Wednesday, August 24, 2016

That movie where the birds attack

Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. It’s been so long since my last post, that I’ve had a dickens of a time figuring out my password. I had to uninstall and reinstall programs, for goodness sake. The formatting looks strange to me, too. Anyhoo, we’re still gardening here in the Greatland. I’m not bragging about where I live, that’s really a nickname for Alaska.

Last year we were given, with no prior notice, some live animals. Yes, this paragraph can only get more horrifying, so buckle up. A car drove up the to the house. A car trunk was opened. Most unfortunately, in an unguarded moment, my garage door was open. Into this garage (and from the car in the driveway) were placed 4 chicks, a handful of feed, and a water dish. They were in a small cardboard box. Since people have been killed on slighter provocation than a drive by insta-pet dump, you’d think this person (a relative) would know better, but you have relatives like that too, don’t you?

So we have three chickens now in our garden. Those are the first, and most important birds of note in my garden, according to time and money spent, worry accorded, and noisy racket generated. We do get eggs, so I suppose that’s a consolation of sorts. Our brown chicken, Duck, eats slugs as well, so that’s nice. P.S. A child decided on the name for our chicken named Duck, so don’t judge me.


The second birds of note this summer are the “Charlies,” a slightly less technical but more affectionate term for the Stellar’s jays, Cyanocitta stelleri, that case our joint about once a day. My grandmother, Ruth, called every Blue jay in her Portland, Oregon backyard “Charlie,” so it has become a tradition for me with the Blue jay’s Alaska dwelling cousin. When I was a child, she told me jays always came in threes, Charlie and his two girlfriends. I have found that to be very often true. Sometimes just one jay, sometimes four, but most often three.

Jays are noisy and capable of making sounds that defy imitation, so instead of trying to talk to them in faux bird-talk, like I do the chickadees, I just holler, “Here Charlie!” That seems to work, as Charlie will take an unshelled peanut from my hand. The other three Charlies (fledglings, I suspect, or maybe they don’t like the look of me) are too shy to do more than land on my deck railing and look wistfully at the peanut in my hand, and make popping or scratching noises to the brave Charlie. 

A note to those interested in taming a Charlie: they have trained me and my two children to run to the bag of peanuts any time we hear their squawk or see them sitting on the rail. Sometimes they will fly up to the window if they see me inside and brush the window with their wings to get my attention. They’re pushy like that.

The third bird of note is the giant buzzard that has been hanging around the swing set, a good perching place for checking out the chickens. “Giant Buzzard” is the lazy person’s Latin for Bubo virginianus, or the Great Horned Owl. He showed up with much fanfare in the form of shouted alerts from my kids about chicken safety, or lack thereof. He also showed up with much poo. On my roof namely, but also my wooden decking. Never fear, the chicken pen was hastily (much in the manner of grave robbers working through the rainy night) covered in netting, and the owl was foiled. The poo was removed by scrubbing. Fooey.


I know you’re thinking, that’s a lot of bird adventures for one garden, but wait, there’s more. Other than the hawks scoping out the chickens in the form of dive bombing, which we will not mention, because they are never still long enough for a photo, we had one other cool sighting this summer (yeah, I say that like summer is over because, Anchorage, it is) of a hummingbird. Which is no biggie for you California or Oregon gardeners, but a cool and unusual sight for most Alaskans. It is so unusual for me (as a lifelong southcentral Alaskan, I’ve only seen two other sightings) to see one, that I didn’t know what I was looking at, at first glance. I thought the wind was moving some Lamium stems unusually fast. Nope, it was the first sighting of the little tyke, which hung around for about a week in late June, justifying all that red, pink, and purple Penstemon I planted everywhere. See if you can spot it perched on my tree cage (stupid moose, grumble, grumble).


So the bird season here is winding down, at least in this garden. Chicks fledged, robins mostly gone, feeder birds gearing up for the big vamoose back to warmer climes. It will be interesting to see what birds show up next year if we have another warm summer (please, oh please, yes).

What birds were hanging around your garden? Any unusual avian visitors?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

R.I.P. Pinwheels: wherein I slightly destroy garden art

Made it through the winter, woohoo!

Some years ago, in my zeal to defend my Prunus maackii against those dastardly, ever-hungry moose, I concocted a trio of giant pinwheels. Yes, you read that correctly. Pinwheels. (I am pausing a moment to savor these feelings of humility, shame, and perhaps a touch of defiance. There. I am done.)

I designed and welded those things to last through a hurricane. (See here, here, and here, for the story.) They came with us when we moved over four years ago, but never quite looked right at the spot in the backyard lawn where I placed them. Fate intervened with the occasional windstorm in winter. Now the moving parts were bent and broken, what to do?

Meanwhile, I had found the equivalent of a hen’s tooth at the home improvement store. I have been on the hunt for Malus ‘Prairiefire’ without hope for many years, because, let’s face it, Alaska is pathetic (and I’m only slightly exaggerating here) when it comes to variety of plant offerings. I am still looking for Viburnum ‘Wentworth.’ It’s been 5 years. Pathetic.

So my $27 Malus ‘Prairiefire’ crabapple is sitting in it’s pot, waiting. And waiting. I don’t dare plant it because I have no scheme to protect it from the moose. Schemes to protect trees from the moose fall in this order, from least effective to most: 1. folk remedies, like soap-on-a-rope or wolf urine (tied for number 1 with) prayer, 2. dogs (too unreliable), 3. Plantskydd (a blood based product), 4. fencing, 5. electrified fencing, and 6. paid assassins.

Since the Alaska Department of Fish and Game frowns on number 6, and number 5 seems a bit much for the front yard, I settle for numbers 1, 3, and 4. I plant the tree. I spray the tree with Plantskydd. I pray. I sleep. I wake up. Remove pinwheels from the back yard, rip off and snip off tin wheels, march to front yard, and pound the rebar into the ground, no doubt loosing a permanent bit of my hearing in the process. (Note to self: A hammer pounding rebar is loud. Get earmuffs from the garage, idiot.)

Now I can hang some discreet fencing from the rebar surrounding my tree and have the surety of a number 4 level of protection. And what happened to the spinning portion of my old pinwheels, you ask? I managed to salvage one as a d├ęcor item for the soon-to-be-built playhouse for the kids.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the traditional “planting out” date for south central Alaska. I planted out a month ago, so I can relax this long weekend. Viva la zone cheaters!!


Any repurposing or recycling of garden art? Are your annuals and veggies planted? And do you have to protect your trees?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oops, I did it again

garden cart full of grasses and Achillea

Britney Spears notwithstanding, if you do the same thing over and over, it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. Clearly there is something about it that pays off for you. Exhibit A: my river garden in the front yard. On a whim, I wacked down the perennials (with a couple of exceptions) on March 21st, last Saturday for those that keep track of such things. A kind neighbor passing by hollered out, “You know it’s too early to do that?!” To which I (being the classy dame that  I am) shouted back, “I don’t care. I need to be outside!”

I can see the salmon now

Which put me in mind of another year when I planted my annuals in containers rather early in April and a canvassing politician at my door made no mention of her ideas for our city, other than to note that I had planted out too early. I guess I’m edgy like that. Or perhaps early gardening activities are so provocative that no one, not even a stranger or a person that doesn’t know a petunia from a peony, can resist giving their two cents. Everyone’s a critic. Britney knows about that.

Meanwhile, we shall see who has the last laugh. The low temperatures are mostly above freezing in the forecast, and no snow in sight. I have no doubts the naysayers will continue to pester me though, I’m not that innocent.


Are you rushing things in the garden?

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