Location, location, location

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I was poking around out back today, looking for tomatoes I might possibly have missed (that tomato blight thing seems to have invaded; I suppose I should be grateful it waited until the harvest was about done, though I also suppose I need to take some steps to keep it from reappearing next year) when I found a big, three-foot-tall stand of this–wild white asters–hiding behind the azalea. Nominally, at least, this is a weed, so if it had been in a more accessible spot, I would have ruthlessly yanked it out long before it got to this stage. But you know, it’s kind of pretty. It’s right next to a couple of romaine lettuce plants that I’ve also let go for way too long; they’re now about five feet high. I don’t imagine the flowers they put out will be anything to write home about. But sometimes weeds can be interesting, and at least they’re still trying for me, which is more than I can say for the petunias in my hanging baskets, which I yanked out this morning after noticing they were all crackly and brown. Also still trying, very hard: nasturtiums, making a great final run of it. I know they’ll turn into a gross sodden mass of blobby death come the first frost, but for now, I’m picking bouquets every few days.

All of which reminds me yet again that a weed is just a flower with the misfortune to be growing where it isn’t wanted. Poor things. Gardeners got by for eons without Gerbera daisies and mandevilla from South Africa, eh?

Photo by Neil916.

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Standing strong

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Painting the bedroom has, naturally, required 18,000 trips to Home Depot (I gotta make better lists), which has given me 18,000 opportunities to look over the autumnal offerings in the plant center and be tempted by them. I almost fell yesterday for Coreopsis ‘Red Shirt,’ which is the prettiest pale butter-yellow with a maroony-red splotch in the center. And today the echinacea were all making eyes at me. They were the kind I especially love, where the cones get all long and sort of out of proportion but look really cool anyway. I’m not a fan of purple, but I love the combination of echinacea’s purple and the orange-red cone. The fact is–and I reminded myself of this repeatedly–echinacea don’t do well in my garden; I’ve never had one come back for a second year. And I already have coreopsis all over the place, though not, granted, such pretty coreopsis as ‘Red Shirt’ (plus I think the name is really clever and très sportif).

But beyond all that, Home Depot was asking $15 a pot for those puppies, and I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on a plant. Well, okay, maybe when I had a gift certificate, but not of my own hard-earned cash. I decided to put the money toward my spring-bulb order (which I still have not sent off, as I am dithering over daffodils, and just watch, once I do finally decide, they’ll be sold out!). So I am feeling very virtuous, even though painting the bedroom, what with paint, a new brush, pan liners, new outlet covers, new window blinds (I’m putting the old ones in the recycling bin and hoping they’ll take them), new curtain rods, new curtains, and a new laundry hamper, since I couldn’t very well have the old ratty one in my pretty new room, has cost a lot more than it should have. Except for my labor. Which I donated for free!

And it’s done! I love when a job like that is done. And I love the photo above.

Photo by Bruce Marlin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license

Just passing through

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Throughout most of the summer, I have purple (really red) finches and sparrows at my bird feeder in the backyard, with the occasional feisty squirrel and greedy grackle. But this time of year, I get a lot of unusual visitors, as birds pass through on their pilgrimages south for the winter. I’m not really very skilled at birds–that’s one reason I love goldfinches so much; because I can tell them apart from the rest of the birds that visit my yard. Most of those birds, though, seem to be … well, small and brown. I have a bird book, divided into helpful sections by color, but once I start looking at the pictures of the brown birds, they all sort of blur together. (And I can’t reach my bird book today because the bookshelf it sits on is blocked by another, empty bookcase that came out of the bedroom, which I’m busy repainting, and the woodwork took three freaking coats of paint (Jill, I’m bleeding over into home renovations here, aren’t I? Sorry, no turf war intended!), even though it WAS white and I’m PAINTING it white, which shows you how long it’s been since that room was painted … at least 18 years, since that’s how long we’ve lived here. Why do I live with ugly off-white paint for 18 years? Because painting is such a pain in the arse. Well, not the painting, actually, just the scraping and … wow, I am completely off topic now. Time for a new paragraph.

Anyway! Today I took a break from painting to make some coffee, and as I stood in the kitchen waiting for the pot to drip through, I heard the most unusual bird song/call from the backyard. So of course I looked out the window, and saw, in the forsythia and in the rosebushes and amongst the sunflowers, a wide variety of small brown birds, and of course I couldn’t tell which of them was singing that unusual song. But it was kind of neat to think that my visitor had found my feeder full of sunflower seeds, and appreciated the snack on his/her way to the Bahamas or Ecuador or whatever tropical paradise awaits him/her, and was repaying me the only way he/she could–with that song.

The photo’s of a titmouse. I just like saying “titmouse.”

Photo by KenThomasUS.

How’s that?

