Monday, April 6, 2015

Bamboo is not for the faint of heart.

Spring cleaning of the Bamboo Garden - should be easy right? It's just a grass, so it should not take more than an hour, right? Wrong in the extreme! Yes, it's a grass, but, left on it's own for even one year, it can make a solid mass of tangled branches twenty five feet tall. After mowing the grass, my husband and I went to the bamboo garden to do some cleanup that we thought would easily be done in one hour. That's not what happened. In fact, it took at least 3 hours for both of us. It required me getting on a ladder and climbing onto the roof, where I hung out, leaning over the edge, for 3 hours, often until my arms and back were wracked by spasms. At times the bamboo trimmings were so thick we could hardly see each other though we were less than 3 feet apart. It took every yard waste can we have, eight in all, stuffed full, with one of them approaching the 75 pound limit that the trash collectors will agree to lift. It took at least an hour to get them into the cans, and of course the tools were not sharp enough to cut through the bamboo which had grown tough, so in many cases, it took numerous strokes to cut them. And let's not even talk about how my back feels after all those hours of bending, cutting, and lifting. The yard waste cans clogged the alley where we hold the trash until collection day. Moving the cans to the street required wearing gloves and long sleeve shirts, but still we have lots of scratches and cuts on our arms. So why do we bother? Well, for one thing, if we don't the bamboo will overtake us, and that is something we will have to confront every year, which becomes more frightening as we are now in our sixties. At times like this we regret putting bamboo in our garden. But then, we sit down in our plum garden, and watch the bamboo that is still left moving freely in the breeze, each culm swaying gracefully and unencumbered by its neighbor. Gone are the dead, dried out and tangled branches. From the dining room, we can see the sky through the bamboo and the arbor that provides support to the bamboo. We know that the bamboo is no longer draping over the chimney, ready at any moment to turn into a torch to destroy the home we have so lovingly created. Bamboo is not for the faint of heart, or for those who want low maintenance gardens. I insist on low maintenance. This was my ONE breach of that principle, and I hope it was my last. Do I love the bamboo? Yes! But I hate it too. Such is life with bamboo.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Persimmon Pie Recipe

Persimmon Pie Recipe from the Kitchen of Ilene Holmes Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dry Ingredients: 2 c All-Purpose flour 1 c Sugar 1 tsp Baking Powder 1 tsp Cinnamon ½ tsp Allspice ½ tsp Salt ¼ tsp Ground Nutmeg Mix dry ingredients well, with a whisk, in a large mixing bowl. Wet Ingredients: 2 c Persimmon Pulp 2/3 c Whole milk 2 Large Eggs 2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract Pour persimmon pulp into a medium mixing bowl. Pour 2/3 cup whole milk into a 2 cup measuring cup. Add 2 eggs and vanilla extract to the measuring cup. Using another (dry) whisk, mix it together well, then pour it into the persimmon pulp and whisk it again until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl slowly, while turning the bowl and whisking all the ingredients together until all are well integrated. Pour the batter into a prepared graham cracker crust. Place in center of oven. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Center will rise and then fall when the pie is taken out of the oven. Test the pie by inserting a tester into the center and then feeling the tester with your fingers. If it is sticky, and not wet, it is ready to take out. Cool it before serving. Some people like it a little bit warm, when the pie is still light and fluffy. After it has cooled thoroughly, it will become stiffer and more compressed. Garnish with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg. If you prefer to eat it as 2 inch bars, make 2 graham cracker crusts, press the crust into a sturdy 12X17 cookie sheet with sides about 1 inch tall and bake for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Cool the crust while mixing the batter. Double the batter recipe and pour the batter into the crust on the cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool thoroughly in refrigerator then cut into 2” squares. It will yield about 48 squares. You can use a quilter’s ruler to cut the squares evenly.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Now you can look at my scrapbooks on dropbox

In order to do this for the first time, you will have to download the Dropbox application.  When you do that, you can create an account and it will give you space to store your own files, including photos, which you can then sync and share with others.  I hope you will enjoy the tour of the albums. Please let me know what you think after you have viewed them.  Some pages appear in more than one album.

