Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Crape Myrtle Watch 080528

It's been a little warmer this past week . . . So how are the crape myrtles doing?

The one I'm calling "New Orleans" No. 1 is spreading nicely:
New Orleans No. 1
New Orleans No. 2
"New Orleans" No. 2 is worrying me a little. Not because it's not healthy and growing, but because it doesn't look like its twin. Kind of like Arnie Swarzenegger and Danny DeVito, ya know?

In fact, the plant that was labelled "Pixie White" looks more like a mini than "New Orleans" No. 2 does. Separated at birth?
Pixie White.  Maybe.
"Bayou Marie" should be the biggest of them all in this bed, but so far . . .
Bayou Marie
And, as before, "Velma's Royal Delight" isn't being too delightful. If it doesn't take hold, do I lobby for a replacement? Or give up and plant something else?
Velma's Royal Delight
I forgot to take any overall views today; at least, not of the crape myrtle bed out by the sidewalk. So to make it up to you, may I present my first full-blown poppy of the year?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I'm tired, tired, tired.

Yardwork, which is to say, back garden work.

Got the new bed for the blackberries and so on finished last week. The sand cherry is moved out of the northwest corner into the east border, the new Solomon's seals are now in along the north fence, the saxifrage is moved from behind the kerrias in the north border to a position in front of them, and the new Jacob's Ladder (polemonium caeruleum) is where the saxifrage used to be.

And the blackberry is in the ground, as of yesterday.

The great struggle this year is against the maple tree seeds. Is there some conspiracy among maple trees that induces them all to let go in natural-disaster proportions in certain years? First my Norway maple covered the bottom end of the backyard with what looked like yellow-green snow. I swept and raked up the little paired green whirligigs, from the walk, the north border, and the unplanted garden beds. Then the neighbors' silver maple let loose a week-long barrage of pale brown samaras. Maple seeds everywhere! On the walkway! On the garden cobbles! On the beds I'd raked out before! In the borders! On the porch!

And especially in the grass, nose-down, wings in the air, looking like unexploded bombs protruding from the wreckage of London during the Blitz. Or lying flat and myraid in the bare patches I have to reseed.

I think the neighbors' tree has about shot its bolt. I think. So yesterday evening I went out and raked maple seeds out of my yard. And raked, and raked, and raked. Filled up the ComposTumbler with them but there were still thousands to go. Filled up a large black lawn bag with them, but there's still more out there. Ran the lawn mower over them, but they're still in my grass, waiting to explode, waiting till I drop my guard for one minute, conspiring to grow into saplings that'll defy my mower blade and mock the strain in my back as I bend to pull them by hand.

I do not care. I'm too tired to mess with it anymore. The backyard is going to get reseeded whether the maples are invading or not.

In a day or two. When I'm not so tired.

Then today, I fork-turned one of my four garden beds. It needed turned because I emptied last year's ComposTumbler load into it and the new compost had to be integrated. It needed turned because the maples in my yard love the amendments and fertilizer and water so much, they spread their roots in anew every year. I have to smack their little rooty fingers, as it were, and say "Hands off!"

But where, oh where did those new rocks come from? I know I double-dug that bed three or four years ago! I've been turning it over by spade and fork every year since! Why should I be hitting big roundy rocks 10" down now? Did the rock gnomes bring them via subterranean passage? They can't be petified potatoes I forgot to dig last year; I've never grown potatoes yet!

Well, the rocks are now out. Some of them, anyway. And the bed is forked and turned. And I've got six seedlings of broccoli planted, and despite the wind, mulched with newspaper and ground-up leaves. And a bushel more maple seeds are swept off the cobbles of the garden paths.

And I am tired. Too tired to upload pictures.

Maybe later.

Crape Myrtle Watch 080521

What I'll do for the cause of Science!

I mean, what's the use of embarking on an experiment if you're not going to collect your data at the planned intervals? And what's the use of collecting the data if you're not going to present it?

So here, in the usual order, are the lagerstroemias:

First, the overall view, with the daffodils I transplanted from the backyard to make room for the transplanted sand cherry, which got moved to make room for the new Nikko Blue hydrangea:

Then "New Orleans" No. 1:

And "New Orleans" No. 2:

"Pixie White":

"Bayou Marie":

And "Velma's Royal Delight." Is Her Highness sulking? I realize the weather's still been pretty cool, but not a leaf bud? Not a peep? O fie!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crape Myrtle Watch 080514

Here's the Wednesday, May 14 update on the progress of the crape myrtles I put in last January. First, an overall shot:

Then one "New Orleans." This is actually the one closest to the (nonfunctioning) solar lamp.

