Pull up a chair. Dim the lights. It's time for my Alaska slideshow.
As a general policy I do not subject innocent bystanders to vacation pictures. I'm a middle child, after all. I realized long ago that every little move I make is not necessarily as fascinating to others as it is to me. So why the change of heart?
First, several people told me that they were considering trips to Alaska and actually asked to see my photos. What they did not realize is that Ron got a little carried away and shot more than 1500 pictures. Not even my mother could sit through that. So this post was the perfect excuse to do some editing.
Second, if you are reading this blog not because you know me and feel obligated but because you actually like to garden, then I am gambling that you will find Alaska interesting. Gardeners love nature; Alaska is all about nature; ergo, gardeners would love Alaska. Or so I rationalize.
If you are the adventurous type, and you are in great shape, and you have all the time in the world, then there may be a better way to see Alaska than on a cruise. By all means hike through Denali or visit the North Pole. For the rest of us, though, there's the traditional seven day cruise of the Inside Passage.
I had never been on a cruise before, so naturally I had all kinds of ideas - none of them good - about what they were like. The way I looked at it, if I didn't die from shipwreck or salmonella, I would probably die of boredom. Imagine my surprise when I found that staring blankly at the water puts you into a hypnotic state, and that the motion of the ship is the most relaxing thing on earth. By the end of Day Two I was in a trance.
Of course, I didn't come to Alaska only to stare at the ocean. I came to stare at the land, too. There was just so much of it - and everything was so big! The overcrowded Northeast, where I grew up, has nothing on this scale. When I lived in New York, I would smile benignly at wide-eyed tourists, all pointing up in awe at the Empire State Building or gaping at the carnival of life that is a New York City subway ride. Now it was my turn to be a stranger in a strange land.
To me, Alaska is a place unto itself. I wasn't surprised that the mountains and the glaciers would make me feel so small. What I didn't expect was that the cities and people would make me feel so weak. For instance, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the only way in or out of Juneau is by plane or boat. And that being cut off from other cities, and having to hop into a boat or seaplane every time you want to leave town, is no big deal for Alaskans. This is no country for wimps.
Then there is the wildlife. Our cruise was in early May - too early for salmon and, consequently, for bears. No matter. Cruising the waters, we saw plenty of eagles, killer and humpback whales, and porpoises. I was in heaven. Ron left his zoom lens at home - a big mistake. At least I had my binoculars.
I could go on and on, but I won't. The slideshow below has more images if you are so inclined. I'll close by saying yes, it was definitely worth it to miss my peonies. As it turned out, the gods were smiling - there were actually a few still blooming when I got home. But after Alaska, they were pretty anticlimactic.
If April is the cruelest month, then July is definitely the smelliest, or at least it is in my garden. I've got phlox. I've got clethra. But most of all, I've got "Stargazer" Oriental lilies, and lots of them.
Stargazer lilies are one of those love 'em or hate 'em plants, and where you stand depends entirely on how you feel about gaudy flowers with an overpowering fragrance. I am in the "love 'em" camp, although I would never, ever cut them and bring them inside. In a word, they stink.
Now I happen to like the smell - out of doors. Inside, it will give you a headache. Peonies and roses, I think, are about as much fragrance as any human being can handle indoors; they have a comparatively subtle presence that invites you to lean in and inhale. By contrast, the Stargazer lily positively clobbers you with its aroma whenever you come near it. No need to lean in, unless you want to stain your clothes or dye your nose yellow.
Outdoors, though, Stargazers are glorious. They were among the first plants I purchased for my garden when I moved to Cary in 2005, and they've been done surprisingly well for me even though it's usually boiling hot by the time they bloom in late June or early July. Since Stargazers, like other Oriental lilies, dislike extreme heat, I had to fiddle with the location - full sun was too much, morning sun was too little - but after some trial and error I found the perfect location in my front garden, which gets afternoon sun.
Oriental lilies are not without their problems, the most common being voles, rabbits, and lily beetles. I've been lucky, though, and over the long run they have caused me less grief than the allegedly bulletproof Rudbeckia "Goldstrum.' I lost a few to rabbits, but since I discovered Liquid Fence that hasn't been an issue (although the neighbors now hate me). Last year, for the first time, I had lily beetles, but this year I went on the offensive and blasted off the eggs the minute they appeared. That solved this year. I'll worry about next year next year.
In the meantime, my hot pink stink-meisters are happily ensconced in the front garden bed. There, desperate for attention, they grow to more than 5 feet tall - about a foot or so more than they are supposed to, but that's North Carolina heat for you. By July, every stalk has exploded with flowers.
And that's when the bee and butterfly party begins. At this party, everyone wants to dance with Stargazer - no one else even gets a second glance. Liatris? I'll call you. Echinacea? You're okay, but there's something I forgot to tell Stargazer. The bumble bees in particular can hardly tear themselves away - they actually take a nap in the flowers. Or maybe they've just died and gone to heaven.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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