Hedging The Doppler

August 31, 2010

It’s supposed to rain tonight – or very early tomorrow morning – and continue all day Wednesday. But it might not.

I just can’t take that chance.

Tony and I looked at the Doppler, looked at the hour-by-hour and the chance percentages. He looked at me and said, “Water.” I agreed. Sometimes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

The impatiens were dragging, the hydrangea wilting, the butterfly bush shriveling and the veggies parched.

Someone is digging holes in the mulch path, right under the bricks, and then digging another hole on the other side. Is this that mouse, thinking this is his opportunity for multiple condos on the same property? I kicked the mulch back in and the dirt back in. Fat lot of good that will do me, I’m sure, as he has nothing but time and I can’t watch for squatters around the clock.

The hibiscus is starting to put out clean, fresh buds. Maybe all this watering of the hydrangea nearby has cured it of its own ills. Lesson learned for certain – pamper the hibiscus regularly.

It is truly becoming the dying season. The hostas turn brown, wilt and fade. The gaillardia is no longer partying, bright and perky. She looks like a fall bouquet, her yellow heads turning to brown and leaves withering, reminding me of Thanksgiving centerpieces. The fall clematis has started to bloom, two starry blossoms on the backyard arbor. Soon, it will be covered in white; sweet-smelling and heavy in the air. That’s a bright spot in an otherwise browning season.

I turned on the soaker hose in the veggie garden and saw the grass clippings move. A spider or water drops? The peppers have just exploded and continue to bloom and grow. I should have enough to make summer salad with the roma tomatoes this weekend. I hope the peppers make enough of this hurrah before we get a frost.

The sun was gone completely by the time I turned on the house hose in the back, just the faintest mist of light helping me along. I watered the hydrangeas, the impatiens and that one pathetic astilbe. I’m not sure if it’s dead or just withered from autumn approaching. I’ve been soaking it every day and it doesn’t seem to improve, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s just the fall die back. But the other one still looks good.

That hose then got turned off and rolled up and the veggie garden soaker hose was turned off too. (I’m getting better at remembering.) A cat startled me in the Neither Here Nor There bed and then loped off into the front yard. I headed to the front and clapped and shouted “scat!”. It tore around the corner.

I’m not an outdoor cat fan. They are naturally predators, which is good for the Damn Rabbit population, but they also take out a great deal of beneficial songbirds and other wildlife. I also have a lot of concern for the cat itself. At night, coyotes still roam this suburbia. Tony and I have been woken in the wee hours, hearing the howling as they celebrate kills. Besides coyotes, there are raccoons and possums and just plain diseases that could hurt these cats. Keep them in the house, I believe. I also didn’t like cat poop in my kids’ sandbox.

Now it was fully dark. I roused white butterflies who fluttered out of corners in confusion, away from the sprinkles. As I watered the iris, splayed and drying all over the front bed, I saw bits of green and yellow light. Lightning bugs, making their home in the stems and stalks, flashing their alarms as I hit them with showers of water. I was being happily snacked upon by mosquitos, so my thoughts ran toward, “get your lazy butts out of there and eat some skeeters!”

Kind of like throwing cold water on Dominic to get him out of bed. Just had to do that once. He didn’t think I’d really do it. Now he knows I certainly will.

So I’ve watered. Watered most thoroughly this evening. I wasn’t sure that it would rain, so I took the safe way for my garden.

Now it will rain for sure.

Gasping Over Gladiola

August 30, 2010

A shocker in the garden this morning. I looked out of my office window and saw a spear of magenta tufts, a gladiola, completely unexpected.

Because I didn’t even know it was planted there.

I haven’t planted glads in scads of years. And I cannot remember ever planting them in this bed. I originally planted them about 8 years ago in the bump by the pond. They were transplanted to the back of the hosta bed and never ever thrived.

This one has come out of nowhere. What a beautiful surprise.

The butterfly bed is attracting skippers and more skippers, this time not just a Peck’s Skipper but a Dion Skipper and a (I believe) Salt Marsh Moth along with our admirals, monarchs and cabbage butterflies. Spring azures are far and few between now. I have come to a new appreciation for these flutters of papery wings. In the past, one brownish butterfly looked like all brownish butterflies. Now, I see the difference in wing shape, and color patterns and whether it has fringe on the wings. All these details are what help identify each insect, as without them, one skipper is pretty much like every other skipper.

The Dion Skipper holds its wings in a unique position, so they look like fighter planes with rudders up and at the ready. More romantically, like flower petals.

