Monday, June 22, 2009

Alchemilla mollis

No one's going to say anything? Really, no one's going to say it? I mean, I'll say it if no one else will because someone's got to...
All right, fine.
Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle) is a menace of a weed no matter how you look at it. I cannot be rid of it. It devours gardens while my back is turned. I've scratched futile days away clawing at its rhizomes only to find, upon my next visit, it has returned in viral numbers. It seeds itself with a profusion and desperation usually reserved for certain notorious annual weeds. Yet everyone turns a blind eye to these truths, defending A. mollis as though it were a troubled youth who means well, no matter how many schools he burns down. Yes, the foliage is pretty, and it prettily holds dew and raindrops in its leaves, but once you've held a thunderstorms' worth of rain in your Alchemilla leaves alone, the novelty wears off.
Everyone loves this plant at first sight... and second and maybe third sight. Then it flowers and people aren't quite sure how to feel about the sloppy yellow inflorescences which seem to belong to another, quite different plant (who would have guessed this thing belongs to the Rose family). Then it explodes, producing a million seeds which germinate at about 99.9% success rate no matter what the soil or exposure, and people nervously reason that if they liked a plant enough to buy it in the first place, then having a million more for free must surely be a good thing. Then they sit in passive denial for a year or so until one morning they open the front door and can't find a way through the garden because there is no garden anymore... only an uncrossable sea of Alchemilla mollis... and they call Garden Search and Rescue, aka yours truly, who is airlifted in and charged with the unenviable but heroic task of finding safe passage through the sea to rescue them before food and water supplies run out.
Do not fall in love with this plant, no matter how delightfully blue-green the leaves seem at first glance; do not give away your garden and affections for the price of a pretty dew-drop. This Lady's Mantle is ravenous.
There, I said it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Yesterday, I got paid to go plant shopping.
That's right; but before everyone starts drooling and baying in envy (I know you, gardeners) let me amend that I got paid to go wholesale plant shopping, an altogether less enviable activity than the kid-in-a-candy-shop weekend trip to your local independent garden center.
There are many reasons for this, but let me start by saying that your average wholesale nursery is like a bloated, metastasized garden center that grew far faster than could its governing principles or customer-service infrastructure. To compensate for this dizzying imbalance, I'm convinced, most wholesale facilities have turned to bureaucratic consultants to fix their numerous problems on paper - and amplify them spectacularly in real life.
For example: a great way to make the most of your vast but ultimately limited acreage is to allow roads to take up the least amount of space possible - so just put in a few narrow paths connected by sharp turns et voila, problem solved... on paper. Unfortunately, while I love my Honda Civic hatchback, it is not the vehicle of choice in which to carry a large amount of expensive plants, so I am forced to take a behemoth of an old work truck and jam it down these dirt paths like a midlife crisis down a pair of high-school jeans, narrowly (if at all) avoiding the countless potted plants and sprinkler posts directly abutting the worn wheel grooves - an arrangement which, doubtless, looks good on paper. And if this weren't challenge enough, most of these nurseries do not, for some reason, grant exclusive shopping access to just one customer at a time; I am not allowed to gnash my teeth in solitary and cramped navigational misery, but rather am forced to share these single-serving roads with other landscapers and gardeners (for those who do not know, this green-collared demographic often prides itself on two things: firstly large, noisy trucks every bit as large and noisy as the one I am forced to drive, and secondly an effusing confidence which derives, not from an exceptional skill in handling said trucks - indeed, countless dents and scrapes seem to belie such a skill - but rather from the actual largeness and noisiness of the vehicles themselves). The end result is your narrator wishing he could just park the damn truck in a lot somewhere and spend the afternoon sprinting around with one hand to grab the next plant on the list and one to frantically wave a large bright flag alerting the many reckless (but confident!) landscaper-motorists of his presence.
I would stolidly, if not gladly, weather these perils and frustrations were there a kind, helpful, well-trained customer service staff on hand to answer my questions, coddle my insecurities and assure me that my lack of truck-related confidence is OK because darn it I'm a good person on the inside; but the regrettable truth is that these wholesale nurseries, with few exceptions, see actual, physical customers as a nuisance at best, an infestation at worst. They do not encourage "shopping"; they would rather you have the decency to go away and start a little garden center somewhere, sit down in a chair and flip through their availability sheets, order a truckload of plants without ever laying eyes on them, and then mail in a check. No questions, no eye contact, no driving around their precious nursery dirtying and mussing their plants (heavens!), no complaints about quality, weeds, or the fact that none of their f*ing inventory is labeled correctly, none of any of that pesky customer service stuff which they became nurserymen specifically to avoid.
This is not meant as a spectral condemnation of all wholesale nurseries and their staff; it would be unfair to exclude the few pleasant, helpful encounters I have had, but unfortunately these are far outweighed by the gravity of bad memories - I mean really, how do you write off the absence of nearly 100 Phormium, one of which I have driven all the way to your nursery to obtain, as a computer error!? And come to think of it, can your computer tell me why one cultivar of Rhaphiolepis is located here, while another is no less than 1/2 a mile away in another field, or why I have been charged for 5 gallon plants while the ones I have selected are clearly 1 gallon pots!? Also, has your computer noticed that these "Cistus" as they are labeled look suspiciously like Cotinus!? Sir, I'd like to speak to your computer for a moment...

Friday, June 12, 2009


Once again (and so soon!), a widely cast web of apologies is in order for my neglect of this blog, which this time has been a result of several weeks spent moving to a new rental unit, spotty internet access, comedic levels of exhaustion, and a deep angst about the new, horrifically-neglected "garden" I have inherited with my new home (the "lawn" was 3-feet tall upon my arrival and the bones of no fewer than 3 Christmas trees are still strewn about like forgotten casualties). Such potential, and me without a moment or dollar to spare.
I also apologize for leaving nothing but a bizarre cliffhanger of an unexplained poem to hold my place.