Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gardening in the 70's

Tuesday, 7/30/19--My old camera refuses to update until several photos have been taken.

The large red digits on the bedside clock stood at 5:15; the room was dark and cool.
I turned toward the open window, dozed, woke an hour later, surprised to find that shapes outside were still wrapped in murky greyness. 
[Bedrooms are on the west end of the house--we don't wake to the sunrise.]
Slowly colors seeped into the room--the star pattern of the quilt emerging, cream walls, the grain of knotty pine doors.

Jim was planning an early start for one of his wheeling/dealing ventures; the cats were stirring.
Time to open the living-room curtains, turn on the kitchen light, greet the day.

Jim opened the front door, stood sipping coffee, muttering about the predicted rain which had 'gone around' us. 

Charlie and his son, Chester, guard the doorstep while I crunch along the driveway.
The sunrise was subdued, melting into shades of pearly grey.
Jim roared off, the sound of the diesel engine shattering the morning quiet.
I trudged downstairs and out to the back porch, tipping kibble into the dish for the 'barn cats.'
Viewed from the end of the porch, yesterday's transplanted foxgloves looked unwilted and sturdy.
I considered taking a day off from gardening, then, with a glance at the sullen sky, got out the rake and wheel barrow.
I had two bags of brown mulch left, not enough to cover the newly forked over area; the thought of mud-spattered small plants should rain come was a strong motivating factor.
Mown grass lay in browning swaths the length of the west lawn [a complimentary designation at this point!]
Trailed by a retinue of felines, I began raking. 

Bagged mulch was placed around the plants; two heaped wheelbarrow loads of  half-cured lawn clippings will help to smother weeds in the strip behind the roses.
I have a vision now for a fence there to define the planting.

A brief shower of rain moved through, sending my cat companions to huddle on the doormat.
I remembered a tub of miniature 'tree lilies' that were in dire need of transplanting, stuck them into the ground in front of a rose bush.
A  bucket of weeds and stones carried off, tools put away.

Checking and watering some of the plants untidily waiting their turn for planting.

Having ruined a number of pairs of shoes while gardening, I now wear rubber 'crocs' which save my shoes but make for muddy old lady feet.
I hosed both crocs and feet before heading inside to the shower.
[For those who might not know, the '70's' are my personal decade, not the era of long-haired hippies!]

My love of gardening reaches far back to childhood; Grampa Mac patiently showing me how to sow seeds of portulaca in the faded wooden planter on the front porch of the farmhouse.
My Dad's efforts with lilacs and butterfly bushes; a dear neighbor's sweet peas in delicate profusion beneath a parlour window.
I garden for the beauty of color and form; for the anticipation of cherished plants breaking dormancy in the springtime; for the pleasure of nurtuing seedlings, coaxing a young plant.
My gardens are not the well planned displays in glossy-paged gardening tomes;  I never achieve the formality of paved walks along well-mannered 'borders.'
I don't anticipate strolling through my gardens clad in a whispy pastel frock, admiring a weed-free presentation.
Gardens in my 70's have become a jumble of plants that thrive here, plants that have sentimental connections, plants I can raise from seed.
Gardening in my 70's is all about creaky knees, muddy feet, cat companions , butterflies on swaying stalks of coneflower.
I am blessed, in my 70's, to be out there doing what I love.

A thunderstorm and pelting rain at suppertime gave way to a quiet misty evening.

Looking east at twilight.

Willis, who made the evening rounds of the gardens with me.

West and the afterglow of a muted sunset.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Gardening With Help

I have spent the past two mornings working along the west retaining wall.
This area was tilled early in the spring, we picked rocks, and I planted five roses purchased on sale at my favorite nursery.  Three are David Austin roses, two are a smaller landscape rose. Several clumps of dianthus were also hastily interred there and left to their own devises.
Beyond that, I've given very little attention to this tentative garden, snipping off a rose bud now and then,  Inevitably grass and weeds took over.

