29 April 2009

anybody want some grapevines?

Here are just a few of the hundreds of feet of grapevine that I pulled off of the trees bordering the orchard this past weekend. Were I an enterprising fellow I’d be carting them down to Manhattan and selling them to the city folk as decorative wreaths.

a smart purchase

A few years back, B and I planted and then killed two larch trees in quick succession. We learned our lessons, though: Keep the weed-whacker far, far away, and water regularly. We were helped along in this second lesson by using a doughnut-shaped PVC water reservoir located and bought and delivered to us by B’s mom and sister. It’s called a TreeGator Junior, and the idea behind it is to drip water slowly over a period of 8 or 9 hours. Slow watering goes deep, as they say, which encourages strong root development. We filled that doughnut every weekend during the larch’s first summer in residence at Pleasant Hill, and the tree settled right in. Happy larch! Happy us!

So now I’ve got a cherry tree, an apple tree, and today White Flower Farm is delivering a magnolia, a flowering quince, and a dogwood. Yikes! I went online two nights ago and ordered another TreeGator Junior and may very well go ahead and order a third so I can hit all the new woody things in succession over the course of a weekend. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Possibly.

Although, for the record, I have to say that if the hose reaches, trickling water into the dish around a newly planted shrub seemed to work as well last summer when we were getting some lilacs established. So maybe I’ll save my money on that third one.

I bought my TreeGator Junior from a place called gradysonline.com via amazon.com: $23.78, which includes shipping. Bargain.

26 April 2009

abingdon square park, sunday

B and I took a walk through a small park near our apartment this afternoon. Boy, someone knows how to plant bulbs. We talked with a resident of one of the buildings bordering Abingdon Square Park; she told us that the gardens/gardeners are paid for by dues. This is money well spent. Just gorgeous!

Here’s another view:

Seems like we went straight from spring to summer this weekend. I know we still have a long way to go until Memorial Day (when the hot weather really settles over the city). It will cool down; we’ll have more showers and gray skies before then. But after this long, worrying winter, it was so good to see the sidewalks filled with smiling people this afternoon. A glorious day!

22 April 2009

clearing brush

Last Saturday and Sunday I cleared brush and made progress on some other big chores in the yard, including dragging out the all-powerful DR chipper and attacking what B and I call “the habitat,” a brush pile that has gotten taller than us over the past couple years. But you know what? If you ignore a brush pile long enough the smaller branches will begin to decompose on their own. Still plenty to chip, but not quite the amount we started out with. We’ll use the chips on the paths between the raised beds in B’s vegetable garden.

I also did battle with the grapevines that twine their way through everything growing on the border between the woods and the open places. At some point on Sunday afternoon I was swinging (and screaming, which upset Dale) like Tarzan as I attempted to pull a particularly tenacious vine from the top of a choke cherry.

B experienced a similar homicidal obsession a few years back when he cleared all the grapevines from the apple trees in our old orchard. They are nasty things, but I do respectfully acknowledge their ability to clamber over whatever separates them from the sun.

There will be further skirmishes this weekend.

20 April 2009

plant ideas from philip in cambridge

After church one Sunday last summer, I was talking with a friend from Cambridge, New York, who is a crackerjack gardener. He loves reblooming iris and roses. Old roses, in particular. I told him that I’d planted a Rosa rugosa “Blanc Double de Coubert” and was looking forward to its beautiful white blossoms and the fact that it was very hardy and would grow tall.

I honestly didn’t think Philip would know anything about it. But he did. He said I’d be lucky if it grew to be 3–4 feet tall in our climate (I was expecting 5–6 feet), and the blossoms, while very fragrant, in his experience turned brown very quickly. (I can’t speak for the height prediction, because I’ve had my “Blanc Double de Coubert” for a year only, and I expect it will really take off this spring—it’s budding now—but I can vouch for the fact that its beautiful, spicy-scented blossoms do turn brown quickly.)

