Oh, perfect day

Morning glory

A morning glory growing in the shade.

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The pool reflects the turquoise sky.

Cuphea plant with  hummingbird.

If you look closely near the centre of the photo, you can see the hummingbird supping nectar from the firecracker plant.

chickadee

The chickadee adores the burbling water coming from this fountain. He will drink and then bathe even as I sit right in front of him, not two feet away.

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The light is as clear as water from a tap this morning, the first day of September. This light has a quality of crystal; the purple leaves of the smokebush reflect it in a shimmery way and it intensifies the blues of the hyssop and the Russian sage.

There is much silently happening in the garden. The yellow pepper, now tangerine, celebrates its coming-of-age colour in the lemon sunlight. The orange Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’, otherwise called the firecracker plant, flaunts its hummingbird-magnet flowers, announcing that it has replenished its sweet nectar in the rain yesterday.

Under the turquoise sky, the pool lies in shining reflection, the skimmer lazily attracting bits of floral flotsam to float across its glassy surface. Honey bees swarm the hyssop, ignoring the white phlox that looks tattered by yesterday’s downpour. Emerald green parsley spills over the edges of its large container, but the parsley worms have been absent this year although I planted unstintingly for their pleasure. Perhaps they will arrive later.

I saw just one monarch this summer, although the milkweed was decimated. (Reminder to self; plant a larger patch next year.) Ah! A quick check of the front garden revealed a second monarch, not large, but very real. The milkweed did its part.

Here and there around the yard, sky-blue morning glories shout from sunny corners and even from some shady ones. Ian started plenty to cheer our morning hearts. His yard, too, is filled with them he says.

The garden is a riot of activity as the squirrels chase each other across the fence and over the neighbour’s roof. A yellow finch just landed in the nyger feeder. The chickadees are braver, though, One is not afraid to come right down to the burbling fountain behind me to get a drink and have a bath. He scolds as he approaches because I am here where he wants to be. He comes anyway — the bubbly water is too tempting.

On the near side of the garden across the fence, the neighbour’s grand-dog complains intermittently, but bitterly, about my presence in the garden which he has come to regard as his own. He belongs to the mayor whose wife’s parents live here. As a 12-year-old, she and her sleep-over friends would flip their chewing gum over the fence from their pool and into ours. In spite of being a bratty pre-teen, she was lovely then and she is lovely now as a young mother.

Here and there among the flowers, rising and falling prettily in the sunlight, a little white skipper flits and now it is joined by a companion. The silence is broken by a light breeze animating a wind chime. Birds talk back and forth among themselves in the cedar and the apple tree. Every so often, a fir cone bops me on the head, a message to move! from one of the squirrels that also enjoys the bubbling fountain.

A hummingbird just popped by, buzzing between the Magenta and Victoria Blue salvias and the firecracker flower, which it likes best of all. There are a lot of hummingbirds this year, upstaging the finches as they flirt with the flowers.

All the work of gardening is worth it for these few sweet hours.

A man of stone

koi fish in stone

Todd Braun’s koi have been immortalized in stone. Behind the fish is the arbour which used to house Penelope, who was spirited away by an admirer. Photo by Todd Braun.

Twenty-five years ago, Todd Braun felt compelled to turn from farming to working with granite.

His heart has always been captivated by stone which to him is pulsing with life and history. As a boy, he warmed himself near the floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace in his parent’s home. As a young man, he enjoyed working on a stone restoration project at historic Lower Fort Garry. His romance with stone deepened as he helped a friend build a stone castle in southern Manitoba.

Today, Todd makes his living from sculpting lovely things from stone. Gigantic granite rocks hold secrets vibrating with life, longing to be released. They speak to Todd and he listens.  In the early days of his work, he hollowed out polished basins from hefty pieces of granite and he caused big, rugged rocks to let sun-warmed water flow forth through their core and trickle down their outsides. He was thrilled by the way, at certain times of day, the sun could shine through doughnut holes carved out of rocks. He created monuments to that fundamental fact, playing with sun angles and the size of the openings.  He uses smaller pieces of rock to make lanterns in which to burn candles that cause the rock to glow and the light to be magnified.