The other "New Orleans" sounding a note:
"Pixie White" with its baby leaves:
"Bayou Marie" showing ruddy and coy:
"Velma's Royal Delight" has shown nary a leaf. Maybe if the temperatures would get above 60 degrees for two days running . . . ?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Rock Collection

When it comes to my borders, I think I'm finding out why the previous owners just hauled in landscape rock and dotted hostas here and there.

Anybody wanna see my new rock collection? Anybody wanna add to theirs? I've got plenty. Little ones, middle-sized ones, and great big breadloaf-sized ones. Just stick in your spade six inches or so and you'll find 'em, just waiting for you to dig them out!

And I wish you would come over to my house and dig them out. I spent a couple hours last evening and a couple hours more today, and if I've got that new East Border bed one-eighth free of the kind of stones plants mortally stub their toes on, I'm doing better than I think I am.

It rained hard last night and the ground is really too wet to be messing around with. Which is my excuse for not being out there prospecting right now.

As I dig and scrape, pry and pull, it is diverting to think that this may be the first time those stones have been disturbed since the glaciers deposited them during the last ice age.

On the other hand, it may all be fill dirt, brought in by the developers in the early 20th century. I don't really think anyone was making structural clay tile 18,000 years ago . . .

Anyway, now I have this great collection of ground rocks. I may reconsider my idea of edging these beds with brick.

What I want to know is, when will my spade strike the box of gold coins that some long-deceased previous owner must have buried in the back yard? I should get some reward for all this labor above and beyond a usable flower bed!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Fair Way of Amendment

My little eleven-by-five-foot-six kingdom on the East Border has received reinforcements.

I mean, soil amendments.

We got yer well-rotted cow manure and yer mushroom compost . . .

And a solid ton of peat moss (well, it felt heavy enough!) . . .

And then all the leaf mould and topsoil I'd saved in a tarp on my bit of patio:

Then in and down with the spading fork and up and over . . .

And that's all for tonight, folks: It was getting too dark to tell the difference between peat moss and red sand.

The real down and dirty happens tomorrow, when I get on my knees with the garden fork and try to persuade all this dirty goodness to mix and mingle and make something like decent soil.

And when I get out my pan and screen again and pull up and screen out all the stones my spading fork kept hitting about 8" down this evening. Not imported landscape rocks this time: The ones the soil around here is naturally "blessed" with.

O teh roundee rockes, teh rowndie rockks!
Haow ai duz luvvz teh rouwndee roxx!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Devices and Desires

I never do things the way I'm supposed to.

Take the East Border in my back garden. After a night spent with the matter running through my head, I decided there's no use in my amending just the 3'-8" width I now had, when it really needs to be wider to amount to anything.

So I decided to peel up the grass and take it out 18" further, to line up with a brick joint in this funny pointless little path with its funny 9" x 4-1/2" bricks that I've got running perpendicular to my backyard walkway.

And I figured I'd do the whole strip from one end of the yard to the other, not just the twelve feet or so I'd finished clearing the rocks off yesterday.

They say you should just take the grass and leave the topsoil. Couple-three years ago, I widened that border a good foot or so, and I nearly gave myself varicose veins, not to mention nerve paralysis, stomping on the spade to heave out these great deep divots. A local gardener told me I shouldn't be going that deep. So yesterday evening, I looked at sod cutting devices online. Delightful, labor-saving tools that'd give you a mere 2" thick layer you could roll right up.

Nice, but occasionally it's prudent for me to remember I'm poor and use the tools I have.

Like my cordless mower with the edger attachment. Maybe I could cut the long edge with that. And then lift up the margins just enough with my spading fork.

Would it lift?

Gracious, no. That'd be too easy.

No idea why not-- after all, the sod I removed last January for the front yard crape myrtle bed lifted and rolled satisfactorily!

But maybe the backyard grass is different from what's growing in front. And it's spring now, and the roots are vigorous and tenacious.

So I proceeded to follow the devices and desires of my own heart. I did what I ought not to have done: I plunged in with my spading fork and removed the grass in chunks nine or ten inches square and four to six inches deep.

Yeah, there went all the top soil-- all but what I could shake or pound or fork off. But what could I do? I wanted to get the sod off (...) and I did what I needed to do to do it!

And then, I'm calling what I hope to end up with an herbaceous border. With a few shrubs, fruiting or not, dotted in. But they say you shouldn't plant perennials anywhere near a tree and its root system. And my sugar maple is at most--what?-- fifteen feet away? If that? And roots in where I'm digging? Oy vey! Have we ever got roots!

