Monday, June 27, 2016

More Hidden Gardens: Cool spaces and artful decorations in Ballston Spa. Plus a note about the SPAC Jazz Fest.

I am loving early summer and the many opportunities it brings to avoid working in my own garden. Sunday was kinda hot, anyway, for weeding and such, so why not go take a look at the fruits of other's labors?
And because it was hot, it was mostly the shady places that attracted my attention yesterday.

The Ballston Spa Hidden Garden Tour was a shared fundraiser for the Ballston Spa House and Garden Club and the Friends of the Ballston Spa Public Library.
 Eight homes and two public spaces were on the tour.
 I think Bee Balm Gal needs to add to her collection: this dwarf bee balm (aka, Monarda) glowed in a shady back garden.I will add it to my wish list.
 Garden decor of all types added color, sometimes function, and often whimsy to many of  the gardens on yesterday's tour.
 This array of red tulip-like teacups was a cheerful  sight in this sunny garden. I confess, however, that I would worry about them becoming breeding spots for mosquitoes.
Perhaps something like these stacked orbs, spotted in a different garden, would be less mosquito-friendly.

 Sometimes, as above, just the right colored pot becomes decor, especially when it does such a good job of setting off the color of the flowers it holds. This red and blue combo is very pretty.
 Here, a subtle metal sphere added color to a shady green corner.
 I like a gardener with a sense of humor. The shady perennial border in this backyard runs along the edge of a wooded area. This year, the homeowners have been plagued by deer munching on their plantings. The husband made the sign.
 Also near the "deer diner" was this re-purposed chandelier. A garage sale light fixture was re-fitted with solar lights and hung on a tree with a metal bracket. Perhaps the deer like dining by candlelight.

The owner of this garden is interested in native plants, and that is what populates most of their large garden. Yesterday, tall Goatsbeard plants (Aruncus dioicus) were looking particularly dramatic in several shady spots.
 I don't know the story of this large art piece, but it looked lovely propped against a good-sized tree.
 Down the road a piece, these clever gardeners made an effective frame to protect their berry bushes from various critters. All they used were PVC pipe and fittings, along with a roll of plastic deer fencing and some zip strips. No hammer and nails needed and it could be easily disassembled and stored for the winter. Great idea.

The last photo, below, was from this same garden. In a full sun space near the road, this simple bed of just two types of plants - red knockout roses and purple cat-mint - made a a big impact. My photo doesn't do it justice. It was a knockout, indeed.

Late Sunday afternoon, the Handsome Husband and I headed to nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) to see the last three acts of the Jazz Festival. Loved seeing and hearing Chick Corea and his trio. But the final act, Smokey Robinson, was ... well, just a little weird, in my opinion. I'm not sure Motown = jazz, but aside from that, Robinson was over the top in his emoting. Shoulda just played his fan favorites straight, talked less, ground his loins less (I mean, the man is 76) and called it good enough. On the upside: the crowd was well-behaved and the Mazzone-catered food was pretty good and reasonably affordable for venue fare.
And that was a good chunk of my summer weekend. How was yours?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dorothy Day, two churches, and one chocolate lab

 Many years ago, when my Handsome Husband was a shaggy youth, he hung out for a time at a Catholic Worker farm in Tivoli, in upstate New York. There, he once briefly met Dorothy Day. He has also remained friends with some folks who knew Dorothy Day, including one who is DD's goddaughter.

So the HH took notice of a news story a year or so ago, when the renovated St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Albany installed eight new icons, including one of Dorothy Day. The icons were written by (that is the correct term to use for icons) the painter and iconographer Christine Simoneau Hales.

I saw a small notice in Friday's Times Union about a program, "Feed My Sheep", to be held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany. The program was to include organ music and an exhibit of icons written by the Saint Luke's Guild of Iconographers, which just so happens to be led by Christine Hales.
We decided to check it out, after first arranging to visit the other church,  St. Vincent's, near The College of Saint Rose,  to see the icons we already knew a bit about. The gracious Betsy let us in there and gave us a tour.

We both quite liked the icons and thought they were well displayed in the St. Vincent's sanctuary. It was hard to get a good photo of Dorothy Day due to my small camera and the icon's position high on the wall. But this will give you an idea. DD is depicted here as a young woman, holding a copy of The Catholic Worker, the newspaper she founded.

With some time to fill before the evening program, we stopped for a walk in Washington Park.
 A visit to any Civil War monument is usually a Must Do when one is hitched to a writer of Civil War histories.
 Washington Park has some wonderful, huge old trees. I was sad to see that some of them are in trouble.

 The poet Robbie Burns was here, as well. I think that is a copper beech behind him.

 I strolled about the struggling gardens. It is so dry in our area right now. It is beginning to worry me, actually.

Like the plants, I was getting a little thirsty and so I made my way toward a water fountain. As I stood in front of it, a sweet chocolate lab bounced up to me and stood there expectantly, making very direct eye contact.

