Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Live on Fault Lines

Other post title contenders were:

Farenheit 102--The Temperature At Which My Plants Die
Never Leave The Garden in August
I'm Doing This On Purpose To Create Awareness for Global Warming
Son of a B***H

I've been up north for about the last week visiting the family, but even though I had a great time (another post), I am angry, upset, and generally cheesed at how my garden looks. Maybe this is usual, but keep in mind I'm new at this--you can read dozens of garden how to books, garden theorists, landscape architects, poems, and memoirs, and get no helpful information whatsoever on how to suffer less the world you make. Particularly when the only way you can fall asleep each night is to think about plant placement, plants you want, what to deadhead tomorrow....

By the below pics you can see one of many large cracks in my clay soil--it hasn't rained for a month now after a terribly wet spring. Some cracks lead right up to root balls of April-planted shrubs. Speaking of which, eight shrubs look just awful, including the various dogwoods. Let's take a brief tour (ignoring the 'Autumn Blaze' maple which has turned brown, the 'Prairie Cascade' willow turning yellow, and the three river birch trees all of which are at least 2/3 defoliated--clearly, I have no idea how to water in my clay soil: it's either too much, or not enough. Either way, the stuff goes into shock. Shoot, I clearly have no idea how to garden).

This is where the Lincoln, Nebraska tectonic plate meets the York, Nebraska tectonic plate.

Whoops. There's that maple, green only a week ago (and watering it deeply last night, it sure seemed not so eager to suck up the water). I swear the grass was green, too, but who knows.... If I were planning on living here forever I'd let it die.

Look! 'Tis a viburnum 'Winterthur.' Let's observe this beauty even more closely.

I love the variegation of this cultivar. It gives the garden that gothic look I'm going after in anticipation of Halloween. And I'm sure none of these plants will be stunted for next season. (You better know I'm sarcastic by now.)

When I left last Wednesday, after deeply watering everything, this tiny filipendula was green. Oh, wait, it still is! See that one leaf? Neat. It's not the only perennial that looks like this.

And I've got less than four weeks to produce a workable draft of my gardening / environmental memoir for my dissertation committee to peruse this fall, plus two brand-spanking-new courses to design for the first day of fall semester on August 25. I think this term I'll just wing it. Seriously. Sometimes the best classes are the ones you prepare the least for, remaining open to the needs of the class and individual students, vs. trying to stick to your preconcieved ideas of what must absolutely get done and in what way.

But how will I ever have both my dissertations done by late winter? And how do I grade papers and essays and stories and poems (which take up precious writing / editing time)? Perhaps I'll be one of those free-thinking folks who believes you can't grade creative effort, and just assign smiley faces and stickers. No. Students expect grades--it's how they validate their lives as students and divine beings. Student X: "How can you even give grades on personal expression, for art?" Student Y: "Why don't we get letter grades for our assignments? How do I know what I'm doing is ok or not?" Teacher Me: "You both get a 'C' and a smiley face plus a gold star sticker." And I love teaching. But I also love writing. And sleeping. And having lunch. And whining. And ending this post.


Anonymous said...

Oh, man, that stinks! Next time you plant new trees, you need to get some Treegators. They're bags you fill with water that attach to the tree trunk & slowly water the tree. When I get big cracks like that in my garden (which happens every year regardless of how much rain we get), I stuff them with compost. Yes, down on my knees, shoving compost down as far as I can get it, sometimes with my finger. And how to survive the pain? Hope for the best. They may survive. I've even heard that young trees that survive a drought end up the stronger for it. Good luck!
Mr. McGregor's Daughter

Benjamin Vogt said...

MMD--You know, I was thinking of stuffing the cracks with compost; that's a great idea we had. I can see myself pushing it down with my fingers, scissors, screwdrivers... ha! Want to come visit and help?

Les said...

You may want to also try Soil Moist mixed into the soil when you plant again, particularly with things that like more water.

I feel for you, especially after all that work (and money) putting them in. Maybe your plants are only sleeping.

Gail said...

I remember exactly what I thought when MMD told me she stuffed compost in the earth cracks...I thought it was brilliant! So I am trying to remember to do just that! It is a great idea...the crappy clay earth opens up, so fill it with good compost!

