21 September 2008

September, harbinger of autumn

Before anything else, pretty pictures or words, let me say a huge, heartfelt 'THANK YOU' to all of you who have posted get-well wishes to me in recent days. It's been a challenging summer at many levels, and I'm fed up with being sick all the time. Yet I also recognize others have it way, way worse than I do, so to paraphrase an old poem, "God forgive me when I whine...I ain't dead yet, the world is mine."

September: it was the most beautiful of words, he’d always felt,
evoking orange-flowers, swallows, and regret.
- Alexander Theroux, 1981

I read these words on a calendar or in an almanac one time, and thought about how true in some ways it is, at least in this gardener’s musings. It seems especially poignant to me this year, as we race towards the oncoming of autumn in just a few hours time.

Orange-flowers may have meant the flowers of the orange tree to M. Theroux,(I love texts that can be construed in several ways) but to me they mean orange-coloured flowers, of which there are more than a few in our garden. The last of the daylilies are winding down, after a remarkable display that has been going on for at least six weeks, but the school-bus orange of Stella d’Oro still remains. A host of Rudbeckia, Helenium and helianthus are doing their thing in riotous shades of orange around the garden, and Ligularia ‘Desdemona’ brings visitors to a complete halt, with her huge burgundy-backed leaves and very orange flowers. Even the wildflowers are into orange, with touch-me-nots (Impatiens) hanging with their little bonnet-like blossoms open for bees and any errant hummingbirds that might be around. I know I wax on and on about ice plant flowers, but they just please me so immensely, and I love the orange ones contrasted with the blue of the plumbago--a sure cheering sight on a watercolour autumn day, when rain is hinted and the sun is weary.

Swallows means several things to us. The tree and barn swallows fledged their young some time ago, and while they were here earlier in the week, I think they have departed. They brought great joy to us as we watched their aerial ballets and breakdances (the children were a bit clumsy by times.) Last year’s fledgings and flight-training was hilarious, happening on a particularly windy day. The swallowchildren would flutter around for a while, then all land in a row on the ridge of the house, where no exhortations could move them until they were ready to move. This year, flight practice days were cool and calm, and the little ones landed only to start their incessant demands for food. “Feed me!” their imperious little voices proclaimed, and the parents did.

Swallows too meant swallowing those lumps in the throat that come on wistful moments when we realize that summer is slipping through our grasp all too quickly. Wasn’t it only last week that it was April and we were grumping about the cruelest month, waiting for bulbs and lilacs and all sorts of other floral festivals? We celebrated the arrival of each and every species, from snowdrops and crocus to daffs and tulips, forsythia and lilacs and on and on. Then came the big flood of perennials and we were drenched in colour, texture, scent and sounds of our garden. Now suddenly the evenings are shortened as the sun’s journey takes less and less time with us; and even though we know we will have many golden autumn days to savour, we also feel a definite spasm of …

Regret. We berate ourselves about what we didn’t accomplish. There are too many weeds, too few flowers, too many things left to do before the closing down of summer is completed. We didn’t visit other gardens as often as we wanted to. We didn’t stop to enjoy our own often enough, perhaps. We didn’t plant that dozen new trees, build that wall, or simply wander around of an early morning with coffee cup in one hand, savouring the marvels of a perfect rose or the dance of the hummingbirds or even the lumbering bouncing flight of a pollen-and-nectar-laden bumblebee. Or maybe we did all these things, but still grieve at the passing of our favourite part of the gardening year.

Still, September and autumn come laden with gifts and hope. The clear, sunwashed days give way to crisp nights ideal for sleeping, and not so many humid-hung days when even reading causes a sweat. In our garden, at least, the floral fireworks continue almost unabated, and while there are orange-flowers galore, they are tempered by other shades, roses and purples and blues, sparkling white and fiery red and yes, the much maligned magenta so despised by some and so embraced by others. It’s true that the swallow-children and other young birds have packed up and headed out—a few hummers still around, and there will be stragglers yet. But also, we will have an abundance of birds throughout the autumn and winter to delight us and the fans of ‘Bird television’ (also known as the cat-children).

