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February 26, 2005

Spring 2005 is now officially on its way in Zone 6.

I've het up the Ferry-Morse plant starters and jammed the seeds in; gotten my hands dirty for the first time this year. In a year when the world seems falling down drunk on its own fantasies; when quasi-moral rectitude doesn't include kindness to the least among us and value for the truth ... what else is there left to do but plant flowers?

I mean, really.

Which is to say, I started the heated terraria and punched in some seeds today. I'm not even sure what will come up, or how much of it I'll have to kill once it does (I overplanted the sod pellets).

What I did was twelve pellets of Texas (yeah, I know, but he's actually an up-east blueblood, so bite me) bluebonnets, twelve each of blue and white delphinium (delphinia?), twenty-four each cobalt-blue lobelias and twenty-four each forget-me-nots (myosotis). I also did two rows of pepper seeds for the hub, since he went to the trouble of pulling them out of the peppers; I might plant more later, I want to see if these germinate. They're from slips we bought at one or another garden center, last year (Lowe's, Siebenthaler, Groby, not sure), and I don't know if the seeds will germinate or not. As a matter of fact, since I don't know that for sure, I also don't know if it's even technically legal to reuse the seeds, even though we did all the dogwork to grow the plants, pull the peppers and harvest them.

I kid you not -- in some cases it actually is illegal, because it's considered trademark infringement, due to genetic copyrights that plant-genetics developing corporations are allowed to take out, to germinate your own plants the following year from seeds you harvested from plants you bought and grew on your property. (Just as an aside, they're selling these same copyrighted, illegal to propagate seeds for some staple crops to farmers in the quasi-free Iraq™ with the caveat that they're not allowed to collect and reuse them, either -- aint' it great to be free?)

Now, presumably this would be made manifestly clear somewhere on the plants, and I don't remember seeing that anywhere, and anyway I doubt anybody cares about the six or seven plants that will actually survive out of the dozen peat pellets I stuffed seeds into today ... but let's be honest, here. Corporations control every single iota of your life they possibly can, and it's entirely possible that what I did was illegal.

Ooh! I feel so dirty! I'm such an anarchist, eh?

Screw Monsanto. I don't think anybody really cares, but even if they do, let them figure it out -- it's not like we won't go somewhere and buy the same damned cayenne plants this year, if my in-house sprouting system fails as gloriously as it often does. Have I mentioned I have a black thumb when it comes to house plants? Yeah, I thought I remembered something like that ...

We also have a packet of cinnamon basil and one packet of pinks. They germinate in about half the time the others do, so I'll probably wait until at least some of the others have sprouted to plant them in the sod pots. I dearly love pinks, and we both like basil -- Mr. Dirt actually makes pesto several times a year from scratch, bless his heart -- though if I were honest, we've had better luck with herbs buying slips from the gardening stores than planting the seeds, if my memory serves. So those will probably be dropped a week or so from now, since the seeds I already started will probably germinate in a week and a half to two weeks (they would germinate naturally in two to three weeks, and the heated starters (without a timer, but I have them on one) are supposed to cut the germination time in half. If I wait a week and then hit the basil and the dianthus, I should be okay.

The amaryllis that somebody where I work gave me for Xmas (now, granted it didn't get socked into the pot and watered until after the first of the year, because the weather went all punk the week before Xmas), that was doing pretty well, has now started turning yellow and brown and drooping off the front of the mantel, as expected. Odds that I overwatered it? I give it 7:2. That's usually how I murder houseplants, it'd be no surprise if I just drowned the thing. Oh, well -- I tried. I'm just not good with plants inside the house, I've learned to live with that.

So now, I have to figure out what I'm going to do with half a dozen delphinium plants, half a dozen bluebonnets, and a dozen each dark blue lobelias and forget-me-nots. I have what amounts to a new front yard, with an entirely new pattern of sunny space, and I chose all the seeds for their sun-sensitivity (nothing I'm seeding in the laundry room this year is anything but a full sun or partial shade plant). What that means is, I have to plant them somewhere out front, since there's nowhere else they can be guaranteed anything like sun.

I guess that means I have to boot up the mildly defective (and apparently canceled) home/lawn/garden design software and fart about with locations. I'm guessing if I put the stuff in the corner where the front walk meets the driveway, on the sidewalk side but not too close to the corner, I can count on it living (if it makes it out of the laundry room, which has even odds) the few years most of it's intended to live. Because the plan is to replace the sidewalk between the front stoop and the driveway, somewhere in the next few years, with some kind of brick or pavers that look a hell of a lot like brick, since the sidewalk needs to be replaced and I'd rather go ahead and redo it in brick.

