Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fatal Attraction

Echinacea purpurea 'Fatal Attraction'

The ever widening fascination with the beauty of plants is a constant source of entertainment. If it were not for the development of digital cameras, we petal and leaf addicts would surely go bankrupt over the cost of film.

Is this digital? No! I must have several thousand dollars invested in the bin of photos I harbor in the closet. Eighty percent or better in that Rubbermaid bin are photos of plants and flowering scenes. Not all of them are good shots though, so why I am still holding onto them is curious. I suppose it is a memory even if it would be judged poor photography by others.

Perhaps it is a fatal attraction of sorts. The hesitancy to discard the past has some foundation. Like a distant memory there a scenes that are hazy, blurred and wrongly lit ... unworthy of sharing past shuffling through the box. It takes about 2 hours to go through this collection in search of some shot remembered.

Rare pleasant mood - the only such shot ever caught.

In the process of hunting through the proof of an obsession I am reminded of Mr. Crotchety. A fine looking piece of horse flesh with the personality of a rock and demeanor of the devil. It was no wonder they retired him from racing. Smart as a whip, this fatal attraction though very well trained could do some of the most unexpected things.

A horse who thought it hilarious to stand on cat's tails and watch them writhe in agony. I kid you not the baggage could snort in definite hilarity. He would act as if he were lame if a prospective buyer came for a look. He would fall over on the blacksmith while his back was turned, hunched over with a hoof on his knee filing away. Mr. Crotchety was ever a wonder, never boring and always up to something.

Like the time he crawled under the fence and ran away from home. Eight miles away to be exact. It took two sheriff departments and 10 days to find his lousy arse. After it was all said and done, I had to ride the sidewinder all the way home on a 95 degree day. When the house finally came into view through the neighbor's orchard, the blasted jug head came to an abrupt halt. He stood there staring at what he thought to have left forever and grunted loudly. As if to say, "What ... not this place again!"

Mr. Crotchety at his finest.

The horse was so anti-social we had to give back the rescue horse we adopted as a companion. The poor old loving guy was bitten and kicked constantly, living in a nightmare. Mr. Crotchety wanted nothing but to stand in the corner of his paddock with his butt in the wind while dozing in solitaire. If he was dead set against going for a walk, he thought nothing of falling to his knees in the road while at a brisk trot. He actually knew that by bloodying his knees he could go back to the barn.

It is interesting to note that the black devil was owned by women from the minute he came off the track. Suckers for sleek muscles and flashy dressing followed one after another over the years. I bought him from a sheriff's deputy, who bought him from a judge. After 6 years of trying to make friends with him he finally picked a teenage girl to seduce with his charm.

We got a divorce, this black devil and I and for once HE paid the tab. Lured into their trailer with an armload of orchard pears, I waved goodbye to his long flowing tail as it got smaller and smaller driving away. Not one to waste time at an art, he began his treachery before the got him off the trailer. At least he behaved long enough that this poor woman managed to hand me the cash. I couldn't be of much help to her when she called to say she thought he had a broken leg. He did not ... it was part of his act.

They were not as patient as I was. Finally, Mr. Crotchety won the war of pig-headed laziness. At least I am glorified in the knowledge that it was nothing I had done. Lord knows, I was always kind and patient with him as he lashed out and acted a fool. Last I heard he was living large on a retired racehorse pasture somewhere in Kentucky. Best place for him too. No matter how much of a shyster he was - he was far too pretty for glue. The photos are the best I have of him, but they don't really do him any justice save the one where he tries to look like he will eat you if you dare get closer.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Forerunner of Eclectic Gardens

Kerascoet cottage garden - Courtesy of Creative Commons

Can you find anything more beautiful or romantic than an English cottage style garden? There is more life and amazement contained in this eclectic style than can be found in any other method of design. Grandeur pales in comparison with the sheer exuberance of life that erupts in such a planting.

Variety is the spice of life and the lifeblood of a colorful garden. I don't believe there is a more vibrant style of bloom display to be found than this method. Cram it all in and enjoy the show. That is the reason we do this thing called gardening in the first place. The toil is repaid ten fold as the succession of blooming erupts and changes, ever moving around the beds as the sun travels from one axis to another.

Wilton House Gardens - Courtesy of Creative Commons

Granted we can't all have a river running through it. I do admit there are no flowery borders in this image of the Wilton House. Yet, the waterway itself adds a particular magic to the view. We can however add a water feature of diminutive proportions to gain the accent of reflection and mirroring found only with a water element.

The feeling of life one absorbs from a cottage style garden is found in no other style of garden design. There are very few rules to follow which gives you the feeling of freedom. You can toss in all manner of plants and so long as you planned the plantings so the center is taller than the ends and the sides, it will all be fabulously displayed.

