Saturday, July 29, 2017

Oh,Tomatoes and Other Garden Delights

Late lamented nectarine tree. Hope we get a volunteer or two from the seeds the squirrels bury. 
We miss the beautiful clouds of pink flowers and fragrant fruit, juicy ambrosia.
How very red, round and lovely. We love tomatoes for their flavor.
Some look like hearts (the organ) some brownish or purplish (Black Krim).
In the back garden on P St, since some of the nectarine orchard died back, sunlight has flooded into our sunken garden, making an ideal place for growing tomatoes. My mother and aunt start tomato seedlings in March.  Such a tender miracle to see the seedlings hatch out of their wee husks. We optimistically plant out the little things mid-May. Bury most of the stem to encourage strong roots. The transplants never look like much in the soil. So very tiny. Each set off with a ring of crushed white egg shells. We hope that they make gains between rainstorms and marauding bunnies.  If the current year is like the year before, soon the fill form a near impenetrable jungle. 

As they grow, we tie off the vines to long stick with bits of rag cloth.  My mother has a bundle of cloth strips labeled "best ribbons."  She washes them after each season, dries them in the sun and saves them for next time. She also washes the poles for disease prevention purposes.

My mother's chief garden joy is wall-to-wall tomatoes. I like a variety and can not say no to flowers and elements of intrigue.  Over the years, I added wild ginger and tiger lilies from a friend's mother, ferns and phlox from my mom, beloved hostas from many sources, a hydrangea from husband's work, lady statue that was a prop in a clothing store, trumpet vines that took 7 years to settle in and no time to run rampant. A curly willow branch from a dumpster-dived wedding arrangement is a 2-story tree.

My grounds keeping tends to embrace the jungle aspect. Joyous trumpet vine with a side of phlox in long narrow side garden.
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Gardening Out of Bounds


When my brother and I bought our house on Pppppppp St, I planted up the parkway with masses of flowers.  The house was built in the early 1900s.  I was attending a university with a gloriously, rich collection of old books. I researched what flowers were used at the time, love-in-a-mist, love-lies-bleeding, petunias, columbine, morning glory, and tarda tulips--low to the ground, opening their faces towards the sun. I raised them from seed.  A cousin complimented it as a real Polish garden.

Having secured the permission of the Sisters in a neighboring convent, I moved many orange ditch lilies to ring their grounds. One quiet Sunday, a woman asked how she and her child could get in to play.  They had walked all around the perimeter bounded by a 6-foot chain link fence and could not find an entrance. I told her it was private. She remained skeptical.  It must have seemed unlikely that a wide grassy field ringed with towering Great Northern Catalpa trees must be enjoyed from the inside as well.  And on other days of the week it was. Black, glossy crows congregated there. Cawing until wee children arrived for weekday daycare.

One day my pots of morning glories were toppled over on the other side of the tall chain link fence.  Torn, wilted tendrils clung to our railing.  One of the Sisters told me someone had it out for me. Someone did.  I suspected an ex-boyfriend who doggedly stalked me.

Some years later, tarda tulips seeded themselves on the other side of the fence and beamed where they were planted.

The Sisters sold their convent and land to a developer.  Where did the crows go after the field was filled with large houses crammed together? Remnants of the day lilies lined the alley.  Would they bloom again after a new neighbor squired herbicide around the edges where weeds sprouted? Terracotta angels were taken down from the roof line of the church replaced by fiberglass ones that never seemed to dirty or acquire a patina.  Why did no one ask me what to keep the same as it ever was?

For a glimpse in the how it was Steven Seagal's Above the Law captures our old neighborhood.
Action movies are not my cup of tea here, but...

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Garden Story


Growing up we never used the term "backyard," we always said "garden." Our childhood garden was on  Wwww Street in the St Mmmm's of the @@@@@'s parish.  It consisted of a brick patio that housed  a swing and a picnic table set on white marble slabs. The other half was soil that occasionally yielded glass marbles and tiddly winks--mementos left behind previous children from previous times. One time my mother found 2 rings.  About 10 years ago, my mother met a man by the viaduct about a 1/2 block north of her house. He grew up in her house. He sent a photo from the 1930s of himself on a high wheeled tricycle, boxes or fruit and vegetables in front of the building. My mother's front room used to be a storefront deli.   Bubblegum machine, cola clock, icebox, marble counters were moved to the basement.  My mother used the smoker into the 1980s.