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I don’t really understand how the Internet works–I’m still puzzled by the telephone and electricity in general–but there’s some soft of function here at WordPress that tells me what the “top searches” are that lead people to Lavender & Larkspur each day. And I just wanted to share with you that the second “top search” for today is “Slut in wet sweatsuit.” This despite the fact that I’ve never written about sluts or wet sweatsuits on here, ever. No wonder I don’t understand how the Internet works.

Somehow I feel I should post a really, really pretty picture to make up for having burdened you with that information. Today my Best Gardening Friend, Ruth, and I took our lunches to the side of a nearby lake and ate while we watched some ducks and a loon entertain themselves. It wasn’t quite this autumnal yet … but it is getting there! Of course, it’s also about 85 degrees out right now, with 96 percent humidity, so it feels like August; it just looks like September.

Photo by Peter Rufi.

The last rose

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I love the way my rosebushes always seem as reluctant to give up on summer as I am. Even when their leaves are falling, they manage to push out a few more blooms. And of course, I’m able to appreciate these final few flowers far more than the waves of blossoms that engulf them in June. And when their petals fall, it’s as sad as the scene in Beauty and the Beast where the last few petals fall from the Beast’s rose, signifying that he’s doomed never to return to human form.

Man, I love that movie, especially the final scene where Beast dies on the castle parapet and then slowly rises up into the air and turns back into the handsome prince. My kids know this is my favorite movie (and what an undignified favorite movie it is, compared to, say, something by Bergman or Kurosawa or even Clint Eastwood!). They gave me the special anniversary edition for Christmas a few years back. Beast was luckier than we’ll be. When the last petals fall off the last rose in my garden—and chances are it will be Reine des Violettes, a big, blowsy girl with deep purple blossoms and a heavenly fruity scent—there will be no last-minute miracles; we’ll have to wait another half a year or more until the beauty returns.

Rosa “Charles de Mills” photo by Amada Slater. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.

Rat-whacker

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As I was mowing my side yard the other day, my next-door neighbor, Julio, came out of his house and started apologizing to me. I may have noticed, he said, that some of my plants along the side were broken or hurt. I looked a little harder at the bed that runs along the house, and sure enough, the chrysanthemums and toad lilies and pernacious myrtle did look a little stressed.

Julio went on to explain that a few days earlier, when he’d been weed-whacking his lawn, he saw a rat in the side yard, and naturally, being a guy, had pursued it with the weapon he had at hand, said weapon being, of course, his weed-whacker. And in trying to weed-whack the rat, he further explained, he’d done some damage to my plants, for which he was very sorry.

I waved him off, told him not to worry about it, and it’s true, nothing appeared to have suffered much damage, with the exception of my beloved King Tut papyrus, which had had its biggest, greenest, billowy-est head whacked off. But the more I thought about it, the more glad I was that Julio hadn’t been more successful in weed-whacking the rat (if indeed it was a rat. I’ve seen plenty of mice in my yard, and voles, and a possum once or twice, and rabbits, but never a rat. Still, when pressed, Julio seemed very certain it had been a rat). I can only imagine the damage would have been much worse if rat and whacker had connected, with blood and guts liberally sprinkled throughout the yard, which is probably exactly what Julio was hoping to effect.

Men and their toys are so dangerous.

My little cabbage-head

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For anyone who never had French 101, the above heading is (or so our teachers told us) a form of endearment; in French, it’s “mon petit choux-choux,” and it’s like saying, “My honey-pie” or “My sweetie-kins” or whatever revolting term you use to refer to your spouse when you want to see your children cringe. I was thinking of cabbage heads today because I went to visit my sister and took her for a long drive in the country. Not much happening in gardens anymore out there, I’m sorry to report. A few lusty-looking marigolds, some begonias, the stray tithonia and a few random rose blossoms that always seem to come out late in the summer. But the nurseries we passed were all chock-full of chrysanthemum plants, because this time of year one has to have chrysanthemum plants, and also of ornamental cabbages, because … well, I don’t really know why.

The whole idea of an ornamental cabbage is bizarre to begin with. Why would anyone want to make an inedible edible plant? (I looked into this, by the way, and it’s not that ornamental cabbages are poisonous; they just don’t taste good and turn into gray slime when cooked.) Why not just grow cabbages? Or brussels sprouts, which I find extremely ornamental? But autumn is flush with this sort of nonsense; it’s when you can also buy gourds, which are inedible squashes, and pumpkins, which are inedible until Libby’s cooks them and stuffs them into cans. I speak from experience here. Pumpkin pie is my favorite pie in the world, and because I have an autumn birthday, when I was a kid I always had pumpkin pie instead of birthday cake. But one year, my mom, for a big treat, made pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin instead of from the Libby’s can. And it sucked. I mean, it really sucked. It’s hard to believe people even ate pumpkin pie before canned pumpkin existed.

So here we are in autumn, the season of harvest, time to celebrate the cornucopia of plenty, and what do we use to decorate? Inedible food.

Actually, I guess it does make a weird kind of sense. If they were tasty, we’d eat them, not arrange them for a centerpiece.

