Friday, April 27, 2012

Business and Blossoms

My work life changed recently (busier and more stressful) and it's left me feeling a little out of sorts so blogging has taken a back seat the last couple of weeks.  But spending time in my garden has been as important as ever to me.  I find that when life gets hectic, my time in the yard becomes more valuable.  

Although I've managed to keep up on a few of the important gardening tasks like planting my tomatoes and zucchini, I haven't had a lot of time to clean up and make everything tidy the way I like it to be.  And that bothers me some times.  

But then I remember a poem that was featured in American Life in Poetry* a couple years ago written by Carol Snow:  

Near a shrine in Japan he'd swept the path
and then placed camellia blossoms there.

Or -- we had no way of knowing -- he'd swept the path
between fallen camellias.

Here's a picture I took a couple days ago.  It's a picture of a mess.  But I think I'll just leave it this way for a few days.

Orange blossoms and bacopa

*If you are at all interested in poetry, I highly recommend subscribing to American Life in Poetry which is a program started by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, and supported by the Library of Congress.  Every Monday you will receive an e-mail with an introduction from Kooser and a brief poem like the one above.  I am consistently inspired, touched and edified by these poems.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Take Pictures

When I was a kid I asked for a camera for a birthday and I must have received one because I remember playing with it.  I have no idea what kind of camera it was but it took the standard Kodak film (probably 35 mm, right?).  Depending upon the film, you'd either get 24 or 36 pictures.  And when you took them you just looked through the view finder and trusted that what you were looking at would eventually show up on the film.

It was expensive.  First you had to pay a couple bucks for the film.  Then you had to pay a few bucks to have it developed.  Most of the time you got about 3 or 4 pictures that were worth taping to your wall or to the inside of your locker.  

Photography has certainly changed, but my success rates with taking pictures hasn't necessarily kept pace.  I'm more of a writer than a photographer.  I would like to take better pictures and hopefully some day I will have extra time to devote to that pursuit.  But for now, the quality of my pictures is pretty much dictated by luck and whatever random acts of kindness mother nature bestows upon me.

Having said that, I'd like to share a few photos that I've taken recently that I am more or less happy with.  These are the few that I wouldn't have thrown away if I'd paid for them to be developed.

This first one was taken yesterday evening.  Sometimes I take pictures of my garden just so I can refer back to them later on and remember what was in bloom at that time of year.  This one will remind me that the container-grown carrots still weren't ready to harvest, that the tulips were still hanging on, and that my four-legged buddy was looking old and sleepy.

I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to title a photo, but if I had to, I might call this "Happily Accidental" because I really thought I had dug up the iris rhizomes and tulip bulbs.  Apparently I missed a few.  I think I'll just let them stay as long as they insist on making things look good in spite of my efforts to eradicate them.

I find Japanese maples to be impossible to photograph well.  If you back up far enough to get the whole tree it seems like you miss some of the finer details that make them so special.  But if you get too close and focus on the leaves, you miss the awesome structure of the branches.  But the leaves are easier to photograph, especially this time of year, so here are some of my favorites of the moment:

Beni Schichihenge
Red Dragon by my iron chair
Katsura leaves
Otto's Dissectum
Murasaki Kiyohime
And here are a couple pictures that, when I look at, I find myself saying, "Man, flowers can be really cool."  

That's all for now.  Thanks for indulging my little photo essay.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kamagata Part II

Acer palmatum 'Katsura'
Part I can be read here.

I tend to get really involved in the things that I like.  Gardening, obviously, is one of those things.  I really like reading too.  But the most enduring pastime in my life has been baseball.  And for the last 20 years I’ve been pursuing the geekiest of passions: Fantasy Baseball.  Among the cast of characters that are part of my life, fantasy baseball is more accepted than gardening so I am not teased about my obsessing over On Base Percentages and Strikeout per 9 Innings ratios. 

This last weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year.  It was my current league’s 6th annual fantasy draft.  The guy that hosted the draft this year lives out in the boonies which ordinarily would have felt like an inconvenience, but in this case, his neck of the boonies was awfully close to Lakes Nursery . . . a nursery that just so happens to specialize in Japanese maples.  I made the trip out there about a month ago and purchased three new trees.  While I was there, I told the owner, Joe, the story of my stolen ‘Kamagata’. 

Upon having written that, I realize that I am turning into an old man.  Suddenly I’ve reached the age where it becomes normal to tell the same story to anyone who will listen, perfecting it, embellishing it, tweaking it just a little for my audience.  I would like to apologize to my wife now for the person I will be 30 years from now.  I hope that she will still “lichen me” when I’m old and mossy.  You see what I mean?  I’m even telling old man jokes now. 

