Category Archives: The Garden

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

I’m going to start with the bad and ugly, get it out of the way.
 
My guy’s away for a week–nearly over now. I opted not to go as our regular dog and house sitters are out of town, and you just can’t leave three dogs, much less a new one. And this is fine. I also had a lot of work and a deadline, so a week home alone is all good.
 
However.
 
Our Pancho (someone asked last time, and this is the name he came with when we rescued him at age two) decided about two years ago it was just too much trouble to go into the brush or the woods to poop, and chose to start pooping on the pavers. Nothing we’ve tried has discouraged this. Bad enough, but a couple of piles a day, which BW shoveled up routinely. It seems Parker decided: Oh, that’s how it’s done here. So now two dogs are using the pavers, and Parker’s taken it a step beyond. It’s like he thinks: I’ll go a little here, a little there, and gee, that looks like a fun spot, then there’s that one. So many, many little piles.
 
This week, I’ve been starting and ending my day shoveling poop. This does not make me happy. And also hosing down the pavers. Today, after shoveling NINE piles (and that’s just since yesterday evening) it occurred to me I should take the poop to a poop friendly area, lure the culprits and see if they latch on.
 
Next time.
 
Meanwhile, about half way through my week, I went out in the morning–pre-caffeine– to feed and water said dogs. And nearly stepped on what I took for a really big dead mouse–which explains why Homer wanted to sleep outside the door the night before. I hoped, very much, he’d take it off somewhere, but alas, by the next day, there it was. I had no choice, but shoveled, what I think was actually a mole, (so good boy on that) along with poop.
 
And this morning, I went down to see what the hell Parker was barking at like a maniac, and see the baby black snake right beside my back steps. I cannot handle snakes, seriously phobic there. I don’t care how little it is. I keep the door firmly shut, go workout–opposite side of the house. It’s still there when I get back, and I realize it’s a dead baby snake. This is somewhat better, but I’m still not touching it. I have a line.
 
This is my glamorous life.
 
And that’s the bad and the ugly.
 
The good is very good. If you read my previous Trouble Spots blog, you’ll have seen my worn old garden shed. In case not, and because it’s fun, I’m asking Laura to post the before and after pictures. I’m couldn’t be happier with how this turned out. And next weekend, BW and I will tackle organizing the interior.
 

Before
Before
After
After
My birdbath fountain came Thursday, and that was an adventure. The delivery guys are only authorized to drop it at the door, but as it’s over 300 pounds, and was packed in an enormous box with wood framing, they couldn’t get it off the truck without unboxing it. Lucky for me. Even that was a job and a half for them, but they helpfully hand-trucked it to where I want it. Laid it down there as BW and I will have to level the spot, settle it in. But it’s so what I wanted, and I can’t wait to see it in use.
 
I have a huge box full of packing straw, and wood on the side of my driveway. BW will have to deal with it.
 
I did my weekend gardening. And the lavender is just beautiful this year. Played with dogs. And in a little while I’m going back to relax beside the completed Project.
 
When I first moved here, I needed to have a well dug.  Everyone recommended I hire this guy with a divining rod to tell us where to dig it. Okay. So he comes with the well diggers, looks around, and walks over to this spot–not using the rod. Right here, he tells me.
 
Okay, why?
 
Because there’s an underground spring–that’s where we had the still.
 
Still makes me laugh. And he was right. They hit it fast, and we actually set the record for gallons per minute in the county. While my neighbors were deciding whether to do a load of laundry or take a shower, I could do laundry, run the dishwasher, the washing machine AND shower.
 
The downside was the spring formed a little pool which was basically a mud pool. And I have dogs. Over the years I’ve planted the area around the well–yellow flags as they like their feet wet, hostas as there’s a lot of shade, some trees, some spirea and so on. This is where the jewelweed thrives, especially.
Before
Before
 
But behind it was a crappy little area I never knew what to do with. Until I saw my heart’s desire at the nursery. A water feature, stone, long and curving and with pretty little waterfalls. I contacted our landscape guy, the amazing Brian who tackles the big jobs around here–like the gorgeous stone terraces and walls he built for us.
 
