Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Evolution of A Foundation Garden

In the late winter of 2006, we ripped out the overgrown shrubs from the front of our home, and started with a clean slate. In April, as replacements, I added two bluepoint junipers, three crimson pygmy barberries, a harry lauder's walking stick, a red twig dogwood, a japanese cypress and a few blue fescues to round things out.

As the years passed by, I continued to extend the beds further out into the existing lawn; my goal being a cottage-type garden (and to reduce my mowing area) that requires minimal upkeep / pruning as well as four-season interest. I concentrated on dwarf varieties, so as not to end up in the original predicament of having to remove overgrown shrubs too large for their space.

Five and a half years later,  I am (mostly) successful with my plan. The harry lauder's walking stick was, I'm afraid, not the best choice. it has filled it's space in the center of the bed and then some. I fear I will need to move it this Spring (possibly to the back yard); this will be no easy feat. The blue fescues also have all but disappeared into the lawn, due to my lack of vigilant edge maintenance.  But all the other plants have come into their own; I prune the barberries a couple of times of year and a major pruning of the dogwood taking place in Spring.  The evergreens take care of themselves and hopefully (!) have reached their mature heights.

Here are some photos showing before, during and after of the front yard:
Before - Late Winter 2006 Clean Slate
During - Approx.  May 2008 (?)
After - Oct. 2011 Continuing to Evolve . . .

As winter approaches, I look forward to the ever-changing palette the garden displays. Speaking of winter interest, I recently stumbled upon a great book called "The Garden in Winter" by Suzy Bales (click link):
This is a fabulous book, especially for anyone in a northern climate, who thinks that gardening ceases in winter. She really opened my eyes to the beauty of the winter garden, as well as eased my anxieties about the unpredictability of plant behavior in this season. I read a lot of gardening material; this is one of the most refreshing gardening books I've seen in a very long time. Check it out!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pet Portrait - Frankie

I just completed this pet portrait of a friend's dearly departed dog Frankie, using black ink and inktense colored pencils. I never met Frankie, but he sure looked like a sweet dog, and his owner loved him dearly. When I gave her the portrait, she immediately noticed something in the picture; and she said to me, "was that intentional?" I didn't know what she meant. And then she pointed it out - the heart-shaped ear(!) To her, it was as if Frankie was communicating a message from beyond. And who's to say he wasn't?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things . . .

I'm a little late starting my Halloween decorating; every year, my dining room table gets virtually taken over by Halloween items I've collected over the years. I finished this year's display tonight; here are some photos of a few of my figurines (although I'm hard-pressed to identify a favorite; they all have personality)!

What doesn't say Halloween like a cat popping out of a pumpkin's eye? OK, so this one probably wins.
 See that little Pumpkin Head on the Block with the heart on it to the right of the cat in the middle picture? That was made by my good friend (and awesome artist) Sandy Mastroni. Visit her blog at: or her etsy store at:
One of Sandy's holiday snowman-themed creations is prominently featured in Better Homes & Gardens Holiday Crafts Magazine on newsstands now, so check it out!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hallow'een Greetings

 OK, it's no surprise to people who know me that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Maybe it's the cats (ya think?), maybe it's the pumpkins and gourds, maybe it's just the fabulous colors (I'm a big fan of orange in particular) but I LOVE this holiday. I am totally inspired by the images associated with Halloween, especially the vintage ones. Here's a little vignette I created  . . . an image of my front steps. Speaking of Halloween, we're hoping to get to go to The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze in Sleepy Hollow NY this season:
We've been told it's really spectacular . . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Autumn Garden Takes Shape . . .

We've finally had a stretch of beautiful sun-filled days, albeit with temperatures above normal for the area. As much as I like the cool temps this time of year, I'll take these warm days as well. I had a few days off work, so I was able to do some planting of bareroot plants (Orange Slice Oriental Poppies and Wild Blue Baptisia). Unfortunately, the poppies came mis-labeled; the instructions said to plant with the crown just above the soil line; I had heard you need to plant poppies deeply for success. A call to the nursery proved me right; but I had to dig up my roots and re-plant them. I'll know in the Spring if this was successful or not. A good lesson not to doubt your instincts!
Plants doing well in the garden at the moment are the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias,  which are bursting with flowers now, compared to just a few weeks ago.  I love the contrast between the dark green leaves and the bright red flowers:
 The few garden mums I have scattered around the yard are also in fine form; I kind of like them in their more natural form,  rather than the rounded pots you see at all the nurseries this time of year (although these started out in just that way some year's back):
 And finally, in the vegetable garden, the nasturtiums are just about taking over the raised beds. They were doing well throughout the summer, but with slow and steady growth; as soon as the days started to cool down, they took off. The flowers will make nice additions to our late-season salads:
This is a busy time of year for the gardener; but an enjoyable one. A time to clean up the beds and prepare them for the coming winter; and also to assess what worked and didn't work. I've already decided I have a Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus Contorta) that will need to be moved in the Spring (it's already about six feet tall and wide). I may need the heavy equipment for that one, so it should make an interesting blog entry when the time comes! Stay tuned for more gardening adventures . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stratford Fall Festival 2011