I found out Spring Hill doesn't have a 'brick and boards' retail store anywhere in the area -- it's a mail-order operation. I'm still hemming and hawing on that, with the consideration that even if I pay ten or fifteen bucks more for something at Siebenthaler, I've still come out on top because I don't have to pay shipping. Siebenthaler has local nurseries, so I wouldn't have nearly the questions about 'hardening to local climate' that I'll have about, say, the Cecile Brunner roses I ordered from the rose retailer in Austin, TX that was the only one that seemed to have them in stock. If it's done in Tipp City (which is twenty miles north of here) or in Cinci (fifty miles south), it's not a major concern; climatically, there's not a hell of a lot of difference from just north of the Ohio River basin to up around Toledo. I guess if I can't buy what I want from Siebenthaler, I should just suck it up and order it from Spring Hill. Their flowering almonds are bitchin' cheap -- less than fifteen bucks apiece, where I paid almost thirty bucks for the one I got at Groby a few years back -- and the weeping pussy willow I crave is around thirty bucks. I probably can schedule to have them shipped in early May, like I did the rosebushes -- that'll be a big help.

Of course, if the bastards had a brick-and-boards store somewhere in a sixty mile radius, I'd just go there and buy them ... but that's life, I guess.

Yeah, sure -- there are retail gardening centers, but most of them are outside the county I live in. Now, I have this theory that spending money in Ohio outside my county just encourages the stupid bastards who currently "run" (I put it in quotes because what they really seem to be doing is running it into the ground) my state, right now. If the money is going to go to a county and a municipality in my state that I don't live in (and, consequently, going to line the pockets of political shills in a municipality I don't live in), I might as freakin' well get them from Cinci as in the counties due south of here. Oh, and I'm quite sure they'll charge me tax, so if I'm going to pay taxes to a county that doesn't help me any, it's as good one as another.

HamCo isn't any worse than Warren, in other words. Both are equally guilty of lack of curiosity, in my book. I might as well give it to one as another.

And that's the truth. Plplplpl.

As Edith Ann might have said many, many times.

Posted by Melinda at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2005

Mulch -- of the verbal kind.

Doubtless, at least some of my fetish for creeping, weeping and curly plants comes from having been around my grandmother the gardener, when I was a kid.

I don't even know if it was so much the stuff she planted as it was that the plants in the pictures that hung in her room all looked sort of curly and weepy -- it was a style of painting somewhere back before Art Deco became the 'next big thing,' perhaps Moderne? Classicism? I don't know that much about the visual arts, I confess, especially about the characteristics of movements that filtered down to the popular art people hung on their walls in certain eras. It was post-Victorian, and pre-Impressionism, that's about as far as I can go with any confidence.

I don't know that she had all that many odd cultivars. Most of the ones I'm seeing so widely available now, or even buying for my own garden -- like the weeping cedar and the corkscrew hazelnut, for instance -- probably were killed off when they were found because they were thought to be defective, back when she was my age. She liked plants, and often worked harder than one might deem practical or practicable to keep plants that were out of zone, more trouble than indigenous stuff. I suspect this had at least some effect on me as a kid, and manifested itself once I actually had a house with a decent yard, and a moderate budget to use toward socking roots into the dirt within the boundary lines.

She always had lots of rosebushes, as susceptible as they are here to black spot and Japanese beetles. I don't really care that much for them, though the easy ones are okay, and I've actually gone out of my way to find one of the ones she had because I do actually like the way it looks. Even though it'll probably wind up denuded by Japanese beetles before the dog days, just like the red climber in the corner of the kitchen 'bump-out' has been every year since we bought the house.

What's the deal with them, anyway? I know we had a few 'Japanese beetle plague' years when I was younger, but it seemed like the general thought was that they'd pass -- I don't remember them denuding rosebushes every year like they seem to do mine, these days. Guess the yard's probably more full of them than I ever admit, though. I do find the larval grubs under the turf, when I rip out grass to put in flowerbeds. I never paid enough attention to how many -- maybe they're not even the problem, since aphids also feed on roses. Don't know. All I know is, I don't remember Japanese beetles being around this area at all, thirty years ago, and all of a sudden they're a foregone conclusion every summer.