So about that ‘Kamagata’.  Joe told me that they didn’t normally stock ‘Kamagatas’ but he would check with his growers in Oregon to see if they have any.  He told me to come back in a few weeks.  As it turned out, the weekend of the fantasy baseball draft was a “few weeks” later.  A side trip was in order.  I would drive out to the nursery and buy my tree and have a look around and then I’d take a few back roads and make my way to the baseball draft and it would be a great day. 

But then my friend, Mark, who has teased me about my “fairly rare” Japanese maples asked for a ride to the draft since it was out in the boonies and the price of gasoline is catching up to the price of bottled water.

Cut to Inner Monologue: “Do I tell him the truth?  Should I make up a reason why I can’t give him a ride?  I could tell him the baby seat in the truck is stuck so I can’t fit anyone over 45 pounds.  I could tell him I needed to practice my singing the whole way up and I wouldn't want to subject him to that.  Maybe he wouldn't want to go with me if I told him I had resolved not to speak at all while in vehicles this year?” 

The 'Katsura' planted in full shade.  Most Japanese Maples prefer at least some shade.
This one, I'm told totally resents direct sunlight during the hottest summer months.

None of those lies sounded right to me, so I told the truth and braced for the inevitable mocking.  And then I told him he was welcome to hitch a ride with me if he “still wanted to go and didn’t mind me looking around a bit.”  He said that would be fine and maybe he’d just sit in the truck and prepare for the draft.

My tiny 'Kamagata' planted in the ground
this time.  Hopefully that will make it just
a bit harder to steal if someone is so inclined.
I put the truck in park just outside the gates of the nursery.  Mark immediately unbuckled his seatbelt and jumped out of the truck.  I thought maybe he just needed to stretch his legs for a bit and that he'd get back in an finish his draft preparations but he followed me into the nursery where we were warmly greeted by a little cockapoo guard dog named Pancho and all the brilliant colors of Spring in a forest of Japanese maples.  Within seconds, Mark was remarking on the awesomeness of the colors and shapes.  I nodded, knowingly.  It was like watching someone get drunk for the first time. 

Several times he stopped and asked, “what’s this one called?” or “how big will this one get?”  By the time we left the nursery with my tiny new 1-gallon ‘Kamagata’ and a ‘Katsura’ for good measure, Mark was asking about where he could put a Japanese maple in his yard and he was planning a tranquil Japanese-style makeover for his private front yard patio.  And for a few minutes that day our minds were cleared of thoughts on batting averages, home run totals and placement on depth charts and replaced by daydreams of sitting on a patio and enjoying a couple beers or looking out a kitchen window during a quiet September moment and reveling in the color. 

When I recall how it felt to have someone steal my tree last year it still bothers me.  Who does that sort of thing anyway?  It's going to take a few years before this twig resembles anything close to a tree, but I'm okay with that because this tree is now my visible symbol that I chose not to let the riff raff dictate my life.  I have learned a few things through this experience.  I have learned that nothing physical is permanent.  I have learned that when I place too much value in something that can be taken or destroyed that I have let my priorities get out of whack.  But I have also learned that things, like trees, can inspire people with their beauty.  And I have learned that I don't need people to be as passionate about the same things as I am but when I am brave enough to share those passions with them, it's a pretty cool feeling.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Garden Dictionary 2nd Edition

It's been a while since I've done a gardening-related "Word of the Day" post and I wasn't planning on doing one for a while, but I just received the e-mail from with this word and I just had to share:

Word of the Day for Tuesday, April 3, 2012

zeitgeber \TSAHYT-gey-ber\, noun:
An environmental cue, as the length of daylight, that helps to regulate the cycles of an organism's biological clock.

The light–dark transition Zeitgeber is widely used by plants to set internal clocks not just for leaf movement but for many other activities as well.
-- John King, Reaching for the Sun
The most prominent zeitgeber in humans is the light/dark cycle.
-- Harold R. Smith, Cynthia Comella, Birgit Högl, Sleep Medicine

Zeitgeber comes directly from the German word which literally means "time-giver." It entered into English in the 1970s.

And here are a few more from the first quarter of 2012 accompanied by my own version of the "use it in a sentence" bit.

