A Mangled Ditty

Oh, what a tangled mess we leave when first we practice to believe . . . that we know what we’re doing.

This little mangled ditty came to mind earlier when I looked around my yard and saw the jungle-like garden areas that once were filled with dainty wildflowers. Because of all the moisture this year, gardens that, in the past, have barely managed to survive the summer, have grown into . . . well, into tangled messes. Green messes, for the most part, though a few flowers do manage to bloom.

The grass weeds, like Bermuda grass and foxtail, are growing out of control, choking the plants I want. I didn’t know there were so many types of grass here in this yard because when I came, the “lawn” was a field of broadleaf weeds with some patches of Bermuda grass. If there had been more Bermuda grass and fewer weeds, I would simply have watered the Bermuda grass so that it would spread, but unfortunately, the weeds spread faster than the grass, so I took the easy way out and sodded a large part of the yard.

As it turns out, sodding the yard wasn’t the easy way of solving the weed issue. Now I have a lawn that the Bermuda grass is invading and flowerbeds that the various foxtail grasses — as well as broadleaf weeds, of course — are taking over. I was doing well for a while, keeping on top of the weeds, but with the last couple of rains, there was such an explosion of green (everywhere except the brown swath of my lawn that still remains brown), that I’ve mostly given up. I’d spent the past month or so pulling Bermuda grass out of my lawn, yanking up kochia and ragweed as tall as my knees from the still uncultivated areas, and gathering foxtail seedheads from places in my garden when I couldn’t reach the whole clump of grass, and now my knees are protesting.

With my knees on strike, I’ve been trying to break the habit of pulling up weeds when I see them, but it’s a hard habit to break since the weeds are hard to ignore, and they need to be taken care of before they can do serious damage. Still, the hiss of pain when I stoop helps remind me to take it easy, which is good for my knees, but not so good for the tangled mess I’m left with.

I keep reminding myself that eventually the summer will end and the summer grasses and weeds will die no matter what I do or don’t do now, and then I’ll be able to clear away everything at once (weeds and defunct annuals) to get ready for next spring.

Meantime, that little mangled ditty keeps looping around in my head, taunting me. Last spring, and into the summer, I did begin to believe that I knew what I was doing, but now, not so much.

On a happier note: zinnias! Or rather, one lovely green zinnia.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Day in the Middle of Summer

I spent the morning outside. I hadn’t really planned to. Since it rained last night, I didn’t have to water today, and I figured the ground would be too sodden to weed my flower gardens, so I thought this would be a good day to take it easy.

Still, I had to go outside to toss out the furnace filter I’d just changed (after being very careful going down those old basement stairs), and I needed to reattach a motion-activated light that had somehow become unattached from its perch on the side of the house (I was especially careful going up the ladder since I’m not sure it’s something I should be doing), and because I was outside anyway, I pulled a weed or two.

A couple of hours later . . . Yep, that weed or two turned into a massive cleanup of one of the two uncultivated areas of my yard. It’s not as if the area needed it — the weeds were only waist high. (I’m being ironic here, if you can’t tell. Not about the weeds being waist high, because they were, but about the area not needing to be weeded.) I would have to clear it out eventually — I will be ordering some purple echinacea and Goldsturm black eyed Susans to plant there this fall, so this gave me a head start on the project.

Speaking of which, the echinacea that I planted last year came in a five-inch pot, and they did well. The price has gone up quite a bit, so I’m considering getting plants in three-inch pots, which are half the price, but obviously smaller. Would that be a foolish economy? Obviously, for the same budget, I could get twice as many of the smaller pots, so if a couple of the plants died, I’d still be ahead of the game, but am I sabotaging myself by getting the smaller ones? Or does it sound like a smart choice? I sure don’t know.

But I’m getting off the topic of spending the morning outside . . . After I finished my chores, I took a few photos of flowers. I love how this morning glory turned out — as if the sun were rising from its center!

About then, a friend stopped by and we sat in the comfort of my gazebo (me with dirt still under my fingernails) to chat for few minutes. Next thing we knew, the church bells were tolling the noon hour. Yikes! Those hours do tend to disappear on a person.

We said our goodbyes. She headed out to finish her errands, and I went to harvest my cherry tomatoes. All three of them!

And then finally, I went back inside.

What a nice midsummer’s day!

Only it isn’t a midsummer day. It’s merely a day in the middle of summer. A quick Google search to find out when midsummer really is told me that midsummer is celebrated around the summer solstice, which we call the first day of summer. So confusing!

Still, whatever you call it, I spent a pleasant — and unplanned — summer day outside.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Woman Power

I had a couple of lovely surprises today. First, clouds and coolness! Instead of the sweltering temperatures that had been forecast, the high today was twenty degrees below what it’s been for the past few weeks.

