Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: People with Dirty Hands

People with Dirty Hands: The Passion for Gardening is a book of naked gardener Truths. Author Robin Chotzinoff reveals her shortcomings up front and relates that it is the adventure of gardening that attracts her and not the perfection of it. Robin allows us to visit others' gardens through her eyes as she takes off on exciting journeys across the United States -- season after season -- constantly seeking gardeners' wisdom while learning about different gardeners' styles, plant preferences, and reasons for gardening. She visits friends and strangers and seems to reach out to those whose gardens attract her by word of mouth. Chartzinoff reminds us that gardening is a never ending learning process and a constant adventure.

Chotzinoff flits from topic to topic and I sometimes find her transitions jilted. However, the book consistently brings me back on track when she dives to the heart of gardeners' desires and sense of purpose. Her focus on what drives gardeners brings her from New Mexican hot peppers to Maine perennials. She discusses people's passions for individual plants, their love of landscape, and their reasons for loving the act of gardening itself. She discusses how varieties of personalities are attracted to gardening for a variety of reasons. She relates how people bond with nature and how the garden allows us to step outside of ourselves and our real lives. When we commune with what we grow, we find freedom from whatever ails us and bond with something that heals.

At times, Chotzinoff's imagery is poetic and passionate in paragraphs such as: "I did not grow up in the presence of direct light. We lived nine floors up in a very nice nine-room Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side. The only way to see the sky was to open the window wide and stick your head out far enough to look straight up." This type of exaggeration is especially appealing and strikes me. I grew up in New York and see this as a typically New Yorker view of the world. Chotzinoff's humor ranges from subtle to sarcastic and comfortably tickles my funny bone. Both Chotzinoff and I have left our "native land," but our New York roots are still firmly grounded. I also appreciate her description of her relaxed gardening style. she reminds me that it is okay for my garden to be as at is. One must appreciate one's garden just for its existence, wherever it is, whatever form it takes.

I found most appealing Chotzinoff's chapter entitled "Long Island Roots." Here she seems most honest and relaxed as she relates her relationship to her Aunt Cookie who was and is the impetus for Robin's own gardening. Within the chapter, she describes the wisdom Aunt Cookie imparts and how her own love of gardening grew as she watched her beloved Aunt. The chapter discusses the correspondence of niece and aunt and the things that Chotzinoff has learned from their garden talks including "You really have no control over a garden. You may think you do, but you don't." She talks about the comparing gardening notes, acknowledging what you don't know and living with it, how gardening is cathartic, and how the imperfect garden is perfect in its personal nature.

In short, this book provides a strong sense of a community of gardeners, including friends, strangers, legends, and relations. No matter how we differ in what we grow, where we live, what land we tend, or our circumstances, a good gardener learns to go with the flow. We can all relate to that true passion for gardening and how dirty hands bring us peace. Thank you to Carol from May Dream Gardens for adding this book to her book club.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ten Gifts I Received in the Garden This Week

10. Kids reading in my thoughtfully constructed "fairy princess reading garden"
9. A broken shovel (An excuse to check out some new tools!)
8. A summer sunrise
7. Clouds with a purple underside and glowing pink top
6. Birds Singing
5. A deer crossing my driveway as I returned home (bonus: the deer was nowhere near my vegetable garden.)
4. A frog passing through the yard to show my best friend's little boy
3. Watching my daughter with her butterfly net in hand
2. The first tomatoes and zucchini of the season
1. Time alone to commune with the surroundings

Monday, July 28, 2008

Change for the Sake of Change

I like change. Some people have told me that this is an unusual trait. If things stay the same for too long, I feel like I'm in a rut. I get restless and miserable. For example, I have had three or four different careers in my "short" 37 year existence. (Three or four different careers -- at least -- depending on how you look at it...It's actually all quite complicated.) I also feel the need to constantly change my domestic setting, which is usually accomplished by moving the furniture around in my house. My husband says he is always prepared for things to be in a different spot when he returns home at the end of the day. (A couple of times I think that he was driven by me to move us to a new home when things got really dire. I probably ran out of new ideas for furniture arrangement.) I find that I make most of my changes in spurts. These include a few creative days in a row when ideas are flying at me and I can't sit still.

This weekend, I went on a mad bout of weeding and pruning. It must be termed a "mad" bout because I couldn't stop myself. It started innocently enough. I purchased a bunch of plants on Saturday and that gave me the bug. I found spots here and there throughout the garden for the new perennials and in the process, I moved a few old things to highlight the most recent treasures. I just kept going, from bush to plant -- trimming and rearranging. I decided to tackle an azalea. It is a much loved bush for it is big and bushy with lush flowers in the spring. And I must say that my talent for growing azaleas is not supreme, so I am proud that this one is in pretty fine condition despite my lacking abilities in this area. But over the past few years even this azalea has gotten more overgrown and somewhat unhealthy looking. It was beginning to take over the path to the backyard and was harboring leafless branches underneath. I cut drastically and in the process of trimming back this azalea, I realized that it was really three bushes and not one. AHA! Bonus!

