Hot, tired, sweaty…and so sweet

“June has been more like August,” she writes, as the air conditioner kicks on for the 15th time this morning and the thermometer heads toward 87 with 11,000% humidity.

Sounds like the makings of a great story, huh?

Better than: “We’ve mulched our brains out the past few weeks — first a truckload of smelly, magical mushroom manure and then 4 truckloads of dark, delicious, wonderfully woodsy mulch.”

Both are true. I hope I burned a lot of calories, at least, because there wasn’t much time for regular walks or other workouts. (There was, however, plenty of time for burgers, wings, beer at the bar, and DQ Blizzards.)

It’s probably the most fun we have working all year. We love working outside and transforming the garden — the biggest project we’ve done with no “before” pictures to show our progress. But we know, and that’s all that matters.

Have a look — 5 years, 70 shrubs, and at least 150 perennials after we started, it’s starting to look like a real garden.

A few add-ons and highlights this year…

Mike created this holder for my upside-down tomato buckets from leftover wood from the swingset we dismantled a few years back (it still needs a coat of stain).  Wouldn’t you know, though, all the tomatoes (yours too) are in peril from the tomato blight again this year. Our neighbor reported that while she was off work last week (she’s a garden center manager at Wal-Mart), the store had to destroy all of its tomato plants because they had blight. She sprayed her plants yesterday (that’s her awesome veggie garden in the background of the driveway border, 3 pix up). I”m still trying to decide what to do. I’d hate to lose all this hard work.

We also went a little crazy at the concrete statuary store — nice items at nice prices.

I love Gregory, our new gargoyle, and his new pedestal, which is filling the gap between the mountain laurel and the azalea where the burning bush up and died a couple years ago. (Mike thinks the pedestal needs something bigger. I think the pedestal is fine, but maybe Gregory should sit sideways to show off his cute little butt!)

I also really liked The Frog Prince…so regal.

And I just couldn’t resist the Tweedles (Dee and Dum). (My sister said they looked like Jiminy Cricket or grasshoppers or something…sheesh.)

We’ve even had some pleasant surprises. I moved this hydrangea from the shade garden last fall after years of nothingness, and look…actual blooms! I’ve heard people say it’s been a great year for hydrangeas — guess they love all the rain and heat.

I can believe it, because this hydrangea appeared in back of our shed out of nowhere! I’m always thrilled with any volunteers, but we’ve never had anything like this.

Also, after having admired succulents in living wreaths and living walls for years, I tried my hand at planting some in our concrete planters. Very different from colorful annuals, and no telling how/if they’ll survive over the winter, but I really like them.

Finally, I always like a little “before and after.” Remember back in April when we worked hard to banish the heavy clay that turns the area next to the garage into the Dead Zone?

That was then…

This is now…

It’s amazing what 2 months — and Mother Nature — can do…plants and gardens are truly miracles.

Now (yawn!) we are feeling like resting on our laurels for a while — all we want to do is hang out, drink lattes and wine and margaritas and beer and… enjoy the (blurry) view. Of course, that doesn’t bode well for the REST of the house and projects in need of the same level of attention and TLC.

But those’ll have to wait. At least until the current bumper crop of blossoms goes by and the wilty summer doldrums set in. For now, I’m enjoying what has always been this chintz-lovin’-flower-fanatic-cottage-dwelling-wannabe’s biggest motivation to garden: being able to walk outside my door, wander around the yard a bit, and come back with this…for free!

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.
~ Emma Goldman

Dirty secrets

I call the gardening category on my blog “Heavy Clay.” A nod of respect to the arch-enemy of every garden I’ve ever tried to dig. My nemesis. My foe. My Penguin, Riddler, and Joker all rolled up into one massive clump. Heavy clay, I’m sure, is what keeps me from having one of those magazine-worthy gardens. Most of all, it keeps me humble. Very humble.

The area around our garage would be the heavy clay burial ground, if heavy clay had a special place to go and die like the elephants in Tarzan movies. It looks innocent enough on the surface (mulch makes any dirt look good). In fact, it’s home to some of the nicest shrubs we inherited when we bought the place — a couple azalea, a rhodie, and even a beautiful mountain laurel. I’ve featured them before…

I’ve also planted many perennials in front of them in the last few years. Coral bells, spiderwort, astilbe, lamium. Things would do OK the first year, but then limp along or give up completely after that. I don’t think one of the plants in the foreground of the middle picture above is still living (even after I moved them out of the dead zone).