As Todd and his wife, Lisa, slowly built their home and business, Todd turned his yard into a studio to show off his works. Gigantic stone supports hold up the lintel of a gateway that has been erected at the entrance to their private yard. There are stone benches warmed by the sun to rest on and, at one time, a large stone table centred the yard where he and Lisa have been known to serve lovely home-baked bread, cheeses and mellow wine.

The garden surrounding their home is a curious mix of wildflowers and unexpected artworks of rock. Todd loves wood almost as much as stone and he has a special affinity for the natural plants that grow around St. Joseph, Manitoba, near Altona, where he and Lisa live on their farm. In one corner of the yard, a large female face of stone used to be suspended from an arbour above a fire pit. Her name was Penelope, but she seems to have been spirited away by an admirer. The stone population here has been known to ramble, plucked away for a price by an audience moved by its power and beauty.

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A still water granite bowl. Todd Braun photo.

To one side of the house, Todd created a great pond edged with stone and filled with koi. He likes to sit on the edge of this pond and think about what he sees and how he will bring the next of his projects to life. Not long ago, his koi were immortalized as an enormous stone fish, which Todd can admire from his viewpoint across the water.

Todd has caused pathways to meander through his yard where trees and plants can show off his stone carvings: his  stone fountains and the still-water basins and, in one place, a huge hump-backed rock bearing a spine of little rocks. It’s a twenty-first century dinosaur that seems completely at home here in the partial shade. Stone art is everywhere: carved faces set on pedestals and beautifully shaped rocks, some featuring peep holes or sun-catchers, depending on your point of view.

At the end of the driveway leading from the road is the former barn which is now Todd’s workshop. It is fitted with heavy-lifting pulleys and platforms upon which he can work to split and polish the stones with the various saws and grinders and other implements of his art. He sometimes entertains guests on another stone table set up under a wooden arbour outside the studio.

Todd is a big man, understandingly physically strong, but surprisingly poetic in his view of the world. He radiates a calming stoicism born of the land he works with and his roots that go deep into the prairie soil. His mother, Gail, lives not far away on the family farm, where she indulges her passion for plants and colour in a garden that blazes with bright annuals: coleus, petunias, zinnias and begonias. She seems his polar opposite, but perhaps not. Gail, too, has a yen for rocks and her garden provides a stage for one particularly lovely, castle-shaped rock that she found in a local ditch. She admires her son’s garden. He admires hers.

Lately, Todd has taken to growing potatoes and his fertile brain is absorbing all he can learn about the humble spud. From time to time, he will send out a newsletter to his friends, and one arrived yesterday:

“I looked out one frosty morning to see the fish, under the ice and…. on their sides – YiKeS! I think this particular display was the fish’s way of saying – ‘Help!!!, save us!, final notice, get us out of here ASAP!’ I thought they were done for but, amazingly, we lost only one fish out of 28! They are now happy, warm and begging for food in their pond in the basement.

 The Elemental Landscape cats are spending most of their time in their insulated winter box – very disgusted with the bitterly cold weather. Hendrik, a charismatic stray, applied for a position this spring. After an extended trial period, Hendrik has taken up official residence in the workshop… he isn’t carving stone yet, however he’s very keen to learn. Wilma, our house cat and queen is doing great. She had many adventures this year, going on road trips, exploring quarries and generally enjoying her royal status…

We didn’t make a lot of changes in the garden this year but some of you may have noticed squash and potatoes filled many of the beds. Recently I’ve become fascinated by heritage potatoes – Purple Peruvian, La Ratte and Rose Finn fingerlings. Beautiful and tasty . . .“

Todd’s sculptures are making their way into a lot of Winnipeg gardens and are the iconic feature in many Manitoba town squares, including some in the city. Commissions like this are how he manages to stay alive and indulge his love for stone.

Todd Braun is a fascinating fellow, a true Manitoban. He is charismatic, creative, unique, and fearless in pursuing his passions. I share him with you today as a mark of my regard for his courage and his work. He doesn’t have a website, but I am encouraging him to start a blog so he can share with you first hand.

Happy New Year to all! May 2014 bring everyone joy, prosperity and peace.

