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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Anti-Resolution Post

Just to let you know up front, I'm not a resolution maker. New Years Eve at my house varies from going to bed early with a good book to staying up late with friends who shout hysterically inappropriate responses to all board games involving verbal answers. Absolutely no thought is given as to how I will reprimand myself the following day. As for resolutions, I don't see the point in making them all at once and then using them to govern myself the rest of the year. My resolutions are made on the fly as I do something stupid, realize it was stupid, and then resolve not to do it again. It's fairly successful.

But this year, I thought that maybe I'd take a break from my normal non-resolution routine to try to make a few that I can actually keep.

1. I resolve to blow my budget less explosively than I did last year.

2. When ever I run into small, pointy objects such as fences, trees, or giant shrubs, I resolve to mumble words that rhyme with ship and truck instead of yelling them.

3. I resolve to only buy 5 or 6 plants I have no room for instead of a dozen or so.

4. But here's one I can keep - to sing and dance more, even if it's done badly, to love and laugh more, even if it surprises people, and to enjoy the sweetness in every day. I resolve to remind the world that kindness shouldn't be random.

5.  That's it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thank You, Santa Mailman!

This huge seed catalog arrived a few days before Christmas and has been tempting me with giant, full color pictures of heirloom plants, many I've never heard of.

I want one of everything.

I thought these were cherries until I read that they're actually sweet tomatoes. I want them. Right. Now!

Love Easy

It's late and I should be in bed. But my mind is humming, words and phrases popping through the sleepy fog like prairie dogs in the Dakota sun. This year hasn't ended as I'd hoped and I wonder and worry about the future. I closed my classroom door each day imagining we were safe. I tell myself quietly to stop, to breathe, to seek peace. I force myself into mindless, repetitive dreams and fall asleep digging holes and wedding the garden.

Regardless of what the new year brings, some things never change. I will laugh often and love easy and will continue to believe, even when I shouldn't, that the world is a beautiful place.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Wisdom of Winter

I do not have a winter garden. No snow covers evergreens or drifts in small waves at my feet. The berries are gone, long devoured and those remaining hang wrinkled and small. My garden lies like the bleached bones of a whale, exposed and naked, stark branches and limbs jutting at odd angles against a pewter sky. But my garden doesn't care and neither do I.

She lays collapsed in a heap, spring innocence traded for the humid closeness of summer, stem and petal separated by only a touch. Autumn came slowly and she teased it into high color as only a woman can do. But winter tells a different ending, youth and beauty traded for cold slumber. Gone is the confident sweep of bright flower and alluring scent. No sweet pleasures lie hidden, masked by the modesty of leaf and vine.

She sinks slowly into the earth, her secrets laid bare and whispering. The softness of fresh growth dies at her green hips, round curves now angular and spare. I cover her with a blanket of mulch and say my goodbyes.

Heliopsis thrives in my three season garden.

I've linked this post to the Seasonal Celebrations at Garden's Eye View.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pruning Help Needed: Inquire Within

I'm taking a break from my Holiday Blogging Break to ask for help with a pruning problem. I have a very large 'Heritage' river birch that is planted too close to a large crepe myrtle. Planting large trees and shrubs too close is particular talent of mine. Yes, it's true: I am a garden genius!

Spring 2012

The branches on the left side of the river birch are growing more horizontally than the branches on the right. You can see the foliage of the crepe myrtle mingling with the river birch foliage in the top right hand section of the picture.

Spring 2012

When these were planted nine years ago I was eager to establish garden structure and create a pseudo privacy screen between myself and my too-close neighbors. I never dreamed they would grow so quickly!

Early Spring 2011

This picture is almost two years old but gives a great perspective on how tall the river birch is. It was planted to solve a problem with standing water created by an incompetent patio installer. It did an excellent job and is now massive.

These pictures were taken today and show how close the two trees really are. Removing the crepe myrtle isn't an option.

The vertical branch under the text is driving me crazy. Should I prune it? Ignore it? River birches tend to drop branches easily in storms and I worry that this entire branch will be ripped off in crazy weather, damaging the trunk. What should I do?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Invertebrate Approach to Gardening

This was originally posted this past January. I am taking a small break from blogging during the holidays and will be back after Christmas.

One of the great advantages of winter is its ability to strip your garden bare, leaving it shivering in its underwear while you dream of summer color and leafy coverage. I do not have a winter garden or much winter interest, aside from a trumpet vine and deutzia that resemble Medusa, but I'm okay with that. My bare bottomed garden gives me a chance to see it as it really is and to make summer plans that work with the bones of my yard.

