Friday, June 24, 2016

Tying Up Loose Ends

"Never buy another tree with 'weeping' in the name," Carl always grumbles.

Do I listen?


Carl and I decided to start planting dwarf conifers a decade ago so we could grow old gracefully with our horticultural monstrosity.  The other reason is because living here in a snow globe for most of the year, and elusive 'Winter Interest' plantings are far and few between unless you plant an evergreen or two hundred.  Everything else winter interest-y gets buried in snowbanks.

I had a couple from Hawaii stop in a few weeks ago.   I know, go figure, Hawaii?  Who would ever have thought this old rock pile of ours would interest people who grew up in a tropical botanical wonderland?  I felt silly showing them around, I mean, really, what could we have here which would even remotely interest them?

"Things are so green here," the kind lady said, "Is it green like this all year round?"

"No, you came at the right time of year to see green, for most of the year, it's white."

"Oh, yes, I forgot, you get snow.    Looking at the garden now, it's hard to believe things can change so much."

As someone who has always lived in Wisconsin, I'd never given the changing seasons that much thought, though I should.  The transformation in a few weeks time is miraculous.  Like far too many things in my life, much is taken for granted.   I vow every year I'll savor the all-too-fleeting crabapple blooms, but in a matter of days the petals are sifting through the branches to carpet the lawn.  And in matter of a few months the first snowflakes will follow their path.

Our main reason for planting dwarf conifers was for winter interest.  And the other reason is though sold as 'dwarf' they will grow faster than you think and hog up a lot of real estate in the garden which makes maintenance a little easier.  That is, if you planned ahead and planted them in areas where they can develop into specimens unencumbered by their proximity to buildings and each other.  If like us, you failed to see how a cute little itty-bitty six inch tall tree labeled as dwarf could ever expand into a twenty foot tall tree, than you'll find yourself moving and digging or pruning and chainsawing.  A lot.  (Sort of like bringing home a puppy sold as a Teacup Poodle and growing up to be a Great Dane.  But they're so cute when they're little...)

After many years of trial and error (and chainsaws) we now view any new tree or shrub addition to the garden with skeptical optimism.  We both love dwarf conifers, but before we go nuts and buy another impossibly cool tree we must ask ourselves the all-important question:

Where will we plant it?

You'd think there would be room in a two and a half acre garden for everything, but there isn't.   As is the way of things, many of our Colorado blue spruce planted from teeny little things are now overgrown, losing their bottom branches or already history, and it only took thirty years.

 The way it began, 1978.  Nary a tree in sight.  But let two young and foolish gardeners loose and in a few years......

 After planting over five hundred trees, by the 1990's, the house wasn't in sight.
There's a house in there somewhere.  (Hint: on the right side of the picture you can see a window.)

 Hey, we were young and didn't know any better. 

 The Formal Garden in one of it's many incarnations B.D.   (Before Dome)
Formal Garden AD  (After Dome)

There's no speculation now as to why we own three chainsaws.  The reason is abundantly clear, we've got a bit of a problem when it comes to planting trees.  

Chainsaws weren't always the last resort though: 


You can put your nine year old son to work digging out trees to be moved.  Yes, that's Joel circa 1990's, digging out a cedar with a shovel.  He has always been industrious, and still is.  (I'm happy to report both boy and tree survived this cruel and inhumane treatment.)

Eventually we discovered a conifer with a very narrow footprint:  picea Abies 'Pendula'  aka Weeping Norway Spruce. If you don't want your weeping spruce trees to end up splayed on the ground like a melted candle, you have to tie up the leader (tippy-top branch) every year to encourage vertical growth.  That fact doesn't seem like a big deal when the tree is small, it's easy to stake the top then.   But every year the trees grow at least six inches in height.  Soon you find need of a ladder.  

Soon the ladder isn't high enough.  

We got around to the staking chore a little later than we should have this year and the new growth was almost entirely hardened off, making it very risky to bend into an upright position without breaking the leader off entirely.

The most risky part is getting to the top of the trees to tie up the leader, two of them are already a good fifteen feet tall.  On Tuesday after work, Carl and I grabbed the ladder and off we went to do battle with the leaders on our three weeping Norway spruce trees.

 First Carl had to find the wooden pole we carefully tie to the trunk of the tree and raise it up to be a little taller than the leader we want to form the next trunk. 

 (We use strips of cloth to tie the leader up with instead of wire.  I've made the mistake of leaving wire on a tree in the past only to have the tree expand and the wire becomes embedded in the trunk.  Not a good thing.)

 The reason we leave the stick so long on top of the weeping trees is to discourage birds from breaking off the leaders.  Birds like to perch on the highest point, but the new growth is not strong enough to support their weight and often results in the loss of the leader. 

