Friday, April 30, 2010

Hooray! Hooray! It's the First of May

Outdoor fucking begins today! (Shame on me!)

But my dears, you can't deny it, there is some amazing outdoor fucking going on out there beginning around the First of May. I had a botany professor in college, who taught with relish the way that the flowers of spring dressed up to attract their suitors, the pollinators. Just look at the way the azalea flaunts herself in her flashy pink dress. Her antlers begging with that come hither look.

My brother and I hold this long-standing tradition. It dates back to the days when we held down minimum wage jobs in a shopping plaza on the Outer Banks. There in the dunes amongst the sea grasses, lovers lurked and well, if it happened to be the first of May, why what else could we say? So on the First, we race to be the First to scream it into the phone at each other. My colleagues at work, by necessity, are well familiar with the ritual. Some have even tried to get in on the deal. But alas, with the date falling on Saturday this year, they'll miss out. (Chip, First of May! First of May! Outdoor Fucking Begins today! Do I win?)

Searching for enlightenment, I though I'd Google that licentious lyric and find some cultural or historical significance. But rather my cheeks are still blushing at the nasty material that lined up on my search page. So I abandoned that effort and began to think about Garden Porn instead.

Garden Porn is what comes in those gorgeous glossy magazines that leer at me from the newsstand. I am a hopeless sucker for them and almost always grab Fine Gardening and happily shell out the outrageous $7 cover price. And then at the end of the day, when every brain cell is kaput and when Smithsonian, The New Yorker or even Time magazine presents too much of a challenge, that's when I grab my porn. I peruse the monthly rewrite in Organic Gardening, of how to compost, the compelling story of how Miss Flowers of Anytown, USA, ditched her grassy lawn and turned her whole front yard into a fetching display of seasonal blooms. There's always a nod to the water-challenged folks of the west coast and how succulents and rocks can be landscaped in glorious repose. And then there's those lucky southeastern gardens where the bells of the south create luscious Colonial-era edible gardens and ooze Charleston charm. I dream about winning the container garden challenge and study the swell way that others have managed to cram such variety of unique plants into a beautiful urn (my selections always seem to fight with each and then die off when the summer grows too hot). And with a mind full of seductive and sexy gardening successes, I drift off to sleep. The Putterer

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Mom: Lucille M. Py (1936-1998)

I think when I am old and in a state of dementia with all my memories lost or buried, I will still suffer the memory of this week, indeed the whole month 12 years ago when my mother lingered in a death coma and finally died on April 29th. She was only 63 and though cancer had eclipsed most of her body, her life-long passion for life fought the inevitable, and so she held out as long as she could.

My mom was one determined gal and she made the rules. Or, defied them. "Some rules are just meant to be broken," she'd often say with a smile playing at the corners of her eyes.

And she loved. She loved Claire most of all. When Claire came along, she transformed herself from mother to grandmother with ease. To love unconditionally without having to parent, or punish, or bear any financial worry or burden, was her ultimate goal in life. She could at long last turn all her focus and energy into what she most wanted in life.

My garden was started the day she died. It was a beautiful day just like today. She was a gardener and so the greenery blowing in the gentle breeze outside her window was bittersweet. She died before dawn. The dog howled. The children and Moms waited for the school bus. Everything went on as normal. But it wasn't. I didn't go to work. I hadn't really worked much throughout the month. My boss, a compassionate fellow, just knew what I needed to do. So my brother and I  went to a flower nursery. And we wandered around and giggled over stupid things. And I bought plants. A canna. I couldn't remember the name. So I told the nurseryman that I wanted that plant "with attitude." Like Mom. The nurseryman knew just which plant I wanted. And Chip made me laugh so hard. And I can't remember what we were laughing at, but I do remember that it was a beautiful day.  The Putterer

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cloudy, Cool, Comfortable, And Crazy

