New friends

I went out to see if there any lovage in the herb garden and found that I had acquired some new friends:

Aren’t they beautiful?  They arrive every year to feast on the dill, which I do not begrudge them in the least.  There’s plenty to go around, after all.

We will not dwell on the fact that I never see any cocoons, which means that either they go somewhere else to do that or most of them are eaten by friendly birds.

New mystery plant

I have not blogged regularly, mainly because the situation in our country is so grotesque that I can’t keep up and I don’t want to spend all my time with my readers picking at the scab that is our Current Embarrassment.

So here’s a post about out of control plants.

You may recall the Dill Plant That Ate Newnan and/or the Cardoon that Couldn’t Be Stopped.  Both are now gone, because I ripped them out of the ground and ruthlessly discarded them.

But oh so quietly last year, a delicate little vine sprang up in the side patch where the cardoon was.  I gave it a little frame to grow onto (to keep it from latching onto the shrubbery).

This year, of course, it has come back more determined, and so I’ve built it a large frame just to see how far it’s willing to go:

It has responded with enthusiasm:

…although it still seems to be looking for ways to devour the shrubbery.

Why am I allowing an obviously invasive plant to thrive in my garden?

It has these beautiful little flowers.  I want to see if I can create a tower of the feathery leaves and brilliant red blooms.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back in the garden…

You may remember the Cardoon That Couldn’t Be Stopped:

Now in its second year, it’s achieving its full growth.  The photo above is from one month ago.

Here’s one less than a month later:

That was taken before we left for Europe.  Last night when I went out to look around to see what would need weeding/staking/saving whenever it stops raining, I was shocked to see:

It’s even more astonishing from the other side:

I don’t like turning my back on it.

Up the Danube, Day 4

When last we left our Viking River Cruise up the Danube, we had left Vienna and sailed to Krems.

I forgot to mention that the day before, on Mother’s Day, the captain gave roses to all the ladies on the ship:

Here’s a photo of our ship, the Viking Tor, docked in Krems.

The red arrow?  That’s our stateroom.  We laughed when we woke up to find ourselves behind the dock.

And of course, as soon as we stepped off the ship we were on Hofvonsteinian soil.  (I will admit to an embarrassing geographical ignorance: I assumed that the Danube was the boundary between Austria and Slovakia/Czech Republic, but of course it’s not.  It’s over in the mountains somewhere.)

The morning’s trip was to Göttweig Abbey.  I have no longshots of it because I was on the wrong side of the bus.  Here’s one I stole from Wikipedia:

It’s pretty spectacular.  It’s a Benedictine Abbey founded 900 years ago.  Today, they produce wine and a host of apricot products including wine, sparkling wine, and liqueur, which we probably bought.  Also jams and bath salts and other stuff.

First though I had deal with this:

Some in my party became extremely amused by this sign, even though it clearly just says “Bus Lane.”  Some people.

This was in the small garden/orchard at the front.  It is in fact a bee hotel, and I knew what it was because my friend Richard was making a whole bunch of them out of bamboo as an art project for the Euphoria burn.  This one is more elaborate, but the concept is the same.

We began following our tour guide toward the abbey gate, and as we walked I looked over and saw circles of cobble stones, and lo!

It’s rather new, only a couple of years old. It’s a little smaller than mine, but it’s the same seven-circuit pattern.  The center is a rose bush.

The view from the abbey is all-encompassing, and they own almost everything you see.

They have a winery, but mostly they grow apricots.  Lots and lots of apricots.

Inside the gate, you are met with several large and beautiful buildings, most from the 18th century.

On the left is the Imperial Apartments, built because the Emperor (or in this case Empress Maria Theresia) had the right to stay there, which she did only once.  If you look closely at the windows on the far left façade…

…you’ll notice they’re painted on.  That’s one way to save money, both in construction and in taxes.  For reasons unknown, many taxes were based on the number of windows you had.  (In Paris, a similar tax on the number of floors in your home led to the Mansard roof, which claimed to be an attic, not a floor.  Everyone politely looked the other way, kind of like the whole idea of the Hapsburg Austria-Hungarian Empire.)

Inside, it’s about as lavish as you might expect an Imperial Apartment to be.  The staircase, for example:

The stairs are extremely shallow and difficult for us 21st century types to navigate.  They are presumably easier if you’re wearing high heels and restrictive clothing, such as corsets and paniers.

The ceiling of the staircase:

A masterpiece of trompe-l’oeil, it is actually only about fourteen inches deep.  The decorations overall are seriously Classical pagan, which is a measure of the power the liberal Maria Theresia and her son Joseph II (“Too many notes, Herr Mozart, too many notes!”) had over the church within their domains.  Another measure is the church itself, which I noted to the tour guide had an impressive dome in a contemporary etching.  Ah, she said, they were not funded for the dome and it was never built.

A lovely chambre in the apartments:

The floor is marquetry, all wood.

The church is a simple, noble baroque structure…

…until you get inside.

…where it is no longer simple.  Actually, as these things go, it is fairly restrained.

The altarpiece is typical:

All in all, the abbey (of which I have tons of photos) was one of our favorite places on the trip.  It had a serene atmosphere, secluded as it was on its mountaintop.  It is a Benedictine abbey, which means that the brothers must all earn their keep, which they do by supervising the apricot orchards and their products; working/leasing the vineyards; and managing the forests.

We exited through the gift shop, buying plenty of apricot products: jams, chutney, apricot sugar (for cocktails!), and a bottle of their apricot liqueur, which I will also use in cocktails.  (More than a few from Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails call for it.)

Back on board, we set sail up through the Wachau Valley, which Soren narrated for us as we went.  It was chock full of fun things like abbeys and ruined castles:

This one held Richard the Lion-Hearted captive until he was ransomed by his jongleur.  (The way it was said made it sound like his vassal lords didn’t give a rat’s ass that their liege was being held by the Austrians.)