It took some time–he’s exacting–and it was a whole bunch of work–laying pipe, electric–which meant digging trenches–and all that before starting to set the stone.
 
The day I walked back, heard the water, saw it, I did a happy dance. And also realized we didn’t want to put grass back in close to the waterfall. I needed plantings and mulch. Hey, Brian.
 
I told him I want a Rose of Sharon, have always wanted one and right there is a perfect spot. I want a dwarf weeper–a bloomer, and some flowering shrubs here and here, and something over there. I gave him basic choices, but as we’ve worked together for years, left a lot up to him. He knows my tastes.
After
After
 
When he was done (still have to deal with the ground behind the mulch, seed it) it was more fabulous than I imagined–and I image very well. I’ve ordered a stone bench as the wood one I had seems not quite right. And I found a little light for accent.
 
I feel like I have this new, pretty little world to enjoy.
 
My lovely new space almost makes up for poop on the pavers. But I’m about to hand over the shovel to BW, and retire from that field.
 
And the dead snake will be waiting for him.
 
I’m going to pour myself a glass of champagne, go out and enjoy my very, very good.
Nora

Blooms, Boys and Ballgames

Those are three of my favorite things, and the weekend offered all. It seems a fair reward for a week focused on writing. 

While May (after a glitch or two) proved itself bonny indeed, exceptional flowers generally come with exceptional weeds. Roses are especially lush around here this spring, and so is our pesky jewel weed. It’s an easy pull, but when you’re dealing with millions–or so it seems when you’re dealing–it’s just annoying. photo 2 (3) photo 3 (3)

We have another area, mostly shady, and it thrives there. We’re nearly finished with The Project–pictures to come on completion–and this area needed serious dealing as it borders The Project. BW hit it hard Saturday morning during my workout, so since I was sweaty anyway, I waded in. I admit this is an area I often assign to him. Jewel weed can get thick and high and the wading through gives me snake willies. They like the thick and high, and I don’t like snakes. 

He’d already pulled a full wheelbarrow of the stuff, so in I went, picking through the yellow flags, lifting up spirea, yanking as I went. Easily another wheelbarrow–and four hostas uncovered. Just fyi, while jewel weed is a PITA, it’s also handy if you encounter poison ivy. Break the stem, run the liquid inside over the skin, and that usually handles that. But still. 

That kind of sweaty, monotonous, ache-in-the-back weeding isn’t the pleasure of tending beds, but it’s done. 

Our reward for what I think of as monkey work? A trip to Camden Yards for a ball game. While I have fond memories of watching games in Memorial Stadium, The Yard is a glorious place. A long haul for us, but as it happens we pull into our assigned lot right behind Jason and Kat. Excellent timing. We and several others are guests of our broker–an annual tradition. We even hit on a give-away. Score! I now have an Oriole orange Rock The Yard tee-shirt. Woo! 

photo (2)

We head up to our box, and there it is–that perfect baseball brown, green, white. And stands filling up with people and plenty of orange. The perfect lines of the infield, the green, green expanse of the outfield–and all the possibilities of the game played on it. Baseball is poetry to me. 

The O’s are having a good year, and beat Tampa Bay Friday, so we’ll soon see. While many of our group come more to socialize, the game’s the thing for me, and I get to share it with two of my favorite people. 

There’s little more fun than a ball game, a hot dog, and a couple of interesting, enthusiastic (and handsome!) boys. photo (3)I claim a seat next to our host’s sons (their mom is one of our Drunken Spa girls), and we talk baseball. Including the younger one’s Little League team, and how it compares to the O’s. The thrilling crack of the bat on a homer (unfortunately not ours), the balletic choreography of a perfectly executed double play (very fortunately ours), and conversation with boys. Doesn’t get better. 

