Friday, April 30, 2010

Bluestone Perennials

Every winter for the past 4-5 years, I've treated myself to an order from Bluestone Perennials. You see, their winter catalog includes coupons and early order discounts. So, I use the coupons, order early, and save $$, but the plants don't arrive until the last week of April. Yesterday, THEY ARRIVED! (Bluestone must be reading my blog, do you think?)

I spent a pleasant part of the evening deciding where to plant the new arrivals, then putting them in and watering them. This year's goodie box included: 3 Hosta 'Piedmont Gold' (bright chartreuse, really eyecatching), 3 Aster 'Bluebird' (my favorite aster), 3 Penstemon 'Iron Maiden' (awful name, but it should be gorgeous and attract hummingbirds), 3 yellow columbine, 1 'Little Honey' oak leaf hydrangea, and 1 Clethra 'Vanilla Spice' shrub.

I've included a picture of the 'Bluebird' asters - again a pic from my old garden. Some plants are just so good you want to make sure you don't do without them when you move. Aster 'Bluebird' is tall (up to 4'), and makes a striking display of light blue-lavender flowers with bright yellow centers. It's pretty resistant to mildew, and clumps up well. It makes a tough, woody root mass, so put it where you really want it so you don't have to move it later. They are super hardy, and even tolerate road salt and having snow piled on them by a plow. I found that I did have to tie it up late in the season, or it would lean, but overall it's a lovely garden plant.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can I plant yet? Can I plant yet? Can I plant yet?

I'm walking that fine line between spring hope and spring pragmatism. The warmer, sunnier days are more and more frequent, but the danger of frost is not yet gone from my Zone 4 garden, and won't be for a few more weeks. Still, I've got a porch full of winter sown seedlings that are giving me accusing looks from their containers, and I really would like to play in the dirt NOW. I guess I'll have to compromise, and plant out a few of the hardier things sooner (like alyssum, and snapdragons), and wait longer on the tender babies (zinnias, tomatoes).

It seems like it's been a very long week, and it's only Thursday. We have a busy weekend ahead, with kids' activities and getting the kitchen/dining/entry/mud room areas ready for new tile floors next week. We have to clean out the pantry and coat closet, and move a bunch of appliances, and take off the baseboard molding. But OH, to have a new ceramic tile floor to replace the cheap, badly installed, grayish vinyl that came with the house! I can't wait. The new tile looks like sandstone, warm and a bit casual, and we chose dirt-colored grout (to camouflage all the soil I track in year-round). It should warm up our home visually, and be a huge improvement. A smaller home improvement: I painted the picnic table today, so it looks fresh and clean.

I have some gorgeous sunset-orange tulips outside my front window, swaying in the stiff breeze we've had today and backlit by the afternoon sun. I love their warmth and unabashed joy - no shy little violets are these! It's fun to plant something bold and eye-catching, and even sometimes downright unusual or strange. I've been reading, "Exotic Planting for Adventurous Gardeners," by Christopher Lloyd and Friends. He reminds me of Ms. Frizzle, from The Magic School Bus series: "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" Good advice for a gardener, don't you think?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Elegant Rose Boutique on Etsy

Once in a while, I'll feature a shop on Etsy here on my blog. I know SO many talented artisans, it would be a shame to not give them some encouragement and publicity. I may have a very small audience, but hey, it's an audience! Here is the first shop I'd like to share with you: Elegant Rose Boutique.

If you like exquisitely scented hand made soaps, body butters, lip balms, or other goodies to pamper yourself or someone you love, then Elegant Rose Boutique would be the perfect place for you to visit online. They (actually SHE - one lady of many talents) offer a huge variety of scents and products, and BOY are they good! Take a look, you'll see what I mean. I've used her soaps, and they are wonderfully scented with essential oils and natural ingredients. She did a custom order for me (essential oil sampler soaps for shower favors), and she was a real pleasure to work with. Stop by her shop and browse; better yet, give her items a try.

Mental meanderings

I hope I'm as sharp, interesting and fun at 90 as my husband's Aunt Maudie is. She's a gem, and we had a great visit with her, her son, and my husband's parents and sister last night.

I'm grateful for my husband, who's intelligent and caring, hard-working and kind. We've had our troubles, but we're still here. God is gracious!

The local birds have discovered our feeder this year. Last year I saw few birds, and really missed their cheerful antics. It took them a while to realize the new people in the (formerly vacant for a looong time) house would keep the feeder filled. Now we've got a regular bevy of visitors.

I planted seed cups with the kids from our home school co-op yesterday. We had a lot of fun with our botany lesson. Hopefully their seeds will sprout abundantly. They had a choice of planting 'Big Max' pumpkins, 'Mammoth' sunflowers, a sunflower mix, 'Tenderpod' green beans, 'Carpet of Snow' alyssum, and 'Jewel Mix' nasturtiums. Some kids planted some of each; others were more choosy. Kids + seeds + dirt = FUN.