Heavy rain a week ago made it impossible to work in the gardens for several days.
The back porch is crowded with pots and trays of seedlings, many of which are ready to be put into the ground.
If I am outside before 8 in the morning, I can work for about 2 1/2 hours before the sun comes around the corner of the house.
I began Sunday morning at the end nearest the foundation, sinking my sturdy garden fork into the soil to loosen a patch of weeds, then creaking down onto my knees to pull the weeds by hand.
The soil on that side of the house is slightly better quality than at the front of the house, but still very stony. I piled weeds and grass in heaps, made little piles of stones along the wall, lumbering to my feet now and then to stretch and collect the stones in a big bucket.
Lugging the bucket across the lane to tip the contents at the edge of the ravine proved to be tiresome.
Trudging to the barn to collect the wheel barrow I had to shout over the noise Jim was making with the DA sander. 
"Wheelbarrow!" I bellowed. "Where is it?"
Jim thought for a moment, then flapped a hand in the direction of the veg garden.
With the wheel barrow alongside the retaining wall, I began flinging in armloads of wilting weeds and the rocks, small and large which I had scrabbled out of the soil.
The cats watched with interest.
Of course I had loaded the barrow beyond what I could manage and nearly went over on top of it when I tipped the mess out at the edge of the woods.
Monday being day 2 of intense labor, I had to convince my aching muscles that we could really do this.
I used a sturdy hand digger to smooth the soil disturbed in yesterday's weeding, extracted more rocks.
I set in the clary sage which had become unhappy in its big pot by the front door. 
I chose six of the largest foxglove plants, set them in place.
I dug behind the roses, a plan forming in my mind: a low fence following the angle of the retaining wall; that would define the space, make it more manageable.
The sun edged around the corner of the house and Jim appeared with it.
"Have you eaten yet?" he demanded.
[It seemed a redundant question!]
I replied in the negative, indicating cats, plants, piles of weeds and stones.
"I need to go into town for some vehicle paint; do you want to go?"
I heaved myself awkwardly to my feet, brushed at the soil clinging to my jeans.
"I'll go with you if you'll empty the wheelbarrow for me and give me time for a shower. We can get breakfast in town."
It was an arrangement that suited.  Jim trundled off to dump out the wheel barrow; the cats followed me inside.
A late breakfast at Huddle House, errands accomplished, home to the cool house.
This evening I went back outside, watered the plants on the porch, checked on the foxgloves in their garden spot.
I potted on ballon flowers, Jupiters beard, more foxgloves; I dragged pots and trays about, watered again.  I acknowledged that the frailest of the clematis cuttings from Spring Hill Nursery is quite dead in spite of my cosseting. 
Lavenders that were slow to germinate in April have had a spurt of growth. The tiny rosemary seedlings will soon require individual pots. 
I'm beyond tired tonight, muscles aching in every possible place--but--I have the makings of gardens!

Robert and Nellie are companionable, but their 'help' often means swatting at my hands, flinging themselves down on a plant, or attempting to use my freshly turned earth as a latrine..

Charlie watches from the edge of the porch.

Robert has parked himself.

Nellie is adept at scrambling up the side of the house to sit on the porch.
Until he climbed up there this morning I hadn't noticed the drips of floor paint.

Nellie has had enough of gardeing for one morning!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Mid July

Looking east a few minutes after a mini-storm swept through.
A clap of thunder, 3 minutes of downpour and the evening sky casting a strange green-gold hue along the hedgerow.

The greenish glow gave way to tints of mauve and coral on a smokey grey background.

The full moon climbed through layers of clouds.

I lingered outside in the damp evening, loathe to go inside and miss the last fading colors.

Coneflowers held the deep pink of daytime, but my camera insisted on setting off the flash.

Coneflowers in an early [Wednesday] shower.