The pin oak is starting to drop acorns and sitting underneath is taking chances with the safety of your cranium. They are green right now, but the squirrels love them still.

The green peppers are so very happy to be out of the shade of the watermelon. They have burst into bloom and are covered with dozens of peppers in various stages of growth. I have learned much this year about growing vegetables. I will be so much smarter next year.

The unhealthy hydrangea has me mulling. Neither of the other two are in trouble and they’ve all had about the same level of care. The troubled one has had much more tenderness bestowed lately, but still hasn’t recovered. I’m now thinking that maybe this appearance has to do with being planted on top of decaying iris roots. Maybe the roots are giving off something that hydrangeas don’t agree with. Maybe it’s feeding off those roots and it’s just not agreeing with it.

Maybe I just have no clue and am flailing for answers.

Watered the veggie garden again. We should see sprouts within a week or two. Tony will so enjoy that spinach, well into the fall.

I will watch as the glad unfurls more and more flowers. It’s like a gift from those gardening gods, a special smile, a burst of joy.

Danny In The Garden

August 30, 2010

I nearly fell asleep at the dinner table last night – right into my pheasant at Frankie’s. Danny spent the night and after reading aloud a variety of books, including one of my all-time favorites “The Monster At The End Of This Book,” featuring lovable furry old Grover, we finally turned out the lights well past midnight.

And he was up and raring to go at 7 a.m.

Good lord.

He ran into the yard and laughed about the trees sticking up in the grass. “Auntie W”, he said, “I don’t think those trees should be in your grass!”

He wanted to look at the butterflies but we were quickly sidetracked by the veggie garden. Why, he wanted to know, was so much of it empty. I explained how the watermelon had occupied all that space and that I was planning on planting beans and spinach for the fall. “I want to plant!” he enthused.

He carried out the pitchfork, hopping from foot to foot. He started unhooking all the panels.  Just as we had half the garden disassembled, he told me it was way too hot and he wanted to go in. Well, there was no going back at that point! He sat in the shade of the fence while I quickly got the dirt broken up with the pitchfork and planted the spinach, the lettuce and the spinach. The peas, to be located at the upper side of the bed that still had the panels in place, will have to be planted later.

I found a brown spider carrying an egg sac and we watched her scurry under the grass clippings. Then we (me, really. Dan is not a bug fan) moved the clippings so we could watch her some more). We talked about the funnel of web in the corner by the tomatoes and how that was home to a big huge spider. He wandered around by the pond, looking at the fish as I got all the panels back in place. When that was accomplished – by this time, I was in rivers of sweat because Dan was right, it was way too hat – Danny turned the water on and ran down to see the water seep out of the soaker hose. He really liked the way it wound through the garden and water “just came out everywhere.”

We went inside.

Not too much longer after that, we were back outside and actually remembered to turn off the water. We sat on the patio and Danny ate ice cream and I ate watermelon. Then Danny ate watermelon too. He got a kick out of the compost bin, sliding the rinds through the slot below the cover. I hung the suet cake and he asked why I was putting out a sandwich.

We spent some time looking at the fish in the pond and he made sure I made photos of a floating feather, the brown fish and the spotted fish. Dan hung over the bridge to check out the pumps and the webs underneath. He splashed in the water. He asked me if fish had ears. “What a good question.” I said, resorting to that time-honored stall-for-time answer. “I’m not really sure. I know they can feel vibrations and that’s why they swim away when we walk up to the pond.” He said, “I don’t think they have ears, Auntie W. Look.” He clapped his hands right above the water – what a smart kid! – and the fish did not react. “See? No ears.” I said, “Well, I know who you could ask about that. Your dad would certainly know if fish have ears.” He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “My dad wouldn’t know THAT.”

My brother was a zoology major and owns a company that keeps ponds and waterways in biological balance.

We went to look at the butterflies and then sat in the hammock flipping through my butterfly identification book and talked about Butterflies We Have Seen. A monarch floated by and he shouted. We found a picture of a moth we had seen at my mom’s the night before, a strangely painted creature, appropriately called a virgin tiger moth. It looked like stained glass, or indeed like a tiger.

We went back inside.

And then went outside again, to swing in the hammock and try to dump each other out. For a moment there, while I was swinging him, I thought he might fall asleep. His eyes popped open and we needed to go back inside.

While I took a shower, he sat with Eliza and did indeed fall asleep, almost into a coma.

Then we went back outside. I turned on the hose to water the hydrangeas and the impatiens and naturally, it was Danny’s turn to water. He sprinkled with patience and repeated “Keep it on the plants” until he could stand it no longer. The hose went into the air to sparkle like glass and shower the air. When it came down all over him, he cooed in surprise. And I laughed again.