The 6th annual Stratford Fall Festival and Dog Walk was held today; the weather was fabulous (pushing 80 degrees!) and the crowds came out to celebrate with us for a good cause - to benefit the homeless animals in town. It was nice to see my drawing on the finished T-shirts; unfortunately the dog represented couldn't attend today's event due to an injury recently sustained. Get well, Trixie!
 I was having a good time drawing quick watercolor sketches of the (four-legged) attendees, and Bill was in fine form as usual, running the caricature side of the tent - drawing both dogs and people, including a three-legged dog, who was adorable, and quite a little spitfire I might add)! Here he is just beginning a drawing of a cute little boy . . .

It's a pleasure to be able to take part in this event, and for such a good cause. Next year promises to be better than ever; it's grown so much that there's talk of moving the festival to an even bigger venue (Boothe Park) to accommodate all of the dogs and people from the surrounding communities who love to come and play every October in Stratford.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Once again, it's raining today. After a brief respite this past weekend, we are inundated tonight with more rain. The Northeast has been absolutely soaked over the past few months; my garden started out lush, and is now quickly turning to mush. Moldy, musty mums, fungus-ridden leaves on the trees. It's been a tough summer in the garden. Depressing. Where are those cool, CRISP days of fall? The bright blue skies, the crunch of leaves underfoot?

While the weather held out this past Sunday, we took a nice little road trip up to Jones Family Farm in Shelton CT:
This is one of the most beautiful pieces of farmland left in CT; they boast a top-notch winery, pick-your-own fields and a huge pumpkin patch (Pumpkinseed Hill Farm) with vistas that overlook much of Fairfield County. It was pretty spectacular, and the leaves haven't even started turning yet! We'll definitely make a trip back there in the coming weeks . . .

Here's just a small sampling of the huge varieties of pumpkins and gourds available for both eating and decorating. The pumpkin patch, with hayrides and a corn maze, is open through Oct. 31st.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Gotta love 'em. Totally under-rated (or udder-rated? ha).  These cows were especially friendly,  traveling across a farm field from afar the moment we approached the fence . . .

The leaves are just starting to turn colors in the northern reaches of Connecticut; I'm hoping the unusually wet summer (including Hurricane Irene) we have had recently won't ruin the foliage show this year.
We have already had a few crisp days this month; I love it - it motivates me to be outside, get things done (like painting the trim around my door). Stay tuned for more pictures as Autumn unfolds (and Halloween, my favorite holiday, approaches :-)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Woodstock CT Fair - Sept. 3, 2011

A lot has happened since my last post - Hurricane Irene being the most noteworthy. But I was also putting in a lot of extra hours at work in August, so no time left to blog. It was the culmination of a six-month long project that seemed to take every ounce of my energy towards the end. But I'm back now, and looking forward to Autumn (and getting my life back)!

Went to the Woodstock CT Agricultural Fair on Saturday. It's about a 2-hour drive from our house, but quite a scenic one in the "Quiet Corner" of CT. We had a blast! I'd say it's one of the biggest fairs in CT, complete with all the usual competitions of cows, sheep, chickens, plus midway rides, etc. They also have a huge open horse show. It was the first time I got to see a ladies side-saddle class; I thought I had seen it all in the horse world until this! Tractors - lots of cool old tractors, and a vintage car show. Unfortunately, my camera battery died about 15 minutes after arriving, so I have very few images. But I will remember what fun we had for a long time to come . . .

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wicked Plants in the Garden

This time of year, one of my favorite garden books comes to mind -  "Wicked Plants" by Amy Stewart:

The author chronicles all sorts of nasty, evil plants that very well may be lurking in your own garden (and mine)! Not only entertaining, but educational as well, this book also just looks fantastic - beautiful botanical illustrations accompany the text and a handy book ribbon is included to mark your place. It's a real eye-opener, when you realize some of your favorite, common garden plants can be quite lethal if not handled properly. She describes in detail (sometimes quite humorously too!) stories of those unfortunate souls who succumbed to these black sheep of the garden.

