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.


  1. If we didn't know it already, we could tell you are a Proper Gardener - plagued by the usual pests and unwanted invaders (here my worse enemy is GRASS - this place has never forgotten it used to be a field!!)

    It sounds like you have made good progress though and those beds you established last year are well-grown now. No Day Lilies out here yet but we had a really late start to stuff blooming due to the cold gloomy days. Even my Geraniums (bought in April and put in pots) didn't bloom until about 3 weeks ago!!

    I've heard of Dodder but never seen it - in the UK you will find it parasitic on moorland - gorse and heather. Well done with spotting the Kudzo vine - just read they can grow a foot a day and 60 feet in a season! My goodness - puts my Montana rubens in the shade!!

    Enjoy your garden - it keeps you fit even if it is challenging to those muscles and knees!!

    1. 'this place has never forgotten it used to be a field!!'--I like the was you express that--I'm sure I'm living with the same situation!
      We 'proper' gardeners are tenacious to a fault. I'm spending over an hour per day watering seedlings and potted plants, grooming, dead-heading.
      I gather that you googled kudzu vine and saw the photos of areas taken over by the pestilential things!

  2. You are one hardworking woman, in gardens and your home. You are an inspiration to me every time I read a post of yours.

    I have to deal with the dreaded air-potato vine.

    Happy Summer to you dear Sharon ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; I googled air-potato vine--I'm glad I'm not dealing with that one as well as the several local menaces.
      When I complain about gardening in the heat I remember the work you do in your Florida gardens--talk about heat and humidity!

  3. I have a lot of nightshade vine here and the Virginia creeper (Engelmann's ivy) is really an invasive species that I'm always pulling off evergreens and where I don't mow enough. But, if it's any encouragement, don't you think the first summer at a new place is always the worst as far as gardening results and with invasive weeds? At least that's what I think for what it's worth.

    1. Phil; I needed your common-sense reminder that we've taken on quite a task this year--that of building a house and attempting to establish gardens in a spot that for years has been over-grown pasture. The work is demanding for both of us and sadly, we don't have quite the stamina of former years.
      Still, the successes outweigh the losses. Thank you for reminding me that gardening and landscaping are always 'works in progress' with the results seldom predictable from one season to the next.