Tellurian \te-LOOR-ee-uhn\, adjective:
1. Of or characteristic of the earth or its inhabitants.
1. An inhabitant of the earth.
The dirt in my backyard has a Tellurian smell to it.

esculent \ES-kyuh-luhnt\, noun:

1. Something edible, especially a vegetable.
1. Suitable for use as food; edible.
Sometimes I think that we have too many words.  The fact that esculent and edible, which are similar sounding words that have identicle meanings, leaves a bad, in-esculant taste in my mouth.

I don't care what the French say, these garden pests are not esculent escargot.

vernal \VUR-nl\, adjective:
1. Appearing or occurring in spring.
2. Of or pertaining to spring.
3. Appropriate to or suggesting spring; springlike.
4. Belonging to or characteristic of youth.
If it weren't for the vernal equinox, no one would know that vernal pertains to spring. 

furcate \FUR-keyt\, verb:
1. To form a fork; branch.
My sad little Dwarf Alberta Spruce
1. Forked; branching.
During the summer months, I can often be found yelling at the TV to put a furcate in the pitcher because he's done. 

spruce \sproos\, verb:
1. To make neat or dapper (often followed by up).
2. To make oneself spruce (usually followed by up).
1. Trim in dress or appearance; neat; smart; dapper.
I don't know why missed this one.  Everyone knows a spruce is a tree. 

cordate \KAWR-deyt\, adjective:
1. Heart-shaped.
2. (Of leaves) heart-shaped, with the attachment at the notched end.
There's a cordate-shaped hole in my chest that only my love can fill.

burled \burld\, adjective:
Having small knots that produce a distorted grain in wood.
I was cruising along with these sentences pretty nicely until I ran into this burled word which threw me off course. 

pied \pahyd\, adjective:
1. Having patches of two or more colors, as various birds and other animals.
2. Wearing pied clothing.
I had no idea this is what pied meant.  I've never heard it used apart from pied piper.  I do have a pied tulip growing in my yard today. I just didn't know it was pied. 

viscid \VIS-id\, adjective:
1. Having a glutinous consistency; sticky; adhesive.
2. Botany. Covered by a sticky substance.
I've been reading Winnie-the-Pooh to my daughter lately.  She often wonders how Pooh can put his head in a jar of honey and then go out and talk with his friends without taking a bath first.  I think she's got a point.  His fur would be quite viscid after doing that.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kamagata Part I

Last summer I spent a couple weekends creating a new bed in my front yard.  I tore out a sprawling jasmine that was probably quite stunning before I moved in and before the mulberry tree grew to the point of changing my yard from full sun to full shade. 

I planted a couple hydrangeas, a hedge of Gumpo White dwarf azaleas and what I had intended to be the star of the show, a potted Japanese maple (JM) called ‘Kamagata.’  If you’re not familiar with this particular cultivar, I don’t blame you.  There are over 400 JM cultivars and that number is steadily growing even if most garden centers continue to carry only the 15 or so most common cultivars like ‘Bloodgood’ ‘Crimson Queen,’ ‘Sango Kaku’ and ‘Garnet.’  To help keep track of all these trees with the hard-to-pronounce names, most JM enthusiasts turn to J.D. Vertree’s aptly (but boringly) named bible “Japanese Maples”.  Vertrees is to JM fans what Stephen Hawking is to really smart people that like science and space stuff.  Vertrees is to JM fans what Mr. Miyagi was to “Danielson”.  So, when J.D. Vertrees selected ‘Kamagata’ as one of only two JMs that he would name and cultivate, you know it’s a good tree. 

I was so proud of my little tree in its bright white pot.  I felt like it was the keystone that held together the new bed I had just created.  Unfortunately, as I wrote last July, someone else decided that they liked it too and they figured they would deprive me of my little tree. 

In addition to blogging about this, I made the mistake of posting about it on Facebook.  I wrote something along the lines of “Someone stole a fairly rare Japanese maple out of my front yard last night.”  Now, my friends are good guys that I would trust my life with, but they are not the type of guys who will just let you say stuff and get away with it.  Because they, in their foolish ways, do not consider gardening a very manly pursuit, the responses ranged from the sympathetic “someone once stole our bench” to the downright cruel: “Hey everybody, I just acquired a fairly rare Japanese maple.  Send me a message if you’re interested in buying it.”  Since then it’s become a bit of an inside joke (always at my expense) and it’s the most common refrain I hear whenever I mention something about working in my garden. 

The bed hasn’t looked right to me since the ‘Kamagata’ was stolen, but I have been reluctant to replace it for fear that whomever took it would just do it again.  But I have thrown caution to the wind!  Stay tuned for Part II.