Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gardens: The madness of Perfection verses Imperfection

                                               I had that dream again...
                                               Andee in his nifty little artist beret
                                               with brush betwixt his teeth
                                               in the golden full moon light
                                               scampering up that huge maple
                                               towering above yard next door
                                               painting an O for obnoxious
                                               on just one dainty green leaf
                                               an O from brush dipped
                                               in a bit of concentrated Round Up -
                                               and as time passed from summer
                                               to fall to winter to spring...
                                               that giant ever so slowly
                                               dried up into lovely firewood
                                               as we drank a toast to the last
                                               of those zillion sapling babies
                                               we chopped, dug and whacked
                                               from our yard each of the
                                               twenty-one previous years.
                                               ...just a dream for now.

It's a bit of an understatement to casually say my gardens are slightly waterlogged.  My soil resembles silly putty, and rain runoff down the street challenges the Mississippi River.  Zoe swears a pair of little green frogs camped out under the deck table during that last straight line wind/rain deluge we had, most likely weary of blender ice crunching speed slushy waters in their smallish pond.

Everything in yard must be anchored down by roots or man made conglomerations to withstand anything short of a tornado, as horizontal winds and rains are not that uncommon of an occurrence here.  Backyard swing canopy was banished to the trash can, and heavy concrete blocks were braced against swing legs to smother all attempts of it ever becoming airborne, and crashing once again into that huge rebar trellis jutting out of dual planters on patio.  Trellis did manage to halt the airborne swing with no damage to trellis, but who wants to try for a second chance of it landing on the neighbor's roof.  

Wild Geranium

Allegheny Spurge

This huge trellis that spans the large planters on patio has a pattern to the way it was put together.  Sunk to the depth of the planters, it spans both planters, each piece held in place by pure pressure against other pieces.  Measurements were exact (hahaha), and I was working just off the top of my head with the idea of how the finished product would look.  Ask me now how I managed to make it all come together as one, I honestly couldn't tell you...just pure luck, I guess.  I could never do that type of work now, as my hands aren't strong enough anymore.  I do wire the joints with copper wire when all is as it should be, just for safety's sake; but that trellis was the second rebar project, and it has been only half wired for a decade now.  Hasn't budged an inch even with the swing slamming into it.  It is home to a group of native passion flower vines; although, I do have to leave the dead winter stems in place, so it can climb back up in late spring, as the rebar is a little too thick for it's tendrils.

A carolina wren house hangs from it, an english (house) sparrow claimed it, and babies chirping fills the air.  I'll be cleaning that nest box out after birds have fledged and tucking it into a corner of the garage.  I'm giving up with the nest boxes and feeders for a few years, as the english sparrows have taken over my yard, and I need to be rid of them.  Nothing is immune to the english sparrow, the bad boy of non-native birds, and a double dose headache for me.  He will nest anywhere, bird box, no bird box, loves the ones that are built to repel him, he's a robber of other bird boxes that already have inhabitants...he's an all around please-take-it-back present to the US that a homesick dude with no proper sense of native habitat saddled us with.  I live with them, as I haven't reached the point where I am comfortable killing them.  We are allowed to kill them, as they are not native song birds, and many bluebird trail managers do just that, as they are one of the main reasons all eastern bluebirds were on the verge of extinction the later part of the last century. 


mild sweet fragrance

A walkway arbor was my first project, basically put together the same way as trellis.  Sunk about three feet into the clay's going nowhere.  It does need the copper wiring to keep the top bars from rolling off the edge, but it also has lasted forever without any movement.  A large grapevine adorned it until a few years ago when it up and died a quick silent death.  Now it's just clematis and two wren houses, one of which is always occupied by a house wren come summer.

Second trellis spans about one fourth the length of the back fence, with the notion of blocking the neighbor behind us out of our view when using the patio; but the grape vine is a slow one to mature, so it is still pretty airy back there.  The idea is to wrap the limbs loosely the length of top and keep it pruned to let downward branches block the view.  