At 6:30 this morning, I woke up to do my exercise routine. By 7:00 I couldn't keep with it any longer...Like a lightning bolt, I figured out where to move one of the azaleas. It was clear immediately after pruning that at least one had to go. I tiptoed by my daughter's room and grabbed the shovel. (In my enthusiasm, I broke the handle of said shovel...luckily I had another or I would have had to use my bare hands.) Within 15 minutes I had delicately wrenched the plant from its home and moved it beside a rhododendron down the lawn. Not too far from the remaining two azaleas resided a hosta that always bothered me. It sat by itself at the corner of the house -- so out of place and lonely. I moved it to the empty spot left by the azalea, giving the area a neater, small garden look, rather than the look of a clump of bushes planted together by the original non-caring landscaper who was probably just looking to furnish a bare yard.

For me, that is one of the best things about gardening. It is easy to alter my gardens. They are better when I move things around every so often. If I don't like the change, I can move it all back pretty easily. I can keep something one way until I tire of it and then rearrange it. Or, I can wait until nature takes over and makes a transition for me. Gardening is never static. Best of all, since the garden is my domain, I don't have to answer to anyone. There is no need to say "Honey I moved the coffee table so don't trip over it on your way to empty your pocket change."

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Passion for Weeding

I have a strange passion. I love to weed. This does not seem to be the case for many other gardeners. (Am I mistaken about that?) For me it's relaxing. Weeding is like meditating. No, it's like walking meditation. I don't have to sit still, which is very difficult for me, and I get some peace and quiet. Sometimes I can clear my mind. Sometimes I write stories in my head. It's a catharsis when I'm upset about something. I use the time to solve all my problems or empty my head of negative thoughts. Weeding makes me feel whole and comforted. In fact, it is probably one of my favorite things to do.

The main problem is that I don't have as much time to weed as I would like. I don't mind that when I finish weeding the yard I have to start all over again -- I don't REALLY mind. But, I would just once like to see a whole neat and tidy yard before the weeds strut their stuff again. Yesterday, I was quite pleased with a whole neat garden and today the weeds are poking through again. (How do they do that so quickly?) My other problem with weeding...well, I once had lovely long polished fingernails. I gave up trying to keep them during the summer time. In the wintertime, they spend the season recovering from their summertime trauma.

When I was young, my dad would weed wherever he went. He weeded our gardens in long sessions. He weeded on his way to the mailbox. He weeded after he went running, on his way to the pool...whenever. He not only weeded whenever. He also weeded wherever. If we were standing in a neighbor's yard and he saw a weed, he would pluck it. From what I remember we could travel 1000 miles to visit friends and my dad would start weeding their yard. I am turning into my dad. The other day I found myself apologizing to a friend for picking her weeds. Last week a friend sighed and told me that she had to go home to weed. I volunteered to help her -- only too glad to branch out to another person's weeds. It actually turned into an even greter thing than I expected. She supplied the wine for an impromptu weeding party. I highly recommend weeding with a glass of wine at hand!

I have a game I play. I have a brick path that leads around my yard. Any time I walk on this path, I must pick a weed. If I skip it one time, I must pick two weeds the next time. Is this crazy?

My favorite type of weeding is the messiest kind. I stick bare fingers deep into wet soil and yank the plant out by the root. In general, I weed with gloved hands, stooped over or on my heels. I try to bend at the knee when I can. When I bend at the waist and catch myself, I begin to wonder if I will like weeding as much if I have a bad back in ten years or so. I supposed that I could always get one of those wheeling seats for gardening, but I think that would ruin my rhythm a bit. I do not always weed a complete plot of land and move on. I twitter about. Sometimes I go for the big weeds first. Sometimes I go for obvious ones and weed multiple gardens at a time. Sometimes I pick a certain kind of weed, such as dandelions and remove all of those from the yard. Sometimes I weed a little then prune a little then go back to weeding. This year, I seem to mostly be weeding a different patch of garden each day. I'll use a hoe once in awhile, but it's not as thrilling as using my hands and the metal part of my hoe comes off the stick. ( I haven't gotten around to fixing it or buying a new one in 7 years. I don't take great care of my gardening tools, truth be told.)

Weeding by hand allows me to be closer to nature. I adore worms and this is the best way to get to know them. I can thank them for the work they do. I can really experience their expertise when my hands are in the dirt, releasing the weeds from the aerated soil. I appreciate individual plants more when I see them eye to eye. Brushing against lavender as I go is a special treat or seeing a favored plant beginning to spread itself across the garden. This is the closest I can get to the wonders of my gardens.

