Saturday, December 22, 2012

You've Either Got it or You Don't

Outside a shop in beautiful Sandpoint, Idaho.
One of the things about gardening that I find most interesting is that it seems like gardeners have a knack for growing certain things while struggling to grow other things.  I know a great deal of this has to do with where we live, what our soil is like, what kind of weather we get, etc.  But I also think there are just some things that people excel at or fail at when they really shouldn’t. 

I think I do a pretty good job at growing Japanese maples in an inhospitable environment for them.  On the other hand, petunias should do just fine for me here but for whatever reason I flat out suck at growing them.  Even gas stations seem to have no problems growing abundant bouquets of them.  And yet I keep trying.  I have tried growing them in the ground and in pots.  I’ve tried growing them in full sun, part sun, and very little sun.  I’ve tried planting them early in the year and late in the year.  I’ve tried hand watering and drip irrigation.  The end result is always a disappointingly leggy, sticky, non-bloomin’ mess.  

Case in point: I have two identical wooden boxes that flank my front door.  This summer I tried growing petunias in each box.  They may have gotten slightly different amounts of sun light because they were a couple feet apart but they were purchased at the same store at the same time and appeared to be grown by the same company.  They were put in identical potting soil and they were hooked up to the same drip irrigation timer.  And yet one of them died within weeks while the other one miraculously looks like this in mid-December no less!  In fact, they look better today than they did in June.  Go figure.

So what am I doing wrong?  What’s the trick to growing petunias that bloom and bloom? 

I visited my alma mater a few summers back and was enchanted by these
hanging baskets of petunias repeated along the "Hello Walk".

Monday, December 10, 2012

Godspeed, Little Buddy

I wrote this post for my Facebook friends initially but I wanted to share it here as well because my dog Zooey has been a frequent subject on this blog.  He was both a companion in the garden as well as a pest.  He kept me company while I moved pots around or pulled weeds.  He kept the squirrels and the cats at a safe distance from me and he always barked to tell me when the girls had come home.  I miss him like crazy.


It used to frustrate me that people would say, “you’ll know when the time comes” because, for a long time, I didn’t know if it was time to say goodbye to my little buddy, Zooey. I last wrote about him almost a full year ago. I noticed how much older he was. How it was getting harder for him to stand up. But I didn’t ever know when it was time to say goodbye. As the months passed I noticed a few other things were changing. He slept more during the day for one. He barked a little less too. But for the most part he still seemed like the Zooey I had always known. 
My family - when we were younger
Friday night I sat down next to him to brush his hair. Back by his tail I noticed some blood. I looked a little closer and saw that he had a bleeding sore the size of a silver dollar. I dabbed it with a paper towel until it was dry.

Saturday morning we went to gymnastics to watch our daughter. While sitting in the grandstands Suzanne told me that Zooey had cried all night. Suzanne’s known a lot longer than I have that it was time, but she was patiently, gracefully waiting for me to catch up.

We had taken separate cars. In the solitude of my drive home, I experienced something close to the “you will just know” moment I had been promised. I didn’t know if Zooey was ready (or if I was truly ready either), but I knew that I could no longer ignore his suffering or downplay it by thinking “it’s just old age” or “he still seems happy.” I couldn’t make him suffer just because I was afraid to make a decision.

When Suzanne came home later that day I told her I was ready. We cried. And we gave Zooey extra hugs and kisses. Suzanne called the vet for me and set up an appointment for Sunday afternoon.

We made eggs for him Sunday morning. Gave him ham at lunch. Fed him treats he didn’t need or ask for. I found him sleeping by the bed and I laid down beside him. I wished I could ask him what he wanted. I wished that I could tell him I would do whatever he wanted. And though we’d learned some of his language in the past 13 years, I never learned what “let me go” sounds like. I wish I had because I’m afraid that not knowing will haunt me.
Sleeping in a quiet place on his last day -
something that had become all too common for a dog that used to be in constant motion.

We tried explaining it to our daughter, who is not quite five yet. “Zooey is old and very sick so we are going to take him to the doctor and he won’t come home with us.” 

“Okay. But when will he come home?”

My heart was already broken. I was sad for myself and for Suzanne. Zooey has been with us since the first month of our marriage. But I wasn’t prepared for the sadness of a little girl not quite understanding what it means to say goodbye forever. 

I took this picture a month ago.  They were brother and sister in our family.
After we talked to the vet about the process and signed paperwork we told Bailey to say goodbye to Zooey and then I took her into the waiting room so Suzanne could have a few minutes with him. When she finished saying goodbye, she came out with tears in her eyes and I took her place in the room with Zooey. I rubbed his head as we waited for the doctor to come in. He laid there on the floor, oblivious to what was about to happen. I felt guilty that he didn’t know and that I couldn’t warn him or talk him through it.

As the vet pushed the anesthetic through the catheter, Zooey tried to kiss her. He was loving and calm and he tried to keep his head up like a brave boy. But then his eyes started to close. I told him that I loved him. I thanked him for being my buddy. And I just kept rubbing his head, hoping that he felt comforted. And then he put his head down between his paws and the doctor left me there in that room with Zooey’s body.

I slipped his collar off over his head, taking note of how he didn’t raise his chin to make it slip off easier. I ran my hand down his back, taking note of how he didn’t lean into my touch. I rubbed his ear and kissed his nose and he didn’t kiss me back. And the dog I had loved, I knew, was gone and wouldn’t be back.

We went to the vet as a family of four. And came back a family of three.

There are reminders of him everywhere. His dog bowl by the dining room table, his basket of toys by the fireplace, the hair he shed (which is everywhere). It’s what isn’t here though, that invokes the most poignant reminders. It’s what isn’t here that reminds me what is missing most. 

Zooey's tags: King of the Yard

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rain Delay

My front yard project has been in a rain delay for the past five days.  In that time we’ve received almost a full five inches of rain.  About a half inch of that came in a single stop-what-you’re doing-and-take-notice 10-minute period Sunday morning.  We stood at the windows and watched the water on the street crest the sidewalk.  If the local news hadn’t brought in all four of their meteorologists that morning and talked at length about this thin yellow band on the Doppler radar I would have been concerned about real flooding.  But I trusted that Mark, Eileen, Tamara and Dirk all knew what they were talking about and that the “extreme weather” wouldn’t stay long. 

The storm has knocked down most of the leaves.

By Sunday afternoon the clouds had finally cleared.  When I stood outside and looked east, I could still see the dark grey clouds and knew they were dumping snow on Lake Tahoe a hundred miles away.   

Berries on an Arbutus 'Marina' - also known as a Strawberry Tree

The sky was still clear this morning so the landscaping crew was finally back at work.  Today’s goal is to dig the trenches for the new sprinkler system.  They are running into some pretty hefty roots leftover though so work is progressing much slower than I’m sure they hoped. 

A red leaf cradled by Lambs Ear

Normally they would also plan to lay the sod today but the landscaper called his supplier and was told that right now the sod is under about 2 inches of water.  If it dries up early in the day they might be able to lay it down but it’ll likely be “heavy as hell” so the sod might have to wait a few more days as more rain is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

It’s a little crazy to me when I think about this being December and yard projects of this type are still being done.  But this is California and, in spite of the storm (or perhaps because of it) overnight temperatures have been in the mid-to upper 40s with daytime highs over 60.  So, why not?  After all, it still looks and feels like autumn.

Lagerstroemia x fauriei 'Natchez' (A white-blooming Crepe Myrtle)