The former resident came to visit the following summer with a friend wearing a Leica camera who took pictures in the garden.   The steps to the alley and basement were as steep and uneven as he remembered.  He took away a souvenir purple brick. He said the 3-story fire escape came off a factory building that was demolished and that it was rumored that Al Capone's car was buried under the garage.

When my parents moved in, they planted a sole plum tree--flowers--no fruit and 2 prolific sour cherry trees.  A highlight of the summer was the great feeling of relief that school was over and retreating into the garden. Wondering as the tall, scratchy hollyhocks and the weirdly patterned bugs crawling on the hard, green buds.  My mom has photos of her, her friends, and baby me picnicking, relaxing.

When my brothers reached a rambunctious, climbing  age, my mother had the tree cut down to avoid falls.  My father had died suddenly and she was trying to avoid further grief. The soil baked dry.  The only things that grew were plantain and creeping Charlie, sweet violets in the moist spot by the bricks and a pink fairy rose bush that miraculously flowered every year.

In the 1980s, the city hopefully planted grass sod in everyone's parkway. Young tenants moved in, removed the grass and planted flowers. My mother resented the action at first, but it awakened her love of gardening. She added in pink phlox, Susan-black-eyes, astible.  She replanted the fairy rosebush in front and reclaimed the garden in back for tomatoes and beans.

One year scarlet runner beans gamboled up to the attic window via the fire escape.  This year I tilled up her soil--no more marbles or tiddly winks. ###

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Purge-Related Sadness


 I visited my mom, delivering vegetables from our CSA subscription.  She showed me around her lovely tomato garden, then asked me if I wanted to see what she's been throwing out of her basement.

One of her beloved sister died a couple of summers ago and we cleared out her house in fits and starts. She kept lots of papers, mementos, photographs, work IDs, hair of her husband.  Some delightful things. One a typewritten list of the cute, grammatically incorrect things my little brothers said  as tiny children.  The clear out was a huge project, painful, took weeks.  After that my mother started winnowing down her own possessions.

My mom put  brightly colored plastic drink coolers, as vintage, wind up clock from the 1970s into the recycling bin. I pulled them out to display on top of a lid, thinking someone would be attracted by the bright yellow and orange and rescue them.  She had a separate big cardboard box of metal objects.  I asked about the items. I pulled out a caddy for drinking glasses, a 2-part, aluminum, Santa baking mold, a jewelry caddy from the 1940s.  She said that she was sorry she showed me. I didn't want to upset her any more, so I stopped my treasure hunting.

Santa was similar to this.

Later after I left, I circled to take another detour through her alley and saw a landscape worker winding up the clock.  It was his time now.  His turn.  His treasures.

I continued past him homeward bound.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Life Map Told Through Clothes Through (My) Ages



I suppose until I add pictures this will be a list rather than a map of clothes that were favorites or somehow significant in my life.  For a writing class, I created a life map on a large piece of paper, dabbed it with blue watercolors, hand printed a brief description and a sketch within each panel.
The text is below.
One entry contains pure, white hot rage.
Significantly(?), entries end with my wedding dress worn 20 years ago!

- "Beach suit": cotton blue and white stripes, ruffled bloomers, sewn by my mother, favorite beach toy was a white Styrofoam ring with a red plastic horse's head

- Head band, felted wool flowers, szarotki (edelweiss), worn in kindergarden class picture

- School uniform, worn for 8 years in elementary school, "plain" uniform grades 1 to 6; with burgundy bolero grades 7 and 8, white blouse with Peter Pan collar underneath, uniform was a blue and gray plaid, navy blue beanie with long hairpin, white "pearl" button at end

-Fit and flair dresses, identical except for colorway: navy and white, lavender and white

- First Holy Communion dress: filmy white shift with veil, white stockings, white stockings with silver buckles, formal portrait with Rosary.

- Coral wool dress: tiny buttons run down the front

- My mom sewed me a dress of plaid, pink, floral fabric.  I asked her to shorten it twice.

-  Two-toned green velvet oxford shoes with a stacked heel.