From looking at the gummint maps of 'bug vector' for the progressive Japanese beetle infestation in the U.S., I have to guess we would have been at the crest of the wave of westward spread a few years back, when it stopped being 'occasional infestation' and became 'oh, crap, they're here for good, now.' So I actually watched it go from not at all to everywhere, it wasn't just my imagination.

Better that than rose rosette, I guess. The rosebush out front seems to recover from having all its leaves eaten off pretty well come spring, and it's usually bloomed itself out by the time the beetles come and commence to defoliating it again. I'll have to think about doing something about the little shits when I sock two more rosebushes in out front, though; that'll be a bit more problematic than just one denuded, healthy, single-blooming bush I didn't even plant.

The stump grinding was done Friday, and I have to say from the look of things, the guy did a great job. He even hauled some of the sawdust out back to the slope, though I can't say I blame him for quitting on that eventually -- there must have been several hundred pounds of the stuff, once he got done.

I tried to go out Monday and shovel some of it into the wheelbarrow to haul back there, but it was just that annoyingly wrong temperature for me -- just cold enough I couldn't go out underdressed and hope working would keep me warm while I did it, but not so cold I didn't feel bad about not doing it. I tried, but I had to overdress (which restricted my movement), and my wrists started to hurt immediately -- I had to cop to the fact it just wasn't warm enough. Last thing I need to do is mess my wrists up now, on something that doesn't absolutely have to be done for at least a month.

Even when I was twenty-five, I had trouble with my wrists and shoulders and neck if I went out with them bare in cold weather -- you can imagine that's improved a whole bunch fifteen years down the pike. Right.

I guess I'll start some seeds this weekend. I figure six weeks is about right for most of the things I want to plant -- by the middle of April, I should be able to set up the shelves we use for the container plants as cold frame/mini greenouse setups with some plastic sheeting. By the first of May, I ought to be able to put them in the ground, if not earlier. That's usually around the time we start looking to put tomatoes and peppers on the shelves, so the timing would be okay (if the plants and the weather comply, which of course they won't ...).

Yeah, dream on -- something weird will happen, like a late-April tornado (has happened before), or a snowstorm in June (my dad used to swear he remembered one). This is, after all, Ohio, the birthplace of 'if you don't like the weather now, wait fifteen minutes -- it's bound to change.'

Just as likely, they'll do fine until I put them into the ground and then croak as soon as the sun hits them. Seen that one, too. I've told Tony that's the problem with starting anything in the house -- if it's in the house, it's subject to my black houseplant thumb. If I can get it outside and keep it alive more than a week, it'll live itself to death out there.

I have all kinds of stuff to start -- mostly flowers. I decided I'd try to start some lobelias this year, since I always plant some and they're a wee bit pricey to buy, for annuals. Mine haven't self-seeded, or if they have I've found them indistinguishable from weeds and pulled them up, so I almost have to plant new ones every year. Also bought some forget-me-nots. I never see them at the garden stores, and they're supposed to be fairly easy to keep alive, they smell good, and they're quasi-perennial -- like pinks, they're supposed to last about five years.

I also bought one packet of pinks. I should have harvested the seeds again this year, I did it last year and had some success replanting, but I just ran out of steam and didn't do it last fall. I'll probably just buy those as flats, though. It's less annoying to pay six bucks for a five-year perennial than it is to pay even half that much for an annual plant, if I can get them to start here. Of course, I may not be able to, in which case I'll be down at Siebenthaler come June, buying a flat of lobelias again.

I've got a pack of delphinium, too, which I've never tried before -- but it looks pretty on the package (danger, Will Robinson!). I've got two greenhouse starters that have 144 peat pots between them, knowing my luck isn't always the greatest. Somewhere, out of all that, if I can keep the local fauna out of them (the cats love to mess with my plant starters), I might save a few bucks on buying slips at the garden centers. One of the kits has a heating pad, and I have another heating pad left over from a few years back, when I bought another greenhouse kit (the lid got mangled, so I can't use it). I'll give it a shot.

I don't even know where any of this is going to go yet, and I still haven't figured out whether I want to mail-order plants and pay postage to a place that's less than forty miles from me, or just take my chances that I can find what I want at Siebenthaler or some other local nursery. It's not all that exotic, but I went through seven kinds of hell a few years back finding the flowering almond (last year, Groby's had about a dozen; I have this way of anticipating trends, such that any time I look for something like a bastard, it's the most popular thing going the following year).

