We got a bird’s eye view of the countryside around Charleston, South Carolina as we flew in this morning. It’s easy to see why this area is called the “low country”—it’s as flat as a pancake.
And it’s hard to believe that the ocean that laps up against those sandy beaches is the same Atlantic Ocean that pounds the rocky shores of Maine. Down here the water is a pleasant and warm green; around Stonington it’s blue-grey and even looks icy cold.
Of the garden of late bloomers, the Montauk daisy is the most frustrating. Two years after we replanted a portion of the plant that was gifted by a generous neighbor, I still have not personally seen its blooms. As flowers go, it’s a tantalizing tease.
The plant seems to thrive in the Stonington climate. Last year it took firm root after our replanting, grew considerably, and produced lots of buds that were just getting ready to bloom when they were neatly clipped off and consumed by the local rampaging deer horde. This year the Montauk daisy grew like crazy—so much so that it has overwhelmed its bed, and I’ll have to split it up and replant parts of it elsewhere in the down yard next spring—and the deer have blessedly stayed away, but I had to head back to Columbus before the blossoming started. The buds were out and getting ready, but stubbornly refused to comply with my travel schedule.
The flowers have now begun to open, and Russell graciously sent along this photo, but of course it’s just not the same as checking out the flowers, in the sunshine, with your own two eyes. Seeing the Montauk daisies in full bloom will have to remain an aspirational goal until next year.
I’m back in Columbus, after a happily uneventful travel day. It was weird to wake up in our German Village bedroom and not see a scene like the photo above, taken one morning earlier this week, right outside our bedroom window. So I’m going to indulge myself by posting this last sunrise picture before transitioning fully back to Midwest sights and sounds.
They say that people who live around physical beauty eventually become indifferent to it. So far that hasn’t happened with me and the sights presented by living somewhere with a view of water and sun. Maybe it’s because the harbor views still seem so novel after decades living in the landlocked Midwest, or maybe it’s because my time in Stonington is broken up by returns to Columbus, or maybe I just like sunrises that have lobster boats in the picture. I hope I never reach the point where I can pass by a striking sunrise without stopping to goggle at it, and looking forward to seeing more.
It was a beautiful morning yesterday. The sky was blue, the sun painted the eastward facing houses on Greenhead peninsula with a brilliant, glowing luminosity, and the tide was out, which allowed me to walk far out onto the rocky outcroppings along the shoreline and get a good view at the long pier fronting the water.
I wanted to get a good, long look at this pretty little part of the world, which I have called home for the past few months, and lock it securely in my memory before heading back to the Midwest. I took this photograph because sometimes a photo app can help the memory, too.
This morning’s walk produced a surprise—a “tall ship” in the harbor, towering over the outboards and the lobster boats. It was a perfectly clear morning with barely a breath of breeze, and I walked out to the end of a jetty to get a good look as the masted vessel rode at anchor. With my time in Stonington drawing to a close, I’m going to take in as many harbor and boat scenes as possible.
I am calling my last big yard work initiative of the season the Steps Project. It’s been an interesting, challenging, “dirt under the fingernails” bit of work that combines archaeology, tricky balance, digging, pulling, and lots of roots.
The Steps Project began when our 80-year-old neighbor visited our down yard as part of our earlier tree-cutting work. He’s lived in this neighborhood since he was a kid, and he recalled the hillside being a treeless expanse with stones that the kids used as steps to come up and down on their walk to and from school. Steps in that location would be a good thing because the hillside slopes at close to a 45-degree grade, and getting up and down on a dewy morning can be a slippery proposition. But the steps he recalled were long gone, covered now by a thatch of moss and weeds.
Obviously, stepping stones don’t just vanish; they were under there somewhere. And I think having a kind of stairway to get from top to bottom of the slope would be useful. So the archaeology part of my Steps Project involves figuring out where the stones are buried. When I find them, I cut through the thatch, pull out the moss and weeds, and then cut or pull out the tree roots that grew over and around the rocks. Then I use a brush to clear off the dirt and other debris so the rocks—now exposed for the first time in decades—can dry out in the sunshine. The balance part of the project comes in because I’m doing all of that while trying to hold myself steady on the slope and not taking overly aggressive actions that might send me toppling down the hillside.
Yesterday I finished with the last two “steps,” and now I’ve got a rocky, ersatz set of stairs on the side border of the down yard that you can see in the photos accompanying this post, from the above and below perspectives. Of course, the steps aren’t perfectly aligned like a staircase, and you have to zigzag and take different length steps to get up and down, but they are definitely a safer way up and down. And they are kind of fun, too. In fact, I feel like one of the kids in my neighbor’s old gang when I use them.
Tonight the rain clouds finally moved through, and as we walked to dinner the clouds were piled on top of each other to the east as the setting sun backlit the boats from the west. The gathered cloud banks seemed to stack up to the very top of the sky. It was spectacular.
And all the time I was thinking I would have a cheeseburger for dinner.
If you like rainbows, you should have been in Stonington tonight. We got to see a very cool double rainbow over the harbor, and the inner ring was totally cohesive and complete, with lots of color in the spectrum.
I’d post more about it, but I’m off to look for that pot of gold.
The Stonington Ice Cream Company proprietor has a simple way of notifying customers when he’s out of particular flavors: he puts tape on the flavors that have regrettably been totally scooped out and depleted. When I walked past on this Labor Day weekend—the traditional end to the summer tourist season—pretty much every ice cream flavor was gone except the old reliables vanilla, chocolate, and . . . moose tracks.
