blooming now, as is the large patch of Wood’s rose, although I’ve noticed that the Wood’s rose has far fewer blossoms than previous years. Again, the drought is the likely explanation.

My front yard hosta garden looks splendid this year. The message is that shade gardens, while subdued, are very pleasing. When I planned the hosta garden, I was looking for a Zen-like woodland vibe and I achieved that. Last week, I purchased more Praying Hands hosta and changed out the dirt in that area completely when I added the new seedlings to the existing plant. A previous owner must have had gravel on much of the front yard. Later, a thin layer of dirt was added and grass planted, so I’ve had to fight the gravel and poor soil, a battle I finally seem to be winning.

On other fronts, I’m very nervous that the city is going to make good on its threats and put a sidewalk across the front of our property. All shown in the photo below will be lost, including the first thing I planted when we moved in, a robust Taunton spreading yew. I sure hope not!

The grill is on the fritz, but Jim is working on it and had a backup in the storage area so all was not lost when it was time to make kabobs.

Oh, and those gazillion elm seeds I complained about. They are sprouting. More weeding, less blogging, I guess. And a stack of good books for summer reading!

Finally, the showstopper right now in the garden is the gorgeous tree peony that burst into bloom today. A Bartzella tree peony, it has become one of my favorite plants, both because of its yellow glory and because it was an exceptionally thoughtful gift from my friend, Bob. He must have known how I love the color yellow.

Now, we will end our week with some great Dakota live music, ala Chuck Suchy, at the Co-op and the Cross Ranch Bluegrass Festival. The good life.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 40 — It Rains!

The days continue to grow longer here in the northern latitudes as the calendar progresses toward the summer solstice, and our garden is proof of that inescapable rhythm.

It finally has rained, although not much. Yet, we are extremely grateful for the precipitation, in spite of the fact that some of it fell as we were conducting our book sale.

I have no doubt that much of the death of perennials and shrubs I’ve observed this year is due to the constant need to irrigate with city water. Treated water is not nearly as beneficial as rain. On the bright side, a few plants I’d given up as dead are starting to show some life and as North Dakota gardening expert Don Kinzler said, one must have patience in a year like this. Sadly, my shrub rose is dead as a doornail.

I’ve resisted the urge to transplant two shrubs I have plans to relocate, given that this is the year our house is on the garden tour. Tweaking and moving is a constant way of life for the gardener. I keep a notebook throughout the year with my tasks for the garden.

Jim proclaims that the vegetable garden looks as good as it ever has and last Thursday we ate the first fresh lettuce. Jim also pointed out to me that the first blossoms are on the Bloody Butcher tomatoes, plants he sprouted from seed he had saved from last year’s crop. Meanwhile, the weeds are thriving in every location and keep us on our knees in removal mode.

Last week, a hellacious wind howled through in the night and blew about a billion elm seeds from the neighbor’s tree two houses over into drifts on our patio (below). Armed with a broom and dustpan, I scooped these up, knowing that next year I’ll be pulling the sprouts from the perennial beds by the thousands.

We’ve also grown very weary of all of the pine pollen in the air, which drifts in through our open windows and coats every flat service in the house (above). Hopefully, the rain of the past few days will take care of that problem.

The dwarf iris blooms have subsided and the remainder of bearded irises show hints of blooms to come. Lilac time has come and gone, except for the Korean lilac we have in (mostly) shade that blooms late and does not bloom profusely. I put it there because I had the idea that the aroma would float into our bedroom and bring us pleasant dreams. And so it does.

In their place are the blooms of the anemone, bleeding heart and violets. In one bed that has increasing shade as our trees grow taller, I’ve allowed the columbine to spread and am slowly moving the daylilies to sunnier locations. Yes, I know that columbine can be invasive; after the blooms are spent, I’ll take some action.

I hit up a neighborhood plant sale this past weekend and added two new daylilies and three new hostas to my collection. When I was weeding Tuesday, I watched a sleek, chocolate-colored vole scamper through the flower bed.

To replace the two vines that died or were killed by rabbits, I’ve planted a Trumpet vine and replaced the Autumn Revolution bittersweet. Shortly after this purchase, I discovered that the bittersweet vine that had been severed by the rabbits is sprouting from the root. It will take about five years for the bittersweet to grow to the size it had been. I’m going to carefully protect these with wire next fall.

Memorial Day has come and gone. We attended this year’s program at the nearby North Dakota Veterans Cemetery, where all of the speakers praised the rain that was dampening attendees. Our priest, Monsignor Chad Gion (left, with Jim, a U.S. Navy veteran) gave a marvelous closing prayer, encouraging us to “lead heroic lives.”

These days, when we sit down for a spell on the patio, the goldfinches on the sock thistle feeder entertain us. Around the back of the house, I heard a robin pitching quite a fit, which tells me that one of its hatchlings must be on the ground. Our resident house wren pair cheers us each day.

And another three-tenths of an inch of rain Tuesday night is so very welcome. The front yard hosta garden under the Red Oak tree looks marvelous this year. Jim is off to fish almost every day. June just may be the best month.

