Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rock Me Amadeus 'Till I'm Stoned

A gorgeous afternoon, and a bit of time, allows a quick post on rocks and stones for this Gardening Gone Wild thing that goes on every month. I'm a virgin participator. Wanted to get in before my blog break. Stone in 3--2--1 contact!

My wife's office has an egress window. Said window area was filled with ugly pea gravel for drainage. She figured why not put a thin layer of something more attractive on top? I give you slate bits. A lovely, contemporary feel which will, I hope, soon be adorned with morning glory vines dangling down (will they succumb to my will?).

But to the rest of the garden. Lots of stone steppers lead you through, fork at the fountain--avec river stone, perhaps not big enough river stones--and twist a bit around the not so level back yard (it slopes down in two directions: toward the house and parallel to it).

Then there was extra stone, so I made a temporary path out front in the (mostly) shade bed betwixt the garage and sidewalk. Once, a boyscout used it with great whimsy after we ignored the doorbell. Oh, the path is temporary because I figure that young's weeping white birch will grow, unless the borers get to it first, but I'm trying to keep the soil around it how birches prefer so as to ensure its healthiness.

Here's a stone that weighs at least 40lbs. I found it where an iris had to go. Is it a native?

And aren't mountain bluets neat? (Centaurea montana) Ciao.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Installing a Disappearing Fountain

This will not be a super detailed how to guide with pictures along the way, because along the way I got a little angry and frustrated and couldn't stop until I was done with the beast. The project shouldn't have lasted 6-7 hours, but it did.

If you do a little bit of research online, you'll see there are two basic ways to install such a fountain: dig a hole, put some liner in, cinder block to hold the pot or stone, insert pump, backfill with rock; or, dig the hole, put in a pre made plastic tub, put in cinder blocks to hold weight, put a black plastic grate on top of that, then a fine mesh layer to catch debris, then cover with rocks (don't forget to cut off a corner of the grate to get at the pump). Get that?

You are nuts to try option one--how long would it take you to get to the pump for cleaning or winter storage? And wouldn't the mesh help keep stuff away from the pump (am I dreaming?). So, I went with option two. The problem for me was that once I put the pot on top of the grate, it was quickly obvious there was not enough support to keep the pot from wobbling--even with one, then two cinder blocks beneath (the plastic grate isn't reinforced like it should be). Once I removed the grate and put the pot directly on the cinders, it was stable--and once I shimmed the pot, as it wasn't even level on the bottom! (You might not have this problem if you used a large square-based stone. BTW, getting a drilled stone about 3' tall would run you around $600 in Lincoln comma Nebraska. $300 at least for the stone, then $10 per inch to drill a hole; and this is still cheaper than buying the complete deal at a nursery or landscaper. Way outa' my price range.)

So, went to Home Depot and bought two 12" square cement steppers. Cut a 12" square hole through the grate with a saw so the steppers could fit in, giving height to the vase-shaped pot (wanted to keep the vase shape, not be buried by rock if I had just cut a round hole in the grate so the pot would sit directly on the cinder blocks). Then, I put the pot on the two steppers, which were on top of the cinder blocks. Voila.

That was harder than leveling the plastic basin on a very slight incline, and making sure the whole thing was an inch or two above grade, as an area nearby floods and holds water in a very heavy rain.

The next day after install a grackle perched on the fountain's lip and took a drink. Yes! Too bad it was a grackle.

This is not a regular pot--it is cast concrete with a covered top, which has a hole where you can screw in different fountain heads if you choose. A hose runs out the bottom (or out the side, has two holes), and connects to the pump. It's pretty heavy, and I had to move it 20 times while my wife and I figured out how to make the thing stable (it IS Nebraska = much wind). I thought about getting a regular planter, but didn't want to mess with more than I had to--like cutting pvc pipe, finding a way to secure it to the pot's bottom, dealing with leaks, et cetera.

I think it looks pretty nifty, and if it attracts more birds, cool. Right now it's on an extension cord and timer, plugged in to a gfi on the deck, but I've read it's safer to have an electrician come and install an outlet right by the fountain. $$$

And, as an aside to this long post--I'll soon be taking a moderate hiatus from blogging to live my life for a bit (boy it's consuming)--enjoy the below pics of the incredible plum / eggplant colored smokebush leaves (royal purple), the leaves of dappled willow on a stick (a real one purchased from a real nursery), and a mourning dove watching me pull weeds.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lilacs Smell Like Urinal Cakes

It's true. Try it. Of course, the opposite is just as true, but this is creepier.

