The Potato Ditch Iris

A couple of years ago, Todd and I had the chance to dig up potatoes at the farm next door to where I board my horse. The farm decided not to dig the potatoes on that parcel because there was too much debris in the field.  As it turns out, that particular part of the field used to have a house on it.

It was a blast. Not only did we dig up several buckets of red potatoes, we found all sorts of bits of the life that had been lived there before.  There was a lot of glass, pieces of dishes, door knobs, and I even found a little glass bottle intact.

I also found a big clump of iris growing in the ditch next to the field right next to where we parked our car. They had been mowed down and driven over during the growing and harvest season, but I dug up a bunch anyway. I labeled them “Potato Ditch Iris.”

It was already well into October, but I stuck them in the ground anyway. I guess the house had been torn down many years ago. I wondered how long it had been there. I started searching for any available plat maps online, and sure enough, I did find proof that there had been a house their for many years. I have overlaid a 1949 county plat with today’s satellite image. The red circle indicates the structure that used to stand there. It matches the area where we dug our potatoes!

1949 Overlay Potato Field

I’m not sure whether these iris ever grew around that house or if they were just wanderers that ended up next to that particular field. But they gave me a spark of interest to see what the field had been before it was a potato field (not that it takes much for me to start investigating for old maps).

I did get a bloom or two last year, they are nothing special in the department of exciting iris, but they are definitely historic. What I love most is the experience of discovering the flowers, and collecting the stories that go along with the place.

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The Garden Shed: Before and After

Part of our garden plans is to get a bigger shed, but that is down the road a few years! For now, the shed is what we inherited. It works. Before we bought the house, both were painted two separate (and bleh) shades of yellow (or tan?)

Todd and I finally decided we are going to paint the house siding instead of going with vinyl. I like the wide plank that’s there. It suits the age of the house. We can’t afford the price tag for the customization for vinyl siding that it would take to replicate the width, not to mention the color I want.

Speaking of colors. Once we decided we were going to paint the house, we took out time and chose a paint color. Dutch Boy’s Cattails. The shed is the perfect test spot for the color! Last week, I spent an entire day painting the shed. I love it.

We had Lowe’s match our Cattails paint chip with a Valspar exterior paint (one of the lower quality ones so we could test the color cheaply). For the trim we used Valspar’s Perfect White.  I used black spray paint to spruce up an old gate which I hung on the side of the shed as trellis. A new black latch and some handles completed the transformation. I love it.

More importantly, Todd and I both love the color! The house is next. Even though it’s going to be a huge project.

Building a Home Archive

I am lucky enough to be trusted with a few collections of old family photos and documents, partially because I have shamelessly asked for them. It is my dream to have the family history I collect safely stored and digitized so that all my family members can have copies and that that they can be passed down in the future.

For a short period of time, I worked in the archives at UWSP. It was a learning experience I will cherish forever. It also sparked my passion for seeking out and preserving family photos and documents. While I was there, I examined and wrote descriptions for our county historical society’s small collections. It gave me a chance to see how archives are organized and documents stored. A lot goes into preserving the old photos and bits of history that we sometimes take for granted. Images and newspapers aren’t really made to last!

After leaving, I have been continuously working to better my own home archiving process and knowledge. Like all things, it’s a work in progress.  My dream would be to have an entire small room dedicated to a library and archives, but you know… a 1000 sq ft house doesn’t really have a lot of extra space. The spare room is my best choice. Fortunately,  one of its closets is a pretty good location. It’s free of light, stays even in humidity and temp. But, I do have to use it to store my sewing machine and all of my extra tack (a ton of spare bits and bridles).  I’ve been working on it for awhile to get it set up for a home archive.

I picked up a lot of knowledge from the university archives but I’ve also spent a lot time searching the internet and found some great resources for home/family archivists. My favorite blog is The Family Curator. Lisa’s advice on creating archives, storing photos, and million other things related to family history makes her blog my go to choice when I need advice or ideas for my own archival process.

I also rely heavily on articles published through museums small and large (like the National Archives), conservators, and archival companies like Gaylord Archival. I follow a variety of groups on Facebook too, and try to save articles that will help me. Every collection is a bit different, so do some searching around to find a method that works for yours.

Here is what my current archive situation looks like:

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As you can see, it needs some work. The bankers boxes aren’t archival, but they are clean and simple (I also got them on clearance). Most are pretty organized, but now I hope to go through and properly label everything. Currently, I have collections from my grandma, a great aunt, my mother, and a small mix from my Dad. I need to add a shelf and get a few more small boxes. These metal shelves came from Target. There are also some hooks that need to be added so I can hang my extra bridles a little easier.

I know it’s a weird mix of stuff to have in a closet, but I keep my leather nice and clean. The cool, dark, and dry closet keeps any mildew that the bridles are prone to from getting going.

Family History Gallery: Triumph and Defeat

Many moons ago, I promised my next post would show the results of my family history gallery. I had to give up that dream and post a few things before. That family history gallery has been a beast.

The two major problems for me:

  1. deciding where to hang things
  2. execution

I’ve played with layouts, all sorts of great ideas of artifacts to include, and looked through dozens of photos. It has been overwhelming. Sometimes, you just need to put a nail in the wall and go with it.  I’ve ran into other problems too.