The O’s didn’t do it for us Saturday–it seemed after the second inning they just couldn’t hit a ball out of the infield–but we had a great time. 

I figured Sunday for an easy day, but it doesn’t turn out that way. BW is doing his part on The Project–the man just has to have his hand in. But he’s, as requested, gotten me a big bucket of compost out of the compostor. That’s good, rich, heavy stuff–heavy enough I have to drag the tub rather than carry it while I side-dress about a quarter of the beds. As he’s still fiddling, I decide to wait for another bucket–shoveling it out would kill my wrist at this point. But I can weed the trouble spots I’m working on bringing back. 

Happily, everything I transplanted is holding–and I’m hoping for the promised rain so I don’t have to drag the hose. It’s been a hot week, and one good soak from the sprinklers aren’t enough for these newly relocated guys. 

My man’s still fiddling. I switch to inside, do a couple of loads of hauling up fall and winter sweatshirts and sweaters, bringing down spring and summer tanks and tees. He’s moved onto the next task on his list, which isn’t my compost, but okay. I, too, have other chores. 

photo 4 (2)My last of the day (gardening day, anyway) is pleasure. I cut and arrange a little vase of flowers. And BW and I have ourselves a drink on the patio before dinner–and before the welcome rain. 

I’m hoping The Project, and the shed refacing will be done this week. That would be a really nice way to welcome June. 

Now a question. Does anyone know the name of this perennial? photo (1)I planted it years and years ago–have divided, transplanted, given away countless clumps. It spreads beautifully, grows pretty much where I plug it, and blooms in pretty yellow every June. But I can’t remember what it is–and have failed in my searches through books and on the internet. I hate not knowing the name of what blooms in my gardens. 

Note from Laura at 12:36 pm on Monday: Sheryl provided the answer in the comments — Yellow Loosestrife.  Thank you for all the suggestions!  I always knew Nora’s readers are the most interesting, well-rounded people and you all just proved that.

And lastly, as requested, here’s Homer. photo 2 (4)

Nora

Trouble Spots

I woke up this morning wincing. Stiff shoulders, aching triceps, sore hamstrings. While I work out pretty much every day and consider myself in reasonably good shape, I earned the stiff, sore and aching. 

I had an agenda for the weekend, and most of it required hard, sweaty work. I have a few trouble spots around the yard, spaces that have defeated my attempts over the years to pretty them up. One is a steepish slope, shady, on the far side of the house. I’ve tried a rock garden, failed. Tried ground cover, not so pretty. I’ve tried saying the hell with it, let the damn wild strawberries have it. But that just doesn’t work for me. 

Another is a flat space, sun and shade. It’s behind a wall of forsythia, beyond the cherry trees. A spot no one really sees–except I do. Most of my attempts there have failed, too. 

My sister presented me with my choice of top rated bird feeders for my yard years ago, what I didn’t anticipate was the effect it would have on my plants, the space between the bird feeder and my side kitchen window. I’ve thought of it as The Bermuda Triangle for plants. The last attempt was a butterfly bush. You can’t kill a butterfly bush with napalm–and this one lasted one season, is now dead as Moses. 

And finally there’s our garden shed. BW build it decades ago. It served, and is now not only too small, but hasn’t aged well. 

The shed, I figure, is an easy fix. Tear it down, buy a new one, I say last weekend. BW is very sad–which I get–but can’t argue it’s ugly and inadequate. But then he has a brain storm. We tear out the front wall, come out three more feet, put in the double doors I want, reconfigure the interior with better shelving, and do new cedar siding on the exterior. 

Excellent solution, and our construction guy can make this so, put us on his schedule. I consider this checked off the list. 

I put my mind on the solution for the Bermuda Triangle–wonder why I haven’t thought of it before. Don’t plant anything. Find a cool birdbath fountain to fill that spot. Can’t do solar, which is a shame, as it’s north-facing. Just not enough sun. But after a search on the internet, I find just what I want. So in about three weeks, that trouble spot will become a spot that gives me and the birds a lot of pleasure. 