And there is planting yet to do, whether dividing perennials or tucking fall-flowering annuals into containers, or planting the hundreds of bulbs we just couldn’t resist purchasing. So I won’t throw in the trowel just yet, nor wallow in too much autumn-nostalgia. Just a little...

Is anyone else feeling that twinge of sorrow for summer's passing? Or are you ready for a break from it all?

16 September 2008

Emerging from the silence--sort of

Hi. I'm LeggomyEggo, bloomingwriter's horse. Bet you were wondering what the heck happened to her. Sudden silence after a burst of activity. No, she didn't run off to join a rock band. Or move to Missouri. (She did say that she's thinkin', though, if the Harperites get in here, and McCain gets in down in our beloved neighbour's country...she might have to head for Australia. Or Finland)

Enough about politics. It's not my strong suit. I prefer the arts, but there ain't no flies on me on most world affairs. Wait. There ARE flies on me. Just a minute here. Let me join my donkey in a fly removing roll.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, my human. She's still here. She's just sick. Been sick for almost two weeks. She had some sort of scope done to look inside her innards and while that didn't show one thing that the doctor was looking for, it set her off to have colic again. No, that's not what humans call it. It's got some long name like diverick-u-ouchis. Or something like that. She had to go to the vet anyway. No, that was the human hospital. My mistake. What do you expect, I'm a horse!

Anyway, she's still sick and she's really cranky (just ask her longsuffering spouse) and so I asked if she'd like me to do a blog post for a change. I had to get one of the cats to type for me, though. My hoofs don't work a keyboard so well. So here are some pictures of plants that are blooming around the garden. I'm going to try to remember what she told me, but she's sleeping again so we won't wake her. She gets even MORE cranky when she's woken up. Just ask the cats.

Much of the garden is still soggy and weed-ridden (and that's causing a cranky writer too) but there are still plenty of nice plants in bloom. I don't try to eat the garden. The donkey does, but she's dumb as a barrel of hair. Anyway, this is ice plants. I don't know why they're called that because they're not cold and they're not made of ice. But they are pretty.

This is called blue leadwort. I guess you can see why. She likes blue flowers. She likes me too, a lot. Oh, yes, the flowers. This is a ground cover, though it's not very big yet. Its leaves turn really pretty colours in autumn. Which is almost here. I should start growing my winter coat soon.

Bloomingwriter calls this a pincushion flower, but I don't see any pins sticking out of it. It's had lots of bees on it this summer, and some pretty butterflies. But no pins.

This is called hummingbird mint, and if I were a hummingbird I'd really, really like it myself, because it smells really good, like lemon and peppermints. I like peppermints a lot. Especially the pink ones. Oh. Right, the hummingbirds have left, probably before the big wind and rain event we had a few days ago. So it's just bees and so on that are visiting the flowers now.

Oh look, more blue flowers. This is a gentian, but I don't know which one it was, and when I asked bloomingwriter, she just went back in the house and back to bed looking grumpy. And the cats don't know how to do a google search. They're pretty crafty, but not that much yet.

And this is called sneezeweed, though it didn't make ME sneeze when I inspected it. There's a lot of it in bloom around the yard now, in different colours, reds, oranges, yellows, bronzes. I like this one best. Would look nice against my bridle, don't you think?

Well, this has been fun, but not as much fun as running around the pasture. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go do just that for a while.

Bloomingwriter will be back soon!

(the above masterpiece was a collaboration between Leggo the horse and Mungus, Simon and Spunky, all of whom spend a great deal of time with their 'mother' especially when she's sick, and like to 'help' whenever possible.)

07 September 2008

Well, Maybe there's hope for me yet!

Before we get to the main attraction of this particular and momentous post, permit me a little weather-related tantrum, please.

Okay. We've had enough rain this summer to supply the entire frakkin' province and a few states besides that. So what do we get this weekend?
The end of Post-Tropical-Used-To-Be-Hurricane Hanna. Featuring, you guessed it, more rain.
There's a lake forming in the yard. We have silage rather than grass. Water splashes up when you walk across the grass towards the garden. The weeds are....profound.
On the other hand, it's pretty easy to PULL the weeds.

This is the Bay leading up to the rain event we're currently experiencing. We're only getting rain at this point, no wind to speak of, so everything is just getting well-washed. Yeah. Right.