He walked back down the path, this time not even pretending to “keep it on the plants.” He then threaded it through a garden stick I have to guide the hose and pointed the spray head towards the impatiens.

What a smart kid.

The waterfall is suddenly working again. I looked out the window this morning and saw a healthy pour over the edge of the pot. Whatever was stuffing up the hose has loosened, I suppose, and we have the splash of water again in the center of the pond.

The gardening gods must have heard my angst about pond rebuilding and decided I have enough hassles in my life.

It has not rained in weeks and rain is not in the forecast until Wednesday, so I must take action. My rain barrels are empty, so I have to resort to house hoses. I unrolled the hose today and attached it to the soaker hose in the veggie garden to give that a good soak. The water misted into the spider webs around the tomato plant, lighting them up like a Christmas trees. I picked a tomato and it seemed to have a much better flavor. Maybe the cooler weather is helping them develop a sweetness.

The hydrangea is still on the IV. I forgot about it (again) last night, so it had a good three hours of trickle. Amazingly, the beds were not flooded, so I know it’s really dry out there. That hydrangea is a Jekyll and Hyde mix of healthy leaves and withered disaster. I’m not sure which one is winning, but as long as there’s one healthy leaf, I know it has a chance. I did not see the mouse today.

There are signs of impending autumn everywhere.

The fall clematis is suddenly, overnight, full of buds. Buds jump into the sky on the arbor and they cluster around our bedroom window from the trellis and then run down to the ground. They will smell so heavenly in so short a time.

The hibiscus in the front, the red one, has finished. The hibiscus in the back was a disappointment, with many blossoms initially and then everything seeming to burn out. If this happens again next year, I will consider moving them out of that dappled sun and into the front, into full, baking sunshine.

A sure sign of fall – the mums are starting to bloom, blood red in the beds.

The eupatorium is withering and drying. The coneflower turns blacker and blacker each day. The goldfinch are coming to them, more and more each day. The grasses are blooming, getting higher and brighter each day. When it is breezy, they rustle like Mammy’s petticoats in Gone With The Wind, crisp and dry and starched. When the winds blow harder, they bend and twist and spring back, fully recovered. The sun shines through the leaves and lights them up in a fluorescent green.

This morning, a squirrel bounced along the front lawn to the tree in the parkway while the windchime mirrors blinked in the sun and the chimes tinkled in the breeze. Another burst of blue delphinium in the front beds.

The Jacob’s Ladder is gone, nothing left but a pile of mulch where I mounded it to protect the roots and keep them moist. I’m hoping it will come back in the spring, to bloom in blue, but I am not finding a definitive answer about its habits in the fall. This will be a surprise next year.

A surprise now – the acorn squash vine has also disappeared, apparently dead and withered of powdery mildew. The two squash sit there, now joined by a third at the front of that bed. This weekend I will pull that out and compost it all. I’ll also check under the hostas hugging the pin oak to see if the Jack-In-The-Pulpit is putting out berries. I will try to dig those out and transplant them where the hostas won’t overcome them each year.

There is a new butterfly visitor, several Peck’s Skipper. Unlike the lone monarch there today, or the red admirals, the skippers flutter jerkily and seemed to jump from flower to flower instead of float. It was the darnedest thing. They are a different color, brown and yellow and very pop-eyed. While the monarchs are shy and difficult to photograph, the skippers take after their admiral brethren, letting me get close up and personal and seeming to preen before the camera lens.

The cicadas are having a year – and the party seems to be in my yard. I got down on the lawn face to face with one this afternoon, the bug (and me) crawling through the grass, like an Army grunt dressed in their own camouflage. They don’t seem to be able to fly anymore – they are withering into fall as well.

Fall is bringing angst here along with all that withering. Dominic is writhing in indecision over his personal essay to get accepted to a four-year university. He lays on the floor and talks into the carpet, asking me what he’ll do if he’s rejected. At those times, I feel that he has so far to go to be truly well. And then he jumps up and attacks an outline, completes research and I feel relieved and know we’re moving forward.

Eliza was given the role of student director in the fall play, but no character within the play. I did not swallow back those tears, but cried right along with her.


August 25, 2010

I grabbed a flashlight and headed outside, stomping loudly along the path, like the Jolly Green Giant, to make sure that mouse knew I was approaching.

The hydrangea is looking much better already.

