Black raspberries from the field

Black raspberries from the field

Those that have followed my blog for the last few years know that when berry season rolls around during the summer, everything else takes second place.  The black raspberries are first, in late June, with the blackberries coming in late July. I’ve been keeping an eye out on a patch near the road  and went out today for the initial picking, I think this is the best I have ever done for the effort involved. In under an hour, I picked close to one gallon from a single patch that had to be less than 8’x12′.  Anyone who has picked wild black raspberries knows this is phenomenal.  I felt like I was picking in a commercial plot.  Many of the berries were large – fingernail size –  often with 4 or 5 in a single bunch.  I didn’t even get to the other good patches from last year.  Had I had another hour to spend, I bet I would have gotten at least another 1/2 gallon.  I could barely drag myself away, but tomorrow is another day, as long as it’s not too wet.

A black bear was reported in northern Indiana earlier this month – probably the first in over a 100 years.  He better not come down here and try to claim my berries.  We would have quite the disagreement over that.

Flowers and felines

A huge cone flower

A huge cone flower

My first cone flower started to bloom last week and it is in its full glory now. I originally had thoughts of picking it to put into a vase on the island countertop, but it just seemed to get bigger and bigger as the blossoming proceeded. It has turned out to be one of the largest cone flowers I have ever seen in the beds – and the shortest stemmed.  As you can see, it is at least 5″ across. Maybe I am just used to the smaller, drought sized ones from the last few years, but it just seems huge.  I have a few others coming on, but they will only top out at 4″ or so.  I decided I could not pick such a magnificent specimen and I certainly want it to go to seed.  They have been slowly spreading throughout the front beds and I love their magenta color.

The preferred world view - upside down

The preferred world view – upside down

And, I have had a little house guest for the last few days.  My “grandcat” is spending some vacation time here while his mom is traveling.  He likes to wile away the daytime hours, when she would normally be at work, sleeping under the loft sofa, but in the late afternoons, he comes down to visit with us and take possession of one of the comfy upholstered chairs. He is quite the talker when he wants to be and will carry on a conversation for some time when he is in the mood.  He yowls when he is mad over some perceived insult such as being put into his cat travel box. When let out, he walks away, loudly proclaiming his much injured status for several minutes. You’ll never have to guess what his mood is.  Fortunately, most of the time he is a happy little guy.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all out there in cyberspace. I had a houseful today, as a mother and a daughter. The day was clear, but on the cool side. And, yikes, another chance of patchy frost tonight.  I worry most for my Japanese maples. Between the late frost last year and the 3 years of drought or semi drought, they have taken quite a beating.  They look better this year than they have for a while, but another frost might be deadly.  Then the temperatures are supposed to be in the 80’s by midweek.  Weather whiplash.

Spring at last

Spring at last

The cool spring has delayed the trees so greatly that some haven’t haven’t fully leafed out even yet.  The leaves are still quite minimal on more than I would have expected mid May. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the reason our lakeside poplars look so bad.  As you cans see, some are completely dead, while a few are putting out a very reduced amount of leaves.  They have taken the recent drought years and the massive scale infestation quite hard.  We will probably cut down the dead ones in a few weeks.  Some of the ones that are bad looking we may cut off and hope some shoots come up off of the remainder of the trunk.  They would grow quite fast with an intact root structure.  I think we will have to wait and see what develops over the summer but the prognosis is probably not good.  In any case, I will miss having those trees there.  I thought they enhanced the view of the lake.

Ending on a good note, I want to say thank you to all of my followers.  I crossed the 100 mark this week.  Two and a half years ago when I started, I could never imagined how much fun it would be and how many wonderful people I have met writing this.  I hope you have enjoyed my wandering art journey, the wildlife updates and the landscaping adventures.  Here’s to the next years of blogging and new friends.

In honor of the blackberries

I went out and picked another half gallon of berries today.  It may be the last time I go out as it is starting to heat up again and the returns are diminishing.  Still, I have picked 2 1/2 gallons in a year of severe drought, so I shouldn’t complain.


In honor of nature’s bounty in spite of the extremely dry weather, I took a 4.5″ x 7″ piece of leftover board and painted a few of the blackberries I picked earlier today.  Once again, I think the leaves aren’t quite right, but I do like the way the berries turned out.  I started them out by laying on some bright yellow, then moved onto an orange red. Then came my reddish-purple and lastly my own mix of blue-gray.  Even though it is a small painting, I did it over the course of a couple of hours.  I felt  that not letting the watercolor layers dry completely, even with the use of the hair dryer, would only serve to muddy the berries, especially as I started to darken them.  I decided to quit before I got carried away and ended up painting totally over the lighter base colors – an easy thing to have done with the blue gray.  Tomorrow’s eyes will tell me if I need to add anything else.

I have some red raspberries in the refrigerator and perhaps a companion piece would be fun.

