Saturday, April 30, 2011

Herbacious and a Chance of OCD

White on white, two azaleas and some tulips.
I woke up this morning fresh from a deep sleep at 4 a.m. I think I was anticipating the pending bird song and sure enough within minutes my little chirpster starting in on his happy call. "I'm going tooo. . .Germany, Germany, Germany.

And at that point, there was little chance I'd drift back to sleep. I am now officially suffering an obsessive, compulsive disorder, known otherwise as gardening. I can't get away from it. And I'm starting to lose touch with reality. All winter, the New Yorkers piled up, while I turned the pages of nursery catalogs.

It's a defensive position, I think. As authoritarian regimes collapse, and earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and birthers wreck havoc, I am blithely unengaged.

Rome is burning and I'm thinking about tulips.

A little book is keeping me company on those days of the week, when I'm forced to leave my garden to attend to my day job. So before I dash out into the weekend sunshine, (The most perfect of spring days has happily fallen on a Saturday. The weather forecast this morning actually incorporated the word "superb.") I want to share a few pearly words of wisdom from an old gardener that lives in the pages of this ancient novel, Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell.

This gardener's name is Herbert Pinnegar, who arrived in a basket on the doorstep of a charitable woman, mother of six, and what's one more.

The little boy was shorter in one leg than the others boys growing up in the village. And lacking a mother, he grew unevenly. He developed a huge inferiority complex that matured into an even larger superiority complex, as little Bert grew into his adulthood. He became garden apprentice at a manor home in the waning days of the Victorian era, when boys were educated to "work on the land" as farmers.

Yet, Pinneger, aka Old Herbaceous, rose to become the manor's head gardener and the respected judge at the county flower show. At the end, the sage old man of 80 props himself up on pillows at the window to admire a garden that has seen better days--his days. A little melancholy, but charming all the way through.

A few of the finer moments in the life of my hero, Bert Pinnegar:

  • Bert Pinnegar hadn't much time for girls, but anyone who loved a garden walked straight into his heart.
  • The apple blossom gave him his first real thrill.
  • To him, all weeds were flowers, while to the farmer all flowers were weeds, so there was little hope of an understanding.
  • She was a robust person with a robust appearance, who employed robust methods to secure her inevitable goal.
  • Funny, that! You planted a tree; you watched it grow; you picked the fruit and, when you were old, you sat in the shade of it.
  • Why were flowers under cultivation so much more delicate than the wild sort?
  • Everybody ought to plant a tree, sometime or another--if only to keep them humble in the sight of the Lord.
  • Gardening may be the most exasperating occupation under the sun, but it gives as much as it gets--no more no less.
  • The world started with a garden and a thing that had been going all that time wouldn't end so easily.
So I am off to the garden. The Putterer

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tomato Time

When the dogwood blooms, it's time to order the tomatoes.
I have trouble making decisions when I'm faced with too many choices and so the easiest solution is to let somebody else pick. So last night, I pointed my browser to White Flower Farm and placed my tomato order, selecting their six heirloom package for an unbelievably high price of $41, plus shipping, some crazy $16.

I'm sure all the other gardeners out there, who have carefully collected their seeds from other gardeners and sowed those seeds six weeks ago under indoor lights with superb humid conditions, and who have now growing tons of superior plants that are just waiting to be planted as soon as the fear of frost ebbs away in May--I'm sure those gardeners are shocked.

But I can't grow from seed. My seeds usually ignore every one of my entreaties to come up out of the soil. And if they do grow, they usually die, either drowned by my waterings or scorched by my lamp.

So I am the perfect chump for the $41-plus-shipping nursery crook. Now with that confession out of the way., I can hardly wait for their arrival because I've researched each variety and with each note that I made in my planting journal, I could taste centuries of gardening seasons already as if I was picking them now.

Here what's coming my way:

The Riesentraube has been in American gardens since 1856 when the Pennsylvania Dutch brought them up. The fruit grow as if they are more bunches of grapes than tomatoes, delivering bundles of plum-sized delights with prolific efficiency.

I grew the Green Zebra last year, impressed because Alice Waters likes to offer it at Chez Panisse. It's not too large and bears fruit late in the season. I had it down in the back garden, but planted too close to another tomato variety and it clearly needed more room, because it bolted all over the place. So I'll give ample space this year and stake it better.