"Aren't you a pretty thing", I said, and then bent to turn on the water.

And then this happened:

 That's her owners hand as he rushed up to retrieve her. He apologized profusely and assured me that he had just given the dog water out of a bowl.

She's shameless, he said. The dog has learned this trick of begging people for water and now runs off whenever anyone approaches a water fountain. Well, that's a lab for you, clever water-lovers that they are.

No harm done, but I did pass on using that fountain. (I had left a bottle of water in the car and waited to use that instead.)

After some Indian food on Lark Street, the HH and I strolled over to Westminster Church.

 The sanctuary was beautifully set up with the displayed icons and soon we met Christine Hales. We learned that the St. Luke's Guild meets regularly on Monday evenings at this church, to learn the art of praying and writing icons. It is an interdenominational group and you can learn more about them at their Facebook page (St Lukes Guild of Iconography) or at Christine's website: .
 The organist, Alfred V. Fedak, played works mostly composed in the 20th century and encouraged us to quietly stroll about to see the icons and pray or meditate if we so desired.
It was a lovely program but the church was very warm and we had already had a long day. I am afraid we slipped away at intermission. But it is a wonderful thing to know that in these worrisome times, there are still people of faith creating beautiful music and works of art to inspire and to reassure and to teach us all.

Peace be with you.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Albany's Hidden City House and Garden Tour 2016

Last evening, I hied* my way down to Albany's Center Square Hudson/Park neighborhoods for the 41st Annual Hidden City House and Garden Tour.
Sponsored by Historic Albany Foundation, twelve property owners opened their homes and city gardens for viewing by those of us who had purchased a tour ticket.

* Hommage to Carl Strock. 
I myself am a gal of the suburbs, but I am also a nosy soul and a fan of garden tours. It is fun to see what creative folks can do in what are sometimes tiny outdoor spaces. Here above, I liked the idea of growing a clematis vine up along the branches of a climbing rose.

 This photo above is from one couple's rooftop garden. Having no ground-level space for a garden, they built up. Below, two other garden viewers took the liberty of resting a moment in this charming rooftop  space.
 Having an outdoor seating area was the main goal of many of these gardens. And on this June night, one could really appreciate the appeal of spaces like these next two, below.

Fountains were popular features, as well, where the soft sounds of trickling water helped to mask the sounds of city life. They also made the spaces seem cooler and more Zen-like.

 A fairly simple planter, beautifully done in cooling greens and whites, also adds a peaceful element to the front door area on a busy street.

 I know some garden snobs might scoff at the use of pachysandra and hosta, but in many of these urban gardens, they were used to good advantage. Here above, with an attractive iron-like low fence, these easy-to-maintain plants, tolerant as they are of shade and dry conditions, looked neat and cooling. Pachysandra has the added advantage of staying green year round, so even in winter, these city gardens will have something to make them look lush and alive.

 This extra large city garden, above, used pachysandra in a great swathe along one stretch. Again, this hardy plant offers low maintenance and year round green.

Sometimes, neatness and simplicity are all that is needed.  A tidy edging helps hosta and and a few shade-loving annuals provide easy interest to a challenging space. 

Some homes had only tiny outdoor spaces but still managed to squeeze in some fun green things. This homeowner had an admirable assortment of herbs and veggies growing just outside their kitchen door. 
 Other homeowners emphasized good scents in their diminutive gardens. The smell of roses drifted up onto the deck sitting  area at this house.
 The indoor cats at this house had a way to safely enjoy the out-of-doors. This clever run meandered in two directions from a special cat door inserted into a garden-side window.
 A folk art painter was making good use of this garden.  Below, are two of her pieces:
 ~Here, vintage lawn chairs sported cheerful sunflowers; and

~ "Strawberry Cow" caught the eye of many garden visitors.

Also on the tour, visitors could view much of the interior spaces of homes open on Thursday night. However, I chose not to photograph those, as it seemed too intrusive to do so. But it was fun to see how folks have met the challenges of living in historic homes.  

More garden tours are on tap in our region. Coming soon are Ballston Spa's this Sunday (see: and Saratoga's on July 10 (see:

Bring a camera and comfortable shoes. Private gardens are not always as accessible as public spaces so think twice before you set out with strollers or 95-year-old great aunts. Trust me on this.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Saratoga County day afoot and on horseback

First: Apologies to readers of All Over Albany's What's Up in the Neighborhood. The post they linked to here regarding the Albany History Fair was accidentally deleted by me whilst trying to make a completely unrelated change to a post. I have not been successful in retrieving it. I am sorry. But since that post was snarky, maybe it was karma. I will try to be kinder in future.

It has been a good long while since I have been able to go out botanizing with the Thursday Naturalists. But yesterday brought a free day for me and a nearby outing planned by them in the Boice Family Park.
Along the Kayaderosseras Creek in Milton, spring hasn't yet quite caught up to some of the other woods and waterways of Saratoga County. We saw a lovely crop of Red trillium, pictured above.
More subtle and easier to miss were the delicate white wood anemones. 