This message brought to you by things best not discussed. (Note, the left is not a lilac, it's a hibiscus bloom, as close as I could get.)

On Plant Rights / On Wind Power

Two things today kids. The first from on Switzerland's push for plant rights. Some quotes:

The Swiss have added a provision to their constitution requiring “account to be taken of the dignity of creation when handling animals, plants and other organisms.” The Swiss were unsure what this high-flown rhetoric meant, so they did what we moderns always do when faced with such conundrums: They referred the matter to a panel of experts.

The panel’s report predictably muddied the already muddy waters with platitudes and jargon. More helpful were its concrete examples of how to negotiate this ethical swampland. Smith cites one example:

The committee offered this illustration: A farmer mows his field (apparently an acceptable action, perhaps because the hay is intended to feed the farmer’s herd–the report doesn’t say). But then, while walking home, he casually ‘decapitates’ some wildflowers with his scythe. The panel decries this act as immoral, though its members can’t agree why.

The report states, opaquely: ‘At this point it remains unclear whether this action is condemned because it expresses a particular moral stance of the farmer toward other organisms or because something bad is being done to the flowers themselves.’

I'v enothing to say about that, Gump. Here's some stuff on wind power; why our country is so butt ass backwards is beyond me! (Indeed, I use the rhetoric of the learned to make my argument.)

Two decades from now Americans could get as much electricity from windmills as from nuclear power plants, according to a government report that lays out a possible plan for wind energy growth.

The report, a collaboration between the Energy Department research labs and industry, concludes wind energy could generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2030, about the same share now produced by nuclear reactors.

"The report indicates that we can do this nationally for less than half a cent per kilowatt hour if we have the vision," said Andrew Karsner, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for efficiency and renewable energy.

If achieved, it would be an astounding leap.

Wind energy today accounts for only about 1 percent of the nation's electricity, although the industry has been on a growth binge with a 45 percent jump in production last year.

"The United States possesses abundant wind resources," said the report spearheaded by DOE's National Renewable Technology Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and a 20 percent share of electricity production "while ambitious, could be feasible."

But the report cautioned that its findings were not meant to predict that such growth would, in fact, be achieved, but only that it is technically possible. And it acknowledged "there are significant costs, challenges and impacts" associated with such rapid growth.

It would require improved turbine technology, "significant changes" and expansion of power line systems and a major expansion of markets for wind energy to accommodate an annual growth rate of 16,000 megawatts of electricity a year beginning in 2018, more than five times today's annual growth.

Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, said the report confirms that wind energy "is no longer a niche" in the power industry.

Yesterday, on the drive back from Omaha on I-80, I had to keep pulling my car left due to the always strong southerly winds. As I was doing this, two super long tractor trailers were heading the other direction--both carried loads of two very long turbine blades apiece. That was nice. Boy are those blades big.

Anyway, I've become a supporter for nuclear power. I don't like this, but I see it as a very viable energy source for a TRANSITION to renewable sources like wind, solar, hydrogen, and NOT ethanol. Ethanol is dumb. Unless it comes from switchgrass, then it is not dumb.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yo, R.I.P.

Angelica Gigas
Korean Angelica

Campanula trachelium ‘Bernice’
Throatwort / Nettle-Leafed Bellflower

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Hardy Plumbago

Clematis heracleifolia ‘China Purple’
Tube Clematis

Dianthus caryophyllus
‘Prairie Pink’

Dianthus x ‘Double Spotty’

Heuchera ‘Marmalade’
Coral Bells

Lobelia cardinalis (wet winter feet?)
Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria’ (wet winter feet?)
Cardinal Flower

Penstemon x mexicalli ‘Red Rocks’

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Blackberry Poems

I recently purchased a black chokeberry--not the same thing, but the two poems below are ones that always seem to haunt my writing (a good thing), and the shrub made me think of them.

Meditation at Lagunitas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

--Robert Haas


Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

--Galway Kinnell

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

While Grading Papers the Air Force Arrives

So much depends

an afternoon

at the kitchen
table with

and various

birds lined
in red

I heard the loudest rush of jetness in my life, and for good reason. The B-52 is the largest bomber in the world and has 8 engines--all needed to make its very tight turn in high wind for the runway, and luckily not over my house. It has tiny wheels at each wing tip because when it lands the length and weight makes each wing touch the ground. Eh. This one did around 3-4 touch and goes at the airport, and being a military plane nerd I enjoyed seeing my first one in person. (I'm eclectic--I like poetry, war movies, middle eastern music, gardening, cleaning up hairballs, failing students, and eating very expensive desserts for dinner. Not in that order.)

