Monday, August 30, 2010

Zinnia--The "Cinderella" of the Garden

"Sing a song of seasons!  Something bright in all!  Flowers in the summer, fires in the fall."  This short poem by R.L. Stevenson sums up the changing landscape as August fades away and September prepares take it's turn at the helm in the days ahead.  Summer's bounty is not yet ready to let go and the vibrant colors of it's peak begin to mellow as we loose over two minutes of daylight each day since the solstice way back in June.

This might be a sad thing if it weren't for zinnias, dubbed by the Victorian Age as the "Cinderella of the Garden," with their vivacious "flirtyness" wrapped up in a profuse rainbow of colors and sizes.  Butterflies flock to them.  Bumble Bees adore them and humans, well, we grow them for the same reasons, too.

I think that I would dearly miss their stately presence, especially the tall 'Zinnia Elegans' with long graceful branches that seem to reach out everywhere and touch everything close to them in my gardens.  Zinnias support flower vines, gladly fill space that other flowers cannot begin to accomplish and cheerfully hold on to their color even as the sun wanes and the nights grow a bit cooler, until the first frost comes along and zinnias bid "adieu" to the garden.  I'll save zinnia seeds and buy some, too, for next year when I drop them in the soil wherever I see fit to grow another pretty zinnia.

The genus, Zinnia is a member of the Sunflower Family (Asteracaea) and it's absence in our gardens symbolize just that in the language of flowers, being associated with thoughts of absent friends and loved ones.  Zinnias represent goodness, lasting affection and daily remembrance, too.  Any one of us can fondly recall picking zinnias in our grandparents garden as well as seeing bouquets of them brightening up our mother's kitchen table.  How fitting for a flower that is so easy to grow, yet does not have a fleeting presence in our gardens but politely takes up residence and encourages those around it to stay and chat awhile, perhaps over the garden gate.  There is not one stitch of jealousy to be found in a zinnia who only wants to compliment and show off its surroundings with sentiments that radiate fondness and friendliness making this popular heirloom a modern garden standard as well.  Along with each color sprouts another nuance of this bodacious mid to late summer bloomer; yellow for daily remembrance, white for goodness, red (my favorite) for constancy and magenta for love and affection.  I'm sure the list of its meanings grows as the pinwheel of zinnia colors expands.

Originally, zinnias were native to Mexico. They were discovered by Spanish explorers who brought them back to Spain and the rest of Europe. However, the zinnias of that time were not the ruffled beauties they are today.  Rather, they were dull and considered homely.  In, fact the Mayans called them "mal de ojos"  which means "eyesores."  This feeling was also shared by most Europeans of the time who dubbed zinnias "everybody's flower" or "poorhouse flower."  A German scientist and botanist by the name of Johann Zinn, who lived in the 1700's and whose hobby was breeding wildflowers, is credited with the first steps in transforming this cast-away weed into the pretty princess-like bloom that now graces flower beds and boarders everywhere.  Hence, zinnia's common name, "Cinderella of the Garden," is a Cinderella story...complete with a happy ending for us all!

Pretty Thumbelina "Persian Carpet"
Fair Zinnia
There are those, I suppose, 
  who prefer to think of zinnias as stout, 
  standing stiff and stoic in their garden boarders but, 
I prefer to picture zinnias as garden fairies' favorites.
  frolicking gaily in their green and fancy skirts,
  with their free-flowing "moppy" heads swaying in the wind.
Gathering memories to hold fast to
  when cold days destined, are here and
  Autumn's frost sends the zinnias away,
Until they reappear
  on a mid-summer's day.
                                 (by me, Cyndie
                                         August, 2010)


Sunday, August 22, 2010

White House Roots

This past June, Peter brought home this lovely Swedish Ivy plant given to him by a co-worker and  proudly announced that this plant had it's roots firmly entrenched in the annals of White House history.  "Sure," I replied rather flatly, "Probably about as much as my Swedish grandparents, Helga and Olaf, did."  However, he then promptly presented to me an article about this plant that was published in Time Magazine all of the way back in 1984.

