Saturday, April 25, 2020

How Do We Go From Here

The plants know, nine times out of ten, the right time to leaf out.  As warm as it is, as many days as it has been, those plants ill-equipped to fight off a hard freeze have survived by delayed emergence.

Many plants developed strategies for managing cold at emergence; the delicate appears tough. A dose of anthocyanin may (or may not) inhibit freezing water within young leaves of columbine.

Garlic mustard in the lowlands, where the soils are wet, show significant purple coloration where the mesic, upland colonies do not. Those in the lowlands are often frost heaved, repeatedly, as the late winter progresses to early spring. This is the best time to pull lowland garlic mustard as the frost heave aerates the underfoot, easily compressed wet soil.

There is no shortage of venturesome Old World garden plants. Besides England's Creeping Charlie, which appears to grow at length under the snow, there is Russia's loved Siberian Squill, above. Lamium maculatum is found in all corners of the world and our woods. Later in our season, the European Bellflower and Eurasian oxeye daisy. The problem isn't from whom or where these came, but how to manage what we must live with, now that it is here.

Iris reticulata, planted last November. Could these little beauties be just as versatile and productive as those already mentioned? Does the mature gardener ask why certain plants are necessary; do they seek out only those from a New World palette? How do convenience, apathy, desire, culture inform our choices? For each choice there are positive and negative consequences, understood and misunderstood. What strategy do we have for making good decisions among so many emotionally ambivalent and intellectually challenging choices?

We have choices, but can make only one decision. Who's in that four jet plane, traveling well above my head? Are there five people aboard, or three hundred? Do we need to fly, should we tour the world? Who are we if we stop? We won't stop.

The sun sets late now. It has been dry, very dry, with no appreciable rain in weeks. I notice the sunlight on an oak twig shaken free by windy days.

Plastic laid on the septic slope to solarize the weed field it has become.

I take a lap around the house, stopping to notice the lattice rehab I recently completed. Framed by the rose trellis, I do not see the house as much as I see all the projects I have done.

1. Railing rehab 2. Build new railing 3. Jack up porch to attach new posts to concrete piers 4. Rebuild lattice 5. Replace sheathing, reside and paint 6. Build new, but lower, deck 7. Replace rotten door sill and and rotten door 8. Solarize creeping charlie, regrade, and install sod 9. Move climbing roses out of shade 10. Remove hydrangeas from south side of house and replant as a hedge along the driveway 11. Frame raised beds with cedar boards and add chips 12. Remove and replace rotted deck boards.

The house lapped, I pause to look at the lattice rebuild in the back. The setting sun warms the old pink still present under the porch, setting off the grey we chose to replace it.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Snows of April

It is easy to be disappointed. Expectations are high. Training, preparedness, and experience is limited. As we shift from winter to virus, we work to overcome the virus of the mind; its total takeover of attentiveness to other elements of life.

What I can say about a global pandemic will take hardly a paragraph. We've fictionalized it again and again in movies and television. We practiced it via fantasy football-like parlor talk. We relearned its lessons in books and documentary. We eyeballed it from afar again and again. Still, people have died and will continue to lose life. Institutions will fail. We've maintained catharsis, not internalized preparedness.

I am not an optimist; not a ray of sunshine, but there is life beyond the virus. It is not the end of the world. For those of us lucky enough to escape the most extreme complications of infection, we must carry on those things that are worth carrying forward. We must internalize the opportunity we now have to connect with what we value.


After hacking our three year old pepper plant back to its thick, woody stem, it remained aphid-free for the month of March. With little to no leaves on all the peppers in the house, the aphids moved on to less desirable Lamiaceae -the basil and salvia.

When they can be found, emerging lady beetles are transferred to the aphid-covered plants. Water is sprinkled on the leaves for them to drink. At most I've had three lady beetles -all eventually feed on the aphids. After a couple of days eating, some have mated, but have yet to see any of their aphid-hungry young. 

A curious event takes place on any infected plant that has maintained a lady beetle or two. The aphids scatter to the pot rim, and walk its circle, endlessly.

Despite the aphids, the freeze from being stuck out the window at 10°, the hard hack back to the woody stem, the pepper's hormones kicked in to regrow a healthy crown of new leaves. If occasional lady beetles emerge, are found and resettled, these pepper plants may just succeed on their path to another summer outdoors.