I wonder if others enjoy weeding as much as I do. What is your favorite way to weed and do you enjoy it?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Monarch Migration

As monarch peak season approaches in my area of the country, I am reminded of my sister's love of butterflies. We often found her hanging out in trees or running through neighbors' yards with her braids swaying in the breeze. she spent all summer long with a butterfly net in hand. One year, Liz decided to "tag" monarch butterflies to track their migration. She placed her address on little tags, caught a large number of butterflies, put them to sleep, then glued the tags to their wings. When the butterflies came to, they staggered around the yard, drunk from the alcohol used to label them.

My butterfly bushes should be in bloom within the next few weeks. That's when my butterflies arrive. If we decide to help with the butterfly tracking, we will follow the advice from MonarchWatch. Every kid I've met enjoys butterflies. (Though now that I think about it, my little impish next door neighbor from childhood enjoyed pulling the wings off them. I recommend that you steer your child away from this particular activity.) Tagging butterflies is a great way for them to learn about science and geography.

My daughter has her own butterfly net and like my sister, she is a little red-head. I can just see her now, sitting in trees and running through the yard with her braids sailing in the wind...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kids in the Garden

Each month I try to post ideas for kids activities in the garden. I realized that I missed last month. I need to set a day each month to do it so it gets done. So, since I thought of it today and today is the 19th...the 19th of each month will be the official day for posting about kids in the garden. I know of other garden bloggers posting "columns" the first weekend of the month, the 15th of the month, and the 30th of the month. I figure no one has a lock on the 19th!

Before I start with some new ideas for kids activities in the garden. I must mention that our sunflower house seems to have failed. I have very bad luck with sunflowers. They grow short and scraggly or not at all. Next year I will try one more time in the sunniest location on my property. The sunflower plot is backed against the woods this year and I'm afraid it is not getting enough light. The year before I think the chipmunks stole the seeds. We also wanted to participate in the Great Sunflower Project, but since we can't get the sunflowers to grow we have to skip it. I figure at least my daughter has learned that gardening is not perfect. We will have some disappointments.

One more update about a past activity...the reading garden is a huge success! Yesterday my daughter pulled her best friend into the garden and announced "No grownups allowed!" They sat on the reading bench together READING! Woohoo! Freedom in the garden is important. Creating secret hideouts and exploration are all important parts of their outdoor learning.

A new found garden activity that we enjoy together is singing. I explained that gardening is fun because it is such a quiet activity that you can chat or sing while doing it. So the little one pulled on her gardening gloves and started making up songs about mother nature. "We love plants. Plants are gooood, ooooooo." I decided to turn it into a little lesson. I asked why she thinks plants are good and she told me they are pretty. So, I told her about how plants take in the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. They turn it into oxygen so that we can breathe. "Plants are make oxygen. yeah, yeah! oooooo!" (sing this song to your own tune or try Twinkle Twinkle Little Star -- one of our personal favorites.)

Yesterday I encouraged my daughter and her friends to take a break from play to try some of the first raspberries and blueberries of the season. They clamored for as much as they could get. There is nothing like sharing fresh fruit off the bush with kids.

Playing with garden creatures is super fun stuff. (Just don't let your child name a frog it finds and then find one that looks like it dead in the pool the next day. "Mom? MOM! Is that Jackie frog? What's wrong with Jackie frog?!" Tip: The best thing to do is to empty the strainers and scan the pool before your child goes for a dip.) We've begun hunting for butterflies since they are starting to frequent the garden more regularly as their favorite plants are flowering. My daughter has a net to catch them. We then transfer them to a bug house and watch them for a few months before releasing. We have also included other bugs in our hunts. We had grasshoppers and ants visiting at one time. Hunting for small bugs is a great activity because a. It keeps the little one busy for an hour and b. it encourages the child to focus, looking really closely at nature to find really small things. Our intention is to pick up a bug identification book this summer so we can learn more about them. My sister Liz, who is still known for her butterfly catching prowess twenty five years later, sent my daughter a Live Butterfly Garden for her birthday. The set we have is made by Insect Lore. The box contains a cage for the butterflies, but you have to mail away a postcard and three dollars to get the caterpillars and food. (I thought it was a little cheesy that they want three more dollars from us after my sister bought this nice gift. If they really need the three dollars, why not charge it right off the bat? Three dollars isn't a lot, but it seems like they've already been paid...Perhaps I'm just being too cynical?) We will let you know how the butterflies grow.