President Ronald Reagan and some of his staff pictured in the Time Magazine article,
It begins by saying, "Presidents may come and go, but Swedish Ivy stays." In the picture, (just above) you can see a Swedish Ivy plant perched perfectly on the mantle, right there, in the Oval Office of the President of the United States of America.  The article goes on to say that this particular ivy plant was given to President Kennedy, in 1961, by the Irish Ambassador to the U.S. (at the time) as a token of affection between the people of our two countries and, in 1984, Ray Cave, the managing editor of Time, featured it in the magazine.  If you are interested in reading the actual article pictured here, go to:

I'm thinking, as a matter of practicality, when it comes to indoor houseplants being presented as gifts to heads of state, Irish Shamrocks and even Irish Bells would not do because as they are clearly meant to be grown outdoors in the perennial and annual borders of the White House gardens, where say, an American president may not spend a lot of his time.  Come to think of it, Swedes are a hardy people living way up there near the Arctic Circle and this plant, attributed to them, has to be just as hardy and long-living.  The plant, or at least it's offspring cutting in the magazine picture above, has now graced the Oval Office for almost 50 years.

Having grown up in a Swedish household and honoring my own roots, I suddenly had a renewed interest in this durable houseplant that graces so many homes and offices, for that matter, around the world.  I realized, I now have  a piece of living history right here in my own home.  Now, before you get as excited as I was when Peter gave it to me, back in June, thinking for a brief moment that I had the actual plant, it is not the actual plant.  That, as I understand it, still sits there in the Oval Office but my plant is an actual cutting from that plant and, as the true mother plant grows in the White house, so do the huge number of cuttings given away by who I imagine to be various White House Staffers lucky enough to actually get a piece of the "plant pie," so to speak, and then pass it along to fortunate friends and family. Peter's office friend and co-worker, Nick, apparently received a cutting and a copy of the article from a friend through a friend, and so on and so forth, then passed it on to Peter to give to me.  How's that for coincidence, or as I prefer to think of it, providence. A piece of Swedish Ivy which has posed in countless official White House pictures and has listened in on even more historic meetings between world leaders and dignitaries has ended up in my home...pretty cool!

Not one to waste an opportunity, I made cuttings at the beginning of July and put them in a pretty, clear-glass bowl, in order to root, which I then placed on a table near a sunny window in my living room. Swedish Ivy, which really isn't Swedish but rather a native of Australia, earned its name because it gained popularity in Sweden during Victorian times as an indoor houseplant. Nor is Swedish Ivy really an ivy (Hedera spp.) because its characteristics do not include using its roots to cling to walls and surfaces.  It belongs to the mint (Lamiaceae spp.) family because of its lush, fast growing foliage.  It is also extremely easy to root from cuttings placed in water.  As long as you give these cuttings ample room in a container of clean water so they can stay healthy, it will reward you with plenty of healthy roots in return and then the cuttings can be planted in potting soil and keep on flourishing. Also, every time a cutting is made, two more shoots will appear from that stem. Swedish Ivy is easy to care for and loves sun but keep in mind that it likes to dry out completely between watering.
Once they were potted up, all of these pretty little babies from my Oval Office Swedish Ivy then spent time in the greenhouse until the summer sun and heat forced me to relocate them outside to a semi-shady corner nook at the back of the house.  They seemed very happy to spend their "summer session" in the protective shelter of the heat pump.

Here they are, near the end of August, just about ready to go to market along with the story that speaks of their authenticity.  The Time's Ray Cave, back in 1984,  had a novel idea when he thought about how the the White House changes with the arrival of each new administration.  He noticed how almost everything, from rugs and upholstery to paintings, is always matched to a President's taste.  However, no matter who is President, the Swedish Ivy plant on the Oval Office fireplace mantle seems to be a permanent fixture.  Now that's attention to detail!

President Reagan and his staff in 1983 are pictured above in the article, originally published in 1984, at the top of this blog entry. The writer of that article closes by saying that Reagan questioned why Time was so preoccupied with the Swedish Ivy?  With all that's going on in the world, then and now, perhaps you think so, too.  However, it's nice to know that maybe, just once in a while, no matter what side of the political fence you plant your garden, the important thing is that you plant a garden and let it grow and thrive so, in the end, we all have something as simple as a plant to positively link us together by passing it along...
My piece of the White House Oval Office perched perfectly on the stairway landing in the front vestibule of my home welcoming visitors!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation...Not Meant to be Spent Alone!