Gardening dreams and August harvest

The view through my kitchen window

Dreams of gardens go drifting through my head at night; I am filled with flowers; enlightened by landscapes; swooning from scent. It is the overload of a day spent photographing lovely gardens for my magazines. My frustration is boundless – how can I teach that callous camera to see with my eyes, to capture the gardener’s meaning and give it back to her – or him – as a reward for the exquisite pleasure they have given me? Their gardens make my own efforts seem so puny, but I am glad that they have this power. The beauty they coax from the earth proves so much that is fine about the human race at a time when there are so many pressures for evil.

In my little garden, the annuals around the pool are laughing in the sunlight. Some are past their prime, but they had such a glorious youth that it is hard to blame them for feeling their job is done. The lobelia are very easily tired, the more so if they don’t get enough water, and addicted as they are to garden center fertilizing habits I have a hard time keeping up with their needs. The petunias are hardier, not minding the odd drought and the geraniums seem happy as long as there is plenty of room for their greedy roots and no competition from any other than their own kind.

Today is a lovely day, warm but not blazing and with gentle breezes that keep the mosquitoes at bay. I wish you could hear the music of the garden. When the wind blows, the wind chimes answer with tiny notes that suit the flowers around them. They have many voices, some low and cool, some higher and more delicately warm. They add variety to the whispers of the leaves and the rustlings of the smaller plants. Every now and then, there is a deeper creaking of a tree trunk, forced to speak by the pressure of the moving air. But the apples hang round and silent on their tree, concentrating on getting ripe.

Tomatoes are ripening on the vine

Tomatoes are also working toward that end. I see one or two turning red, but it has been too hot for their colours to develop. Tomatoes will refuse to ripen when the daytime temperatures are above 30 degrees C and the nighttimes, are above 20 C. The heat and, inversely, the cold below 10 C, interfere with the chemical requirements of the pigments carotene and lycopene that are responsible for the red colour in tomatoes.

Fingerling cucumbers will soon be 8 to10 inches long

 

 

 

 

Last week I picked two luscious cucumbers, about ten inches long each – they are the long, thin English type. Now I see two more showing promise at the top of the trellis. I give them a gallon of water to help them along.

My August garden would never win any prizes. The front yard is a disgrace – it is impossible to keep up with the watering so most of the perennials are simply trying to survive and don’t have the energy to bloom. This year the daylilies disappoint – even the weedy orange ones have not been spectacular. Ithas simply been too warm.

It is still some time before the faithful Clara Curtis chrysanthemum will appear in her pinkish-mauve dress, smelling somewhat unpleasantly of cat pee, but beautiful nonetheless. Still, the white David phlox is just coming into bloom and some blue allium are also showing. It is the annuals, however, that provide the colour now. This year, the vibrant oranges and reds and purples and yellows have added joy to every view.

Claire has gone home to Toronto but Ian’s mom is here from Jersey – I have promised to make them dinner, so I must fly away to the store. Glenn is still recovering (badly) from his second last bout with the chemo treatments. He wanted salmon for dinner and I am hoping he will feel well enough to eat it. Poor darling. He is so stoic about it all, but one more round then we hope it will be over and he can recover.

Hot as blazes

The pot with the feather reed grass is the same colour as the pool lining. The grass flowers dance in the sun.

“It’s hot as blazes out,” my grandmother used to say. I think blazes was a euphemism for Hell and today her saying would be right on the mark. The little mercury thermometer on the wall, the last of a disappearing breed as the Big Brains in Ottawa have outlawed mercury use in thermometers, says it is 34 degrees C or 92 on the Fahrenheit side. The water in the pool, (the cool, cool pool, since other Big Brains have condemned our pool heater as being within nine feet — 8.5 feet, actually — of the neighbour’s window — this after 30 years of completely safe operation) . . . anyhow, it is shining invitingly and I am ready for it.

There is the occasional blast of furnace warm air, hotter than a baby’s breath and just as sweet here in my flowery retreat. It whispers through the frothy flowers of the feather reed grass that glows in the big blue pot on the pool diving board. The pot is the same colour as the pool lining and it looks spectacular against the bright orange geraniums and chartreuse creeping Jenny that slide down the side and keep the grasses company.