Of course, one has to pay attention to grouping plants of like minded water desires. More for the leaves than for the roots as the base can always be amended to either retain or get rid of water as required. Overhead watering is really not a desirable feature in a perennial garden. Using a ground water system allows you more freedom in planting combinations.

Ground water reduces mildew and fungus problems on foliage for plants that are prone to falling prey to them. Heavenly perennials like garden phlox is fine with a once a week overhead bath to clean the dust, but if done every day even the most mildew resistant will soon become diseased. The same is true of asters and beebalm.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage - Courtesy of Creative Commons

When planning the cottage style garden, do be sure to create paths that are at least 36" wide. If you have ever been impaled by the wheelbarrow handle while trying to maneuver a curve in a too narrow garden path this tidbit of wisdom will have already been foremost in your mind while planning the spaces in your garden. Or perhaps it was the time that the leg got hung up on a rock as you turned and all the weeds and mess in the barrow was deposited back in the freshly cleaned bed? (Yes, this happened to me, how did you guess?)

Eclectic is not knew as a style of design. It is simply the modernized term for cottage. Cottage gardens or cottage decorating, it is all one and the same. Oh and that shabby chic look? Those that must get by with what they have or find have been practicing the shabby chic look for thousands of years. It is however, about darn time that having everything matching and the same was discovered as boring. Variety is the only way to over come boredom and regularity.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Convenient Truth

As a freelance content writer, I do get to cover some really interesting subjects. I do catalog descriptions for two mail-order nurseries. One of them had me write a newsletter on Paulownia elongata recently.

Now, I have to say that I have been aware of this tree for a very long time. I remember junk snail mail received some 20 years ago or more offering this tree at ridiculous low prices. I never thought it to be worth any thought or attention because the ads never showed a photo of a real tree. It was always some poorly rendered color drawing showing the thing covered with bright blue flowers. Totally unrealistic from the word go.

Several years ago, one of my favorite local customers was convinced he needed one of these Royal Princess trees. Since Rich and I had a mutually familiar rapport when he visited, I told him it was a bunch of bunk. Rich always called or popped in to ask my opinion on the latest miracle offer. Secretly I learned that he was not allowed to spend anymore money on these expensive hoaxes without first consulting my advice. So Rich never got his miraculous bright blue flowering tree. Its probably best, as it would not have survived some of those bitter Michigan winters out there in open farmland.

I was correct in my assumption that the artistic blue flowers were a lie. Yet I have discovered that not only are the flowers huge and beautiful in lavender for spring ... the tree is actually in possession of huge earth friendly benefits. It is hardy in zones 5-11 and a tree that should be planted in every community. The following facts and true and undeniably heavy on supporting the green movement.

It takes decades for hardwood shade trees to grow to a size that they give valuable relief from the sun's heat. Royal Princess trees attain such a size in less than 10 years. This by itself is a benefit worth it's weight in gold. Did you know that new homes without the benefit of mature trees to block out the sun and offer wind protection in the winter actually cost about 25% more for energy? Normal energy bills in older homes with large trees around it typically have that much of a reduction in power bills.

Paulownia elongata image published under GNU Free Documentation License

The huge leaves on the Royal Princess tree have proven to actually clean toxic pollutants and produce pure oxygen 10 time faster than any other tree. Like why is this lovely specimen not populating urban communities? It gets even better, the roots have been proven to filter all toxins from the soil they reside in. The tree grows very rapidly and offers impressive erosion control which dramatically cuts down on loss of invaluable topsoil.

The Paulownia tree produces knot free lumber in a span of 3 to 4 years. It is a light colored hardwood that is very in demand for furniture in Japan and is stronger than Basswood. Get this - it is the most sustainable tree on the planet for lumber and paper pulp. Once the tree is harvested, instead of a dead stump remaining, it actually rapidly reproduces a new trunk from the same roots. Can you grasp the meaning of this?

Paper and lumber industries have stripped millions of acres of mature forests from the face of our planet, leaving huge vacancies in the natural system that kept Earth temperatures cooler and our air more rapidly filtered. Developers of cities and suburbia leveled forested areas of vast dimensions. Urban metropolises are even more damaging from mass expansions of concrete and asphalt, buildings and concentrations of humans and vehicles making the heat index soar. Yet if these vast stripped areas around the globe were replanted with Royal Princess trees, they would repair the damage and provide a rapidly renewable source of materials we consume at such rapid rates.

The Paulownia elongata though valuable for it regal beauty, scented blooms and its attraction of flocks of birds and butterflies is the boon of so many benefits that are not yet widely known. It is easy to grow,drought tolerant as well as highly adaptable to soil types and climate differences. The leaves provide super nutrient rich compost too. All in all, the Royal Princess tree is a very convenient truth that should be put to use as a very green living element for sustainable living and an aid to the earth's environment.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Word About Smut

Once upon a time ( a year ago to be about exact) a plant inspector with a state department of agriculture 0pened up his office computer's website browser to do a little research on Ustilago maydis. Like any other person would, instead of typing in all that Latin mumbo jumbo, he simply typed in smut. Corn smut was his attended topic of research. The state government browser window popped open a page full of hits and he scrolled down and clicked on one that looked right.

