The Children of the Night

Tropical Storm Beryl passed by our area today and as such drenched the area in rain.  This made the tree frogs happy, and I mean really happy.  This was the chorus in my back yard last night.


This reminds me of a night years ago.  I was fast asleep when my husband nudged me.  It was about 4am and I am not best pleased to be woken at that hour.  “Listen” he said to me, I looked at him, through squinted eyes.  He was sat bolt upright in bed.  “Listen” he said.  I listened.  The frogs were singing outside.  “The treefrogs are singing” I said.   “No” he said “they are singing in harmony, see that was a perfect chord”.   It is one of those moments when you wonder what the aliens have done with your husband and who is this laying beside you in bed.  I will never forget it.


New Kid on the Block

Last year, as I do, I rescued some poor Asiatic Lilies that were growing out of their bags at the Lowes 75% off summer bulb sale.  I had absolutely nowhere to put them, so in an act of desperation I grabbed an empty planter, threw in some potting soil I had laying around in some pots and planted them in there.  Of course the first year the poor things had spent so much of their energy growing in their bags they had no hope of flowering.  This year however, I hoped that they had stored up some flowers over the winter and would reward me come summer.  I was not disappointed.

This deep, vibrant orange is new for me and I am absolutely loving it.  The bulb put out one bloom and has another bud.  I am hoping that, if I find them a permanent home rather than the planter, it will reward me with many more blooms next year.    That is the thing about gardening, it is always a matter of taking a chance and then waiting for the results.  As one poster at the HGTV Gardening boards always quoted “those who plant a seed in sod and waits to see believes in God”  (or in my case Mother Nature).

In further praise of Thrift Stores

I love thrift stores, I always have.  It is not only the bargain hunter in me but also my refusal to wear only what current trends tell me I should wear.   I know what suits me, and I know what doesn’t, and I simply refuse to wear anything that makes me look hideous.

Several years ago there was a fashion for tops that were gathered under the bust and then loose below the gathers.  They tended to make anyone who wore them look pregnant,  no matter what their weight, and I simply could not understand why anyone would wear something that made them look pregnant simply because it was “the style” at the time.  I could go on and on about the utterly ridiculous women’s shoes that seem to be the style right now.  I see young paralegals tottering over to court in towering heels and one inch platforms which push them forward and give the impression that they are about to fall off a cliff.   I am a great proponent of “sensible shoes” these days.

This is one of the great things about shopping in thrift stores.   During the summer I love wearing colorful sleeveless tops and matching sandals.  My favorite colors are coral pink and turquoise, but I have the tops in a rainbow  of colors thanks mainly to the many bag sales which my local Domestic Violence Center  store holds.  Pay $5.00 for a bag and stuff it with as many items of clothing as you can.   I don’t have to worry that turquoise may not in vogue right now because it has been at one point in time and I can be guaranteed to pick up designer tops in my favorite colors.

When it comes to matching sandals with my tops I would be stumped if I tried to shop the traditional route, as colorful sandals appear to be scarce as chickens teeth in the regular retail places.   At thrift stores however you have a never ending supply of colorful sandals, or as I like to call them “bridesmaid’s shoes”.

Someone is always getting married, and someone is always coming up with a new color scheme for her bridesmaids and so there are always pretty sandals in those colors at high end bridal shops.  Invariably the bridesmaids dress will never be worn again and the sandals will be placed at the back of the closet until it comes time to move (every two years in the case of military members around here) and the sandals will end up at the thrift store where I can pick them up for $3.00 a pair or less.   Right now I have sandals in every color imaginable to match my sleeveless tops, the only color that has so far eluded me is yellow.  I got excited last week when I found a pair on the racks at Goodwill but alas they were a size too large.  No matter, I shall continue to scour the thrift stores, eventually a bridesmaid with size 6.5 to 7 feet will be wearing yellow sandals and will eventually donate them.  At that point they will be MINE!   I love the thrill of the hunt.