I love how the sun catches the flowers of the grasses and tosses itself back and forth among them so that the fronds look like they are alive or alight or both.

All the things that love heat are happy. Overnight, two incipient cucumbers grew four inches and at least one ripe tomato is beckoning from among the lush tomato leaf foliage. The tree tomato is six feet tall, peeping its way from between the moonflower leaves; I planted them together, not having high expectations for either – they can share the tripod there, I thought. Now they have jostled each other until they are a jumble of green in their eagerness to reach the top and beyond; both tough and determined. Oh well, they are related, after all, and the best fights happen in families, don’t they?

I can’t wait for the moonflower to bloom; it does come late, just in time for the dusky evenings of August when we get to enjoy light in our gardens. The sun is now setting just after 9 instead of close to 10 as in June.

This morning a little dog came to visit the garden. Claire of the tender heart was quite concerned. “I feel so sorry for the owners,” she said. “I can just imagine how I would feel if Penny was missing.” Penny is Claire’s five-year-old dachshund that rules Claire’s Toronto household. Claire is 10, but she speaks like an adult. She came on CJOB with me this morning and held her own with the two PhDs who joined me to talk about insects. The lost dog made her anxious and her anxiety spread to me. We searched up and down the street and at last found a neighbour who knew the dog – what relief as he was handed off to his household.

Claire bought a pepper today. She hides it under the gargoyle to keep it out of the storm.

Claire and I went shopping for plants we didn’t need today. The greenhouse was intolerably hot, but we persevered and Clair bought a puny pepper that needed love; she has lots to give.

The heat today reminds me of being a child and lying in the grasses listening to the hum of all the insects that busied themselves in the hot prairie sun. I drew energy from the heat and the thrum of the earth as it passed though my body. I can feel it even now through the soles of my feet as I sit here barefooted on my patio.

Claire is inside our cool house, resting, as is Glenn. But I think I will get the old plaid blanket and lay my body against the earth for just a little while.

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The earth was hard and poky. The blanket wasn’t big enough. The grass tickled my arms and the cushion I used was too skinny, but still, I dozed and felt better when I arose. Claire came out and I kept my promise to join her in the pool. We examined drowned casualties from the bug world and deadheaded the flowers that insist on dripping over the poolside. The water masks how hot it is outside and we dream away the temperature, floating on our backs – well, I float and Claire tries.

CBC radio says the temperature is now 35 C, but Claire said the house thermostat has declared it to be 42! That is over 107 F, and it feels every bit as hot as it sounds. I have to believe the house. Its very sophisticated mechanism has never lied before!

But I feel a storm stirring.

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The storm sent hail and pounding rain – but little damage to our garden.

The sky turned black with anger and the wind came up violently – 100 km/h in some areas, we heard. There was thunder and lightening and a little bit of hail, but the most ferocious part passed us by. This morning, there were downed trees, one just a block from us leaning on the roof of its owner. City crews are clearing streets of other tree disasters.

But all was serene in my garden an hour after the storm and we cooked outside in the waning light.

Tree tomatoes and blooms

July 8, 2012

A fat robin is perched on the edge of the birdbath, preening itself but not yet daring to take the plunge. I wouldn’t either. There was no time yesterday to clean it and add fresh water. Our birds have been trained to be fussy, so he just sits there, combing his feathers, puffing himself up and looking disappointed. As soon as he leaves, I will take the hose and refresh his bath.

All is noise, not as loud as at 4 a.m. but still loud and melodic. The chorus is almost over, but there are echoes still to be heard in the air at 8:00 in the morning.

Now people are stirring. The neighbour next door peers over the fence and says good morning, startling me as I water the flowerpots there. She tells me of her pregnant daughter, the grown woman who was once the 12-year-old girl throwing chewing gum over the fence and into our pool as she and her girlfriends dreamed of being grown up in the cool of the night. I see them in my mind’s eye as they floated in their pool, just a gum wad’s throw from ours. Now she is lovely, married to an important older man, just as she had always dreamed, and about to be a mother to her own beautiful child.

