Friday, February 24, 2012

Redwood Boxes

Continuing my theme of having too many containers, I present my latest additions to my garden:

Redwood boxes with finger joints

I can’t take any credit for these.  I stole the design idea from Essence of the Tree’s web site.  I’ve been lusting after their version of these boxes for years.  The wood used in their boxes was collected from structures in the San Francisco area dating back to the 1880s and they have a ton of character as a result.  Character comes at a price those.  At $350 a piece, I could never pull the trigger.  And if I did, I would feel guilty if I put anything in them that would cause them to deteriorate. 

I can’t take credit for the construction of these boxes either.  I commissioned my friend, Jordan, to build them for me.  Jordan is a talented young carpenter who also built a large planter box/trellis structure for me, but the design of these boxes presented him with a challenge because he had never built anything with finger joints before. 

The wood from these boxes is signicantly less than the 130-year-old versions that inspired them, but there is still some charm in the differing grains and how those differences are amplified at the corners.
A little wood glue helped stabilize the joints while this was being built.

Jordan confessed that the first box he built was actually easier because the redwood he used was straighter.  The second box required a lot more shaving, sanding, and salty language to complete. 

I really enjoy having pieces in my yard that were made by friends.  For one, it’s a nice reminder that I am surrounded by gifted people who are willing to share their talents.  But it’s also nice because it saves me money while also providing a little extra money for my friends. 

One of these will house a dwarf Japanese maple called 'Murasaki Kiyohime'. 
I'll post a picture when it leafs out.

You’ll have to excuse me now.  I’m off to see if I can make friends with someone who knows how to weld.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Orchard Boxes

For a while now I have been spending a lot of my mental energy on de-cluttering my life one closet at a time.  I have too many books; too many shirts I can’t fit into anymore; and too many hobbies that take my spare time, require too much of my thoughts, and occupy too many square feet of my physical space.

It feels good to donate a shelf’s worth of books and to clear out enough space to actually hang a jacket in the hall closet.  There’s something therapeutic about it. 

But if de-cluttering is a drug, the dosage is not nearly strong enough to help me overcome my insatiable need for more planting containers. 

My dog playing the part of customs agent.

We went to a monthly antique fair last weekend and while it’s always fun to people watch and browse the amazing and bizarre things that can be bought at such a place, I really went with just one intention: find something cool to plant things in.

And find I did.  I found these old orchard boxes from Auburn, California which is not too far from Sacramento.  They were $8 bucks a piece.  I thought about asking him to sell me 3 for $20 but figured the $4 difference wasn’t worth going through the uncomfortable bartering process (uncomfortable for me anyway). 

I love the faded paint on these.  I'd also like to find out what the stenciled "F-10" meant.

I’m not sure what I will plant in these boxes or even where I’ll put them, but I thought they would look great with some sunny annuals spilling over the edges.  If I wanted, I could plant them with herbs and put them on the patio table where they will get plenty of sun.  Or perhaps I should finally try growing succulents.  The sky is the limit and just daydreaming about the possibilities makes me happy. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Belated Valentine

Like most guys, Valentine's Day is synonomous with manufactured stress, the disappointment that comes from not living up to someone's romantic expectations (perpetuated by a media onslaught that no normal non-millionaire total romantic could live up to), and the purchase of flowers that have been severed from their roots!  Why would anyone want to do that? 

This is the bouquet I ordered this year.

I don't like this "holiday" but I observe it.  I wouldn't want my wife to be the only one in her office to be in the unenviable position of explaining why she didn't get flowers or a gift from her husband.  So I participate.  But I recognize, as do many I'm sure, that love is better conveyed on an every day basis.  To that end, there's a poem that Marvin Bell wrote for his wife that I have been fond of for years.  In my opinion, the spirit of this poem reflects how we should celebrate those we love.  And, as a gardeners, I think we can appreciate the kind of person it takes to let a weed grow unplucked or a mulberry too close to the house. 
To Dorothy 
You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
"Things that are lost are all equal."
But it isn't true..  If I lost you,
the air wouldn't move, nor the trees grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn't be yours.  If I lost you,
I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.
-Marvin Bell

*If you're interested, here is a reading of this poem from one of Bell's former students.  She touches on why saying "You are not beautiful, exactly" isn't a mean thing to say.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Call Me Starbuck

“‘Vengeance on a dumb brute!’ cried Starbuck, 'that simply smote thee from blindest instinct!  Madness!  To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.’” 
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick; or The Whale

Hanging on with just one leg!
If you are paying attention, many of us garden bloggers are focusing on the squirrels in our lives.  The attention they are receiving from garden bloggers must have something to do with the leafless trees and how the nakedness of those trees reveals the dastardly deeds of the cute but annoying rodents in our yards. 

