Saturday, September 1, 2007

Market Day

Oh, the joy of playing hooky on a Saturday. Yes, the sun was shining, and the rain that’s been sabotaging my weekend gardening efforts took the day off. But then, so did I.

Morning dawned sunny and clear. While I should have pulled on my gardening gear, slathered on the sunscreen and headed into the back yard, I instead made a beeline for the garage, fired up the Jeep and headed south. My excuse? A trip to Home Depot to pick up four more knobs for the dresser I refinished last weekend. Lesson learned: count knobs not drawers – or at least look at the piece while doing the knob count and not wait to decide how many knobs I need until I’m standing in the aisle making my decision on which style to choose. 

While I was there, I did think about gardening – and brought home four more boards to construct another raised bed, the last in the square foot garden currently more on paper than replacing the lawn at the far end of the yard. While the fall selection of plants was tempting (what potted greenery isn’t to me these days?), I was good, for the time being at least. No plants followed me home today.

My prize purchase of the day came from Tractor Supply. Oh, the places I shop now that I’m a homeowner with a demanding garden! I’d glanced through the sale flyer at work the other day and spotted a garden cart that will better tote bags of mulch and such around the yard. With an 800 pound capacity and removable sides, my new “red wagon” is going to be put to good use this holiday weekend. I have plans. Lots of plans for the next two days.

But for today, getting my hands dirty was not on the agenda. Instead of heading back home, I zipped down the road to the farmers’ market. As I pulled into the parking lot, the tops of canopies peeked out from the circle of market goers’ cars. I had arrived. Booths offering fresh baked bread or pastries, soups or home-made jams and jellies were scattered among those containing just-picked corn, farm fresh fruits and other garden delights.

By the time I’d made my third trip back to the Jeep, I was ready to go home. I’d stocked up on sweet potato and spaghetti squash, Macintosh apples, peaches, cantaloupe, red peppers, wild flower honey and a selection of fresh veggies. As I drove off, thoughts of feasting on sweet corn on the cob and home-made potato and leek soup gave way to plans for next summer’s garden. So what if my fall to-do list just got longer?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Down Side of Summer

The days are growing shorter. I don’t want to admit it, but I have to. It’s 8:29 and nearly dark. A month ago I’d still be able to work outside. Of course, the up side of the changes in the season are the slightly cooler temperatures, which means I can spend more of the remaining daylight hours outdoors doing something productive. It’s a toss up – a trade of one opportunity for another. The trick is to take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself and get the job done.

Since I became a homeowner, I’ve started collecting a plethora of tools for both indoors and out, including some pretty nifty power tools – a bit intimidating at first, but they do the work with speed and efficiency. I love my cordless, electric weed whacker almost as much as my old-fashioned, foot-powered reel lawn mower. Shovels and grass clippers, spades and trowels – the list of my acquisitions goes on and on.

The one tool that I most often forget to bring with me when I venture outdoors is arguably the one I miss most when I don’t have it. From nearly the beginning, I’ve been documenting the changes in the yard (not always to be classified as “progress”) with my trusty digital camera. Long after the flowers have faded and the grass is covered by winter snows, I’ll be able to remember and share my gardening adventures. It’s also proven an invaluable way to remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished on those days when all I can see is what’s left to be done.

Much to my chagrin, I don’t always bring it with me and, more times than I care to count, I’ve wished I had. Just yesterday I was admiring the cluster of three bee balm varieties near my bird feeders. A quick motion caught my eye. At first I thought a small hummingbird was flitting among the flower heads just a hand’s reach away. I looked more closely and realized it wasn’t a hummingbird at all, but a moth whose green body and rapidly fluttering wings mimicked a hummingbird to perfection. If I’d had the camera with me, I’d have a picture to post with my blog entry. Alas, the hummingbird moth (Common Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe) is an opportunity lost. Maybe it will return another day when I’m close by, camera in hand. I hope so.

I’ve discovered that more often than not, the garden is forgiving of my human failings, whether its forgetfulness or neglect. The garden wants to grow, visitors come and go, and I’m here to do my part.