So yesterday I was doing some pre-Post-Tropical-Used-To-Be-Hurricane Hanna cleanup in the garden, because I figure the rain and wind are going to do a serious number on all this insanely lush growth...and what do I find, casually growing in among all the pink and pink hollyhocks?

Yes. It is a yellow hollyhock. It's the yellow species one, not a hybrid, not a double, not the most yellow.

But I'll take my victories where I gets em!

03 September 2008

Powell Gardens: The Native Plants of Missouri

Okay, we're back to talking about plants again. Specifically, native plants of Missouri, on account of I don't know much about them overall. However, part of the reason my luggage was rather heavy on the way home was that I bought two books that will help to shed some light on the flora of Missouri (and Kansas, as we were in and out of that state because of the way the border weaves around the city and surrounding areas.)

This is fun for me, because I love seeing plants that I might recognize as far as family or MAYBE genus, but no further. Because we were under such time constraints the whole trip (sleep was optional, as was eating but I drank a LOT of water), I didn't get to talk to a botanist at Powell Gardens, and the one person I did speak with was more informed about the garden plants than about the natives. So we'll go to books and the wisdom of blog-readers for some identifications.

One of the two books I scored is this lovely volume on Butterflies in the Kansas City Region. Beautifully bound and full colour photographs all the way through, including of many plants that attract pollinators. You know how I am about pollinators...

This wonderful fieldbook of shrubs and vines has a companion wildflower book, I understand, but it wasn't at the Gardens store. I'll probably try to track it down just because I'm such a nutcase about native plants. Beautifully illustrated, and well written, with botanical terminology as well as common names and interesting asides. Possum Haw? (Ilex decidua) Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpurea) Gotta love such names!

Okay, plant people, put on your thinking caps and let's consider some of these wildflowers. This one appeals to me because of its graceful foliage and pretty yellow flowers.

Here they are a little closer. (ETA: Thanks to Lisa, we know this is Partridge Pea, Cassia fasciculata)

This one I recognized as rattlesnake plant, Eryngium yuccifolium, because I have the immense pleasure of having it grow in my garden. Here's hoping it selfseeds as it flowered beautifully this year.

Some sort of tickseed or sunflower caught my eye. I suppose I could have picked a stem to dry and preserve, but I just couldn't do that in a public garden, even with masses of wildflowers in some areas.

I'm thinking this is some sort of liatris. (ETA: yes it is, after Gloria put me on to Rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), which I crosschecked against my other photos. I love this plant, more than the standard liatris in our garden.)

And this, a centaurea, aster, or heck, maybe even a liatris. Or something else completely again. Whatever it is, it's a butterfly magnet, as it was covered in small pollinators which kept flying while I tried to get in for a closeup.

Not the best shot of this tiny-flowered plant, and it was also somewhat wilted in the heat. It grows to five feet tall, though and was quite graceful, weaving in among the grasses and the sunflowers.

I THINK this brown seeded plant is called basket flower, but I'm not sure, and I haven't looked it up yet, but the seedheads are certainly attractive! And there's some sort of blue flowered, vetch like plant beside it, and of course assorted grasses.
(ETA: Actually, it's called Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis, thank you Gloria) and it's really quite a charmer, if only for those delightful seedheads)

Sigh. I want to go BACK to Powell Gardens, maybe in early summer, and observe the place much, much more closely. Because it's marvelous, and I hope that Missourans and Kansas residents (what do you call someone from Kansas--NOT DOROTHY!) take excellent advantage of this public garden, which is completely worth a whole day's visit. Just bring lots of water to drink. And a sunhat.

01 September 2008

A sort of review of the concerts and such

(All photos taken by me. Live. IN person. How cool is that?)
So I'm back in the land of fog and rain after leaving the land of sunlight and warm people. A stellar time was had by all, at least by the 9 or ten friends that shared the concert part of this trip. And by the 38,000 or so other people who took in the two concerts and made enough noise to register on the Richter scale, I'm sure.