Pen and ink black and berry black

Abstract blue floral

After letting the last watercolor sit for a few days, I decided to just go ahead and put on the ink. I felt that laying on more watercolor would only end up muddying the situation, so I pulled out the nib pen and started laying on the india ink.  It actually took quite a while to work through the inking even though it is only a 3×9 drawing.  I didn’t want to overdo it and end up with a blacker mess.  I like it marginally better at this stage and will probably let it sit a while.  Maybe time will give me a better idea about what to do with it.

Abstract cityscape

I had one more 4×10 piece so I decided to try a modified high-rise cityscape.  I quickly laid out a dozen tallish buildings and then put in rows of windows and a couple of trees. I left a little open space between some to suggest streets.  I first added the reds, purples and ochers, and then washed in the sky.  I slowly built up the colors of the sky and the buildings, layering on mostly the same colors, but at one point I threw on some of the sky color to tone down the buildings.  They ended up a little too vibrant to me so I muted the hues somewhat  and that also helped to unify the painting.

Blackberries – yum

And lastly, this morning I spent 2 hours picking blackberries. The 1.25″ of rain we received over the weekend served to not only save but also plump up the berries quite nicely and I was able to get a gallon.  In fact there were so many nice ones that I could ignore the smaller ones. The bowls fill up faster when the berries are large and the bigger ones tend to be sweeter than the smaller ones as well.  As you can see from the photo, it didn’t take many to make a spoonful.  These measured almost 3/4″ long – almost as big as the commercial berries.

I woke last night to the sound of thunder….

How far off I sat and wondered…..  Bob Seger inspired no doubt, but I really did.  I lay awake hoping it would come closer and finally it did for a short five-minute shower.  Then the thunder moved off and I thought “Rain, come back Rain.”  And it did.  About fifteen minutes later the lightning and loud thunder returned along with the rain.  It showered hard and then gently, on and off for about twenty-five minutes.  I finally went back to sleep after it was over, hoping we had gotten some measurable amount.  When I went to look at the rain gauge this morning it said 3/4″ – more than we have had in the last month and a half total.  It was a good rain, not too much at one time so it had a chance to soak in.  There were no puddles left this morning which shows how dry it has been.

Blue abstract floral

I didn’t have time for an involved painting this week so I thought I’d take one of the small leftover pieces of board and play in blue on it.  I began by laying down some of the teal that I have used in the latest architecturals in a basic floral pattern.  Then I threw on the apple and the forest greens.  Not quite what I wanted.  I decided to delineate the floral patterns with a little bit of ink from the nib pen.  Still not quite what I wanted, so I went on to the purple.  Then I went back and layered more of each color.   Still not quite what I wanted.  That’s where it is right now.  Still not quite what I wanted.  I have let it sit for the last day and a half, hoping for some more inspiration.  It seems too unfocused at this point so I am thinking of adding more ink.  We’ll see if that helps.  Otherwise it may end up being a piece for the circular file.  If you don’t do one of those at least every once in a while, I think it is safe to say you are limiting the expansion of your artistic vision.


The droughts of the last 3 summers are finally starting to affect us I’m afraid. In the summer of 2010, the drought started in August and ran on into September. I could kind of keep ahead of it, watering mostly the new plants of the year.  Last summer it began in early July and lasted on into the fall.  I had to water quite a bit more but still was able to concentrate mostly on the newer plants.  I confess I did start to water of the Japanese maple that I love at the corner of the house as well as the hydrangea trees and the dogwood.  Most of the flowers were doing okay with an occasional bath, but except for the glorious wave petunias, I didn’t water much else.

My poor vinca

This year is bad.  There has been no real rain since some time in April.  My well established vinca is getting brown and actually dying back in places.  I have begun to water it.  The inner leaves of the hydrangea tree are dying back as if it were already September.  I have begun to water it.  My beloved Japanese maple, already hard hit by a late frost and struggling with half sized leaves of reduced numbers, is feeling stressed.  I have begun to water it.  The Black-eyed Susans  are drooping for heavens sake! I have begun to water them.  Only the petunias look decent.  I have begun to water them too.

Easy fishing for the heron

There are no butterflies around my butterfly bush, although there seem to be some honey bees, bumble bees, and wasps flying about.  The lake is down many feet.  The fishing for the Great Blue heron is easy these days even if the bigger fish have gone  deeper for cooler water.  The shallows are much extended.  The deer are hiding out most of the time.  The coyotes are missing and I only see a few squirrels and rabbits.  Mr. Turtle is missing. The only proliferation we seem to be having is that of raccoons and I think they are just attracted by the easy pickings in the gardens.

Drooping Black-eyed Susans

I cannot sustain watering everything for the whole summer.  We may just have to concentrate on the more valuable trees and shrubs and let some of the other things fend for themselves.  It is frightening to think that this is still June and there seems to be no respite in sight.  I wish it would rain…….  today, tomorrow, Tuesday………..