Hydrangea in Crisis

August 25, 2010

Dominic and I finally fixed the garage hose reel last night – fully and completely. It required drilling, unscrewing, screwing, a trip to the garage attic and a lot of agitation and aggravation on his part. We are night owls together, he and I, but sometimes my projects don’t mesh with his projects. I think of late night as time to get things accomplished – painting the house, cleaning closets – and he believes late night is for technology – computers, movies and video games. We did manage to get it done with a minimum of angst and I was able to water the butterfly bushes this morning with no leakage and a smooth roll out and roll up of the hose.

This morning was a taste of fall. We still have about four weeks to go before it’s official, and the autumnal equinox doesn’t immediately bring chilly weather, but today was definitely a moment. Fall is my favorite time of year. It means apple picking (which means apple pies), fires in the pit, bursts of color and of course, Halloween, the most fun day of the year.

I watered the front garden this morning, pulled a few weeds and dosed the weeds with vinegar. The balloon flower was deadheaded and continues to amaze me. It’s been blooming for months now and while it is slowing down, there are still buds and balloons preparing to bloom. This may keep up until Labor Day!

This afternoon, I walked outside to make photographs and was confronted by a devastating site. One of the new hydrangeas was wilted and drying, looking past diva stage and well into terminal. My god, how can I have been so lax? How did I not see that this morning? Because I was too busy watering in the front, that’s how! And now my hydrangea is suffering for my lack of attention!

I attached the wand (I love the wand. It puts out such a beautiful spray of water and is just so handy) and soaked it well. The ground sucked it up and sucked it up and when I moved away to water a container, it was dry within seconds. I gave the impatiens a shower, gave the other hydrangeas a good bath and then came back the first hydrangea.

That was when the little grey mouse scurried through the flower bed between the speedwell and the coneflower. Oh, gracious.

The hose was propped up so the water sprayed at the hydrangea’s roots and I started around the house.

The garlic chives are blooming. Stand in certain places in the garden and they seem like waves of stars or drifts of snowflakes. The foxgloves are giving us a burst of color late in the season. The grasses bloom, the pampas grass sending huge fireworks of white high into the sky. The sedum begins its own burst of stars, pink here. The gaillardia begins to dry and look like a fall flower, brown and yellow.

We got one more dinner out of the purple runner beans tonight, but as I picked them, the vines came loose from the ground. The beans were not as delicate, a bit chewy and heavy in fact. Tony did not eat any. He is fussy about his vegetables.

The waterfall is not. I’m wrestling with purchasing a new container for that whole set up – something taller, with a tulip shaped lip so the water will pour and splash over more than just flow. The pond rebuilding is not the Most Fun Job for me, so I think I’m subconsciously throwing up roadblocks, posing dilemmas, to put off the inevitable. Question – if you figure out you’re doing it, is it still subconscious?

My experiment with the coneflower in front is not pleasing. All that time spent carefully deadheading and I didn’t get enough of a second wave to make it truly worth it and I’ve denied myself alot of seed heads that I could plant in other spots in the garden. There are enough, though, for the finches. I’ve seen them already. They come after the butterflies, when the nectar is gone and dried and the seeds stand tall and crisp and tasty. The finches grip the stems and rip the seeds from the heads in a joyous feast.

Thank heavens they’re not eating the butterflies.

The watermelon is caved in on itself and looks like nothing so much as a deflated plastic playground ball. The tomatoes continue to ripen into tasteless mush. This plant was free at the Farmers Market. You get what you pay for. The green peppers are like a younger sister when the older one leaves for college – suddenly blooming, suddenly growing, suddenly interested in the sun and the water. There are baby peppers everywhere and more blossoms. I will not plant watermelon again.

I head back to that sad hydrangea and it is still pathetic. The ground is wet, soaked in fact. The mouse scurries again, soft and grey. I pick up the hose and given the compost bin a thorough soak. Where there is one mouse, there are probably more. The compost bin has a new insect resident; fat big black ants. Is that because there’s a banana in there? Or is it just Big Black Ants In the Compost time of year?

The hose goes back by the hydrangea and another dose of water is administered. I’m watching but I don’t see much improvement, no rising from the death bed. I test a stem and there is still plenty of flexibility, plenty of life, so I think it’s just a matter of time for it to recover. I turn off the water but leave the hose lying there, like an IV I can turn on at a moment’s notice. I will check first thing tomorrow morning and go into medic mode if necessary.

That damn thing better recover.

The Domino Effect

August 22, 2010

Barb pulled a plastic ziploc bag holding a very large, very ugly and very dead bug out of her purse and said, “This is for you.”