"Vacation, all I ever wanted...Vacation, had to get a way!"  The Go-Go's certainly had that right when they sang their hit song. But, this vacation was certainly not meant to be spent alone!  The long, hot summer, for me, ended in a wonderful family vacation, and that is no exaggeration when I say family.  It began in Northern Michigan at Elk Lake with Peter's side of the family celebrating Peter's mother, Lynn's, 90th Birthday and ended with a spectacular performance of the US Navy's Blue Angels at Chicago's Navy Pier.  And, in between, a nostalgic visit to Lake Wisconsin where I spent my childhood summers not to mention a buying trip for garden statuary to sell at my booths in upcoming fairs.  There is no escaping all things gardening in my life at or away from Blooming Hill.

Brothers, sisters, mothers, aunts and cousins of all sorts made close encounters of the "relative" kind perfectly delightful, too fast and even a bit bittersweet as we always had to say good-by too soon.  However, each leg of the trip would bring us to yet another part of the family.  The picture above is of all the Rinek cousins (the offspring of Peter, his three brothers and his sister) as well as a few of their childrens' own children with the Grand Dame and family matriarch, our beloved "Nana" Lynn in the middle of her grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Kevin is second from the left in the back row and loving every minute of being with his cousins.  The water in Northern Michigan, whether it's Lake Michigan or a smaller inland one, here at Elk Lake, is Carribean blue and clear...a wonderful place to swim and ski and just be a human fish with your cousins at your side. Or, above and below Kevin as the case may be...
Kevin and way too many cousins to mention by name all vying for a spot on the raft after spending the day water skiing and tubing.
Kevin with cousins Brian Merk on top and lucky Scott Merk manning the bottom of the water totem pole. It's good to be young, strong and very good "natured!"  Evening in Northern Michigan is serene and glorious at the same time for fish and human alike.
Pictured are Bob and Marcy Rinek, Amy Merk, Nancy Rinek, me,and Marty Merk.  Bob and Amy are Peter's brother and sister.
One of the "Brewmeisters" at Shorts Brewery explaining the process of brewing beer to visitors.
There is always time to visit something or another when you are with family.  Heck, that's what family 
vacations are all about! In our case, a few of us Rinek's decided to visit a brewery!  How about that?! Clearly, we were not the only people in Northern Michigan that day who were interested in being educated about the agriculture and industry of beer at this small independent brewery that produces unique beers and ales.

Peter demonstrating how happy he is that he doesn't have to prune all of these cherry trees!

During the trip and while still in Michigan, Peter and I celebrated our 30th Wedding Anniversary, spending the day driving through the Northern Michigan countryside and taking in the sights of the endless cherry tree orchards as well as seeing the sun-drenched fields of sunflowers that line the roads.  Did you know that Michigan is the highest producing state in the USA, when it comes to cherries?   I also found out that not only are sunflowers good for people and also used in some animal feeds, their oil can be found in some plastics and sunflower seeds can be processed and produce hydrogen for fuel!

And, for good measure, because we just can't seem to stay away from any kind of yard work, a big pine tree fell down over the road of the driveway to the house.  Peter, worked with brother Mitch, nephew Andy and brother-in-law Marty to remove this behemoth out of the way because it was time to go! 

Over the Mackinac Bridge and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we began the next stage of our week long family vacation traveling through the Hiawatha National Forest which takes up about the whole of the U.P.  Pine trees, Queen Ann's Lace and Wild Chicory all share a panoramic view of the Great Lakes while growing out of the sand dunes along the roadsides.  There are sporadic homes, hotels, camp-sites and fast-food places here, but mainly the scenic beauty of the wilderness is the main attraction to me, as I'm sure it is to everyone else who visits the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Peter driving the boat.  My sister Chris is spotting while Kevin skis on Lake Wisconsin in Merrimac.

Finally, after 10 hours of driving, we made it down to south-central Wisconsin, just south of the Dells, where I spent my summers as a child with my family and often with aunts, uncles and cousins, too.  My Swedish grandmother, Helga Ivarson, who also had a cottage here that now belongs to a few of my cousins, used to say, "The sun always shines in Merrimac Wisconsin!" and she was right about that.  This place holds many fond memories and happy occasions for me.  My parents' A-Frame cottage has been torn down and replaced by Chris and her husband, Jim, with a new vacation home that they may even call a permanent home one day.  But, to me, I'll always see my mother bringing home her auction finds there--once she drove a tractor she had purchased, home.  She turned it off and it never started up again despite days of my father trying to repair it for her. I can picture my dad tinkering away on the old speed boat down at the dock, also long gone, so we could get out on the water to ski the day away.  Thankfully, Owl's Head Hill still stands proudly on the road welcoming me back and asking why have I been away so long....

