Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

One of them could be the name of the steadfastly loyal gal-pal in a Public Television kids program.  The other rhymes with weasel.  Which one would you worry about?

This looks to be a good year for the Hollyhock and Teasel in our yard.  Both were unplanned additions to our perennial collection – about ¼ of which is similarly rescued or gifted.  Both are biennials – i.e. their life cycles cause them to appear in public every other year.  Unfortunately, both are followers of the even-year side of the calendar.  Based on prior experience one of them appears not to feel the need to invite itself into locations other than the planting spot into which it was placed.  Mars and I acquired the other biennial in October 2014, this will be our first actual experience with it.
The Hollyhock came from New Mexico in 2008.  Mars harvested the seeds from plants in the front yard of our daughter-in-law and son’s house in Santa Fe.  We flew back home with the dry, little kernels surreptitiously stowed  in a Ziploc sandwich bag nestled within layers of soft clothing in Mars’ carry-on and scattered them into one of our perennial gardens at the start of the next planting season.  Now, having done it, I can see how the thrill and danger of illegally (or at least pretend illegally) traveling across the country with illicit contraband may have gotten many of our now infamous international drug cartel chiefs started in the business.  Mars and I could become “El Chapa” and (at a foot taller) “El Alto”.
Anyway that first set of Hollyhocks drowned in the abnormally wet spring of the following year.  So Mars brought back more seeds on our next trip west.  And the pink flowers have appeared in our yard biennially every since.  Thus far this year there are two.  With luck more will show-up.  They tend to hang around the same general area where they were planted in our garage-side perennial bed.  But most of that ground is claimed by other, more aggressive perennials, so the hollyhocks need to find an open space in order to get air-borne.  Unlike their pushy neighbors, many of which they will tower over when full grown, our Hollyhocks seem to be willing to settle for what ever room they are given.  Even though they are the centerpiece of the seal of the Tokugawa shogunate – the last feudal Japanese military government (1603-1867 ), our Hollyhocks act like the ones that I see in pictures forming a delicate pastel border around a genteel cottage at the Hamptons. 
The Teasel however, although not part of any martial artworks that I know of, is already looking a little frightening. 
On the fourth day of a recent dry, 90-plus degree “hot spell” Mars called me over to our garage-side garden where two teasels are growing and asked if I had watered the now three-foot tall, large-leaved plant.  I hadn’t.  Then she showed me the pool of h2o sitting in the cup formed by the bases of the top-most foliage.


I queried the Great Google and in an article called “The Teasel’s Water Tank” I read about the self-sufficiency and, dare I say it, belligerent attitude of our newest yard guest.
It turns out that this water tank arrangement is a common survival strategy for Teasel and other plants that strive to survive in sometimes harsh conditions  – hardly what it experienced at its former home and hopefully not at the current one, but evolution probably says it is better not to take any chances.
 In addition to a holding a supply of water, this make-shift moat also is a collecting vehicle for  “odds and ends of all kinds [including] tiny dead creatures, and sometimes little insects fall in and are drowned [creating] a strengthening mixture, which is very good for the plant when taken in small doses through, the tiny pores in its leaf-skin.”
Does this sound a little like the prototype for Audrey II – that vicious, raunchy plant that feeds on human blood, and is cared for by Seymour the Florist in the Broadway play and movie “LittleShop of Horrors”?
And it just gets better.
“….The teasel is a stout, sturdy plant, well able to take care of itself and provide for its own needs. It grows up straight and tall, often reaching a height of six feet or more, and with its sharp, stiff prickles it defies the attacks of all the hungry animals that come browsing near. The teasel is one of the prickliest of plants; its stems, its leaves, and even its large handsome flower-heads, are all armed with long, sharp spines. You cannot touch it without pricking yourself, and the boldest animal would shrink from having its tender mouth pierced by those sharp, needle-like spines, and so the plant is well protected against all four-footed enemies.”
We acquired one teasel, a pair of agastache which we mistakenly thought were “just the right size” butterfly bushes, and a few perilla (a low-growing purple-colored member of the mint family) in August 2014 from the yard of a Master Gardener and grower of rare and unusual perennials who was selling her house and property to someone who was not a Master Gardener and grower of rare and unusual perennials.  Mars was aware of the use of dried Teasel as tool in the processing of cotton – but other than that neither of us knew anything about any of these plants.  They were home and in the ground before I learned of the potential invasive habits of all three.
Last year the purple mint was the only one of the trio that showed signs of surviving the transplant.  It has not however turned up anywhere on our property this season as of yet.  The agastache meanwhile is standing tall with dainty pink flowers atop its slender three-foot tall stems exactly where it was stuck into the ground – and showing no outward signs of territorial aggression.