I am now officially a geek.

Mark and Barb told us their yard and garage were being invaded by locust and I mentioned that yes, grasshoppers are supposed to be having a big year. Mark said this was different, so when he found a dead one in his garage, he stuck it in that baggie and put it in Barb’s purse. A quick look at the enormous head and lacy wings made me think cicada, although it didn’t have the red eyes that define our 17-year visitors. We looked it up and found it was a cacama valvata cicada. Why they are all over his pine tree this year is a mystery, as I’m not finding anything about emergence cycles of the cacama. I’m also finding them, less frequently, under our honey locust and sitting on the hammock. Perhaps they like to relax and swing too.

Barb let me keep the baggie.

We had a birthday celebration for Greg Friday night, and most of us stayed outside with a smoky fire keeping away the mosquitos, but not very well. I love how people become just voices in the darkness, with the firelight throwing strange colors and shapes on their faces. Tony danced on the patio and we laughed about forgettable things.

Saturday morning, I was in the garden by 9:30, determined to plant the two remaining hydrangeas. Tony asked if we could walk when I finished and I said it would be a quick job, only an hour or so.

I never can estimate time.

See, I had identified the spots where the hydrangeas would be planted, but they were already planted with grasses. When I bundled the grasses with plant tape to clarify where they began and ended, I realized that the bed was sadly untrimmed. Out came the scissors and the edge of the bed got a neat and tidy haircut. The cat mint was cut way back and the lamb’s ear that didn’t seem excited about being there was pulled out and composted. True to the 48-hour rule, I heard a cicada ticking under the hammock and saw him seeming to struggle to buzz its wings, kind of gimping through the grass.

When I propped open the compost bin to drop in the grass clippings, weeds and lamb’s ear, a cloud of no-see-ums buzzed up and out. All the spiders were at the alert, running up and down the webs, encasing those captured bugs quickly and efficiently. What a feast they would have!

Out came three clumps of prairie dropseed and one clump of turkey foot (I love turkey foot) to make room for the hydrangea. So where do those grasses go? I put two of the prairie dropseed on the sides of the chimney in the hosta bed where the long blades and delicate seeds will make a nice contrast to the big broad leaves. Ms. Orchard Spider is on the east side of that chimney, so I dug the hole by maneuvering the shovel nearly horizontal so as not to disturb her webs. I eased the grass in and brushed the dirt over, disturbing the web as little as possible while she frantically scurried up and down the anchor wires. When I was finished, the web was still in one piece, with no threads broken. That made me very happy.

The hydrangea still sat there in their plastic nursery containers.

I cut down and pulled out weeds from the grasses bed, giving their exposed stems and roots a shot of the vinegar to kill them completely.

The turkey foot would be perfect by the water spigot in the Neither Here Nor There bed, but there were hostas in that spot. Ah! The hosta would be perfect in that bed where they hydrangeas are going, in the same spot that I just pulled the lamb’s ear. So one clump of hosta was dug up, thumped against the house to knock off extra dirt (I don’t recommend that with all plants, but you just cannot kill a hosta), divided into seven pieces and planted along the east edge of that bed.

The hydrangea still sat there in their plastic nursery containers.

I stood on the side of the house where the embarrassing lawn care occurs and thought. Then I dug out a section right up next to the fence, coming out and around, chopping and slicing and grinding up the grass and weeds that grow there. I took another clump of hosta out of the Neither Here Nor There bed, thumped it, divided in and put it in that newly formed bed.

The hydrangea still sat there in their plastic nursery containers.

Finally, I started digging the (very large) hole for the first hydrangea. I filled a bucket with dirt, then piled it up next to the hole. When the hole was large enough, I rolled the hydrangea on its side and leaned on the plastic to loosen the plant away from the pot. It was pulled out of the pot and lifted into the hole, turned a few times to determine the best look, and then I put the hose into the hole to fill it with water.

In the meantime, I pulled out another clump of hosta, thumped it and divided it and planted it along the edge of the Neither Here Nor There bed, in front of the new Christmas tree.

I finally had the room where the hostas had been to plant that turkey foot and put the hose on to dribble it in.

Back to the back garden, turned off the hose and filled the hole with the displaced dirt. The bucket of dirt wasn’t needed, so that got dumped next to the fence to provide more new space to plant the other grasses that needed to come out to put the second hydrangea in.

Tony left for a solitary bike ride. Sigh….

