Thursday, May 31, 2007


The tree canopy is full now. As you walk down the lane from the visitor's parking lot, you enter the deep shade of mature beech, oak and maple trees. The air is cool and woodsy. Sounds are hushed. You can catch an occasional glimpse of the blue sky. The cares of the world drop away. Come visit this other world.

Walnut lighning rods

Ed, the site's naturalist, saw lightning strike a tree near the crypt early this spring. He went to investigate and found a walnut tree with foam down one side. The spittle was 3" to 6" wide in spots, but the bark was perfectly dry in the center of the foam. At the base of the tree, there were a couple of gallons of foam. You can still see the remnants of the strike, the light discoloration in this photo.
In April, lightning struck another walnut near the crypt. Ed found it on his morning tour of the grounds, first spotting blown-off pieces of bark and chunks of a bat box on the ground. When he looked up, he saw strips of bark hanging from the tree. The damage is still evident.

I will save the full story of the how Gene and her daughter came to be buried on the grounds in 1999, but it was Gene's wish to be buried here under her favorite tree, a chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii). It was a mature tree in the 1910's and based on a drilling some years ago, we know that the chinkapin oak is over 200 years old. It is notoriously difficult to propagate and we are on the extreme northern edge of its range. It is one of the natural and historic treasures on the site.

Chinkapin oaks grow to heights of 60' to 80'. Walnuts grow to heights of up to 150' in the best sites in Indiana. Thank goodness we have walnut lightning rods around the crypt. In this picture, the chinkapin is on the right, the first walnut tree struck is in the center with the crypt barely visible behind it, and the last one struck is on the right.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Fragrant Garden

The garden has been so fragrant all week long. First it was the fringe tree with its citrus smell and now it is the mock oranges in full bloom.

CORRECTION: It is the Tara vine on the arbor entrance that is wafting an intoxicating fragrance across the garden. Gene called it a Tara Vine, but today's more common name for Actinidia arguta is hardy kiwi.

Friday, May 11, 2007


The wisteria vines are just starting to bloom along the central arbor in the Tame Garden. These are original plants; that is, these are the actual vines that Gene planted. Mother's Day or the following weekend may be good times to visit, depending on how the weather affects the blooms. The number of blooms vary each season and I'm still trying to figure out the factors. I think milder winters and good spring rains produce more blooms.

On the Star of Bethlehem front, I spent my time today cleaning just one end of the culinary herb bed of these bulbs so I could plant basil seed. Carol continued digging the bulbs out of the wisteria roots and from the rocks lining the inside of the arbor. These are just skirmishes in the 80-year war.

The 80 year war

In the comments, Carol asked if Gene planted the Star of Bethlehem. Up until last weekend, I thought some gardener planted it in the last 30 years while the garden was tended. I was wrong.

Janet Cook, one of our tour guides and cook extraordinaire in name and deed, shared with me her memories of volunteering in the garden in the mid-70s. The garden had essentially been neglected for almost 50 years. It was overgrown with weeds and brambles. The stone edgings around the beds were found buried in the soil. Janet said, "Oh, how I hated the Star of Bethlehem even then." So this leads to the conclusion that it was very likely planted by Gene.

Now I know I am fighting an invasive bulb that has had its own way for 80 years. Puts the battle into perspective! I am definitely the underdog now, but am determined to win this war.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shake the Shed

Another step toward restoration of the garden shed was completed today. Notice the new shake roof. It replaced an asphalt shingle roof which was not original.

The young man in the picture is a skilled craftsman and laid the shakes himself. I had a better picture of the shed, but he was partially hidden behind a tree in it. Since he said his grandmother would look for the picture online, I had to use the one with him in it.

What's blooming?

The woods are glowing with the large white blooms of trillium grandiflora, but if you look closely you see a mottled trillium with a greenish yellow bloom or a trillium with a deep maroon bloom. Both are commonly called toadshade.

Then there is a small stand of camassia lily in the woods near the Garden Shed, with blooms ranging from light blue to white.

Sprinkled here and there, you can't miss the brilliant color of wild larkspur.

Nor can you miss this Big Jack.

What do these pictures have in common?

The bearded irises are just starting to bloom.

The shade garden in bed 18 is starting to fill out.

Twin-leaf leaves (and that is not redundant) have appeared. They look like they are ready to flutter away or adorn a nicely wrapped Mother's Day gift.

So what do these pictures have in common other than they were all taken today in the Tame Garden at the Gene Stratton-Porter Historic site?

The beautiful flower of the Star of Bethlehem is in each of them. The iris photo best illustrated the condition of the garden today. The S. of B. are blooming like crazy while the foliage is starting to yellow and die. That means the prime digging time is over and soon no one will know that a few inches beneath the soil lies millions of tiny bulbs, gulping up oxygen in the soil, taking room, competing with the garden plants.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Garden and Wildflower Walk

I read somewhere that gardeners tend to say, "You should have seen the garden last week." Or else they say, "Oh, the garden will look so much better next week when (this or that) blooms." I vowed not to fall into this trap, but just enjoy the garden as it is in the moment.

All this by way of introduction to our second Annual Wildflower and Garden Brunch last Saturday. I didn't say either of the above statements, but I sure thought them. In the garden the tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs have wilted; in the woods, the Dutchmen's breeches, trout lily and toothwort blooms are gone. In the garden, there were fat buds on the wisteria, bluebells, columbine; in the woods, there were fat buds on camassia lily.

So Ed and I smiled and looked at what was there. In the garden, primroses, trillium, lilies of the valley and wild oats were the stars. In the woods, the trillium were breathtaking joined by marsh marigolds, rue anemone, ragwort and various violets.

I was even able to put together bouquets for 9 tables from what I thought was a meager source. It is amazing what you see if you look closely.