Monthly Archives: September 2013

Praying Mantises!!

Yesterday, when my son, Travis, and I were doing a bit of gardening, I happened to notice an odd shaped leaf and as I continued to study it, it moved! If you didn’t read my earlier post about this, I hung an egg sac of praying mantises on my lilac tree back in the spring, without thinking much about it.  In fact, I was pretty sure the weather was going to be too cold for them to hatch, but I was going away for a couple of weeks and I had no choice but to put them out, or let them hatch in my bathroom.  That would have been an amusing email to read from my husband while I was away, but I thought better of it.

Male Praying Mantis, taken in the Tranquil Garden

Male Praying Mantis, taken in the Tranquil Garden

Anyway, the moving leaf turned out to be, as you have guessed, the very same praying mantis!  Well, I assume so, unless there are praying mantises kicking around in our yard from some other source!  We saw two of them, about 4-5 inches long, one with a brownish back and one completely green.  From Travis’s later googling, we gathered that the brownish one was the male, the green one the female.  Perhaps by now the male has been eaten by the female, since that’s what they do after mating. Probably they need the added nourishment to feed their young.  Very sensible, I call it!

One of my biggest fans, Bob S. saw my Facebook wall post about the praying mantis and helpfully posted the picture below of what p.m.’s are capable of.  It made me a little less excited about having them as residents,  and I am relieved- for the first time- that hummingbirds stay away from my garden in droves. I imagine the cardinals and sparrows are safe.

Hummingbird being eaten by a praying mantis. Nasty!

Hummingbird being eaten by a praying mantis. Nasty!

Finding the praying mantises was the highlight of our gardening day, but we also managed to get a few chores done: cleaning up the diseased chestnut and rose leaves, emptying the compost bin (got three good-sized bags of lovely looking stuff!), cutting off the dead stalks of the echinacea and obedient plants, etc.  It was an absolutely perfect fall day for working in the garden.  Warm/cool and sunny.  With the fall flowers still going strong and even the containers looking good, the Tranquil Garden was the place to be.



The Arts: Feeding your Soul

I’m deviating from my usual summer subject matter to bring up a line of thought that is always in the back of my mind: the arts as a career, is it worth it?  The main reason I’m rethinking the whys and wherefores is that my children are both artists, and for their generation it’s even more challenging to contemplate a career in the arts than it was in my youth.

Many people, some of my colleagues included, have actively dissuaded their children from pursuing careers in the arts, even to the point of refusing them music lessons as children.  I realize they feel they’re doing what’s best for their children, and perhaps they’re right.  The trouble is we have no way of knowing the future, more’s the pity.  Those who have already chosen to lead their kids away from the arts have basically said, “Don’t do it, you won’t make any money”, or “You’ll be unhappy, forget it!”  Maybe this is because of their own experience; they’ve been frustrated or several of their friends have been frustrated, poor and unhappy as a result of the decision to pursue an artistic career.  Yes, the number of people who get a degree in music is far more than the number of musicians who actually make a career out of music. But, is it fair to tell a child who loves music and who passionately wants to devote their life to it, that they should not do it? These days, there’s no guarantee that a job in almost any field will be forthcoming, so why not at least give it a try?

My daughter (for example) is a singer and a very good one.  Her father and I have been encouraging her  to keep singing since she was in diapers.  How could we suddenly say, whoa! We weren’t serious, you can’t really make a career out of it!? She is a talented, smart woman who, if singing doesn’t “pan out” as we say, will be able to find a path and make a career for herself somewhere; but if she gave up now, wouldn’t she always wonder what might have been?

Whatever path you choose, whether the practical “sure-fire” money-maker (if there is such a thing) or a life in the arts, the only way to enjoy life is to take it day by day.  You don’t know what will happen, but if you take the opportunities life puts in your way and work hard at what you love, at least you can say, “I tried my best,” and perhaps there’s some peace to be gained in that if the career you envisioned just doesn’t materialize. I believe that time devoted to practicing an art is never wasted.  How can you monetize feeding your own soul? Or assess the cost of starving it?

Yes, being poor and struggling sucks, but I know plenty of people who are relatively rich and still miserable.  It’s not about the money, it’s about time well spent.  At some point along the trajectory, my daughter may find herself earning a decent living, mostly or completely by practicing her art; on the other hand, she may wake up one day and say, “I’m sick to death of this struggle, I’m going to become a dental hygienist”.  Either of these scenarios are possible and both completely legit.  She’s an adult and has to make her own choices now.  On our end, we can’t kick ourselves for encouraging her wonderful talent.  We’re idealists! We’d like to see her making the world a better place by singing for people.  However, she can also make the world a better place by cleaning people’s teeth.  We’re okay with that too. She’ll still be a terrific singer and as long as she’ll always sing for us, we’ll be happy.

A lovely late summer bed with cosmos and Japanese anemone

A lovely late summer bed with cosmos and Japanese anemone

This song is an emotional out-pouring of how art pierces the soul and inspires.  Roberta Flack (again) and “Killing me Softly”…

[embedplusvideo height=”225″ width=”350″ editlink=”″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=O1eOsMc2Fgg&width=350&height=225&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8219″ /]


Autumn Challenges

I’m ashamed to realize it’s been almost a month since my last blog post.  This should be a good time of year to be doing a lot of gardening and therefore, for me, a lot of writing about it.  However, I’ve been back at work for a couple of weeks and, geez, that takes up a lot of time!  Plus, my neck and upper back have been a mess, possibly from over-using my lap top, maybe from practicing and playing too much, maybe a couple of long days in the garden contributed. Who knows? Anyway, I’ve been leery about doing much gardening and even more leery of spending a couple of hours at my lap top.  The solution was in the basement all along in the form of my husband’s desk top computer, which is where I am now.  Much better alignment for the neck and head.  Phew!

