Monthly Archives: August 2010

THAT’ll wake you up in the morning…

By | Insects | 2 Comments

Yes, okay, fine. I was sitting on the steps with my tea, watching the garden, and yes, maybe I was wearing a pair of old jeans that have relaxed a bit around the hips, and no, I wasn’t wearing a belt. Maybe, yes, there was a bit of plumber’s crack going on, or possibly a whale-tail, since I was wearing a thong, and not having been standing behind myself, I could not tell you precisely what was going on in the posterior department, except that there was a lot of it.

I still don’t feel that I deserved to have a very confused cicada drop into my pants.

The only consolation I can derive from the next few seconds of screaming and flailing and tea-spilling were that the cicada was no more pleased by the situation than I was. And while I had done no more than fling tea over the world and shriek, it managed to roll itself over the edge of my pants and hit the deck, then take off in that peculiar lumbering flight common to cicada kind.

While Kevin suggests that I try to derive some pride from the fact that not even the insect kingdom can resist my ass, I am more inclined to see if I can go buy something in a full-body bug suit.

On the bright side, cicadas lay their eggs in twigs, so I don’t have to worry about THAT, since here on the far side of thirty, nothing will ever mistake my ass for a twig.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch…

By | Gardening Downtime | 5 Comments

It is now cool enough in the morning that I can sit out on the front steps with coffee. This is an improvement. I still can’t do yardwork worth a damn, but I can at least sit there, and stare at the garden, and go “Why did I ever think that seven-foot-tall weirdass South American pea-plant would fit in a bed that size?”

I have plans, once fall hits and I start the new big bed in the front, to move a bunch of plants. We’ll see how it works out.

Meanwhile, condemned to work indoors, as I slowly continue to paint the living room, I find myself looking at design and decorating blogs, with the voraciousness and mild shame with which normal people look at porn.

You know how it is…you skim through one at random until you find something that looks like something you might actually DO, then you follow the link to another blog, and wander through the zillion links attached to it. Unfortunately, there’s so few things that look like anything I’d actually do. I did not consider the seventies a pinnacle of design, and I tend to avoid Shabby Chic because, in a house with this many cats, everything will be shabby in short order without any effort or distressed paint finishes on my part. And there is usually too much fiddly crap on the walls. I am not fiddly. This is not because of bold pop-art aesthetics, it is because I lack patience and manual dexterity. Some of those stencil-transfer-y things kill me. You’d have to have the fingers of a fairy safecracker to get the swoopy swirly things laid out right.

Nevertheless, I keep browsing. I cannot help myself. How are these women–they are almost always women–taking these photos? Do they lug a studio light around with them at all times so that they can take extreme close-ups of their artfully arranged muffins?* Who photographs their lunch with such exquisite care? I admit it, I’m jealous. My lunches tend to consist of a microwaved Lean Cuisine or a nuked bowl of leftovers, which Kevin, in deference to my culinary failings, carefully arranges into “Artist Sized Portions” which can be shoved as-is into the microwave the next day. They are often tasty, but not really suitable for the extreme close-up photo with the soft focus fading into a blurry bowl of peonies in the background.  For one thing, I would need peonies, and having inherited one at my last house and discovering just how much care those plants need, I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me.

Several of the blogs told me that they were about “living the authentic life.” This phrase struck me in particular, because I had never considered the authenticity of my life before.  Being prey to the gnawing insecurity which afflicts most of humanity, I immediately assumed that my life was not authentic and went to the blog for answers.

After nearly an hour of browsing, I am still in the dark about what is required, although according to the photos, coordinating napkin rings may be essential. This may be where I have gone wrong. I do not own a napkin ring. It always seemed pointless, what with also not owning napkins. (I suppose I could stick paper towels through the napkin rings…)

Anyway. After part of an evening of such browsing, I gave it up and just went over to Catalog Living instead, which is at least funny.

Only another month until the heat breaks. I hope.

*Not a euphemism.