We have also spent time pressing flowers. We have a fancy press (two pieces of woods with large screws at each corner) from Oriental Trading Company. Most of my life I've used heavy books with pieces of papers in them. My daughter and I go for bike rides and she collects the wildflowers in her front basket. We have wildflower identification guide that encourages her to check off what she finds. Some of the specimens we use for drying are also from my flower gardens. The skinnier the flowers work the best. Flowers with fat blossoms take longer to dry and sometimes mold or turn an ugly color before we complete the process. I'm sure there is a fancy way to prevent this, but this is a pretty simple project. The drying takes about a week. When the flowers are ready, we make collages, taking photographs of friends, cut pieces of colored paper, and adding our own drawings. These make great cards! When I was young, my mother and I put the flowers in our photo albums. As an archivist I must add that though this is quite pretty, it is very bad for your photographs. The organic matter will eat away at the papers. Instead, make copies of photographs or better yet, photocopy the flowers. (My high school art teacher makes beautiful pieces of art out of scanned flowers and has exhibited the work in SoHo.) Allow kids to be creative with the originals, scans, or photocopies. Hone their artistic talents while teaching them about science.

With bugs, fresh fruit, flowers, and musical entertainment we are having a great summer. I hope that you are too. Happy exploring!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Praise for Yellow

The one garden color that really floats my boat is yellow. This time of year, the yellows come out in abandon from my potentilla to the St. Johnswort, verbena, to yellow roses, daylilies to my personal favorite (well one of my personal favorites anyway) Rudbeckia. Yellow makes the world sunny. Waves and waves of yellow make me happy. What is your favorite garden color?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Using and Organizing Your Photos

In this age of digitization, people sometimes are confused about how to use their photos. Remember when every photo you took was printed? Remember the plastic that held your negatives? Remember the old photo albums with the sticky pages? Now we need to look for new ways to organize. The variety of software on the market can be confusing. There are backups to consider and search terms to add. Where shall one begin?

Here's how I organize my photos. First, I transfer images from my camera to my computer's hard drive. Every image I take is reviewed. I do not save them all. It is much easier to delete a digital file than to cut a negative out of a strip. Next, I back up my images on a second hard drive AND onto a disk. Best practice (from an archivist's perspective) is to keep one copy of your photos off-site in the event of a disaster. (BTW, you should also do this with any important documents in your possession.) After my photos have been copies, I label them using ACDSee software, which I found after much research. I have found this software very helpful and easy to use for keep track of my images. I try to label images every month, but honestly it doesn't always work out that way. Use general keywords for labeling as well as names of people and places in your photos. Record any important information that will help jog your memory about the event. The camera should record a time stamp that is permanently affixed to the image's record so that you know when the photo was taken. It will also record your camera settings.

I edit my favorite photos using PaintShopPro, which is a scaled down version of Photoshop. It is much less expensive, but suits my purposes and surely would serve the needs of any amateur. Most photos require color tweaking and other adjustments. "Plugins" are available on the Internet -- some for free and some for a fee -- to allow you to do fancy things with your pictures. My favorite plugins are "Xero" and "Virtual Photographer," which are relatively inexpensive. I've yet to dabble with expensive add-ons.

You can put finished photos in albums, but be sure to use archival inks and papers for the photos themselves. I use the Epson Sylus Photo 2200 printer. The technology is a few years old now, but it is still considered one of the standard printers for professional photo printing. Use archival quality albums. Do not just pick up an album that says it is archival quality because like "all natural" products in the US, this term doesn't have a standard. Look for the terms "acid and lignin free" to help ensure your storage products are safe. To be super sure, use an accepted mail-order archival supplier such as Gaylord Brothers, Light Impressions, University Products, and Metal Edge. You also can put pictures in digital frames. They make great gifts! Photos can also be placed online for friends and family to see. Shutterfly, snapfish and Kodak are three well-known sites that let you place photos online.

Make the organization and preservation process part of your standard workflow. 1. Take picture 2. transfer to computer 3. backup 4. edit 5. print or put in photo album. The process is easy if you just treat it as a routine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kids Garden Portraits