Check it off! 

photo 1 (1) - Copy
The shed, underway.

Saturday, after my workout, I go out to garden. I’ve already dug up some dead nettle (much nicer than its name) and have a couple places to transfer it. While I’m starting this, I see BW with lumber and tools. The carpenter’s still in him, and he insists he HAS to frame up the shed addition. Our John can do the rest, but he has to have a piece of it. My first thought is why, then I think: Why am I out here hauling a bucket of dirt and dead nettle when I could hire somebody to do it? Because it’s my garden–and it makes me happy. 

So BW and I make ourselves happy. While he demos, I do some of the basic chores I’ve set out for the day. Then I look down at that damn slope. A few years back I put in what I think is goat’s weed. A pretty ground cover, at least in theory. What it is, is the Mafia. It takes over the neighborhood, bullies everything else. I haven’t been able to push myself into ripping it out before this–a lot of hard, sweaty work there–and there’s no way to get it all. I’ll be yanking it for the rest of my life. 

But. 

I start yanking and digging. I yank, dig, curse, sweat. But I cleaned it out, uncovered the pretty winter creeper it tried to smother. Plug in more dead nettle, which spreads like mad, too, but is easily dealt with. I think how I have a million-zillion Black-Eyed Susans. They seed everywhere. They’ll probably take hold here, even with the shade. So I go dig some up, plug some in. It already looks better–far from pretty as yet–but now I see potential. 

Cleared of goatweed.  Solomon's Seal in the lower right.
Cleared of goatweed. Solomon’s Seal in the lower right.

Sunday, I think, will be less labor intensive. I do a pretty strenuous workout thinking that. However, BW is banging away with the nail gun. It looks like rain so I figure to tackle some of the inside the house chores. Then the sun comes out–and so do I. Basic gardening chores, and I remember how I’ve got some Black-Eyed Susans volunteering in that flat, dull area. Hmmm. Since they like it, why not dig up more, put more in, see how that goes? 

There’s a lot of digging, walking with buckets of dirt and divided flowers–opposite sides of the house, down slopes, up slopes. But again, I can see potential. We’ll just see if this works, if everything likes where they’re planted, then we can add more. 

Go check on BW, find he’s unearthed an old bird feeder–broken off ground spike–in the bowels of the shed. I’ve got a spot for that. It can now be a little feature. Haul it over, down, and dig the base into what I’m hoping will be Susie World. Cute! 

Bird feeder in Susie World
Bird feeder in Susie World

I think I’m done, but also think to help my man clear out some of the shed. Not only because I’m a good wife, but because I know I’ll pitch out a lot more than he would. He asks me to help him with these iron trellises we use for the tomatoes. He wants to take three, wire them together into a kind of tomato cage. Can do. But that leave the fourth trellis. Surely there’s a use. 

BW's tomato cage.
BW’s tomato cage.

I think of the morning glories, and how so many have seeded in spots we don’t really want them. Find a spot for the trellis–one that requires a lot of sweaty weeding. Take bucket, go around, down the slope, dig up morning glories, haul them back, plug them around the trellis. It could work–a potential of pretty. 

Trellis for Morning Glories
Trellis for Morning Glories

We’re done. Toasted. Both of us hobble back to the house, have a drink on the patio, admire the garden, the hummingbird that comes to feed. 

I know some of the work I did may fail–but it may not. And I’m going to focus on these trouble spots this season, bend them to my will one way or the other. I see more digging, dividing and hauling next weekend, but if so it means what I did has a chance to work. 

And when it works, and I walk by or look out and see pretty instead of ugly and bare, it’ll be worth the stiff, sore and aching.

Nora

Perfect Weekend

Yesterday I attended the wedding of my longest of long-time friend’s granddaughter. I was there when Kara was born–in fact, served as co-labor coach with tkarajoeyhe new daddy. I’ve watched her grow into a beautiful, loving and kind young woman. And yesterday on a beautiful May evening, I watched her marry the man she loves–and who absolutely adores every inch of her. 

