Saturday, May 23, 2009

Spring 1

Between each season's gasp for breath
A moment's leased relief
Does lapse into the next refrain
of bludgeoning extreme

Then comatose, as excess yawns
A snarl of rotted teeth
that chewed each cloying bloom and leaf
that bored the hungry need

For color after lifeless months
Of cold
And gray
And why?s
For the next pneumatic pulse of life
To a torpid, endless sky

As soon as wonder wakes, afraid
that Spring this time forgot
To paint the numbers autumn fell
Or connect the frozen dots

Then latitude of sudden swoons
and drops into the light
To set ablaze each thylakoid
And let the next Spring's bludgeon fly

Friday, May 22, 2009

Leave Something To The Professionals

Imagine, if you will, hiring a plumber to fix your broken sink (go ahead, really let your imagination fly with this one). Now imagine that you, in a fit of poorly aimed confidence, decide to go ahead and buy the parts to fix the sink ahead of time, so that when the plumber arrives, s/he will only have to put the parts together in the right order and, voila, you'll have a fixed sink. This is as good a time as any to point out that you, unfortunately, do not know the first thing about plumbing equipment or fixtures beyond a vague recollection that, if you happen to be a cartoon Italian plumber, pipes and tubes allow access to dark underworlds where floating coins abound. Basically, your decision to buy parts ahead of time is starting to seem a bit foolhardy. But you soldier on. As you stand in the plumbing aisle of Home Depot, agog and astonished by the multitude of choices and complete lack of floating coins or bricks to smash your head against, you decide to make your selections based on aesthetics, reasoning that any decent plumber should be able to make do with the parts at hand, and beside that you've taken a liking to the little elbow-shaped tubes. So you buy a box and head home to meet the plumber.

The plumber gives you a long, strange look.

Being a professional, s/he jury-rigs a contorted though admittedly cool-looking solution worthy of MacGyver, then tells you not to turn on the water until s/he can get the hell out of there.

The sink predictably and catastrophically fails. What do you learn?

A ridiculous scenario, to be sure, but in principle not so different from one I experienced earlier today. A certain "quirky" client who by her own admission cannot tell the difference between weeds and desirable plants in her yard decided to hire professional gardeners to do some outdoor containers for her. So far so good; I love designing and working with container arrangements and I love showing the not-so-plant-savvy among us the surprising beauty and possibility lurking within the plant kingdom. So my disappointment was justifiably thick when I showed up to find the client had already gone to the nursery and purchased the plants she wanted us to use in her containers. Furthermore, the concept of sun vs. shade and plant's requirements thereof seemed entirely to evade her to the extant that I was forced to put Mexican feather grass in full shade and a beautiful hardy geranium ( G. 'Lawrence Flatman', I'm actually quite taken with this variety right now) in her cave of a covered porch. In the end, the containers looked all right, if a bit out-of-place (imagine a heavily shaded second story window planter filled with the aforementioned grasses, Carex and Dianella - it's like a weird spiky row of sentinels brooding over their own inevitable demise).
Now don't get me wrong... I don't expect everyone to have an intuitive grasp of plant cultural requirements and I don't discourage this kind of experimenting with unfamiliar plants - in fact I believe that the best way to learn gardening is by making your own mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them. I myself have killed enough plants to earn my victims a war memorial (case in point when I first took an interest in ornamental plants I failed to note the fairly important indoor/outdoor dichotemy and would just bring home any plant I liked from a nursery and stick it in my college dorm room, letting it put on a spectacular but ephemeral show for all my roomates). But I just don't see the point in paying professional gardeners to make your mistakes and kill your plants for you. Do not be fooled, while I have been compensated for putting your choices in soil, the accountability is still yours and I will not take responsibility for your doomed sentinels or poor old 'Lawrence Flatman' who, after all, only ever wanted a bit of sunlight.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Flame Throwers and Innocence

Spending 6 hours with a flame thrower should be every boys' dream. Such quality time could be spent vanquishing an imaginary and inhomogeneous blend of alien foes, movie villains and mean kids from school (maybe throw in a parent or two if you've been unfairly punished any time in the last week). An (arguably) healthy outlet for pre-angst angst and aggression, the flame thrower - usually manifested as an empty wrapping-paper tube - taught young boys that, while other weapons may be more practical, none would ever match the cathartic and purgative qualities of fire. It also taught - and even I won't argue the health angle here - that anything you didn't like or any problem you had could be burned right out of your life with no consequence but ash.

It's no wonder they don't give flame throwers to adults.

