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After two weeks of false starts, the plumber came on Friday and the new water line was in by early afternoon. He came back for a few hours on Saturday morning to finish backfilling the trench, and clean up. Then it was over to me to put the garden back to rights.
I’m going to have to add a lot of compost to those front beds to make up for all the clay that’s been mixed in as a result of the ditch-digging. But most of the plants I moved seem perfectly happy in their temporary home, so I’m optimistic that I can get the beds back to decent shape by the end of the month. How long the grass will take might be a different matter. I hope we have a few wet weeks soon.
I’ve been staying away from blogging lately (and Facebook, Twitter, etc.) because in the first place I have little “spare” time right now, but mainly I have too many petty grumbles and wasn’t feeling like sharing. But, I do miss the conversations and camaraderie that comes from all this social malarky, so I’m trying to get back into it.
Put simply, issues at my children’s school, injuries, and a leaking water line have eaten up most of my non-work hours. The school thing seems to be resolved, the cat has had his cast removed and his leg appears to be as good as new (in your face vet who said he needed surgery!), and the plumber is scheduled (weather permitting) to come dig up the yard and lay a new water line on Friday. So, I’m dipping a newly-healed toe carefully back into the blogging world with some pics of our front yard, newly stripped of most of its flowering plants, and anything else that was standing in the way of the replacement water line.
The main challenge facing us for the new water line is the number of trees in the way (as well as those pesky gas and sewer lines…). We’re taking the slightly longer way around the house in order to avoid a huge Norway Spruce on the southeast side. The expense of having that puppy removed if we damaged its roots would be considerable. We still have (or had) a small (junk) cherry, a low-growing evergreen (possibly a spruce of some kind), a patio peach, a dogwood, and a service berry to work around (why do we have so many trees in such a small space? It just sort of happened…). I took the junk cherry out (it was a volunteer anyway) and removed the smaller spruce. As we’re using flexible pex pipe, we plan to dig a curving trench that avoids at least the service berry and dogwood. The patio peach may be OK, but if it has to go, so be it.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to start replanting everything this weekend. If I’m feeling creative, I might even be able to rethink this front garden space. It’ll be good to get this project crossed off the to-do list in any case, not to mention that it should have a very positive effect on our future water bills.
Is it just me, or is this early summer so many of us in the northern hemisphere seem to be experiencing proceeding at an accelerated rate? The yellow has quickly faded from my garden; the daffodils are already gone, the forsythia is dropping the last of its petals today, and the Jasmine (or yellow bells as some of my NC neighbors call it) bloomed way back at New Years, was nipped by frost, and is gone. The tulips are abundant this week, but will surely be gone by Easter. Last week I noticed the swelling buds in the crab apple that towers above the raspberry patch and thought “that’ll be beautiful for our Easter Egg hunt in two weekends.” Yesterday it was in full bloom, and today the pink petals are already drifting slowly down. They’ll probably be gone by the end of the weekend. Same with the azalea by the back door. I thought it would be brilliant with color in a week or two, but it’s opening now. Hopefully it’ll still be in bloom in two weeks.
Maybe I just feel I’m missing things because I’m cooped up with a broken toe that’s making it surprisingly uncomfortable to take care of garden chores? Working indoors and hearing the birdsong and seeing the glorious days that are in it is not any sort of substitute to being out there getting the hands dirty, planting, pruning, and doing all the other small tasks that become pleasure when accompanied by the constant buzzing of the bees, quick flits of birds scoring nest-building materials or nabbing a careless worm from a freshly watered vege bed (or maybe the pleasure lies in the absence of a clicking keyboard and the ping of incoming emails?). For extra comedy value, our cat is now sporting a cast on his leg after somehow dislocating his ankle a few days ago. (My suspicion is he pursued one of his mortal-enemy squirrels up a tree and landed awkwardly afterwards.) Now he’s cooped up in the bathroom so he doesn’t make the injury worse trying to be his usual big bad self. At least we’re company in our mutual grumpiness.
While I’m less mobile, I’ve been reading about the early burial practices of the megalithic tombs builders in Ireland, and learning about what they considered precious objects to inhume with the ashes of their dead: very practical things (pestle stones, bone pins, and pottery jars). I’ve also been gardening vicariously through some wonderful blogs (Arigna Gardener and A Place in the Country are top-notch), and picking away at the plot holes of my novel-in-progress. (Lest you think I am able to amuse myself all the time, I will comment that my day job has also been fairly intense lately. There’s a stack of new manuscripts to read for the books we’re publishing in the fall, marketing copy to write, and I’ve been finalizing summer events for our authors up and down the country.)