The weekend was not a washout and a lot of gardening was accomplished around the edges of a fairly busy social life. We had a house guest, Tayla Eulom, an artist in town from Los Angeles for an arts festival, who joined us on the heels of two other prior guests. There was a canceled Friday night party that turned out to be not canceled when everyone met up at a restaurant. And since Friday night had been previously canceled, the new Friday night was Saturday, so guests joined us for a second fabulous Friday night party on Saturday night. Sunday, we headed off to the water for a celebration of Maggie Wiles' 60th birthday party. And in between that, I got most of the new perennials planted. I went to the National Arboretum Plant Fair with Kate Newman, who is masterfully reestablishing her front lawn into a Maryland natives garden. While there, we ran into neighbors Ann and Chris, who also only plant natives. And also attending was former Smithsonian magazine Kenny Fletcher, who is now working part time at a nursery. He reports that he has recently finished building a greenhouse. The versatility of Fletcher, writer, traveler, Spanish speaker, videographer, musician, kite builder and now, nurseryman, never fails to impress me. Also, I met a new friend. Children's novelist, Amy Brecount White, whose new novel, Forget-Her-Nots, I bought and she signed. Meanwhile, Jim dug out that patch of invasive lilies for me and we filled four waste bags with the caste-off plants. Very productive weekend. Here's what I planted and where:
1. A Rosa gruss an aachen is at the white fence out front. The Rosa marmalade skies is in the side-yard next to the bottom of the deck.
2. A Hemerocallis clothed in glory is in the back garden along the path by the vegetable garden.
3. Two Astrantia moulin rouge are next to the lily clothed in glory.
4. Baptisia australis, the 2010 perennial of the year, is in the newly cleared space where the lilies were and next to it, I planted three butterfly weed plants.
5. Three hollyhocks, the old barnyard variety, are out by the front fence.
6. The new blueberry bush is potted on the deck in the container garden with the lemon tree and the new fig tree.
The Putterer

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Preparation For Rain

Sometimes you can smell the rain before it comes. There's a pleasant spicy aroma that fills the air in the garden as if the plants are in anticipation. I don't know if you would call it ozone or ion, but the splashing of water is one of the most restorative sights and sounds. I think that's why we hike to waterfalls in Yosemite or risk sun poisoning by sitting the entire day on the beach.

I am looking forward to rain because there is grass seed strewn about in the back. And my potted plants, which came inside during the chill, need a thorough dowsing. I am also hoping that my gutter man will show up in time to route the gutter into my new rain barrel.

And I also like the rest it affords me. If it's raining, I won't be able to go out. And if I can't go out, maybe, I'll sleep in a little this weekend.

Every year, I've kept a rain journal in my garden books. I write down the day it rained and what sort of rain it was, light in the morning, steady all day, night-time soaker. In this way, I keep a mental calculation of whether or not, I need to supplement the plants with any additional moisture. Last year, we had a wonderful year of rains. They came consistently throughout the year every three or four days, so that I hardly ever had to water. And the garden up through July was self-sustaining. Someone has told me that we are certain to have a moist year ahead of us and that the February snows were just the beginning of it.

So I am ready for rain. The Putterer

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Plumbago Is Killing Me

The Garden Doctor
Do you suffer from plumbago?
Is your back a little sore?
Or perhaps it’s pyracanthus
Which you caught in Singapore?
You’ve a nasty little hosta
Which I think you’ll have to lance,
And I notice a spiraea
Has been leading you a dance.
Are you getting forgetful?
Is nemesia the cause?
Does your antirrhinum pain you
When you’re walking out of doors?
You’ve had skimmia rubella
I can see that by your nose
And cornus capitosa
Has played havoc with your toes!
How is your viburnum tinus?
Have you lost your sense of smell?
Use a syringe reflex
That should keep it well.
I’m afraid your macrocarpus
Isn’t really up to scratch,
And do avoid nigella
It’s a nasty thing to catch!
Still I think you’re doing nicely,
Watch the quercus in your knees
Take your berberis twice nightly
Next patient please!

Anonymous Poem Courtesy of the 
Beltsville Gardening Club

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Announcing the Garden Putter T-Shirt

I'm just tickled pink this morning--having figured out how to create, design, and even sell (if ever you'd want one) my own Garden Putter T-shirt. My own will arrive this week.

Yesterday in the garden, it was all about steady preparation. I did my first mow of the season and started the layering of this year's compost--green and brown and a heavy spray of water to make the mixture nice and wet and ready for its magical microbial processing. Compost is the alchemy of gardening. Turning kitchen waste, grass clippings and leaf litter into the black gold that feeds the plants is one of the most rewarding practices of the gardener. I distributed last year's compost all around the beds in the front yard.

