Entries in Plough down sillion (12)


Queen for a Day

Here are some flowers from my yard for you in honor of Mother's Day. The lilacs make the whole house smell heavenly. I hope your day was as great as mine was!

Mine started off with ambrosial French toast made by my personal chef. Church was lovely: the kids sang and I got appropriately misty. Bonus: all the moms scored charming little boxes of fabulous See's candy! It's hard to get in the Northeast, so it was doubly treasured even as I scarfed it down.

I received handmade items: sweet cards, a beautiful tissue paper corsage, and bright paper lilies that now grace my dresser. My very exciting gift from the family was my very own Weed Dragon! I cannot wait to flame all the dandelions and plantains in the entire yard. It might even be able to vanquish the dreaded ground ivy. I'm raring to go.

In the late afternoon, my personal chef fired up the grill and made his patent-pending Boursin Burgers. I drool at the memory. Really: Patrick makes the best burgers in the universe; even his regular cheeseburgers are better than any others I've ever tasted.

The weather was perfect--cool breezes, warm sun, brilliant azure sky--truly fit for a queen. I'll toddle off to bed now feeling pampered and special. Thanks, guys!


A Special Day

A favorite song from childhood goes, "Saturday, it's a special day/It's the day we get ready for Suuunnn-day!" Other people I know have two days to their weekend; since we are pretty narrow in our definition of appropriate Sunday activities, my Saturdays are always jam-packed.

I usually want to accomplish some major house/garden chore, always managing to forget that I still need to keep track of feeding people, changing diapers, and that 'getting ready for Sunday' thing. I've got to figure out how to dial back my expectations for Saturdays.

We've hired a college kid this summer for as many Saturdays as he can spare. He came for the first time today to help us with Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition, Phase One. It was fabulous; he deputized Christian and James and got right to the long list we'd made for him.
The girls were happy playing with the neighbor kids. Patrick was in Connecticut at a meeting. Daniel followed me around with his little green safety scissors and cut individual blades of grass while I girded my loins and battled the evil ground ivy.

Last summer, since we were renovating the house, I didn't spend a lot of time in the garden. As a result, ground ivy gained a lot of, well, ground. Those insidious runners! Those leaves that can camouflage themselves as monarda or nepeta! The sneaky way it insinuates itself around tender lovelies like newly sprouted peonies! I hate ground ivy even more than I hate vinca (even though it smells better). It is a Noxious Weed, and it has afflicted and tormented me plenty.

I did a little research on the blessed internets; I found a radical (for me, crazy tree-hugger that I am) remedy that I just may try on Monday. Apparently ground ivy is unusually sensitive to high levels of boron in the soil. It no likey, she said, smacking her lips sadistically.
The websites of several cooperative extension offices recommended a highly diluted solution of 20 Mule Team and water to combat the pest. While I wouldn't pour this into my precious perennial border, I am contemplating applying it to the lawn that runs alongside it. I welcome input on this matter from readers who have degrees in chemistry and/or who are experienced gardeners (you know who you are, people).

I was a little weary after a few hours of hard weeding, mainly because there is so much more to do. But walking my borders in the cool of the evening lifted my spirits immeasurably. I got a good sniff of those amazing lilacs and noted that my double tulips should be poppin' tomorrow or the next day. As I walked back to the house, I noticed that the sunset was particularly splendid. All in all, it was a special day.


Budding Lilacs

Pardon the fuzzy image; I'm so excited I can barely stand it. My lilacs are budding for the first time ever! I'll refrain from getting all Whitmanesque or Eliotish on you, but you have to understand.

We moved here in the summer of 2001. That fall, a kind lady in our congregation cut several suckers from her bushes and brought them to me after hearing me rave about how much I wanted to have lilacs in our yard. I planted them, knowing virtually nothing about gardening at that time.

Later I read that lilac suckers take four to five years to bloom. I was a little crestfallen, but I had already begun to learn that a lot of the gratification in gardening is deferred.

Last spring I allowed myself to hope, but the lilacs weren't yet ready. After this crazy winter (which lingers overlong), I didn't know what to expect. But I checked the bushes just now and was thrilled--so thrilled that what looks like a snake hole right near them didn't really faze me. (I'm sure it will later.)


A Master Plan

Q: What do you do with a pint of leftover mincemeat, a cup of leftover cranberry chutney, and three cups of leftover applesauce--all homemade and delicious, but all listlessly hanging around the back of the fridge like wallflowers at a hoe-down?