Like a Rock

When I arrived home this evening I went outside and prepared to open the gate into the back yard for Cueball to go out and pee, eat grass, and bark at the neighbor’s dogs, as is his wont every evening.  As I bent down to open the bottom latch I spotted this charming little dear:

I adore Tortoises.*   My mother has two as pets which she got at least forty years ago before it was illegal to import them.   In fact here’s how to date them, we named the first one she got George, after Georgie Best the soccer player.  The soccer player is long since dead.  Georgina (as she was renamed once we found out she was female) is still going strong.  The other one is called Mrs. T.  after, of course, you know who.

You can imagine my delight then when I moved over here and discovered that they roam wild.   As my home backs on to a swamp I see them quite often, although usually hiding in the undergrowth during the heat of the day and only coming out in the evening to forage.  One of their favorite places to feed is under the bird feeders, where there is an endless supply of sprouting birdseed to graze on.  I have found that they particularly enjoy sunflower seed sprouts.   It was no surprise then to find this one on the patio, no doubt having been feasting under the feeders out there.  I gently opened the gate and steered Cueball away from the tortoise and let him go and do his thing.  After admiring the tortoise for a while I moved it into the adjoining flower bed to make sure that Cueball’s clodhopping feet didn’t do it any damage.   It of course closed itself up into a box as soon as I touched it but it wasn’t long before it wandered off into the undergrowth of the Canna and Daylily bed, no doubt looking for some tasty slugs to snack on.

Occasionally during a summer evening one will be out in the open and one of the cats will come across it.  There is nothing like the look on a cat’s face when it notices that there appears to be a rock walking across the lawn.  They will approach said rock and tentatively touch it with a paw only to discover that the walking rock has turned back into a stationary rock, and that the legs and head have suddenly disappeared.   This confuses the cat.  So they will again touch the rock with a tentative paw and wait.  The rock remains stationary.  Eventually the cat will become bored and wander off.  Inevitably, shortly thereafter, the tortoise will come out of its box and again begin to wander across the lawn.   The cat, astounded by this, will again bound over to the tortoise and paw it.  The tortoise will withdraw its head and legs and snap shut and the whole process repeats itself.  It can go on for hours.  Many times I will intervene, and while the cat is watching the rock I will walk over and remove it to a safer place in one of the flower beds, the cat of course will look at me as if to say “Did you see that rock walking? Cause I did honest Mom! And no I haven’t been at the nip”.   It is one of the delights of living on the edge of a swamp here in Eastern North Carolina that such charming creatures are commonplace in my landscape.

* (I am not going to get into an argument about the name, it is a Carolina Box Tortoise, it is not a turtle, it is also not a “land turtle” there is no such reptile and I do not care what Wikipedia or any other source says, and I do not care what they are more closely related to, I will also argue with any professor you wish me to argue with.  You can accuse me of species snobbery but to call them turtles is a form of laziness.  It is like calling a Duck a Pigeon.   In my mind if I am a tortoise then call me a damn tortoise, I visibly cringe when someone goes the turtle route, and I will say through gritted teeth “it is a TORTOISE, not a turtle” end rant.)

Mother Nature makes me smile

When I was filling up the bird feeders this weekend I noticed a flash of bright color buried in the green of the Liriope and vowed to check it out more closely once I had finished my chores.  Once I returned with my camera I found what was some sort of orgy going on with some jewel-like bugs (please excuse the fuzzy shot)

The best identification I could come up with is Rose Weevil (or Curculio) because the photographs in my identification books do not do justice to the bright red and neon blue color of the bugs.   If anyone else has a better identification than mine I would be grateful to hear it.

I often wonder which of her new hallucinogens Mother Nature was sampling with her Sprites when she was on a creation binge to come up with something like this.

