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We’ve really been enjoying the many colors of spring. Every year the show is a little bit different so we never quite know what to expect. Blooming started a little earlier than some years and most of the more brilliant colors are gone; replaced now by the beautiful, rich green of new leaves and fresh grass.
Mulching, overseeding and spring clean up are done but there’s always more planting and weeding to do. Working on the yard is one of my favorite things to do in the spring and the fall. It’s great exercise too.
Here are some of the images I was able to catch over the past month.
One of the priceless gems of our property at 321 Division Street is our ancient Ginkgo tree. I know it’s definitely over 100 years old (based on an old picture) and would guess it’s actually between 110 and 130 years old. The modern Ginkgo tree is often called a living fossil, a descendent of the species dating back to the Early Jurassic period.
It is well known for its fan-shaped leaves that can be frequently found in ancient Chinese art.
In the fall, I’ve watched all the leaves drop from the tree in one day. When it happens that quickly, it’s a spectacular sight. The species is known to commonly drop all its leaves in 1 to 15 days.
This year, our tree is acquiring much more of the deep golden color leaves than usual. In recent years, we’ve had warmer weather leading up to a hard frost that causes most of the leaves to drop still green.
The Ginkgo, or Ginkgo biloba tree, grows tall before its branch stretch out wide. Our tree is somewhere around 70 feet tall. The Ginkgo is known to easily reach heights of over 100 feet.
Ginkgo trees are either male or female; the male producing cones with spores that are highly allergenic. The female produces ovules and once pollinated develop into silver green fruit that turn orange when they are ripe. There is a large nut in the center of the fleshy fruit. Ginkgo trees can reproduce asexually as well, which is evidenced by our tree. The nearest mature Ginkgo tree is a block away and is female. We believe it to be an offspring of our tree.
The biggest drawback about our tree is the fruit. Our Ginkgo produces large quantities (hundreds of pounds) of fruit each year, The fruit is smaller than a walnut.) Though a few do drop throughout the fall, most remain on the branches long after all the leaves have dropped and we’ve had several good freezes.
The fleshy fruit contain butyric acid, that when ripe and fallen, have a foul smell like vomit. On an unseasonably warm day, this smell can be detected over a block away. This odor only lasts a few days but because the fruit usually drop so late, we often have fruit under fallen snow and have to deal the the smell briefly in the spring as well.
Once established, the Ginkgo tree is quite hardy and resistant to disease and pollution. They do not survive (tolerate) shade though. An interesting fact I found was that six Ginkgo trees survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb (1945) when most every other living thing perished.
Our own tree sustained substantial damage as the result of bad hail storm a number of years ago, losing nearly a quarter of its branches. We had an arborist come and prune the damaged wood and the tree remains healthy. He also researched and believes it to be one of the three largest Ginkgo trees in Illinois.
Ginkgo and Ginkgo Suppliment Health Warnings
In some cultures, Ginkgo is used in cooking or as a featured ingredient or dessert.
Several years ago, it was one of the most widely-popular dietary supplements on the market. Ginkgo biloba was sold to millions, promising great memory enhancement among other things. In fact, this is completely false. Though a few smaller studies reportedly show benefits in dementia and Alzheimer patients, most studies show no slowing or improvement with consumption. There have been no proven beneficial uses for Ginkgo in other touted areas either, such as lowering blood pressure .
There are also many dangers to ingestion and regular Ginkgo use in some people. Many people are highly allergic. Ginkgo has been studied and shown to be detrimental to some people’s health. Specifically, taking Ginkgo supplements can be harmful to people with blood circulation problems, pregnant women and people taking antidepressants.
Ginkgo can cause bleeding, gas, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness and heart palpitations.
In addition, the over consumption of the seed (meat) can cause poisoning and convulsions. Some people are allergic to just handling the fleshy fruit, much like poison ivy.
So as a general warning, never start a regiment of dietary supplements without investigating them first. Most of the advertised new wonder drugs are marketing scams claiming unproven scientific results. Read the labels, ask your doctor and research online before taking a risk.