The scenery both fore and aft was lovely, and you can see the weather was glorious.  I ended up napping on the sun deck, awaking as we approached a lock to find this school looming over me:

On we sailed, through the sunset and night, towards Passau.



It was pointed out to me that I omitted one of the sights in the Wachau Valley: Willendorf, where archaeologists discovered the Venus of Willendorf.  The site is now marked with a little monument:

Bizarre plants, part deux

Last month some time I transplanted this weedy-looking plant back to the “hedge” garden along with the mullein, because both looked like they were going to be inappropriate for the front.  I may have thought it was a mullein plant, although it looks nothing like it now.

Then day before yesterday I noticed that it had some odd looking blooms on it, and this morning:

Kind of wow, you know?

Through the genius of the hive mind—remember, boys and girls, that someone on Facebook can give you a straight answer—I learned that this is a Canterbury bells. (These are…?)  They self-seed, which means it’s in exactly the right place given that I want all those plants to take over the area.

However, my research has revealed it doesn’t really like heat.  I may have to see if I can find its descendants a better home in the back flower bed.

I have no idea where it came from.  I didn’t plant it.

Garden project: accomplished!

Task Avoidance can be wearying, as all Lichtenbergians know.  It’s the driving force behind Lichtenbergianism‘s success, after all: putting off all the stuff you need to work on eventually drives you crazy enough to do the work.

Thus it was with my garden markers project.  I just kept putting it off until it had to be done, and now… well, we’ll come back to that.

The concept was simple.  I needed herb garden markers that would a) identify the weirdo herbs I’ve planted without making me put on my glasses; b) remind me what they’re used for (coughs, flavoring, etc.), along with any notes about harvesting, etc.  Simple enough, but it took weeks.

I bought a cedar board and cut it into little blocks.

I drilled holes into the bottoms:

I sanded them mostly smooth:

I designed a little template for my information, printed those out, and affixed them to the blocks with Mod Podge, of all things.  (It was the outdoor variety, supposedly weather proof.)

I cut 8″ lengths of 1/8″ steel dowel, inserted those into the holes, and stuck them into the ground:

(Those are butterfly garden flowers, not weeds. Leave me alone.)

And we’re done!

Only not really.  I made a dozen blocks. I needed about eighteen.  Maybe next month…

I’ll take truly bizarre plants for $400, Alex

First, a photo of the back garden area, aka the privet hedge garden:

That does not look like much, but the echinacea, borage, and Joe Pye weed will by this time next year have colonized the area.  It will be a riot of blossoms and butterflies.

You may, if you are a long-time reader, remember the Dill Plant That Ate Newnan (RIP). Pfft.  That plant was a piker compared to the Cardoon That Couldn’t Be Stopped.

The acanthus-looking leaf there is the cardoon plant one year ago after arriving from the Growers Exchange.

Here it is in its second year of life.  And it has a secret.  Yesterday I peered into the rising central stalk and…

The thistles have arrived!  Yes, they are cousins to artichokes (which are themselves thistles); one cooks and eats them basically the same way.  I counted six on their way, and I bet there are more.

Stay tuned.


Garden update

You will recall that we left the front garden a little bare, though tilled:

Finally the big order from The Growers Exchange arrived, Friday afternoon.  This was a bit problematic, since once one unboxes these plants, one is supposed to let them sit out of direct sun for a day or two before planting them, but no longer than four days.  The problem was that 1) on Sunday I had to go to Duluth for the State STAR Student selection process, not getting home until Tuesday; and 2) it was going to rain on Sunday in any case.

I like Growers Exchange; they’re good people, and they have interesting plants.  But I ordered these plants in December and they were supposed to be here mid-March.  That worked for me because starting in late April I was going to be pretty much unavailable till June: the aforesaid State STAR Student process, followed by Euphoria build weekend — packing for Euphoria — Euphoria — unpack — pack for the Danube — cruise up the Danube for a week or so, past our beloved homeland of Hofvonstein — unpack from the Danube — pack for To The Moon burn — To The Moon.  On June 6 I expected to come up for air.

However, the plants arrived.  I unboxed them, sat them under the work table, watered them, and told them they had 24 hours to acclimate.

Late Saturday, when the sun was on the other side of the house, I popped those puppies into the earth:

There was also the privet hedge area, but I didn’t get a photo of that.  Maybe Tuesday when I get home…


You know how it is.  The front garden is getting ratty-looking and as a gift for Christmas you give your Lovely  First Wife a complete revamp of the area.

And then you get an email from The Growers Exchange offering 25% off an order for native cultivars, and then you see some interesting-looking herbs that you’ve only read about, and suddenly you’re looking at 50+ plants to get into the ground.

On Saturday I spent all day ripping out the zoysia grass from the planting areas where it had invaded, and then getting most of the plants into the ground.  (Half of them haven’t been shipped yet.)

That was oddly satisfying, plunging the blue-handled “weasel” contraption into the soil and wrenching it around so that the grass and weeds were loosened, then ripping them out.  I ended up with a huge pile of detritus on the curb.  A good gardener wouldn’t allow it to get that bad, of course.

So much grass.

And weeds (although most of the greenery above is actually surviving annuals).

Actually planting the plants takes no time at all of course.

Oooh, clean!

So what all did I plant?

Out front:

In the herb garden:

In the side garden, joining the monster cardoon:

Then there’s the area where we had the privet hedge/wisteria removed.  It’s ugly, and so I’ve decided to plant hardy, equally invasive flowers/herbs.

I’ll keep you posted as things develop.  In another year, we should be awash in herbs and flowers.  If I can remember what everything is for, I could become a regular apothecary.