I made good use of the cool morning. Along the alley, partly blocking the entrance to my garage, were tall weeds, most waist height, some shoulder height. The way the driveway was built, the apron sloped downward a bit, as it should, to keep water from backing into the garage. The problem is that the slope ends below the bed of the alley, creating a gulley that collects any rain water and makes a perfect environment for . . .  you guessed it — weeds.

All spring and summer, whenever it rained enough to soak the ground, I’d go out and pull the weeds. Even though we haven’t had much rain for weeks, those weeds still grew immensely fast and even worse, they became cemented to the ground by the dry adobe-like clay soil. I’d asked the contractor to extend the driveway, which he agreed to do, but it’s not high on his list of priorities. Meantime, the weeds kept growing. He said he’d send workers out to whack the weeds, but the guys never showed up. Another worker said he’d send “his guy” to douse the weeds with weed killer, but he never came. Also, a worker said he’d drive past with his tractor, which would clear up those weeds in a few minutes. And of course, it didn’t happen. Someone told me that the city was supposed to mow the alleys, but that never happened, either.

So, I went out there to get rid of the weeds myself. As I dug and pulled, I couldn’t help thinking that one old woman with a shovel was doing what all those powerful men with their powerful chemicals and powerful machines wouldn’t do. Yay for woman power!

Once I cleared the weeds away from the driveway, I continued to dig up the weeds along the whole width of my property, a total of 150 square feet of tree-like weeds. Ouch. And I do mean ouch. I was out there for four hours and am stiff and sore from my shoulders to the soles of my feet.

But all those weeds are gone.

At least for now.

I’m sure they will grow back, but perhaps by that time, there will be some progress made on extending the driveway another two or three feet and filling in the gulley.

I also started removing the dead bindweed from the chain link fence. I wish there was a quick way to do that. The weed wraps itself around the wire, and clearing the wire is easy but time consuming. If it’s cool enough tomorrow, maybe I’ll take a chair out there and sit and pick.

Meantime, I can enjoy my other surprise. The New England aster are beginning to bloom! After their season, I’ll need to transplant some of them. Where once I had one plant, I now have five, and I’d like to spread them out.

Luckily, that can wait another couple of months. At the moment, I’m too tired to even lift the shovel let alone dig a small hole.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Gardening Chores

I went out this morning to do a couple of quick gardening chores. Two hours later, dirty, sweaty, and exhausted, I finally gave up. Each chore had led to another, until it seemed (and rightly so) that I’d never be finished. I suppose that’s both the frustration and fun of gardening — that there is always something that needs to be done, and that there is also always an excuse to go outside and play in the dirt.

I did accomplish some of what I wanted to do. I planted the bulb collection I got from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I realize this summer cutting garden will never look like the photo they sent — for one thing, the plants all flower at different times, and for another, I planted them in a straight line at the back of the flower garden I’m creating outside the one window I regularly look out of.

And then there is the problem with the gardener. (Meaning me.) A rank amateur, that’s for sure! Though admittedly, I am learning, and I am managing to keep some things alive besides waist-high weeds. As you can see, my marigolds and the cherry tomato plant are doing well despite the grass that insists on growing back.

After I planted the bulbs (being careful to follow the directions, which I don’t always do, but I wanted to make sure the bulbs at had at least a slim chance of coming up), I pulled weeds. Then I trimmed a tree/bush. It’s a locust that was cut down a couple of years ago, but it continues to grow. I’ve been undecided about keeping it since I’m not sure I want the responsibility of trimming it as I grow older, so I thought I’d have the tree guy grind out the stump when he comes to grind up all the other on the property, but I kind of like it. It looks like a fern with its tall, wavy branches.

After trimming the tree, I pulled more weeds. There are still more weeds to pull, and the weed patch I laughingly call my lawn needs to be mowed again. I also need to transplant some bulbs that will be buried under gravel if the landscaper ever comes back to do some more work, and then . . . yep, there’s always something!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Gardening As Exercise

Gardening is often touted as good exercise, though when I was young and able to run and hike and even lift weights, I didn’t understand why it would be so.

Well, now I do understand. I spent a couple of hours this morning pulling weeds and digging a few holes for planting, and I could barely do anything the rest of the day because everything between my ankles and neck hurt. It’s possible the aches have more to do with my relative lack of exercise lately than the gardening itself, but it does show me that gardening can work a variety of muscles as well as beautifying a yard.

Most of my yard is still a mess. There are bare spots that were torn up by the various machinery used by the workers I hired. They are supposed to bring in fill dirt, but haven’t done it yet. That’s only one of the many things they haven’t done, but I have hopes that some year they will finish all they promised.

Meantime, I am planting bushes, trees, shrubs, flowers — whatever vegetation I can get my hands on.