And birds. We had birds today. Red house finches, yellow finches, a grackle, the cardinal couple which must be nesting so very close by, a robin, a possible sparrow, red wing blackbirds, and a mourning dove.

We've new neighbors slowly moving in next door--please, please do not have big loud dogs or a trailer to adorn the driveway. And please don't stand on your deck overlooking my garden, holding a beer, scratching your belly, just staring at me with a glossy-eyed look that I could interpret in any number of creepy ways (a previous neighbor). The river birch can't grow fast enough along that side of the house.

Speaking of the garden: we've got the young and brightly variegated leaves of Eupatorium altissimum ‘Prairie Jewel’ Mistflower; Viola 'Ultima Morpho'; Ivory Halo dogwood #1; a very Mellow Yellow spirea; and the only two colors of tulips I'll ever have--blackish purple and white.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tale of Two Clematis--Terniflora vs. Virginiana

Warning: native vs. non native treasure hunt story and dismay at nurseries in 3...2....

So, I bought a C. terniflora last fall from some mail order place. I thought, cool, fast grower, tons of white flowers in late summer and fall when all else is ugly. Luckily, it has appeared to die--luckily because I've researched just how terribly invasive and non native (Asia) the thing was.

Which brought me to our native and very similar C. virginiana. Also a fast grower to around 15' tall, white flowers a bit earlier, pretty much the same deal. Also a bit invasive it seems, but much less, and it's native. I'd been reading horror stories about terniflora choking native woods and colonizing gardens and neighboring yards (even years after it'd been removed).

Before I went to buy a replacement, hoping to find the native locally and avoid ordering one online, I discovered nurseries may sell both under the same common name: sweet autumn clematis. Deal is, the leaves are very different, as you can see below from the first two pics (#1 is terniflora, #2 is virginiana).

At the nursery then to buy an expensive vine ($25 seems steep to me, but I know it's not for a clematis). Looking through the plants to confirm these are indeed the non native, I come across a very few labeled as terniflora, but clearly have different leaves. Huh? Could it be that among the foreign invaders some natives have been wrongly labeled? Or, is it that in the nursery trade one sweet autumn clematis really is like another no matter what? (And how stupid is that? And why are they selling the aggressive non native anyway?) You be the judge: doesn't it look like I got C. virginiana? Pat on the back anyone? I will pat myself, anyway. Pat pat pat. Ruuuuub. Ummm, that sure feels good. Want to go back to my place?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Damn Word Verifications on Blogs

I enjoy visiting other blogs, and I enjoy writing comments on interesting posts. However, I do not enjoy it so much that I want to spend an extra 30 seconds trying to figure out what those squiggly-smashed-together-help-me-I'm-melting letters might really be. How many times have I typed in a comment, then typed in the letters and numbers to verify I ain't spam, only to find out the "j" was an "i" or the "l" a "z" (seriously), and THEN lose my comment to a page refresh. Then I give up. Then I rant here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

To Kill or Not to Kill the Yellowjackets

I'm having my first insect eco awareness crisis. Usually, I'd have already sprayed the growing nests in the corner of my fence, between the planks and the corner post. This corner, where the wasps are congregating, is sorta out of the way, about 8' from the garden path. But I'm terribly afraid of them, much more so then pretty much any other insect, including bees. When I was pulling weeds yesterday a wasp buzzed right by me a few times--was I too close? I was not too close--it's my yard.

So, do I leave them be (er, wasp), and hope they keep bad insects at bay and / or do some pollinating? Do I try to ignore my huge fear? Or, do I just do what most people do and Raid their nest?

I don't know if I've suddenly become too sensitive on this issue and now what was once a simple decision becomes a long drawn out reflection and blog entry. It's silly, really. I'm a fairly decisive person, mainly because I get impatient about such trivial things. (I may already be walking outside to spray, then.) Some will laud my careful feelings, but I don't want to be praised--I want to be normal. I want to be fast--this whole thing makes me feel slow, older, too methodical, unwilling to move on (this is not meant as a shot at people older than me, just an awareness of my changing perspectives and priorities in the world).

I blame this squarely on Douglas Tallamy and his Bringing Nature Home. Oh, and Wild Flora.