My issues with squirrels are nothing out of the ordinary.  Well, except this one squirrel that looked to be pregnant or cancerous.  For the most part, the squirrels in my yard are little more than bird feed stealing acrobats.  They are annoying in that regard but watching them try amuses me in spite of the frustrating consequences. 

I have another critter that has caused me more problems in the garden than any squirrel ever has: my beloved dog.

Recently, I went out to check my newly seeded containers.  I was hoping for signs of sprouting and instead discovered that an entire wine barrel had been ransacked.  Potting soil had been piled up with chaotic abandon on one side of the barrel, burrowed into on another . . . and I immediately blamed my dog. 

But the telltale evidence wasn't there.  There were no bones buried.  There were no stolen socks hidden for later.  I did not hear Ray LaMontagne singing "Trouble". 

Maybe it was those villanous squirrels!  Could they have been stealing my seeds?  Or were they burying their nuts in my potting soil?  Or do I fault birds looking for seeds?  I didn’t know who to blame or what to do about it.  I certainly wanted revenge though; swift, thoughtless, and unflinching revenge.

Revenge for what though, exactly?   

I am currently halfway through reading Moby Dick for my “Finer Things Club”.  I’m ashamed to admit that I somehow got through high school plus four years of college (where I earned a degree in English) and never managed to read this American classic.  While some of the book’s questions and answers still await me, I’ve read enough of it to know that one of its central themes is dealing with our desire for vengeance.  The quoted passage above reflects ship mate Starbuck's reaction to Captain Ahab when he finally tells the crew that they will travel to the ends of the earth to make the white whale pay for taking Ahab’s leg off without prior written consent to do so.  What is the point in seeking revenge against creatures who are simply acting according to blind instinct?  It really is madness.

Loitering with Intent to Harass, I'm sure.
So there will be no BB gun vigils and no scarecrows erected - not this year anyway.  There will only be hardware cloth, some heavy duty staples, some crossed fingers, and lots of hoping that some of those seeds will sprout and that my patience with life’s little challenges will grow as quickly as whatever lettuce is left to me. 

(P.S. For those of you with inquiring minds, the coffee company, Starbucks, was, in fact, named after the character in Moby Dick.  They thought it made a better name than the original suggestion of naming it after the ship in the book: the Pequod.  That's pronounced "Pee-quod" so they made the right decision, methinks.) 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fool's Gold

I remember standing outside at half time during last year's Super Bowl, sipping a single malt Scotch (Glenfiddich 15 if you must know) and wearing a short sleeved t-shirt.  It was the kind of day that makes you glad to live in California.  It was the kind of day where you think about all the other places in the world that are bitterly cold and snowy - but the ugly muddy, slushy kind of snowy - and you wonder why everyone doesn't move south.

Of course, there are a couple hundred other days in a year where you can totally understand why people would want to stay as far away from California as possible (high unemployment, huge state deficit, smog, traffic, cost of living . . .).  I bring this up today primarily because it is the Friday before the Super Bowl this year and it looks like it's going to be another nice day.  64 and sunny!

There's another thing I remember about last year.  That glorious Sunday was so beautiful and it felt undeniable that we had made it through winter.  But doesn't it seem that any time something is undeniable it gets denied?  My favorite "old man joke" - my wife's term- goes like this:  "What's the best way to make God laugh?  Make a plan."  We Scotch-drinking fools might as well have been drinking that day's Kool-Aid because we all believed we were headed straight for summer.

I don't remember feeling warm again until June.

So I'm trying not to get ahead of myself this year.  I'm trying to hold back and remember that it's barely even February and technically winter is still here.  But when I come home to something like this:

it becomes pretty hard to deny that spring is here; at least in some fashion.

And if it's not?  If these daffodils are just nature's version of Fool's Gold, then so be it.  At least it has made this balmy winter's day a little more colorful.