The daring notes of orange that I introduced to my once pale garden are glowing with a seductive heat in the morning sun. They don’t clash with the purples and wines that adorn the picotee petunias. They don’t fight with the blue (well mauve) wave petunias or the lime coleus, but they outshine their pretty yellow and peach ‘Pink Lemonade’ cousins that I was so wild about this spring. Sad things. They are puny and unvigorous, barely peeping over the edge of their pot even now in mid July. Meanwhile the Papaya petunias of a shy orange are well behaved, leaning sedately over the pool in a tidy fashion that hints of good breeding.

Did I tell you about the tree tomato? Several years ago, a listener to my program on CJOB sent me a small packet of seeds he had rescued from his own efforts after answering one of those “Most Amazing!” ads in some men’s magazine. I meant to plant them but never did until this spring when Ian and the girls potted them up in their early springtime planting frenzy. Now this tomato is a giant, fighting the evening-blooming, but oxymoronic, morning glory for space on the small tripod I put in their pot. It is now about 4.5 feet tall and has happy flowers, ready to set fruit. Ian read that the fruit is black and sweet; people eat these tomatoes with sugar, he says. We shall see if it matures in our short season, although it was planted early in the greenhouse.

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July 18, 2012

It has been cloudy the last few days, the heat slipping away into the atmosphere, replaced by a refreshing 22 degrees C during the day. While I long for the sun, the plants needed this breathing room to recover from all that heat-induced rapid growing.

The pink lilies are lovely right now and the filipendula is just coming into bloom. The hosta are all waving bell-shaped flags. I race around the garden taking pictures in the fading light. Everything is happening so fast in the garden this year that it is hard to keep up. I must be out, camera in hand, every day. Blossoms last a day, then wither and drop.

The bugs, encouraged by a warm, snowless winter are just as busy. The lime potato vine is a lacy, wrinkled imitation of its usual lushness.

We were in a very beautiful garden yesterday, the garden of an artist. Its beauty made my little efforts seem pitiful, indeed. Yet, I can savour every plant as it comes into the fullness of its beauty. May I pity the artist? The huge banquet set before him every day must dull his appetite . . .

How can I explain to you how sweet the air is this evening. It is scented with petunias and lilies and honeysuckle. It is swooningly sweet, heady with tenderness. Every night-flier must be heading this way, yet the mosquitoes are few. Perhaps they are drunk with the nectar of the flowers they eat while they ready their eggs to be nourished by your blood.

It is so hard to say goodnight.

It must be the solstice…

The sun kissed the sodden petunia this morning for the first time in a week.

Today is the first day of summer. This morning is bright for the first time in a week. The sun has decided to grace our lives in her own honour of this, her Day of Days. She smiles on the leaves of the old cottonwood and they acknowledge her smile with a silvery shine where she touches them.

In the garden, flowers that have been hiding from the rain are putting out hopeful buds and the petunias are quickly off with the old blossoms to make way for the new. I love the petunias of today that can so readily shed their tired flowers without my intervention. Is there anything cheerier or more determined than the petunia?

Valerian shows up in surprising places, dressed in lace and lavishly scented .

The weeds have not been as reluctant to take advantage of the cool, wet weather. They have sprung up all over the garden, aggressive and quite large. I think they know that most of us are unwilling to go out and fight them when the sky is weeping.

The valerian is in bloom, waving in the wind from unexpected places. She is such a traveler and if you are not diligent in pulling seedlings in spring time, valerian will bound up suddenly, wafting her seductive scent at your unresisting nostrils. Then you must let her have her season before you can take the ultimate measure to deal with her. She is very pretty in her new summer dress, tall and slender with those lovely umbels of scented white flowers.

Blue, blue flax, an unruly little plant, but welcome in my garden.

Why do I love the wild and unruly plants so much? The flax is also alive with the bluest of blue. While it wanders with some respect for the gardener, it does wander, and so does the little white Anenome canadensis, whose flowers are enticing enough without putting out those irresistible seed heads that I can’t bear to cut. Eventually this anemone will wantonly expose bursts of eiderdown fluff to the willing wind.

I wrote a story for my local gardener magazines about plants that wander because I know whereof I speak. I have grown and still do grow every one of them and more.

Lovely Anenome canadensis has wanton ways with her seeds.