I said, “All right, smartypants” (not really, but . . .). “What do you suggest?”

And then he suggested a few roses that I wrote down, illegibly as it turns out. I just found this list, and here’s what I can decipher.
Rose and lilac ideas from Philip:
  • Gallica: Demille, Belle de Cressy
  • Rugosa: Hausa, Sir Charles Lipton, Theresa Brugnet, Magnifica
  • Damask: Ishbahan, Mme Hardy
  • Preston hybrids are really good
  • Tree lilac, Japanese, white, from the 1800s
And the reason I’m thinking of Philip’s list now is because I’m re-reading Dean Riddle's Out in the Garden, and in it he praises Rosa glauca (not on Philip’s list, but a worthy rose nonetheless, sounds like).

So I Googled “Rosa glauca” and found High Country Roses, which looks like hardy rose heaven to me. I expect I’ll be spending a few hours this evening researching Gallicas, Rugosas, and Damasks, as well as Rosa glauca.

Anybody know anything about a white Japanese tree lilac from the 1800s? I’d ask Philip, but he hasn’t been back to church since last July.

18 April 2009

a full day

Clearing brush, chipping branches, pulling grape vines from the sumac bordering the cowpath . . . and taking a middle-of-the-day break with Betty to attend a presentation on vegetable gardening at Gardenworks, a local farm/nursery. Whew! I’m tired! But also happy to be making some progress on these gargantuan projects that always seem to slip to the bottom of our chores list.

After I finish something, I always wish I’d taken a before picture. “After” by itself doesn’t convey the scope of work accomplished. I guess I don’t take that photo because, frankly, I’m a little embarrassed about the “Before” view. However, Brian over at Green Mansions Compost wrote a really good post about—among other things—reality vs. fantasy in the garden. We all strive for perfection, but, as Brian puts it, “around the corner, there’s a hose laying out and a stack of one gallon pots from last year’s boxwood waiting to be put away . . .” In the case of B and me, it’s rolls of grapevines not quite disposed of, a missed pile of raked grass, and an enormous thicket of brush waiting to be chipped. Frances at Fairegarden commented: “Show a macro, then back up and show the real view. We love both.”

Too late this evening to get that real view of the work today, but maybe tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, I am going to fall into bed.

P.S. My weather song (below) kept the rain at bay until after I finished working for the day. Talisman!

weather song

Soon It’s Gonna Rain
Words & music by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt, 1960

Hear how the wind begins to whisper.
See how the leaves go streaming by.
Smell how the velvet rain is falling,
Out where the fields are warm and dry.
Now is the time to run inside and stay.
Now is the time to find a hideaway
Where we can stay.

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can see it,
Soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell;
Soon it’s gonna rain, what are we gonna do?

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it,
Soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell;
Soon it’s gonna rain, what’ll we do with you?

We’ll find four limbs of a tree,
We’ll build four walls and a floor,
We’ll bind it over with leaves
And run inside to stay.

Then we’ll let it rain, we’ll not feel it;
Then we’ll let it rain, rain pell-mell,
And we’ll not complain if it never stops at all.
We’ll live and love within our own four walls.

17 April 2009

the waiting game

I’m not too eager, eh?

Arrived at the house this evening after dark and went right out with the flashlight to check the progress of the trees and shrubs I planted on Monday and Tuesday. Not a single leaf! How exasperating! And then I realized the last time I checked on them was three days ago. They’ve barely had time to blink.

How do you say: impatient?

16 April 2009

oh oh: dahlias

At the end of March, I ordered more dahlias from Old House Gardens. B and I have decided to extend the dahlia bed the length of the chicken coop. They really seem to like that location.

I checked the tubers I dug and stored last fall in a peat-moss filled Rubbermaid bin in the basement (which stays at around 40°F), and they all seem to be doing fine. No rotting, no shriveling: Nice!