- Pullover, short-sleeved sweater, folkloric pattern; most often paired with green turtleneck

- Blue pullover sweater with yellow flower, walked in neighborhood, saw sad pony in dusty front yard

- High school uniform: hunter green, bolero, 2 pleat skirt, pants for winter, knee socks; some girls rolled up skirt at waist to shorten, rolled down again in view of Sisters

- Wide-legged elephant pants: blue jean patchwork, flare and flair!

- Tiered sea foam green skirt, pieced, very soft and flowy

- 8th grade graduation dress: green print, overprint of violets, windowpane detail at collar bone, received huge bunch of peonies from Godmother

- High school graduation outfit: white spaghetti strap top, pencil skirt, cropped white jacket, 
more peonies

- College graduation dress: white coatdress with pinstripes and rather pronounced shoulder pads

- Zeena from Ethan Frome set store by her pickle dish, as a college freshman, I had few pretty clothes. I set store by a soft, pretty powder blue turtleneck and a wine-colored, ruffled, silk blouse.  My college roommate borrowed each without permission after I asked her not to.  She laughed when I saw her wearing my sweater. She expected me to be out of town. She also ruined silk blouse with armpit stains.  The crowning touch was when we moved out of the dorm room, she left behind a broken glass jar of honey dried on tight to the floor tiles under her bed. I cleaned it up to get our security deposit back.

- Big, black coat shaped like a bathrobe, dolman sleeves;
I think I eventually put it in the alley on top of a garbage can for someone to take;
still miss it

-Wedding dress: remade vintage silk satin, sailor collar and split sleeves; long train



Friday, April 14, 2017

Small News Item for Local Readers (if any?)

A small addiction to fine clothing was triggered at the Ark on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.
A local woman wandered in for a quick browse after buying greens, tofu, and snack bars at the supermarket across the street. She discovered that today (Friday) all clothes were half off and the red slashed $1 items were actually 2 for $1. She found many gray and steel blue clothes (so flattering to her myopic eyes and calming to the "high" coloring of her cheeks) in cashmere, linen, and silk, some skinny jeans for her skinny teenagers.  The single highest priced item was $9, a lovely ruffled, quilted light spring jacket. Serendipity intervened when her beloved husband called to say he was nearby and did she need a ride.  She accepted happily, pushing down a bit of trepidation at his anticipated reaction.  All was well after all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trees and Plants from Little Bits

Everything wants to live.  This includes the bits of stored energy in citrus and avocado seeds, cuttings of herbs, scraps of vegetables, rhizomes like ginger and turmeric.  Some of the strongest tomato plants are volunteers that overwintered in soil or a compost pile.

Short lists of plants I started from stem cuttings, roots appeared a week or two after soaking in a glass of water, After pots appear I planted up in soil, some edible, some decorative:
Thai basil, sprigs from restaurant
Mint lemon balm
Green basil
Green onions
Romaine and endive lettuces
Pothos
Rose, one time cut flower started sprouting new leaves and stems
Natal palm, super pretty trailing plant (discarded clippings from husband's bonsai)
Purple wandering jew (found on sidewalk next to street planter), pictured below
Purple heart, pictured below


Plants started from leaves or stems, rooted directly in soil:
African violet
Begonia
Willow branches, from dumpster dived weding arrangement, became trees over 6 feet tall
Sections of corn plant (tropical plant), pictured below

Image result for corn plant


Plants started by pushing fresh seed in a pot with soil:
Avocado, didn't bother with the suspended on toothpicks method
Orange and lemon pips (once gave a miniature citrus orchard to a coworker)
Lychee 
Tomatoes 

Plants that have mini me's:
Bromiliads
Mother in law tongue/ snake plant
Aloes

Plants with runners:
Lily of the valley
Strawberry
Ferns
Wild ginger (pictured below)




Plants started by pushing parts under soil:
Sprouted garlic cloves in the fall
Sprouted onion bulbs
Turmeric rhizomes
Ginger rhizomes

Today was warm outside, so I potted up some of the above. With a little luck, we'll see some sprouts that will add beauty and life to our shady, concrete "patio." 

My back up plan includes ordering caladium corms http://happinessfarms.com/


to plant from the aptly named Happiness Farm in Florida. They always spring up in festive explosions of color.  I order the combination of the large leaved varieties.  My only regret is that I have not been able to overwinter them.  Even our furnace closet doesn't keep the corms from perishing.  Frugal and chilly, that's our winter. So I reorder and look forward to the beautiful burst of color over our long summer.