Friday, August 3, 2007

When It Rains . . . It Hails

I absolutely love a good thunder storm. It’s not your kinder, gentler Mother Nature, the one I see in my garden every day. There’s not a gentle breeze, singing bird or buzzing bee in this scenario. Nope, this is brute strength, Gaia unbound.

After days of record heat and unbearable humidity that forced me indoors and cancelled any attempt at working in the sun-drenched garden, the gathering haze on Friday morning came as a welcome relief. As the temperature dropped during the late afternoon, I dared to venture outside for a go at the unruly weeds and lawn. The day drew to a close, and gathering clouds swallowed what was left of the sun. A quick current of air ran through the tree tops, descending to ground level to play with abandoned pots and empty mulch bags.
The first large drops of rain caught me on my knees spreading mulch. I glanced at the sky, recognized the storm drawing in a deep breath, preparing to exhale. I smiled, stood, wiped my hands, gathered tools and headed indoors. By the time the mower was stored away, the drops had become more insistent, beating down on the patio’s corrugated roof. And then the sky let loose. Torrents of rain beat against the house with machine gun rhythm. The sound grew deafening and, I realized, it wasn’t just rain. Hail pelted the house, the ground, every leaf and blossom all around, bouncing like miniature ping pong balls in all directions. Wind whipped through the trees; lightning and thunder sparked overhead. The lights inside blinked, flashed and failed.

Out came the emergency flashlights and candles, just in case the power outage stretched on into the night. Once the rain subsided, I ventured into the yard as night began to settle in. The storm had left behind crisp, clean air and the sound of the trees sloughing off the remnants of the storm. Around me, it looked for all the world as though someone had strewn mothballs across the grass and the mulch-covered beds.

I shared Gaia’s joke, gathering a sampling of the frozen spheres in my hand, laughing as they melted between my fingers. A taste of winter in August. But why not? At one point this past January, there wasn’t a snowflake in sight and I spent a day in the yard mulching beds I’d neglected when the weather turned cold last fall. The temperatures dropped and the winter snow returned soon after, just as the remains of Friday’s hail storm disappeared long before morning arrived. But it was fun and quirky – a garden rarity gone in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lawn Be Gone

In the spring of 2006, I moved back to the house I grew up in. Along with the memories came almost an acre of lawn carefully carved out over the course of 53 years by my father’s hardworking hands. Dad took great pride in his home. As long as he was able, he tended to the house and surrounding yard with tireless devotion. At times he’d look around at it all and tell me, “One day this will be yours,” to which I’d reply that when that time came, the lawn would be gone. He had to see it coming – all those plants and shrubs and, yes, trees given to them as gifts over the years that ended up polka-dotting that perfect carpet of green. Then, over the course of a few months both he and mom were gone and the house (and lawn) was mine.

During that first summer, the press of work, sorting through my parents’ belongings, and unpacking and organizing a new household made it physically impossible for me to mow all that square footage, so I hired someone to do it for me. A year later, a little less pressed for time, I chose a more environmentally friendly solution. I said goodbye to the lawn guy and the two riding movers and three (or was it four?) walk-behind, gas powered machines waiting in the garage. Instead, I opted for a manual, push-it mower, one of those old-fashioned (but newly purchased) ones that generated you’ve-got-to-be-kidding looks from anyone I told. Initially, it worked wonderfully. The rotary mower moved flawlessly across the lawn while I enjoyed bird song and the fragrance of the freshly mowed grass (no roaring engine or gasoline smell to spoil the experience). I was joyously communing with nature, and I got great exercise walking in time to the rhythm of the rotating blades. So what if it took several hours scattered over two or three days to get it all done?

The so what crashed down on me during weeks of rain and higher than usual spring temperatures. The grass loved it; I cringed as I looked out the window at its enthusiasm. During my second round of mowing in five days, the realization dawned that I couldn’t maintain the lawn and manage to make any progress landscaping the yard. Rather than call the lawn guy or exchange my rotary mower for a gas guzzler, I came to the conclusion that the time had come for the lawn to go. Or at least a good chunk of it.