Gorgeous flowers, a stunning bride, a love-struck groom, friends and family ready to celebrate what the bride had dubbed The Best Day Ever. And it was. 

I brought home a nasty head cold from Derby, and haven’t had the best week–and that’s putting it mildly. Yesterday I figured to just look at my garden in process–didn’t think I had the energy to do any planting before getting ready for the wedding. Well, maybe just these couple of things. (Note from Laura:  Just a couple…HA!)

photo 3 photo 2 (2) photo 1

Two hours later, I had lots more done, and felt so much better. Gardening, for me, is as good as yoga for feeding the body, mind and spirit. There’s more to do–BW is assigned to pick up the special begonias now ready for me at the nursery (and a few other things) on Monday. I’ve got spots to fill yet, and I’ll enjoy doing just that. But what’s done gives me so much pleasure. Now I can sit back, enjoy–and weed and water and maintain–but a lot of pure enjoyment. How will things grow–how will they look filled in together, what will bloom next? 

A wedding is a celebration of love–and a garden is the same for me. A marriage is the work, the joy, the changes, the growth–like a garden you get what you put in, and if you maintain, if you love, you get back even more for years and years to come. 

So I wish my sweet Kara and her adorable Joey even more for years and years to come.

Nora

photo 5 photo 4 (1)

The Cruelest Month

T.S. Elliot hit the nail on that one. April teases us with warm breezes, climbing temperatures, pretty pink and yellow blossoms, tenderly greening trees–then slaps us silly with frosts and sudden plunges into winter.

Not sure what it says about me that I still love April. It holds out its sweet green hand, then yanks it away and blows cold white. You can just hear the snicker.

And still, it’s the promise, the knowing May’s coming. It’s looking out my dining room window–even though I have a fire going–and seeing my cherry trees brilliantly blooming.

pink tree

On Monday afternoon, I walked around with my two oldest grandchildren, all of us in tee-shirts, checking out the blooms and buds. Today I put on boots, a sweatshirt, my warmest hoodie, a scarf, and was still cold as BW and I went to the nursery. It’s yet to hit 50 today.

 

While I loaded up carts with plants that will make me incredibly happy, I chatted with a couple who told me they drove through snow to get there. They’re only a half hour north, and had snow. That’s pretty damn cruel.

truck of flowers

I can’t plant yet–who wants to garden when it’s 48 degrees anyway? It kills me, I admit, it kills me not to get out there and play. But I have a truckload of gorgeous plants that will, eventually, fill my beds, my pots with color and scent. I’ll enjoy every minute of digging in the dirt–when it doesn’t freeze my fingers off.

Since it’s my oldest grandson’s birthday (yesterday officially) he’s having a swim party here this afternoon (indoor pool, best thing I ever did), so the house will be full of happy–and a big-ass Call Of Duty cake, at his request.

As I can’t garden today, I think I’ll bake bread. I might as well make soup while I’m at it. They’re calling for a drop to 32 degrees tonight. But maybe tomorrow, if April decides to be kind, it’ll be warm enough to dig.

If not, well, May’s coming. And spring better be ready to bust out all over.

Nora

Good Things Come

Though the wait can seem endless, good things do come around. Tomorrow I head out for a week with the best of girl pals for fun and serious relaxation at the spa.

Packing’s a lot, but pretty easy as it’s work-out gear, sweats and pjs. For seven lovely days, we don’t cook, we don’t clean, do laundry, work, and the biggest stressors tend to be what color to have our nails done and who’s moving onto the next round of Drunken Scrabble or Wii Bowling. We have a tournament. With prizes.

Yesterday was  a mega, major signing at Turn The Page. Today is recover from that, pack, do a weather check to help with that packing, get in a workout, and since it’s gorgeous out, take a walk around outside.

