Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Always Room for One More

Okay. So Mars and I are now the proud owners of three, possibly four, teasels, two agastache and a pair of perillae.   And a week ago I didn’t even know what they were.  

It all began when we returned from our week of golfing at Penn State University – a school run by the Women’s Varsity coach and her staff under the auspices of the Road Scholar (nee Elderhostel) Program.  Among the seven messages left on our answering machine was one from F*, a fellow member of my men’s garden club, urgently requesting that I call him ASAP, immediatly followed by a second more insistent communiqué left the following day talking about a “once in a lifetime opportunity’.

Normally I ignore such telephonic entreaties but knowing the caller I overrode my bias and phoned him.  Still I was half expecting to hear a deep male Nigerian accent (which F* is not) telling me in halting English that he was stranded in some European country with his credit cards and passport stolen and needing $350.00 to buy his way home. Instead I got, “The number you have reached is no longer in service”

I checked the online white pages, called again, and got the same message.  Figuring that he might have some sort of electrical or telephonic problem, and having his office phone number I left a message on that machine and went about the business of retuning home.   It was the same story the next day so Mars and I took a ride to his house to investigate.

 F* and his wife were in the throes of changing their home landline service provider and without connectivity for a few days during the cutover – hence the communications blackout.  All was well but F* wanted to go for a short ride with Mars and me to see the source of his great excitement.

We slowly weaved our way through the short, narrow streets of the historic district of our town and pulled up in front of the house belonging to C* – master gardener extraordinaire and widow of a former club member.  Along the way F* told us that C* is moving from her house and the new homeowner planned to bulldoze under all of her plants, mostly perennials, and replace them with a solid grass lawn.  So C* is allowing her friends to come and take what they want in order to save the plants.  

He warned us to expect to see a few cars and trucks parked at the scene – there were four plus a large trailer.  It was ninety degrees and sunny.  And there were a larger number of gardeners armed with thick glove, black plastic pots, and shovels working diligently in the hot August sun – not all of whom were visible among the literally hundreds of plants of various kinds and heights that were growing on pretty much every inch of C*’s property.

A few of the bushes were already reserved with paper tags and yarn much like you might find at a Christmas tree farm in early December – some by horticulturalists from our state university; a couple by savvy landscaping companies; and one or two by other master gardeners.  Many quite rare breeds, still unclaimed, sat hidden in the shadows of more pedestrian strains such as a ten-foot tall purple Butterfly Bush, behind which nestled a type of evergreen that apparently lost its needles every fall and completely regenerated them in the spring ,yet still retained its “evergreen” status.  I personally could identify about half of what I saw in front (and on every side) of me.

You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting an unusual plant.

Well actually there wasn’t enough room to brandish a departed,  or living, feline.  – probably by design.   The garden’s theme was plants that attract birds – a purpose towards which Mars and I decided to work in our own yard a couple of years ago.  In light of that, and under C*’s expert guidance, we selected some teasel – a three to eight foot tall plant with purple, dark pink or lavender flowers that form a head on the end of the stem. 

The seeds mature in mid autumn and can be a winter food resource for Goldfinches and other birds.  (The dried head of the plant was used in the textile industry to provide a natural comb for raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.)  It is a self-seeding biannual that apparently spreads like crazy.  I am used to that however, already spending a good chunk of my gardening time corralling the tansy, goose-neck loosestrife, Chinese lanterns and other space seeking plants that we have previously adopted.

We also took a pair of agastaches which we mistakenly thought were “just the right size” butterfly bushes.  Pale purple in color these perennials also attract goldfinches – which Mars and I personally can never get enough of.  The small leaves smell like mint – the plant is sometimes called Hummingbird Mint – and like its namesake and our other acquisitions it apparently it also is an inveterate land grabber.


Our final acquisition was perilla – an actual member of the mint family, which can be added to salads.  According to Wikipedia “the plant is self-sowing….has been widely naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada, from Texas and Florida north to Connecticut and into Ontario, and west to Nebraska. It can be weedy or invasive in some of these regions.”


I planted the three varieties in a largely sunny area within a few feet of each other and near to some of the other perennials that provide stalking shelter to the neighborhood cats that hunt on our property.

 I am not trying to crowd out these domesticated predators – there is still more than ample room to twirl one of more of them about should the opportunity present itself.  Nor am I attempting to attract more bright yellow meals for them to prey upon.

The “theme” of our garden, if any, is that there is always room for one more plant – especially if otherwise its next stop would be the compost pile, or even worse the hostile blade of a maleficent bulldozer.

 Thanks C*.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stopping at the Wild Carrot for a Nightcap on the Way Home

Drunken drones searching

for a queen stumble over

white lacy clusters.

(Daucus carota (common names include wild carrot, (UK) bird's nest, bishop's lace, and Queen Anne's lace (North America)) is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to temperate regions of Europe, southwest Asia and naturalised to North America and Australia. Domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

L’ombre et Lumiere - Deux

First there was one.  Then there were two.  Then one again.  Then none.  And somewhere between the second one, and none – the golf balls got rearranged.
I’ve already reported on our first black and white visitor whose arrival just preceded Mars and my culinary L’ombre et Lumiere adventure.  For several days he (we assume) returned to the scene of his original trespass and dutifully trundled away when one or both of us announced our approaching presence with slammed car doors, honking horns, or clapping hands.
 It was becoming a normal part of our lives until we returned at dusk from an evening of Carillon music and conversation at our most local college to discover that (a) he did not react as expected to our loudly announced arrival, and (b) there was a second black and white ball of fur slinking through the flowerbed that guards our family room door and normal entrance.
Mars and I loudened our requests for the newly formed couple to leave – or at least step aside for a minute or so.  She (we assume) exited stage left into the thicker shrubbery of our quince bush.  And he (again assumed) trundled to the spot on our walkway immediately in front of the portal to which we were seeking admittance – whereat he looked toward us as if he was also expecting entry.  After being clapped at and verbally threatened by the two of us he reluctantly sidled into the bed of phlox abutting the living space whose doorway we desperately sought to traverse.
We could see the moonlit pink flowers atop their tall stalks swaying in sequence – tracing his earth-bound movements.  Moving rapidly and carefully watching his telltale trail Mars and I slipped quietly into our house and closed the doors behind us.
For the next few dusks only one (who knew which) of the skunks appeared beneath our bird feeders. 
Then one morning I found two golf balls, which Mars apparently dropped while restocking her bag, placed in locations on our front lawn that could not be explained by Mars’ activities.  She immediately gathered them up and placed them on the periphery of the aforementioned flowerbed hoping to see if our uninvited bi-colored weasels happen to play their own version of the ancient Scottish game. 
And a few houses up the street we smelled, then saw, a crushed black and white and red road kill carcass.  Since that time neither skunk has been seen in our yard.  Nor have the golf balls moved.
Last evening we went out, and returned home at just about the same time as our previous doorway confrontation with the furry duo.   There was no sign of any skunks  –and the golf balls were still in situ.
It looks likely that the roadside corpse was “our skunk”.  Still I wondered about the second one.  “Did we interrupt an unsuccessful first date?”  “Did our unwelcome presence contribute to the failed romance?”  Or, worst case, was “he” killed while out foraging for food for “her” who is resting back at the den “in a family way”?  And where is that hiding place?
As Mars and I learned in our college philosophy classes: not all questions have black and white answers; and you cannot prove a negative.
So what we saw, or didn’t see at 9:05 last night means nothing.  And as with so many other things, only time will tell.