I didn't finish the small cottage painting yet - it's just not coming together like I'd hoped. I'll try again soon; I've got a lot to learn about painting yet!

I am so grateful to be able to stay in touch with friends and family on FB. It was a lifesaver during our move, and is my contact with the "adult world" on those days when home schooling feels like being stuck in the asylum with the patients.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When the creative spark is MIA - then what?

I run hot and cold as an artist. I'll have a spurt of creativity, lasting a few days to a couple weeks, then I'll hit a slump where I'm just not motivated to create anything. I had a terrific run in February, where I completed a couple large paintings, but now I'm in the doldrums again.

I don't like the down times in my creative life, but it is a cycle, just like so much else in nature. I guess I can't keep that creative "fever pitch" sustained all the time. And, just maybe, I need the down times to recharge and get ideas for the next artistic outburst. Life with a family is like a long hike - lots of banal everyday distractions mixed with the wonder of life and the chaos of living.

This past week I made myself sit down and do some prep work for some small paintings - collecting ideas from my gardening books for the cottage paintings I want to try to do, and doing some preliminary background work on the canvas boards. I also started one abstract, in moody bold reds and oranges. The abstract is almost done, I just need to sit down and focus on it for an hour or so to finish it. I did start a cottage painting, and the jury is still out on whether or not I like it. I've never done anything like it before. Still, I know myself: sometimes I have to just make myself start a project or two, and the feelings will eventually catch up with the discipline of work to ignite something more in the process. Isn't life like that anyhow? Sometimes, "Time to make the donuts," will morph into, "Wouldn't it be great to bake a maple-pecan cheesecake, and while I'm at it, a batch of double chocolate fudge walnut brownies, and a deep dish apple pie?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Science and faith - a book review of sorts

I just finished reading 'Galileo's Daughter' by Dava Sobel. I've read it a couple times before, and really enjoyed it each time.

Galileo's elder daughter, Virginia, was sent by her father (with her younger sister) to live at the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri (near Florence), Italy, shortly after her 13th birthday (in 1613). (As both girls were illegitimate, the children of his long-term relationship with Virginia Gamba of Venice, he considered them to be unmarriageable. Securing their future through the convent was what he thought best for them, and was a very common practice at the time.) A few years later, she took her vows as a "Poor Clare" (Franciscan nun), and assumed the name Sister Maria Celeste, in honor of the Virgin and of her father's fascination with the heavens. She lived the remainder of her life confined in body (but not in spirit or intellect), and died at the age of 33. The book by Sobel chronicles Galileo's life and trials, using the letters from his daughter to him to add texture and color to the account. It's a remarkably rich book, a real pleasure to read, and it gives a very intimate portrait of life in the late Renaissance, and explains the background of the furor that accompanied Galileo's scientific discoveries. Galileo himself remained a devout Catholic to his death, and did not understand how his study of the heavens could bring anything other than glory to the Lord who created them, and who gave humanity the intellect to study His handiwork.

I find this book fascinating because of my own struggles with faith and science. I have always enjoyed learning about the natural world, but turning my gaze to the stars gives me spiritual whiplash. God is so HUGE, His universe so immeasurably great, and I am infinitesimally small in the scale of things - how could I matter to Him? And yet He is as close to me as my own heartbeat, even closer, and He took on the form of a man in Jesus to die for my salvation from my sin. Absolutely astonishing.

One of our children is currently fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils. I have no wish to curb their exploration of science, but I confess to a certain uneasiness in answering their questions, since although I know the Lord created everything, I'm less certain of the time frame. Evolution obviously occurs on the micro level, but on the macro level it's much less cut and dried, and frankly unbelievable at times. I don't have "the answers," just lots of hard questions mixed with thoughtful faith. I think I understand Galileo just a little bit more now. . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good landscaping makes good neighbors.

Yesterday I planted a couple more 'Autumn Joy' sedum in the bed my neighbor and I are collaborating on (it straddles the property line, and camouflages the utility boxes). I had one sedum in there, and realized three would look much better. So far we've got a river birch, a couple red barberries, a couple rhododendrons (my neighbor's choice - nice idea, but I don't think they'll thrive there; we'll see, I could be wrong), a white variegated euonymus (a good idea from our neighbor), a couple mums that survived the winter, and now some daylilies. I'll fill in the open spots with annuals soon.

I also put a couple hosta ('Northern Hills') in front of the ground-level basement windows. I like hosta; they're great foliage plants. No high-ticket items here, just things that appeal to me. Gardening doesn't have to be expensive to be beautiful. I'm gardening to please myself, but I do enjoy seeing neighbors walking by and enjoying the flowers too.