Crisp morning air, full of the scent of falling oak leaves…
Fall is finally here! My favorite season. Surprisingly, there is an abundance of color– in spite of the short summer we experienced this year. With an unseasonably cool August, many of our Maple trees dropped the majority of their leaves more than a month earlier than usual without changing color. Temperature, rainfall and a whole slew of other factors can affect the amount and timing of fall color and nature is putting on quite a show.
We’re pretty much at our color peak right now, here in Elgin. How long it will last, will again, depend on a number of factors– but might hang around a little longer than usual is we don’t experience any extreme weather changes.
To top off this autumn color display, we had a great viewing opportunity, October 8th, of a lunar eclipse. I’ve seen many over the years and this one was unique from my past viewing experiences; with the full eclipse occurring at 5:30 am, fading into the dawn.
Enjoy it while you can. The snow will be here before you know it!
As children it seemed like we had to wait for absolutely everything– from birthdays, Christmas, vacation… even sometimes just to go outside. We counted down the weeks, days or minutes until that magical moment finally arrived. Of course, we drove everyone nuts in the process.
When we don’t learn patience as children, it’s even harder to practice in our adult lives.
Continuing from my post yesterday about our house, there is a lot to learn about patience here. First, it’s really a good rule of thumb to live in a home for a while before you make any major decisions. Rush a project and you may not end up with what you really need in the long run. Renovation takes time. Time requires patience.
To be perfectly honest, it probably took me ten years here before I didn’t feel the desperate need to spend every possible free minute working on the yard and the house. It became my excuse for everything. In the meantime, the rest of life gets ignored, friends are put on hold and the obsession gets out of control. Sooner or later you learn that it doesn’t all have to be done now. Projects will wait. They’ll always be there when you come back to them.
We have a figure eight sidewalk on the east side of our house that the first time we saw it, screamed to be planted as a formal garden. Some random tulips and extremely invasive Trumpet Vine was all that was really growing there; and to one side, old overgrown shrubs. I envisioned what I wanted to do there early on but had to wait until I knew I had time to complete the project. I think I may have even started to transplant some of the old shrubs, previously, but I didn’t get too far.
Finally in 2006, I was determined to get the job done. I prepped the area and shopped for plants, ultimately deciding to do the sculpted hedge out of Boxwoods. I found a single, good-sized plant costs $35-50 each, a medium size was around $25 but I settled for the young smaller plants for about $5 each. I needed 75 to 100!
I’d just have to be patient and wait for them to grow.
I got the plants and spent a lot of time doing the final prep of the area.
No sooner than I started planting, we had a massive wind and hail storm that among other things, brought down nearly a quarter of the branches from our 100 year old Ginkgo tree.
Where did the largest branch fall? Right on the figure eight! The storm was so bad, many neighboring houses and businesses had to have new roofs and many area trees were down.
I couldn’t believe it!
Not only did this set me back another week, now we were afraid we might loose our enormous Ginkgo tree that is as tall as our house and shades much of the side yard.
Happily, after careful, professional pruning and clean up, it survived. I went on with my project and managed to get it planted before Fall.
Every Spring since then, I’ve hoped it would finally be the year that everything would finally have grown enough to fulfill my original vision. Over time, some plants died and were replaced, lots and lots of weeding has gone on and I’ve continued to add and subtract plants that surround the figure eight trying to reach my original goal. The Boxwoods were so small when I planted them, it was a few years before I could do any real pruning and shaping at all.
It’s required a lot patience–eight years of waiting, to be exact– but finally I have the basic look I had hoped to achieve when I first started.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! I was pretty patient with it too. Anxious, maybe– but pretty patient. Once it was planted I knew it was mostly out of my hands and I had no choice but to wait. Plus, watching it grow and slowly sculpting it has given me a sense of achievement I’m not sure I would have had if we had spent a fortune buy full grown shrubs and not had to wait as long.
I use this as an example of patience because today, as humans, we are so programmed to want everything now. No one is willing to wait for the right job, partner or situation to come into our lives and know it is right. In the process, lots of quick, bad decisions are made, lots of money is wasted and relationships, without the test of time, fail to meet our original expectations. Some people never learn and repeat the process over and over again their entire lives.
