Thursday, August 6, 2015

Drought Intolerance

In many ways, this year four of the drought in California feels like the first bad year.  This has been the year of mandated cutbacks for people in my water district.  Our water agencies have been asked by the Governor of California to reduce output by 20 to 25% ( I'm too lazy to check the exact percentage) and I read in the paper that during the month of June we were successful at doing that.  Confession: I didn't actually read the article.  Just the headline.  But hooray for us, I guess.  As someone who believes in conservation of resources I can celebrate that.

But as a gardener, I have to admit I hate having to conserve water by not watering my lawn and plants.  It’s become vogue to “let your grass go gold” but there’s nothing that causes the gardener in me more dissonance than dead, crunchy grass and sad, wilting plants. 

My side yard hasn't been watered all summer
because the spray from the sprinklers frequently
lands on the driveway - a big no-no.

The other day my daughter and I went to the backyard and played this complicated game with a balloon that we call “Don’t Let it Hit the Ground.”  In this game, the main objective is to hit the balloon to the other person and that person is responsible for not letting the balloon hit the ground.  It’s a challenging game of physical endurance and mental fortitude under normal circumstances but in this drought we have the extra obstacle of dealing with balloons that hit parched grass that has grown hard and sharp.  I kid you not, we popped three balloons by letting them hit the ground before we postponed the game for a lack of rain delay. 

Right now I’m allowed to water my lawn on Saturday mornings before 6:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. and that’s it.  I’m allowed to water my plants and trees with drip irrigation 3 days a week.  Now you might be thinking that watering your lawn correctly once a week should still allow for a lawn to be relatively green.  And you’d be correct.   However, there are large sections of my yard where the sprinklers either don’t reach or provide inadequate/inconsistent coverage and the result is an unappealing mishmash of green and gold on the level of what the Green Bay Packers uniforms look like.  But less green and less gold.  So, not really like the Packers uniforms at all, I guess.

It looks like a river of gold running through the back yard.
The water restrictions make it pretty difficult to get any new plants established as even native and drought tolerant plants need supplemental watering their first year.  As a result, I really haven't planted much of anything since this spring before the restrictions were put in place.  Which has really led to a lack of blogging for me.  And, if I'm totally honest, a lot of the fun of gardening has been sapped from me this summer too.  It's been a summer of garden maintenance more than flexing my creativity and working toward completion of my long range vision.

The last thing I planted: ground cover of Dwarf Mondo Grass with three Japanese maples and a Dogwood.
I covered this part of the lawn with a thick mulch of leaves last fall and that killed most of the grass.

The hope is that the mondo grass will form a thick, green carpet that takes significantly less water than normal grass would.
The water restrictions are hard enough to deal with on their own.  Being such a hot topic (pun not really intended) people are making it even harder by generally being lame to each other.  What this drought has done is turn people into tattle-tales and guilty parties.  There's a group discussion on my neighborhood's "Next Door" web site that talks about how to turn your neighbors into the government if you think they are wasting water.  Whether that allegation is substantiated or not, the Water Resources Board sends you a nice little notice telling you you've been flagged and that they are going to come inspect your property and could fine you $100, $200, or $500 depending on how many times they find you doing something wrong.  The comments on this message board range from "Give 'em hell" to "wouldn't it be better just to talk to your neighbor?" to "you all are a bunch of Nazis".  Because every internet forum must prove Godwin's Law to be correct.

A typical Sacramento front yard.  I suspect this particular neighbor is happy about the drought because this is how his yard looked even before we had water restrictions.  Now he fits right in and looks like a model citizen!
As I mentioned before, I'm happy to conserve water and I believe it's my duty to be part of the solution, but it's ridiculous to me that people that know how to get the most out of their grass (deep, infrequent watering coupled with leaving the grass taller for example) are automatically targets for busy body neighbors that assume you're breaking the law because your lawn doesn't quite look like a hay field that's been shorn to the ground like the picture above.

From my tone, you might have guessed it: someone turned me in.  I'm waiting for a visit from the Water Resources Board any day now.  I'll be happy to show them the timer schedule for my sprinklers though.

In the meantime, I'm going to wash my car.  That always makes it rain.  Oh wait, we're not allowed to wash our cars anymore.  Well, maybe it's time to brush  up on my rain dancing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Until Then, I Have Enough

Nothing is perfect here yet.  I have ideas and energy to give them shape.  But it takes time.  Time to plan, time to plant, time to turn the leaves and lawn clippings into compost, time to consider water in a dry land, time to let things fill in.  I want intriguing pathways and inviting places to sit – or at least places that would make you imagine we actually sit in the garden.  I want all the interest we’re supposed to have: evergreen structure for the barren winter; pops of color for the heralding of spring; interesting bark, variegated foliage, and shade from summer’s wrath; and heartbreaking, nostalgic color in autumn.  I want a sunny patch of fertile soil for the pleasure of contributing praise-worthy tomatoes to our dinner.  And I want a rock, half buried in the shadowy ground, covered in moss.

