Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Cruel Winter

After several mild winters, this January is descending into ice and stinging cold, with temperatures to bottom out at ten below zero this weekend. The snow has frozen to a hard, irregular crust, making even walking in the woods difficult. The wildlife is suffering; the deer can't break through the ice to forage. The rabbits have become nigh invisible; besieged by hunger and the cold north wind snaking through the woods, and the constant watchfulness of hawks during the day and owls at night.
The coldest spell I've seen here in Iowa was one terrible winter where the temperature fell to minus 37. That storm came roaring in at night, with winds of 40-45 miles an hour, pushing the wind chill to a hundred below zero. I lived at that time in a thick woods of red cedars, and I went out that night for a walk. The storm boomed and howled in the tops of the trees; it was a clear night with a full moon, but wind driven ice crystals turned the sky milky, and the moon pale and wan. The next morning dawned clear, and as I drove to work, I noticed numerous black spots on the snow across many of the corn fields; they were dead birds, especially larger birds like crows. They had frozen to death during the night, their bodies strewn carelessly across the fields by the wind.
Weather here in Iowa is not just a backdrop for our lives; it is a palpable thing; it can be kind and forgiving, but not this year... it is a cruel winter. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Seneca Hills Perennials... A Throwback To The Past

This is a nursery fairly new to me, but I am absolutely charmed by it; it is rather like a throwback to when I first started gardening... at that time, many of the mail order nurseries were small outfits which reflected the owner's eclectic gardening interests (the business being an outgrowth usually of a garden which went off the deep end a little so the gardener thought that by selling a few spare divisions, they could buy even more plants). Ellen Hornig's Seneca Hills catalogue is both interesting in its plant descriptions, and absolutely idiosyncratic in its plant offerings, very obviously tracing the proprietor's evolving garden interests: what other catalogue showcases a wide selection of South African bulbs, antique irises, numerous species of peony, hardy cyclamens, arums, pineapple lilies, and sixteen different species of milkweed?
This is a catalogue to savor on cold winter evenings. by Picasa

Monday, January 29, 2007

San Antonio Botanical Center

Another field trip we took this last year was to San Antonio; our main purpose was to escape the snow of late March in Iowa; of course we arrived in San Antonio on a day that set the all-time record for cold there for that date, with the temperature dropping that night below freezing... I was glad I took lots of shorts and t-shirts along for the trip. It did slowly warm up, and one day we toured the San Antonio Botanical Center. I'm a great one for taking off and walking everywhere, even in big cities (which has led to many adventures of widely varying merit), but I was glad I passed on hoofing it to the garden, as our cab driver, a colorful character, regaled us with stories about what he called Hooker Park that we would have had to walk through to get to the garden. The Botanical Garden itself is quite lovely, being built on the old waterworks, with an abandoned rock quarry being incorporated into it. The garden is stronger in landscaping than in individual unusual plants; there is great emphasis on xeriscaping, due to the dryness of the area. Posted by Picasa

Bluebonnets and poppies were blooming everywhere, with hummingbirds buzzing through the flower beds, and mockingbirds singing endlessly in the trees overhead. Posted by Picasa

The Japanese garden was an exception to the emphasis on xeriscaping, and to me it looked out of place, and frankly a little ratty... the Japanese maples looked stressed even in early spring; sort of like giant bonsais. I can't imagine how tough it must have been to keep this area going this summer, with San Antonio's record heat and drought. Of course it's pretty funny for a gardener like me to get sniffy about people trying to grow things not really appropriate to their climate... Mr. Zonedenial! Posted by Picasa

It was still pretty chilly on the day we toured the garden, so going into the glass palm house was welcomed; back outside, a photographer was doing a spring swim suit fashion shoot up by the pond, and the thin models parading around in their bikinis looked a bit, shall we say... nippy? Normally I'm all for watching something like this, but blue flesh is not that attractive. So, the palm house it was, and I finally understood the passion that tropical gardeners have about palm trees... the typical coconut palms of Hawaii were replaced by a fascinating variety of palms, with bark that ranged from fuzzy brown, to smooth green; all beautiful.Posted by Picasa

Most of the garden sculptures had that wondeful look of age and history, that you can't get out of a box. After walking all over the Botanical Garden, I was ready to get back to the Riverwalk for a maragarita and a taco platter!Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 28, 2007

St. Louis By Day And Night

In addition to seeing the Chihuly glass at the Missouri Botanical Garden, we also walked around the gardens themselves; though it was October, lots of things were still in bloom, though signs of fall were everywhere, with the mums in full bloom, and bright mauve colchicums popping up, contrasting with the deep puples of the toad lilies. There are lots of other interesting things to see, including many garden sculptures, a few of which are shown here. That afternoon, we toured the St. Louis Zoo; the penguin house was my favorite... though I always wonder if penguins don't get tired of the smell of fish.
It was late at night when we finally got back to our motel room and got ready to go out for supper, but we were bent on going down by the riverfront to Laclede's Landing. Unfortunately it was easier said then done... mind you, we got very close to it. Our map showed that it would be a little tricky, but the reality was that on a dark night, it was VERY tricky; we kept coming to streets that were closed off, for inexplicable reasons. It finally looked like our best bet was to go to the north end of Laclede's, and take a right; as we rounded a curve, heavy traffic was merging from the left, and too late I saw that I should have taken a harder right... the next thing I knew we were on the bridge over the Mississippi to Illinois. Getting off on the first exit over the river, we drove north to the first place with lights so we could look at our map; it was a nightclub looking like the one in the movie Roadhouse. Unfortunately our map was just for St. Louis; in the bottom of the glove compartment was an ancient Illinois map that showed that it should be just as easy to keep going north and take the next bridge upriver back to St. Louis. However, when we got there the bridge had been closed; how many years it had been closed, I don't know, as we couldn't see anything in the murky dark, but the sign was all weathered and beaten up. There we were, in the middle of East St. Louis late at night, with no functional map, not having eaten for ten hours. I think Liz hates it when I'm cheerful under these circumstances. We then decided (actually I decided, as I think about that time Liz stopped talking to me), that we'd give up Laclede's Landing, keep going up to the next bridge, which was the interstate, and take a big loop back to our motel. We finally got back, two hours after we left, ordered a delivery pizza, and called it a night... another successful Bright Family tour. Posted by Picasa

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chihuly In St. Louie

This last fall, Liz and I went to St. Louis to see the Chihuly glass exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Chihuly glass (from the studio of the same name) is of course world famous; the pieces might be called free-form glass sculptures. Most of them are large, very brightly colored, with swooping, intertwined and flowing glass that look like biological forms from another planet. Many of the exhibitions have been in public gardens, where the glass pieces are integrated into the foliage of the garden. At the Missouri Botanical Garden, most of the pieces (and these pictures) were from inside the glass climatron dome, while a few, as above, were outside. These pictures probably show 10% of the displays. If you ever have the chance to see one of these Chihuly exhibitions, by all means go... a few pictures cannot communicate how captivating this show really was. Tomorrow: more from the garden, and we inadvertently tour East St. Louis at night.Posted by Picasa

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