Willis, unflappable, waits in the lane while I crouch, transplanting pinks.
Recent mornings have been devoted to outdoor tasks, before the heat and humidity become challenging.  Jim roars about with the tractor dragging a box blade or bush hog, races an impending shower on the zero-turn mower.
After a well-watered start to the summer, July moved in with increasing lack of rain.
Prying weeds from the flower bed with my slender pointed trowel, I've found the soil resistant, unfriendly.
A succession of showers have passed over, the rainfall so slight as to barely wet the ground, although thirsty foliage has benefited.
Cloud patterns and colors shift quickly--a bit of sun-dappled blue in the east--steely grey moving in from the south west.
I've gone through so many bags of bark mulch that Jim suggested we use grass clippings. We took turns raking them up, then I spread them around the base of the second planting of tomatoes and cucumbers and along the hard-fought edges of the perennial strip.
Working around the tomato plants in the main garden I noted the unmistakable damage of a tomato horn worm on two adjacent plants, but couldn't locate the pest.
Half an hour later during another inspection I found it--a great fat one--and rudely dispatched it.

I was transplanting three clumps of Old Vermont pinks when the anticipated shower broke.
It moved through so swiftly that my coiled up hair and the back of my shirt were only slightly dampened.
The pinks have been available in limited quantity from my favorite online nursery, Select Seeds. 
I planted my original small clump in the gravely strip alongside the porch at the Amish farm and moved them here in the fall.  The flower is modest--a light clear pink, with single slightly frilled petals, the foliage is grey-green.

Pots and trays of seedlings clutter the lower porch---the Spanish Peaks foxgloves, usually sturdy-- haven't fared well--I think too crowded as sown in the original pot and the soil mix when I potted them on was too heavy for fragile stems.  I have less than a dozen of them.  Most of the Sutton's Apricot variety are sturdier. 

July is the season of daylilies; I see them planted in colorful groups, in long borders of a single color, or dotted in foundation plantings. Once settled in they seem impervious to stressful weather.
Perhaps I should have more of them.
July is also a time of pruning back many of the early blooming perennials, easing the demands of high heat and fluctuating moisture in the hope of fresh blooms in late summer.

We are well into the heat of high summer, yet already--not quite a month past the solstice--I notice that sunrise is later.
Evenings are still light until after 9 o'clock giving us an hour to work in the gardens after the sun has slipped behind the ridge.
We find things to do in the house during the heat of the day; the A/C keeps the rooms cool.
There are still some finishing tasks to be completed in the lower level of the house, and boxes of my worldly goods that need unpacking and sorting.
Meals are light, with plenty of fresh veg, few desserts and endless pitchers of iced tea.

There are days when I am frustrated by the length of my 'to do' list--not enough tasks accomplished.
I often need the gentle reminder that in our retirement years a new way of 'measuring' must evolve--one that is not a constant comparison to stamina and strength of earlier years.
The most important things will get done!

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Perils and Rewards of Gardening

More weeding, more mulching.

When these lilies are finished blooming they need a place in the ground.

Cockscomb came along from the Amish garden, a stowaway in several pots and tubs.

The nearer end still to be weeded and mulched yet again.

Double orange daylily.

Lemon verbena has been moved to a larger pot. In reading about the care, I find I should have been pruning it before it grew lanky.

Fragrant white phlox, 'Peacock.'

Parasitic weed, 'dodder' aka hellbine.

Planter near front door.

Roses rescued from Japanese Beetles.

The morning began as most summer mornings do, nursing the one cup of coffee I allow myself  while enjoying the rocking chair on the east porch.  Hummingbirds were busily darting and zooming around the feeders, cardinals trilling from a tulip poplar tree.
The sun came round the edge of the barn, shimmering on grass and leaves still wet from a predawn shower.
My eyes followed the flight of a hummingbird--a ruby-throated male--as he zipped away to perch on a leafy branch.

The driveway which runs along in front of the house is bordered by a rim of trees and wild shrubbery  spilling down into a narrow ravine.  There are tulip poplar, sycamore, water maple, ash, under-girded with redbud trees, tangles of wild blackberry, honeysuckle.
The effect even on a sunny morning is one of green darkness. 

Looking to the left of the hummingbird's perch, I registered a tower of vine smothering a feeble-looking ash tree. I stared for a moment more, than plonked my cup on the table and pounded inside to find Jim.