I think I will have these things someday.  Or, at least, I will have some of these things some days.  Until those days though, I will remember that I have enough.  I will remember that some day I will want nothing more than what I had today. 

The light from the setting sun gave me pause.  A bright, quiet moment to be savored.

The scent of jasmine, finally climbing the arbor with vigor, was intoxicating.

I live within driving distance of the Napa Valley, aka "Wine Country".  I was pleased to see grapes
already growing on this vine in the ground less than a month. 

Birdhouse and suet created at a birthday party . . . more for us than the birds.

It looks like she's running from the camera but she's really just chasing
her new dog, Gus.  Her laughter and his tiny yips fill the evening with
innocence and my heart with gratitude.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nightmare Trees

I used to think that my old neighbor’s Washingtonia Robusta was a nightmare tree.  Anything that wakes you up with a start more than once or twice can start to torment you and that cursed tree would wake me up whenever the wind would blow.  Those fronds are large and heavy and would sound like someone jumping onto the roof. 

But I have new perspective on what truly constitutes a nightmare tree, courtesy of photographer Elido Turco who uses a mirror to create these images.  Take a gander at his Flickr album of 200+ pictures of trees guaranteed to make you take a closer look at those old trees you thought were simply lovely before.  Now you know they're really just waiting for you to fall asleep before they do their unspeakable deeds.

Credit goes to the blog 22 Words for ruining tonight's sleep.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In a word

What word comes to mind when you think of spring?  For those of us that spend our free time in the yard, tending a garden, or wandering the aisles of the nursery, I'm sure that there are hundreds of words that could spring to mind depending upon your mood.  Whether it's the name of an iconic flower like the tulip, or perhaps it's the name of the first bird that shows up, or maybe what you think of is having more light, more warmth, or more energy.

When I think of spring I think of those things too.  But I think we all think of it on another level.  We not only think of what spring looks and feels like.  We think about what it means.  And what it means to me is faith, hope, and love.

Those of you who are Christians may be immediately familiar with that trinity of words as they are found in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.  He wrote, "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love."

Granted, I'm taking these completely out of context when I apply them to my view of Spring.  But the words remain apt.

I think of faith when I see the trees bursting forth into bloom and into leaf.  We had faith that the winter would not ruin us, that the bleak times would end eventually, that sustenance would be provided again.

How can you not feel hope when you see a bud about to burst forth?  Or when you see new foliage on the rose bush that has been little more than a barbed set of sticks for month?  Our faith was tested and found to be true and now we reap the reward of hope.  Hope for what is coming soon.

And then there is love.  The greatest of all.  The all-encompassing love.  We love our flowers.  We love the colors.  We love new life. We love our alone time.  We love our dogs, our parents, our spouses, our children, our friends, and our own selves.

May love fill your garden this spring and may it fill your life in the rest of your seasons.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Change of Color

Spring has come to Sacramento and I took advantage of our beautiful, sunny and low 70s weather and did some painting over the long President's Day weekend.

I always forget what a pain painting can be.  And the older I get the more literal I mean that.  My quads have been on inactive duty since around October so after just a few hours of squatting, stretching, bending, and climbing I was feeling like rubber.

Although I'm a big fan of color - who isn't - I'm also becoming a disciple of the school that says gardens should have a limited color palette.  To that end, I'm trying to move toward the classic brown, white, and green color combo.

That meant that my red and white shed would need a latex bath of Behr's Sweet Molasses.

This is the view from our back porch.  The shed dominates the scene in all weathers.  While many guests (and at least one member of my family) have remarked about how quaint it looks, I found myself wanting to notice it less often.  I want the plants to be the star when they grow in.  

After a couple days, this is what I ended up with:

It still holds some visual weight, but I think that's more of a result of its size than its color.  

Growing up on either side of the window are climbing roses that will someday cover a majority of the shed in profuse white blooms for months on end.  I'm looking forward to that.

One more thing: I had a poetry teacher that used to tell us that we needed to know the rules before we could break the rules. Well, if my rule is a color palette of green, brown, and white, I broke that rule with abandon when I let my daughter pick out the paint color for our Adirondack chairs.  

We went from weathered (which I liked) but dirty (which no one liked)

To this eye-assaulting pop of color:

I really wanted to paint these a matching brown, but since this was a family project, I deferred to my daughter's choice.  One of the best things about painting, and gardening, is that you can always change your mind.