Saturday, August 1, 2015

Apologies to Echinops

Have you ever apologized to a plant?  I haven't.  But maybe I should.

Look at this astilbe, for example:

OK, well, you probably can't see it very well, because I took this photo when the sun was too bright.  It's the brownish beige vertical thing in the middle.  It's there, and it's dead, illustrating one of the sayings of one of my favorite gardening teachers, the late great Fred McGourty of Hillside Gardens in Norfolk:  "A dry astilbe is a dead astilbe." 

Now here's another plant to which I would owe an apology if I ever apologized to plants:  Globe thistle (echinops).

A couple of weeks ago I complained bitterly in this blog about my globe-thistle, a beautiful plant that has failed to share its beauty with me.

I complained that although its leaves were robust, its flowers never achieved the rich blue so beloved in globe thistles.  Mine were a washed-out white.

Now  the globe thistle is surprising me.  Its blah white flowers are actually opening up blue.

Okay, so maybe another bad photo, but I hope you can see that part of the top of this flower is opening up blue.

This one too.  Can you see the top opening up blue?

Maybe the flowers that so disappointed me before were unripe, not opened yet.  If these globe thistles are actually going to bloom blue, they'll win my heart.

Apologies to echinops?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Punk birds

Why is it that there are some bird babies that you never see?  Pigeons, for example.  Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?  Or a baby blue jay?  I haven't.

But some baby birds are ubiquitous here in West Hartford at the end of July, and I get to see them close up on my deck.  My favorite is the juvenile cardinal.  Skinny, slight, and not fully colored, the juvenile cardinal, with its outsize crest, looks like an adolescent going through a punk phase.

Punk cardinal

What are YOU lookin' at?

The punk image is totally destroyed, though, when one of the cardinal parent appears.  Then the baby sheds the punk insouciance and starts with the "feed me!" behavior, flapping its wings, peeping, and hopping along hopefully behind the parent.

Who's tough now?

Take a look at the wing-flapping behavior in the baby
The other day I saw a juvenile robin splashing around in the fountain in our yard.  I could tell it was a baby because it was chubby and fluffy and because of its spotted breast.

That spotted breast shows that the bird is a member of the thrush family.  In robins, the spotted breast appears only in juveniles.  By adulthood, it has become a tiny checkered patch at the base of the neck. Other thrushes, like the wood thrush and the hermit thrush, keep their spotted breasts all their lives.

Robin mystery:  why is the bird's scientific name turdus migratorius?  "Turdus" is the Latin word for ugly.  Not a fair appellation for this bird, whose chimes woke me every summer morning of my childhood.

And how about the veery?  That's one of my favorite thrushes, one that keeps the checkered breast.  I diverge here because this post is about fledgling birds in  my yard, and the truth is, there currently is no veery in my West Hartford yard.

But there used to be one whose ethereal call drifted down from the tall tree canopy when I lived on Whitney Street in Hartford.  I divert for a moment because I want you to listen to that call, dropping airily in a crystal spiral: 

Back to my backyard birds: A couple of weeks ago I saw what must have been a juvenile mourning dove.  It must have been, because it looked in every way like an adult, but it was smaller and skinnier.  At first I thought,"Why is that mourning dove so skinny?"  Then I realized:  it must be a baby.  But a baby without the juvenile awkwardness of the cardinal.  This baby was all organized and arranged, every feather in place.

Nothing like the  adolescent awkwardness of the fledgling cardinal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Globe Thistle: Global Disappointment

Have you ever tried to grow globe thistle (echinops)?

It's a stunning plant, with spherical blue flowers 2 inches in diameter. 

I love the frosted, ghostly quality of those flowers.  Look at them.

That's why I try to include globe thistle in my silver garden.

My history of trying to grow them is long and sad, a saga of breathlessly anticipated results followed by extreme mediocrity.. and, ultimately, banishment.

I vowed never to buy this plant again.

Nevertheless, each year it cluelessly reappears as an unwanted volunteer.

This year's volunteer, though, looked like it might be an exception to my ban on globe thistle.   Look at its stately vigor as it towers over the rest of the garden:

Those lower leaves are over 12 inches long, and the plant as a whole is angular, dignified, structural, striking.

But meanwhile, look at the extreme paucity of its flowers:

This little...uh, globe is just under an inch in diameter, smaller than a ping pong ball.  Yet it towers on a stately, swan-like neck:

Pathetic flowers, especially compared to the statuesque vigor of the rest of the plant.

Globe thistle is supposed to look like this:

The flowers are supposed to be 2 inches in diameter, for heaven's sake.

But all I get are these tiny sputniks.  They're not globes, they're globs.  And they're not sapphire blue, but more of a faded, washed out, grayish color

Once again, globe thistle underperforms. My only theory for this near-failure is that globe thistle likes its soil lean and well-drained.  Is the soil in my silver garden too rich for it?  I believe that happens when a plant is growing in soil that is too rich for its actual needs.

Globe thistle:  Global disappointment. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015


 I'm not one for giving names to non-sentient objects, but my sister Jeanne used to love to name things. Everything.  She named her cars.  Once she named a recliner Bobby.