 In the photo below, Carl and I are seen in shadowy silhouette tying up the leader on the Norway planted on the hill.  I stood on the bottom rungs of the ladder for stabilization while Carl climbed to the tippy top. 

 We moved on to tying up the last tree and realized something:
The trees are getting taller, our ladders are getting shorter and we're getting older. 

"I guess we're done with this one, it will have to weep from now on," Carl said ruefully.

"Oh well, we knew the day was coming when they'd outgrow us," I said.  "It will be interesting to see what shape it takes on from now on."

We put the ladder back in the garage and went back to weeding.

However, the next day Joel stopped home for a visit and ended up sucked into our perpetual vortex of work.  We were talking about the trees and I told him we were lucky to get two of the three tied up, but the third is on it's own unless we buy a manlift.  (Wouldn't that be fun!)  

In years past, we have used the bucket on the H to lift Joel up to the top, but this year the H developed a flat tire.   And then Carl's 1987 car developed a loss of brakes which meant Carl is driving my car to work.  I never got around to taking the tractor tire in for repairs because I didn't have a car and when Carl got home from work we often forgot all about the tire until we needed the tractor.  Vicious circles, indeed.

Joel is not one to be defeated.  Off he went to town with the tractor tire to have it repaired.  Back home to my mother's house and the tractor shed to put it back on.   Soon he was coming down the road with the tractor.  Joel lifted the bucket as high as it would go and then climbed up to the top. 

The tree was still just out of his reach, but luckily the trunk bends a bit.

After several potential leaders broke off, he was able to secure the last one.  Success for one more year!  

Here's some views from Joel's perch on top of the tractor bucket:

 (Yes, that's me, doing my best supervisor impression.)

 And there's the top of the tree, staked one more year------

 thanks to Joel, our fearless climber of tractors.



Monday, June 20, 2016

Thirty Years Later

 Our son Joel was born June 17, 1986.

  This is a picture of my mother, Grandma Lucille, holding him.  Joel was only a few weeks old and Mom was sixty-six.  

When Mom and Dad came up to the hospital to see me after Joel was born, I remember Mom holding Joel and fighting back happy tears.  

"I never thought I'd say this, but I'm in love," Mom said as she carefully cuddled the precious bundle.  "He's just perfect."

I know how Mom felt; it was the same way I felt after Audrey was born; she is so tiny, so perfect.  Mom's emotions brought tears to my eyes then, thirty years ago.   When I was growing up, my parents never told me they loved me.  I knew they did, but it wasn't said out loud.  When Mom decreed she was in love with my newborn son, I was deeply touched, this was not a word she ever used lightly.

I went on to parent my sons much differently, and I told them I loved them every day.  Mom was always a little uncomfortable, "Don't you think you're using that word a little too much?"

Mom was referring to the four letter 'L' word, of course.  

My reply was, "No, I don't think a child can ever hear they are loved too often."

"My parents never told me that," she said.  "If you had a roof over your head and food on the table, you were supposed to know they cared about you.  They didn't have to say it all the time."

Mom's (and my late father's) generations came through extremely hard times; both of my parents had childhoods worse than any Dickens novel ever written.   They had to grow up quickly and leave tender accoutrements behind for there was no place in their lives for feelings.  There were only the facts,  life was hard and you had to toughen up to survive.  

Being raised on a farm a child learns early the animals are not pets; there is life and the stark reality of death, these facts remain unaltered.  Tears don't help anything, best to leave them unshed for they only show weakness.  

My father was tough and hated what he called 'bawling', but at times scenes on television shows would touch some unguarded emotions in him.   I was stunned a few times to see tears trickling down his sunburned face at the dinner table.   I felt uncomfortable then, as if I'd intruded on him in a very private moment.  I'd quickly avert my gaze when his hard-calloused hand wiped the tell-tale tears away.  

 My mother was tougher; indeed, I've only see her cry twice in my life.  I, on the other hand, was weak, so weak.  I cried easily as a little child and have yet to overcome the tendency.  Apparently the Tear-less Gene skipped a generation or something. 
 On Sunday, Abby and Joel brought baby Audrey to meet Great Grandma Lucille, now almost 96 years old. 

 And with a sense of deja vu,  I heard what she said. 

"She's perfect, so beautiful, I'm in love."  I could tell Mom was crying.

I was supposed to be taking pictures, and I tried, but I had to leave the room for a bit. 