Not in "Wicked Plants," but just as evil in my book, is green briar (at least that's what I think it is). I have been battling a patch of this stuff for the last few years in a stretch of yard between my neighbor's house and mine.  Around this time of year, this wickedly-barbed vine seems to grow about a foot a day, entangling itself in the shrubs, and is now snaking it's way underground, popping up in the lawn (in search of water, I'm thinking).  It's like the plant equivalent of those snake-headed, razor-tooth asian walking fish invading our waterways. . .

Evidently, the only way to eradicate it is to dig up every one of it's potato-like tubers (there's a lot of them), or paint Round-Up on the exposed edge after cutting them down (not an option in an anti-Monsanto, organic garden).  Here's a picture of my nemesis:

Note: the leaves in this photo do not belong to the vine; only the vine itself with it's nasty little pointies (that go right through your average garden gloves) is shown above.  So once again, I'll keep trying to outsmart this Little Shop of Horrors offspring. Wish me luck (I'll need it, and a big box of band-aids too).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

If You Were Grossed Out By My Last Post . . . Here's a Pretty Butterfly!

I realize everyone may not share my fascination with the Cicada Killers, but it was a very "buggy" day to document in the garden! So here's a picture of a prettier insect, a butterfly amidst the Coreopsis:
I'll try to leave the bugs alone for awhile (at least until I can get a fabulous photo of a tomato hornworm infected by braconid wasp larvae . . . I'm just warning you;  it's coming:-)

Did I Mention Bugs? Yeah, We Got Those (Cicada Killers)

Today I was quite proud of myself - I captured in photo-form the elusive Cicada Killer wasp in action! These wasps are amazing; get-in-your-face tough, but (luckily) they are all bark and no bite (or sting). Very territorial, they'll dive-bomb you if you get anywhere their nests. Did I mention they're huge? Almost two inches in length. This is the third year they've taken up residence; I've come to look forward to their arrival in mid-summer. Another reminder that nature has it's own pest-control systems in the organic garden (click on the photos to see a larger version):
Here's a Cicada Killer Wasp's Nest in the Ground . . .
This is a Cicada . . .
. . . And This is a Cicada Killer Wasp Bringing Dinner Home (an Unlucky Cicada) !  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat Wave

We're in the grips of a heat wave in the Northeast; it's unbearably hot. I've noticed a couple of plants are struggling with the heat; my chrysanthemums are looking a little crispy these days . . .
But the carpet roses appear quite unaffected; as a matter of fact, they have started blooming again for the first time since late spring:

I planted three of these rose bushes late last summer; they were "rescues" from the sale pile at a local nursery.  Carpet roses are supposed to be heat-tolerant; these are definitely living up to their reputation! I have very few rose bushes in my garden; maybe because they have a reputation of being high-maintenance garden divas, I've avoided them. I pretty much have a rule that I'll baby a plant the first year; after that, they're on their own (I know, heartless).  Tree peonies are excluded from this rule, however. I unabashedly spoil them :-)

 But this new generation of knock-outs and carpet roses seems to be winning me over . . .

Monday, July 18, 2011

Winterpills @ DreamAway Lodge - Becket MA 7/17/11

We spent a mystical evening this past Sunday listening to our favorite band Winterpills ( under the stars at a fabulous place called the DreamAway Lodge. Tucked away in the deep woods of Becket MA, it comes highly recommended for both a great meal and a top-notch place to see music, with a history to match; it's worth the trip for sure if you're in the Northeast: (

And do not pass up a chance to see Winterpills play, should they come to a venue in your area. Check them out on iTunes. "Tuxedo of Ashes" is their latest collection of hauntingly beautiful songs. It's important not to forget that there is  amazing artistic talent out there needing your support, including people in your local communities that are making incredible art and music if we just take the time to search them out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

OK, So Dogs Are a Part of This Blog Too . . .

I know I said there would no doubt be cats, but there will be also dogs (and quite possibly other animals) featured on my blog from time to time. I am lucky and honored to be chosen to create the T-shirt artwork each year for the Stratford Fall Festival to Benefit Animals held annually in October (details here:

Here's a little glimpse into that process:
 Each year, the winner of the photo contest is chosen to be represented on the festival T-shirt the following year. Here's the 2010 photo contest winner, Trixie. I usually do a quick pencil sketch first, then do the full-blown ink drawing.

Here are the past year's winners as represented on the T-shirts:
It's really a great event benefiting our local animal shelter and local rescue group S.T.A.R.S. and all the good work they do. In addition to the T-shirt art, at the festival I will once again be offering portrait sketches of the attendee's pets and my husband Bill will be drawing awesome caricatures (his specialty: of both people and/or pets! If you love animals and are in the area, save the date. The festival is growing in leaps and bounds each year; plus we have Batso in attendance again! Say no more . . .