Same with the sweetheart (Cecile Brunner) roses, I guess -- there'll probably be a big fad for old garden roses in 2006, and you'll be able to buy a Cecile Brunner rose out in front of Kroger.

No, seriously -- I just noticed the other day, after all those years of the grafted weeping cherry trees (prunus subhirtella pendula), the Snofozam cultivar I have out front is suddenly the 'next big thing.' Of course, the 'subhirtella pendula' grafted ones grow taller (that's why I didn't want one -- wanted something that averaged ten feet for the spot where I put my Snow Fountains), and it may well be that whoever owns the patent on the (registered) Snow Fountains version just has a good sales staff, I don't really know. I do know this tendency of corporations to copyright seeds, starts, slips, etc. was the biggest reason I hustled my ass to get hold of the Cecile Brunner this year. Next year, it may not be available due to lowered demand, and then the only rose you'd be able to get would be some generic-looking thing that looked just like everybody else's roses that they bought at Wal Mart. Like my neighbor -- I think all hers are probably newer, subzero or otherwise heavily hybridized and trademarked roses.

Honestly? To me, they look like plastic. You see, I'm not really in it to say "look, everybody! I have a yard full of roses!" Don't really care if anybody notices -- they're not for anybody but me to enjoy, that's why I picked an old garden rose that reminds me of my granny instead of a bitchin hot-pink rosebush that blooms the size of a dinner plate and can withstand temperatures to fifty below. Because to me, they're kind of ugly. Not in the 'oversized SUV/duallie pickup truck' sense of ugly, more in the garish, too much color sense of ugly. The empty flourish, the meaningless possession type of ugly that ... well, I've managed to resist for most of my life, so far.

But, that's just me, and I know I'm in the minority. Why else would I have to walk through gardening centers for six months to find one plant I've wanted for a year or more? Because I don't want what everybody else wants.

Well, not this year, anyway. Next year, everybody will want it.

They often do.

Posted by Melinda at 06:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 17, 2005

Not much to tell, right now...

I'm still looking for somewhere to order a non-climbing Cecile Brunner rose. Who knows why, but apparently the climbing cultivar is very popular and the bush-style one isn't. Weird, especially since the Cecile Brunner bush is as carefree as any old garden rose, and on top of that, fairly compact -- you have to keep pruning it regularly or it gets kind of hairy, but it's mostly a four-by-four bush you could fit in just about anywhere. The climbing version makes thirty feet, according to the description on the gardening sites I've seen. That's lovely, but I don't have anywhere to put thirty feet of climbing rose -- the house isn't that tall, and I'm double damned if I'm getting up on a ladder to prune and tie up a rose that wants to grow up the side of the house and down a chimney or something.

I've found a couple of places that appear to have it in stock, and probably will just go ahead and try ordering on Friday -- one of the places, Antique Rose Emporium, is in Austin, Texas. They say they only take orders November through April (I think), but they'll ship later if you live in a northern zone so you don't plant it just to have it freeze.

That would be nice. The Brunner is supposed to be hardy to Zone 5, but even here in Zone 6 you can't count on the last frost falling any earlier than the end of April. Ideally, you'd plant a new rosebush somewhere around the second week of May. I've seen snow as late as Mother's Day here. It's a rarity, but it did happen here about twenty years ago, and even if it hadn't, or if I didn't remember it, I could hardly forget we had a major snowstorm that dumped a foot and a half on March 13th in 2004, so ...

I called and got an estimate from a local arborist to come and remove the stumps -- they'll be here Friday. We've learned our lesson about impatience, and letting just anybody with a mag-sign on their truck perform quasi-professional services in our yard. We're probably lucky none of the knuckle-draggers who came out and took the trees down in the first place fell out of a tree -- they said they were 'on the clock' and that their employer's insurance would cover them, but I guess it was a little chancy to bet on that, in retrospect.