Here are some tips to help you with photographing kids in the garden:
  • Rely on props. Hand a child a flower or have them bring a favorite doll into the garden. A prop helps the child relax and stay calm.
  • Do not aim to get full seated pictures throughout the portrait session. Instead, go with the flow. Start with "formals" and then let the child move around. Try seating them again only if they are willing.
  • Action photos of kids are great. They often create the best memories. Be prepared to run after an active kid with camera in hand. Think of it as play time with a camera.
  • If a child does not like to dress up, use the garden as a perfect opportunity to show off his natural state. Overalls, grubby clothes, and wrinkled shirts belong in the garden. Take inspiration from Norman Rockwell and capture a child's precious personality as is.
  • Converse with the child as you go. Try to take the focus off the camera if necessary by talking about the child's interests. Try putting the camera on a tripod and trigger the camera remotely. If a child can see the photographer's face, he is often more comfortable than if you are hiding behind the camera.
  • Talking about what interests a child is also more likely to elicit a smile. And, instead of the classic "Say 'Cheese!'" try this line: "Say 'Daddy has smelly feet!'" I've also been known to sing and dance for children for a laugh. (The grown-ups watching often stare at me dumbfounded. I even once sang kids' show songs for an extended family I photographed. I do not recommend this because it can have a negative effect. The grownups think you have gone loony and look uncomfortable in the photo.)
  • Let the kids see the photos you take. (Again, I don't recommend this for adults. Adults will usually get uncomfortable or start criticizing the images they see, not bearing in mind that they haven't yet been edited.) Kids love to see themselves and will often ham it up for the camera after you let them view a picture.
  • Don't expect kids to put up with your picture taking for more than 20-30 minutes.
  • Remember, the photos may need to be edited. All professional photographers edit their photos in some way -- from simple color adjustment to more complicated artistic editing.
  • Keep practicing and make photo taking a game. Grab a camera whenever the mood strikes you in the garden. For my personal family pictures, I have been known to stop in the middle of weeding for an impromptu photo session. Let nature be your guide. Whether you are struck by the sunlight or by your child's interest in garden activities, don't be afraid to grab your camera and just go for it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Garden Birthday Portraits!

Now that gardens up in New Hampshire are coming into their full summer glory, garden portraits season is in full bloom! My favorite annual garden portrait event is my daughter's birthday. Every year, she gets a special birthday dress, I hand her a flower and the fun ensues.

My daughter is quite comfortable getting her photo taken. Obviously, it helps to have a mom who is a professional photographer. Other kids are not as comfortable. You cannot expect someone to "perform" for the camera when having one's picture taken is a rare event. Instead, when you want to "create" a portrait, respect the child's feelings. Work in his comfort zone. Don't expect the child to sit still for long. Be prepared to follow him around. Bring a toy or object to capture his attention. Photograph him doing what he loves. This makes for a memorable image. Stop taking photos when the child wants to talk. Engage him in conversation. Become part of his world instead of forcing him to conform to your photography expectations.

My daughter is a ham. We have lots of photographs like this:

This is how we know her - as a fun loving kid. Perhaps she is preparing to be class clown one day? If so, than these will be the most valuable photos of the session. We'll remember that her free-spirit began when she was this young...and since I went with her flow, she even provided me with those smiling head on portraits that all parents want to see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Tree Fell in the Forest...

My tree fell in the forest...and I didn't hear it. Did it make a noise? Maybe I wasn't home?

Here are snapshots of said fallen tree:

The tree is being held up by other trees in the forest. How precarious is this? Luckily this is nowhere near the house. The bottom of the trunk here looks pretty damaged. How could I have not noticed this? I spent a lot of time in the forest last year, trying to rid our property of an invasive weeds. Was I so busy weed hunting that I didn't notice anything else going on in the landscape?

My arbor guy, Bill Kucharski , and his amazing swinging son took down a couple of trees close to my house for safety a few years back. This year, he trimmed limbs on tall trees to allow more light on the property where I put a new vegetable garden. I think it may be necessary to call him to do some kind of assessment of our trees. When he visited in the spring, he noted an evergreen that needed a little work and made suggestions for shaping a baby japanese maple.
Bill loves what he does and is extremely knowledgeable. I haven't yet tracked down the photo I took of his son swinging in the woods that I mentioned a couple of days ago because my back up computer is taking a breather at the moment from this hot weather. His help has been invaluable to me.

That's the thing about hiring good professionals...they help make an amateur feel more confident by providing information. A worthy professional will never make you feel stupid and will be happy to give you more than what you hired them to do. A good professional knows that when he provides you with a little extra, he will build your trust. One who loves his work wants to share that love with his clients and this is done by sharing information. By building relationships with clients, the professional -- whether an arborist like Bill or an archives consultant like me -- feels better about his own work. The business grows through mutual understanding and respect. The final beneficiary is the object or subject being given attention. My yard has benefited from Bill's advice, as historical records collections throughout New England have benefited from mine. Because my clients trust me, they are more likely to respond to my recommendations. Never trust someone you hire who treats you poorly. A show of respect is the first thing you should experience for a job. The second thing is knowledge. (The person I hired earlier this week had neither. Check back a couple of posts ago if you care to learn more about that story.) that I'm thinking about it....I wonder if Bill is THE man to answer that famous "if a tree falls in the forest..." question? He seems to know everything there is to know about trees.
I think I"ll go give him a ring.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Portrait of a Garden

There are two ways to take a garden's "portrait." The first way is to stand back and get a view of the gardens in their entirety:

The second is to focus on individual plants:

When documenting your gardens, be sure to pay attention to both methods. Documenting your garden from afar will help you see how your landscape develops and assist your garden planning efforts. Viewing my garden through a lens has helped me decide what to plant where and to recognize spots in the landscape that need more attention. Closeup views help you keep track of your plants. I have also found that studying my plants up-close through a lens helps me get to know them better. I notice diseases, pests, an growth habits by spending some time with each plant individually.