Henry Mitchell

By | Uncategorized | One Comment

I spent my three or four days of illness reading several books by garden writer Henry Mitchell, who had a gardening column called “Earthman” for twenty-odd years, and was a damn fine writer all around. I have enjoyed the books so thoroughly that I was sad to start the third one and discover that it began with his eulogy. He died with dirt on his hands, in his seventies, planting daffodils, and that is absolutely the best one can hope for in life, but still, I wish I could’ve sent him an e-mail and thank him for a couple of these essays.

We are completely different sorts of gardeners, mind you. He loved roses and irises and daylilies and dozens of exotics, and here I am mucking about with all these natives and warring on honeysuckle with the fervor of a Knight Templar stranded in the middle of Saracen Jerusalem.  Still, what strikes me is the great similarity of gardeners in his columns–regardless of what you plant, you are probably behind on the weeding, you probably have conceived grandiose projects when there were mundane tasks going begging, you have undoubtedly planted things too close and in the wrong place and are now disgruntled that you cannot find a plant without digging through the shrub over it, and you have lost plants and you have crazy great ideas that have already been abandoned or changed beyond recognition and the plant you coddled died and you cannot remember why that other plant was a good idea even though you loved it at the time, and hey, look, a hummingbird!

And wherever you are, you wish you were at least a zone warmer so that you can grow that one Really Cool Plant. This is a Great Truth. Plotting how to keep my hardy Russian pomegranate alive has cost me more mental anguish than entirely healthy, and never mind that I can grow hibiscus and jasmine here and that pineapple sage is a perennial shrub and there are gardeners farther north who would be grateful just to overwinter lavender.  Ingrates, the lot of us.

A few of these really struck me. There was a line he repeated frequently, which is “This garden is a result of doing unnecessary things that we could not afford in the wrong season,” and which I love dearly. And the statement that garden design is entirely overrated and we are far too obsessed with it–a garden is for the gardener, and while good design is a beautiful thing, the important thing is that the gardener know the plants and take joy in them, and if that means plants in bizarre places where they are completely aesthetically wrong, then so be it. The gardener will love it nonetheless.  To someone like me, who’s garden design skills are rudimentary at best, this is nothing less than absolution.

My favorite, though, was “On the Defiance of Gardeners” about all the calamities that constantly strike the garden.

I smile when I hear the ignorant speak of lawns that take three hundred years to get the velvet look (for so the ignorant think.) It is far otherwise. A garden is very old (though not yet mature) at forty years and already, by that time, many things have had to be replaced, many treasures have died, many great schemes abandoned, many temporary triumphs have come to nothing and worse than nothing. If I see a garden that is very beautiful, I know that it is a new garden. It may have an occasional surviving wonder–a triumphant old cedar–from the past, but I know the intensive care is of the present.

…Now the gardener is the one who has seen everything ruined so many times that (even as his pain increases with each loss) he comprehends–truly knows–that where there was a garden once, it can be again, or where there never was, there yet can be a garden so that all who see it say, “Well you have favorable conditions here. Everything grows for you.” Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too. There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners.

Mr. Mitchell would not have approved of my black-eyed susans–upon which the goldfinches are currently snacking–and I would have cringed at his porcelainberry vine, but we might have found common ground on our hatred of Norway maples. And in being gardeners, of course.

Crawling back to life…

By | Day-to-Day, Insects, My Garden | 2 Comments

I appear to have pulled through the Martian Death Plague, thanks to a diet of tea and hot and sour soup.  I’m still running at maybe 80%, but that’s enough to get me up and in the garden and then to work on Ghostbreath rewrites. (I must be healthy. The state of household clutter is offending me, and Ben has decided I no longer need a 24-hour feline escort and he can go back to making sure no ninjas take over the bed.)

Common Buckeye on Zinnias

My trip to Da U.P. went well. My folks have a nifty little garden there, although the infinitely shorter growing season is telling–theirs looks like a garden, mine looks like a jungle. (Of course, some of that is planting thickness, too…) But they have a truly lovely and very arty garden, full of sculpture and monarch butterflies. I am envious.