So a professional, educated tree guy is going to come out and finish the job these yokels screwed up so badly we don't even want their asses on our property to grind down the stumps. I may ask him, if I'm here and he's amenable, if he knows what's wrong with the Atlas cedar. Looking at it, and the browning pattern, I think it may just be frost or wind burn -- the brown needles are all on one side of the plant, and even on the stems that have the browned needles, the wood itself is still flexible. It could be something the thing will 'snap out of,' I don't know. I hope so -- not that you don't pretty much take it on faith that anything you put in the yard can be overwhelmed by diseases, especially here -- because I really like it. I knew when we bought it, it was a gamble. Cedars probably don't like our climate, though I'd seen plenty of them on the web in places like Connecticut and New Hampshire. Usually, they were planted close to or even on buildings or structures, and likely were protected from things like cold wind, ice and other weather conditions that can affect them. The crappy soil could be a problem, too. Up to four inches, it's pretty decent; past that, it's largely clay and rocks.

I don't know -- with the damp weather this year, and the state of the soil here, it could be some fungus or root rot that's hit it, in which case not only will we have to take it out, but I probably ought to consider not planting another one. Root rot is caused by a fungus -- apparently, it's in the soil most places, but the conditions have to be just right for it to take hold, and if they are, it'll do the same thing every time. We've taken out a lot of woody plants since we moved in -- and the state of the yard where we planted the cedar would indicate there was something big and woody growing there, removed before we bought the house.

I don't know, our troglodyte-in-hot-pants, camper parking neighbors took all the trees out on their lot within six months of moving in, except for one mangy-looking maple right in front of their place, so the roots could come from anywhere. As much clay as there is in the soil here, nothing seems to root very deeply and everything seems to send out a lot of surface roots.

We may lose the cedar, and I'll consider it a lesson learned and not plant anything like it away from the house in the future. I'd have had to dig something up to put it near the house when we bought it, though and at the time we weren't really looking to remove and replace anything. As I noted, we didn't so much buy as adopt the thing -- they're kind of sad-looking things, and we both like the way sport-growing things like weeping and curly ornamentals look, especially when you combine them. It's probably more me than my husband, but he was the one who broke, finally, and said, "let's buy the cedar" when we saw it a few years ago. He was the one who made the call on the last cat, too.

The stuff out front is all in decent shape, unless the monkeys who took out the maples managed to kill the corkscrew hazelnut, too (they snapped a few branches on it, but it seems okay, and frankly it's lost branches when the dog's leash got tangled up in it with no lasting effects, so I doubt anything short of completely flattening it would kill it).

Hazel bushes are indigenous to what's left of wild woodlots in Ohio, from what I can gather -- they're common enough in this climate, in other words, though the corkscrew version isn't. It's a not-uncommon genetic sport, though, it's not like it's some exotic variant from a completely different climate that became popular in this zone because somebody on HGTV showed it in an episode or something. It should survive, as should the hollies and the weeping cherry. In fact, with the warmer winter and more sun, the cherry should really kick it out this spring.

So I'll post some pictures after they remove the stumps, and I'll make sure I have the guy's number -- if I ever have to have anything else done in this yard, even if it's more expensive, it's going to be done by somebody who knows what the hell he's doing. If one of us had, say, slid a car over the flowering almond in bad weather, it would be one thing -- when you're paying somebody for a service and they wreck the hell out of your yard, it's entirely another.

Guess I'll have to get out and rustle up a couple more flowering almond bushes, too. I decided instead of replacing that one where it is, I'd rather plant one on each side of the driveway, on the high side of the sidewalk. They're in the "under fifty dollar" range, so the hub doesn't squirm about it (until the Atlas cedar, everything was, including the weeping cherry and the corkscrew hazelnut). They seem to do well enough in the yard, too -- that one was really doing well, growing and blooming every year. Dammit.

C'est la vie -- I feel better knowing somebody else killed it. I've always had a black thumb for indoor plants, but I seem to do okay outside. Theoretically, it's because it's easier to do 'out of sight, out of mind' on outdoor plants. I think I've killed most of the indoor ones with kindness, overwatering them. It's just as well, really -- having four cats in the house, and a small dog, it's difficult to maintain any indoor plants in a visible or prominent spot, because they eat them or knock them over or dig in the dirt anyway. About half the plants you grow indoors are poisonous to animals, besides. Good thing I never had much luck with them -- I don't need the stress of feeling like I should have plants in the house and constantly worrying about whether the cats will destroy them or poison themselves.

Posted by Melinda at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2005

Some general information on Suburban Dirt, and phase I of the whole mess...

