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January 31, 2005

Well, I figured I might as well be honest.

'Cause I'm all about that. My grandmother was born in the late 19th century. She wasn't exactly a traditionalist -- she chose to go to college and to have a professional career (she was a school teacher and administrator until after my mother graduated from school, in the late forties). She didn't even get married until she was in her late thirties, and didn't have my aunt and my mother until she was thirty-nine (my aunt) and forty-five (my mother).

She then proceeded to live to be just shy of a century old, to the continuing chagrin of certain members of my family. Unlike many people who reach their mid-nineties, she was pretty acute, and other than her arthritis and osteoporosis (she had a dowager's hump that would have made a real dowager cower in embarrassment), in fair health until her last few years.

Elma gardened well into her declining years. She had a bit of everything -- bulb, perennial and annual flowers, fruit trees (she had one cherry tree, which I guess my mother either slipped or planted from seed, since we had three of the same in our back yard when I was growing up; I remember this primarily because the lither twigs were used for discipline around my house), several kinds of rosebush.

I don't ever remember her having a plant in the house. I've always wondered if it was just the onslaught of kids in the house -- not to mention the comings and goings of multiple house cats -- that kept her from doing that, or if she had the same black thumb I seem to have for greenery inside the house. Even before I had a house full of animals I could never keep anything alive for more than a year or so.

But my luck with outdoor plants has been much better, or I wouldn't be doing a journal based on the borderline obsession I've developed with it, as I approach my own declining years. Clearly, many of my neighbors in this fading fifties suburb already have 'the bug' -- some more successfully than others, at least from an overall aesthetic perspective (someone in my neighborhood has crammed an immense number of gaudy modern roses into the yard, which now looks like the back lot of a gardening center, for instance).

We had four silver maple trees removed just before Christmas. Originally, it had been intended to be only two, but the guys who came out decided they'd do the other two pretty cheap. I regretted it until I had a look at the trunks of all four trees. Six inches above the ground, you could see where the borers had got at them -- all four of them had telltale marks three or four inches in from the bark, and at least two had looked a whole lot like they were feeling a mite wan.

So now I have one whole side of our diddly little suburban lot that will have full sunlight, where it didn't before. This opens the lot to all kinds of evil that I didn't have the opportunity to perpetrate before -- and probably will make such evil as I've already perpetrated (well, what the yoiks who cut down the trees didn't manage to maim or kill in the process of removing the trees, which includes one dwarf flowering almond and possibly the weeping Atlas cedar we not so much bought as adopted a couple of years ago) pick up a wee bit of speed.

Here's the layout, out front, currently:

The bed on the left side of the photo had the flowering almond in it (they dropped the tree that was directly in front of the window in the picture smack on top of it, the stump is visible just to the right of the hose cart). You can still see the cedar, but it's looking really nasty now -- about half the needles have turned brown. It's been in that bed for three years, now, and been through about the same kind of weather we've had this winter. I'm inclined to blame the mouth-breathers, since they were able to completely destroy the flowering almond and a small garden figurine the mother-in-law gave us a couple of years ago without even noticing.

In the bed that wraps around the front of the house, there's some kind of what I believe is probably a rhododendron, though I could be wrong. It's right next to the wall, by the garage door. Forward of it is an old climbing rosebush that doesn't seem to require much care to bloom once and dramatically each summer (I've tried deadheading it after the first bloom, but it seems to be primarily a one-trick pony). So far, it's done quite well with nothing much but a little fertilizer thrown on the ground at the roots a couple of times a year. We divert some of the roof drainage water to that flowerbed through a downspout, so nothing in that bed wants for water.

On the wall facing the street, the plant on the left that you can't really see is a "Snofozam" weeping cherry. To the best of my knowledge, it isn't grafted. It would grow as a prostrate hedge, apparently, if not tacked up (I have it hitched to a cast-iron trellis, though I may have to replace it if the thing suddenly shoots up taller once it's getting full sun).

There's a blue boy and a blue girl holly (we bought very young ones because they were inexpensive and we were in no hurry, a few years back) on either side of the hose cart. If I recall correctly, the one on the left is the 'blue girl' (the fruiting one, i.e. the one that gets the red berries on it) and the one on the right is the male.