It is not just unmanageable plants that I am attracted to. The same is true of people. I am always intrigued by the rebels, the unconventional, the nonconformists. I loved the poems and songs as I grew up about the wayward wind being a restless wind, “a restless wind that yearns to wander”… and I understood how I “must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky, and all I want is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”. Do you remember the song, Faraway Places? I never did learn to play the piano, but I would pick out the notes to that song dreaming of going to China or maybe Siam, but knowing I was “burning to see, those faraway places with the strange sounding names that are calling, calling me”…

Now I have been to most of those places, but they still call as do the brilliant restless plants, the wandering souls, the minds that look beyond the obvious.

Oh dear –… it must be the solstice…

Hearing plants grow

April 29 2012

Yesterday was lovely. The sun was warm on my back as I worked to clear last year’s debris from the front garden, but today the wind has returned and the sky is frowning on the world. We could use rain, but it doesn’t rain; it is simply bleak and blowy.  It is so dry here this spring. There is none of that brilliant green lushness we usually see at this time of year. A good pelting rain would be so welcome and satisfying and I know the earth would drink up every drop in gratitude.

The rabbits have been dining on my tulips.

In the garden, though, plants are growing and the rabbits are flourishing. They have been dining in my tulip patch in the front yard, pruning them to within an inch of their lives. I will be lucky to get any blossoms.  But in the back yard, the tiny blue scilla, so pretty and so delicate, are struggling through the debris.  My friend, Mr. Tomato sent me photos of his thick patch of scilla – his are way ahead of mine.

Mr. T’s yard is covered in scilla. (Photo by Mr. Tomato)

Mr. T, as I call him, is a wonderful gardener. And he’s an interesting person. When he isn’t in the garden, he is posing as “Ivan Bigg”, the spokesperson for our local horse races at Assiniboia Downs. But while he may speak Horse, I know his native tongue is Plant. It is Mr. Tomato who says that on a clear, still night in spring, you can hear the plants growing. He hears the whispers of green tendrils curling around a trellis, the pop of a tulip piercing a fallen leaf, the snap of a bud opening on the trees. He hears the fern unfolding with a swish and the crack of the earth as the hosta pushes through. He swears that anyone can hear this. I think we should all try.

I have to go to Ottawa tonight and be away from my garden for another day. I really hate travelling at this time of year because I feel I will miss something, even if I’m only gone for 48 hours. Spring is the magical, mystery time when all good things are happening and usually so fast that we miss much. This year, spring is slow and leisurely and we have been having the pleasure of actually seeing the trees flower, one by one, not just the showy fruit and other blossoming trees, but the ordinary maples and willows, which are both in bloom now, the willows yellow and heavy with pollen for the fat bumblebees that have emerged and the maples, red with sticky promise.

Our TV show progresses

Dr. Ian Petunia and his Petunia-ettes!

Yesterday in the morning, many of my staff members were at T & T Seeds, where dear Kevin and Brian Twomey have allowed us to set up a planting demonstration for the community television show we are working on.  They call Ian, their gardening leader, Dr. Petunia, and they follow his instructions to the letter (perhaps I should say to the “T” in honour of our hosts). They have enough seeds planted to start their own garden centre, but they are happy in the learning and are soaking up happy bacteria by the shovel full! Dr. Petunia is another interesting fellow – he is also a very good chef and in addition to being the lead salesperson for my magazines, he writes a cooking column for my Lifestyles 55 publication. However, his native tongue is also Plant and he loves the garden with a deep and instinctive passion. He is originally from the semi tropical Jersey Isles and is learning how to garden here.

He is a fast learner and a good teacher.

Giant fleeceflower

Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) is a gotta-have! Psst! They have it at Dutch Growers in Saskatchewan.

I have just introduced Ian to the giant fleeceflower, Persicaria polymorpha. This is an amazing shrubby perennial that gets very large. I saw one in Edmonton last year that was ten feet tall and just as wide, but I understand that they normally grow in this part of the world to be just around six feet tall and wide. Giant fleeceflower gets masses of creamy, white flower  plumes, reminiscent of goatsbeard flowers, that bloom from early spring to late summer and, while it loves moist soil, it will tolerate drought once it is established. Nor does it wander, staying in its spot, although it will get bigger and bigger. And it lives 15 years!