This year, in addition to Andries Orange, Bloodstone, Kaiser Wilhelm, Little Beeswings, and Yellow Gem (pictures from last summer here), I will grow (pictures and text from the Old House Gardens Web site):

Claire de Lune (1946): As elegant and wildflowery as the great Bishop of Llandaff, this sublimely simple collarette dahlia is named for Debussy’s romantic ode to moonlight. With a single row of soft yellow outer petals, a frilly ruff of white inner petals, and an eye like a harvest moon, it’s strong-growing in the garden and blissful in bouquets. 3 inches, 3–4 feet, from Holland.

Giraffe (1940): Giraffe is not just weird, it’s wonderful—and after years of limited, ‘web-only’ sales we finally have enough to offer it in our catalog. Its unruly, golden petals twist and fold forward to reveal back sides barred with bronze. Some see giraffes, others orchids or ocelots, but everyone agrees it’s not like any other dahlia—and it’s very cool. Cut a few for a vase so you can enjoy its rich complexity up close. 4 inches, 3–4 feet, from Oregon.

Winsome (1940): Winsome? No way! This stunner is as vividly colored as the most brilliant tropical fish. Its palm-sized, waterlily-like flowers are a deep, vibrant rose blending into a center of rich yellow, almost orange, as if the sun itself were throbbing deep inside. It redefines ‘antique beauty’ and will leave you breathless! Reintroduced by us from the British National Collection, 4–5 inches, 4–5 feet, from Oregon.

White Fawn (1942): Like white hydrangeas by a lakeside porch, White Fawn is cool and refreshing. If Vita didn’t grow it in her celebrated White Garden at Sissinghurst, she should have! 3–4 inches, formal decorative, 3–4 feet, from Oregon.

persistent spring: west 11th street no. 2

I marvel at this hydrangea (or hydrania, as one of Alan’s rooftop gardening friends calls them): It sits in a pot on the sidewalk next to West 11th Street. Sends up shoots in the spring, grows prettily through April, May, and June and looks as if it might just bloom, and then July hits: Wilt wilt wilt. Maybe its owner goes away for the summer or maybe he or she just forgets, but this little plant does not get cared for. This summer I will engage in some coffee-can guerrilla watering and feeding.

And it may be facing further challenges from the scaffolding erected over it as work is done on the apartment building next door.

DANGER: Men neglecting plant!

And yet it grows.

15 April 2009

a little blue

I’m not, but these guys are (in a very good way):

13 April 2009

garden progress: monday

Up early this morning to greet a glorious day. A little coffee, a little cereal, a quick shower, and then outside to the garden. Cut back the butterfly bush (which was enormous by the end of last summer) hoping that it hasn’t been killed by the cold this past winter. Technically, it’s a zone 5 plant, and we’re zone 4/5, but I sited it on the south side of the house near the foundation, so perhaps it will have made it through the winter. We shall see.

Then I coppiced the smokebush à la Wave Hill. This is the first year I’ve done this, because I wanted the plant to settle in and get some mass before I attempted cutting it way back. If all goes as planned, we’ll have a nice vertical accent in the garden: lots of sucker-like branches with those beautiful smokebush leaves. I’m not so much interested in the flowers, but I do love the leaves.

In my cutting down and cleaning up the flower garden, I came across an interesting little tag for Easter egg radishes. Hmmm, that can’t be, I thought. Radishes in the perennials? Did you ever? Then I remembered that last fall I had grabbed any tag I could find to mark the spot where the baptisia, a late sprouter, emerges; I didn’t want to disturb its slumber by digging it up inadvertently come spring. However, it seems to be sprouting right now, when everything else is, too. Hmmm. Those sprouts do look kind of Easter-eggish, come to think of it . . . well, if an Easter egg were sharp-pointed at one end and sticking out of the ground like a baptisia sprout.