Since I'm probably not going to be disturbing the livestock much with anything I say here, and consequently needn't worry about annoying anybody to the point they'll develop into a malicious stalker and try to get me fired from my job if they can track me down via the Internets, I'll be a little more candid than I would if I were writing a journal about my personal thoughts and opinions about anything other than gardening, especially about where I live. You can never be too careful these days, but I very much doubt I have anything controversial or revolutionary to say about gardening -- this is, primarily, for my own benefit anyway. To some extent, it's to remind me how much different things really are. When you make incremental changes, it's hard to remember what it looked like at the beginning.

The property on which I'm trying to garden is in a small city called Kettering, about seven miles south of Dayton, Ohio. Southwestern Ohio is smack in the middle of gardening zone 6, which seems to include most deciduous trees and flowering plants, both annual and perennial, and virtually every non-blooming shrub known to mankind. In other words, it's not a half-bad place to garden, weather-wise.

Southwestern Ohio was at the bottom of a prehistoric ocean, on the edge of a glacier that apparently got as far south as the Ohio River before it melted, so the soil is rocky, a little on the alkaline side, and has a moderately thick skin of limestone-based clay a couple of feet down. It's a struggle to maintain a good quality and level of topsoil, and many of the trees that were planted here before they started chopping to build this subdivision, in the early fifties, were top-rooters like softwood maples and soft evergreens -- you can't dig more than four inches without running into a network of roots from something, around here. Especially in this yard which, as I noted, originally had nine trees in it -- five of which are(were) softwood maples (now only one is); all of which turned the surface of the landscape in this yard into a thin skin of topsoil spread over a screen of maple roots.

The front of the house, apparently, had suffered little effort to keep it in any kind of shape. There were four ancient yew hedges in front of the kitchen window when we moved in, and they'd been cared for so poorly you couldn't prune all of them into the same shape and size as the others because some had been let go so long that the skin of greenery on the outside (if you know yew hedges, you know what I'm talking about) was too thin -- pruning them to match the others resulted in a bunch of brown sticks. I've always hated the way box-shaped yew hedges looked in front of a house anyway, I wanted those bastards out of there at the earliest possible moment. It took almost two years.

Here are a couple of shots of the front of the house before we got going:



We moved in up here in 1999, and it took nearly two years of hemming and hawing, researching and planning before we got our hands dirty (and damned near broke our backs -- never remove a fifty-year-old yew hedge planting yourself; hire someone, trust me on this; my back still bothers me).

We'd already bought the new plants before we started the project -- the corkscrew hazelnut and the weeping cherry stood in the driveway for a while before there was anyplace to put them.

This was, by the way, a weekend's work -- we destroyed many tools, including two spades, an anvil pruner and a brand-new electric chainsaw, just removing the yews. Just didn't think it would be as difficult as it was -- we've never been fooled that way since about removing old plants, and we usually equip ourselves by renting something to perform the work, now. We're both over forty, there's no sense hurting ourselves more than we already hurt because we both were stupid about this kind of stuff when we were younger.

Anyway, here's what that same spot looked like two days later:


That was the gardening for 2001 -- we both were completely purged of any temptation to do anything outside in the yard for at least six months, after that. The next spring, I threw in some pinks here and there, and we tried to plant a garden in the back yard -- we dug up grass, put up stakes and a fence, and tried our hand at lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. The rabbits, who figured out how to circumvent the fencing about five minutes after we put it up, ate really well that year. We got some tiny, bitter radishes and one salad of some tart baby lettuce and a handful of Roma tomatoes long about the middle of October. We took down the fence and threw down grass seed and hay, and started looking into container gardening for the next summer -- there was no way in hell we were going to waste the money and effort on trying to grow anything on the ground in our yard. Too many rabbits.

The decision to dig a new flowerbed is never undertaken lightly. Planting one new thing, like a shrub or tree, usually isn't a major problem -- once you've removed the upper layer roots, you hit clay, but that only takes persistence to remove enough to plant something. Originally, I'd just planned to throw the cedar and the flowering almond in next to the driveway and be done with it; possibly put a flowerbed in somewhere else in the yard (though where I thought I'd put it other than where it ended up is a mystery to me).

The flowerbed next to the driveway, which now is about twelve feet long and eight feet deep at its extents, took three years to dig, in phases. The first dig was a single two-foot diameter hole in the late summer of '02, to set the flowering almond (rip, flowering almond). The following shot is not long afterward, when we put in the weeping atlas cedar (possibly also rip, Harrison -- sorry!), which required digging a slightly bigger hole.

