The Gardens - In the Beginning

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Ant Farm


I often joke that if anyone stands too long in any one spot in my yard, they will be eaten alive by ants.  Of course, it's not really a joke...it's probably closer to the truth than anyone would care to know.  I certainly would not be sleeping on a cot at night in the middle of my patio unless I had sprayed the parameter and underneath with poisons, and I would never be placing that cot on the bare ground...never.
I do knock the little buggers off now and then with the borax meals, but I have plenty of toads and frogs that snack on these tasty morsels, so I must be very careful and covert to minimize the risk of ending my toad and frog population.  The borax comes out when the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the passion vines are being harassed by the ants living in the nearby compost bins.
It's difficult placing a plant in a freshly dug hole swarming with ants.  Sometimes waiting until they disperse works...sometimes spritzing them with a bit of pyrethrum is all that works.  It's risky business, and I've evolved to playing it precisely with perfection.  I'm so full of it ;)
As a whole, I pretty well just let ants be ants in the gardens.  The home front is a different story.  I'm boraxing ants for weeks at a time if their foraging trails lead to the walls of my home or the posts on the front porch.  I serve borax meals a lot.  It's a pain-in-the-butt.  I found out almost the hard way that structure invading ants like to snack on sick pets in the home.  I'm always on a mission to control them.
Different ant's living different ways or maybe it's the same ant's living different ways, whatever...ant expert isn't on my resume.  I just observe and sometimes act.  There are ants that will nest under a trash can lid lying on the concrete patio for too long, ants that nest on the surface of the ground underneath a leaf in the garden, ants that nest under rocks and stepping stone pathways, ants that nest in tunnels in the ground - probably the same ones that nest in the compost bins, ants that nest inside the hollow stems of plants, ants that tunnel and nest in dead wood or live wood, ants that nest in the foundation or walls of a home...you name it, there's probably an ant type that uses it.  They are an extremely opportunistic race of social insects, and my biggest migraine in wildlife gardening.
I must remain positive about my ant farm that's too big to take to any show and tell program.  I remind people that ants are both the vultures and alligators of the gardens...they go after anything dead or alive.  I try to convince myself that they are more efficient at aerating the soil than any colony of earthworms.  I refuse to believe that they are here only to give me that final tap on the forehead pushing me over the edge of sanity into the abyss of insanity every gardener toys with...you know...thinking that your work will be complete and you can enjoy the rewards of your labor before the first snowfall.


************

                                                 Dream on,
                                                 dream on,
                                                 you romantic idiot...
                                                 Reality deserted
                                                 your sinking ship
                                                 ages ago...
                                                 That glow
                                                 at the end
                                                 of all those
                                                 everlasting projects...
                                                 Just a tease
                                                 that you never
                                                 really seem
                                                 to understand.





EXTRA BITS:

Plants tucked into the gardens this year.
  • Dumbo Ears Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima)
  • Celandine Poppy
  • Eastern Bergamot (Monarda bradburiana)
  • Apple Blossom Grass (Gaura lindheimeri)
  • Pachysandra, Allegheny Spurge
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica)
  • Netted Clematis (Clematis reticulate)
  • Pitcher's Leather Flower (Clematis pitcher)
  • Purple Love Grass
  • White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
  • Button Blazing Star (Liatris squarosa)
  • "Petite Pink" Gaura lindheimeri
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Hardy Sage
  • "Munstead" Lavender
  • "Blue Star" Juniper
  • "Mother Lode" Juniper
  • "Munchkin" Oakleaf Hydrangea
  • "Little Susie" Semi dwarf native Witch Hazel



Vic's being a terrific sport about the gardens...ooops...Vic just read this and informed me that the correct praise is...Vic's being an exceptionally loving husband, removing the super aggressive native wild oat grass, Carolina rose, and tree seedlings that pop up every year and are a continuous headache...seedlings like cork branched elms, Bradford pears, Ailanthus, red maple, and something I haven't been able to identify.  The project has consumed his days for weeks and he's still at it.  I mark everything that has to go with that 3-inch wide bright yellow caution tape...it looks like a gigantic crime scene out there.  He's my hero!


The Bermuda grass is another story.  The survivors in the prairie garden pretty much hold their own against that grass that wants to choke everything demure out of existence, and it HAS killed everything in there that was a bit shy.  It's terrifically hard to keep it under control without killing everything else around it.  It's hindered a bit with dabs of Round Up, but eradication probably never will happen, as the yard to our left is the one with the Bermuda grass lawn.  I'd like to drench that lawn in a Round Up cocktail, but I'm short of funds at the moment.  Our neighbors always remember to cut their lawn only after it has seeded...BAD NEIGHBORS!



Every year the gardens change...one of the advantages or disadvantages of native gardening, as areas mature and crowd out the little guys, or new friendly seedlings need to be relocated.  Pathways succumbing to the surrounding vegetation are pruned and weed whacked back into existence, as nature rightly wants to reclaim her entire earth.  I try to harness her, and force her to live by my choices.  She's always planning and executing jail break after jail break.  She's a wild thing, and I love her; although I do try to make her semi-wild on my very small patch of ground.  It's a battle I'm losing.


Veggie Gardening Non-Deluxe

Black Cherry Tomato

Pink Brandywine Tomato

One Lonely Ice Cycle Radish


I'm traveling almost to Houston by car (don't ask), my chauffeur (husband), me, and a can of flea and tick spray...I really am.  I'm going to pester my mom a bit, and check out my younger sister and husband's digs way out in the sticks of nowhere land, I am.  Their goat farm's gone...kapoot!  Lots of work it was.  It's now chickens that pop out those eggs of green and blue.  Lots of work it isn't.  I plan to sizzle and wilt in the glory of Texas.
 