The Thursday Naturalists are an intrepid group of mostly retired folks of a certain age. Their collected wealth of knowledge about the natural world makes a simple stroll through the woods into an educational experience I am always grateful to share. 
And so I wish to address here a lesson about getting into the woods,  with preventative measures, yes, but not with fear. Do you see that small insect perched on the leaf's edge above? It is a tick. There it sits, just waiting for something to brush past it so it can grab on. 
Please do what these venerable naturalists do: take precautions but don't let ticks keep you out of the woods. Wear long white socks and tuck your pant legs into the socks. Get a good bug spray and spray the outside of your pant legs. Check yourself carefully when you get home.

I have been on many a Thursday Naturalist hike into "ticky" areas and have never gotten a tick bite. The few tick bites I have received came after working in my own garden and when I have not been careful. 

So don't avoid the woods. There is so much to see and enjoy there. 

These fiddleheads charmed me yesterday. Those above are the unfurling fronds of a Christmas fern.

I am not certain what kind of ferns these reddish fiddleheads above will become, but they looked lovely against the bright green leaves of false hellebore. 
One sad find was this beautiful blue thrush egg, fallen from a nest we couldn't locate. The egg had probably been left too long unheated to save, but one of our group planned to take it home to try to do so.

The list of plants and flowers identified yesterday is a lengthy one. The Thursday Naturalists have kept records of their walks through many seasons, over many years. I treasure my times tagging along with them.

Late yesterday afternoon, I had my final riding lesson for this spring. Here is sweet Dolly, a rescue horse I rode my last two times at Rolling Oaks.
Dolly is a Morgan mare who spent the first 15 years or so of her life as a buggy horse. Under owner Sue Friday's tutelage, I got to help "re-school" Dolly to be a riding horse. She is very sweet mare and I am happy to report that she is making great progress. 

Although I won't be taking any more riding lessons for a while, I am planning to spend some time at the farm this summer in a different capacity. It turns out that owner Sue Friday is a Certified Special Olympics coach and she will be coaching some aspiring Olympians this summer. This program needs volunteers. I am a retired special ed teacher who loves horses. Hmmm, seems like a pretty good fit for me, eh? 

How about you? Do you have any experience around horses? Have any free time this summer? Here's the scoop:

The program begins June 2 and will run Mondays and Thursdays from about 4-6 pm. (You don't have to commit to coming every single time.)

Duties: Walk alongside a rider and help groom and tack up the horse.

Rolling Oaks is located just north of Saratoga Springs, not far off of Northway Exit 16. Interested in volunteering? Contact: Sue Friday at
 or at for more information.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Native and Not:Two iconic spring flowers of the Hudson Valley

 When I see shadbush in bloom anywhere along the Hudson Valley, I always think of my father. 

In the 1950's we lived in Poughkeepsie where my father worked as an engineer for the then thriving IBM. My dad was a transplanted Maine coast man who loved seafood. So in spring, when the shadbushes bloomed, he looked forward to eating shad roe fresh from the Hudson River. 

Shad (the fish) are an anadromous species, meaning the fish live in the ocean and come back to spawn in freshwater. For generations, as the Hudson River warmed in spring, the annual run of the shad would begin. Fisherman caught them in nets, mostly to sell their roe. My dad loved this seasonal delicacy 

Shadbush or shadblow got its regional name because their bloom time coincided with the spring shad run. This fact was likely the first bit of nature lore I learned as a child. 
Here in our backyard, I planted a shadbush along the edge of the woods a couple of years ago. This is the first spring that has brought many blooms. Also called "serviceberry" the blossoms of this shrub are subtle and soft against the greening haze behind it.

As for the fish, shad haven't been doing so well in recent years. New York had a moratorium on commercial and recreational shad fishing in the Hudson but I do not know if that is still in place. I might be brave enough now, in my ripe old age, to actually try this seasonal dish. Maybe I will have a chance one spring.

Update: I was able to find the 2016-2017 New York Freshwater Fishing Guide online. It states, "Fishing for (including catch and release) or possessing American shad in the Hudson River or Marine District is prohibited." So I guess shad are still struggling in our beautiful Hudson. I am sorry to hear that.
While shadbush is a subtle native plant, tulips are quite the opposite. Yet both are part of the Hudson Valley's history and traditions. 
Albany's heritage traces back to early Dutch settlers. Each spring, Albany holds a Tulip Festival, which will take place next weekend. But yesterday, a week ahead of the festival, the Handsome Husband and I ventured into Washington Park to see bed after bed of gaudy loveliness.

 I appreciate that the tulip gardeners label each of the featured beds.

 Washington Park also features a rather dramatic statue of Moses. This time of year, one can imagine Moses not so much parting waters as crying out, "Let there be tulips!" and the riotous colors burst forth.
My handsome Husband also blogged about this and other Albany-centric events over at Planet Albany. Check it out.