The other turkey foot went by the garden entrance, next to the rain barrel and the displaced dropseed went next to the fence, in the dirt discarded from the second hydrangea hole. Watered the hydrangea in that second hole, then filled it up with displaced dirt and the potting soil from the topsy turvy tomato washout.

Many things were moved yesterday, like a game of chess or those dominos that fall one by one. The struggling cicada died while I was planting. I found him with legs drawn up, tickless and still.

The grasses bed now has a whole new look; a little more colorful and a whole lot neater. The Neither Here Nor There bed continues to spruce up, and the new bed along the fence continues to grow in a rather haphazard fashion. By the end of the season,  that should be about half way complete down the fence.

It was after 2 by the time I cleaned out the firepit, put away all the shovels, diggers and my now ever-present vinegar bottle.

When I was getting into the shower, after spending nearly an hour making cupcakes, I could hear the hose still running on that clump of turkey grass by the Christmas tree. Ooops.

This morning, the orchard spider web is gone completely. I am so very disappointed.

Sunset This Evening

August 19, 2010

I opened the back door at sunset and came eye to eye with our grasshopper. He was clinging to the baking hot bricks right along the doorframe; his legs startled me as I opened the screen door. The slant of the sun lit up his antenna, the fuzz around his body, turned him golden in the rays. When I picked up my camera and started making images, he barely moved. Calm, collected and aloof, he slowly and subtly poised his legs for an immediate jump away if I came too close. When I opened moved to a different angle, he decided that now I was a threat and leaped to a nearby eupatorium leaf, making it bounce it with the force of his landing.

He lives there in the eupatorium, hostas, impatiens and sedum. I see him almost every day and irritate him to no end when I water those impatiens.

The sun lit everything up, pouring honey over leaves and seeds and blossoms. I did not work in the garden today save pulling a tiny new cluster of lamb’s ear out of the pin oak bed.

But I saw amazing things!

One of my hibiscus bushes has been very unsuccessful, with buds drying to a crisp before they opened and bloomed. Researching this, I see it could be bugs, it could be the weather, it could be the water levels. I am intrigued by this, and like Tony and his golf swing, am wondering what to tweak to make it a success.

The lavender I transplanted is drying and crackling, sweet and tight smelling. Lavender is terribly hardy in the right spot and that bed, with drainage that keeps it dry and sun exposure that bakes it hard, is exactly what it likes. It is originally from the Mediterranean where it grows profusely in poor soil, baking in the sun.

A crabby, pinched-in face is what I find in the sunflower buds. I mentioned that I think of them as male. This one in particular is an old male, dentures out, lips pulled together in a grimace. The face looks like it’s about to bitch and complain about the food or the sun or its position on the stalk. I think his name is Alfred.

The milkweed bugs continue to spread throughout the butterfly garden, getting bigger and starting to show some adult markings. I haven’t found any in the molting stage, or any shells left behind, but I am keeping my eyes open. They crawl and scurry, in all stages of development, up and down the milkweed, across the butterfly weed, in and out of seed pods, on the butterfly bushes. I am hoping this is an auspicious omen for next year’s butterfly garden as well.

The butterfly weed seed pod continues to split, and the individual seed parachutes are beginning to peel away and float free. They are caught in an aurea of sunlight, caramel and straw. One pod split downwards and the seeds are caught in a pillow of fluff. The milkweed bugs navigate in and around the fluff easily; they do not catch their feet or antenna. Ironically, spiders, who build swinging bits of fluff themselves, are caught and cannot escape this different kind of fluff, silky and smooth. There are at least 3, all the same kind, caught in this open seed pod, now with legs drawn up in dried out death.

Bees all over the oregano, dozens of images made, not one even passable.

The cinnamon plant that I had pulled has spread its seed (no Biblical reference intended) all over the front bed and those plants are merrily unfurling their leaves. They are unaware of their imminent demise; I will be hitting them with vinegar doses this weekend. I may go a little vinegar crazy….

Sea thrift emerges in a clump of rosy coreopsis… green peppers thrive again, no longer overshadowed by watermelon vine… garlic chives are ready to burst into bloom… the sun continues to set, throwing gold and yellow and rose and sparkle all over the garden.

I think that drying clematis blooms inspired Dr. Seuss (so glad I’m just writing that and not pronouncing it – apparently I say it incorrectly and am corrected every time – with increasing irritation – by my beloved daughter) to create those truffula trees. Those dried flower heads swirl and twirl like truffula trees. They sit on thin, unlikely stems and they have a certain fuzz to them which can be imagined to be the raw material for thoseThneeds. And you don’t really need that much imagination.