I made it through about half the perennial bed before I answered the siren call of my Miller Nurseries order. I puzzled over where to plant the blueberries for about an hour before deciding to extend the daylily bed next to the driveway about 9 feet and then plant a double row of blueberries (3 new and 3 moved from another location). Because marking off and digging any kind of bed is necessarily time-consuming, my work in the perennial garden came to a standstill for the rest of the day. But the blueberries are planted, they look happy, and now they’ll get lots and lots of sun, so maybe we’ll get lots and lots of blueberries.

For lunch B took some sliced green tomatoes from the freezer and fried them up for us. His advice: If you plan on freezing green tomatoes, slice them thinner than you think you need to, freeze them on cookie sheets, and then bag them and put them back in the freezer. He let them thaw enough so that seasoned flour would stick to them and then fried them in a little oil. Delicious.

After lunch B and I discussed where to locate the apple and cherry trees, and we decided they would be wonderful near a glen that B would like to set up as a sort of meditation garden. So I dug two $40 holes for our $12 trees, and in they went, with beautiful compost mixed with the topsoil at the bottom of the hole and a nice little “dish” on top to hold water. A few days ago, James over at View from Federal Twist asked me how I will keep deer from rutting the trees, and now I’m wondering myself how I will prevent deer from nibbling on the tender branches, so I may be considering some temporary fencing around the trees for the next little while.

For the record, I can’t believe that we have a cherry tree that is allegedly hardy to zone 4. There will be great rejoicing when the bright day comes that we pick sweet cherries from our own tree on Pleasant Hill.

So that was Monday! Tuesday will be more of the same. I want to relocate a forsythia and a sambucus, plant a spirea, and clean up the rest of the perennial garden.

And now to bed.

12 April 2009

spring comes to pleasant hill

easter evening

B and I drove north after church this afternoon to spend a few days post-Easter at Pleasant Hill. He’s just come through a very busy few weeks at his job, and I did a lot of Holy Week singing, so we are both grateful for the opportunity to recalibrate.

I tucked my order from Miller Nurseries in the back of the car and am planning on getting the apple and cherry trees as well as the blueberry bushes, a bridal wreath spirea, and some phlox (from Alan) in the ground tomorrow. Am also itching to clean up the flower garden, inventory it, weed it, and mulch everything with shredded leaves.

It’s been chilly and rainy in New York City this past week. Betty tells me it’s been chillier and snowier up here in Hebron. Spring is playing hard-to-get this year for sure!

We were ecstatic to see, however, some daffodils blooming as we drove up the driveway: large-cupped King Alfreds, I think. What a sweet, pure, unfussy yellow they are.


I got me flowers
by George Herbert

I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and the East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

The bouquet was spied on the stoop of a townhouse on West Eleventh Street in New York City. “I got me flowers” is from a collection of poems by George Herbert (1593–1633) called “The Temple.” Five of these poems were set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. My favorite recording is of baritone John Shirley Quirk with the choir of King’s College Cambridge, but I can’t find any YouTube of this! Happy Easter!

10 April 2009

tulips friday morning

I love flowers. I love waiting for the first leaves of the snow drops to emerge from the cold ground. I love watching the round bud of a balloon flower gradually fill with color. I love cutting a bucket full of dahlias and zinnias to take back to the city.

And I am filled with tenderness at a tulip playing itself out, pollen spilling down, petals arching backward and filling with light before they drop. It is, somehow, all too beautiful.

poem for good friday

The Crucifixion

At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify Thee, 0 Swan!
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne
By the body of Mary’s Son,
But sorer still to Him was the grief
Which for His sake
Came upon His Mother.

“The Crucifixion” is from “Hermit Songs,” a cycle of ten songs for voice and piano by American composer Samuel Barber. He wrote of this song cycle: “They are settings of anonymous, Irish texts of the eighth to the thirteenth centuries written by monks and scholars, often on the margins of manuscripts they were copying or illuminating—perhaps not always meant to be seen by their Father Superiors. They are small and speak in straightforward, droll, and often surprisingly modern terms of the simple life these men led, close to nature, to animals, and to God.”