So, where were we?  I believe I’ve been meaning to write about Phase ll of Tranquil Garden: the Front Yard.  I (with the invaluable help of friend and co-owner, Maureen M) have now ridden my front yard of another 1/3 of the lawn!  Woot!  Well, to be honest, the grass is still there,  it’s merely covered by a few inches of soil and mulch, but with any luck it will be dead by spring and I can continue with Phase lll and beyond.  Phase lll will entail smothering the rest of the grass using the ‘lasagne’ method as described in “Phase One Complete!”, Phase lV will be the rock garden on the lane way side of the front yard, Phase V, planting all the ground cover and the rest of the plants.  There are a lot of phases in this project, but planning it in stages keeps it from being overwhelming. As a reminder, here is a before picture of the front yard:

Front Yard, before the commencement of Phase l

Front Yard, before the commencement of Phase l

I already showed you what Ginny and I did on the maple tree portion of the front yard.  So here is a picture of the completed Phase ll:IMG_0383

So, it looks a bit like a graveyard at the moment.  However, I prefer to think of it as a clean canvas to create whatever beauty my heart desires next spring.  I will re-arrange the rocks in a rounder shape, to mimic the wall on the other side of the walkway, but keep the front foot or two free from planting, to avoid destruction by the snow removal trucks.  Many thanks to Maureen for the many hours of help!!

I’m planning a day of gardening on Friday with help from my son, Travis, to get started on the fall chores like dividing perennials; cutting back on the seed heads that are probably already spreading themselves around too much; cleaning up the leaves from the rose bushes infected by blackspot to prevent a recurrence next year; picking up the leaves from the chestnut tree for the same reason (they’re infected by some sort of fungus); transplanting perennials from the deck pots; re-potting some annuals that I want to over-winter inside; harvesting some compost so we have room over the winter to add more kitchen waste.  That’ll do for a start, specially since Travis can’t commit to a full day…

Scrolling through Youtube today I came across this gem.  Roberta Flack and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.

[embedplusvideo height=”240″ width=”360″ editlink=”″ standard=”″ vars=”ytid=r9jmusgMgro&width=360&height=240&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5962″ /]

Back care for the (Lazy) Gardener

The pond my sister Nora, built.

The pond my sister Nora, built. Talk about major projects!

I swung my legs over the side of the bed on Sunday morning and immediately felt a muscle spasm. I felt one more, then it subsided; so I rolled out my yoga mat and lay down, face first, to let my back relax. After a few minutes I tried getting up, and that was successful with only slight twinges, so I went to my computer and googled: back spasms. I found a 14 step treatment that seemed pretty good.  Since my back didn’t stay in a spasm, I really only did the first two steps, which were lie down and ice the back. I’ve had issues with my lower back before so whenever I contemplate a project like Phase One, that’s what worries me.  I am not super afraid of hard work (really, I’m not!), but I’m very afraid of back pain.  Before starting work on Thursday, I made sure to warm up my back with a few exercises.  I found a “Jock”-type warm-up and incorporated some yoga techniques and poses into it.  Just a 10 minute warm-up makes a big difference, especially if you are starting heavy work early in the day, because after lying in bed all night most of us are pretty stiff.  The twinges I experienced today were probably nothing compared to what I might have suffered had I not warmed up my back, both Thursday and Friday.  If I want to stay fit enough to garden for many years, I need to keep doing these ab/back strengthening exercises as part of my routine.  A little cardio probably wouldn’t hurt either…

Virginia lent me a pile of gardening books when she came over last week, and I’ve been making my way through them.  Lots of good information in there.  One book is by Larry Hodgson, a self-proclaimed, *”Lazy Gardener“, which is a title I considered for this blog, but naturally it was taken!  He talks about the ‘lasagna’ technique of starting new garden beds more or less the way we did it, only with layers of newspaper instead of bio-degradable geo-textile.  I’ve done that before and it works, but I found that the newspaper didn’t  necessarily break down as fast as I thought it would, especially when I forgot to water it regularly. It’s surprising how long it takes dry newspaper to compost!  When we were digging up the front yard, we found quite a few matted bits of newspaper I had placed there years ago in an unsuccessful try at the same technique.

One of the clematis that's growing up from below the deck.  They seem to like it there.

One of the clematis that’s growing up from below the deck. They seem to like it there.

I like Hodgson’s idea for a perennial garden: set it up so you hardly have to do any maintenance.  Have good soil to start with (or amend it so it’s better), plant the perennials close together so weeds can’t take hold, choose the right perennials for the location, then mulch, mulch, mulch!  He doesn’t believe in dead-heading; he says the popular wisdom (that I have espoused) that the spent blooms drain the plant’s energy is hogwash.  Logically, he must be right, because nobody’s going around dead-heading in the forests and the flora seem to truck along just fine. I will persist in my habit of dead-heading anyway, mostly because I prefer the look of the garden without all those dead blooms, and also to inhibit those crazy self-sowers I’ve talked about before. If you don’t cut off the heads of obedient plants, chives and bachelor’s buttons, to name but a few, you will regret it! Still, it’s a relief to know that there’s no shame in being a lazy gardener!

*This site is in French.