Actually, it occurs to me that my work may also be contributing to this sense that things are progressing very quickly this year. Working in publishing is a slightly disorienting experience because we work on books that won’t come out for 6-9 months, and by the time they’re arriving on bookstore shelves, we’ve shifted our focus to the next batch another 6-7 months hence. Right now I’m planning events for this October and November, and have actually pitched several things for summer 2013. No wonder time seems to be slipping by at a fast clip.
Maybe that’s why I relax through gardening? It grounds me in the now, in the dirt. Does this plant need water? Do I need to weed, fertilize, mulch, or divide? What’s ready to pick today? All this resting, icing and elevating my foot is keeping me indoors too much, and I’m feeling a little out of touch with the now. Maybe the solution is simply to take one of those manuscripts out into the sun and find a good spot to get some work done?
About 6000 years ago, construction on a large complex of passage graves atop three hills near Oldcastle, Co. Meath began. Most are relatively small (in relation to the famous passage grave sites), although many feature carvings and contain triple (or cruciform) chambers. One of them, known as Cairn T, is illuminated by the sunrise on the spring and autumn equinoxes. The passage is very short, the back of the chamber a mere couple of meters from the entrance, but this tiny chamber is heavily carved, and the slab illuminated by the sun contains many enigmatic images and symbols.
As well as the usual circles surrounded by rays (often thought to represent stars or the sun), and groups of semi-circular lines and various shapes (which some have suggested may be calendars or some form of scale) there are what appear to be child-like depictions of flowers and leaves, perhaps trees. Alright, that’s my own theory; but, given that the equinoxes represent the pivotal points in the natural cycle (spring for planting and autumn for harvesting) it makes sense to me. However, there are probably as many opinions as there are observers, so I’ll reserve judgement until I have a chance to watch the carvings emerge from the darkness with the sunrise on some future equinox.
Today, Loughcrew is off the major tourist trail and definitely one of the lesser-known passage grave complexes, but it’s thought that at one time it was extremely important. The hills on which the main cairns are located are called Carnbane East and West; in Irish, that translates as white-cairn. There are walls of white quartz running around some of the fields on these hills, stones that are believed to have been taken from the cairns when the English passed laws requiring the enclosure of agricultural land. As we’ve seen at Newgrange, some passage graves were covered with white quartz, which would have glittered in the sun and drawn the eye for miles around — in the same way that Renaissance Christians built cathedrals to inspire awe at first glance. Perhaps these tombs enjoyed a similar level of importance in prehistoric society?
The blessing of Loughcrew’s relative anonymity is that anyone can show up at sunrise on the equinoxes and watch the illumination take place. It apparently lasts for almost an hour, and as the rear of the chamber is clearly visible from just outside the entrance, there is no need for a lottery to get inside. I hope whoever manages to be there tomorrow morning enjoys the show, and the rest of us can use the equinox illumination as a reminder that it’s time to get on with our planting.
Inspired by the excellent Irish permaculture blog A Life in the Country, I tried my hand at a making a couple of teepees to support the peas and beans. Not having a handy supply of willow, I used the long, thin cherry branches I cut from the stump of the not-quite-dead-yet cherry I cut down last year. They were relatively fresh and therefore still fairly flexible. My first efforts weren’t quite as tidy as those at Bealtaine, but I think they’ll do the job, and they do keep those cherry trimmings out of the brush pile for the city to collect.
I also went on a baking frenzy on St. Paddy’s morning because I was feeling slightly lazy over watching so much rugby (it was the final day of the Six Nations). So, we have plenty of carbs for the weekend. Wish I could say any of the ingredients came from our garden, but all we’ve got left right now is some spinach and assorted herbs. Still, I’ve planted a lot of onions, peas, kale, lettuce, and most of the fruit trees and shrubs are beginning to leaf out, so we’ll start harvesting this year’s bounty in the next couple of months.
This early spring/non-existant winter has got everything off to a great start in the garden this year. Daffodils and hyacinths are plentiful, the forsythia and spirea have bloomed, and the first rhubarb stems are breaking through the crust of dried leaf mulch one bed over from where the jagged leaves of new raspberry canes are emerging.
As usual, I pulled the random collection of potted shrubs, trees we bought years ago and haven’t found a permanent home for yet, and other plants I didn’t know what else to do with out of the shed and into the sun. Our yard probably isn’t big enough to absorb this random collection of red oaks, maples, butterfly bushes, brooms, and other things, but that didn’t stop me buying another dogwood and our first plum at the garden center last weekend. (I’m hankering for more fruit trees this year.) I built a new raised raspberry bed, spread all the compost, and turned one vegetable bed before breaking something in my foot (hopefully just a toe) yesterday, so hopefully these pics won’t represent both the beginning and the end of my garden labor for the season.