Yet strangely enough, I find that a chosen vocation of "gardening" has inexplicably (ok, maybe a little explicably) placed a real life flame thrower in my tool kit and at my disposal. It is not the backback-mounted hell-spigot I imagined as a child; it looks rather like a steel walking cane and runs on those little propane tanks you use for camping stoves. Its effective kill-range is about 6 inches, not 30 yards, and its raison d'etre is to vanquish not hordes of attacking enemies and pre-pubescent psychological idiosyncracies but rather all enemies tenacious enough to germinate and grow in the cracks of sidewalks and patios.
It is, in other words, a weed-burner (but that's just between you and me; if anyone else asks, it's a flame thrower). So you might imagine, correctly so, that 6 hours of wielding this device at dandelions would not achieve quite the same catharsis and joy as those childhood campaigns-of-fire. Granted, it is still kind of cool to stand and rain flame down upon these weeds which would in other circumstances bring me to my knees with one of any number of inadequate digging/scraping tools as my only defense. And if I really need to work through some aggression issues, I can perform some mental gymnastics through which I let dandelions become the face of my sundry problems and then symbolically burn those problems. But even this only works for about half an hour before my attantion wanders and I'm just weeding again. I can even hold pleasant, inane conversations with neighbors and passers-by while operating the torch.
That's when it hits me: have I become so jaded that flame throwers are no longer badass? What else will this profession steal from me? What other childhood-subverting tools will appear in the gardener's tool kit to rob our imaginations of their most powerful weapons? Fertilizer hand-grenades? Stealth bomber crop-dusters? Lightsaber pruning saws? I'll not allow it.
It's up to us to reclaim our (somewhat violent, come to think of it) innocence. The next time you reach for a tool, look for its inner badassness. Fend off an alien-vampire with nothing but your Felcos; tame a John Deere velociraptor and ride it around with an extendable pruning saw as your lance; come on people, those fancy Japanese pruning and weeding tools are just asking to be part of a ninja's arsenal (you are a ninja, aren't you!?).
And for God's sake, the next time you're using a weed-burner, remember: it's not a weed-burner, it's a flame thrower!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Make Yourself at Home

Maybe I started the pole beans inside too soon, maybe winter lasted too long; whatever the case, by the time these were cut out of the window blinds, they had flowered and begun to set fruit. So next year, when you start seeing pole beans alongside the countless Ficus and Dracaena of box-store houseplant displays, you'll know who to thank.
(Photo by Roni)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Not The "I" Word

It occurs to me that perhaps I've been unfair towards certain plants - let's not call them "invasive"- which display a certain spirited inclination towards reproduction. Via sexual or asexual means, these plants (let's not call them "invasive") spread themselves in an opportunistic fashion; the tiniest patch of bare ground given a why-not?-shrug and summarily inundated with cheap, plentiful seeds (I'm looking at you, little weedy violets) or subverted by runners and rhizomes with all the subtlety of a teenager's attempt at casual intimacy (that's you, bindweed).
But perhaps not all of these "opportunists" should be treated equally. Some are truly despicable (please refer to my Nightmare Weed post) but we should not let these cast a pall over all vigorous, sexually-enlightened plants (I'd still rather not call them "invasive"), some of which have undeniably positive aesthetic or structural qualities. Surely everyone has a few "self-seeders" or "naturalizers" (or whatever the euphemism du-jour is) which they are willing to unleash upon their garden with the full knowledge that many hands-and-knees hours will be spent in quarantine mode, futilely attempting to restrict them to one corner of one bed.
I realize I'm opening pandoras box here because in gardening, one man's treasure is another man's vile, loathesome weed the mere mention of which is wont to launch a tirade towards or physical assault of the mentioner. Therefore, I'll go first. These are plants towards which I will cast a blind eye in a client's garden, even if I have been more or less commanded to remove them. At the end of my day, there is just no cold ruthless blood left in my veins for these misunderstood gems (let's not call them "invasive", please).

  • Centaurea montana - LSD flower, as I like to call it, as in God must have been tripping if he made this. Fellow Blotanists may recognize this as my "favorite flower". No matter how much these spread throughout a garden and how hard they can be to remove, I always have to stop and stare when they are in bloom. Like some cerulean, radial sea creature that grew a stem and joined the Asteraceae, I never get tired of them.
  • Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora - I frankly don't care if these take over a bed; I just can't stir up animosity for something that blooms so brilliantly during a time of the year when many other things are tiring-out (here in the Northwest anyway). Plus, if you really do want to remove them, the corms pop out like they were just waiting for you to come along and grant them the pleasure of being ripped out of the ground.
  • Carex 'Frosted Curls'- I was initially alarmed by how quickly these self-sowed in a bed that I planted. The alarm quickly turned to delight when I realized that a plant chosen for its unique cool-green color and soft, mounded habit made an even stronger statement in greater numbers (plus it allowed me steal one of the seedlings for myself).
That's all for now, let me have it if you hate any of these, but you have to give me some alternatives.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Rites of Spring

As it turns out, the ideal season for garden blogging (i.e. when there is more going on outside than just bad weather) happens to coincide with the ideal season for actually working in the garden...
and for weddings...
and bachelor parties...
and moving...
and birthdays...
and barbecues...
and car problems...
and major computer malfunctions...

Such that precious little time seems to be left over for actually writing/complaining about all the above.
This has been a grievous omission on my part and I strive to never again be absent for so long. I shall steadfastly forgo all momentous occasions, necessary life changes, and important repairs in order to better tend this blog and follow others. After all, is gardening without smartass snark and cynicism really gardening at all?
I didn't think so.