The Lorax was always one of our favorite read-aloud books when the kids were little. The spooky Oncler had a snotty, rude voice; the Lorax sounded like a gruff little old man (maybe Alfred?) and all the animals chimed in with different personalities, accents and woebegone dialects. I always had to pause in my reading and swallow back tears as the Oncler hands those truffula tree seeds over to the narrator. It’s such a great teaching book, showing little kids so very clearly what happens when we are not good stewards of this planet. It helped give my children an easily-understandable base of loving our environment, thinking about trash and waste and recycling, of helping the whole world’s garden grow.

Eliza started her first day of her senior year today, standing in the garden with the “first day” sign and actually at peace with it, knowing it’s her last year for this tradition.

We have truly begun the sunset to her childhood. There will be the last Homecoming, last fall play, last choir concerts, last musical, and the last cast parties with sweaty teens, loud music and pizza, pizza and more pizza. She stands in her own aurea of light, honey-sweet and golden, spreading those rays of joy and love and hope and dreams. The sun will rise on a beautiful young adult this time next year, one who is ready to start a whole new life, with new promises all around in her own life’s garden.

I will swallow back tears all year.

The Gender of Plants

August 17, 2010

Our orchard spider has finished her web, cartwheels of whisper-thin silk seeming to hang from nowhere and anchor into nothing. Below her are other webs, stacked like a high-rise, floors and floors of bug-catching filament. I haven’t seen those occupants, so I’m not sure if it’s entirely her building or if she’s just leasing space above.

This corner is a popular place for spiders. The compost bin sits in the middle of that bed (should I move it to the Neither Here Nor There bed? Would look great in the summer, but stink to access in the wintertime) and, while it doesn’t smell, it draws lots of flies and gnats. Happy hunting for a fat, lazy spider – or for incredibly strategic thinkers!

The boxwood is looking settled and happy; the hydrangea is too. I’m really thinking that soaking the plants in their nursery pot, making sure it is just dripping water, is a key to a successful planting. There is water already permeating the roots and watering in just puts the icing on the proverbial cake.

All that water from last night on the Christmas tree has given him a very good head start; he is still green and happy in his transplanting.

Question – why do we think of trees more as male (Disney’s horrendous Pocahontas notwithstanding) and flowers as more female? So would a shrub be male or female? I think of the black knight butterfly bushes as male, but that could be because of the name. The new white profusion butterfly bush I just planted I think of as female. The weglia? Female. The privet? Male. Coeropsis? Interesting.. I think of the yellow as male and the pink as female. I just realized the sunflower has a male personality to me. Peonies, hibiscus and hydrangea are all females. Liatris, male for sure, just based on its shape (terribly phallic!). Spotted bell flower is female, impatiens too. Eupatorium – hmmmm…. that could go either way!

I have so digressed….

The phlox we purchased at Hornbaker had dried up and shriveled a few weeks ago, so I had cut it back to just sticks. It is unfurling new tender leaves again and I am so happy to see that. The magenta phlox and pink phlox in the back will be transplanted there when I put the other hydrangeas in the back.

The phlox, definitely girls, will adore it there.

I bribed Dominic with lunch (why do my children always have to be cajoled with foodstuffs?) to go to Sid’s with me and we started out on Saturday afternoon. Groceries were involved too, so that was really a sacrifice on his part. When we got to Sid’s, he refused to take a cart that was outside on the premise that the ones inside would be cleaner. Sigh…. Howard Hughes at his worst has nothing on this boy.

We found a clean cart and started in the bird food/feeder aisle.

Now, this was supposed to be the Big Sale, the one where they are just giving stuff away to get rid of it. Well, advertising and reality are sometimes at odds. Dominic looked at the prices, looked at the discounts and gave me the lifted eyebrows and the little tight smile that I love so much. He said, “Oh, I can see how much money we’re saving here.” Seeing as they didn’t even have any thistle seed left, we went out to the nursery with the live plants.

Dominic has been working at an electrician shop lately so became absorbed in the light bulbs; type, length and color. His thought was that they “could knock this job out in a day, day and a half”, replace all the bulbs with new energy efficient units and save Sid’s bucketfuls of money. He is an expert now that he has been there almost a month.

Sid’s had no gaillardia and no bellflower. I found a clematis for half price and it was just about reasonable enough in full price thinking to purchase. Same for two astilbes. These were not deals and the “cut rate” prices were a little high for regular price at Sunrise. I did find a white butterfly bush for only $5 which really is a deal. Most butterfly bushes are pink or purple, so I think the white color made this one a white elephant.