Had he been thinking, he might have been wiser to type in all that mumbo jumbo Latin lettering. For what to his wondering eyes should appear on his state department computer screen? Porn, porn and more porn. The faster he tried to shut the insanely popping up windows down, the more of them opened in front of his frantic eyes. After attempting to beat the assailant for over 30 minutes and not even gaining on the intrusion, he was resigned to call the IT department to seek help in solving his issues.

Myself personally? I would have hit the power button after 5 minutes! Maybe even three. But hey, like I don't work for the state so I wouldn't have IT to rescue me from such a frontal attack. The biggest source of the inspector's angst was having to tell the technology department what he needed help with. I mean, imagine yourself in this dilemma, so distraught that it never occurred to you to turn off the ignition.

The poor man, a nice upstanding Christian guy who would never go surfing to goggle the wares, now has to tell another government department that his state issue computer in his state department office is hooked on opening up disgusting windows with no hope of gaining control. Why he didn't just shut it down and quietly take his leave I cannot fathom.

Instead he took a big breath and called IT. Sweating with duress in relating his problem he found that IT was not fazed a hair and came right over to ease him of his misery. But only after they had squeezed the entire story out of him one horrifying fragment of a sentence at a time. I mean, put yourself in his office while this is all happening and he is panicking ... totally hysterical situation. IT must have really had a field day dragging the tale out him one phrase at a time.

Since I don't work for nor have ever been employed by the government in that state (or any other), I can only wonder at what anal browser they require the state departments computers to use. Yet, I know the story is true due to the source of it's relating to me. I venture to assume he typed in smut without thinking about it instead of "corn smut". Try it, you'll see what I mean. Just like anyone else so involved in their work he simply typed in the first thing that came to mind.

Image Credit: Courtesy of cc-by-ca-2.0

Talk about a snaffoo! Lucky for him he had an office and wasn't in a office pool setting. Poor guy, he would never have lived that one down in a pool. A totally fungus among us type situation that from the outside looking in is too funny, yet were we in that chair the very same bizarre situation could happen to just about anyone if they type in the write word without thinking.

Incidentally, did you know that corn smut (a.k.a. Ustilago maydis) is actually a culinary delicacy in Mexico? Oh yes, it is commonly referred to as 'ravens excrement' from the word that represents it in one Mexican dialect. It sounds totally disgusting at first notion, and yet there are not many Mexican foods that have mushrooms in them.

A mushroom is a delicacy in many international and even plain old American cuisines. Mushrooms are funguses and where would spaghetti or gravy be without them? Perhaps is good for something that some cultures have yet to investigate. Picked young while meaty they are reported to have a flavor something like a mushroom.

If you order a Mexican wonder meal and it contains "huitlacoche" or "cuitlicoche" at some fine international place of repose, you are eating corn sumt. A crop that brings a higher price on the food market in Mexico than corn does. Now that is saying something since so much of the food made and sold in Mehico is corn based.

Smut, now who woulda thunk such an appalling crop disease would be worth more than the crop itself? Maybe American farmers who are plagued with corn smut should be smarter and get the stuff pickled or canned and sell it on the global market to Mexico. Seems a far more brilliant plan than destroying all that inflated cash crop.

Forget the corn - grow smut! It is easy to reproduce ... all you have to do is save some of last year's spores to infect each new season's crop. You could grow any old kind of seed corn, the cheaper the better because the smut is the real money maker in that field. Amazing the things one sees while simply seeing how much porn links come up on Google out of curiosity over a tale.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strange Light

I suppose one must be surrounded by a lot of open country to be witness to events such as this on. Above the sky is light. It is not raining in my garden or anywhere in my yard for that matter. Yet across the road in the newly sown cornfield there brews a storm beneath the sky.

That dark blue behind the trees is not a mountain, those are clouds and torrential rain where open space should be. Yet it is dry and quiet west of the road. This was very strange, and weird too. The odd light changing the tone of the Iris blooms as it played oddly on the scene. The edge of that storm did move across the road and drench my silly self out there standing and acting the spectator in foolish awe. Moving onto the dry porch only after my clothes were plastered to my skin.

That field seems a rather strange place with a climate that is perhaps a little off. It has a history of attracting tornadoes too. In '54 one headed straight north up the center of it and picked up Ida's barn. Of course it was the one her daddy built in 1903. The foundation is still there at the corner of the field, inside of which grows a thicket of trees that has engulfed the old cistern. An ancient tractor the tornado left behind will never grace someone's antique machine collection. It will remain until it turns to dust with a tree grown straight up though the iron frame.