Farther down, toward the sidewalk, you also will see my first abortive attempt (the second, which was marginally more successful, is on the back slope) to start a bulb planting bed. I think that was the first inkling the yard was possessed by ancient evil powers, since just digging a six inch wide, six inch deep, three foot long trench to plant some bulbs took two days.

There were tulips and crocuses in there, but they never really did very well (not enough sun, which was kind of a mantra around here until the trees were taken out). I moved them up into the flowerbed, once I dug it out, but most of them didn't recover from being relocated.

Little flower gardening got done that year, though I think that was the fall I socked all the grape hyacinths and the giant allium in out front. I didn't realize a few things about the allium -- it gets about four feet tall, so when the bumblebees come to visit the blooms (oh, and boy, do they!) they wind up flying around your head and neck when you walk past the plants. Where had I planted them? A few at the edge of the front stoop and just outside the garage. So any time we came and went from the house, in other words, we walked through a cloud of bumblebees. Nice.

Two of the reasons the gardening got held up in 2002 were Squeek and Max, the dog and number four cat, who arrived at the end of August. We had planned for Max, but not for Squeek -- she appeared out of thin air on the patio of a restaurant while Tony and I were trying to drink ourselves into a sense of calm about bringing home a dog. She got lucky -- the other three cats were so rattled by having a dog in the house, they hardly seemed to notice she was there until she got big and confident enough to be an annoyance to them, and by then they all acted like she'd always been there.

Well, things went okay with the animal adoptions, so I guess it proved gardening ain't the only thing worth doing. At least the grape hyacinths took well, and bloomed the next spring.

I'll get into 2003 and expanding the flowerbed later.

Posted by Melinda at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2005

Well, damn.

Damn, damn, damn. The bloody beasts of big-box retail have done it again. It started with Frank's -- a regional chain of gardening and craft stores -- which closed down late last summer, unable to compete any longer against the artificially low prices (and crappy merch, but I guess people would rather get it cheap than get quality) of the big box retailers like shit-ass WalMart, Home De(s)pot and Lowe's.

That was bad enough, but even at that, Frank's was a chain.

Now, it's personal.

Groby's -- a Kettering, Ohio company that's been in business for over half a century, currently employing three generations of the same family -- is closing. It was one of the better garden centers and retailers in the area -- reasonably priced, everybody but the high-school boy meat they hired to load mulch and topsoil bags back at the barn knew what the hell they were talking about, they could give you advice (even unsolicited advice) about products and compare the virtues of topsoil mixes.

Well, another one bites the dust. I mean, there are others around, but Groby's was close. If we needed two hundred pounds of topsoil for various projects, we could go in the RAV and load it in the back, and not worry about having to drive miles and miles because we were only six blocks from them.

At least I don't have to feel bad about not having given them my business, and that being the reason they closed. If everybody who gardens in Kettering had resisted the temptation to buy cheap shit from WalMart and Home De(s)pot, and spent even half their garden mucking money at Groby's, they'd still be in business.

Quality don't count for shit. Yeah, I'm angry -- I get angry any time a good, quality local retailer has to throw in the towel because they can't compete against international conglomerates who squeeze their suppliers to price things so low they can't provide decent quality. Screw idiots who won't pay for quality -- I'm not going to give in and go to Home De(s)pot for anything. If I have to mail order things, I'll mail order. If I have to pay a little more to get them from the other local garden center (which is, regrettably, five miles away and a pain in the ass to haul two hundred pounds of topsoil from), well, I guess I'll do it. I like Lowe's for things we can't get anywhere else, but I'm damned if I'll bleed money from the few local gardening stores we have left. Siebenthaler (the other local store) is more expensive than either big-box or Groby's was, but it's not so much more expensive that I'll give in and shop big-box just for a few cents on the dollar. Screw that.

Screw big-box gardening stores, especially WalMart. I haven't been in a WalMart in at least five years, and I don't mind a bit -- I don't feel like I've missed out on anything except squealing children and right-wing shillage. Whoop-de-do, I could do without the squealing children and the right-wing shillage anyway, and I certainly don't have to go out of my way to go to that hellhole to get it.

Internet gardening retailers, SpringHill (in Cincinnati, but still a local nursery and gardening supply center) and Siebenthaler, I'll be seeing you in about two months, if you don't get sucked into the shithole of black-box retail sludge lowball crappy quality pricing depression.