Bobby the Barcalounger, or something like him

 I don't engage in that wacky habit, except for one situation.  When a blooming bush buzzes with...well, buzzing things, I call it "buzzilicious."

I have a plant called an eryngium, also known as sea holly, in my silver garden.

 This plant, whose weid spiky blooms I cherish,  is this year's buzzilicious.

It's buzzing not only with furry honey bees:

But also with smooth-bodied wasps like this one:

And even a tiny, half size version of a wasp, a creepy little thing about half an inch long.

 I've never seen these things before.  They creep me out, partly because there are dozens of them out there, and partly because they remind me of flying ants, which to me are not only ugly but always up to no good. 

I turned to the Internet, using the search term, "bees the size of flying ants."  I found that these tiny buzzers are vespid wasps.  I give them wide berth.  I suppose they're doing me a favor by pollinating my eryngium.  But they still creep me out.

And I'm not gonna name any of them Bobby.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Today in Art

Today's the day.  I just posted my two latest completed pieces of art in the quilt gallery section of this blog.

 This one is Eastham Low Tide IV

This is Eastham Low Tide, Transfigured.

I use the word "transfigured" in the title of the second one because, in it, the sky is reflected on the sand, and thus the sand is transfigured as a reflection of heaven.

The media are Pebeo Setacolor watercolors and Derwent Inktense Pencils, both applied to pima cotton which is then layered with batting and backing, and finally quilted.  These are whole cloth quilts, which means that they are each made of one single piece of fabric, rather than many pieces sewn together.

I worked on these over the winter, last winter, and the act of creating them got me through those short bleak days.

As always, the natural beauty of Cape Cod is my living inspiration.  These two pieces both depict the patterns of the water and sand at low tide.  These are about the fourth and fifth such art quilts I've painted and quilted, and the beauty of the Cape is such that I'm nowhere near finished yet.

In fact, I'm at the Cape as I write this, just finishing up a two-week vacation. And as today started as a rainy day, not a good one for outdoor activities, Joe and I decided to do something we've never done before in all our Cape vacations:  visit the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis.

It was an inspiring visit because I got to see how accomplished artists render the glorious landscapes of this place. Of course, I couldn't take photos of any of the works that so impressed me, but I could, and did, buy this book:

...and in it some images that I hope will inspire me as I digest the experiences of this vacation.  Here are a couple of them, and as you can see, I'm not the world's best photographer:

This is Autumn Reflections, oil on canvas by Tom Steinmann.

This is Glowing Red, oil on linen by Matthew Schulz
This is Province Lands, oil on canvas by Ann Packard
The contemplation of these landscapes has given me the boost I needed to continue work on this piece, which I brought here to the Cape with me so I could work on it.

It's an image of one of the Pamet trails, in the Truro part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.  It's already been needle felted and wet felted and now is being embellished with hand embroidery.  The materials are silk gauze, wool roving, and pearl cotton embroidery thread.   My inspiration comes from my many, many walks on this trail, which leads to a pristine isolated ocean beach.  In it, I try to convey a sense of mystery, even of the sublime.

I'm planning to hang this piece as part of Seeking a Path, my upcoming solo show at the Clare Gallery of St. Patrick  and St. Anthony Church in Hartford, scheduled for November 2015.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Weird from Weird

Have you ever heard the expression Deaf from Deaf ?  Carny from Carny?  I got the first from Andrew Solomon and the second from Stephen King, but in both cases the expressions refer to someone who is a second generation of a category such as carnival worker.  I suppose you could say lefty from lefty, redhead from redhead, and smarty-pants from smarty-pants, too, if you were so inclined.

How about weird from weird?  My newest piece, Tree Spirit, could be called that.  Look at the weird image that inspired it:

This is a root growing out of a hole in the base of a tree growing along Trout Brook, a watercourse near my home in West Hartford, Connecticut.  With its knoblike head, jutting chin, multiple tentacles, and simian crouch, it reminded me of a creature from a fantasy universe, like those created by  JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling.  Capitalizing on that weirdness, I used all kinds of textile arts to create this piece, based on that image:

Here are a couple of closeups:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Scrap Happy: An apron for the budding chef in my life

"What am I going to do with these scraps?" I wondered after finishing a recent project.

Then,  somebody mentioned that a little girl in my life

 ...could use an apron in her own size, because  she likes to cook...

...AND that her favorite color is orange.

A new project was born:  turning those scraps into an apron with the same chevron design I just used:

For a pattern, I could  copy one of the many child-size aprons still living in this house.  You never know when you're going to need one.

I used this one, a gift to one of my daughters from a friend in England.

With a chalk pencil, I traced its outlines onto another piece of fabric:
...then I started sewing those orange strips down onto that fabric, and this is what the apron-to-be looked like at one early stage:

Today I finished it, and here are the results:

Next stop:  Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York,

This kind of traditional piecing is relatively non-challenging and therefore relaxing.  This apron is one of two more traditional quilting projects I'm working on right now, for a pause between more challenging and scary work.  I'm loving it!