Ilene's Scrapbook
Beijing 2005-2006
Larry's Scrapbook
Wedding Album
Jacqui's Scrapbook
Leah's Scrapbook

Monday, June 24, 2013

Breezewood, our Garden Beneath the Crest

In 1995, I hired landscape designer Jewell Seymour to design a Japanese Garden for the hill behind our house. My husband was in seminary at that time, and thought I was crazy to spend our scant resources on a landscape design, but I knew it would be important to us to have a sanctuary. Being a pastor is emotionally draining, with the pastor attending to people at the best of times and the worst of times and sometimes he might experience the highs and lows on the same day. During those times, he has to control his emotions and care for the people who may not be in control of theirs, while maintaining a clear head to help guide them through tough choices. No matter how he objected to the expenditure, I knew he would need this garden. Besides, I had already signed a contract and the design was well under way before he even knew that I had made the agreement.

 Since then we have worked together, in what seemed like an endless stream of projects, to transform this yard from a grassy hill, baked by the sun, covered with weeds, and severe drainage issues, to a lush Japanese Garden. During this process, we also transformed the house from a simple ranch into a totally unique and wonderful home that suits us perfectly, but that is a story for another blog. We planted the trees first. Every time we had a little extra money and enough time and energy to plant, we would buy a tree, and plant it where the designer had put it on our design. We rarely paid full price for plants. We waited for sales, late in the fall, when the nurseries were discounting their inventories by about 70%, so we were able to buy them at 30%. In fact, this is the best time to plant the trees, because they are dormant and easier to plant. At first the garden looked funny with a few trees spread over the hill in spots that did not make sense. When we finished planting the trees, we planted bushes, and then flowers and groundcovers. In fact, I do not like flowers very much. I prefer flowering bushes and trees that we can view from the house.

Let's take a tour of the garden we built together

The west entrance to Breezewood

The west gate was a Christmas gift from Larry

Welcome to the Plum Garden

We have a plum garden with no plum tree!

In the summer of 1997, my husband built an 800 square foot deck that wraps around the back of the house. The biggest area of the deck is called the plum garden, where we have a grill, dining table and chairs.

We had a persimmon tree at the corner of the deck, that hung over the table. In the autumn, that tree was covered with plump orange persimmons. Unfortunately, the persimmon tree died, and has not been replaced. We originally had a plum tree at the same spot, but we moved that to make room for the persimmon tree. When the persimmon tree died, the plum tree had really taken hold in its new spot outside the fence, so we decided not to move it again.

The plum tree was a gift from an old friend, who had found it growing wild in her garden. I dug up that wild plum tree and moved it to this garden. Though it has been moved several times, it now produces a good crop of yellow plums that we share with the neighbors. Neighborhood children like to come over and look at the plum tree in the spring while the fruit is developing. I tell them to be careful around the delicate tree, and teach them how to know when the fruit is ripe enough to pick.

We love this deck, but then who wouldn’t? 

The second largest area of the deck is outside the dining room, which has two chairs where we like to sit together and look out at the garden. In the morning, this area is very sunny and in the afternoon it becomes shady. We have many sitting areas, so it is usually possible to find a comfortable spot to sit at any time of the day or night.

This has been the spot for many a quiet conversation, a place to take off work-boots, take a break from work to get a drink and a place to plan the day’s work in the garden.

The third, smallest and most private area of the deck is right outside the master bedroom, and it is called the bamboo garden. It is visible from the dining room and the master bedroom, which was added in 2004. It is shaded by an arbor. On one side of the bamboo garden is a container garden of bamboo plants that stretch up through the arbor. We can reach the bamboo garden through a door from my bedroom, and like to go out there early in the morning or late in the evening, to drink coffee or wine, listen to music, or read. Sometimes we go out there in our pajamas, but we have no concerns about safety or security because that garden is completely private.