It's hard to focus a camera when you're crying happy tears. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Garden Walk in a Thunderstorm

Wednesday's first official garden walk of 2016 has come and gone.   I am happy to say it was successful and we were lucky.  (Oh, so lucky.)
Martagon Lily

After taking Mom's medications and vitals in the morning, I jogged home and weeded on with a vengeance.   The temperature was in the 70's which is comfortable, but there was a clamminess in the air with an almost fog-like haze in the distance which didn't bode well.  The breeze blew hot and cold at times, and after speaking with Joel on the phone around noon, we both agreed this was a weather maker.  Though there was absolutely nothing on radar the prediction was storms would pop up and arrive in our area at six pm, coincidentally, exactly when our guests were to arrive.  

Aw, nuts, talk about bad timing.

More martagon lilies and a fly.

Carl took a half-day of vacation and was home at 12:30.  We ate a hurried lunch and stared at the weather channel as we chewed.  Still nothing on radar yet, but the meteorologists were cheerfully predicting storms and then proceeded to throw up tornado watches for at least six counties, possibly more. 

Hmmmm, maybe it's time for Plan B.  If the people do show up and it's raining, we'll have them come in the house first.  When this visit was first arranged, the tour group leader, Betty, had asked if it would be possible to give a stained glass demonstration after the garden walk.  Our basement 'studio' (ok, teeny cluttered space where we work on glass) is a disaster (like usual) so we decided to haul up a few pieces of equipment and sheets of glass to the dining room for the tutorial.

Since I knew I wouldn't be able to accomplish the rest of the weeding I wanted to finish, I declared the garden was as good as it was going to get for now and Carl and I concentrated on vacuuming and scrubbing floors again.  Once the house was presentable (nothing I can do about the vinyl floor peeling up until we remodel, oh well) back outside we went to 'pick up the big chunks'.  There was one dandelion in the front bed that was the size of a rhubarb plant, how did we overlook that thing for the last two months?

We were hot in pursuit of the biggest of the weeds when the phone rang around 3:15.  It was Betty, calling to see what we thought about the weather.  A few of her garden group people were also watching the weather and decided it was too risky to venture out.  The rest wanted to know if the tour was still on.

"What do you think?" Betty asked me.  "I'm looking at radar right now, but it looks like it will miss us and go north."

I went in the house and flopped into my Lazy Boy in the living room.  I hit the power button on my computer and when I saw the radar my heart sank.  Yeah, that doesn't look good.  We might be picking up more than big chunks of weeds and garden pails if this thing holds together.  Still, it had a northerly drift to it, maybe we'd get lucky...

"I'm calling all the members again and I'm telling them the walk is still on," Betty said.  "We won't be leaving our house until 5PM, so if things change, you'll be the first to know we're not coming.  Otherwise, we'll see you around six."

Off we went back outside.  By now the temperature had gone up a lot along with the humidity, it was dreadful.  Joel arrived after winding the clock at church to assist with Chunk Picking-Upping and anything else I had for him to do.  He moved the trailer and Carl's car, put the lawn furniture down on the lawn and asked me I wanted the Christmas tree off the gazebo.  (Just like the gigantic rhubarb-ish dandelion, how in the world did I miss the fact I still had the Christmas tree up?)  GADS, indeed, can't see the forest for the trees around here, can I?

Carl and I weeded and dashed around to and fro until 5:30 when he said, "Are we going to take a shower before they get here?"

I've been wearing the same pants and shirt in the garden for over a week.  There's no point in changing to fresh, clean clothes every day when weeding and digging hostas.  My clothes have a nice dirt patina on them, no more soil sticks to me anymore, it just falls off like Teflon.  Are we going to take a shower before the people come?  Um, yeah, I guess we should.

Once we were both presentable for company, we went out to do one last run through the gardens with the unpleasant grumbling of almost constant thunder to the south.  Joel was keeping an eye on the radar, and it wasn't good.  The sun had gone under the clouds and the sky was getting darker; suddenly a northeasterly breeze sprang up, cold from Lake Michigan, heading to the approaching storm.

By now it was almost six pm, and not knowing what to think about the weather and having some nerves to burn off, I grabbed the swoe (it's a garden tool Carl made for me, a cross between a sword and a hoe) and a rake and started to scratch at the tiny weeds springing up in the gravel driveway while Carl raked them up.  Time ticked on, the thunder grew louder, no cars arrived.  I kept swoeing, choosing to ignore the racket the not so distant thunder was making. 

Here is my swoe; you push and pull it, flat with the ground, slicing off weeds in the gravel driveway.

Yep, even the driveway needs weeding around here.  I kept swoeing and Carl kept raking.  More time passed and the thunder grew louder.

 "They must have changed their minds after all," I said to Carl as we worked.

Just then Ann called on her six o'clock lunch break from work. "How's the garden walk going?"  Ann had come out a few weeks ago to help us get the garden pine needle mulch down.  She said she finds it a peaceful retreat.  She's the only reason there was any mulch down around here, we haven't gotten around to doing that step yet.

