Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Why the Kitchen is Still a Mess

This weekend, I’ve was asked twice how progress on my kitchen is coming along. Somewhat embarrassed, I have to explain that just before spring came along, I was humming. I painted the cabinets white. I ordered a new stove and refrigerator. Mike and I installed a new-to-us dishwasher. I had finally chosen the countertop tile and was ready to place my order. Then I was sucked into the garden.

The second time I explained that the yard had consumed all of my free time, I received skeptical looks. After all, what could be taking so long in the yard? I attempted to justify the time spent. First, I had ripped out the yews. That took a good two weeks. Then I started planting. I estimated that I had planted at least 100 plants. The figure provoked skeptical looks and jokes about all the weeding I have set myself up for.

Last night, knowing that I am prone to exaggerating, I checked my plant inventory to see just how many plants I’ve put in the ground. I easily counted to 200. Even given that some plants went into one hole, I have dug at least 100 holes. Each hole required that I deposit the dirt in my wheelbarrow, chop up the cheesy clay chunks, and mix in humus and manure. I must have hefted the hoe thousands of times. The figures are starting to impress even me!

Although I’ve been forbidden to buy any more plants, they keep showing up in my shopping cart. (Who could resist Lowe’s May perennial sale?!) If I have nothing to plant, there is always a bed to weed or mulch. Sometimes, I just go out with my kitties and, *gasp*, enjoy the yard. Quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ll get much done in the kitchen until it becomes unbearably hot outside. For now, I’m enjoying the lovely weather, working on getting my plant count up to 250, and, occasionally, stopping to smell the roses.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nicaraguan Hammock

Ahhh...Memorial Day weekend. Time for hotdogs, beer, and hammocks! I ordered and received this at least a month ago. It is finally installed and enjoyed.

(An interesting note: all of the eye-bolts and S-hooks at Home Depot carry tags saying that they are "not intended to support human weight." I just checked that the maximum weight limits were okay and took my chances. I guess the tags are to cover the manufacturer's butt if we fall and die in the hammock.)

(And that is our new baby, Mr. Tibbs, in the bottom photo.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Three Magnolias

The first time I ever heard of the magnolia flower was while watching the play, Steel Magnolias. Shelby wanted to float magnolia blossoms in the pool for her wedding or reception. Having no idea what a magnolia was, I imagined the water’s surface covered with white cherry blossoms. That sounded like a wet, soggy mess to me. I finally saw my first picture of a magnolia five years later, in a college botany class. As we reviewed flowers, from the simple to the complex, magnolias were covered early. I remember the magnolia as a large, primitive flower that is rudely pollinated by beetles. Ugh. This April, I saw magnolia trees in blossom for the first time. They were magnificent. All thoughts of cherry blossoms and beetles were wiped away. I wanted one.

After consulting my gardening book, I chose a Sweet Bay Magnolia. They flower later than the pink magnolias that seem to be ubiquitous here and, hence, are in less danger from a freeze killing the blooms.. The Sweet Bay blossom fragrance has been compared to that of a gardenia and the tree does well in our clay soil. I bought one in early April, planted it, and eagerly awaited its bloom.

One of the buds opened this weekend, but then, to tease me, it closed again. Three days later, it and two companions unfurled their creamy petals. They smell lovely and the flowers are charming – not at all primitive. I haven't seen any beetles, yet.

Toby Did It

Yesterday, I thought I’d prune back the honeysuckle trees a little to give one of the rose bushes more light. Before I knew it, I had pruned nearly the entire row of trees and covered the lawn with flowering branches. At 9 p.m., it was too dark to continue and I went inside. Mike arrived home from his study group soon after. Evidently, it wasn’t too dark to see what I had done:

When he asked me what on earth had happened, I replied “Toby did it.”

We blame many things on Toby, but Toby is imaginary. When Mike was a kid, he and his other siblings convinced the youngest, Tyler, that he had a twin named Toby. Toby died at birth, but his ghost continued to haunt the family. In fact, Toby’s evil spirit possessed Tyler’s My Buddy doll (a la Chucky). In an effort to exorcise Toby, My Buddy was tortured and buried. Still, Toby is not at rest.

Toby lives at our house now. He gives the cats too much food and makes Mimi fat. He overflows the bathwater onto the floor. He eats all the cookies. He leaves the door unlocked. I hate that Toby!