Oh, I almost forgot: I planted a grape vine ('Reliance,' a hardy seedless red). I've toyed with the idea of growing grapes for a while, going back and forth about it. I had decided not to order any this year, but last night, at Lowes, they had the exact variety I had considered ordering. Sucker that I am, I bought it, and now that nice, sturdy vine is planted at the corner of my shed. I'll put up some anchors and wires to train it as it grows. I like the thought of enjoying my own fresh grapes (without synthetic pesticides - I garden organically).

On the art front, I'm going to start a couple miniature acrylic paintings, of cottage gardens. I want to give one to my husband's parents for their anniversary. I'd better get busy; we'll see them Tuesday!

Daylilies and laundry.

Gardening or laundry, laundry or gardening - not much of a choice, really, but I did start the laundry before going outside to enjoy the divine spring sunshine.

Today I planted some daylilies - 'Bright Sunset' (a favorite of mine, tall and strong, in bold burnt orange tones, a real workhorse - yes, I had it in the other garden, that's its picture above), 'Bertie Ferris' (small, persimmon-colored, feisty, new for me), 'Wedding Band' (gold and white blend, new to me), 'Island Hospitality' (tropical gold-melon shades, new to me), and 'Frans Hals' (a bitone, the petals dark rusty orange with a gold midrib, the sepals gold - totally striking, I had it before too). There are so many more I'd love to plant; give me time, I'll get there. As it is, I'll have to play "name that flower" when the daylilies bloom this year, since I didn't get them labeled before the move, and only a few bloomed after being transplanted last May-June. Gardening this year will have more than the usual element of surprise.

I ordered these daylilies from the Gilbert H. Wild nursery ( They sell healthy plants, albeit smaller than many daylily growers. BUT, you also pay a LOT less than at other suppliers, and if you buy during one of their sales, their prices can't be beat ($3-$5 per plant). If you like older varieties, or want to plant a lot at one time, this is a good place to look. I ordered from them specifically to get 'Bright Sunset' this time. Other daylily nurseries I like are Marietta Gardens (, the Shooters' family nursery, amazing selection, great plants, reasonable prices on older varieties, lots of great new intros too), and Oakes Daylilies (; they send BIG plants, more like clumps; middle of the road prices, good value). If you like auctions for plants, try The Lily Auction ( I don't recommend eBay for plants, unless you know the seller.

(Confession time: I really, REALLY like daylilies, and had around 100 different ones in my other garden. I even started hybridizing my own the past couple years. The move forced me to choose a dozen mature plants and a few dozen seedlings to bring with me. I don't know that I'll wind up with that many daylilies again. Nah, who am I kidding - I'll probably be back up to that number in a few years.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of trees and children. . . .

I used to tell my husband that gardening was cheaper than therapy, but he doesn't believe that any more.

Seriously, though, gardening has been a stabilizing factor in my life, and I didn't realize how much I relied on it until last spring, when the move disrupted my usual routine of winter sowing, garden clean-up and prep-work, and ordering new plants. It was like being adrift; it was not comfortable.

This spring feels SO much better. I've done my winter sowing (I've got almost 100 containers on my back deck, with about 75% of them showing green sprouts so far). I'm learning the rhythm and character of my new yard, where it's exposed and needs hardier plants, where it's shady and I can grow my favorite woodland beauties, where the shadows fall in summer and winter, where it's soggy and acid and I can plant my long-awaited blueberry patch.

The trees we planted last fall (a river birch, a locust, and a tulip tree/liriodendron) are starting to unfurl their tiny, fresh, bright green leaves. I love new leaves - so much hope in such a tiny package! Hard to believe the lush greenery of summer unfolds from such small beginnings. I need just one more tree (notice it's NEED, not WANT - the yard is missing something, and I know exactly what it is in this case) - a white dogwood. I have the perfect spot, all marked out in a new bed at the rear north-east corner of the house, the hole already dug, just a few yards from the bird feeder. Soon, I'll be going to Aspinall's Tree Nursery to get the tree. It's funny how planting trees can be like growing families - sometimes you know your family isn't complete until that last, particular child arrives. Then you know, you're done. Everything is JUST RIGHT. So I'm waiting for my last tree.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Color, color everywhere.

Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous! I know it's pushing the season a little here in CNY, but I just had to go out and plant some stuff.

I planted canna 'Wyoming' in the front yard island bed, to make a bold statement. It will take the place I had originally intended for a shrub, but I loved the cannas from my other garden, and wanted to use them again. I planted 7 in a cluster. Hopefully the strong bronzy foliage and striking orange flowers will live up to my imagination.

I planted LOTS of nasturtiums along the top of the retaining wall, almost 200 seeds, and I think I need more. I used two varieties: 'Alaska' (a variegated dwarf) where the wall is lower, and 'Variegated Queen' (a trailing, variegated variety) where the wall is taller, so it can cascade over the edge. I decided to put my hot colors in the front yard this time, and the cool colors in the back yard. I plan to be the neighborhood "crazy plant lady," so I might as well do it in style, lol.