The year after I took this photo, a tornado chased me up the road from town. How I outran it I no idea, yet somehow I did. I was going so fast when I hit the driveway I almost went through the barn. The black funnel touched down at the far side of the field raising dirt dervishes up as high as the trees behind it. It reached a break in the trees over there and headed over head, not touching down again until it hit Tornado Alley along the Interstate 15 miles east.

Tornadoes seem drawn to the county line - that road that runs east and west less than eighth of a mile beyond my driveway. The following summer we all had to run for the cellar as one screamed right up the center of that road too. All my potter kids and me giggling in the musty safety beneath the ground. Listening to the phone upstairs ring off the hook. No one was brave enough to go back outside to get into the house and calm whatever mom (or moms) frantically trying to find their child.

In the midst of the howling wind and thunder, someone was actually knocking on the cellar door! It wasn't a mother. She sent her oldest daughter (far braver than she) to make sure we were in the cellar. Of course by then the danger had speed through and what remained was just the wind that drove the eye of the storm swiftly toward Tornado Alley.

Like who would think of grabbing the cordless when safety must be found without hesitation? Where was my cellphone? Dead at the bottom of my purse - where else would it be in a land without dependable or albeit any signal that would allow you to actually use it. Thanks Verizon, you service is priceless.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Small Voice

Just one small voice, can you hear her? So much anguish and even heartbreak colors the tone. A mother robbed of her children and her home. Men with no hearts or feelings have plundered, oh so joyous in the spoils of their deeds. It mattered not that they had murdered so many of her beloved. The entire kingdom as it was known, is either in flames or completely obliterated. Never again will she be able to feed or give comfort or bring joy to her beloved family.

In vain, she repeatedly warned them, yet they paid her voice no notice. She raised them to understand they must never allow any harm befall a one of their treasures. Given them the instinct to protect each other and yet in the end her entire life's work was for nothing. It has all been laid to waste, her creatures and beasts of burden lie lifeless and the ugliness of greed wafts heavily like an unbearable stench. The anguish cannot ever be erased, the outcome is what shall always remain. No hope, no plan for the future, she has nothing now but a void that will stretch on for the rest of her days.

Are you saddened by her tears? Do you sympathize with her, feel the need to comfort her over your loss? Yes, your loss - for you are one of those that she has lost. You and the brotherhood of men, every bird she set to flight in the sky, each beautiful mammal lovingly placed upon the soil, all the fishes that swam through her waters and the magnificent beauty of flora that once carpeted the planet and created air for all of her children to thrive. Mother Nature does exist, she who brings life to everything on Earth with a finely woven tapestry of skill and innovation mere man could never mimic. Yet man is so egotistical that he attempts to make a better world than hers. Man was created by nature and cannot ever be nature. To continue to attempt to do so is to dig all or our graves.

You who have all become so specialized in industry that, that place so far removed from the soil. Lowly earth, your true source of sustenance and yet you cannot comprehend nor care to hear the messages. She is not amazed - it is not what you know any longer. The mechanisms and livelihoods of everything in the natural world is something you have schooled yourself to not be able to fathom. If you did understand Earth and Nature would not be in the state of abuse that they are. Natural resources belong to every living thing on earth, not to one group of humans, nor to one man. Without them being there as resources, nature will sicken and die. Without nature, there will be no life on earth. It's a circle, not an oblong. There is no Fix-A-Flat. Just one crack in the circle and that's it dude, all life is toast.

It isn't like there is another one somewhere. You can't mold one out of resin. Of all the things that could ever be broken, this will be the greatest faux pas of all time - anywhere in the solar system. The most deplorable point about all of this? It is not yours to destroy. Not yours, ours, his or theirs.

Perhaps you will understand with your last remaining breath. Perhaps not even then. After all, it would be highly inconvenient, completely non-cost effective and definitely frowned upon by those whose climb to the top you so emphatically seek to mimic. Mere man hath no power whatsoever when faced by an all consuming wrath of Nature.

More horrifying than anything the world has seen before, and yet it is a most inconvenient truth.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Split Personalities

For reasons unknown to me, the strangest things have happened in my garden and far flung container culture of ornamental plants. Trust me, my collection of plants residing in plastic pots far outdoes anything most of you can claim to be harboring, even if somewhat shamefully. Mine covered an acre of ground, the patios, the deck, the front porch and the front of the barn. I disguised the entire affair as a nursery, but in reality nothing ever arrived to add to stock that didn't totally appeal to me. This nursery sold my taste in plants. Totally personal branding at large.

One year I got into clematis really heavy and Julka was once of the more intriguing cultivars added to the catalog. Mind you any of these plants that graced the catalog was destined to take up residence in my private collection. It is the obsession that fed the madness completely devouring what was once a lovely sloping manicured lawn. Who needs all that grass? It was much lovelier hidden by thousands of plants in black plastic condos.