I also grew Black Prince last year on the deck in full sun and it did well. Both the raccoon and I got to taste of its mahogany fruits. It can withstand cool climates, having coming from Siberia, so maybe the heat  and humidity of DC offers some challenge, but it was in the package, so I'm working with it.

In honor of the Civil War sesquicentennial, the mid-season beefsteak Missouri Pink Love Apple, which hung on the vines of our great grandparents in the years the country tore itself up over states rights and slavery, will take pride of place this summer in my garden.

The Medal Yellow, according to the catalog purveyor who named it in the 1970s, is the "sweetest tomato you ever tasted. The yellow with streaks of red makes them very attractive and a gourmet's joy when sliced."

And the Orange Strawberry looks to be a gynormous tomato, larger than a handful and which will need lots and lots of support to hold up its heavy, heavy fruits. The Putterer

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Beckoning

My Chair is ready.
All week my garden has had that come hither look about her. I can feel her calling me, begging me to come out and play. But the rules state that I have to finish my homework before I can come out.

Soon, my darling, soon.

Here is a lovely picture of my favorite chair, freshened up now with a shade of purple. Why purple?

Why you know already. The eccentricity that befalls every woman in about her fifth decade. She's running hot and cold. Fists balled in fury or arms open wide to hug everyone. It's a messy mix of love and rage and purple is a color for both. The Putterer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A White House Tour of the Gardens

I dubbed my photo, "An Eye For History," because it's of  picture taken in
April 1861, 150 years ago this month. Photo by The Putterer
It was cloudy and overcast most this morning, though sun had been promised. A friend passed me a trio of tickets to tour the gardens at the White House and though it was chilly, we made good use of them. My college roommate MaryPat McKeown, nee O'Meara, and her wonderful husband Mark were in town for the weekend. So we headed downtown this morning and stood awhile in line on 15th Street, only to be unleashed inside the White House grounds for a self-guided tour, spending as much time as we wanted. It was fabulous and we must have lingered there about two or more hours ambling through at an easy pace. Archival photographs along the pathways told stories of which president planted which tree, and this one caught my eye. The date on it: April 1861, exactly 150 years ago this month of a ceremony for Abraham Lincoln. So I crouched down and matched the view with the 2011 White House. I'll call it, "An Eye For History." After dropping the McKeowns off at the airport, the sun burst through the clouds and the temperature climbed about ten degrees and so from three until five, I puttered in my garden. Got the vegetable beds ready and cleaned up "Mom's Garden." I've got a fence proposal that's reasonable and soon I'll sign the contract. And not too soon. While I was gardening, all the neighbors were pointing and calling out that a gang of deer bandits were passing through. I didn't get a glimpse. They managed to stay behind the rhododendron and out of my line of sight. I think they steered clear of me because they could sense my contempt. The Putterer

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Today In My Garden

Oh Pioneers!

Call us homesteaders
In my mind, I can hear Ma and Pa Ingalls, Caroline and Charles, at the end of their pioneering days. The couple is arguing.

Here's Ma: "Charles, I'm sick and tired of the hardships. I just can not be out there anymore in the winter blizzards trying to get to the barn and clinging to the rope. Mary's blind as a bat. Laura is off with Alfonzo. Grace is grown. It's time we spend some of our savings and get this old cabin warmed up."

Here's Pa: "Oh Caroline, honey, you want some heat, come to Pa."

Caroline: "Charles, if you think I'm going to spend another night snuggled up to a hot baked potato, you've got another think coming."

Charles: "What do you want from me, Caroline?"

Caroline: "Pa, I'm sick of Pepco's power outages. I can't bear the cold and the not-knowing. The certainty that the slightest weather disturbance means the Ingalls family must shiver in uncertainty over when the power will come back on. I want a fireplace insert, Pa. I want warmth on demand. The press of a button. . . .

And that's what Jim and I did today. We bought a natural gas fireplace insert that throws off enough heat to warm our house, even in a power outage. I'll be able to come down in the morning and with the toggle of a remote control button, I'll have my fireplace glowing even before the coffee is ready.

We are ready now. Oh Pioneers, we urban homesteaders, landscaping with food stuffs like swiss chard and herbs; tomatoes and potatoes. Maybe, I'll start wearing gingham and raise a few chickens. Hell, maybe even a cow and a goat. The Putterer

We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder

A fresh coat of purple has just transformed an old ladder.

Now to plant some climbing vines and grow something very delightful up on the ladder.

Can you see my purple ladder in the heat of July supporting a whole bunch of pickling cucumbers.

I can hardly wait. The Putterer