It's not for me to say whether each of the ten performers in the American Idols Live! Tour 08 will have successful careers. I'd be willing to bet that 'The Davids' will have marvelously rewarding careers, and sincerely hope that the others find their creative way too. Obviously they all have great passion and most of them have serious serious talent (yeah, I'm not a fan of a couple of them.) And I love to see people successful at something they're passionate about.

So we'll go in order as they performed in the concert, which was in order of elimination. Each of them from 10-3 had 3 songs each; David A. had 4 and David C. had 5, and there were two group numbers. I should also note that because we met one of the musicians from the band, we had backstage passes to the meet and greet after Saturday's concert, so I met 7 of the Idols. Not David Cook, because he was with another group of friends and family, but that was to be expected, being in his hometown and all. Maybe one day he'll come perform here and I'll get to interview him. Stranger things have happened. Getting to see him in Blue Springs was an absolute delight, though, and I did take a few gazillion pictures, to prove that I was there.

10. Chikezie: I so, so, wish that Chikezie had stayed on the show longer than he did, because he's become one of my top three faves from the tour. His songs in the concert just thrilled me and my friends to bits, because he can seriously sing and move! He got the crowd kickstarted far, far better than Corey-the-host, with his velvety smooth voice, good crowd interaction and his enthusiasm. I actually met Chikezie twice; once in the hotel bar where one of my friends was staying, and once at the after-show meet and greet, where he gave me a serious hug because I told him how much we'd enjoyed him and hoped he'd get a recording contract that worked well for him. He's softspoken but very friendly and certainly his voice is powerful. Simon C. was mean to him during the show, but I believe he'll do very well for himself. I'd happily buy his record!

9. Ramiele Malubay. No disrespect meant, but this girl doesn't do a thing for me; I couldn't figure out how she made it as far as she did during the competition, and she seems out of place on the stage. Not because she's diminutive, but just because her voice is not very strong when she sings, and she doesn't work the stage like some of the others. After the crowd was gotten all revved up by Chikezie's phenomenal energy, Ramiele sort of was like cold water over the audience. Fortunately....

8. Michael Johns. Wow!!!...we were all brought back to mega-decibel pitch by Michael Johns doing Queen's We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions, and his subsequent numbers. MJ is funny, articulate and while his dancing is a bit odd, (he's got a goofy way of moving) his voice is wonderful. The only observation I'd make is that he needs to decide what sort of artist he is, whether blues, soul, rock, or something in between, and just be him, not bother channelling Freddie or JImi or Steve. He certainly does stir the ladies up, too. And of course his participation as half of the conspirators in the Mavid dance of Please Don't Stop the Music is totally priceless.

7. Kristy Lee Cook. Country is not my thing. This performer isn't my thing. However, I watched her interacting with fans in the afternoon out at the barricades, and she was great with kids especially, signing lots of autographs and posing for pictures. She'll probably do just fine in the country genre, and just like the ladies find MJ quite appealing, KLC has plenty of male admirers.

6. Carly Smithson. This young woman has a lot of guy fans too. Well, actually, Carly has plenty of fans of every genre, I think. Rightly so; the girl sure can belt songs, and now that she's out from under the gun of Simon's critical self, she's blooming. I love Evanescence so was a bit concerned that she'd be covering 'Bring me to life', but I loved what she did to it, and to her other songs.

5. Brooke White. Brooke's hubby Dave is from Cole Harbour, and she was so excited to find out I was from NS, she sent me right over to meet him and chat at the afterparty. Brooke is sunny and sweet and lovely, according to all who know her, and I'd have to agree. I didn't take photos of her on stage because she was playing the piano for Let it Be and Coldplay's Yellow, and then the guitar for Feist's 1234 and she just wasn't in the right spot for pictures. Afterwards, however, there was time to chat and again, she's a natural interacting with the fans who swarmed around her. I liked her a LOT on the show although the last couple of weeks before she was eliminated she was just so stressed that it was sad to watch. Many call her the modern-day Carol King, but I like her voice much better.

4. Jason Castro. Some critics have commented that Jason's acoustic set (Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Gnarles Barkley's Crazy, and Daydream) doesn't fit well with the vibe of the rest of the performances. I wouldn't make a good critic, apparently, because I loved his mellow, easy-going set and his smooth voice. He's also really fun to watch with his fans, the Dreadheads, who showed him a lot of love at the barricades in the afternoon. At the afterparty, he was standing by himself for a while and we chatted about several different things including college ; he's an Aggie from TAMU, although his senior year is 'on hold' while this Idol craziness shakes out wherever it's going to lead.