There are however now a total of five Teasel (six including the one that I brought to my Garden Club's Plant Sale) that have situated themselves in two different beds each at a 60 degree angle from the original plant. 
I think they are positioning themselves to use (if you are a basketball junkie) the “triangle offense” developed by Coach Phil Jackson with his champion Chicago Bulls, or some other equally esoteric form of geometric attack strategem.
And when I stand in the midst of their triangulated garden plan I think I can hear a small chorus of baritone voices singing Audrey II’s favorite song.

“Feed me, Seymour
Feed me all night long [laugh]
'Cause if you feed me Seymour
I can grow up big and strong.”
Well that is what we gardeners want all of our plants to be – big and strong – right?   I mean, what could possibly go wrong then?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Something I learned on Vacation

Part of this I found out from a sign posted in a front yard in Cape May, New Jersey.  The rest I figured our for myself.

Dog urine kills plants.

Some poisonous plants kill dogs.

The circle of life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ear Worm or Worm Hole?

“Welcome to Wildwoods” shouted the enthusiastic, disembodied female announcer.  I was preoccupied with looking around for the source and missed the next few words, until I heard “of our Star-Spangled banner.”

Another distaff voice, this one singing with a country-western music twang, took over.  Mars and I had stopped walking already so we remained in place for the duration.  I removed my baseball cap.  Three young tee-shirted men who were getting a boardwalk store ready for the season halted their work – but not their cigarette smoking.  The few other strollers continued strolling.  The song ended without applause – live or canned.

Without interruption or introduction Kate Smith’s rendition of "God Bless America" floated out of the set of speakers, which I now had located on a pole near where we were standing.  I recalled lining up with hundreds of runners on Thanksgiving Day morning in 2001 listening to the same tune.  They play it at the Manchester Road Race every year.  This time we all listened and some of us wiped tears from our eyes.  Today, fifteen years removed, the song still effected me.

We began walking.  Kate Smith hit her last high notes – and then we heard:

             “Spring'll soon be gone, summer's comin' on

            I'm-a dreamin' of lotsa summer love

            All I think about

            (Wildwood days)

            After school is out

            (Wildwood days)

            Headin' down the shore

            (Wildwood days)

            To have a ball once more

            Whoa whoa whoa whoa those Wildwood days

            Wild, wild Wildwood days, my baby

            Every day's a holiday and every night is a Saturday night

            Oh those Wildwood days, wild, wild, Wildwood days

            And then those party lights wild, wild Wildwood nights.”

I recognized the song – even knew many of the words.  As I tried to remember the artist, I saw the white on blue background mural with Bobby Rydell’s name and picture.

Mars and I got away for a few days to Cape May, New Jersey – four miles down the Garden State Parkway from Wildwoods at Exit 0.  It was our second trip to this seaside vacation locale where large numbers of the newly emerging Victorian middle class began “resorting” in the later 1800s when rail and ferry service from Philadelphia came on the scene.   Our first visit was three years ago when we bathed in Victoriana under the auspices of a Road Scholar program.  We came back for more things Victorian – Cape May is awash in “painted ladies” and such – but decided to also take a step into the more recent past by spending some time at Wildwoods.