What became of the coveted and won Julka Clematis? It developed a personality disorder in season two. There is no photo touching done in the image above. The thing actually produced dark red and brilliant blue-purple flowers at one time - simutaneously - on the same stem. A truly psychotic bloomer which seemed to now be so confused that it had no idea who it was.

This vine was affectionately dubbed Sybil since it was quite obviously was no longer Julka. The behavior far exceeded the often troublesome problem of exciting new plants reverting to one of the parents used in breeding. Here was a Clematis that had became so mixed up as to stage an argument with itself that continued all summer long. It never tired of differing in in its own opinion.

Were it not for the damnable rabbits who chewed it off at the ground over the winter, murdering poor confused Sybil in cold blood - you might be able to purchase your own split personality vine today. Have I mentioned how much I abhor rabbits? Does anyone know WHY they only target the things you treasure most? Couldn't they just be happy with the other things you wish would silently slip away instead?

I think rabbits should only come in chocolate, wrapped in whimsical foil to complete an Easter basket properly. The only way to control them is to do away with their population ... or build a fortress around your garden that nothing larger than a Japanese beetle can break into. It is far more cost effective to get rid of Thumper and his kin.

Rabbit stew anyone? Dinner will be ready soon. In loving memory of Sybil whose constant and unending argument shall never be forgotten. May she rest in a peace totally unknown to her in life.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Safe Insect Control

Interesting! Dust for thought ...

After watching this I looked around to see how much this stuff costs. Guess what I found! If you buy it from a garden supply type company you will pay an arm and a leg. If you buy diatomaceos earth from a pool supply store it is far cheaper. Maybe its because they aren't spelling that word correctly. Allied Pool Supply has it at $19.99 for 25 pounds. This is a material used in pool filters that can be used to combat all those bugs that create havoc in your yard, garden and inside the house.

If spell the word the correct way ... as in diatomaceous earth then you get all the competing garden supply merchants where you can pay from $6.50 for a mere 1.5 pounds to $64.90 for 10 pounds. Simply amazing how the same dehydrated algae substance gains all that sticker shock when they want to sell it to gardeners.

By the way, it can also be used as a growing medium in hydroponic growing. It is used in cat litter due to it's ability to absorb moisture. No more holy hostas ... this will do in the slugs in a jiffy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Guerrilla Gardening USA

I have long been convinced that much of the anger and unrest found in the inner-city is directly due to the lack of connection with the plant kingdom. Humans were after all created to live in a garden. Most downtown areas are a jungle of concrete and buildings with very little plant life save a few street trees planted in squares left for them in the sidewalk. One must go to the park or out to suburbia and beyond to get back in touch with the one thing that is naturally healing and therapeutic to the human psyche.

There is many places in the urban environment that there is soil that no one cares to do anything with. Barren, weed and rubbish strewn spaces abound within the United States. Oh they are widespread around the world, but across the Atlantic there are people who are doing something about the lack of plant beauty throughout large cities like London. Watch these covert activities in action ...

The addition of hope and a reason for tomorrow is something that only ornamental plants can communicate to humans. This is has been shown over and over again. In the urban jungle there is not much hope springing up on the streets. Trees are good, but they tower above humans and while important to cleaning urban air, there is so much more that can be done to change the bleak environment. Small patches of live color would be worth their weight in gold to many street corners and areas along the millions of miles of pavement that run through our cities.

Now if you visit the website where all the guerrilla gardeners around the world communicate you will find that there is very little activity in the USA. The majority of it is operating in California. What about the rest of this vast country? Why have we not taken the ugliness into our own hands yet? I doubt that in this country the police would actually try to arrest us for beautifying a space. City Beautification is important to the USA.

Please spread the word. Respond to this post by counting yourself in on a movement that American spaces are direly in need of. If I can get enough responders, perhaps we can make things happen as a group. It is a small thing to do yet it could change many people's outlook on the world they live in.

To learn more about the Guerrilla Gardening Movement around the globe, visit http://guerrillagardening.org

We can make a difference. I'll be waiting to hear from you.

UPDATE: 7-18-08 ... There is more activity in the USA than previously stated. All these are so covert in their actions they will not so much as answer a query about their site or digs. Wikipedia states that this is often viewed as a political action. Perhaps only the mis-aligned feel free to practice the playing forward of beautification of their communities? I find it very strange that no one is willing to share mere photos of such activity with the masses outside the sanctity of their choice of posting. I have just finished an in-depth article that will soon be published on a prominent internet gardening community regarding this topic. While those practicing this underground artistic movement with live plants and publicize it on YouTube hold no thought for the spreading of such a movement on a broader scale worldwide. If you want a friendly place to get more information on the practice of guerrilla gardening. Feel free to write to Mr. Stamen at www.LAGuerrillaGardening.org. He is the only person to step forward and share proof of the beautification of the digs his troops have done. G.G.