By any other name

The roses are coming into their own right now.  My dedicated rose bed, which I created several years ago because Lowes had reduced a whole bunch of Fairy roses in their “dead plant section” and I had nowhere to put them.   I consulted with the husband, as you do, to the extent that you listen to his input and then completely disregard it, and then set about constructing a bed using the lasagne method.  If you are not familiar with the method it is basically using some sort of edging for the bed, then layering newspapers and compost and top soil lasagne style and then letting it “cook” for a while and then planting it.

Of course I did not have the patience to wait for it to “cook” for a while so I created the bed lasagne style and actually cut through the newspapers to plant the roses.

They have since grown into monsters that are smothered in blooms right now.  They also share their bed with Asiatic and Oriental Lilies.

The circular bed in the middle of the lawn was an emergency project (much like the rose bed) when I had bought some carpet roses in the dead plant section at Lowes and then went up to Raleigh to meet up with my HGTV garden buddies at the Plant Delights Nursery and spent the weeks grocery budget on plants.

Many of the plants that I bought at Plant Delights have since died, but the Hardy Ginger and Baptista have thrived.  The Hardy Ginger strangely enough has wandered off the reservation so to speak, and is now several feet away from where I originally planted it.

In the back I, once upon a time,  planted a white tree rose in the center of the patio.  That tree rose quickly reverted to root stock and is now a rambling, tumbling, riot of red in the Spring that defies belief.

My favorite rose of course is Ms Lady Banks.  A thoroughly Southern Lady she is not only thornless but is absolutely rampant, growing bigger and better every year that she exists.  Not only is she beautiful, but she is voracious, she can eat an arbor or any other structure that you attempt to train her over, thankfully she is also not adverse to pruning, shrugging it off with a shake of her head, as if you think a pruning will hold her back. 

Also on the edge of the patio I have a “nearly wild” rose, that puts forth charming, innocent pink blooms that always make me smile

I have to admit I am a rose fan.  There are huge problems with growing them here in North Carolina, not least of which is black spot, thanks to the humidity, but if you can find the right type that will withstand the heat and humidity of our summers they are well worth the effort.

Afternoon Tea

Other than my family of course there are two things I really miss about living in the UK.  Pub Lunches and Afternoon Tea.  Bar food here is no measure against the sheer delight of a good old Pub Lunch, and some of my more memorable Pub Lunches are seared into my brain as indelible memories.   The beer garden in Cheddar Gorge was one for instance, a Ploughman’s Lunch with Cheddar pulled directly from the caves where it matures washed down with a cold lager shandy.  Another highlight was sitting at the outside tables of a pub down in Helston, Cornwall, on a glorious sunny afternoon with my boss and my workmates playing hookey so we could watch the ships come in for some sort of celebration (that part I cannot remember).  I ate a huge baked potato piled high with locally caught prawns drenched in Marie Rose sauce, again washed down with a lager shandy.

My favorite Afternoon Tea (among many memorable ones) was in Glastonbury, an old fashioned Tea Shop run by several silver haired old ladies, with crisp white tablecloths and mismatched chairs, clinking china tea cups and saucers with matching cake plates and tea pots, cake racks lined with paper doilies and piled high with Vanilla Slices, Scones, Cup Cakes and Cucumber, Salmon and Watercress sandwiches and pots of strawberry jam and Devon Clotted Cream to go with the Scones.  One of my favorite cakes for Afternoon Tea is the Battenberg, but that has more to do with my love of marzipan than it is to do with my fondness for cake.

Tomorrow evening is the final concert for the school year for my husband’s band and as usual there will be a reception after the concert where the band boosters and various others bring the food.  I always try to make something very British to take along rather than something Southern,  in years by I have taken Scotch Eggs, Sausage Rolls, mini Cornish Pasties, a Strawberry Trifle and Prawn Vol-au-vents (okay technically French but they are a favorite British party food) and they have all be very well received.   This year I decided that I would make Battenbergs.