Tenacity and Fortitude



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grace and Bert


Favorite memories as a small child always focused around my mom's mother...my grandma Grace.  I loved her.  Walking down to the end of our block to her two lot yard was an adventure I anticipated with eagerness no matter how many times I made that journey.




A strip of desert sand met with a tall hedge separating the street from the yard in front of her home.  Opening the gate at the center of the hedge, I remember an open porch area where she would often sit when I was out and about in her yard.  Not a blade of grass anywhere, totally the opposite from how my dad kept his yard.  I loved the daydreams and make-believe adventures that surrounded me on each of my visits, and there were many visits.

I don't remember us ever going there as a family, but I'm sure we did.  Mom must have been there often...she loved her mom too, but I don't remember her being there.  Just grandma and me...that's the way it should be for a child, I guess...Vonnie in wonderland.  No one ever called me Yvonne as a child.




The narrow front yard I remember as two large trees; elms, I think, that overhung onto the street.  Most of the yard was the second lot and all that space beyond the back of her home.  It was all totally surrounded by a tall wood fence, except the hedge...like my own secret garden.

I remember the odor inside grandma's home as always being like beans that have soaked in a pot and are now simmering on the stove.  It may well have been the permeated stench of years of boiled bean dinners, but as a youngster, I always thought of it as the smell of old people.

A small room by the back door was always cold in winter...more like a mud room where preserves and canned goods were kept.  I never really knew what it was...it looked old fashioned, because mom and dad didn't have one.




Grandpa was a phantom in the wind.  I can't remember him ever even saying one word to me, although I'm sure he said something in all those years.  He was introverted, shy, quiet...I don't know...it's almost like he never existed until after grandma died.  They married later in life, had two sons and a daughter, and were already old at the time of my adventures in their wonderland.

The side and back yard was crammed full of peach trees and other fruit trees, berry bushes and vines...flowers, maybe...I don't remember flowers and foliage plants, but they probably were there.  The sweet intoxicating smell of a crushed golden reddish berry still haunts me in my older age.  It escapes to the surface of my memories in quiet moments, as if I am still that child holding it to my nose and drawing in the lovely smells from its juices.  My mind has never forgotten that aroma...it is my link to the past and to the best times of my childhood.




Walking about the tree trunks and bushes under the shade canopy I was a horse, my tongue clicking against the roof of my mouth mimicking trotting hoofs touching ground, neighing and nickering quietly to hide from the rest of the world and my grandma, my descent into the craziness of actually pretending to have the freedom and ways of a horse.

Whenever I ate a peach in my wonderland, grandma would crack open the shell and eat the seed.  I always remembered to hand her the pit.  I tried one...it was bitterly awful!  Later years had me concerned that I had helped poison my grandma, but as it turned out, we never came close to being that gluttonous for peaches.

I remember the garden was filled with insects, beetles and spiders...unlike that of my dad's well groomed gardens, and I knew where the black widow lived.  I couldn't help but check up on her each visit to see if she was out in the open...she was bad and she fascinated me.


Grandpa with sons Aaron Anthony and Albert Lloyd  


Far-Right:  My beautiful Mom, Helen Elizabeth


Grandma played cards with me, but I'm sure that was in winter when the gardens were bare and cold.  We sat at that round oak table, with the pedestal legs ending in bird claws holding glass balls, playing Old Maid and maybe other games...I don't really remember anymore.  Sometimes she had a lemon filling on crushed graham cracker crust icebox dessert to share with me.  It was magic whatever the season there...pure magic.


The year I wanted a garden of my very own, it ended up being at grandmas.  I set it up myself, just like I had always watched my dad setting up his vegetable gardens.  I barely have a clue of what I planted down those rows with hoed water valleys on each side in that patch of ground that was not shaded the entire day by trees.

 It's a sure bet snapdragons were there, they were my favorite of all flowers...but all I remember is peanuts and blue bachelor buttons.  Dad would check up on it sometimes with me to see what was happening...but it was all mine, and I remember feeling so proud that it flourished.


Bert and Grace
Albert, Helen, and Aaron
  

My cat, Fluffy, was born at our house in the cold frame by the side of the dining room outside wall during that period of time.  I was the one that discovered the kittens being born, rushing to grandmas to tell her and mom the news...bittersweet memories in later years when dad took her from me, because we had too many cats...but at that moment it was magic discovering how life really started for a kitten.

Growing older the visits were less, then when I was ten years old, I remember mom taking me aside and telling me that her mom was in the hospital dying from cancer, and my grandma would never be coming home.  I would never see her again.


Grace Ettabell Howell









Nathan Bert Copple


Grandpa lived six years beyond grandma's death.  I cleaned his home and washed his dishes.  I must have done laundry, but I don't remember.  Sometimes I made him that lemon icebox dessert he loved so much.  Dad walked down with me a few times, and I would hear him and grandpa talking; but words from grandpa's  lips to me were few, and I never really knew him.  He was my grandpa, and that was pretty much it.

I don't know why grandpa was found in the desert when he died.  He wondered out there, outside of our small town, and I don't even remember how he was found.  He was gone and mom hurt for a long time.  We never had much of anything of theirs to hold on to.  Mom's youngest brother and his wife took everything from the house without a word, and mom was upset for a very long time; but we always had the memories, and that had to be enough.

I still miss her to this day.  I have my Alice in Wonderland Book that was my present from her one year.  Its box cover long ago fell apart and I no longer have the pieces I saved, but my book still looks good and is always a part of her I keep with me along with the sweet fragrance of that crushed golden reddish berry that still dances in my head.

I'll always love you, grandma.


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