But that's when things get weird. What kind of bones does my garden have? Does my fence qualify my garden's bones as chicken bones, or am I a woolly mammoth, considering the small swath of native trees left by the builder? Holy Toledo! What if I don't have any bones at all? If my garden were an animal, would it be a squid?  Hmm... In the spirit of ridiculousness and to hopefully start your new year with a smile, I've decided to end the confusion once and for all by creating a quiz to help you determine the boniness of your garden.

How Bony is Your Garden?

If your garden has:

  • a permanent structure with decorative/architectural appeal     +10 points
    • but it's in your neighbors yard     -5 points
  • large trees     +10 points
  • shrubs/trees taller than you are     + 10 points
  • little trees/shrubs with lots of potential     +5 points
  • meandering paths     +10 points
    • a path trampled through the grass by the dog     -5 points
  • stonework     +10 points
    • a pile of stone you might do something with eventually     -5 points
  • dogs, cats, chickens, etc all of which are full of bones     +5 points
  • attractive gate/fence     +10 points
    • but it's held together by a bungee cord     -5 points
  • bird houses and bird baths     +10 points
  • a pond or water feature     +10 points
  • a container pond     +5 points
  • a patio or deck     +10 points
  • evergreens     +10 points
    • a can of green spray paint and red plastic berries     -5 points

0 - 5 points       Squid

Don't fret about being a squid. You are delicious fried and served with marinara. It also means you have a clean canvas with which to dream and design. Anything is possible!

10 - 25 points     Hamster

You're on the right track and with your nocturnal work habits you never have to worry about sunburn. Close your eyes and imagine your garden as you wish it to be. Wait! Take out the winning lottery ticket and try again. Get ready to get dirty and you just might make your wishes come true.

30 - 45 points     Duck-billed Platypus

Not only are you one of the coolest mammals on Earth, but if you're male you have a venomous spur on your back leg that can be handy for securing discounts at your local nursery. Your garden has some excellent beginning boniness. Don't stop now!

50 - 65 points     St. Bernard

Not only do you get to slobber and drool while gardening, but you bring your own drinks and never have to tromp inside in the midst of a project due to dehydration. Clever! Your garden has some fabulous features that go a long way to accentuate your plantings. But we already knew that, considering you were clever enough to bring drinks.

70 - 85 points     Pygmy Elephant

Your excellent swimming ability and incredible strength allows you to garden in all kinds of wet weather. You've given serious thought to your garden design and understand how it is related to your garden as a whole. Either that or you got lucky and bought a house with an awesome garden. Just don't tell anyone. I'd stick with Option A.

90 - 100 points     Bigfoot

You might be elusive but your garden design isn't. If you've noticed your neighbors leaning over the fence/stone wall/hedge it's because they're taking photos and emailing them out to family and friends, pretending your garden is theirs. They're jealous and so am I.

110 - 115 points     T-Rex

You are the Jedi Master of gardening. Your garden has it all, possibly including a ticket booth and long lines. However, if I hide behind the historically accurate, architecturally reproduced garden shed, I might be able to take some cuttings and pictures to help me when I get home. It's cheaper than the gift shop.

I'm a pygmy elephant! I was shocked by this. Here's how I qualified according to the ultrascientific test:

Large trees + 10 points 
Three crepe myrtles, a huge river birch, a 'Yoshino' cherry, several ash trees, and an oak, cedar, and hornbeam left by the builder form the spine of my back garden.

Attractive fence  +10 points

Shrubs taller than I am + 10 points
This is a deutzia 'Pink a Boo' underplanted with lamium.

Gate held together with a bungee cord - 5 pts

Patio + 10 points

 Birdhouses and birdbaths + 10 points
I pulled a tiny nest out of this house this fall. I think it was a chickadee. 'Baltyk' clematis grows in the front garden.

I have several birdhouses and birdbaths in the garden. I came up with this idea to help use the extra creeping bramble that had originally been part of the front garden redesign until I changed my mind. The birdhouse is designed for small birds and is made from recycled mango wood.

Stonework + 10 points  
A stone ring circles the zelkova tree in the front and protects it from lawn mower damage. The remaining rock roses are coming out next spring since the area has become too shady and are being replaced with variegated ajuga.

Evergreens + 10 points 
Prague viburnums grow along the side of the house, offering winter protection and summer shade.

Container pond + 5 points
Even though my muck bucket frog pond is inground, I categorized it as a container pond. 'Lime Rickey' heuchera and shasta daisies grow near the rocks.

Here are the 'bones' of my Rose of Sharon. They grew to the second story this summer! The heated bird bath is very popular in winter.

Cute dog, full of bones! + 5 points

Most excellent shed! Unfortunately, it's in my neighbors yard. This photo shows a few of the trees left by the builder as well as the dog run.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beautiful Randomness

A while back Kevin of The Nitty Gritty Dirtman gave me the Beautiful Blogger Award. I am honored but am sending it right back his way. He has overcome incredible destruction from Hurricane Sandy with grace and style, making him not only a wonderful blogger but a beautiful person. However, I thought I'd go ahead and reveal the seven facts that are part of the award. This one's for you, Kevin!