All any of us really need is a little patience.
It’s time to celebrate two milestones at 321 Division Street.
This year, we celebrate the 125th birthday of the house and our 15th anniversary as its guardians. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here this long.
In 1994, Michael and I happened to be invited to a private party at this big, old, scary house we’d admired from a distance for sometime, never imagining we’d ever step inside. We both agreed it would be so cool to live in a place like this some day.
Flash forward four years: Michael just happened to overhear a woman going on and on to a friend of ours about a house that just went on the market. The more she talked, Michael realized she was talking about the house– and we wasted no time getting an appointment for a viewing.
Built by John Newman in 1889, Butterman’s, as it is often referred to; is a bit of a rare breed. It is a brick and stone Queen Anne, unlike the majority that are mostly wood construction. It originally featured 14 rooms, eight fireplaces, over 30 stained glass windows, and 13 different types of wood. It is listed as one of the thirty-five most influential buildings in the Elgin Historic District.
At the time John Newman built the house, he was also busy acquiring fifty-two creameries and is often credited for setting the Midwest dairy prices in the late 1800’s. He is most famous for his Spring Brook Creameries brand butter and served as President of the Elgin Board of Trade from 1894 to 1911.
Following the Newman family, the Ludwig family lived at 321 Division for many years. It sat empty towards the end of the 1960’s, was heavily vandalized in 1973, and considered a candidate for demolition. All the stained glass windows, many of the chandeliers, ornate door hardware and other intricacies were gone. Vagrants squatted in the house, starting a fire in the foyer by the grand staircase causing minor damage. Luckily, the Powers family came to the rescue, saving the house from demolition and preserving and extensively renovating 321 Division into what became, for a time, an upscale dinner club known as Butterman’s Restaurant, which opened in 1976.
After a few successful years, the restaurant began to struggle and started opening primarily for private parties before closing completely by the early 1990’s as the owners fought to find a new, sustainable use for their treasure.
We’re only the third family to live here. Prior to our purchase in 1999 and sometime after 1994, it had become law offices, with the industrial basement kitchen rented out to a caterer. Even though we closed on the house in February, we weren’t able to fully occupy until all the renters’ leases were up, July 1, 1999.
It’s really been fifteen years.
Owning an old house brings many joys and frustrations. Enjoying the unique beauty and character of the home is sometimes overshadowed by the constant upkeep. Something always needs attention. The romanticized notions of living in a place like this are certainly balanced by the hard work necessary to keep it going. Still, I can’t help but treasure and relish in the time we’ve spent here.
Our first projects after acquiring the house included the addition of a wrought iron fence with drive through gates and the removal of the parking lot that ran the entire west side of the property. Tons and tons of top soil had to be brought in after the asphalt was removed. At first, we planted the entire side yard with grass. Slowly, we’ve added to the landscape over the years, first adding a gazebo and then plantings and stepping stones– some of which I made myself.
I spend much of the summer and fall outside enjoying the grounds. There are currently more than 75 trees on the property and hundreds of shrubs and perennials in need of attention. The yard continuously evolves as things grow, creating challenges in deciding what to add or subtract in maintaining our little forest in the city. I’ve tried to create areas that look landscaped but at the same time maintain a natural feel.
Mother Nature certainly has her say, as new things spring up and old ones die off. I am constantly trying to keep up with her. I couldn’t even begin to count the hours spent planting, mulching, weeding, trimming and shaping our little sanctuary. I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert but I certainly enjoy the time I spend tending to it.
A home like this is a huge commitment. There are always projects and unique circumstances to overcome. Old houses are also harder to clean and keep clean. You have to learn how to pace yourself and not become overwhelmed, which i think happens naturally over time.
There’s no real way to measure an experience like this, except to say it was the best/worst decision we ever made.
Would we do it again knowing what we do now? Probably not.
Still, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. You really have to live it to understand it. It’s an ongoing labor of love. The rewards really can’t be put into words.