Toby is very convenient when we’re looking for a scapegoat. However, he is nowhere to be found when its time to clean up. I guess I’ll be picking up Toby’s trimming mess myself.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Smell It, Buy It

Isn’t everything displayed in the check-out line just irresistible! While awaiting my turn to pay, I have to fight the urge to throw Star, key ring nail clippers, and a pack of Mentos on the belt. Ooooh…and, look, a 3-pack of lighters for 99 cents and a new Chap-Stik flavor! I used to succumb to my urges regularly, but then Mike pointed out that I was falling prey to the grocery store marketer’s master plan by “impulse buying.” I hate to be manipulated. Now, I only give in after I have lusted for the same item during multiple trips. Hence, I have liquorice flavored Altoids at my desk now. (And they are tasty!)

My impulse urges repeatedly overwhelm me when it comes to plants. If it looks good in the store, I’ll probably buy it. If someone recommends a certain plant, in person, in a book, or on the web, I must have it. The biggest doozy is if a plant smells good.

A scene from today: Deanna and I are running along the Ohio river at lunch. As usual, I am checking out the park’s plantings. We turn a corner and the most incredible floral fragrance delights my nostrils. I immediately begin to look for the source. Yes, the honeysuckle trees are blooming and, yes, they smell nice, but the scent isn’t right. Then I spot lilacs so pale they are nearly white. I must confirm my theory and stop our run to sniff the panicles. I nearly swoon from the heavenly aroma. I decide that I must buy one of these (Miss Kim lilac) as soon as possible. In fact, I saw them at Kroger yesterday. I could pick one up on my way home from rehearsal and sneak it into the backyard before Mike was any the wiser…

Again, my will has surrendered to the siren call of flowers. The grocery stores could really make a lot of money if they put those plants by the register.

Cottage Garden of Endor

Evidently, Mike and I have different visions for the yard. I see this:

He thinks the garden would be complete only with the Star Wars Darth Vader Sprinkler.

I suppose that's what you get when obsessions collide.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

Killing days are here again. I’m not supposed to spend any more money on plants, so the planting is paused while await the delivery of my (previously) mail-ordered plants and the maturation of my seedlings. Now, the weeding begins…

I did not grow up in a weeding family. I think I saw my parents pull weeds once. We were into low-maintenance landscaping, complete with river rock mulch. Thus, I’m a novice weeder.

I love pulling weeds. I admit, dandelions are a bitch, but the others are fun. The henbit and Indian strawberry spread by runners, so grabbing one plant results in pulling up an armful. It’s quite satisfying. The violets require a trowel, but in loose soil, they can be fun to pull out too. The weeds go into my bucket and, when the bucket is full, then into the second compost pile. (The first pile is now cooking.) Who knew death and destruction could be so much fun?

The plants in the front bed are looking perkier, so I took some photos last night. It looks a little messy and sparse now. I plan on filling in the empty space with delphinium (ordered from Park’s) and my winter-sown seedlings: columbine, butterfly weed, and lantern plant.

The left end of the bed is triangular where the sidewalk meets the driveway. When we moved in, the triangle was set with stones, in a sort of crazy-paving. The paving was utilitarian, as we occasionally cut the corner when walking from the driveway to the sidewalk. However, the pockets were filled with weeds and the abundance of stones was sterile looking. I ripped everything out and replaced the weeds and stones with elfin thyme and (fewer) stones. The area is off limits for now, but should be able to take light foot traffic once the plants are established and the soil has compacted. It will look really cute when the thyme has filled in the spaces between the stones.

The next few days will be cool and rainy, perfect weather for my transplants to become established. I will be spending my time nursing them along and ruthlessly exterminating weeds so that I can expand my beds. I’m already scheming ways to fill the new beds for free.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Generous Gardeners

As I’ve forayed into the gardening world, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the characters of my fellow gardeners. For the most part, they are a patient lot. Gardening requires a slower pace than that of the modern world’s. Gardeners are also generous with both knowledge and plants. My beds have grown from the wisdom and experience I’ve found on GardenWeb. I am especially thankful to the gardeners I’ve met at work and in my neighborhood who have shared their plants with me.