I have always wanted to keep a book with each plant, listing their names and habits. It seems like creating a directory like this would make my gardening much easier in the long run, but I have yet to get to it. Once one starts such an index, I imagine that upkeep wouldn't be too difficult either. It's the initial effort that has deterred me. I started with a landscape of mature plantings and need to go back and identify them. If I were to go back four years to when I first moved to this house, I would at least photograph everything I bought and list it properly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hiring Help

When you need help in the garden, on whom do you rely? Planting, painting, fertilizing, weeding...I like to do these kinds of things myself. I actually would like to do it all myself. I'm in the process of painting my own house and I like it that way...but there comes the occasional time when I need help. I do not like to rely on others. I feel very lucky when I can find people to help me whom I can trust. Today was one of those days.

I've recently had two bad experiences with irrigation companies which shall remain nameless, even though I'd like to shout their names all over and tell people to stay away. Instead, I'll focus on the positive and mention the name of the company that was helpful.

The first unhelpful one is the company that installed my system two years ago. They abandoned me. I called three times over the course of the month. I left three messages asking them for help and never heard back from them.

The second company is a large well known company in New Hampshire. They turned off our sprinklers last year. They handle the irrigation needs of some of our friends. I got bad vibes from them the first time they came out, but they didn't actually do anything wrong. They rushed through the job and I hardly saw them last autumn. But it doesn't take long to blow out sprinkler lines. This year, they promptly lined up an appointment for me when I called for help with a leaky sprinkler head. They sent a man who took apart my sprinkler head and stared at it for 15 minutes. He never introduced himself. He never smiled. After 15 minutes of watching him stare at the sprinkler from my kitchen window I went out and started asking questions. (Was I supposed to pay this guy by the hour?)

I said, "What do you think is wrong."

Pause, pause, pause. (My thought bubble..."Did he hear me?")

I said, "Do you think it's the valve?" (I had read a little online before calling...)

pause, pause, pause. He responds, "No." He turns something on the sprinkler head and says. "That's it."

The sprinkler head is off and I see water rising. I ask, " What's 'it'? Why is there water coming up?"

He responds with slight venom, "There is always water coming up in the lines! Your system runs downhill and that's why it leaks."

I say. "Well, it never leaked before. What is the next step?"

He responds, "There is no next step." pause, pause, pause. "Where is your sprinkler box?"

Okay. This seemed a little ridiculous and I don't ever recall being treated this way by someone I hired. I pointed to the box and then called his office. The woman who answered was pleasant and I explained that I didn't think the person they sent knew what he was doing and that he was quite rude. She switched me to the foreman who apparently had just called my workman and asked him to leave my property. (That made me feel comforted. irate strange man wandering in my yard...) The foreman said to me, "I don't know what happened, but you two obviously didn't get along. I'm not there, so I don't know what happened...." Alright. Enough. Just a lesson in how not to handle customer service. I'm turning this into a rant and didn't intend it to be one. But it was a really bad experience. Let me get back to my original idea of focusing on the positive.

I'll continue by saying that my heroes came in the form of New England Lawn Irrigation. They came out right away. Their prices were 40 percent less than the other company. Best of all, the technician immediately knew how to resolve the problem. He started at the box and didn't bother with the sprinkler head at first. It turned out that there had been dirt in the valve that needed cleaning. Sand had pecked little holes on the $12 part. He asked if he should replace it for me. He added a washer to the sprinkler head itself just to be sure. He was polite. He explained everything as he went. I asked lots of questions. He didn't seem bothered by them and answered me, giving me even more information than I had hoped. (That is very valuable to a librarian such as myself. Information is wonderful.) The sprinkler stopped leaking. I am a happy customer. Thank you John!

I have one other guy who helps me with my landscaping needs -- my arborist Bill Kucharski...I've got pictures of his son swinging from my trees...I'll have to track those down and post them. I'll save him for another day.

As I wind this up, I realize that I'd love to hear the experiences of others -- good and bad. I think the bad experience will be with me for awhile. Maybe it has taught me to stick with my gut instincts when hiring people for a job. Maybe I take things too personally. I don't expect perfection, but I do expect manners and honesty. How about you?

Coming up... I took lots of pictures in the garden today. I'll try to post them tomorrow. Also, stay tuned this week for more ideas for kids in the garden and arbor information.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Creepy Crawlies in the Garden

After spending decades in gardens, I still find new creatures I have never before seen and I still get excited when I discover a new one. I found a little guy this week that I am unable to identify. I see salamanders or salamander-like creatures a couple of times per summer, but I have never run into a bright orange on like this. I tried to identify it online, but think I will need to pay a visit to the bookstore, unless someone online can help me out with it.