I also planted green beans (Burpee 'Tenderpod') in the back yard, to go with the sugar snap peas already sprouting. I'm still waiting to see what critters will find my veggies appetizing. No woodchucks in evidence, but we may have rabbits (unless our neighbor's cat has taken care of them; she's a fierce hunter).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last summer we moved, and I left behind a garden I had worked on for 12 years. That was the hardest part of moving, for me - leaving the garden behind (MY garden). I don't miss the house, except for the new kitchen we had put in (right before my husband's layoff). So I miss my kitchen, and my garden.

The new owners of the house removed most of my plantings soon after they moved in. I didn't realize how painful that would be, until we drove by the old house a month or so after the move. It's amazing what we grow attached to in our lives. You'd think with all the work we'd done on the old house, the hours and HOURS we spent painting, scraping, fixing, replacing, repairing, upgrading, cursing the past owners' stupidity, I'd be more unhappy to leave that structure. Our children were born while we were there, and they knew no other home. But no, it's the garden I still miss and regret leaving.

Happily, I was able to take some of my plants with me when we moved. In fact, right after the layoff (November, 2008), I went out into the yard and dug up all my peonies, and placed them in plastic bags lining cheap plastic laundry baskets, then put that whole lot inside a large, shallow cardboard box on the driveway turnaround. I was afraid we'd have to move over the winter, and I'd have to leave EVERYTHING in my garden behind, frozen solid. It turned out that we didn't have to move until spring, so in April I also dug up some of my daylilies, both established plants and seedlings that I had bred. I took a miscellany of other plants, but there was no way I could take everything I would have wanted. I told myself I could replace what I couldn't take, but it was still a wrench to see what the new owners had done to MY YARD.

We spent several weeks between houses, living with family. The peonies bloomed, in their bags and baskets, on my parents front porch, before finally making the move to the new house. Amazingly, they have all put up new foliage this spring, although a couple seem a little weak to me. Hopefully they'll rebound after a couple settled years.

Now I've got a blank slate at the new house, since it had one flower bed at the front of the house when we moved in. The previous (and only) owner had done next to nothing to it, aside from a few foundation shrubs by the garage and that one, disproportionately small and tall bed (hemmed in by a badly-built retaining wall, that was leaning outward over the gas meter at one end). I've been digging and digging and digging since last summer, creating new planting beds for perennials, and beds for veggies (no woodchucks here!! Hallelujah!!). We've also planted a few trees, and had the retaining wall rebuilt properly. I'm on my way!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Waters Never Part Until. . . .

"The waters never part until your feet get wet."

I suppose that's true of any new endeavor, so I'm going to step out in the hope that blogging will offer me a new creative outlet, and a way to share things that catch my eye and my heart.

My name is Laurel Rudd. I hesitate to share too much personal information on a blog, so I will keep my family and daily activities largely to myself. But I do want to share that I am a Christian wife, mother, gardener and artist. I have my educational background in Special Education and History, but I have always enjoyed being creative with my hands. Gardening has been my passion for a dozen years and more now, and a couple years ago I began to take my artistic impulses seriously as well. I like to draw finely detailed abstract drawings using Sakura Micron markers. (I've been drawing similar things since college - you should see my college notebooks, which are covered with stream-of-consciousness drawings. Oddly enough, the marginal drawing was not a hindrance to my college studies.) More recently, I have been learning how to paint with acrylics, and have experimented with combining my drawing and painting in some mixed media works. I also like to put my designs on ceramics. Getting to that point involves a short story/explanation, since people often look at my ceramic work and say, "HOW do you DO that?"

A few years ago, I decided to try a paint your own pottery store in Vestal, NY (The Clay Ground, Using a fine-tipped glaze applicator, I tried to create something like my abstract drawings, only on a plate. The shop attendant that day thought I was a little off-kilter, sitting for a couple hours with a glaze bottle, poring over that plate, but she humored me. Wonder of wonders, it worked, the plate turned out well, and I was hooked. The owner of The Clay Ground liked what I had done, and she encouraged me to try creating different items. After a few months she even commissioned a large vase from me to be auctioned for charity at a convention she was attending. I spent the 2008 Summer Olympics working on that vase, and I was delighted that it brought a very good donation at the charity auction. Soon after that, the owner of The Clay Ground told me about Etsy (, where I could try to sell my work. So, after doing some research and creating a small selection of pieces to sell, I took the plunge, and created my first "store." I have sold a number of my ceramics through my shop, Ellemar Designs (, and I hope to eventually have a true second family income through my art. At the moment, it's more of a hobby, a career in a chrysalis.