Last week, a fellow employee, Patrick, invited me to his house to see his garden and to “load me up” with plants. He instructed me to bring some plastic bags, pots, and bins, but I was woefully underprepared. When I pulled up to Patrick's house, I was awestruck by the landscape. With its varied topography, water features, and stone paths, it looks like a private park. I came prepared to dig up the offerings, but he and his wife had already pulled the plants and loaded boxes full of greenery. We filled my car until I thought it could hold no more and then went on a garden tour. As we walked, Patrick carried a shovel and his wife and I toted a supply of plastic bags. He narrated the garden and frequently sunk his shovel into the ground to portion me yet another bit of plant life. Somehow, we squeezed many more bags of plants into my wagon. It was nearly 9 p.m. when I left. Patrick’s wife advised me to plant them as soon as possible, preferably that evening but, the following day would do. After arriving home, I made many dark trips from the car to the back yard. I placed the plants on the north side of the deck and watered them well.

I’ve admitted that I’m a gardening addict. One more symptom of my obsession is that I cancelled Saturday's plans with my friend Kathy to stay at home and plant. I felt awful, but Patrick’s wife’s warning left me with a dread that the plants would die if not planted immediately. Now that I have chosen plants over people, I fear I have a full blown gardening sickness.

I started planting at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Except for a Pop-Tart break at one o’clock, I worked non-stop until 4 p.m. Planting takes me a long time because I am amending the soil as I go. This is my process: (1) dig a hole, (2) put the dirt in the wheelbarrow, (3) break up the clay chunks with a hoe, (4) add humus/manure, (5) mix it together with a cultivator, (6) put the amended dirt and the plant back in the hole, and (7) water well. It is back-breaking work, but I can’t just plop the plants in my gummy, chunky soil and expect them to live.

Patrick and his wife named each plant they gave me and I assured them that I would remember. However, my brain was soon overloaded and, in the end, all I remembered was which plants preferred sun and which liked shade. By examination, I could guess which plants would grow to be very tall and which plants would be suited as border plants. If I planted something in the wrong place, I can always move it.

I planted perennial flowers, sedums, hostas, and many mystery plants. The front bed is now nearly full. I have open spaces reserved for my winter-sown seedlings. Because the bed is in full sun, the plants are taking a bit longer to recover from the transplant shock. I’ll post a picture when the front bed looks less bedraggled. The bed along the side of the garage (above) is coming along well. I will plant hollyhocks and a climbing jasmine to complete the bed.

I’m very thankful to Patrick for the plants and to Kathy for putting up with me. My current beds are filling nicely. Never content, I have plans to create new beds for next year. I can already hear Mike groaning about my future plant purchases. Maybe I’ll make some new gardening friends who will share their bounty with me!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

My Wife The Gardener

She dug the plot on Monday
The soil was rich and fine
She forgot to thaw out dinner ...
So out we went to dine.

She planted roses Tuesday
(She says they are a must)
They really were quite lovely
But she then forgot to dust ...

On Wednesday it was daisies
They opened with the sun
All whites and pinks and yellows
(But the laundry wasn't done!)

The poppies came on Thursday
A bright and cheery red
I guess she really was engrossed ...
She forgot to make the bed!

It was dahlias on Friday
In colours she adores
It never bothered her at all,
The crumbs upon the floors.

I hired a maid on Saturday
My week is now complete
My wife can garden all she wants
The house will still be neat!

It's nearly lunchtime Sunday
And I can't find the maid!
Oh no! I can't believe it
She's out there with a spade!

Author: unknown

Monday, May 02, 2005

Civic Garden Center Plant Sale

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to shop the annual Civic Garden Center plant sale. The sale started at 9 a.m., Saturday. I arrived at 9:40 to an already bustling crowd. As I drove past the center, people were already exiting with boxes, baskets, carts, and wagons full of plants. A line of cars had formed at the plant pick-up area. I had to find parallel parking three blocks away. Thirty minutes later, my parking spot was considered prime real estate.

Perhaps I have a novice's ignorance, but I didn’t think the sale lived up to its hype. Prices were average and so was the selection. There were some unusual offerings, like plants for the water garden, as well as the ubiquitous hostas. I was delighted to find both Corsican mint and elfin thyme, two of the latest additions to my plant wish list. However, Corsican mint is not hardy in our zone and I’ve already ordered elfin thyme from Mulberry Creek Herb Farm. I was looking for a flat of hollyhocks because my seedlings look rather pathetic. Unfortunately, the cheapest hollyhock plants were $5 a pot. I’m holding out for some WalMart cheapies.

I did come away with a box of booty: four pots of creeping veronica (to plant between the stepping stones leading to the faucet), one Johnny jump up, and a free issue of Horticulture magazine. I suspect that the prize plants disappeared before I arrived. Next year, I’ll be standing in line at 8:30 a.m.