'There's kudzu growing on a tree in the lane!' I announced in ominous tones.
Jim [for once] paid immediate attention.
'Kudzu? Where? Are you sure?'
He rose to peer in the direction I pointed.

A road trip into Eastern Kentucky last week furnished many examples of kudzu [pueraria montana] at its invasive worst: ravines, hillsides, old pastures, roadsides, all  smothered in the invasive vines.

While Jim finished his coffee and his perusal of craigslist, I pulled up online images of the dreaded vine, studied the variables of leaf patterns.
Coming to peer over my shoulder he agreed that our specimen was most likely the hated weed.
I trudged out to my flower garden, Jim went to fetch his chainsaw.
Kneeling at the edge of the garden, I watched as he attacked the vine at its base, slicing through trunks as thick as his wrist.
When the roar of the chainsaw died away I offered, pessimistically, 'It will come back from the root,  begin climbing again from the stump.'
'No,' replied Jim, firmly, ' I intend to bush hog and keep all these edges trimmed. If I see another kudzu vine it will get the chainsaw!'

The great challenge of this new flower garden is to keep the perimeter free of encroaching weeds. The space was hastily tilled in the pasture east of the house site, plants thrust into the ground prior to the first killing frost last autumn. Undesirables blur the edges, requiring nearly constant forking, grubbing and mulching to give my flowers a chance.
I use a heavy broad-tined fork to loosen the sod, then crawl about on my knees pulling out roots of crabgrass, curly dock, dandelion, yanking at stubborn clumps of clover, yelping when I unwittingly grab the spiny stem of solanum carolinese, a horrid thing of the nightshade family.

Earlier this week, engaged in my constant warfare with pernicious weeds, I encountered a new one--a strange parasitic thing of fine yellow threads which had leaned in from a tangle of clover to wrap tenaciously onto the stems of a monarda.
Attempts to unwind the wiry stems and remove the tiny knobs of white blossom proved useless.
I ruthlessly cut the monarda nearly to the ground, carefully put the weed strands into a bucket to be emptied into the burn pit. 
Another google search identified this pest as a variety of 'dodder' aka hellbine.

An hour intended for the garden quickly becomes two hours or three. 
When the heat of the sun becomes too fierce and my aging knees register protest, I lumber to my feet, make my way indoors to the shower.

This week I have been stung by a red ant or two; I've dug splinters of mulch and spines from my fingers, thwarted a tick that was attempting to lodge between my toes.
I've pulled up the green beans that were riddled by Mexican bean beetle larvae.
I have crushed Japanese beetles copulating on the roses, spoiling the blooms as they began to unfold.
I've noted incipient blight on some of the tomato plants, an unhealthy yellowing of the acorn squash leaves.
Weeds; predators; parasites; garden pests.
A recitation of the woes encountered by gardeners echoes the doleful litany of the biblical prophet, Joel!
And yet--we have harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers from the garden.
Rescued roses tucked into tiny jugs and vases line the kitchen windowsill. 
The daylilies flaunt their colors, impervious to weeds and pests.
In their pots on the back porch the new clematis vines have sprouted fresh leaf clusters and started to venture up their supports.
I fret over the two Camelot foxgloves which seem to have succumbed after blooming, but have hopes for the seedlings growing in trays on the porch.
Small rosemarys and lavenders are holding their own; the pinks which crowded and outgrew their starter pot have been snipped back and settled in roomier quarters.
Some seasons are better than others; I feel the loss of favorite plants which fall victim to weather, blight or insect pest.
The disappointments and the labors are rewarded by the heady perfume of lilies, by the sight of butterflies alight on the coneflowers, by the crispness of the cucumbers sliced into a salad.

Each summer morning brings some new marvel of shape, color, scent or taste.
I groan about aching muscles, rant about insect pests, lose count of the bags of mulch trucked home from the garden center. 
I daresay in spite of the very real perils I'll continue to garden for as long as I can toddle out there to wield my trowel and fork.