A couple of years ago, toward the end of the summer, my big discovery was bug sex. We have all heard about the birds and the bees, but I never really thought about bugs "getting it on" (so to speak)...that is, until I went on a butterfly photography expedition. Milkweed grows in abundance at Joppa Hill Farm, which is located about a mile from my house. I spent about three hours in the blazing sun, wading through long grass, to watch monarch butterflies. At the end of my spying, I spotted a monarch swooping toward the back of the field. I ran through the waist high weeds, with large photography bag on my should and tripod under my arm. the butterfly swooped and dipped and was soon joined by another. Then, they dove together into the field. I moved toward them and found them sitting on top of one another alight on a flower. (Wow! Cool!) I waited and waited. Then they fell off into the grass. I waited some more, hoping to get some photos of movement, and hoping that the butterflies would take off in their exhilarated frenzy and start dancing some more. They didn't. I waited. then, I got tired of waiting. I was hot and thirsty. I went home. (Wow! Butterfly sex is boring...but it was still really cool.)

So, last year, I went looking for bug sex. Lo and behold! It's more prevalent than you would think! Grasshopper, ants, flies, dragonflies...and yes, even bees...right in the open, just waiting for the voyeur to watch. I was truly fascinating!

This year, the creepy crawlies that are in my garden seem to be primarily of the amphibian/reptilian type. My husband has let our lawn go long a couple of times this year. I've met more than the number of snakes in the grass that I would like to meet. (Ah. That means NO snakes!) For, although I enjoy my creepy crawlies. I do not like snakes. I try and try to like them..just like I keep trying to like peppers..but I am afraid of them. (I'm afraid of the snakes. Not the peppers.) Last week at a local lake, the lifeguard whistled us out of the water because a water snake was booking it toward the shore. His little head was raised menacingly and I swear he was coming right at me!

I love worms. They are always welcome. The japanese beetle season should be starting soon. They are not welcome. I have lots of spiders, especially in the gazebo I just painted. They are welcome, but I'm not going to touch them and pet them like I do my worm friends. I will admire them from a distance and thank them for helping to care for my garden from a distance. I appreciate my creepy crawlies, whether they are old, new, useful, beautiful, troublemakers or in a hot and bothered frenzied. They are all really interesting. Don't you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008


Yesterday, my family went to see the movie WALL-E. My husband had read good reviews of it and my daughter is finally old enough to enjoy the theater. It seems that this season there are quite a few good movies out for kids. Although WALL-E seems to fit into this category, I think it would be better to classify it as an adult movie in cartoon form. For, although the cute characters are appealing to the young, the storyline, subtleties, and message of the movie are aimed at an older audience. The environmental moral is one that every gardener will appreciate.

WALL-E is the first of its kind -- as far as I know -- a sci-fi full length feature digitally animated movie. The film medium allows the storytellers to open their imaginations to show things that would not be easily achieved in a film with live actors. The gist of the story is that humans have polluted the earth so that it is no longer habitable. In about 100 years from now, they send off a large spaceship filled with people. These people set off to enjoy a five year vacation while the planet is cleaned by robots. Instead, the company charged with the task (the one that seems to have created the problem in the first place and seems to be working with the government) cannot achieve its goal. Humans float around in space for 700 years. One robot (WALL-E) remains, trying his best to clean up the planet, compacting and making skyscrapers of garbage. One day, a probe robot is sent from the human ship to see if any sign of life remains on earth. The new model robot meets WALL-E. They discover a lone plant that has survived despite the noxious conditions.

The probe brings the plant back to the ship and humans must decide what there next move is. They have all "evolved" into blubbery beings, having lost bone density in space and relying solely on technology to survive. They don't walk, instead propelling themselves with wheelchair like devices. They don't interact with other humans face-to-face, relying instead on monitors to communicate with others. They don't eat, sipping drinks for sustenance. It is a bleak picture of a future that struck me as not too far from where we could be heading. The WALL-E character serves to re-humanize them, showing a warmth that seems dichotomous to this mundane future existence. The thread of emotion through the film makes it all the more special.

The environmental message is thrust at you, but the clever storyline keeps it from being overwhelming. I was struck by the value of the lone plant, how much it was appreciated after humans thought they had lost all plants for good. The symbol of this lone plant representing a troubled planet resonated strongly with me. While, my husband and daughter focused on the robot characters and identified strongly with the human emotions they exuded, I felt myself identifying most with the message of the plant. WALL-E has something for everyone. I think it will become a classic and is certainly a must-see movie for our time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Arte y Pico Award

I've been awarded the Arte y Pico Award by Mrs Be from Carrots and Kids. I am very honored and grateful to her. Thanks very much for considering me worthy! Thank you also for giving me something to write about today. (I just woke up from a late nap and am not sure my brain is prepared to tackle the movie review I planned.) I love keeping up my blog for the sheer joy of writing. It makes it all the more worthwhile to know that others are actually reading what I write. The icing on the cake is knowing that someone, besides my mom, actually enjoys the posts.