Black raspberry dreams

It is that time of year again.  Actually it is almost a month early, but the black raspberries have started to arrive and put all other activities on hold.   Yesterday I inspected my usual places and while some berries have not quite ripened yet, most others are well on the way.  In fact, I should have been out last week and checked more thoroughly.  The one place I kept tabs on unfortunately lagged behind most of the rest.

Black raspberry bounty

This year for the first time, I seem to be in competition with the birds. In the past, I didn’t find many that had been pecked at, much less eaten.  This time, I have found many clusters already fully consumed with the little white core all that is left. I know that my competition can’t be another person because of where the stalks are.  I think that with the mild winter and early spring, many fruits came out too soon and were caught in the frost and died.  Top it off with the subsequent drought in April and May and I think  it is possible that there is a lot less food out there for the wildlife and my berry picking has suffered as a consequence.  Drat and double drat.

Anyway, I spent 2 1/2 hours out picking this morning and got close to two quarts.  It was a lovely morning, temperatures in the 50’s-60’s and a light breeze.  Instead of having to get out at 7 am before the heat and humidity started to rise, I went out leisurely at 8:30 and picked until 11, barely breaking a sweat.  I found that the nicest and largest berries were deep in the shade where the drying sun couldn’t reach them.  The best were also intertwined with the rose bushes, to my skin’s everlasting sorrow.  While the raspberry bushes have prickers, nothing can quite compare to the ripping quality of rose bush thorns, even through long pants and long sleeves.  They also excel at grabbing hats and hair.  I would have normally gotten over a gallon in my first picking session, but I will have to be satisfied with what I have.  The wildlife evidently needs a whole lot more this year.  I will be picking again on Friday or Saturday.  Wish me luck.

Revisiting the watercolor house on an iced over day

The more I looked at the blue house over the last couple of days, the more the darkness of the lower front gable bothered me. While I was inking it, I had accidentally flicked a drop of ink from the nib pen there (yes, klutzy me – how did I do those animals?) and although I immediately spritzed the spot with water and it grayed out, I still felt that it remained too murky for the rest of the picture.  

Watercolor redone

I decided to fiddle with it a little more starting with some of the lighter pastels.  When that didn’t work out quite the way I wanted, I tried some colored pencil instead.  I brightened up the reds and added some yellows to the gable as well as more contrast in the shadows.  I relined a bit of the inking for more definition too.  Frankly, I’m still underwhelmed with the picture but I think it is acceptably improved.

Iced over holly

On another note , we are still housebound by Friday night’s freezing rain.  This one was not nearly as bad as last year’s storm and I do expect to be able to get out later today if I want, although I suspect we will stay here and watch the football playoffs.    The icicles are starting to drip now and the holes in the lake ice are getting bigger.  It is supposed to rain later today so that should take care of the rest of it.  It is still rather pretty on the trees and shrubbery – just inconvenient.

Fall frosts and pre winter scenes

The last of the flowers and herbs have finally succumbed to the fall frosts.  The reblooming irises managed to open about half of the buds that developed before dying back and made for some wonderful fall colors..  The petunia flowers are also gone but surprisingly the plants themselves are still hanging on and actually look quite good. I hope this bodes well for them to come back next year.  I love how their iridescent purple, pink, and striped blossoms have spread all over the hillside.  In fact I am seeing some variations that I never bought because of the cross-pollination.  I even got a few pure white ones – which I never would have bought because as you know I don’t like white as a main theme.   I never was much of a petunia fan before this, but I have decided I like the way they spread and I have to plant fewer to get coverage in an area where it is hard to dig very deep.  Plus they are volunteering to return on their own.

Two weekends ago deer hunting season started with a 7 AM blast and I was a little worried about the bucks that live around here – particularly the 8+ pointer.  We don’t hunt ourselves but many of the surrounding neighbors do and I knew he would be considered a prize.  Still, he didn’t get to live to have 8-10 points without being pretty smart and yesterday as I was coming down the last fifty yards of the driveway to the house, there he was.  He stopped and I stopped.  We looked at each other for about a minute before I started to edge the car on and he bounded away.   I got one last glimpse of him as he turned back to watch me briefly.  Of course  I didn’t think to get my phone out and try to snap his picture.  One of these days I will see him close up in the yard and manage to get the telephoto lens so I can actually count the times on him.  I’m betting on at least 10.

Rosemary and oregano

And finally, for the last month, my studio table has been the has been doing double duty as a drying rack for the herbs I grew and picked.  I got around to stripping the dried leaves from the stems yesterday.  Who knew the rosemary could be so pungent after it was dry.  It actually had a piney smell to it and my fingers have had the aroma of herbs for half of the day.  I managed to dry over a cup of the rosemary and 1/2 cup of oregano which I will use in my cooking over the winter.  I particularly like to use the oregano in the artichoke spaghetti and the rosemary on the baked sweet and red potato fries.  Yum.

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