Some of the texts are devastating and sublime, like “The Crucifixion,” while others are more raucous, like “The Heavenly Banquet” about one monk’s desire to drink an ocean of beer with God in Heaven, or “Promiscuity”: “I do not know with whom Edan will sleep, but I do know that fair Edan will not sleep alone.”

The introductory note to the score expands on Barber’s observations: “Some are literal translations, and others were translated (where existing translations seemed inadequate). Robin Flower has written in
The Irish Tradition: ‘It was not only that these scribes and anchorites lived by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea; it was because they brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by a continual spiritual exercise that they had that strange vision of natural things in an almost unnatural purity.’”

You’re in luck, because on YouTube I found a recording of Cheryl Studer singing “The Crucifixion” and “Sure on this shining night” (about which I posted last July 1st). This is the best recording of these two songs that I know. Hope you enjoy them: “Sure on this shining night” is first and then “The Crucifixion” at about 2'30".

09 April 2009

persistent spring: west 11th street

We all know what’s going on here. Someone bought a pot of tiny narcissus to tuck at the base of the wall of ivy. I think the effect is wonderful, though: a spot of cheerful yellow peeking out from the gloom of all those dark, leathery leaves.

Yeah, come on, Spring!

07 April 2009

fruit trees in the bathroom (not for long, though)

I really, seriously, really thought I wouldn’t be buying much in the way of plant material for the garden this year. REALLY. We’re tightening our purse strings a bit these days, and we have so much already.

Then I took a jar of change to the bank and had the bright idea as I was feeding quarters and dimes into the counting machine that I’d sock the proceeds away for a plant purchase here and there. I added to it as I could and built a nice little envelope of green, enough to get a few trees and shrubs from Miller Nurseries. The order arrived a few days ago and is resting semi-dormant in our water closet until Sunday after church, when we’ll take it north.

The apple tree is “Yellow Transparent,” a very early-bearing variety (August) with sweet fruit that makes an almost clear applesauce. My dad’s mom bought Transparent apples every summer in Berks County, Pennsylvania, so she could make her special applesauce. I remember it being slightly thin, very nearly clear, and delicious.

Alan tells me that when he was in France for a year during college, he had the opportunity to eat cherries straight from the tree at his boyfriend’s parents’ house; so many, in fact, that Thierry’s mom called Alan “Big Bird.” Alan has been encouraging B and me to plant more fruiting trees and shrubs, which is why I also bought a hardy cherry tree (“BlackGold” from Miller; hardy to –30 degrees F, apparently) and three blueberry bushes to add to the three we have already.

We will plant our apple and cherry trees in the orchard slowly being cleared to the south of the house, and the blueberries will go on the sloping ground on the north side of the driveway, where they will get full sun. (I’m also planning on moving the three older blueberry bushes from the partly sunny Long and Steep Slope behind the house to this new location.)

persistent spring: east 50th street

Walking back to work from the library this afternoon (overdue fine of five dollars—FIVE DOLLARS!—on two books), I almost missed this very scrappy fellow on the corner of Fiftieth Street and Second Avenue: Wedged against a building, constrained by steel hoops, tugged partway out of the ground, and then rudely taken down to stump size.

And yet: Spring comes on the world.

tulips from mom

Last Friday evening I went with my sister Martha and my parents to see my niece in Guys & Dolls at her high school. Mom, Dad, and I had dinner at home before. Mom had arranged three pots of tulips on the dining room table. She said, “I saw these today and thought that you and Martha would like them, too, so I bought three pots: one for you, one for Marth, and one for us.”

I took ours home with me in the car, and B and I have been enjoying them all week.

Pretty tulips from Mom.

06 April 2009

poem for april

Early Spring
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows’ wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.