Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gardening With Willis

There was a day last week when the sun shone.  
Daylight came softly, the air was cool, the sky pearl colored. 
A pair of mourning doves sailed onto the bleached grass beyond the side porch, leaned close together as though in intimate conversation;  cardinals flashed through the scrubby trees beyond the gravel drive;  the sudden drumming of a woodpecker reverberated from farther up the ridge.

 By mid-morning the sun rode a clear blue dome of sky.
 I opened windows in the bedroom and kitchen, allowed the wood fire to dwindle to mere embers.
I made excuses to be outside, exploring, hoping for assurances of spring.
My heirloom clematis--a cutting from the one planted by Haskel Rogers in Gradyville--was lured by the warmth of late February to put out leaves and buds prematurely.
After each cold night I go out to inspect the damage.  Some frost blight is evident but the buds persist.

At the edge of the woods behind the stable, spring beauties [claytonia] thrust their delicate blooms above the clutter of dried leaves.

I want to believe I've found a small clump of hepatica--one of the first woodland flowers to blossom in my native Vermont.

Back in what passes for a garden,  I discovered that monarda/bee balm planted last spring has not only survived but established a promising clump of small plants.
Encouraged by this I fetched a slender pointy trowel, folded an old scatter rug for a kneeler, and attacked the weeds threatening to throttle the perennial strip.

Willis, like Alice's Cheshire Cat, has a way of soundlessly appearing whenever I settle to gardening.
I had been on my knees only a moment or two when I felt a nudge at my elbow and heard his familiar polite " Purr-rup" of greeting.
The brick walk had taken on the warmth of the sun, and Willis made himself comfortable, flopping down a yard or so beyond me.
He began a leisurely grooming session, pausing for a quick glance around at each bird call, stiffening to attention when Sally-the Troll-Cat dared to march along the retaining wall.
I stretched out a hand to massage behind his ears, prompting a rumbling purr.

I hitched my way along the walk, attempting to ignore the carpet of weeds behind me, prying out the clumps I could reach in front of me, sadly noting the sodden brown stems where salvia should be emerging,  but encouraged to see that phlox and dianthus had come through the winter.

I weeded until I was along-side Willis and mildly tendered a suggestion that he move to another section of the walk so I could continue working.
In response Willis rolled onto his back, then appeared to subside at the edge of the walk.
I edged tentatively into the space beside him only to be smacked by a swift right hook.
I sputtered indignantly; Willis glared through a slitted eye, then calmly resettled himself,
 blocking my way.

Grumbling, I clambered up, knees creaking, and continued my weeding on the other side of the domineering feline.
Willis, unperturbed and in control of the situation, gazed limpidly into the pasture beyond the wall.
I continued digging, prying out the tough shoestring roots of mugwort, lifting mats of chickweed, ground ivy, deadnettle-- already covered in purple flower heads.
I yanked up weeds whose names I have forgotten, all categorized as 'difficult to completely eradicate.'
My fingers were caked in damp soil, my back was protesting, and I pondered, not for the first time, that this attempt to create a garden is perhaps a losing battle.

I grubbed on, reaching the corner where the board fence joins the retaining wall.
The sun was moving behind the ridge to the west of the house, a light breeze cooled the air.
I lumbered to my feet, glanced around for Willis.
He was still reclining on his patch of the brick walk, but noting that I was on the move, he came to his feet stretching luxuriously, mouth opening in a pink yawn.

Displaying the contrariness typical of the feline tribe,  Willis abandoned the  brick walk.
As I put my tools away he strolled to the fence corner, maneuvered behind the prickly branches of a rugosa and reestablished himself against the sun-warmed weathered planks of the garden fence. 
 I climbed the steps, passed my tiny winter-ravaged herb patch, noting lavender and lemon thyme in bad need of pruning.
The urge to garden, to coax beauty from an unpromising strip of ground is strong, perhaps still strong enough inspiration to tackle invasive weeds, to counter rickety knees, to persist in nurturing plants toward the miracle of bloom.
Whatever I decide to attempt in this season's garden, I can be assured I will have a companion: the exasperating but ever-faithful Willis.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Moods of Spring

The view down the lane on Monday morning [my camera didn't change the date until the next photo.]
March snow is not unexpected, but even in this area of relatively mild winters,  a late snowstorm is met with resignation rather than delight.
Area schools were closed--most likely because the county roads wind up and around the ridges posing some potential for early morning accidents.

 The snow was wet and heavy, but susceptible to the sunshine which broke through about 9 o'clock.
Daylight saving time began this weekend. I do wish that whatever powers decide such things would settle on one mode of keeping time throughout the year.

Weeds behind the retaining wall leaning with the weight of snow.

Every branch, twig and blade of grass was coated in snow, sparkling brilliantly against the blue sky.

Cardinals and bluejays bounced about dislodging clumps of snow.
The cats were disgruntled, unwilling to wade through the thick wetness to their usual morning look-out spots. 

On Sunday morning I began clearing tufts of dried grass and weeds from the area below the cement landing at the foot of the sidewalk steps. Several of the cats hovered, interested in my doings.  Willis was inspired to race about, then flung himself into a clump of wild onion, embracing it.

Tulips planted by the former owner, nestled at the foot of a cedar tree.

Bobby Mac monitors the back yard from his vantage point on the timber that borders a perennial strip.
Thank to blog reader Mundi, I've made an identification of the weed which is taking over the garden. The former owner had a load of topsoil brought into the area below his new workshop--the weeds came with it.  Mundi suggested 'mugwort,' a member of the artemisia genus. One of its colloquial names is 'chrysanthemum weed;' the leaves of the young plants resemble chrysanthemum. I really made the connection when I caught the scent of the leaves I had crushed--a scent very similar to southernwood--though not as pleasant.
I'm not encouraged to read that with its system of tough sprawling roots, the weed is nearly impossible to eradicate.