The bees are out in earnest and I’ve even seen a few moths fluttering around the flowers. We’ve had our first random bear cubs wandering around downtown, so it’s probably time to take the bird-feeders down lest we attract some unwanted visitors.
I haven’t had to mow the grass yet, but I confess to getting the strimmer out to trim the verge here and there. The local yard crews are in full whir (eager to start earning some money again) and it won’t be long before my yard starts to look leggy in comparison to the neatness next door.
In light of the foot, it’s time to look at the chore list and decide what must be done, and what can wait until I’m more mobile. The back gate that a taxi driver knocked over on New Year’s Eve is still broken, but there’s no urgency on repairing that (there are several other gates to the yard). I have several big privet bushes I was nearly finished uprooting, and they will have to go so I can get that dogwood and some rhododendrons in the ground. I may just have to get a chainsaw to finish that job; it would be faster than hacking away with a mattock.
Hopefully there’ll be more blooms next month. The first ranunculus is flower is about to open, the azaleas are studded with tiny buds, the plum is beginning to blossom, and there are even a few strawberry plants about to flower. So, there should be plenty of color to keep both the bees and the humans happy for the next little while, even if I’m largely a spectator for the next few weeks…
‘Tis the season for lots of work in the garden without a lot of tangible visual rewards. The weeding, mulching, compost spreading, planting, row covering, dividing, bed building, sweeping, raking, etc. all have to be done, but you generally don’t get to see the final product (as much as anything in a garden can ever be final) until much later. Here are a few things that I’ve been up to in these early spring days.
I moved one of the 750 gallon rain water tanks over by the other one. The runoff from this part of the roof is much better than where the other tank had been situated, behind the shed. These will fill in one, or at most two, mountain rain storms. I still need to add the overflow piping and clean last year’s gunk from one of the tanks. But, at least the move and initial siting is done. I’ve half an idea I might try to get moss to grow over these so they blend into the lush, but I’ll probably be too busy doing other things to remember.
The raspberries migrate down-slope every year, so this spring I decided to go with the flow and build a new raised bed for them. It’s not really very raised, as the primary purpose is to keep the crab grass out, but the edges do make it easier to keep weeds and everything else under control.
It was time to wave goodbye to the big, unruly open compost heap under the trees. The local possums enjoyed rooting in it, and the posts had rotted away after six years. We had one compost bin in another part of the yard, but it had started cracking and falling apart, so cheap-ass McGyver that I am, I patched it up and relocated it. We also inherited another which was being starved by lack of use. All the vege beds got a good infusion of fresh compost, and the remainder of the black gold certainly got well stirred and aerated in the transfer to the new bins.
Yes, I got suckered into picking up some pincushion flower when I went to get the cedar planks for the raised bed. We’re very yellow heavy in spring, so a spot of different color is welcome.
One year on for my part-shade back bed located beneath several trees. Instead of ripping up all the dead bouncing bette stalks and carting the dead leaves off to the compost pile, this winter I decided to rake all the leaves in the yard over here, and regularly went over them with the mower to chop them down to size. We now have a couple of inches of good leaf mulch all over this area, and I’m hoping that the bulbs enjoy it.
The pic on the left was taken at the end of Jan 2011, the right at the end of Feb 2012. The mild weather has brought the bulbs up quicker than usual. We have daffodils, hyacinth, and Star of Bethlehem all bursting forth, so hopefully they’ll get a good few weeks to bloom before the rising tide of bouncing bette buries them for the rest of the year.
The first primrose of the year has arrived earlier than usual in our garden and peeks uncertainly above the blanket of leaves that will hopefully keep it sheltered through the worst of the winter weather to come. I admire these hardy early bloomers who impetuously put on their sunday best and stride out to meet the world head on, regardless of propriety or the expectations of others.
May we all have the self-confidence of the primrose in this new year, and may all our contributions beautify the drab world in our own ways.
We went for a hike up off the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend. The color is marvelous, as you can see. Not peaked yet, there’s too much green for that. The reads are making a terrific show just now, with the yellows beginning to come in.
Sassafras “ghosts” — very suitable to be turning gold in time for Halloween.
Back at home the Virginia Creeper has turned bright red as it spills down from the trellis. The show makes the mundane chores of leaf-raking, weeding and mulching so much more enjoyable — especially as we still have plenty of sunshine during the days (even as the tender plants were bitten by the first frost the other night).