Monday, July 7, 2008

World's Only Blue Japanese Maple

At first, it was a normal and quite lovely little red laceleaf maple exuberantly residing along side the kitchen patio. It's dark red foliage was just the right accent for all the colors around it. Had it not been severely damaged by a falling tree en route to market, it would have been adopted out. Yet there it was living large and growing to great beauty that left mo visible traces of the once maiming event.

That was until those rascally rabbits discovered the delectable array of fodder known as my fenced in garden. I suspect this arrival of the cottonball tailed wretches was due to a harsh winter's lack of available food. Indeed, we had all lived in peace and harmony for years prior to this particular fateful off-season.

Whatever the reason for the invasion of the body munchers, the heinous murder of the once fabulous Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen' was rendered overnight by creatures with harmful intent. Not only did they raise the branch canopy as far above the ground as could be reached by standing on the tips of their thumper feet, they stripped the specimen of nature from stem to stern of bark and greenwood. Heartless wee buggers!

Spring arrived and nary a sign of leafy life erupted from the sad remains. Not that I expected any such occurrence. Mind you, while I may be a tad crazy, one would never say that I was daft.
Daily, I mourned the loss of the red leaves as I scurried from task to task, completely consumed by the mad work load called spring. The notion dawned that though no longer of the living, the architecture of the remains was a rather lovely sculpture. I toyed with the idea of painting it as a method of resuscitating the corpse.

Every time I laid eyes on it there just beyond the patio table, I considered which color would best set off the framework. White? Red? Purple..... surely one inkling would steer me in the right direction. The perfect idea came not from my own mind but from the infamous Carolyn - inspector of plants and issuer of growing licenses to persons such as myself.

"Oh, how sad - the rabbits have killed your lovely Japanese Maple," she cried when the lifeless evidence crossed her range of vision. "You know," she continued, "it has lovely architecture. Why don't you paint it French Blue? Thats like the hot color right now you know." And so French Blue it was...

Our instincts proved on target, it made the perfect container garden centerpiece invoking comments of wonder from all who spied it there in front of the barn. The first sentence out of any visitor's mouth upon arrival to the location... "Whats up with the blue tree?" It even inspired some folks to consider what color they should paint a dead tree they had to look at.

This all took place the same year that some enterprising soul sold a piece of toast on eBay for $20,000 on which the browning pattern supposedly bore Mother Mary's image. Ever inventive myself, I thought to have something that should surely be worth $100. So my lovely little tree was listed for auction (sans container). I was soon to discover why we should be very concerned about levels of intelligence at large in modern society. Please note how filled in the begonias in the container are in the actual photo posted on the auction, as seen above.

The auction said:
"Aure Asagi Dedo Japanese Maple
World's Only Blue Japanese Maple for sale. The striking and unusual Acer palmatum dissectum 'Azure Usagi Dedo' is the only specimen in existence. Cannot be reproduced. There will never be another one like this offered anywhere ever again. (Auction is for tree only, container and flowers are not offered for sale.)"

Pretty straightforward don't you think? Here is a sampling of the queries I received:

"What color are the leaves?"
"Do the leaves turn red later on?"
"What country did this tree come from?"
"Will you be propagating more of them?"
"I trust you will guarantee it to be in good health."
"Is this photo real or did you do this in PhotoShop?"
"I thought you said it was a tree. It looks suspiciously like a vine to me."

Carolyn and I had a total hoot over these ridiculous questions. Next, I rode the wave to fame on Garden Web as a scam artist of all things. The pitiful purists in the Japanese Maple threads were having a field day scathingly reprimanding my rather questionable reputation. Is it possible that these overly indulged plant collectors could actually assume such haughty demeanor that they cannot see the humor here? This discussion thread went on for about a month after the auction ended. I worry about too much seriousness lavished about by these supposed believers in tomorrow. Like get a life already, buddy!

Newly clad in True Blue for the following season.

The entire little scenario was far to fantastic as fodder for hilarity online. Much to my regret, not one bid was ever placed. The notoriety this won me was a short lived burst of fame which thankfully was never connected to my professional person ... plant shoppers behaving in this manner was more than I wanted to deal with daily. I decided no one else deserved to enjoy my Azure Usagi Dedo Maple. What did I care if no one bought it?

About 3 days after the auction ended, I got an email from a lady regarding the tree. She thought it was just beautiful and wanted to know if she could buy it for $20.00 if shipping were included. It was then that I washed my hands of eBay completely. What sane and reasonably intelligent person would want to try to sell things to this set of mindsets? I told the woman it was sold to some high priced catalog nursery. She was very sad she had missed out on such a special item. Perhaps this is the woman who bought the toast and blew her savings on a hard piece of bread of dubious reputation.