“If the light is in your heart, you will find your way home.” — Rumi

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Walk On The Wild Side — In The Bad Lands

While life at Red Oak House here on Missouri River is filled with many blessings and much happiness, as frequently as possible we refresh our spirits with visits to the Bad Lands of North Dakota, which we did early this week, joined by our daughter, Chelsea, and Paul and Joe, our friends from Arizona.

We met on the veranda of the Rough Riders Hotel to make a plan. After a quick lunch, determining that Paul had not been to the Chateau de Mores since his southwest N.D. childhood days, we went there to tour. Joe had never been. Thus it was a good way to reflect upon the founding of the town of Medora and the colorful characters who lived there in the 1880s. When Chelsea was in college, she worked at the Chateau for the summer, as part of the interpretative staff, in period costume. I’m pleased at how much she remembers.

It was a perfect late May day and the Bad Lands are very green right now. There is an array of wildflowers in bloom, including Prairie Ragwort and, my favorite, Prairie Smoke.

We spent the remainder of their two-day visit hiking Theodore Roosevelt National Park trails and driving the loop road. It was very interesting to observe the effects of the recent controlled burn, which although it might seem extreme due to the fire’s proximity to the road, close observation revealed a mosaic pattern that mimics the natural prairie fire process, effecting a relatively small percentage of the Park’s total acreage.

We observed many grazers taking advantage of the fresh green native grasses that had quickly sprouted in the wake of the fire, including a fine bull elk.

Day 2 found us taking a four-mile hike to the Petrified Forest on the park’s west side, a place neither Joe nor Paul had seen, and it was another pleasant day with temperatures in the high 70s. I pointed out to my companions that we were in the officially designated wilderness within the park. A couple of bison bulls were spotted and we gave them a sufficiently wide berth.

Although I’m fairly knowledgeable regarding prairie wildflowers, this one (right) had me stumped (although I thought it was likely a vetch). In all of the miles we hiked, I saw only this one large clump of this specimen. Later, I checked with friends, crowd-sourcing this on social media. One of my friends identified it as a Narrow-leaved Milkvetch (Astragalus pectinatus).

The dominant birds of the day were Lazuli buntings, bobolinks, meadowlarks and yellow-breasted chats. While we hiked, I taught the others some about the birds and plants and confessed to being rather a dunce when it comes to rocks.

While we hiked and chatted, we learned that our friends had never been to the Elkhorn Ranch. By Godfrey, this must be solved, we said, and off we went. The ticks were thick there and a very fine specimen of a bull snake slithered across the trail. We were pleasantly surprised to find a few other visitors who’d made the trek.

Then, it was time to return to Medora, for pizza, followed by a farewell to our good friends and trail companions, until their next visit to North Dakota.

“My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand–though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and fro, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset.” — Theodore Roosevelt

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Book Sale

Difficult as it may be to believe, Red Oak House is holding a book sale June 2, starting at 9 a.m.

A couple of winters back, I cataloged our collection and culled about 200 books, mostly duplicates as well as books we’ve read that don’t fit in the scope of our permanent collection. For a while, I toyed with the idea of selling these online, but I don’t want to have to deal with issues like sales tax and such, not to mention that I have much better things to do with my time, like writing the book we are working on!

Our friends Ken Rogers and Kevin Carvell are going to add some of their books to the sale, so there should be some real treasures — that is, if we don’t buy all of these from each other before we open for business. (Could happen!)

So please stop by, under the spreading branches of the champion Red Oak Tree next Saturday at 920 Arthur Drive in Bismarck. Linger to admire the flower beds if you wish. Sip on a cup of cold lemonade.

Help your fellow bookworms make room on our shelves for new books. You’ll be doing a good deed.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 39

The air is fragrant here at Red Oak House because all of the crab apple trees and lilacs are blooming. Thus, it is exceptionally pleasant to work at our gardening chores. The juneberry bush is loaded with blossoms, and our resident house wrens have returned. Their cheerful call makes our back patio an even more pleasant haven.

Jim has finished planting the vegetable garden, and it appears that this year’s asparagus crop is done. All vegetables have sprouted and there is a promise of fresh lettuce and spinach soon to come.

I’ve been busy planting annuals: 133 zinnias I sprouted in the basement earlier this spring and over a 100 impatiens. I’ve also completed the work I’ve been doing revamping a pathway around the side of the house from the gate to the patio — hard work. While I work, I listen to the brown thrasher, warbling vireo and Swainson’s thrush songs.

First, I dug in the stones, laying each on a bed of sand. Then, I planted 32 creeping thyme all around the stones. I crossed my fingers that these thrive and fill in the open space. My hope is that the dog drags into the house just a little less mud in the long run. I get mighty weary of mopping floors and have so many other things I’d rather do with my life.

While I worked in the flower beds, I found so much winter kill I just wanted to sit and have a cry about it, but Jim reminds me how much is still alive and growing.

The tulip strategy I used last fall, planting a row within the vegetable garden fence in order to foil the rabbits, worked perfectly, a cheerful row of bright colors.

Last spring, I transplanted from the Bad Lands Prairie Smoke (below), my favorite prairie wildflower, and it is blooming nicely so there is a success story.

The iris blooms are waiting in the wings. Any day now.

“The day you think you know, your death has happened — because now there will be no wonder and no joy and no surprise. Now you will live a dead life.” — Osho