Sunshine, clouds, blustery winds, rain, snow: we've had it all in the past two weeks.

By the time I left the house today at 10 to drive to the shops in the South Fork Mennonite community, the snow was melting. Trees line the narrow road that leads to the main highway.  As I drove slowly along snow fell from the trees, splattering the windshield, melting as it struck the glass.

When I returned an hour later, the fields that border the river road glistened with puddles of snow melt, roadside daffodils had shed their white burden.

There are two more frosty nights in the forecast before temperatures rise again.
In town the spring shrubs were in bloom last week: tulip magnolias, forsythia, weeping cherry; Bradford pear trees were covered in frothy blossom. 
I recall how two years ago this early bloom was blighted by frost, leaving sad brown remnants clinging where lively color had been. 

When the wind blows cold and icy rain falls, the boy cats decide to come inside.
Bobby Mac and Nellie sprawl on the table by the alcove window.

Charlie and his daughter Mima have wedged themselves into the padded wooden box.
Neither one is blessed with much in the way of intelligence--both are too stubborn to give up their place.

I mark time: riding with Jim on errands, reading, yearning over the seed and nursery catalogs, mentally designing improbable gardens. 
Spring, more than any other season, is capricious--luring us with warm breezy days and blue skies, retreating into sulks of cold drizzle and lashing wind.
With the comparative flexibility of retirement we simply take each day as it comes.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Daffodil Weather

Face Book presented me this morning with a 'memory'--a link to a blog post of March 1st, 2017. 
Scrolling idly through, I noted that my description of late February weather could be copied to today's post, a relevant record of the 2018 season as the calendar page is turned to March. 
The same alternating pattern of chilly rain, warmer days, daffodils in bloom, has prevailed.

Daffodils are not always in bloom here at the end of February. A mild winter often witnessed the ones planted near our first Kentucky house with fat buds straining open in late January, inevitably to be blighted by subsequent frost. 

Each springtime I wonder at the profusion of daffs naturalized in roadside clumps and sweeping swaths along the verge of meadow or woodland.  A few escapees from a garden here and there gone wild would be understandable, but the origin of thousands of blooms statewide boggles the mind.

Local folks refer to the flowers as 'March lilies'--a term I stubbornly refuse to adopt.
We moved from Wyoming to Kentucky in mid-March, 2010, a lumbering convoy of three heavy vehicles hauling our worldly goods, eight cats and an elderly horse.

The sky was grey and an icy wind from the mountains was already blowing down  the first stinging flakes of snow as we rolled onto the highway.
By the time we stopped for that first night in Nebraska an early spring blizzard had caught us up, a storm that slowed our three day journey over highways coated in varying layers of snow, sleet and ice. 
On Sunday, trundling through the corner of Indiana, the persistent snow tapered to a fine mizzle of rain. Winter-browned fields were taking on an encouraging hint of green.  Crossing into Kentucky in early afternoon, now only hours from our new home, I noticed here and there the clumps of yellow trumpet flowers scattered along the roadside. "Those look like daffodils, " I remarked, rubbing at the side window of the motor home for a better view. 

Incredibly, this marks the 4th springtime that I have watched for the emergence of daffodils at the foot of our lane.  The blooming of these  sunny wildlings signals the awakening of gardens, concurrent with the cronking calls of the sandhill cranes in laboring flight overhead and the mating song of the cardinal from the stunted dogwoods on the steep slope above the retaining wall. 

The Double Red Knock-Out rose has a flush of new leaves, slightly ahead of Hawkeye Belle and the nameless shrub rose at the bottom of the garden.

Clematis Candida is alive and well. 

A few papery leaves and remnants of seed heads cling to the vine. 
Today I planted some of the saved seeds in a container of soil--an experiment.

It has been too wet to set foot in the garden, but on two cloudy and windy afternoons I trimmed dead stalks from perennials, troweled up weeds, leaning across the retaining timber from the dryer ground below.  I had help.

At any time of year I can go into the garden, not a cat in sight, and within moments feline companions arrive. 

I don't know the name of the weed which is once again over-taking the iris in the raised bed.  It is not one that I have encountered anywhere but in this garden. The former owner had soil trucked to this spot several months before we acquired the property and I suspect this invasive foreigner came with it.  The plant quickly develops a woody stem and seems to spread by a system of  tough 
underground runners. 

Grubbing, weeding, mulching, over three summers seems to have encouraged the weed, here threatening to overtake an emerging phlox.
I am close to admitting defeat with this planting area--my knees are not equal to hours of close encounters with tangled roots and the smothering growth of this nameless pest.

On a more cheerful note, all three of the potted miniature roses are showing new growth. 
The roses arrived as a birthday gift last March from my son and his dear wife.  They appeared as one plant, cunningly tucked into a small pot, the buds showing a mere hint of dark red.

When I decided to repot I discovered the bounty of three plants. Once the weather had warmed I moved them into large pots on the cement walk that rims the front porch.
I was concerned for winter hardiness, but trimmed the plants back and bedded them under a layer of leaves. The pots spent the winter lined against the porch wall that adjoins the garage ell.

Sunless days with pewter skies, pounding rain at night.

Days with the needle climbing to high 70's F on the thermometer outside the kitchen window.

Days of wind, sending clouds forming, breaking, re-forming across blue skies.

Today, spatters of rain and gusty wind as we arrived home from errands.
Drizzle that segued into a downpour, sheets of silver blown against the windows.

An hour later, the rain moved on.

This first day of March has been both lion and lamb, ending with sunshine on greening pastures,  and the rain fed brook in spate as it follows the lane to the road.