I like to get answers to my questions. I like a guarantee on a plant, and for it to look healthy. I haven't had much trouble with Lowe's, but I'd rather give them my money for things local stores don't carry, like garage door openers and specialty paint, and buy the stuff I can locally.

I'm pissed.

Posted by Melinda at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2005

I am not a rosarian.

I like the way roses look, but in general I don't love them enough to put into them what it takes to have the ones I really like (fluffy, cabbagey English-style ones that are only cold-hardy to Zone 7, or else polyanthas with hundred-petal blossoms) grow here.

There are three rosebushes on the property here:

This is the one out front, obviously. I didn't plant it, and as I noted in the first entry, all I really do is throw some flowering shrub slow-release fertilizer under it a couple of times a year and make sure it gets plenty of water. I trimmed it back pretty far this year, so it won't look this showy in 2005 ... but I got sick of getting it in the face when I walked along the front walk, there, and it had loomed out over the driveway a few feet, too, so I was hitting it every time I pulled the car into the garage. I know, I know -- you should never prune roses when you're PMS, but I didn't ask for that rosebush.

This is the one out back. Strangely enough, for all the pictures I've taken around here, I couldn't find any digital shots of that one in bloom. It blooms at least once -- twice if I'm good about deadheading it -- and usually bears pretty well. I think it's some kind of Cecile Brunner (sweetheart rose) hybrid, since the blossoms look much like a sweetheart rose, but they're even smaller and usually mostly white even before the sun hits them. I think it's actually meant to be pruned down into a dwarf rosebush, but it does okay if I let it go, so I do.

The third one is really pathetic, I'm sure I have no pictures of it. It's in approximately the same condition as the golden raintree, and for the same reasons -- some idiot former owner of this house planted a rosebush at the one corner of the house where it would get exactly no sun, due to positioning and because of the viburnum and the maple tree out back. It's the worst possible place I can think to plant anything that needed any sun -- on the northeast corner of the house, which is one of the few spots on this property that would be at least somewhat shaded every single day of the year. There's a reason the heating and cooling folks put the condenser for the air conditioning back there. The sun seldom hits it.

So it looks pretty pathetic. We're going on six years in the house, and I've seen exactly one bloom on that rose the whole time. One cane got itself stretched way out around the corner of the house and actually got some sun a few years back, and it produced one moldy little red rosebud that fell apart quickly. The kindest thing to do would probably be to just dig it up, and I tell myself every year that's what I'm going to do, but then it keeps coming back up and I keep letting it go.

I pruned it way back this year, too. Maybe that'll do what I haven't had the guts to do, so far, I don't know.

That's it, so far. I've been trying for several years to get a slip off the Cecile Brunner that my mother has. It was one she slipped off one of my grandmother's rosebushes -- it's one of the healthiest, most trouble-free plants I've seen in my entire life. She had two of them, but one of them got rose rosette and died a few years back. She also lost a red rose to it. There's multiflora rose all over the place in the small town where she lives, so doubtless the mites are getting blown in from all directions. I decided finally, this winter, I'm just going to go out and buy an own-root Brunner and plant it here and forget about trying to take slips off that one. For all I know, it could start growing weird and die in a couple of years anyway, and I haven't seen any rose rosette in my neighborhood. The last thing in the world I need to do is bring rose death to my street. The woman who's growing the Wal Mart backlot in her front yard would be less than pleased, I venture, if all her cheesy bright yellow and orange roses suddenly keeled over.

Here's a link on rose rosette -- it's scary shit, let me tell you:

Ann Peck's e-book on rose rosette disease.

It's a link to an e-book written by a certified rosarian from Tennessee, it goes into the history and everything, and has lots of pictures. It's how I found out what was wrong with my mother's roses. Mom had already cleared the Brunner that died, and she had someone come and pull the second one out as soon as we figured out what was wrong with it. Mom still has several roses in the yard, including the Cecile Brunner that my grandmother started next door years and years ago, so she didn't want to lose any more of them, if she could help it. I don't know, I'd figure if the rosebush next to the house, which was sheltered from the wind, could get it -- any of them could.

So I may add another rosebush, if I can find an own-root Brunner, but other than that I really have no plans to add more of them. There are other things I plan to do, and I'll post some more pictures of existing stuff with actual leaves on it, later.

Posted by Melinda at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)