 According to “The Guide to Wildwoods” created by the Doo-Wop Preservation League, “The completion of the Garden State Parkway in the 1950s triggered Wildwood’s boom making it accessible to millions of people from New York to Baltimore. Freed by the car they could find lodging far from the old center near the transit stations. This led to a new generation of car-oriented motels. Wildwood’s designers caught the spirit of the new age - not with the grim Stalinist modern of urban centers but with names and forms that conveyed the cool world of rock-n-roll, cars with tailfins, guys with slicked back hair and bobby-soxed girls rockin’ at the hop. Our name for this style is Doo-Wop. Taken from the nonsense lyrics of rock-n-roll that were calculated to enrage parents, it suggests Wildwood’s in-your-face design.” http://www.doowopusa.org/district/walking_guide.pdf

Although Mars and I grew up in the Doo-Wop era we are both much closer to the Victorians in taste and temperament – perhaps from a prior life?  Still it seemed like a fun thing, after spending after a couple of days wandering among the Palladian windows, Mansard roofs, Gingerbread trim, shark’s tooth shingles, pediments, turrets, and vestibules of the last half of the 19th century to travel forward in time and sample the bright, cheerful neon signs, space-age undulating curves, off-kilter angles, kidney-shaped pools, and blue plastic palm trees of the mid 20th.

Plus there is the award-winning Boardwalk featuring “38 blocks packed end to end with stores, shops, water parks, eateries, live entertainment and amusement piers with over 100 rides and attractions. The sights, the sounds and the smells of the Wildwoods Boardwalk are pure sensory overload!”  

Unfortunately (actually not) Mars and I were pre-season visitors – so none of the amusements and very few of the stores and restaurants were open.  This was still a little disappointing since we were hoping to have a slice of pizza at a place called Mack’s after getting recommendations from a health club acquaintance at home and from our breakfast waitress at the Inn of Cape May – the circa 1890 Victorian hotel at which we “were accommodated” for three nights, as the early guests would have said.

So we strolled the wooden Wildwoods’ boardwalk – taking pictures and turning down the discount offers from the small number of vendors who were honing their hawking skills.  In my mind I could picture a time-lapse film of the nearly empty promenade filling with more and more and more people until we were totally absorbed by the crowd.  It would be a Victorian’s (and our) worst nightmare.


 But the dreaded mob scene did not materialize, and after a half-hour or so we went back down to the equally deserted street and ambled among some of the Doo-Wop motels where 1950s travelers stayed.


At Cape May Mars and I did pretty much what the wealthy vacationers of 125 years ago had done before us: walked along the beach and the esplanade; ambled by  Congress Hall hotel where John Phillip Sousa and the Marine Corps Band provided music; wandered the streets and admired the architecture of well-maintained Victorian buildings – the major point of which was to impress other people with the owner’s social standing and wealth, and the guiding principle of which was that there was no such thing as too much; partook of sumptuous meals (although Irish Pub, Greek and Asian cuisine were not likely part of the local 19th Century palate); read Stephen King’s imagined history of JFK’s  assassination (Mars), and “The Woman in Gold” upon which the eponymous Helen Mirren moved was based; and we just relaxed.  Although we also had significant opportunities for a ”taking of the waters”, i.e. the waves of the Atlantic, we declined.  Several years back Mars and I read “Close to Shore”, a non-fiction book about the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916.  It’s been 100 years  – but still, why take any chances.  Besides, as the Victorians (and Jersey Shore residents) would say, the surf was friggin’ cold.

We returned home after four days at Cape May faintly tanned, pretty rested, and somewhat ready.

Our second day back in Wethersfield was the designated time for those of us in the Town’s Beautification Trust to plant flowers in the various concrete containers that we hope helps the appearance of Connecticut’s “Oldest Towne”.  One of my locations was right in the heart of our own historic district – 50 houses that were built before the American Revolutionary War, plus about 250 more constructed before the 20th century, about 100 of which were built prior to the American Civil War.

My Jeep’s radio was tuned to the eclectic, “Alternative Public Radio” station at which Mars and I also volunteer. When I turned on the ignition to leave after finishing my work I heard – really, you couldn’t make this stuff up –

            “Whoa whoa whoa whoa those Wildwood days

            Wild, wild Wildwood days, my baby

 Even in the midst of history you can’t get away from your past.

Listen to Bobby Rydell's "Wildwood Days" @

Listen to kate Smith's "God Bless AMerica" @

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Headling Haiku

The middle line of this haiku is taken from the May 9, 2016 Hartford Courant headlines.

State budget crisis –

“Cuts Could Affect Autopsies”.

Should be DOA.