Enjoy the memory of the worlds only Japanese Maple. These kinds of things do not have a longevity rating. It did however gather many interesting comments over the two seasons it graced the driveway approach to my barn. I know that there is a dead apple tree somewhere that is painted rose and used to display a large collection of birdhouses somewhere in mid Michigan.

By the third spring, the brittle structure became so easily broken that a late, heavy snowfall broke most of the limbs off falling out of the tree above it. Rest in peace Azure Usagi Dedo, thank you for brightening so many people's days. May all the little wahbbits find themselves turned into furry slippers. Incidently, Usagi is Japanese for "rabbit", Dedo translates to "dead" and Azure... well the French word just rolled out with the other two words far better than the Japanese counterpart.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

About Bob ...

Meet Bob ... Bob the Buttercup Rooster if you prefer a more formal introduction. While he is not the only rooster in the hen house, Bob is - shall we say - confused. He wasn't always so friendly, it took a maiming to mix him up. Maiming?

You see, there were 12 young hens and 13 immature roosters in the chicken coop that summer. Six pairs of different rare breed chickens and one oddball rooster named Elvis that was my free chicken because I ordered more than 20 chicks at once. The problem began because Bob was smaller than all those other squabbling little roosters. In the end it would appear that they literally stomped Bob's little feathered butt. Testosterone can get ugly when in the clutches of a bird brain.

Whatever happened in that part of the barn left Bob unable to walk. Being the good chicken farmer that I was, all injured residents of the coop were separated and admitted to the infirmary. The infirmary was a large cardboard box conveniently located in the utility room. Some of the patients healed and went back to life as before the injury and others, well we won't talk about those sad cases. So Bob became the infirmary patient and the rest of the hen house population could have cared less that he was missing.

Bob was fine really, but he couldn't walk to get to the food or water. He spent his days living large on the patio and sharing the cat's water bowl. The feline community allowed him to drink beside them, but otherwise pretty much ignored the feathered weirdo by the porch steps. At dusk he was placed in the safety and confinement of the box, held captive by the brick that locked him in tightly.

Now I will confess that some people thought I was crazy for taking care of a dumb chicken that couldn't walk. I paid them no mind at all. I mean really, why would I want to think like them? Farmers are supposed to do everything they can to save the herd, right? Besides, who would have stories like this one to tell?

Within a week, Bob could scoot himself around and loved to get into the flower beds where a feast of insects and worms awaited. Because he couldn't get too far, we never shut the gate of the fence. Until Elvis and Bart discovered him in there. It's a dang good thing that Elvis was free or I might have shipped him back and demanded a refund. Mean as a snake and strange looking too. Bob escaped a new butt kickin' only because Rachel was coming out of the house at the proper moment. After that we made sure to keep the gate closed.

A couple more weeks and Old Bob healed right up and could walk around like he never got hurt. The day came that I felt confidant he could fight for food and water well enough to go back to his own kind. The minute I sat him down on the chicken coop floor his head did a quick 360 swivel and with a loud screech he made a beeline for the door. He ran like his tail feathers were flaming!
Where did he go? Straight back to his personal abode on the patio. I decided I wouldn't want to have eat and sleep with the likes of Elvis either and Bob became a house pet.

Everyone should have a rooster who scratches at the screen when he wants to come in for the night. Bob was now shunned by the egg production community and enjoying a whole new world. We had to lock him out of the patio to eat dinner. Bob really loved corn on the cob and if he saw you eating it he would be on your shoulder assisting you at removing the kernels with his beak.

This sitting on people's heads phenomena began with Rachel who decided Bob loved her because she took such good care of him. I argued that he thought she was a chicken with that red cap on her head. To prove my point, I bought a red cap too. I was right (for the most part) because upon seeing two humans with red heads Bob was totally floored. He didn't know which head to sit on. Caps not being my thing and Rachel always wearing one to "protect her melon from the sun" ... well Bob was always on Rachel's head whenever opportunity knocked.

He pulled her hairs out through the vent holes in the top of the hat. Bob cleaned her teeth for her after lunch. Rachel's husband was not amused! While Rachel and I were enjoying this comedy on a daily basis. Bob also enjoyed riding around on my shoulder. Sometimes I think he assumed he was a parrot. He was also housebroken. No one trained him, he just never made a mess unless he was outside or in his box. So Bob took up the past time of sitting on my shoulder after dark and watching cyberspace flip by page by page.

One night I clicked onto another page and I guess Bob wasn't quite done reading the previous site yet. He gave me the evil chicken eye with his head touching the lense of my glasses. The next thing I knew while still laughing about the chicken eye move, he pecked me right in the eyeball! I yelled and Bob took flight. I thought he blinded me for life ... everything was blurry out of that burning, tear filled eye. It took all three of us to catch him. He knew he was in trouble and he was on the run. The fugitive chicken chase lead upstairs and Bob was finally pinned down in a corner and rapidly locked in his box.