After what hphoto 3onestly feels like the longest winter on record, spring’s starting to pop. I can’t decide whether to be delighted or annoyed my tulip magnolia’s on the edge of bursting.I’m going to miss most of it, and it’s my favorite April treat. But the forsythia’s bright and sunny yellow on one of my hills, and I see some of my perennials in the beds, like delphiniums and dianthus and columbine, pushing their way up.

photo 4

So I’ll leave my daffs and hyacinths for a week. Then come home to serious work, and some serious gardening. I’ll be ready.

But starting tomorrow, it’s all girls all the time, and it’s a week worth waiting for.

Nora

Note from Laura:  I’m going along for all the fun.  Nora and I will take turns giving some updates.   And on Tuesday morning I’ll open a thread to discuss The Liar. Stay tuned!

 

 

A query letter by Nora

Dear Winter: How can we miss you if you don’t go away?

Yesterday I hosted my annual gathering/clothes swap for people in my local writing group. I used to do this mid-winter, but it proved so problematic with weather and travel, I’ve shifted it to early spring in the last several years.

When I sent out the invites a few weeks ago, I thought: This’ll be nice–end of March. Cool, but pleasant enough people could wander outside if they want.

Wrong.

A 28 degree high isn’t cool, it’s fricking cold. And morning snow flurries are not burgeoning daffodils.

Still, a fine time was had by all. It’s a total girl day with food and drink and talk, and the madness of a mountain of clothes–every style, shape and size–brought by dozens of women.

I’m ending the weekend making farmhouse bread, and a vast pot of chicken noodle soup as I had the chicken, and could take advantage of the leftover veggies from the party. And it had better be the last vat of soup I make this spring specifically because it’s so damn cold out.tulips on counter soup in pot

At least papansies in planternsies–who don’t mind the chill–give me some hope of spring, even if it’s cold enough to keep a fire burning instead of doing some early prep-work in the garden.fire in grate

I’ve got four tubs of books to sign, and when that’s done I believe I’m going to flop down horizontally and find some movie that won’t tax my tired brain cells.

It better be warm enough next weekend for me to at least plant my potatoes, or Mother Nature and I are going to have a serious conversation.  

Nora

Spring forward

This morning when I went outside to feed the dogs, I didn’t see my breath, and I heard birdsong. Maybe I had to pick my way over some snow and ice, but I didn’t have to haul on a coat and shiver while doing this basic ritual. I consider this a triumph. Maybe I can’t yet see the ground, and the view out my office window still looks like a black and white painting, but I’m going to believe winter’s finally heading out the door.

icicles deck snow

When spring finally gets here, I’m going to get my hands in the dirt. On those days when I’m busy, and those garden chores are just one more thing to do, I’m going to remember what I looked at for three long months–and be grateful for the work.

Every fall we haul in some of the deck and patio pots to winter over in the pool house. Like me, this little begonia wants to sit outside in the sun. It won’t be long. begonias

I’m not one to wish the time away–that’s something you can’t get back–but I’m ready for the change of seasons. Happily I live in a spot that offers four of them, distinctly. Each has their appeal–winter just loses that appeal for me quicker than the other three.

Today, I’m springing forward–though the time change will screw up my body clock for days–and assuring myself this is the shift, this is the day we start to drift out of the white and into the green.

Nora

A Garden update

A garden update for all who wonder…

Very happy pots
Very happy pots.
Thriving corner
A thriving corner.
Purple coneflowers
Purple coneflowers.
Pretty trough
A pretty trough.
Nora's mom's snakeplant, repotted countless times
Nora’s mom’s snake plant, repotted countless times.
Monarda
Monarda.
Longer view of garden wall
Longer view of garden wall.
Kayla's impatiens with pig
Kayla’s impatiens with pig.
Herbs -- the dill has run amok
Herbs — the dill has run amok.
Happy faerie garden
Happy faerie garden.
False sunflowers and purple coneflowers
False sunflowers and purple coneflowers.
Boomerang Lilies, boomeranging
Boomerang Lilies, boomeranging.