This is a photo of the bamboo garden taken on January 1, 2008, when I was in China teaching English at Hunan City University. I think Larry missed me and took that photo to remind me of how beautiful our home is, so that I would come home as soon as possible and not sign up for more teaching contracts in China.

The bamboo garden is a great place for healing 

In 2011, I broke my arm. It took me about a year to recover, during which I had a lot of physical therapy to regain the use of my right arm. I had to do a lot of stretches and exercises at home. It was very hard for me, even though I knew I needed to do it. I asked my husband to hang the stretching pulley from the arbor in the bamboo garden so I could do my stretches there. He didn’t think I would use it but hung it anyway. When I began to use it I noticed that I could turn 360 degrees to look at any part of the garden while I stretched.  I began to listen to music there, so it became a pleasure for me. While I did my stretches, I would think how much I missed working in the garden and see all kinds of projects that needed to be done there. I had yet another reason to stay there, stretching my arm and shoulder, knowing that I had to recover to get to work again in the garden.  So you could say that my love for the garden healed me. 

In the spring of 2013, we opened our garden for a tour. In the three weeks before that tour began, Larry and I worked in the garden all day and nearly every day, as much as the weather would allow. I had never worked harder and …

I had never enjoyed life more 

The bamboo Garden, Spring 2013, after the rain.  

The bamboo is especially beautiful after the rain, when the weight of the water causes the bamboo to drape over the arbor and form a misty curtain.  Droplets of rain are visible on the arbor and dangling from the tips of the bamboo leaves.

Some of the 2x2 boards were left out of the arbor to allow the bamboo to grow up through it and use the arbor as a support.  The arbor is at 8 feet high, but the bamboo is about 3 times that tall.  When it snows, you can hear snowflakes strike the bamboo, as they make a jingling sound like tiny little bells.
I have always been sensitive to the moaning of the wind, which makes me jumpy, especially at night.  Then Larry gave me the Chimes of Partch from Woodstock Chimes.  Now instead of keeping me awake on windy nights, the wind strikes the chimes and makes a deep rich sound that lulls me to sleep.       

The console is mid-century modern.  We preserve it by rubbing it with linseed oil at least once a year and have placed it under the overhang where it is protected from falling rain.  The console serves as storage for small gardening tools and candles, and is a great buffet or bar when we are entertaining. 

The triptych is bamboo painted on black lacquered wood and purchased from Z Gallery.  In the corner of the bamboo garden is a rain barrel that we leave open in the summer to provide a trickle of water into a ceramic bowl for the dog.      

From the bamboo garden, you can cross an arched wooden bridge to begin the ascent to the top of the world, or at least to the top of our world.  It is here that you get to see the real beauty of the Japanese Garden as it cascades down the hill toward the house.   The path to the top of the world is five feet wide and was designed this way to enable two people to walk side-by-side, so they can both enjoy the garden with no one walking ahead of them as they would on a narrower path.

The path is framed by Natchez crape myrtles
To the right of the stairs is a stone wall that Larry built while I lived in Hunan China.  The wall is 30 feet long and includes a curve that echoes the curve of the wall at the top of the stairs.  To the left of the stairs is a stone wall that Larry built in the winter of 2012, right after he retired.  Above that is another short knee wall that encloses the path above the quince.  In all, Larry built 150 feet of dry-stacked stone wall in about 6 months.  The walls were constructed of nine and a half tons of stone, which means he carried nineteen thousand pounds of stone from the driveway and up the hill.        

Ten white Loropetalum frame this section of the garden in an arch that mimics the arch in the two stone walls nearby.  Each Loropetalum has been pruned into a vase shaped shrub.  Most gardeners keep the Loropetalum clipped close to the ground in a mound, but because of the way these have been pruned, they provide shade.  Notice that the branches droop after the rain, so that it has a weeping effect.  In the spring, the Loropetalum are covered with a foam of creamy white flowers that look like the head on a beer and their  sweet scent fills the garden.