I’ve always known the deaths have been the work of my nemesis (my foe, my Penguin, Riddler, and Joker all rolled up in one massive clump). Over the years, every time I’ve stuck my shovel in the ground anywhere along the garage, I’ve thrown away the chunks of clay it unearthed and replaced it with real dirt.

Clearly, it hasn’t been enough.

Yesterday, after seeing my latest attempts — lady’s mantle, coreopsis, and some remaining astilbes — struggling, I got more serious about de-claying.

It wasn’t pretty. It was sweaty. It was back-breaking. And we needed to find a place to dump the evidence. On a lot as small as ours, that’s not easy to do.

Given that someone purchased the wreck next door, what used to be a convenient dumping ground is no more. So “behind the holly trees” — our 3-foot swath of destruction — was pressed into service again. Right next to the mound of cut stone we plan to use somewhere, someday, and the rickety bench we pulled off the deck before we resurfaced it last year and can’t burn because it’s made of outdoor lumber.

It doesn’t look like much effort went into it, but I couldn’t even manage the wheelbarrow loads of clay myself; Mike had to do it. This pile is, I dunno, 8 loads or more? Incredibly heavy stuff.

The upside is that the compost pile we started in the far corner yielded enough “good dirt” to replace the garbage I dug out. The caps and t-shirts are right: Compost really does happen.

So, with several loads of bad stuff out, and several loads of good stuff in, I can only hope these poor plants will finally flourish.

Well, maybe not flourish — I’m not a gardener who seems able to make things flourish. But at least maybe they’ll breathe a little easier. Surely easier than me — today, every breath is a little painful. But also a little sweet. Another small step in my years-long vendetta against heavy clay.

When you have done your best for a flower, and it fails,
you have some reason to be aggrieved.
~ Frank Swinnerton

When the country invades the suburbs

My mother-in-law just gave me a few issues of a magazine I’d never heard of before, Country Woman. It’s full of everything I like — crafts, gardening, cooking, stories real and imagined — a lot of content and not a lot of ads. It’s a nice find.

But I’m really only a country wannabe (and I’m not really even sure I’d wannabe full-time — maybe just on the weekends or over the summer — I do love a good trip to Marshall’s or T.J.’s or Target or Lowe’s, after all).

And lately, life in the ‘burbs has gotten a little too country-like for my tastes — as in a little too furry and squatty and gnawing.

It all started when every beautiful red and white blossom disappeared from every one of my petunias on the deck in the backyard. That was back in May or so. I gave up and the pots have pretty much looked like this all summer.



It continued with random gnawings of numerous perennials in bud or bloom. Like this Centaura (cornflower).


Oh, I had seen the culprit many times — a fat, happy groundhog that my husband and neighbor “rescued” from being trapped in the basement next door at the abandoned house.


Who, without so much as a please or thank-you, promptly took up residence under our shed.


It was a back yard thing. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was life.

* * * * * * * * * *

But then the petunias I loved so much in the pots on the front porch started disappearing.

And, mysteriously, my coneflowers started looking like this.

white coneflower

At first I didn’t think anything of it. I’d forgotten I’d even had this white one, and I figured it was just stunted or something.

But then, I noticed this…


And this.


(I guess the leaves on the stems are the tastiest thing this side of spring mix.)

Then, last week, I actually caught a glimpse of him (or her) as I rounded the corner down the driveway. Just that quick, gone. After looking around in amazement at the vanishing act, I figured s/he had found a vacation home. (The same one likely recently occupied by our slithering visitor.)


This relocation was perhaps prompted by Mike and I. We were sitting on the deck in a rare moment of relaxation last week when we noticed the shed doors being bumped open from the inside.

A hasty recon mission (i.e., pull open door; jump back) led to this find in the back corner.


Yup. Evidently our squatty friend had grown weary of living in the basement and moved on up to the big house. Where the livin’ is easy and the sunflower seed (for the birds) flows and flows.


A few heavy rocks later, the “back staircase” was closed up. (No doubt a new one is under construction.)

But now what’s this? Retaliation perhaps?

I just planted these blasted mums (to replace the destroyed petunias) last night. Within 12 hours…a warning shot.


Notice those bare stems at 12:00 o’clock? They used to be burgundy mums like at 6:00.

Well played, little foe, well played.

How wicked. How subtle. How “I’ll be back” of you.

So will I, my little beastie. So will I.

* * * * * * * * * *

Hello Havahart trap just waiting in my mother’s basement.

Let’s see how you like a nice salad of carrots and celery. Maybe a little peanut butter on the side.

And let’s just see how you like relocating to your new home.

Miles and miles away.

In a field.

In the country.

Where you belong.

To be continued…

Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice.
Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.
~ Samuel Johnson

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