Me, Kevin and my sister, Chris, on the ferry.
All too soon, we bid farewell to Merrimac and headed south again, via the free ferry (the last of the free ferry's in the USA) and headed south toward Chicago.  For as long as I can remember, the ferry has always been one of my favorite things in life.  Although there are other ways and roads to go, this way always promised an ice cream cone while waiting for the ferry to come to shore and then, a complimentary boat ride in one of the most scenic places I know. 

The third and final stage or our trip led us to Chicago to see my brother Bob, his family and cousins from my dad's side of the family.  But, not before a stop or two at antique shops along the way.  Chris joined us and when you travel with her, antiquing is the name of the game.  Kevin found this old sword but we talked him out of it.  Not a good thing for a dorm room! 

Me, Chris and our aunt, Betty Jo Ivarson.
Kevin, with a few third cousins--Billy, Joey and Wayne Ivarson and his cousin, Jennifer Ivarson.
My Aunt Jo, her 3 sons and their families came for dinner one evening and we all had fun catching up as well as reminiscing about growing up Ivarson's.  Although my side of the family has only produced Kevin and his only first cousin Jennifer, my brother's daughter, like the Rinek side of the family, our children grow older and we get older, too while cousins thankfully expand the family ties.

Of course, all things gardening, even on vacation, are always on my mind and I was able to visit the Orlandi Statuary Factory, located on the outskirts of Chicago to pick up a few things for future fairs I will be in.  Orlandi offers a unique collection of garden accessories made from Fiber Stone, a mixture of cast stone applied to a backing of fiberglass.  Chris came along, too and, always a cautious person, she rearranged the wrapped urns and statues in the back of the truck before leaving the factory. Here are a few of my favorites with retail prices included, just in case you see something for your home and garden that you can't live without for the fall and holiday season:
Astor Planter 15" high -$79.00
Praying Angel, 21" high - $79.00
Shell Planter, 17"x10"x9" - $58.00
Cherub with Roses, 22" high - $89.00
Boboli Garden Pot (large), 24"x24"x20" - $159.00. Medium and small sizes also available.
Gliding Angel, 21"x12"x34",  $175.00 (wall mount)
These are just a few of the wonderfully intricate and unique pieces I have available to sell.  This statuary is perfect for both outdoor and indoor use--wherever you may want to display it because it is light, safe and far less fragile than regular concrete.  I think the angels, especially, could be wonderful used as a buffet or table centerpiece during the holidays or near the Christmas Tree for added effect and decoration.  The pots and urns are useful and beautiful year-round.
A glimpse of the John Hancock Building as the Blue Angels fly by.
Colorful plantings everywhere on the Pier for people to enjoy.

 Bob, Jennifer, Joanne, Peter and Kevin at Navy Pier.

Finally, what you all have been waiting for, I'm sure, since at least the middle of this blog. Yes, Nick (faithful blog follower).  I'm getting to the end very soon, now. Peter, Kevin and I spent the last day of our family vacation with my brother Bob, sister-in-law Joanne and niece Jennifer.  The day was sunny, the food delicious, the scenery beautiful, the crowds friendly (as they always are in Chicago) and, above all, the entertainment was exciting and patriotic.  Both Peter and I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago but never had been to this air show, or any air show for that matter, so this was a fun and interesting day for us "gardening types."

So, now you've seen it and lived it.  I know...I know...You're thinking, "Too much information!"  You are probably just as exhausted as I am here, somewhere in Ohio taking a break at a rest stop on our way headed home to Blooming Hill and dreaming about family near and far, cherries, sunflowers, planes, trains and automobiles, not to mention beautiful garden statuary and all we had done and seen.  Our gardens are patiently waiting back home and, oops! Don't forget to pick up Tucker at the kennel!  Maybe I'll just stay on vacation a little bit longer.