Lily of the Valley  'Fortin's Giant'
beautiful fragrance

Hosta 'Halcyon'

Yellow Trillium, Columbine, Jacob's Ladder

Yellow Trillium

Mr. Dandy Lion

Backyard stepping stone pathway from patio to the side fence line is in reality a dry river bed, which turns into a raging river when it rains.  It was set up this way to divert rain runoff from slamming against the backside of our home.  Termite inspections kept yielding the same dampness results under house, so rain water was diverted also by blocking half of the patio with steps up and over a low concrete block wall sending that water down the driveway to street instead of under the back deck.

We purchased our home during dry weather, and after the first rain, the cable man told us we had a swimming pool underneath.  The drainage pipe opened to underneath house and the street, but RotoRooter could not unblock the obstruction, forcing us to find the contractor still working in the area.  Digging a trench from street to house revealed a three foot section of drainage pipe from street, and a three foot section of drainage pipe from house, and the rest of the distance in between was pure clay soil.

Complicated business working with so many problems that should never have existed in the first place. 

Fragrant Sumac

Wild Hyacinth

Flowering Dogwood  'Appalachian Spring'


Glossy Black Chokeberry

Multiple bird houses can co-exist on a property that's not large, if you choose birds to attract that are compatible with each other and remove all the feeders.  An overcrowded yard of birds constantly visiting feeders will most likely ruin any attempts of nesting.  What are birds that are compatible with each other?  The ones that don't kill each other.

Nature has a way of grounding your feet in reality when native wildlife gardening.  She's not always double rainbows, sweet sticky lollipops, and colorful yummy gumdrops.   Last year I cleaned out a bluebird box after the english sparrow family had fledged, and was disappointed beyond all disappointment that there was another nest under the english sparrow's nest that had three dead baby bluebirds in it.  Year before last when no more activity was coming from the chickadee nest box, I found the dead female on her nest of eggs.  The native house wren is the only other bird that can fit through that small hole sized for chickadees, so it is a good conclusion that one was the perpetrator of the death.

Don't get me wrong, as I do have good birds that fledge in this yard every year.  It's the ones using bird boxes that are in need of being monitored closely every day, and their survival in my gardens is as good as I choose to make it.  It really is a dog eat dog world out there; truly survival of the luckiest and most aggressive.  Takes a little hardening of the heart, and a cast iron stomach to accept nature as she really is.  In the old, old days everyone knew how nature was, now days not so many do.

Pesty plants
that are taking over my gardens

Spring Vetch

Catbrier - monster vine

The Cleavers Plant  - Velcro Plant
Every flower becomes a burr seed

At last count, close to five years ago, 172 species of plants inhabited this yard.  As a Master Gardener, I even had a map, used for my garden tours, of the entire front and back yard with all plants listed and their areas within the gardens identified.

Adversity met me head on in the beginning when gardens were first being converted to native plants.  People would yell at me out of their car windows when they drove by, screaming at me to mow the whole damn thing down.  I even had someone send the health department to check up on me, claiming I had too much vegetation.  I guess mother nature's friends don't ever live in the suburbs.  Health department didn't know what to write up or what to tell me, as they saw nothing wrong with it all.  Advised me to remove all seed heads first of winter, it would be void of all natural bird food, beneficial insects would be evicted from their winter homes, my yard would be more like everyone else's yards; therefore, no more complaints.  I left the bird food alone, but began to work on giving it more of the appearance of a city park.  People did stop by who adored it, and requested tours of the gardens.

If I could go back in time and live life over again here, would I have changed anything?  Of course I would!  I would have started native wildlife gardening from the very beginning.  I love sitting out in the wilds with a cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast before me, fresh breezes caressing my face, bird songs filling my head, butterflies, dragonflies, and bees always in house, and perhaps a glimpse of a bunny or two, while I eat amidst all this flowery green.  I don't see how it can get much better than this, even though at times I whine a bit too much about all the pain it is to my patootie.