When I asked for the Annabelle hydrangea, a very nice young man showed me a few very straggly numbers that were still $30 each. At this point, I was rather frustrated and said, “$30 at this super sale? And they are small, sparse plants!” He looked at me and said, “Lady, to be honest, we’re gonna sell these at any price. They just go.” Well, I went too. I bought my clematis, butterfly bush, astilbes and a few packets of seeds (still at full price!) and headed home.

On Sunday morning, because of the heat, I just wanted to get those new plants in the ground. I planted the clematis in the front, on the same trellis as the ever-annoying trumpet vine. (I’m still hoping Tony will reconsider the mandate against an arbor on the east side of house and I can move the trumpet vine there, where it will grow and attach properly.) I soaked it in with two cans of rain water, slow and careful. The butterfly bush went between the two Endless Summer hydrangeas. Now, imagine that next summer; spikes of white on airy branches bookended by mounds of blue and pink on full and thick bushes. Pretty, no? That got watered in with several cans of water too.

Then I headed around the side past the Neither Here Nor There bed and went into full blown Crazy Gardener mode. I started ripping out the lamb’s ear that was crowding the spirea, dug up the three big weeds that were pretending to be trees and torn out all the mint. When I shook the foliage frenzy away from my brain, I stepped back and saw that I was about halfway through getting rid of what I wanted to eliminate. I could feel the heat rising up from my whole body, from my arms and back, my legs and torso. I felt like a walking sauna. The heat rose and the sweat dripped down, just running in rivers. I moved the lacrosse net and finished all the ripping out, finding about six lacrosse balls in various states of decomposition. Now I have that bed clearer in my mind. I’m going to move all the hostas that wind through the garden and just put them as a border along the edge. I’ll move the grasses from the back bed to that bed, creating some taller interest. And then maybe we can get rid of the oh-so-attractive bird netting.

I sprayed the weeds in the flagstone path with vinegar (a suggestion from a reader) and crossed my fingers that it would work.

I finally did get the astilbes planted next to the pond, then I collapsed on the hammock and ate, quite literally, half a watermelon.

Tony called me on his way home from golf and asked me if $25 was a good deal for a hydrangea. Yes, I said, better than Sid’s, better than Saunoris (which I had also checked). He said, “Well, I’m at Melka’s and I’ll get them.”

Now seriously, do husbands get any better than this? He brought them home and I was floored. They were about four times the size of the ones at Sid’s, full and lush – just beautiful. Tony brought them around the house and put them on the patio. Simply gorgeous – and the hydrangeas looked good too.

Later, I dug out the Siberian iris, using the pitch fork to work around and around and around the roots, sweating all over again. The boxwood we bought at Mount Vernon was getting smothered, so it really was time to clear that space. I crunched the pitchfork into the earth and lifted, moved it over a few inches and repeated the process. I went around 3 or 4 times before the iris was freed from the soil, but it lifted out with roots intact and basically unharmed. I split it into many pieces and planted the pieces about 12″ apart in open space in the sun bed, between the new black knight and the peonies. After I filled that space, I had several pieces left over. I planted those in the new accidental bed, establishing a nice little base there now.

Dominic had friends over on Sunday and one of them brought a BB gun so they could explode poor Jacob Marley. However, this is real life and not Mythbusters. The bbs made small holes in the melon; no drama and no mess, rather anti-climatic for those young men. I giggled and Dominic put Jacob in the compost bin. I think he’ll find it nice to become at one with the soil. And I’m just realizing I’ve just anthorpomorphized a watermelon – how weird…

This evening, I moved the boxwood  to a more prominent spot, just along the flagstone path and put the dripping hose there to water it in. I dug a deep hole where the iris had been and put the dirt into a big white bucket. A hydrangea was placed in the hole, the hole backfilled and then the hose moved to water in the hydrangea.

I noticed that the vinegar really works and am now looking forward to using it on a couple of weeds that just won’t give up.

One of the accidental Christmas trees (so many things happen on accident in the garden!) was dug up, making room for that hydrangea to spread out. The hydrangea are so huge we don’t even need to wait until next year; they are beautiful and full already. I dug a good size hole in the Neither Here Nor There bed, far enough away from the house and in the space were that mint had recently reigned. I put the tree in the hole, backfilled and set a hose dripping there too.

Back to the back gardens to move the hydrangea off the patio and close to the spot they’ll end up. Gave those a good long watering while the mosquitos ate me alive and chased me inside.

Just realized I left the hose running on the Christmas tree. Ooops.