Next to that is a 'Harry Lauder's walking stick' or corkscrew hazelnut bush. I don't know if it's male or female because it, like the holly, is dioecious -- each plant carries only a single gender's fruiting parts. Some plants are monoecious -- meaning you only need one of them to produce fruits, or flowers, since they carry both parts.

Next to that is a knee-high azalea of some kind or other that was, as the possible rhododendron and the rosebush, already there.

I've planted some grape hyacinths along the front of those beds, they do quite well there -- probably will do better once they get more sun on them.

There are also a couple of standard boxwoods under the second window, there on the right. The tree in the yard in front of the window is, best we can determine, a bradford pear. It's been pruned a little too much this year, I worry about it getting blighted from all the messing around that's been done with it. I like it, so I hope it doesn't croak. There's a huge peony bed along the right side of the house, though I've reduced it by a few plants (which I managed to establish right at the front corner of the carport). Tony plants basil there in the spring for pesto.

I don't have a decent shot of the whole back yard in bloom, so the winter slope is below. I was standing in front of some kind of tall oak tree when I took the picture, it would have been behind and to my left. It's probably a live or pin oak (the one that rises above the carport, though I think you can also see the backyard-neighbors' black walnut, as well), a standard issue hard maple on the right side (possibly a Norway or sugar maple), and in the back, a somewhat pathetic golden raintree that's trying desperately to create a golden raintree forest beneath it, perhaps because it knows it's-a not-a long for this-a world. The maple is hogging all the light and water in front, and another black walnut isn't helping matters any in the neighbors' yard behind it.

There's also an enormous, probably at least twenty-year-old leatherleaf viburnum (or some kind of viburnum, it may be a false lilac or something, since the blooms have a really strong scent) along the right side of the property, and the lone remaining silver maple is just at the right edge of the photo.

If you're keeping track, that was, before we had some removed, nine trees on a quarter-acre suburban lot. I loved having all those trees, don't get me wrong -- it was nice to step out on the front stoop in the summer and feel like you were in a whispering green cave -- but you wouldn't believe the massive pile of leaves nine deciduous trees can make, and that's with the oak and the bradford pear not dropping all their leaves until they bud out in the spring.

Here's the slope at the back. Somebody had the not-so-bright idea, somewhere along the last quarter of a century, to till it and plant several forsythia bushes that now have sort of taken over the whole thing. There's some kind of bush on the left side if you're facing the slope that turns a beautiful carmine shade in the fall, if the weather's right, but it's not looking too healthy (lots of dead stuff in the middle). To the right, under the raintree, there's a couple of shrubs I don't recognize, though one of them is probably a shrub honeysuckle (it gets flowers on it in the late spring that look like honeysuckle), and the one on the right is a total mystery to me.

I've planted lots of bulbs -- the previously mentioned grape hyacinths, some Dutch hyacinths (an abortive attempt to plant a bulb garden on the back slope, which we're probably going to have to ultimately apply scorched earth policy to and either plant it with some kind of ground cover or just plant grass on), tulips (mostly in the flowerbed where the cedar is and the flowering almond was). We have an excess of squirrels and chipmunks in our neighborhood who usually dig up anything that isn't poisonous to them (which is why I so like grape hyacinths -- some things even the rabbits can't eat), and rabbits who eat everything else once it comes up. I've had mediocre luck with the tulips, since they generally poke up just around a week before the last bad frost of the year and end up looking all mangled when they finally bloom, or else the rabbits eat them.

The giant allium was a mistake I haven't yet rectified (especially the ones in front of the rosebush, which draw bumblebees for a couple of weeks when they first bloom and then look like weeds), and the anemones don't like something about the yard. I think they get too much sun. A few of them actually will come up and bloom, and of course the rabbits eat them.

Oh, yeah -- and I have some kind of dwarf rosebush planted back off the slab behind the carport. It looked like crap the first year, so I figured I'd have to write it off -- then the next year it was suddenly five feet tall and blooming like crazy all summer. Now, I wish I'd planted it somewhere out front, since of course it's too late to move it. I don't know if it's a root graft off a multiflora or something, or I'd try taking some slips off it to put out front. If it's a root graft, though, the new roses wouldn't be as hardy as that little bugger has been so far.

So that's the tour. More later.

Posted by Melinda at January 31, 2005 11:36 PM


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