He was telling me off through the cardboard in high decibel levels. I was telling him off at equal noisiness from the outside. The brick on the top was rockin' something fierce as the argument was in progress. This is Bob being bad. The next morning, Bob sailed out the kitchen door and never looked back.

He returned to the coop, took up with Lucky and acted like he had no idea who we humans were. Lucky, being the biggest hen in the house, protected him from Elvis and the motley gang of roosters. All of this over a web page turned to quickly! It was for the best, winter was coming.

Incidentally, in a chat with a poultry judge for the county fair, I discovered the real reason Bob had taken to Rachel like he did. He did think she was a hen because of her red cap and was practicing the art of seduction. No wonder her husband was so upset about the comical yet mysterious behavior of Bob. Perhaps the male instinct could read Bob's intentions in some far off brain registration that he couldn't put his finger on.

And all you city folks think there is nothing to do way out at the corner of Nowhere and Nothing. See the kind of bizarre entertainment you miss out on beneath all those street lights? Oh yes, that is Rachel in the picture. See the surprise on her face? I caught this the first time Bob flew up on her head. She was totally floored as you can see by her expression, and most concerned about what Bob was doing perched on her melon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eclectic Gardening 101

Eclectic design? What the heck is that? I'm glad you asked. There is no plan past the path versus the planting spaces. Bush pilot design. Gardening on the edge. Growing by the skin of your teeth. Scientific plotting ... where one just buys whatever they please and plops it down where it seems to want to go. If you don't fill that naked space each plant will soon grow to fill with annuals you will over plant your beds!

How do I know this? Because I have a huge amount of experience in this method of creating a garden. I doubt that I created it but I am an expert. To test your level of expertise ... answer the following questions:

1) Did you measure the amount of space you have completely vacant before you went off to the garden center to buy more plants?

2) Did you measure the space and check the available room against the information on the tag before settling the wee bugger in that new hole?

3) Do you find yourself having to bend over and pick up branches of larger plants to peek at the ones hidden from view under there?

4) Have you in early summer found a surprise tuberous Begonia or Dahlia suddenly appear out of thin air that wasn't there last fall?

5) Do you know there are plants in there somewhere and have just up and disappeared?

*** Score yourself 2 points for every correctly answered question. 1) No. 2) No. 3) Yes. 4) Yes. 5) Yes.

How Do YOU Rank?
  • 10 points : You are and Expert Eclectic Garden Designer and abhor planning.
  • 6-8 points: You are getting close, time to brush up on ignoring rules better.
  • 4 points: You just like to have a little fun once in a while but prefer following rules.
  • 0-2points: You are too organized to become an Eclectic Designer and crave rules.

When a garden is new there is lots of space to tuck in annual flowers. They make great filler so you aren't looking at a bunch of immature green things that will give you a couple of blooms. When it starts there is just way too much vacant space in a perennial garden. So to get that pizzazz - that gee that's gorgeous result it is best to add color with Alyssum, Begonias and other season long bloomers.

Over the course of the next three years the space for annuals will get smaller and smaller. If you don't plan for a few areas to keep space for annuals you will wind up with a lot of green space unless your garden area is pretty large and in one area. Look what happens to the eclectic garden designer over the span of 8 years.

Yes that is the very same corner. The photo was taken from a different angle, but look at it ... its a jungle! A lovely jungle but there isn't a spot anywhere for a begonia in there. The path is half covered up with hostages too. (Hostages - hostas they're all one in the same.) I tore up all those huge hostas and split them to stop the over crowding. Evidently, this is the perfect place for hostas to live because within 2 more years they were out of control again. I gave them all away because they were just far too happy for me!

Seriously though, even though I crave a brilliant cacophony of color, this corner was so soothing and peaceful it grew on me. The scene reminded me of a Victorian wedding all dark green with some pinstriped trousers and frothy white lace for a head piece. It didn't help any that after inadvertantly watering that tree for years on end it took off and grew like it was on steroids. There wasn't a lot of sun in this corner anymore.

The loss of sun actually was a blessing on a hot summer day. This spot was 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the yard. It made the perfect outdoor studio for doing landscape designs. I mean just look at the wallpaper, its totally unique and so realistic too. The windows never get foggy or smeared up and there are no walls to make you feel hemmed in. Of course it a storm blew in things would get a bit frantic saving that paper from damage. Better than a fire alarm and you are stuck in a big building far from the fire escape though. Nope, that door to dryness was about 20 feet from the table.

Go Eclectic ... it is far more interesting and exciting than any scaled plan could ever turn out. A garden created by impulse will be so much more passionate than one where you follow all those rules. Rules were made to be broken. I mean really, why sweat it so much? Unless it is a tree or an unforgiving shrub, plants are perfectly mobile after all. Just run with it and see what happens.