When I bought the house, a relative who has experience designing gardens volunteered to do the landscaping. She did all sorts of research, and I was excited when she finally came, expecting her to help me work on the yard. But no. She wanted to . . . actually, looking back, I don’t know what she wanted to do. All I know is that she shrugged off the yard with a simple sentence, telling me that planting can’t be started until the hard things are in place.

I paused here to look that up online, belatedly wondering if she were leading me on, but apparently, she was right. Topping a to-do list of landscape design essentials is that you have to do all the hardscaping before you set any plants in place.

Even assuming that the hardscaping is the first step, that’s not how I’m going about things. I’ve been told I’m contrary. I’ve also been told I march to a different drummer. To me, it’s not about either of those things but doing what I can when I can.

Even before the fence went up, I started transplanting lilac seedlings from a neighbor’s yard. (With his permission, of course.) I also transplanted some of his larkspur, which have now reseeded themselves for the second spring in a row. In fact, they are filling in the “island” between my two sidewalks. The garden I had originally planted around that area became defunct when the sidewalks went in, or so I thought. Apparently, clearing out the weeds and grass and tilling the soil made the seeds from the original larkspur take hold.

The bushes that are planted along the fence were dug up and transplanted from the area off the alley where the driveway now is. They went in before the pathways — those who laid the rock worked the paths around the plants that were already there.

The same will be done for the rest of the yard. I am creating a swath of garden on the left-hand side of the sidewalks, and eventually, another path will sweep alongside that swath.

There are some parts of the yard that I am not even thinking about at the moment and won’t until a bit more of the hardscaping is done, but it doesn’t matter. I have more to do right now than I can easily accomplish in the next couple of years.

It’s odd — the property doesn’t look all that big, but each small section I am working on seems to loom large. There is no way any one person could landscape this place in a matter of weeks or even months, and I certainly don’t expect that from myself or the people doing the hardscaping. (I like that word, have you noticed? I’d never heard it before, and it’s a fun one.)

This is a project for a lifetime.

I remember reading a story once about a woman who planted a hillside of daffodils — acres of them. People came from miles around to see her hill of daffodils. There was only a single sign in the field, and that said “One at a time.” Apparently, everyone wanted to know how she’d planted so many daffodils, and she must have gotten tired of the question. Hence, the sign.

That’s my gardening philosophy — one at a time. Over the months and years, some things will die, others will take hold, so I’ll have a changing landscape. Meantime, I am learning to accept what grows here and what doesn’t (and how little control I have over either). Except for weeds — that I don’t always accept. Unfortunately, although I like to think everything has the right to grow, I have to draw a line somewhere, and I don’t appreciate anything — or anyone — encroaching on territory that is not theirs. So I pull up whatever encroaching weeds I can. (No poisons. I haven’t crossed that line yet.)

Yesterday a neighbor mentioned that in five years, after everything grows up, I will have a beautiful yard. That’s something worth working toward.

Besides, all that exercise will be good for me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

So Much Excitement

Yesterday I found, taped to my front door, a bright yellow paper with “Special Notice” blaring across the top. It turns out it was from the public works department stating they would be smoke testing its sewers. They went on to say that it was done periodically to locate sources of sewer odors, leaks, and breaks in sewer lines, but no one who has lived their whole life around here had ever experienced such a thing. If the sewers had been tested previously, apparently it wasn’t something they told people about.

The smoke is supposed to be harmless, but I was still worried about it coming out of my plumbing, as they warned it might. Since there was a three-day window for this “smoking” to be done, I wasn’t sure how to know the test was being done. Obviously, if I had a problem with my plumbing, I’d be able to smell the smoke, but if everything was fine, would I know when it was finished?

As it turns out, there wasn’t a problem. I was outside weeding when I noticed smoke coming out of a neighbor’s ventilation pipes and a couple of heavy pickup trucks with hard-hatted men driving up slowly up and down the alley. I went inside and to see if there were any signs of smoke and to hunt for strange odors. There seemed to be a bit of a smoke smell in the bathroom, but it was so faint, it was hard to tell if it was really there. And there was no smoke that I could see. I opened the windows to air out the place anyway, because “harmless” doesn’t always mean harmless. Still, it’s nice to know that my plumbing is in good shape.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, I went back outside after opening the windows to pull more weeds. (It seems that for every flower there are a hundred weeds, but it’s worth it to see those few colorful blooms.) Beneath a spreading bush, I found a few double tulips. They must have been planted when the bush was young to be hidden so. I’d noticed the tulip leaves the past couple of springs, but this is the first time they bloomed. What a lovely legacy!

I also hoed an area where I plan to plant some flower seeds. The seeds are old, so they might not do anything except feed the birds, but it’s worth a try. I was going to go ahead and plant the seeds today because the weather forecast calls for above freezing temperatures for the next ten days, but I decided to be safe and wait for the average “last frost” date, which isn’t for another week.

Besides, after all the concern with the sewer smoke and the effort at pulling weeds, I’d had enough excitement for one day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator