Category Archives: Travel

The Fake Out. Would you do it??

Take a look at this luscious perennial border spotted this weekend in the idyllic Chicago suburb of Western Springs. See anything fishy? Anything out of the ordinary? Anything to make your obsessive gardener antennae quiver with discomfort?

How about in this close up that I took because the contrast was so eye catching?

What about in this planter, one of a pair that flanked the front walk to a really lovely home?

There is definitely something amiss here. Have you figured it out yet? Let me tell you how I got there. The house caught our attention first with its amazing wrap around porch and expansive lawn (everything is more expansive in the Midwest. I had forgotten that after 5 years of old city east coast living). My old friends C & L and I gawked at this beautiful border – lush with hosta and peony and ladies mantle. I whipped out my camera and told L that I would be featuring her neighborhood in my next blog post. I took a shot from one end. I took a shot from the other. I boldly stepped one foot into the border to get up close and personal with the nikko blue hydrangea and the white peony that were such a perfect contrast. Then I do what I always do with a plant I find especially lovely – I touched it.

It was plastic.

The hydrangea was plastic!! Wow. That’s surprising, we commented. Such a lovely border to have a fake plant stuck in the middle of it. Everything else was real. Everything else was lush. These bobbing blue heads were tucked in subtly among the other bloomers. They weren’t garish. They didn’t advertise their plasticity. How would your average passer-by even know that they weren’t real? (I mean, really. How many polite Western Springs residents would be cheeky enough to step into the middle of the border and lay hands on their neighbor’s flowers? Probably not many. Good thing I’m not a polite Midwesterner any more or we wouldn’t have anything to talk about right now).

We took a closer look at the rest of the garden. All real, except for a few sprigs of ill-timed forsythia in the entrance planters. They were a little more obvious, but still, mixed with the honest-to-goodness plants that filled the majority of the space, they could fool the casual observer.

So here’s my question for you. Your shade garden is fabulous, except for that one spot off to the right that really could use a jolt of color. Your sunny perennial bed looks stunning, but a tiny bit of that nikko blue would really do the trick between the phlox and the lavender. Would you fake it?

p.s. Apparently, I’m not the only one blogging about this phenomenon. Check out Christine in Alaska – she’s got some real beauties on this post!

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New to Me: Mock Orange, Red Foxes, Osprey at Sunset

I just lingered over a second cup of coffee and a back issue of National Geographic with a view of the Atlantic Ocean out the kitchen window. Life is very good here on the Outer Banks of NC.

I must say, though, this award winning photo journal does make one feel a little insecure about the point-and-click garden shots one has been posting on one’s blog. Every issue of NG is gorgeous, and so exotic. Iceland, the Polynesian islands, Bhutan. Kind of makes you feel like getting off your duff and exploring the world. I guess I could explore vicariously if I buy the book advertised on the last page: “A Camera, Two Kids and A Camel: My Journal in Photographs.” Annie Griffiths, a veteran NG photographer, took her 2 kids along on most of her assignments. “They travelled to six continents and spent years in the Middle East, where the children swam in the Red Sea, explored the ancient city of Petra and, yes, befriended Bedouin and rode their camel.” Good gracious. I feel good when we make it out to throw rocks in the creek.

So here I am feeling a little bit untraveled and a lot humbled in the photo journalism department, when the coolest thing happens. I go downstairs to move some laundry over and catch sight of a four legged creature strolling through the car port. A cat, maybe? Nope. A red fox. I knew they lived in the brambles around here, but I’d never had the chance to get a close look. This guy meanders around the house, nuzzles his mate who’s sunning in the back yard, and then plops himself down to catch a little sun time himself. I double back to get a better view and either they hear me or they smell me, but I get a piercing look from both of them saying, “Not one step closer lady.” Unsure if foxes are prone to pouncing on unsuspecting and barefoot gawkers, I retreat for my shoes and my camera.

So I get to have a little NG moment of my own. Wildlife, unexpected encounters, exoticism (foxes are exotic, don’t you think??). The photos won’t win any awards, and I doubt anyone will want to buy a coffee table books made up of them. But it was a good reminder that you don’t have to go all that far from home to have a bit of an adventure. Open eyes, a curious mind, slowing down enough to take note, and a willingness to ask what you do not know: all are key to a life filled with discovery and wonder instead of just the same old same old.

A few more things I don’t get to see in my garden in Philly: According to the lady I stopped on her walk, this fabulous shrub is a Japanese pittosporum, or mock orange. The scent has beach goers and butterflies alike weaving drunkenly among their blooms.

Only grows in zones 9-10, so I might have to make do with it in a container. I guess that might be best since its 15-20 foot height and spread would BE my garden in Philly.

And, I got to wish the osprey in this nest good night yesterday as the sun set over the Currituck sound.

The little wonders. I’ll take them.

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p.s. Turns out I got a few things wrong in this post. First – pittosporum is commonly known as Japanese Mock Orange. The plain old Mock Orange  is native to the western US , has big white fragrant flowers is called the philadelphus lewisii.  Second – those foxes are gray foxes, not red foxes. Now I know!

Beach Colors

They say that a bad day at the beach beats a good day anywhere else. I heartily agree, but I’d like to amend that statement to say that a day at the beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina really is just the best ever. The sun rises over the ocean (I really do wish I were a morning person), the sun sets over the sound (I really do wish I weren’t always feeding children at sunset). I know it’s happening though, and that works for now.

I love this narrow strip of land that snakes down from the Virginia border out into the Atlantic Ocean. In some places, the walk from sea to sound is measured in feet. In other spots, you’re separated from the mainland by 60 miles of water. But no matter where you are, you’re never far from the roar of the ocean. The air smells like salt and the wind blows and blows. (A perfect place to fly the first airplane – just ask Orville and Wilbur). These elements mean only bad hair days for me, but I’m willing to suffer.

I especially admire the trees and plants that manage to make it in the sandy soil and the salt air. Survivors. Short, scraggly pine trees and beach grass thrive, native honeysuckle hugs the dunes.

Usually I’m a sucker for bright, vibrant colors. But when I’m at the beach, give me the steely gray of the sea, the blue of the sky, the beige of the sand and I’m happy. Toss in some bonus shells and feathers and we’re in business.

The ocean helps me get my mind around the concept of “fearing” God. How can you fear something you love and who loves you? But when I apply the same logic to the ocean, it makes sense. I love the ocean. I want to sit beside it and ride upon it and play in its waves. But I fear it too. It is so immense, so powerful, so beyond my ability to control. But boy, I’ll take it any time I can get it.

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