Also, I saw a fisher. It looked like a black raccoon. I don’t think I’m gonna get one of those in the garden, regardless of how many native plants I put in, although my buddy Eve suggested a porcupine-on-a-stick feeder as a possible attractant.

Meanwhile, my garden kept on keepin’ on in my absence. I went out this morning for some watering and general poking around, and saw that the milkweed assassin bugs are mating and there’s another bizarre yellow-and-lumpy assassin bug on the vervain. (My yard is Assassin Central. It’s a good thing, but since the guides on-line inform me that the gardener is likely to see only one or two a year, I am bemused.)  Saw my first Common Buckeye flitting around, and there’s a spicebush swallowtail lurking on the back deck that I hope means caterpillars for my potted spicebush.  The milkweed has been eaten down by aphids, the pink turtlehead bloomed and was promptly chewed on by something, and my Tennessee coneflowers all died. That’ll teach me to get plants on clearance…

Generally, however, the garden is good–scruffy, overgrown, not at all tidy, starting to die back in places from the heat, but definitely alive and well.

Teeny Tiny Anole

By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

I am really likin' the iPhone for these quick nature shots. I'd never have gotten my good camera out in time to capture this guy.

Carolina anole! This is the smallest one I’ve ever seen–he was barely an inch long without his tail, and every single one of his little ribs was visible.  (For a sense of scale, those are blueberries. Small blueberries.) He was hanging out in the potted spicebush on the back deck, and I was actually checking for caterpillars when I saw him. I suspect he must have hatched fairly recently–we’ve been seeing all these little tiny anoles and five-lined skinks this year, more than Kevin says he’s ever seen, so my tentative guess is that the garden brings bugs which brought lizards which reproduced this year.

This one might even have come from an egg laid in the potted plants–apparently momma anoles are not terribly concerned about where they drop their clutch, as long as the soil is soft. (Which, come to think of it, might be the REAL reason we’ve got all these young ones–it’s pretty much hard clay subsoil everywhere except where I’ve put in the garden beds, so maybe it’s not a matter of food but of nest space…)

Never let the weeds get higher than the garden…

By | Birds, Day-to-Day, Insects | 3 Comments

…as Tom Waits sang, and if you don’t own a copy of “Mule Variations” or at least the song “Get Behind The Mule” hie thee to iTunes at once.

It’s finally been cool enough these last few days to do some gardening. Saturday was a rough morning here in the House of Squash, so I did what grumpy gardeners have done since time immemorial–I stomped out to the garden and did some savage weeding.  The corner of the bed that had been taken over by bermudagrass and millet is once again safe for democracy, or at least lavender. Later cool days allowed me to finish the foundation planting at last.

Frankly, the garden’s less than spectacular at the moment—I am very fond of it, but in the manner of a parent who thinks their child is beautiful even when it has chicken pox and is screaming its head off. Everything went dormant in the heat and then we got two days of torrential rain, whereupon everything grew six inches and fell over. The swamp sunflowers are laying across the black-eyed susans, the zinnias are making a break across the lawn, and the whorled milkweed got eaten down by the woodchuck again.

I am keeping a list of plants that I need to stake next year. This list has grown long enough that it may require staking itself.

Photo by Cody Hough, college student and photographer in the Michgian area, from Wikimedia Commons

The wildlife, however, has no qualms about the untidiness of the garden and continue to visit. The sprawling mass of hummingbird mint supports no less than three hummingbirds, none of whom can stand the sight of each other. (And all female, oddly enough. Haven’t seen a single male.)  Orange hummingbird mint–a type of hyssop–is native to the Southwest and Mexico, so I plant it with a twinge of guilt–nectar is cheap! I should use natives!–but it’s absolutely hands down the best hummingbird plant I’ve ever found.  It also attracts snowberry clearwing moths, so I feel a little better about it, and it’s related to giant blue hyssop, which IS native, so…y’know.  (The hummingbirds can’t stand the clearwings either. Or large bees. Or butterflies. Or anything in their airspace. Hummingbirds are jerks.)