Photo by Jam343. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

A clean sweep

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This afternoon I finally made it out to the yard to see what two-plus weeks of work in the city, plus my visit to the shore, had wrought in my garden. It was not a pretty sight. I still hadn’t gotten around to mowing the lawn. The sunflowers had collapsed all over the place like college drunks. There were knee-high weeds everywhere, the beds were full of dead larkspur and calendula plants, plus the forsythia bush had gotten completely out of hand. (Don’t look at me; I didn’t plant it. I hate forsythias.) It’s a bizarre looking thing under the best of circumstances, because my next-door neighbor slashes any wayward branches that meander into her airspace, while on my side of the fence, the branches sprawl out for six feet or more. I used to keep my side long because it provided shade for Homer, but … well, I don’t have that excuse anymore. So I got out the long clippers and gave the shrub a shave.

Once that was done, I pulled all those dead plants out, removed half a ton of knotweed and crabgrass, yanked away about five linear miles of morning-glory vines (hopefully in time to keep them from self-seeding, but I doubt it), mowed, hand-clipped the edges, and made a huge mound of refuse, plus a note to myself to try to track down some yard-trash bags at Borough Hall. When I was done, I sat on my back patio with an icy-cold Fresca and admired my handiwork.

And you know, it doesn’t look bad. I can see past where the mad forsythia used to be to my two-tone sweet-potato-vine monsters (Proven Winners, those babies are on steroids!). The cleome are still lovely. I discovered four ripe tomatoes I hadn’t been able to see for the clutter, plus a couple of petunias and California poppies that I think might still put on a show this fall. I always tend to use the excuse of autumn to just give up on yardwork along about this time of year. But my backyard looks so nice right now that maybe I’ve actually turned over a new leaf!

California poppy photo by Catherine Munro. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Fool’s gold

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My chrysanthemums still show no signs of blooming anytime soon, but I’m happy to report that marigolds are picking up the slack. I didn’t buy marigolds. I never buy marigolds. I sneer at marigolds, stare down my nose at their rank commonness, their easy virtue—so easy that they can be grown from seed by any kindergartner with a paper cup and a few tablespoons of dirt.

I don’t know why I’m such a plant snob. I only know I am.

The marigolds were a Mother’s Day gift, picked out by my son and husband. (My daughter, who knows better than to get me anything as mundane as marigolds, wasn’t home for Mother’s Day this year.) They were presented to me with a flourish, six dumb little pots of perky, graceless greenery dotted with a few yellow blossoms that had neither sweet scent nor subtlety nor intricacy to recommend them. (Why is it, I wonder, that I feel such scorn for marigolds and yet adore zinnias? They aren’t all that different. And yet to me, they are.)

I stuck the marigolds in the ground, in a few empty spaces I had left in my beds. And I do mean stuck them; the holes I dug were barely big enough to contain the roots, and I didn’t bother to add compost from my trusty composter. Why fuss over marigolds? I think they’d grow in the gunk under my fingernails; that’s how easy they are.

Well. What seems scorn-worthy in the busting-with-promise days of May somehow looks a lot better along toward mid-September, when the cornflowers and poppies have long since run to seed, the phlox have caught the pox, the calendula are burnt out, the sunflowers have all been pecked to death, and the lilies and roses and clematis have given up the ghost. My six marigolds are all the size of small shrubberies, and blooming their hearts out. And you know what?

It only makes me despise them more, the sluts.

Photo by Joe Sala.

The green, green grass of home

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Yes, work’s been really busy lately. And yes, we were “down the shore” for Labor Day weekend, and yes, the weather’s been really rainy. But I’m working from home this week, and the weather’s certainly been stellar, and I’ve been whacking jobs off my to-do list, but there’s one that still lingers: MOW THE LAWN.

It’s silly, really. My lawn is the size of a postage stamp. Granted, I have a push mower (ever see one? No motor!), but even so, it only takes me about half an hour to do the mowing. And it is true that at the moment my yard is overrun with overgrown cleome and sunflowers that bop you upside the head when you try to walk amongst them. Still, I have no good excuse for not buckling down and getting the damned lawn mowed.

Except for this: It’s such a rarity for my lawn to look this good this time of year. And by “good,” I don’t mean weed-free and perfect; I simply mean green. Usually August is a month of total brown-out for grass in these parts. (And Homer and his copious amounts of urine didn’t help.) But right now, my lawn looks great: rich green, with swathes of bright emerald new growth. (Though, again, you do have to duck the cleome and sunflowers to get a good view.)

So. There MOW THE LAWN sits, on my list. It may sit there a while. There are so many other ways to spend even a half-hour this time of year–taking in a field hockey game at the high-school, repotting a few houseplants, sweeping my new front porch, baking cookies to send to my daughter at college in a surprise care package. The lawn will still be there, whenever I get to it. And if I never do get to it? Sometime along about January, there’ll be snow. 🙂

Photo by Ed Markovich.

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