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tiger Lily

The Tiger Lily is a very common blooming plant in the Northeast this time of year; sometimes we forget how beautiful they really are. So take the time to appreciate them up close. This is a photo of a double tiger lily from my garden.

I'll be posting some artwork shortly on this blog to complete the triumvirate of plants, cats and artwork . . . so stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Speaking of Rocks . . .

You may be wondering from my last post, what's the big deal about rocks? I lived in Florida for many years, and I went through a kind of "rock withdrawal" while there. The closest thing to a real rock was a styrofoam cliff at Disney World. I never realized how much I missed the rocks I knew from my childhood until I moved back to the Northeast some years back. There's nothing like a beautiful stone wall winding it's way across a New England farm field . . . speaking of which, this is a great book:

So I'm somewhat protective of my rocks, thank you very much. Carry on!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zen Garden

This was a project I started last summer; it's a corner of my yard known as the "Zen Garden." I hate to see good rocks go to waste, so I used these stones from my yard (as well as some given to me by my good friend Candace) to make a "patio" floor. They are placed in a level, dirt footing (nothing high-tech here).  All I do is sweep them off every so often. Plus, they make a nice stone "mulch" to keep the weeds at bay.

I'm still adding elements to the Garden; a water feature would be a nice feng-shui addition. It's a nice peaceful place to escape to after a long day at work.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Container Gardening 101

I'm a perennial gardener more than anything; I rarely buy annuals, except for container gardening. But this is a great time of year to buy annuals; most nurseries are running specials (2 for 1 etc) before the real heat comes and it's too hot to plant. I put together a container today including  zonal geraniums 'Tango Orange' (isn't that a great color?) and Nieremburgia 'Mont Blanc' among others.

I use a good, organic potting mix and fill the container to approx. half full:

Then I place the pots in the container, moving them around until I find the most pleasing effect:
The last step is to remove the pots, placing each plant back in the container and back-fill with more potting mix until all the spaces between the plants are filled. It can get kinda tight in there; it's important to not leave any air pockets where the roots can dry out.
Here's the finished container; now it just needs a good watering!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


 Today I harvested our first yellow squash;  we'll have it for dinner tonight (I'm thinking onions, red pepper strips, brown rice, cilantro). The organic veggie garden is exploding; the rain (and now sun) has really jump-started things. I'll share some photos of the raised beds in upcoming posts.

Sun's Out!

After a very rainy week (again), the sun has finally come out today. The garden's happy - and I'm happy - because my purple coneflowers actually have petals this year! In years past, I suspected the slugs got to them; petals were few and far between. This year, I proactively applied Sluggo, and organic slug repellent (OMRI-listed), and voila! They look great . . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Weeding the Garden

Weeds get a bad rap. I just spent the early evening pulling weeds, but I'm not cursing them. For me, it's a meditative, quiet time.

Hard day at work? Go pull some weeds when you get home. Writer's block? Pull some weeds. Creative problem to solve? You get the idea . . .

Now don't go thinking my garden is weed-free, what with all this pullin' going on.  Far from it.  I tackle sections at a time, in a loose, rotating schedule. Maintaining an organic garden can have it's challenges, but after you've done a little reading up on the hazards of Round-Up, you start to see that a few weeds around the garden is not such a bad thing after all.

So think of weeding as stress-reducer (rather than letting all those weeds cause you stress) and you just might enjoy your garden a bit more (weeds and all)!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

OK, Back to Gardening . . .

I have a purple sand cherry that for the second year in a row, leafs out OK at first, but then proceeds to get a lot of shriveled leaves by late May/June. It also is a magnet for japanese beetles (but they haven't appeared yet).  Just curious if anyone has seen this problem before .  . .

Here's a closer look at the problem . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2011


And introducing Princess (Jasper's sister).  she likes to keep to herself most days (the bedroom is her domain).  She's a shy little kitty, for sure.

Well, I Did Say There Would be Cats . . .

Meet Jasper - one of two cats who share our home. He's my little shadow . . .

Friday, June 17, 2011

The "Official" Welcome Sign

I probably should've posted this first; it's the "official" welcome sign that graces my back garden . . . it's an old wooden sign on weathered barn board from the thirties, possibly. A flea market find that I though had a charming look to it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Welcome to my blog! I really enjoy gardening, so that will be the subject of most posts. Successes AND failures, they all have a place in the garden.

There also may be the occasional sketch or painting, photos of my cats, and whatever else I'm inclined to post that day . . .

I hope you like it, and can find something interesting, useful, or helpful.