1. I can be quite spontaneous. I assure you, I surprise myself sometimes.

2. I am a tactile, affectionate person. Although I grew up with four cats and two dogs,  I prefer dogs because if you try to hug or snuggle a cat they will plot revenge. 

Scout is blind, diabetic, and has thyroid disease but is an excellent cuddler.

3. When I've had a frustrating day, I turn to my cinematic alter ego, Bridget Jones. I absolutely relate to her tendency to say what she feels or to always say the wrong thing.

4. Love Actually is one of my favorite movies.

5. I have a mad crush on British actor Colin Firth, which my husband finds highly amusing.

6. Fortunately for me, he loves me just as I am (my husband, not Colin Firth).

7. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love how uncommercial it is. My favorite way to celebrate is with a house full of friends and family. Plus, the leftover pumpkin cheesecake and sweet potato casserole are excellent for breakfast the next day. Happy Thanksgiving!!

'Stellar Pink' dogwood has vibrant fall foliage.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Growing a Man

The tears started before the plane landed. My daughter looked at me, her eyes creased in frustration.
"Are you crying again?"
"I can't help it," I sniffed, looking away. "I can hardly wait to see him. I'll probably cry all day tomorrow, too." She grunted in disgust and turned toward the window. I could feel my chest tighten and my breath catch, stuck and tripping on twenty years of raising a boy.

We'd been working quietly in the kitchen when he slowly announced he didn't want to go to college but into the Army. Bent over a pile of apples, he rolled them in his massive hands, scraping the peels before gently passing them to me. I stopped rolling the crust and stared at him. The daughter of a Vietnam veteran married to an Air Force aviator, my family's military history dates to the Spanish American war. I am a pacifist and have seen enough of war. Family memories are intertwined with deployments to Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. My children proudly rattle off the nearly 40 countries their father has traveled to without comment to the birthdays and milestones missed.

He put down the peeler and turned to me. Keenly intelligent and comfortable with the military, he has wanted to enlist for years. History, foreign policy, and the philosophy of warfare are fascinating to him. I asked about waiting until after college but he silently shook his head. "I'm tired of experiencing life through a book, Mom. I want to go live it." When the tears started he pulled me towards him and let me cry.

Freezing in the metal bleachers, I listen to the announcer describe the challenges of Army basic training and start to cry all over again. I had seen the changes in his letters home and had felt the frustrated teen slipping away. Words I had thought wasted on deaf ears flowed from his pen as he described the commitment required to survive the training. Always loved but seldom liked, my lessons of personal responsibility and natural consequences had burrowed deep. I hadn't raised a boy but grown a man. Itchy to see him, I scrambled down the steps and across the field. I spotted him bent over, hugging his sister and began to run. He lifted his head, smiled, and opened his arms.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Everything That's Right: After the Storm

1. My family and I are safe and sound. Hurricane Sandy has left my garden very well watered. Thanks a million for all your support. :o)

2. None of the trees that fell landed on my house or property and we never lost power.

3. We spent part of yesterday watching the movie Grease so we could sing about Sandy.

4. Sweet Sandy spent the day with us while my garden soaked up the rain.

5. But by early evening, Bad Sandy had arrived!

6. Carrot cake made everything better.

7. So did watching movies with two teenage girls in the hammock that had been moved into the basement from the backyard.

8. The dogs slept through everything.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Underwater Gardening

 This might be the last post from Casa Mariposa, as we know it. According to local news agencies and the National Weather service, Hurricane Sandy will be making landfall on Monday and my area will be taking a direct hit.

Dubbed a "Frankenstorm", it has the potential to cause massive power outages, snap trees, and flood my basement. I'm armed with flashlights, water, and a homemade carrot cake made from my purple carrots.

My garden may look quite different in my next post.

Fortunately, reel mowers and shrub clippers all work underwater. I guess I won't need sunscreen anymore but shark repellent might be a wise investment.

Note to Self: Do not water the garden. Mother Nature will be doing it for you!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Everything That's Right

 Harvesting giant sweet potatoes and finally growing carrots longer than my finger 

Finding a spot for the pink clematis that needed to be moved
(It's been pruned hard and planted next to the fence post so that my neighbor and I can both enjoy it.)

Sheffield Pink mums

Good friends who understand why yelling and cussing at rocks is necessary when digging a huge hole for a rose you never thought you'd move.

My Sceptre d'Isle rose needed more sun so I thought I'd just pop it out of the ground and move it into a sunnier spot. But the roots went down almost 2 feet and took me almost 3 hours to excavate and replant. It was dark by the time I finished filling each hole but it's done. All is well.