A: Invent Cranberry-Apple Mincemeat Pie, of course. Don't forget the Pie Crust Scrap Cookies; you know how the kids love those. The filling tasted great; we'll see what the ladies at the Relief Society's Pot Luck and Pow-Wow think.

Q: What do you do when autodidacticism fails you?

A: Swallow your pride and hire a consultant.

Let me explain the second Q&A.

My grandmother was an amazing automath. When she wanted to learn how to do something new, she would simply check books out of the library and teach herself by reading and doing. She made her own saddles. She designed and built her own deck and greenhouse. She learned how to decorate wedding cakes, then had a very successful side business for years as she honed that skill to high art.

Though she took enormous satisfaction in these accomplishments, she never succumbed to vanity. If we ever complimented her excellent cooking or baking, for example, she would scoff good-naturedly, saying, "If you can read, you can cook."

Watching her, I learned that if you wanted to do something, you gathered the necessary information, then plunged in and just did it. Grandma's process has worked well for me over the course of my life. I've sewn, I've sown; I've made cheese and rendered lard. But recently, I hit a brick wall.

A couple of years ago, I read a great book about permaculture and got very excited about employing its principles on our little third of an acre. Sometimes called 'forest gardening,' permaculture is an agricultural system that seeks to work with nature, not against it, in the production of food crops. The permaculturist mimics nature's systems as closely as possible, hoping for maximum output (food) with minimum input (work). It's a method that attempts to recreate Eden here in the Lone and Dreary World. Here's a quote from Toby Hemenway:

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define in a sound-bite. Here's one way to describe it: If you think of natural building, sustainable agriculture, solar energy, graywater recycling, consensus process, and the like as tools, then permaculture is the toolbox that helps organize those tools and suggests how and when to use them.

I've made various plans for our land since we moved here almost six years ago, amending them as I have worked in the yard and as I have read more books on garden philosophy and design. Hemenway's book pulled all of my dreams into one overarching concept, so I got to work trying to make a new plan incorporating new ideas such as the use of plant guilds, a mandala design to increase the edge factor, and the unique characteristics of our little microclimate.

I got stuck. It was too big; I couldn't get my mind around it all. Figuring I just needed more data, I bought a couple of very technical permaculture textbooks and studied them. I got stuck again; I just could not pull everything together. Then we renovated the house last year, and I had to abandon any thoughts of work on the yard.

Last fall, while reading a magazine that focuses on green building, I came across an ad for the services of Ethan Zickler, a permaculture landscape designer who lives not too far from us. Perfect, I thought. In a flash, I humbly recognized that I needed to bring in reinforcements if I wanted the permaculture thing to happen.

Last September, Ethan came out and consulted with me. He spent an hour listening to my desires and ideas, then walked around our property for a long time making sketches. Realizing that we couldn't do much over the winter, we agreed to touch base again in the early spring.

The other day I met with him so that he could show me what he had come up with for our yard. I about fell over when I saw it. Ethan is both experienced and gifted. One one large, well-drawn map, I saw all the concepts I'd tried to conquer seamlessly integrated into a Master Plan.

I like to be self-sufficient; it's hard for me to accept help from other humans. But I am grateful for the lesson learned: drawing upon the gifts of others can enhance and expand your own. Our property is now bountiful and pleasing to the eye on paper. I can't wait to run with Ethan's plan and make it a reality.



When I went out to get the mail, the air felt like a caress, not a brutal slap. The Mets open their Spring Training schedule tomorrow, playing the Detriot Tigers down in Port Sainte Lucie. Though we are still wrapped in a (mushy) coverlet of white, spring is on its away!

Which means it's time to start some seeds. Not all of them--I won't start the tomatoes and the asparagus for another two weeks, and the bulk of the things I'm planting this year should be direct-seeded in the garden after the last frost (usually around Mother's Day where we are).
Here's what I planted today: rhubarb, huckleberries, bunching onions, artichokes, and cardoons. Just the smell of the planting mix (peat moss, vermiculite, etc.) brought a little breath of April into the kitchen.
My planting tray will sit on a heating mat until the seeds germinate. Then I'll take the humidity lid off and set up my grow light (just a fluorescent shop light on chains from Home Depot), so the seedlings will get 16 hours of cool light per day. I'm determined to avoid the dreaded Damping-Off Disease this year, as I've suffered heartbreaking losses in years past. Vigilance! Air circulation! These will be my watchwords.
Would anyone like the rest of my seeds? The packets usually contain far more than any normal gardener can use in a season. One can save the seeds in the fridge for next year, but I like to try new varieties every spring. I'd love for the remainder of this year's lot to have a good home; let me know, and I'll get them to you.