It is not a hard cake to make, a basic sponge cake.  The hard part is the construction, and of course finding a source for ready made marzipan.  Luckily for me both Fresh Market and World Market in Wilmington sell it so I always pick up a couple of blocks so I have it on hand should the spirit move me to make something that needs it.  I have been known, in moments of insane desire for a Battenberg NOW I HAVE TO HAVE IT NOW types of food psychosis, making the marzipan from scratch and I don’t mean from Almond Paste, I mean from whole Almonds.   Here is my finished article (I made two of them)

I think I may have been a tad over-enthusiastic with the red food coloring, as I seem to recall the pink layers being more pink than coral but checking out the Wikipedia page for the cake shows a home-made one with the same affliction.  Perhaps it is just the Mr. Kipling version that is paler pink.

One of the secondary effects of making Battenbergs of course is that you have lots and lots of cake trimmings to do something with (it is almost impossible to bake a perfectly square cake).  Of course you can always throw them in a bowl and serve them with ice cream but as far as I am concerned one of the best ways to use them is to make an English Trifle.  Which is exactly what I did.  If I were not taking this to a US high school then I would have liberally soaked the cake in a good cream Sherry prior to adding the jello, but alas, I have no desire to be charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors for providing a dessert to a high school concert.   Here is the result

The great thing about trifle is that it is bound only by the limits of your imagination in that the fruit and alcohol in the bottom with the cake layer can be made with many things.  I have made a delicious Pear and Pear Brandy version, using a Champagne jello, regular English custard and normal cream.  I make a Black Forest version using chocolate cake, cherries soaked in liquor then with chocolate pudding and chocolate whipped topping, bananas soaked in banana schnapps is also very good with banana pudding and whipped cream on top.  There really is no end to the combinations that you create.  Just make sure that the fruit and sponge on the bottom gets a good soaking of whatever alcohol you are using.

I enjoyed creating these today, and I hope they will be well received at the concert.  I will be sure and reserve a slice of the Battenberg before it goes out to the masses.

The Superstars

Once upon a time I heard the phrase “you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many silk blouses”, my version of that is “you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Asiatic Lilies”.  The true superstars of my garden are just now coming into flower.  No matter how many I have, when the bulbs go on sale at Lowes for 50% off (this time of year) I end up buying more bags of them and then wandering around the yard with a trowel in one hand and a bag of bulbs in the other looking for somewhere to plant them.    I have even been known to put them in containers when putting them in my flower beds was not an option.  Generally the yellow in the pathway beds are the first to bloom.

Next the pale cream in the rose bed.

And this weekend the Orange in the circular bed, which really are delicious, they remind me of a bowl of rich Orange custard just waiting to be devoured.

Soon to come will be the pink, and then my absolute favorite a white and burgundy polka-dotted one that looks for all the world as if someone has taken a can of spray paint to it.   Later in the season my Oriental lilies will scent the air for miles with their spectacular blooms and glorious fragrance.

No muss, no fuss, for a small investment (especially at 50% off) you can buy the bulbs, plant them and just leave them alone for the rest of their lives and they will come back bigger and better year after year.  There really is nothing better than that when it comes to low maintenance gardening.




The come back kid

Last year my DH decided that he didn’t like the front bed around the gum ball tree (I do not know the name of the tree, other than what a local landscaper called it).  To be honest I don’t much like the bed, it is full of Liriope (or Monkey Grass) which I absolutely hate.  However there are some daylilies in there and years ago I planted a pretty white clematis at the base of the tree in the hope that it would climb up it.  As he does on occasion when something really bothers he decided, in his wisdom, to take his weedeater to everything in the bed.

Within short order of course the Liriope returned, as did the bird food seedlings, as did the daylilies.  This Spring I was delighted to see that not only did the clematis come back after being weedeated to the ground, but she came back bigger and better than ever, with more blooms than she had ever had.

Some times you can’t keep a good girl down.