"Well, it looks like it isn't going to happen," I said, wincing at the sound of ever advancing thunder.

As we talked, I looked down the road and saw three cars in a row coming, wait, maybe I was wrong, but nope, they drove right on by.

"Oh, well, better safe than sorry, it would be awful if they drove into a bad storm," I said to Ann. 

I continued swoeing out the weeds from the gravel as we talked, keeping one eye on the sky.  My cellphone alerted me to a severe storm in the area, 'Seek cover immediately!'  Yes, thank you, Smartphone, I can hear it.

I found a stray flowerpot had blown out of the greenhouse and went to retrieve it.  As I came back around the corner I was surprised to see a car pull in with five passengers.   Just as they started to get out of their car, a few rain drops spattered on the windshield and the thunder grew louder.  Joel was out on the west lawn watching the storm, I knew he'd say something if he thought it was unsafe to be outside.

Carl and I started the tour right off the bat, maybe we could get through the gardens before all hell broke loose.  But the visitors were drawn to Carl's ball fountain and stopped to admire it, oblivious of the incoming storm.

 Finally we were walking through the front bed, and I told them to look at the martagon lilies because this may well be the last time we see them this season; the thunder to our south was unending.

Just as we were ready to go through the garden gate to the back yard, another car arrived.  I went to greet them and they joined the earlier group in the backyard.  A few of the guests were interested in Carl's pipe ball sculpture but I was more intent on watching the southwestern sky; it was obvious we were going to get wet.  We've got a big yard and I didn't want the guests to get caught in a downpour. 

I said, "Since the storm is almost here, would you like to go in the house until it passes?  We can look at the stained glass and give a little tutorial."

We all convened in the house and Joel took over finding time lapse videos on my computer of the construction process of stained glass lamps.  About five minutes later, another car arrived and they joined us in the house.  By now, the rain had arrived full-force.  Luckily, we were spared the high winds and large hail and even a F0 tornado about twenty miles from us; we received a half-inch of rain and not even any close lightning.  In Appleton there were reports of one to three inch hail.  Flying ice of that magnitude would have put an end to the rest of the garden season, we were very lucky.
Cosmos bipannutus

Many people are curious about stained glass and the process of creating a lamp.  (I hope all of these people were, too, because we talked about the craft for a good hour while it rained.)  Carl told them about my pattern coloring and stencil cutting process, Joel demonstrated how I use the stencils to find the flowers in the glass on a light table, and also showed how to score and cut glass.  I turned on the grinder and smoothed out the newly cut piece and then explained how I have to wash and number every piece and then wrap it in copper foil for soldering.  We didn't do any soldering, but they had the idea. 

Joel took them through many pictures of some of the lamps under construction.

Finally the rain stopped and we could proceed to the soggy garden.  Joel had found my new rain gauge in the trunk of my car and installed it right before the storm, we received a half inch of rain.  Luckily with most of the yard being very sandy, we had no puddles.  Well, with the exception of the creek bottom.  No one went wading.

One of the tour group attendees is an artist with wood carving and was very interested in our old mountain ash which is starting to decline.  He said if it does finally die, he'd be interested in obtaining the trunk.  He was also interested in our honey locust tree, having never worked with the wood.  I jokingly told Joel we had a rather large limb we'd needed to trim since last summer, which prompted him to go straight to the garage and reappear with a chainsaw and a ladder.  While we continued on with the tour group, Joel was sawing off a tree limb for the artist.

By the time the tour was over, some of the ladies had spotted my cyclamen leafed Viola Koreana 'Syletta' (do you think I could remember the name of the plant then?  No.  Like usual, drew a blank.)  They were so enthused with the leaves and I asked if anyone wanted one to take home. 

  I had nine takers and as I was potting them up for our guests, Joel was packing the artist's car with the limb from the honey locust tree.  He brushed off some of the sawdust from his hair and shirt and hurried to the house for his car keys.  He'd had a long day and it was time for him to go home to Abby and baby Audrey.  As always, we so appreciate his help.

(Today is Joel's 30th birthday!  I don't know where the time has gone, but we have been so blessed to have him in our lives.  Happy Birthday, Joel!)

Our guests lingered for a little longer and then by 8:30PM the last car left the driveway.  I did invite any of them to come back later in the season when hopefully the weeding will be done and the garden will be more colorful.  They had come at the perfect time of night to view the garden had it been sunny, the long shadows on a June night make everything glow.  But we're lucky the storm spared us.

Now it's time to get out all the weed pails and finish up this garden for the next visitors, arriving next week.  

Where did I put my dirty clothes?