The temptation to run out and buy bedding plants was overwhelming, but fortunately, I held strong against it, because last night the air grew ever more chilly.

And before bed, I had to bring in all the pots on the deck. This morning it's nippy, but I plan to get out there to spread more compost on the beds and just "BE There."  The Putterer

Friday, April 16, 2010

Longing for Saturday

I can't believe it isn't Saturday. I am in a gardener's state of mind this morning and drat, if I don't have to go to work and be an editor.

Jim took the day off and I am more than envious.

This wood poppy is a transplant from my neighbor's yard and this year it is practically a bush with babies coming in around it. It's a spreader, but I don't mind. I love it's lemony color protruding from the shady spot next to my chair.

Important ache and pain news from a crazed doctor with as much personality as he had medical knowledge came yesterday. I am, in fact, he said, getting old. This news I celebrate, since the alternative--sickness and death--contradicts my life goals. (And since, deep inside, I've been worrying that it was metastatic disease.) I couldn't be more elated.

Thus, my urge to be out in the dirt reveling in the quick-time growth of the plants, speedily arising so incredibly fast, that you wonder that you can't actually see them morph before your eyes. Life is good.

This weekend, after I dig out the lilies, (which by the way, are an invasive type that I've learned are not welcome because they crowd out other plants), I plan to dig in some milkweed, which I've ordered specially to supplement my butterfly bushes. The bushes attract the butterflies, but the milkweed nourishes them. They are a host plant for the monarch butterfly and so I hope to do my part in helping my butterfly visitors find comfort for their journey. Another tribute to Earth Day?

Speaking of which, my Earth Day tadpoles are swimming strong in their dish. I am going to drop in some stones to create a kind of beach for them to crawl out onto. They are still living on my desk in the kitchen and I'm watching them for evidence that they might need to transition to the airspace above the water. I worry I'll come down in the morning to a toad infestation. But I'm afraid to leave them outside at night as they might fall prey to some nighttime predator.

The morning light was a blue and pink and yellow in the sky over top the spring green in the treetops. What a shame, I'm bound for a cubicle today. The Putterer

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Blossom of Youth Ebbs Away

I took this picture of the blossoms on my dwarf peach tree about 10 days ago. Now, the blossoms are crumpled and sagging off the branches and the little fruit tree is setting up to deliver a half-dozen peaches or so.

The last few years, this guy has worked mightily, but was foiled in the end by the onslaught of the voracious tent caterpillars. Last Saturday, a cluster of the little bastards was breeding in the crock of the nearby crab apple tree. So I took aim at them with a 50-50 mixture of ammonia and water and then wiped the tree clean of the nest and the insects. This year, I plan to put little nylon socks around the fruits to protect them from any eaters, but I doubt I will win. The raccoons will likely think the nylon mere relish for their fruit meals.

I have now finished all major heavy lifting in the garden, which waits only for just a little warmer weather before I can set out the tender annuals and vegetable plants. There remains one corner where I might dig out some tough lilies to give more space for the squash to spread, but only if I feel mighty and strong will I do it.

Meanwhile, my poor body is aching more than it should. The feet have this awful deformity that the doctor calls bunion, which sounds likes the diseases that plagued the characters of an historical novel, like pleurisy, dyspepsia, or gout. It's an ailment that grandmother suffered. Her poor feet when pulled out of her ugly orthopedic shoes always frightened me. And even as I remain convinced that I am too young to be old, I can't ignore that when Grandma was my age, she actually was a grandmother. Bunion, what a disgusting word.

Just up from the feet, the knees are holding strong, but giving off  warning signs. Along the side if I press on the muscle, after a good workout or run,  I can solicit a solid, sharp ache or pain. Above the knees, the hips are really a mess. In the seated position,  hips are happy, but unfolding them to rise to standing, there appears a dry rubbing as if I needed to oil them like Dorothy's Tin Man. "MMoilcan!"

The lower back has weighed in also. Last week, after coming out of a shoulder pose in yoga, a spasm took hold and deep yoga breathes proved almost fruitless in seeking relief.

I remember my father being old before his time. He would complain of ailments and bemoan youth culture. What a surprise it was to figure out that he was the same age as the rock stars he disdained. I am not old. I am not old. I won't succumb. Come on body. Be strong.

This weekend, I'm going to dig out the rest of those lilies. Roar! The Putterer

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lettuce Plan Our Day in the Garden

At the bare perception of daylight this morning, my eyes popped opened. I tried to stay in bed and rest a bit more. But when the eyes open, a neuroreceptor triggers the brain and thoughts ping pong like Beatniks dropping acid.

Every bed in the garden is ready for planting. The lettuce in the new lasagna bed is growing neatly in rows and the arugula in the raised bed is showing in a crazed pattern from the scattering throw I made of the seeds some three weeks ago.

Yesterday, I planted yellow finn seed potatoes in cloth bag containers on the lower deck. I can't wait to see if my potato experiment will work. I come to potato farming genetically. My grandfather used to plant rows and rows of them up on the hill overlooking his farm.

Inside the tiny tadpoles are fattening up, growing broader in the chest and little nubs are forming where their arms and legs will emerge. Yesterday, two of them got tangled in the cardboard and cheesecloth construction that I'd made for the toads to crawl out on. The two had died. I scooped them out with a plastic spoon and felt great remorse for my stupidity. The paper bridge was replaced with a more suitable stick version. (Why I didn't think of that in a first place is probably the reason why I always got Bs instead of As in school.)

My friend, Molly, came over and we dug up irises, lilies, hostas, sedums and sage, which she carried off to her garden. And I acquired a new garden buddy, a little girl from across the street came over and helped me weed, pot plants and carry things from bed to bed. We visited and chatted. It was like having my own little girls back again.

Today, I'm reading of how others have planted their bedding plants and tomatoes and other tender annuals and I'm tsk, tsking at their gardening naivete, but secretly wishing to do the same. The temperatures are in the high 70s during the day, but they are dipping into the 30s at night. The week of high 80s was a fluke and we could well pitch down below freezing yet. The rule is not to plant until Mother's Day.

There is still yet some clean up that I could accomplish. The nasty honey suckle is emerging despite my best efforts to beat it back. We have Dr. George Hall to thank for this invasive. Hall brought the plant from Japan in 1862. He offered it royal passage and cared for it during its journey as if were a treasured artwork. Once unleashed however, the plants wicked tendrils have slowly woven itself into the landscape up and down the entire Eastern seaboard and choking out natives as it claimed its supremacy. I, who vowed never to use herbicides in my garden, made one exception this winter and squirted its base (where ever I found one) with Roundup.

But, as I plan to release my new toady friends into the garden, I'll have to retire the Roundup for fear that it will taint their environment. I heard a commercial this week from the Ortho company exuding the benefits of its herbicide products. Urging customers to apply the stuff into their grass to kill the clover. "Clover is over," the narrator declared, never of course mentioning the benefits of clover in your lawn. And then incredibly the narrative followed that once the grass was free of all broad-leafed plants, the lawn owner was going to build a pond in his yard. Good luck with that I thought, the chemicals will all drain into the pond and kill his plants and wildlife there.

The house is awakening now. Time to get my day underway. The Putterer

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Putterer Makes Every Day Earth Day

Today in my office an unusual exchange took place between editors. By tradition we pass copy from one to another, the writer, the editor, and the top editor each takes a turn at synthesizing and perfecting the sentences and paragraphs that will eventually be published in the magazine. But instead of words, my friend and fellow editor Laura Helmuth passed along a plastic yogurt container housing some 30 tadpoles and I was delighted to accept the gift.

The gift was precipitated because I had casually mentioned the other day while I was in Laura's office my ambition to invite toads into my garden. I had heard that they live happily near small pools of water in dark shady corners requiring only an overturned flower pot for shelter. In return, they will eat up all the bugs and pests that plague my plants. They are the necessary ingredient that every gardener desires, a living, breathing pesticide machine.

So my toads, should they survive their transition from tadpole to hopping garden johns, are yet another creature in my backyard ecosystem--birds, butterflies, bees, cats, kids, dogs, friends, (an occasional foe) and now toads. In my backyard garden, I practice love for mother Earth. I honor the plants and trees, I study the natural world. With compost, I return the nutrients to the soil. I grow food. I grow flowers. And I rest and I play there. This is my tiny corner of the Earth. And I am a conscientious steward.