The hillsides in the garden have been planted with Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum).  It will fill in all the open areas, making the garden easier to care for as we grow older.  It will also stabilize the hill against erosion and control weeds, thus eliminating the need for mulch.

The path switches direction around a witch hazel

And the visitor encounters the art studio 

The art studio was constructed to resemble a tea house.  The open cage next to the studio will soon be converted into a shed.  Care will be taken to make it a beautiful building consistent with the architecture around it.  We plan to pave the entrance to the studio and the area beside it, which will have a rain chain and a rain barrel in it, in the same style as the paving around the Japanese Tea House at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham.

Hypertufa troughs guide visitors to the studio door

Exiting the art studio

Stairs ascend to the top of the world

A sitting area where we can look over our rooftop

This area is big enough for our small family to sit here comfortably.  At Christmas, after dinner together, we took hot drinks to the top of the world, lit a fire in the fire-pit and sang Christmas carols.

Planted with Hawthorn, Juniper and Hemlock

The south wall under the Loropetalum arch

Forest pansy softens the setting sun 

The west gate 

Now that we have left the Japanese Garden, 
let's see the veranda on the front of the house 
that was built during the winter of 2009-2010.  

The veranda was built as a means of controlling the extremely hot sun, as the house faces west. Before we built the arbor, it was impossible to control the heat in the rooms on the front of the house no matter how much we spent on window coverings, and believe me I had tried every possible window covering, to no avail. No matter what I did, it was always at least ten degrees warmer on the front of the house than it was in the back. If visitors had to wait even a couple of minutes at the front door, they got roasted!

After we put the arbor up, all that changed.  

I pointed out to Larry that it would be nice to have a deck under the arbor. Of course, that took a lot of convincing, especially because it was at the end of a heavy load of projects that we undertook in 2009 to replace the windows and doors. Thanksgiving 2009, the deck was completed.  Then I tried to convince Larry that we needed some furniture, and again he balked, but by March of 2010, we had purchased comfortable chairs and a love seat.

The trellis at the end of the veranda hung in the mixed border at the JC Raulston Arboretum until they needed to take it down to create a gate. The Border Babes took it down. I was working with the Border Babes that day and learned that the trellis would go into a recycle pile, so I inquired if I could buy it. Now it has been refitted into our veranda, and some remnants have been retained so they can be used in another area. It has become a real gathering place.

Guests love to linger here to appreciate the garden. Sometimes it is hard to get them to come into the house. Neighbors stop to greet us and tell us how much they like the house. We bought the bamboo blinds from, in the largest size they sell, but even that was not long enough to stretch from post to post.   Lowering the blinds helps shade us as the sun bears down on the veranda late in the afternoons.

We planted vines on the posts and the trellis, including Schizophragma, Trachelospermum, and Clematis. In time these vines will grow all the way up the posts and across the arbor, and provide shade and interest all through the year. All of them will bear white flowers. Some will have interesting seed pods. The bark of the schizophragma is interesting and it will form beautiful trunks in time.

We just like to sit here, morning, afternoon or evening. If it is too hot here, we just move to the plum garden.

Originally, when I hired the landscape designer, Larry thought I was crazy. He thought I should not spend the money, and he also thought he would not like the garden, that it would just be a lot of work and a burden. But I envisioned it as a sanctuary, and that is what it has become.

Our little house looks humble from the street.  People passing by have no idea what treasures are concealed behind the fence, and that is exactly as I like it.    

Are we finished? Of course not! Larry still has a lot of good years ahead of him to build things. It is how he expresses his love, and in this place I feel his love very clearly.

On the wall outside the front door, there is a sign that says in Chinese characters, carved by my own hands, “Tian Tze”, which means “God’s Gift.” This humble house was a gift from God, lovingly nurtured and perfected by my husband and me into a sanctuary. It does not matter to me whether others see the value of my house.

All that matters to me is, it is my home and I love it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ocean Isle Beach

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Bald Head Island

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