Monday, February 25, 2008

Hey, neighbors, it's not dead; it's resting

First two photos, taken in summer about 3 years ago.

My neighbors love lawns and I live on a street of small, tidy 1950's bungalows with manicured, pretty yards. I don't have a speck of lawn so right now the front garden looks twiggy, sparse and, well, kinda weedy (read: It badly needs weeding). We lovers of perennial borders know what lurks in our imaginations. The garden surprises me each season, even in winter when every year I get a new configuration of dormant twigs and stubs. What looks like weedy things now I see as various alcea, yarrow, penstmon, agastache, anagallis, centaurea; you get the picture. One winter morning a year or so ago I came home to an anonymous note posted to my front door which read, "Carolyn, would you mind terribly doing something about your front yard? PLEASE??" OK, anonymous writer, I recognize that handwriting.
Here are photos of the front garden in the blazing heat of July taken about three years ago and a recent photo (bottom) taken just a few days ago. It does look bad right now and I deserved the note, written by my truly dear neighbor. But there it is exposing all its unkempt truth: the perennial border of a novice and sometimes lazy gardener in late winter. It's been pouring down rain for way too long and I've worked several 16-hour shifts in a row, leaving me with my nose pressed solemnly against the window, staring out at soggy, too wet to dig earth (I like calling muddy garden soil earth - it sounds less muddy).

Promise of spring. It's like anticipating the arrival of a long-awaited lover, minus the disillusionment of inevitable flatulence. Chosen carefully, flowers smell better and will return.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A good cat enhances a garden

Jeff the cat, loved and missed

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Human lightning rod

Two storms, one of them a big'un, have been promised to we folks in the North Bay this weekend. In my county we've had flood warnings and I'm on call for my job as a hospice nurse. I work nights and go wherever and whenever I'm called to the bedside of dying patients. It's a little spooky on the road at night when storms are blowing in. In areas around our large reservoir rain with winds up to 60 mph are expected and mudslides are a matter of course. One year during an evening freak storm I got snowed in (freak because it doesn't generally snow around here) and couldn't leave the patient's home until the roads were graveled in the morning. I sent the weary family member to bed and sat vigil with the patient. At 5 AM I slid my car down the driveway and onto the frozen asphalt, stopping briefly in the little village, a sturdy community built around a denominational four-year college. There I got out of my car, ate some fresh snow, threw a couple of snowballs then drove the half hour to my home to snuggle into bed with my pager and the cats until the next call came. It's a bit like being a midwife but in reverse. It's difficult, meaningful and satisfying work.
I sincerely love my profession. It's also quite draining at times and gardening is an energizing tonic for me. Talk to most nurses and eventually you'll hear them talk about creative endeavors: painting, quilting, knitting (another hospice nurse taught me to knit), sewing and of course gardening.

I just read one of Amy Stewart's blog entries in which she wrote about inclimate weather gardening. I don't like to be cold. Should I get out and finish the getting-ready-for-spring planting and cleanup, no excuses? Tree roses are expensive, for crying out loud and I have all these seeds begging to become baby plants. Some time this weekend I could be planting a rose, poking some seeds into pots and reaching my long-handled pruners over my head into the crape myrtle to become a human lightning rod in these storms. Or not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Garden photos

Ok, so I'm new at this. Let's try again with the photos. Please see post below for description. All photos taken with my camera phone.

Roses and Hollyhocks

Want a groovy somewhat disease-resistant perennial hollyhock that is tall but not a skyscraper, therefore it plays well with others? Here is Aunt Brownie Fig, blooming her fool canes off in a photo from December 2007 (accidental photo, kinda blurry). The color is richer in cool weather and becomes a light, clear pink as the temps heat up in the summer. I've seen rust this winter but but less in the summer. She's from Annie's Annuals in Richmond, CA.

The rose is Tequila (not Tequila Sunrise). This rose was off-the-hook blooming like crazy last year and these photos are from November 2007. I didn't spray or feed, just top-dressed with some organic compost and stand back. I love this rose. I bought the last two at the nursery and they are hard to find. It has a loose habit, shiny healthy foliage and the color of the blooms changes with age to take on a rosey-peachy tone. I pruned it high this year. Last summer I whacked it back severely after a real hard bloom and it came back bigger and better. Fewer thorns are noted on new growth than the average rose.

Please see next entry for photos.

In memory of Olin Evans 1926 - 2008

It's been a cold, rainy couple of days in the North Bay and true-to-form I don't yet have all my planting and late winter garden chores finished. I might not be an inspiring gardener but it's real around here - I don't always do things the right way. Some of the perennials intended for fall planting are sitting root bound in their 4-inch pots, the seed flats need to get started, DG paths need weeding and compost mulch sits forlornly in disintegrating bags.

My dear pop was ill on and off through fall and early winter (he died January 7th) and I was away from my home a lot to be close to him. He was quite the gardener and the day before he went into a coma he was out in his yard doing chores. He loved helping others (children, siblings, friends) in their gardens. I gave him flower seeds for Christmas and will plant some of those in my own garden since he and I did not get to put them in his garden together as we had planned. I found a folder in his filing cabinet labeled simply "seeds" in his large, practical handwriting and in there were tucked the packets of seeds I gave to him. I miss him something fierce. He was such a great guy.

In February 1999 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my parents came to stay with me for a few days, Pop decided he would feel more helpful working in my yard the day of my surgery rather than nervously hanging around the hospital waiting room. When I came home from the hospital on February 9th, the day before my birthday, he showed me everything he'd done. A rotting old fence had been taken down, split into kindling and stacked neatly on the patio. Everything, everything had been pruned, expertly. The beds had been weeded, the porches swept, the tools cleaned and put away, the rain gutters cleared of debris. My mother fixed my favorite foods. Despite the circumstances, it was one of the best birthdays I ever had because I felt so loved.
Pop died shortly before his 82nd birthday. He could still beat me in a foot race while in his 70's.

When the rain lets up, Pop, I'll get back out there and plant your seeds.