Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Staying Together by Being Apart

Mars and I had spent an hour and a half before lunch de-leafing most of our lawn. Now, after re-energizing my body with a bowl of homemade lentil soup and two apple fritters from the orchard where we had picked apples that morning, I was finishing off the final third. 

 It was sixty-degrees and sunny and I had just decided that any activity that works up a mild sweat on such a day counts as exercise. Now I was mulling over the phrase “crisp Magnolia leaves”, and wondering whether the southern relatives of our Connecticut-based tree experienced the same early autumn fate – while at the same time briskly raking a gaggle of the large tan fronds onto my snow shelf. I suddenly became aware of a shiny black Mercedes Benz in my peripheral vision and looked towards it as its passenger-side power window descended. 

 “Excuse me. This may seem like a stupid question but….” 

A well-dressed fortyish woman was speaking to me. An equally stylish man was in the drive’s seat. I thought for a moment that I was in a Grey Poupon mustard commercial. 

“…but we are from Florida. And I was wondering, does the town pick up all these leaves?” 

By now I was standing next to my two-foot high, thirty-yard wide pile of dead foliage leaning on my rake in my most gardenerly manner. Had Mars been available we could have enacted a northeast suburban LL Bean version of Grant Woods’ “American Gothic” painting. 

“Wethersfield does. Some towns require you to bag them. Others do nothing.” 

“I noticed that the wind blows some of them into other peoples yards,” she said in a tone that sounded like a born-again horticultural missionary preaching to a less-than-sharp, third world subsistence farmer. 

 “Sometimes it does.” I replied. 

 “That seems like an awful lot of work.” – same voice, more disbelief. 

“It is. That’s why we love Connecticut.” 

 I expected her to ask if she could photograph this quaint New England custom and its odd practitioner. But instead they both smiled, her window closed, and they drove away. 

 Further proof of a theory I developed while Mars and I were on vacation in coastal North Carolina - the reason the United States remains as united as it does, is because our geographic size allows people who totally do not belong together to be far enough apart that neither one knows or cares that the other exists.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Picky, Picky, Picky

First there was just one spontaneously generated bush.  Now Marsha and I seem to have a Rose of Sharon forest forming in the area of our new sun garden.  (This growing area was previously our modestly successful shade garden until the vagaries of Mother Nature necessitated the removal of the tall trees that were keeping the plot in perpetual daytime darkness.)

We don’t know how it got started, but we are thrilled – however apparently not all gardeners would agree with us.  This is a fair sampling of what folks on the Inter-web have to say: “the shrub has a bad habit of covering the yard with seeds. The seeds quickly sprout into dozens of Rose of Sharon seedlings, and if left undisturbed, they soon crowd out other desirable plants in your garden” – “invasive” – “extremely invasive” – “if you let it, it will take over everything!”

To which I say, “Picky, picky, picky.”

Not to brag, but our property is already home to several plants that we knew by repute would strive to aggressively take over their surroundings and several others whose pedigree contraindicates such bellicosity but whose behavior belies their polite reputation.

And a large part of my gardening activities involves riding herd on these trespassers in order to (a) keep them confined to the area within which we have decided they should live and (b) preventing them from killing off their neighbors in that plot.

Sometimes that job is easy.  I’ve had a small Tansy plot for probably about a decade now – the result of a gift from (believe it or not) a Master Gardener who did, in fairness to her, caution Mars and me about the plant’s proclivity to spread.  Fortunately the slight root system of these herbs allows for easy plucking.

Not so true for Physalis alkekengi, aka Chinese lantern or Japanese lantern – the former name provided by a Japanese friend, the latter by a Chinese one.  I never pursued the reason for the cross-cultural nomenclature other than getting the impression that each of them considered the flower to me not much more than a weed with a colorful cover over its fruit and therefore was unwilling to grant the colorfully orange plant membership in their ethnic group.

This crop came from one of the plant sales of the Mens Garden Club o Wethersfield – not as reliable a source as the Master Gardener program, but still!  The Gardener’s Network website says “Once your Chinese Lantern plants are established, they will grow well, with little or no attention, for many years.”  This might be the understatement of the century.  With a root system that seems to extend to, well, China – and a propensity to pop up miles away from their home base – these peripatetic perennials provide at least two person-days of labor every year.

Other traveling plants in our domain include gooseneck loosestrife, goutweed (another Garden Club plant sale purchase), and False Dragonheads (ironically named Obedient plants – another plant sale boondoggle).

The most persistent invasives on our land however are the up growths of long-gone Flowering Crab trees, which were removed from our property as part of our retirement plan to re-landscape our yard.  These bushes had long predated our occupancy and had long ago ceased to be anything other than a tangle of flowerless crisscrossing, barbed branches with juicy little berries that tore and stained my shirt and skin every time I tried to prune it back – to the point where I could not tell the juice from the blood.

At least twice I hacked the two of them down to the ground in hopes that they would, like the Phoenix, arise in beauteous glory from their stumps – only to have them return to their previous condition only with more and sharper barbs.

 Finally we had them removed professionally – roots and all.

Or so I thought.  Familiar looking branches began appearing in random places across our property.  I would cut them back.  More would appear elsewhere. I would lop them down.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. – to this day.

We all want to feel that what we do matters. The best thing about invasive plants is that they really make a gardener feel needed.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

I'll Be There For You

Just cuz you feed them

Pigeons aren’t really your friends –

Kinda like Facebook.