Summer garden, a remake

These Indian feathers turned out to be one of the highlights of my summer garden.
These Indian feathers turned out to be one of the highlights of my summer garden.

Sometime in the last few years, probably inspired by the chopping up of a huge red oak tree whose roots had mutilated our driveway, I decided to create a small flower garden around the mailbox out front. The first year, I dug around a bit, added Miracle-Gro soil and ringed the area with rocks. If I planted anything, it wasn’t very memorable.

This spring, though, some of the grand kids and I took up the rocks and created a nice wall with preformed bricks from a local big box store. Then we made a visit to a local high school whose FFA group holds a terrific plant sale each year. I made several rounds inside the greenhouse, on the hunt for eye-catching perennials, preferably those with a long blooming season. I chose a number of specimens, putting my favorites in a cardboard box before returning some to the shelves when I found something I liked better.

I made it home with two Black-eyed Susans, various zinnias, a few flowers memorable only because they dried up before summer really showed itself, and some whimsical plants called Indian feathers. I dug through more clay in the hard-packed earth, added more Miracle-Gro, and buried each plant, careful to leave each one room to spread out and grow.

The Black-eyed Susans, which I planted near the back of the flower bed, bloomed profusely, but were not as tall as expected. A coreopsis I had planted was also covered in flowers, but it ended up being short and bushy, and therefore upstaged by the surprisingly huge Indian feathers.

These tall, airy Indian feathers sported pink and white blooms all summer.
These tall, airy Indian feathers sported pink and white blooms all summer.

Last week, we had several cool days in a row, and I figured it was time to do some rearranging. I carefully pulled everything up, including a few Irises scattered around the back yard that my husband has refused to give up on. Then I dug, and dug some more, as there was still a lot of hard-packed clay underneath the flowers, which probably is the reason some of the plants didn’t quite make it into fall.

While I had hoped all the flowers would survive my travels over the summer, the Black-eyed Susans didn’t fare too well, due to high temperatures and lack of rain. I salvaged what was left of them and planted them in front, by the mailbox. I’ve watered everything well, a few times since then, but I also saved a few seeds, just in case.

The zinnias’ performance was so-so. I probably should have deadheaded them, like I did the coreopsis, but I mostly just let them be. They’re kind of nice, but not my favorites. I may find something to replace them with next year.

The Indian feathers, their leaves now a nice shade of red, are in the middle of the flowerbed, flanking a homemade birdbath I placed there after I noticed the robins’, goldfinches’ and dragonflies’ tendency to show up each time I watered the flowers. I put some compost in with each plant I replaced, so hopefully everything will be off to a good start in the spring.

In the meantime, I’ll let the garden rest, and keep an eye out for good prices on spring bulbs. I’m sure the garden has room for a tulip or two.



Joyner in fall

One of the more picturesque features of E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest, NC, is its winding handcrafted stone wall.
One of the more picturesque features of E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest, NC, is its winding handcrafted stone wall.

Although the sun has has finally shown itself, it has been overcast (and cooler) in Wake Forest for days. Fall blew in gently earlier this month, ushering in nights in the sixties and days with low humidity, making it much better weather for walking. As luck would have it, though, when my husband and I took one of our youngest grandsons to a favorite park, the humidity and the heat had returned, shortening our visit to about an hour.

The park has no playground yet, but there's plenty of room for the little ones to explore.
The park has no playground yet, but there’s plenty of room for the little ones to explore.

While E. Carroll Joyner Park, situated on 117 acres in northern Wake County, is eye-catching year-round, fall is my favorite season to visit. The winding trails meander through the woods, around the pond, past the amphitheater, up toward the pecan grove, the old barn and homestead, and through sunny meadows.

A view of the old barn on a recent, sunny Saturday.
A view of the old barn on a recent, sunny Saturday.

Green metal swings and benches beckon walkers and joggers to linger and enjoy the vast, open skyline, especially when it’s hot. When it’s cool, though, it’s equally inviting to explore the park’s roughly three miles of trails.

The park, opened to the public in 2009, is home to a number of activities throughout the year, including the popular Six Sundays in Spring concert series. Its 1000-lawn seat amphitheater and Walker Garden add to the location’s amenities.

Joyner Park is slated to have ball fields, a community center, and several playgrounds in the future. I have to say, though, I’m pretty fond of it the way it is – open, mostly undeveloped, and a relaxing place to walk.

Joyner Park, late fall.
Joyner Park, late fall.

Exercise: When it hurts more not to

I started the summer off with good intentions. Hit the gym three or four times a week, take brisk walks in the park, get back into yoga, lose 10-20 pounds. Well, you know how summer can be. Take a few trips, have the family over, bake a few treats (then eat them), and you get out of the routine before you even really establish one.


I did fairly well, most weeks. Last week, though, I kept three of our active grand kids, and while I made sure they had lots to do (they are brothers, very competitive, and my husband and I have learned the best way to ensure harmony is to keep them busy and basically wear them out), I wasn’t able to exercise as much as I needed to. Three days in, I was tired and achy, and spent most of the day on the couch. The boys left Saturday night, and Sunday I had to hit the gym to work out the kinks. I felt better, and vowed again to keep exercise high on my priority list.

I’ve never been athletic, although I discovered jogging (then walking) in college. I added a twice a week (free!) aerobics class taught by an extremely talented fellow student during my sophomore year. After school, marriage and children, life got busier, but as time allowed, I walked, exercised along with Denise Austin when I could find her on TV, and pushed my little ones around in the double stroller. Exercise was so much easier then!

Since that time, I’ve discovered how uncomfortable moving (or the lack thereof) can be. I’ve battled arthritic knees, tendinitis in more places than I’d like to admit, neck problems that cascade over my shoulders and down my spine, and – I’ll stop. I don’t want to bore you. With the help of physical therapists, I’ve had to learn to stand and sit up straight, keep my shoulders back and down, and to use good form when I do move. I’ve discovered the helpful tools of ice and heat, both of which can help soothe tight or knotted muscles. I know now that I can’t make a living doing hard, physical work. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that moving, even when I don’t feel like it, is probably the best thing I can do to make myself feel better.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but, I’ve found that unless I’m dealing with an acute injury, doing what I can to keep my body moving and strong can actually help me battle chronic pain. Research backs me up. According to a recent article in Medscape, low-level exercise, with an emphasis on aerobics and flexibility, can help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Other experts have found that even in cases involving nerve pain, appropriate exercise can help reduce muscle cramps, improve muscle strength and prevent muscle wasting.

If the last few years are any indication, chronic pain is something I’ll always deal with, one way or another, for the rest of my life. But I also know that I can likely lessen that pain, and its uncomfortable side effects, if I just keep moving.