What’s wrong with the tourists this year? Chocolate and vanilla are classics, and moose tracks is pretty darned good, too. I would have thought that some experimental maple flavor would be the last man standing.
Normally the view of the harbor from Greenhead Peninsula exclusively features the familiar, functional outlines of lobster boats. Every once in a while, however, a graceful sailboat will change the view as it passes, silhouetted against the islands in the bay.
The sailboat that was out this morning looked to be getting in some practice as it tacked and changed course on a brilliant and cool morning, when sailing conditions were just about perfect.
With the coming of September, we are, regrettably, nearing the end of our summer growing season in Stonington. It’s a time of year when gardeners can survey the fruits of their labors and make some judgments about what worked and what didn’t. Rationally identifying the winners and losers is a key step in thinking about next year’s efforts and avoiding any repeat of mistakes.
I’ve done my analysis and identified winners, losers, and plants where the jury is still out. Fortunately, there are more winners than losers, which means it’s been a pretty good year in the garden.
Marigolds—Initially planted because they are supposed to help repel deer, these flowers bloomed repeatedly over the growing season and added lots of bright color to our beds, as shown in the photo above. And whether the marigolds are responsible or not, we had a manageable year on the deer decimation front. I’ll be planting marigolds again next year and giving them a bit more room to spread out.
Black-eyed Susans—We’ve got Black-eyed Susans at multiple locations in our yard, and they have always come through like champs, producing clusters of pretty flowers that hold up over time. I bought the plant shown in in the photo above from the local garden store and planted it in May; it has grown to about three and a half feet tall with lots of flowers and provides a nice height contrast with the marigolds.
Geraniums—we planted geraniums in the ground and in pots, and they all grew beautifully. The plants in the ground produced new flowers all summer and grew to tremendous size. We’ll want to give them even more room when we plant them next year.
Verbena canadensis—I discovered these flowers this year when I was looking for something to fill in the small space in front of one of our patches of Black-eyed Susans. The plants hug the ground and spread out somewhat and produced very cool, bold colors, with deep crimson and purple petals. I’ve got big plans for these guys among the down yard rocks next year.
Phlox—I’ve tried different varieties of phlox in different locations, and they all have failed to perform. One died outright, others never produced flowers, and the one that did produce flowers did so only for a short period. I’m done with phlox.
Grass—Let’s just say our yard isn’t going to be featured in any grass or lawn care commercials. Maine grass seems to thrive where you don’t want it—i.e., garden beds—and promptly surrenders the yard itself to dandelions and other weeds. Figuring out the lawn issues will be the big challenge next year.
Jury still out
Day lilies—I bought two of these at the Deer Isle Garden Club sale in May. The plants have done okay, but no flowers so far.
Lupines—Most of the lupines that I have tried to grow from seeds survived, but only one of those plants has produced the distinctive flower. I’ve harvested more lupine seeds and will be planting them this fall before I head back to Columbus, and I’ll be looking for a big step forward from the existing plants grown from seeds, and some new lupine seed growth, next year.
The Stonington town cemetery, which I walk past on my morning jaunts, is an interesting place, and not just because of random deer encounters and the gravesites of Civil War veterans. I’ve also been fascinated by this battered cemetery gate, which looks like it has some interesting stories to tell, about each of the many twists and bends in the aged metal.
But the most provocative untold story is the one about why the gate is there at all–since there is no fencing whatsoever around it. Why add a gate to an otherwise open area? My guess is that the gate was added as the first step in what was supposed to be a process that involved some kind of fencing–a stone wall, perhaps–that never came to fruition.
The plans are long gone, but the old gate remains. It helps to give the cemetery an identity, and a bit of a wistful feeling, too.
Since we cut down some of the trees and cleared out the underbrush in the waste area between our house and the neighbor’s outbuilding, I’ve got a new companion when I’m out doing yard work in the down yard. I call him “Stumpy.”
Stumpy is the remnant of one of the trees that came down during the clear-out effort. I’d guess he’s between three and four feet tall, growing out of a rock ledge, with bulges at the top where the main branches were removed. On several occasions, Stumpy’s size and configuration and location, seen from the corner of my eye while I worked, made me think with a jolt that someone was watching me from the top of the yard. I then decided if Stumpy was going to startle me now and then, I might as well give him a name.
As yard work companions go, Stumpy’s not bad. He’s not a chatterbox, so he doesn’t disturb my work. He doesn’t offer advice or laugh at my little shoveling mishaps, which is appreciated. He doesn’t pitch in, either, but he stands watch over the hillside resolutely, rain or shine. I’ve grown accustomed to his presence. That’s probably a good thing, because his location next to the granite outcropping means it’s going to be a challenge to remove him from his post.
The last remnants of tropical storm Henri rolled through last night, dropping enormous quantities of rain that left large swathes of our down yard underwater. A thick fog followed the storm. The fog was so heavy this morning that you could look directly at the rising sun as it struggled to burn through the haze. I walked out onto the pebbled beach next to the mailboat dock, stepping carefully to avoid the discarded oyster and clam shells and feeling the cool touch of the water-drenched air, to take this evocative photograph.
It is mornings like this one that will make me miss Stonington when I return to Columbus next month.