Some of my chosen photos from digital sources caused a huge set back. When I tried to get prints made, I received alerts that the resolution was too low for the sizes (even though most were no bigger than 4×6). So, I had to rethink some of those photos and decide how and when I would tackle the task of bringing out the archives and scanning them.

The task of bringing out the archives has been a hassle forever. My large closet in the spare room is host to not only my family archives, but my sewing stuff, signs, and all of my extra horse tack. With no proper shelving, every time I need something, I have to take out half the closet.  Not to mention, when we do have a guest, extra things get stacked in there too.

That problem is in the process of being solved.  You can read about my home archives makeover, here (I’ll link it when I’ve finished my post!)

So far, I’ve hung most of the frames, but need to fill in a few small gaps. Next I will be choosing the images, maps, etc. that I want to highlight in my gallery right now. Next, I will be able to figure out what images I can put into what frames and have them printed. Here is the current status:

Family History Gallery

I have frames up, next will be filling in gaps, and picking out the photos I want to use!

I wonder how long this next step will take me? At least I’m making progress…

10 Historic Flowers to Add to Your Garden

If you haven’t been able to get your hands on any ancestral-heirloom flowers, or just want to add some historic charm to your garden, a surprising variety of historic flowers are still available commercially.

What I love about tracking down historic cultivars is finding some really lovely family growers, the variety, and being able to choose eras and breeders that fit what you love. Like with our house, I am drawn to cultivars of the late 1940s-1950s. I also have a huge soft spot for late 19th century cultivars.

Check out these 10 varieties (some of my favorites) that will add instant historic charm and why I love them:

  1. Blanc Double De Courbet Rose, 1892: Roses have to be hardy to survive in central Wisconsin, especially in my yard (I’m not one to baby a plant). This old variety is zone 3 hardy, has a pleasant scent, and soft double blooms. It’s been a standard for years for a reason.

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    photo via White Flower Farm

  2. Harison’s Yellow Rose, 1824: Sometimes called the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Harison’s Yellow has a rich history tied to the Gold Rush and Oregon Trail, which is why it’s also known as the “Pioneer Rose.” For me, that’s enough to want it my yard. Yellow roses over a white picket fence is classic. This rose is rugged and hardy for sure. For some, the drawbacks include a tendency to sucker and spread, plus it definitely sports some serious, prickly thorns.

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    via The Garden Diary  which has a great post about the rose!

  3. Beverly Sills Tall Bearded Iris, 1979: When I first started falling in love with Iris, I knew I wanted a pink one. I lived with my Mom at the time and we found Beverly Sills at a local nursery. It was love at first sight. It has grown in her garden since, and now has several splits throughout my yard. Bright, beautiful, and prolific.

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    Growing in my own yard. One of the very first Iris I ever chose for myself!

  4. Alcazar Tall Bearded Iris, 1910: I struggled to find commercial growers selling the old-style, historic Iris that everyone pictures in their grandma’s yard. I think this is because so many people have them growing in their yard already? Most of my old standards have been given to me by friends. That’s where I would look first. That being said, if you want a really traditional iris, Alcazar fits the bill.

  5. Evelyn Claar Day Lily, 1949: I have a few daylilies in my yard and hope to add more. Aside from the classic orange ditch-lily, some historics have a softer look to them. Evelyn Claar would look spectacular blooming in front of a traditional 1950’s ranch.

  6. Duchesse De Nemours Peony, 1851: I love Monet. What gardener doesn’t? This peony is said to be a variety he grew and painted. Done. I want it. Plus, it’s gorgeous.

  7. Thomas Edison Dahlia, 1929: Someday, I am going to post about a photo I have of my grandmother standing in front of giant Dahlia. It’s intrigued me for years. I want to find a Dahlia that could stand in for that one.  Until then, Thomas Edison stands out in the historic dahlia department. Saturated colors, huge blooms, easy to find.

  8. Black Parrot Tulip, 1937: I didn’t know Black Parrots were as old of a cultivar as they are until recently. I fell in love with their drama and ease. Of the many tulips I’ve planted, these guys have fared the best. They bloom very late, and occasionally, like last year, overlap with my Iris blooms for a beautiful show.

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    In my own garden

  9. Gas Plant, Native to Southwest Europe and Asia, grown often in early and Victorian American gardens. Definitely, not on the top of the list for popular perennials, I discovered this plant when I worked at the garden center. I had the chance to take a less than desirable plant home. I plopped in the ground and was pleasantly surprised. They can be hard to find now, but at one time they were quite popular. The blooms are beautiful and attract pollinators. I’ve been slowly adding more, whenever possible.

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    A close up of the white gas plant in my garden. 

  10. Dutch Master Daffodil, 1938: Daffies are the flower that brings joy in spring. You cannot be unhappy when you see a mass of them. There are several really beautiful historic varieties, but Dutch Master is the classic for a reason. They are easy to find and naturalize. They are a perfect addition to any heritage garden.

 A couple of tips about buying online:

  • Look for reviews. check out the Facebook pages of a company, and join garden groups. Garden groups geared toward Iris, daylilies, and just gardening in general have helped me weed out what online garden stores to avoid.
  • If you can, buy from nurseries in the same growing zone as you. The plants will have an easier time adapting to your garden’s conditions. If you buy out of zone, just be sure to give your plants a bit more attention until they establish (this is 100% a tip I need to work on myself).