Here's the history of the award that was passed on to me:

The origin of the Arte y Pico Award: "This prize has arisen from the daily visits that I dedicate to many blogs which nourish me and enrich me with creativity. In them I see dedication, creativity, care, comradeship, but mainly, ART, much art. I want to share this prize with all those bloggers that entertain me day to day and to share this prize with those who enrich me every day. Doubtlessly, there are many and it will be hard to pick just a few. The people I will name today deserve this prize, as do the very long serious list of bloggers I also enjoy to read. But I will name the first 5 and leave the rest of the work to all the bloggers that visit other's blogs and are nourished by them."

As a librarian, I couldn't leave it at that. I learned from that the award was created by Eseya in Paraguay. Since my foreign language skills are a bit rusty, since the link Clark provides is to a site that is actually called "Arte y pico," and since I'm still groggy from that nap, I'm going to take his word for it rather than doing more research to confirm the origins. A better librarian would use babelfish to translate the Arte y pico page or would spend more than two minutes surfing the web to find more references to the award.

Here's the 5 rules bit for this award:

1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.

2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.

4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art."

5. Show these rules.

I present my first award to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, whom I can't imagine hasn't already received this award numerous times in the past. Her breadth of gardening knowledge, her wit, creativity, and contributions to the garden blogging community have won me over as a huge fan. She has created the perfect gardening blog in my mind. I also present this award to Stuart of Gardening Tips 'n' Ideas. I enjoy his relaxed writing style and subjects. He continually challenges his readers with interesting perspectives and questions. His contribution of Blotanical to the garden blogging community is particularly noteworthy. My third award is for Melanie of Old Country Gardens. I continually learn from her blog. It is a fabulous documentation of a private garden. From her postings, I get a real sense of the work she puts into her landscape, its beauty, and the love she has for her hobby...

I am finding this incredibly difficult. I think that I'll reserve my other two awards for another date. I think the three people I've sited above have set a bar that I one day aspire to achieve. Their blog work stands out in my mind.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Top Ten Reasons Why I Buy a New Plant

10. The Garden Center e-mails the new products for the month
9. I am having a good day and want to reward myself
8. I am having a bad day and want to cheer myself
7. I learn about a plant that is new to me and NEED to add it to my collection
6. I find an empty spot in the garden
5. A certain plant begins to bloom in the garden (rose, hydrangea, etc.) and I realize that the arrangement of the ones I already have is out of balance - I need to buy another for symmetry
4. I come into some money
3. A friend suggests we take a trip to the garden center because she needs new plants (Well, I can't accompany someone to the garden center without buying something myself!)
2. I see a rose bush in a color that I don't have
1. It's Wednesday and I need something to help me get through "hump" day

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I took a break...

The weeds grew in the garden. The gazebo project didn't get finished. My blotanical blogger ranking moved up. (Now how does that happen?)

I'm often afraid of letting go. I push and push and then I run out of steam. The house doesn't get cleaned. I stop writing. I don't check e-mails religiously. I don't keep track of food shopping. (We ran out of ketchup this week! UGH! That's a hard one in this house.) I feel like I'm losing control and only when I let the everyday activities slip through my fingers can I regain composure.

Why do I garden? Do I garden because I enjoy it or because I need to do it? If I don't keep up with it, the plants will turn into a jungle. My yard will be like everyone else's, even though they expect more when they come to visit because I AM a gardener. Don't they expect spectacular things from me? When I start to worry about the final result of the gardening, it isn't fun anymore. And if it isn't fun, what's the point?

We had bouts of nasty weather last week and school vacation started for my daughter two weeks ago. I didn't feel like writing, gardening or keeping my routine. I read. I even read fiction. It was such a wonderful guilty treat. Reading any kind of fiction to me is like many people's views of reading romance novels, I imagine. (I haven't read a romance novel since I was 15...not that I have anything against it.) I spend most of my time reading non-fiction - gardening books, history, biography...I've been reading Sophie Kinsella's wonderful Shopaholic series. I've played Barbies. I even baked a pie. ("What. Melissa bake?" Those who know me well may not believe it. I really do on occasion, but generally food preparation gets in the way of real life.)

I received a lovely letter in the mail yesterday telling me that my book proposal is beautiful, but this particular publisher wouldn't be able to market it properly. Last week, I attended the retirement party of a former boss -- one of my most admired bosses of all time -- and was asked by his assistant to consider taking his place. I was truly honored. Real life was knocking at the door. It was telling me that good things are ready to happen. It has finally stopped raining in NH. So, the gazebo was finished yesterday. The gardens are just about weeded...I'm refreshed...

Hiatus over.