I am sorry about all the trees and shrubs. It's hard when they die; we've lost trees during this past years drought and a few this summer which were damaged last year.


Anonymous said...

Those pictures hurt! Very frustrating. I do hope your vacation was fun.

Victoria Summerley said...

Benjamin, how awful. I wish I could come and help: stuffing cracks with compost sounds like the sort of pleasant unchallenging task that even I am incapable of screwing up. I think your maple might bounce back, though. Mine looked like that in the drought of 2003, and the following spring they were all wearing 'Who, me?' expressions and covered with innocent green shoots.

Lucy Corrander said...

Having read this post, I now know why you are feeling grumpy.

(I came over from Mr Subjunctive!)

Lucy Corrander

Lucy Corrander said...

P.S. There was an occasion, when I was a student, when I went to collect a history essay. My tutor went through it carefully and, at the end, said 'Well done, it is better than your last essay'.

I thanked him . . . but asked why, in that case, he had given it a lower mark . . . he said it was because he had 'marked harder this time'.

Very helpful!


Benjamin Vogt said...

Les--What really cheeses me is I'll miss some fall color on these shrubs; I researched my tail off looking for flowering shrubs that'd work in clay and do something in the fall. Either the clay is waterlogged, like this spring, or it's like my sidewalk.
Gail--Not dead, sleeping. Only SLEEPING.... right? Sleeeeeeepy.
Layanee--I bought a blow torch. I've had with gardening.
Victoria--"Pleasant unchallenging task?" Aren't those just the best? My maple lost leaves early late last summer after I planted it in July, and now again. Poor thing must think I'm cruel.
Lucy--Ha! Love that story. That's, actually, precisely how I teach, and it drives the students INSANE. But I tell them up front they might learn more as we go along in the term, but I'm still gonna be grading harder as a result while my expectations increase.

Frances, said...

Hi Benjamin, your anger is justified. MMD is brilliant, we all agree. I think the screwdriver would work best. We are also suffering from a drought and planting anything new is a gamble, but planting in fall is recommended here because the trees and some shrubs are leafless and don't have to work so hard to maintain the greenery and can spend their energy on growing roots, the important part. I don't know what the latest date would be that you can plant, does your ground freeze solid, and if so how far down? I have found the cracking is helped by adding bags of soil conditioner rather than mulch, it is finer and goes down in the cracks easier. Going out of town is never good in the summer for us either. Always unpleasantness upon return of some kind. Our birches drop their leaves at the least hint of drought, but have come back to life the next spring for a few years now. There are leaves all over under them right now. I can start making leaf compost, yippee. I also had to replace winterthur, they must be more water sensitive. As for the grading, free style seat of your pants may be appreciated by the exceptional students. The others won't be happy no matter what you do. I like the gold star much better than smiley faces, those are so seventies! ;->

Benjamin Vogt said...

Frances--I just loved your comment! Thanks! What is it with birches? I suppose, though, they are near their southern range by you, right? The soil does freeze here, but I don't know how far down--I can't believe it's too far, though, since we're only really cold (0-20 degrees) for about a month or so. Plus, my garden has lots of southern exposure with dark mulch, if that even influences the freezing cycle of soil. Can one even call clay soil? I remember reading once that 'Winterthur' is native to wetter areas, which is exactly why I got it, but I've been in more trouble overwatering than under this year--until now. The clethra and chokeberry are looking bad, too, as is the 'Blue Muffin' viburnum. I just don't know how to garden in clay, and especially after a top ten wettest spring. It's Nebraska for ya, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Hey. I'm getting ready to leave my garden for almost two weeks...in August...in the south (we were 99 today). So I'm hopeful for rain - you know, a nice summer shower, while I'm gone - and even more hopeful that a rain (like a hurricane-rain) WON'T happen. We walk that fine, fine line down here on the coast.

(As for those viburnums, I've found them here to be very, very drought INtolerant for the first year or so - then they are fine. I had one of my bite the dust this spring, and I was...sort of...paying attention).

Hang in there.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Pam--I could never walk that fine line as you do--too much uncertainty, too much residual fear just under the surface. Instead, I live with the real threat of a tornado at any point in the summer. Which is worse? Thanks for the viburnnum advice--very good to know. Now, go pay more attention to your plants.

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