And that brings me to another topic. Jan, a fellow garden blogger, who hosts a blog called Thanks For Today is requesting that garden bloggers share the ways that they are "actively practicing a greener lifestyle and contributing to protecting our environment." And so, Jan, here's my pledge to you. The first tadpole to grow legs and climb out of the primordial pond, or yogurt container, and take up residence in my garden will be named for you. Jan, the garden toad, we'll call him. The Putterer

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Follow Your Own Path

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." --Henry David Thoreau

There are a plethora of path quotes and metaphors to explore, but my guy Thoreau comes through for me yet again. As I write this, my back and shoulders ache and a certain throbbing in my feet are all indications of the path I took this past weekend. I built one between and around my vegetable beds. I'm quite proud of it. And except for the cost of my 14 stepping stones (about $8 each) and my six bags of gravel ($4) and the weed cloth ($15), it was rather a modest expenditure. To line the new beds, I used found materials--fallen branches and milky quartz stones.

Now, dressed for work this morning, I easily navigated the foot path to water my rows of lettuce growing in my lasagna garden (no, for the last time, I'm telling you, there's no sausage or pasta involved). The Putterer

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Tough Job Done

I'm an apple a day girl and I've got this fantasy that my garden might one day produce bountiful harvests each fall of apples and peaches and lemons and figs. So a few years ago, I bought a self-pollinating golden delicious and I planted it on a sloping bank in place of a crab apple tree that had been destroyed when a part of my neighbor's tulip tree blew down in a storm. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, the crab apple recovered and in a few years it outdistanced the rate of growth of the apple tree and last summer, the poor apple tree, so stressed, started to fall over. I tied it to the crab tree and vowed to transplant it.

Well, the job needed strength and I should have surely hired someone to do it, but yesterday afternoon, I did it myself. The tree will one day thank me--if it survived the fairly harsh circumstances in which I yanked it and tugged it and dragged it. But once I wrestled it up the hill and into its new home, right next to the forsythia bush and on level ground, I imagined it was already giving me high approval ratings. The Putterer

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ten Things I'll Do This Year in My Garden

1. To enhance the flavor of both, grow basil parallel to the tomato plants.

2. To guard against red spiders, plant garlic with the tomatoes.

3. Marjoram and oregano are beneficial to all nearby plants for growth and flavor. Plant both in many places.

4. Rue does not get along well with basil. But roses like it.

5. Plant rue with the fig tree because as Pliny observed: "Rue and the fig tree are in great league and amitie together."

6. But remember that when rue is in flower, it can cause severe dermatitis.

7. Sow two or three radish seeds in the cucumber hills to protect them against cucumber beetles.

8. Plant squash in mid-summer to avoid insect damage.

9. Keep garlic far away from beans and peas.

10. Plant nasturtiums under the apple tree to protect it from woolly aphids. The Putterer

Source: Carrots Love Tomatoes & Roses Love Garlic by Louise Riotte

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Putter Perfect Day

Yesterday, I played hookie from work and made a perfect day. Patsy had a job this week doing community service at Brookside Gardens. She was working in the childrens' program each morning and I stayed home to drive her there and back and then went to work in the afternoons. By Friday, the transition from calm home to tense office was making me crazy and so I took the whole day off.

I met Patsy at Brookside with a picnic after her shift was over. Then, back at home we spruced up some old flower stands with some yellow and blue paint. And then Patsy made another garden rock. This is a trick I've used for years to amuse the kids and to brighten a dark corner. We take smooth, rounded river stones, wash them and dry them clean. And then we use airplane model paint to cover them with flowers and other designs. I have them all over the garden now dating to back to when the girls were quite young. Yesterday's new addition is a sophisticated rendering copied from some botanical prints in an old wild flower guidebook.

I also completed my path around the raised beds. I'd found branches and stones all over the neighborhood to line out the beds and then laid down a covering of weed fabric. Next, I put down a whole series of whimsical stepping stones that I'd found for cheap at Tuesday morning and then poured in gravel all around them. Admittedly, it looks a bit trailer park. But if it hadn't been for Jim, that might have been destiny, so I'm embracing my inner trashiness.

Blooms today: the peach tree, the viburnum, the daffodils of course, the forsythia, the wood poppy, and the Lenten rose.

Budding: the flowering crab apple and the dogwoods.

Today, it's a little overcast, but there's more puttering to pursue, so I'm off. The Putterer