Azalea 'My Mary'
fragrance of cloves and beeman's pepsin chewing gum

Coral Honeysuckle

I have a passion to document everything that blooms or comes into its own in my native wildlife gardens this year...hopefully my friends will not weary of this seemingly endless barrage of photos :)  Previous garden posts this year now have plant photos labeled, if anyone gives two hoots.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ms. PAMO and Zoe

Thanks to PAMO's brave jump into her world of poetry, I decided to take on the challenge of creating a SIMPLE cartoon.  Went with whatever popped into my cluttered noggin, and cats seem to be a permanent part of my mentality.  Used my graphite pencil too firmly against paper, so the ghost lines seem to not be poofing away any time sooner or later :(  Decided to quit playing with it, and just post the dang thing.  I already have an idea for a more complicated second drawing of Miss Zoe, as she's the one with the most demented versatile personality of my three fuzzy misfits.  After I find a larger eraser, I'm settling in to see if this was just a one night stand, or if another drawing will manifest itself before next Christmas.  Wish me luck, break a leg, or whatever.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Panama: 1985 (Part 2)

Panama City - low tide

Tides have such an extreme control over beauty.  Muddy flats low tide and cloudy waters high tide on Pacific side of the isthmus, and crystal clear breathtaking reefs on the Atlantic side.  Mosquitoes ruled the evenings...those little black nightmares came out of hiding each night if I ventured a bit from the center of the city.  Outdoor dinner parties were more than people parties...those ominous little insect helicopters were already invading before I could even put that first tidbit of scrumptious food between my teeth, and probably more time was spent watching and swatting mosquitoes than talking to dinner guests.

Old Panama City area

Cats were everywhere downtown!  Let me rephrase that...multitudes of sick hungry cats were a permanent part of the downtown landscape.  It was heartbreaking and gruesome.  Dogs fared well if the rich owned them, fared not so well if the Americans bought the ones sold by the poor at the post entrances, fared hellish if they were served up on the dinner table.  Rats managed the most lucrative business of all.  Panama boasted about the quality of pure water in the city (due to the US), while rats grew huge eating the garbage on the streets.  The poor lived in six foot wide apartments lined in rows on the back streets, almost every one of them sporting a television antenna.  What a sight to behold...such contradictions or perhaps odd priorities.

Browsing through a shop in the old section of Panama, my San Fran buddy and I were making our selections when abruptly the front of shop roller bar pull down barrier slammed shut with a crash of metal hitting concrete.  Yelling came from various locations on the street, and our Panamanian guide left us to see what was actually happening.  We tried not to think of him never coming back, but eventually he did return, quietly taking us to our parked car and whisking us away.  Election time violence frequently erupted on the streets, and all smart people managed to vanish quickly.  I was fortunate to visit many sections of the city that no American should ever go alone if money, camera, and perhaps life is of value to ones self.  I could do this accompanied by a male Panamanian, as he was my safety net, and no one bothered me while he was in the picture.          

Old Panama City extremely small apartments

Old Panama City street vendors

Street vendors, black market vendors, lottery ticket sellers

San Fran buddy and I met a variety of Americans at our hotel, and a chance meeting in an elevator with some strange comments flying our way, led to an invite to an embassy party later that week.  We considered this guy's remarks oddball in the kindest sense, and after being clued in on what goes on at those embassy parties, decided to sit it out in our rooms watching gibberish we couldn't understand on the televisions.  Bored...we joined a trip to the San Blas Islands on the Atlantic side.  Flew over the isthmus in a 12 passenger plane...just big enough to not feel like we were gambling our life away on a game of chance. 

San Blas Islands - Atlantic Ocean

Boarded a boat from that postage stamp landing strip to the 'hotel' on the largest of the islands, stopping at little islands here and there to take short walking trips into the villages where authentic original hand stitched molas were still being sold to the tourist.My Panamanian friends had already instructed me in the art of picking out quality molas...mostly by buying the old ones that were originally the front and almost matching back of clothing that was later cut out and sold as art to rich tourist.  If you collected, you bought the pair, not just the front or back.  And it was all about bargaining.  You were expected to bargain.  You were a bit of an idiot if you didn't, and the island Indians were just that much richer.