3. Syesha Mercado. On the show, I was so NOT a fan of Syesha simply because I found her too derivative of the divas that I don't care for. However, she won me over with her set in the concert, because she truly brings it all and leaves it on the stage. The musician from the band who we met told me that she's very shy and has a tough time with conversations with people she doesn't know well, and that also softened my opinion of her.

2. David Archuleta. During the run of the show, I initially wasn't a fan of young Archie because he was promoted heavily as the favourite and while I liked his voice, it seemed the same week after week. At the finale where the champion was revealed, however, watching the two Davids interact in behind the scenes film clips as well as on stage, all that earlier dislike disappeared. Watching Archie over the course of the summer has meant watching him gain confidence in performing and interacting with others, and I absolutely LOVED his four-song set in the concert. Don't tell Robbie Williams, but I actually like Archie's version of Angels better; ditto his version of OneRepublic's 'Apologize.' Will I buy his album? Depends on whether they turn him into a bubble gum recording artist or let him spread his creative wings a little. Whatever the case, he's a sweetheart to talk to and he spent a huge long time outside with his fans, and never seemed tired or put out, even by the crazies.

1. David Cook. Yes, we KNOW I'm a fan. I admit freely to having had my attention caught by this guy in his audition, where the odd hair and the funky vest clashed with the softspoken polite guy who then opened his mouth and sang Bon Jovi, and left me going 'What? Who IS that!?" I'd never watched more than the auditions, but David Cook forced me to watch the whole season. By top 20, I was sure he'd win if there was any justice in the world. And what do you know, he did win. Happy story.

So in concert? It's like he's been doing this forever. In some ways he has, as he has performed in bands and solo since he was in his midteens. But there's more to it than that. Cook reminds me of a younger Bono, or Coldplay's Chris Martin, because he's compassionate, interested in the world around him, articulate and blazingly talented. (sure he's pretty fine looking too, but if he was a jerk I'd never pay any attention to him at all.) He works the stage and talks to the audience like there are ten people in the room, not nearly 20 thousand. He doesn't sound like your run of the mill pop or rock singer, and he's not derivative. It's not David Cook doing Lionel Richie doing Hello. It's David Cook doing Hello. Right now he's constrained to do other people's songs by the terms of the show, but he's got a lot of his own music out there--look for Analog Heart and have a listen, or some of the old Axium stuff--and soon we'll have a new album to enjoy (for whoever asked, the word is mid-autumn for the album to be released, but that's all I've heard.

Of the two group pieces, the finale, Please Don't Stop the Music, gets a lot of attention because of the little miniskits that MJ and DC do--go to Youtube and search 'Mavid dance' because I can't possibly explain. But the earlier group song, U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) which is done by idols 10-6, is actually one of the highlights of the show in my mind. Yes, it's to promote Idol Gives Back, but that's a worthwhile cause, and the voices of the six singers work together beautifully.

So there you have it. If you're still not sure about going, and you're somewhere within the circuit of the last 10 shows--I'd recommend going, especially if you are a fan of the Davids, but really, there IS something for everyone in this concert. I saw people of all ages, not just squealing teenboppers (obviously) and I think the reason so many people embrace this show is that we get to watch the progression of the young performers as they work through the weeks of competition, and rise to meet some pretty intersting challenges musically. Plus we get to participate in seeing them move up week by week (yes, I voted via Gizmo over the last few weeks of the competition. A LOT of times. For Cook.) So it's a democratic investment that we make, and that's what makes the experience different from watching a Garth or a Bono or a Feist; we have a say in helping them get started. Now it's up to them. And I do think they'll mostly all do brilliantly.

Okay, next time we'll finish up with Kansas City's other claims to fame (barbecue, great architecture, more music) and then maybe it'll have stopped raining here so I can go out to the garden! Thank you to the Idols for putting on an amazingly fun and entertaining time; we can probably all say we had the Time of My Life.

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