And so began my quest. Some will call it an obsession. I prefer to think of it as a plan born of compromise. I still mow a small part of the lawn around the house and sitting areas – this I can manage in a reasonable amount of time. The steep parts of the banking and the upper lawn have taken on a life of their own with the grass grown nearly knee high, and wild flowers (weeds to the unappreciative) have appeared seemingly out of nowhere. It really is rather pretty to see what nature will do when left on her own, even if it is a temporary reversion to wildness.

Bit by bit the lawn is shrinking and the gardens are growing. Small patches of bulbs planted last fall bloomed beautifully this spring. Their beds have been enlarged to contain summer blooming bulbs, along with perennial and annual flowers. And slowly but surely the overgrown meadow that used to be pristine lawn is being reclaimed and repurposed with new plants and mulch – and a tiny bit of lawn suitable for walking barefoot on sunny summer days.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Wounded Visitor

The lawnmower stood poised at the ready, but mid-step I paused. Something lay in the grass a few feet ahead. A scrap of paper blown in on the same breeze that finally pushed the clouds away? Not this time. I’d discovered a visitor to my yard, one I’d courted with the addition of buddleia and bee balm (not yet in bloom), fuchsia and snap dragons, and wildflowers galore across the areas left to nature’s whims. I stepped closer. My visitor was a large black and yellow butterfly – a most welcome surprise. I quietly moved away to fetch my camera from inside the house. Another pleasant surprise when I returned: my visitor had remained and even continued to tolerate my presence as I clicked off a dozen shots. I also discovered the reason for the butterfly’s sojourn – its wings were tattered. Such beauty, so fragile. And its fate not mine in which to interfere. So I left it there on the lawn and went inside to download my pictures. A while later, after I’d spent some time online identifying the butterfly as a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, I checked back and it had gone – no sign in the yard at all as I mowed the lawn. I’m a sucker for happy endings (even illusory ones) and imagine that the butterfly, well rested, resumed its flight into the sunny afternoon. With no evidence to the contrary, that’s the way it is in my garden today.

Friday, June 8, 2007

About My Garden

Is it passion or obsession? Do I need a hobby, a diversion, something to get my mind off what it’s so firmly fixated upon? Okay, I admit it: I talk about it a lot. The house, the yard, the seemingly endless, growing, shaggy carpet of green that is my lawn and my ongoing quest to pull it all together.

It’s been a little over a year since I moved in here and it seems like I should have accomplished so much more by now. Yet when I think back on the months that have slipped by, I spent a lot of time unpacking and sorting and finding places for all the things that spilled from boxes and bags all over the place. And the yard isn’t quite what it was when I moved in. There are more flower beds, a bit less grass. I’ve stuck to my conviction to do it my way – organically, in harmony with the natural world around me, even if a part of that world, the lawn my father spent over 50 years cultivating, is at the top of my It’s Gotta Go list.

Why? I admit the lawn is gorgeous when mowed to glistening green perfection, but then it rains and the sun shines and the lawn becomes too wild for my likes – shaggy, unruly, something Dad (a man who proudly mowed twice a week in peak grass growing season) never would have let happen. That left me with limited options: mow the nearly acre sized monster (requiring most of my free time), hire someone to do it or make the lawn something more manageable by making it gone. Or at least mostly gone. There is, after all, nothing like walking barefoot on a hot summer day through the freshly cut grass, deeply inhaling that wonderful fragrance. So there must always remain some part, just about enough to mow to the point of feeling virtuous. As for the rest, the possibilities are boundless – trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, and on and on.

Now the lawn-that-was is spotted with a dozen dwarf fruit trees, as many blueberry bushes, and ever increasing beds of flowers and herbs. Oh, and veggies, too, to be sure all the senses are satisfied. Yet the massive expanse of the lawn remains, ever trying to retake ground claimed for planting beds. Mulch has become my ally, bags brought home by the Jeep full, a soft brown carpet to replace the green. Trays of plants wait beneath the crimson maple tree. And the grass grows.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Yet Another Blog About Gardening

Yes, this is, I admit it, yet another blog about gardening.  But unlike the others, it’s about my garden.  So?  So, they say write about what you know, things that you’re passionate about, things you love.  That would be my garden.  It’s a work in progress, sometimes inspired, sometimes neglected when life intervenes, but above all it’s a learning experience:  one I hope to share with others.  Welcome to my garden.