Kuna Indian of San Blas Islands -
enterprising individuals...
For each photo I took
I had to pay the subject or subjects
of the photos one dollar each

Kuna Indian Mola

What an eye opener, our 'hotel'...primitive was a gross understatement!  A huge pond was in the courtyard full of lobsters that would be our dinner.  Late afternoon had this thing plopped across my plate hanging over the edges staring at me with dead eyes.  My San Fran buddy and I had an interesting messy comical time trying to figure out where the hell were the parts you could actually eat on a lobster.

The hotel room was wood slats with one half inch spaces between them of pure air, so privacy was a joke.  Bathroom water was pumped right out of that salty ocean, so not much washing was done, except sea water and tooth paste...uckarooie!  No electricity...sundown was bedtime, hahahahaha!  Breakfast found us sitting with a couple and their children, the ambassador and his family from the Netherlands.  The minute their knowledge grew to include that we were US government employees, we were viewed as spies...I suppose working for the CIA.  We could not shake this attitude for the remainder of our stay at this 'hotel', and we vowed never ever any time sooner or later in our lifetime in Panama to tell anyone anything except that we were tourist from the US.  Paranoia seemed to be quite normal here.

After breakfast, the ambassador invited us to join them in a trip to one of the nearby islands for a day on the beach.  While twiddling our thumbs was an optional exercise we could chose that day, we ultimately decided to join the Netherlands ambassador, who knew we worked for the CIA, on his little family outing.  I swear that hired boat and boatman took us twenty miles out into the ocean and dropped us off on a bit of land and disappeared into the horizon.

Not wanting to be grilled any longer about our mission to the isthmus, we separated from the ambassador, my San Fran buddy and I, staking out our own little portion of the beach.  There are things out there in that forever spans of ocean that munch on humans, so I am strictly a beach person.  What a crock...we were twiddling our thumbs anyway with sigh after sigh after sigh.  Okay, a walk around the hour later we were back at point one.  The island was void of life except green stuff...if that boatman didn't return we were toast.  Not to worry, the ambassador was our insurance of an eventual return.

The next two nights we tried to avoid everyone - after all, since we were CIA, they would just think it was part of our mission.  Thank goodness for books we brought, and conversations between the two of us on that covered veranda with the ocean lapping at our feet, and flying fish popping out of the green clear water once in a while.  My San Fran buddy enlightened me in one of those conversations of his being stopped four times so far in his travels outside the city, and paying $20 bribes each time.  I guess I was the lucky one (no bribes), as this was an all too common practice from enterprising police and military.       

San Blas Islands Hotel and houses

Army base jobs for my San Fran buddy and I were extended into four month - gorgeous flute player boyfriend said I was deliberately trying to sabotage the affair and flew out of my life, and my San Fran buddy found a boy friend and totally abandoned me.  From day one, my mornings started with a lovely cup of cappuccino, REAL cappuccino, and usually a heart attack breakfast.  I read Scientific American in those days, had it laying on the counter of the hotel restaurant as I ate before driving to work; and was picked up with a line something like 'I notice you're reading Scientific American, and I am so tire of talking with bubble headed women, may I take you out to dinner tonight?'  It worked, and I had a disco dancing partner for the remainder of my Panama days, a contractor who during the daytime installed radar sites.  

A Bit of Jungle

Ask me if I miss driving where rules do not apply, where at a left turn to cross a busy intersection two cars line up beside me to cross over at the same time into one lane...if I miss dry cleaning my blue jeans because the Panama laundries cook clothing to death, and hand wash never ever dries in all that humidity...if I miss a cicada's song drowning out the conversation of the person standing right next to me yelling to drown out the cicada song...if I miss starving on all my tour trips cause we aren't allowed to eat the fly infested beef roast that has been sitting on the carving board in that open air stand in 90 degree heat for the entire day, so it's just lunch of soft drinks with the cap popped off and rim wiped extra clean...if I miss being told to keep all parts of me safely tucked into the two passenger canoe, cause it's white shark territory we're crossing......not on your life!  It was a different experience, did that, saw that, took photos of it all.  Would I do it again?  Actually, I did do it again, but that is another time and another story; and if I had had a choice, I would have shouted out at the top of my lungs...NO NO NO!!!

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