But I'm going to plant this border anyway. What am I supposed to do? Give up and put back all the landscape rock? Deep-six the tree and its shade and force myself to turn on the air conditioning? I've managed to get through four summers without it, largely thanks to that tree!

I can spare it a little fertilizer, if it'll spare me a few root ends.

Anyway, the border is now widened to 5'-6". Sometime in the future I'll take another eight inches or so of grass for a brick edge, but I think I'll rent a trencher to do that. Want make it deep enough to dump in some concrete and give myself a sporting chance of keeping the tree roots out.

Next thing, tomorrow, I have to amend the soil. They say you should do that in the fall and let it settle over the winter. Or at the very least, give it a week or two.

But how am I supposed to do that? I've got to get those blackberry bushes planted right away!

They say God looks after drunks and fools. I hope amateur gardeners fit in there somewhere, too.

Crape Myrtle Watch 080507

Thought I'd do a weekly update on how the crape myrtles are coming along.

Actually, the first one started to break dormancy a week or so ago, but I wasn't confident enough with the macro setting on my new digital camera to try to document it. Anyway, here we are, with the lagerstroemias planted in the new bed by the front sidewalk:

Here's one "New Orleans" mini:

Here's the other:

Here's the "Pixie White," with some red buds bursting and showing some green:

And the "Bayou Marie," with the red leaf buds beginning to unfurl:

The "Velma's Royal Delight" up in the border next to the house isn't doing anything yet. I'm hoping that's because it gets more shade and the ground is cooler there. That's the one specimen I really want to work; the rest are what-the-heys due to the six-plant mininum order.

Called the seller down in Florida to ask what I should expect. He told me crape myrtles don't get going till the ground warms up, which may explain why the little "New Orleans" specimens were first to break dormancy: they didn't have to be planted as deep. I should give Velma until the end of the month, then call back if nothing's doing by then.

The interesting thing is that some friends of mine piggybacked on my order, getting three crape myrtle trees. I left them a message over the weekend: "Check your crape myrtles! Mine are breaking dormancy!" Talked to Steve* last night and he told me flat out, "Two of those crape myrtles are dead." How did he know? "It was brittle." Yeah, and the old branches on the ones I have that are leafing out are brittle, too. "The roots were dry, too. I know," he said, "I pulled them up."

Ouch. I'm thinking he jumped the gun, but considering he's yanked them already, there's no good my saying so.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I'm Not Stripping Woodwork

Not this week, anyway.

No, I'm out in the back garden acquiring that lovely gray-brown tinge to the cuticles that's such a fashion plus this time of year.

I could have kept on studiously overlooking the river rock riot that continues to overrun my borders (thanks to the POs and the POs-1)-- were it not for a pair of blackberry bushes I acquired a week ago yesterday that simply must be planted as soon as possible.

Wasn't really planning on putting in blackberries, at least, not this spring. But Sunday the 27th I preached on John 15 (Jesus Christ the True Vine) and the day before I got this bug to bring in a real grape vine plant to illustrate the children's sermon. So down I went to the Agway and brought a nice one. And on the Sunday, between that and the grapes I also brought in, I think the kids' message went across well.

But I still had the grape vine in its pot. And, I had to face facts, nowhere feasible to plant it. So I took it back to the Agway and got the blackberries instead. It is said that they can tolerate a bit more shade than grapes can. They'll go in what I call the East Border, which is mostly sunny-- except when the sugar maple's in the way.

So . . . . on Sunday last I shifted last year's casual compost pile, aka the Dead Plant Dump, from the east side of the yard to the west. Should stay moister over there, anyway.

Yesterday, I sifted out landscape rock until I had to go to choir practice. Two loads, out to the alley. Free to a good home! Any takers?

And this evening, hooray, I got all the river rock and landscape fabric out of a twelve or so foot stretch between the big rock pile to the north and the self-sown ajugas on the south.

That's enough space for now. The blackberries have to be planted three to four feet apart; that should give them the room they need.

I found some interesting things under the rock. Anybody know what this larva might be?

And I always find these holes under the landscape fabric. And dried cicada shells latched on to its underside. The two are connected, maybe?

It really is decent dirt once you let the sun work on it.

And clear the roots out.

Not that they'll stay out. About four years ago I had a big branch fall off the sugar maple. Tree surgeon told me both it and the Norway might last another five years, tops. Guess what? Neither of them show signs of flagging. It's probably all down to the nice dirt and fertilizer their roots are finding in my planting beds.