Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pinwheel update: the posts are in for good, short of a hurricane

For those keeping track, I have had three sessions with my welding guru to work on the moose pinwheels.  I never dreamed when I came up with the concept that it would take so darn long and require so much effort.  The rebar posts have finally been installed, with the aid of an Eagle scout, an engineer, and a laborer.  Luckily, I am married to him and he had no choice. 

Additonal aid rendered by an ax, a hammer, a log (don't ask), a ladder, a post-hole digger, and a few choice phrases I will not repeat here.  You'd think after all this I was laying the foundation for the Sistine Chapel or something.  This is all I did:

Yup, that's it.  I have two more pinwheels to make.  After a couple of coats of epoxy on the pinwheel edges (to prevent any visitors from getting maimed on a windy day), I can move on to my next project.  And my welding wish finally came true: I did get to don the leather chap/apron (and strike a Charlie's Angels pose) at my latest welding session.   

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Frosty day

It was a wee bit chilly today.  Gloves and scarf weather, most definitely.  The hops vine was withered, crackly moose fodder (above).  The water has frozen solid in the rain chain (pictured below), much to the disappointment of the kids, who love to swing it around and empty the water out.  How does 20 degrees Fahrenheit sound?  Depends on what part of Alaska you call home.  Today that might seem cold for Juneau and warm for Fairbanks, but for me in Anchorage this morning, it sounded like reality.  Each degree of temperature lost becomes precious at a certain point and we are certainly at that point. 

Finding a silver lining in every (snow) cloud is important at this time of decreasing daylight hours and temperatures.  How about the lovely hoar frost on all the plants (pictured on Pinus mugo, below) this morning?  No?  Then perhaps this: at least I don't have to mow the lawn for another 7 months.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"The snow is here!!"

For those of you that have seen the animated movie, "The Secret of NIMH," just substitute the word "snow" in the place of "plow" when Auntie Shrew is screeching "The plow is here!"  That's a bit how I feel today.  Yes, winter is truly here now.  Yesterday snow was on the mountains and the upper hillside.

Today, it's everywhere, and still coming down.  Even though it is still pretty dark at 9am at this time of year, I grabbed the camera to document the first dusting of the season (pictured on Bergenia).

If you will recall, after Auntie Shrew made the raucous proclamation mentioned above, pandemonium ensued.  Small animals were racing away from the plow as fast as they could.  It was a fearful, hysterical scene.  For those that haven't seen the movie, the animals are portrayed as quite intelligent little things, some with the intelligence of humans. They knew the farmer would plow the field in the fall, just like every year.  But most made no plans about it until the plow was bearing down on them. (Achillea 'Terracotta' pictured)

A bit like many Alaskans.  The snows come, and we know they will, just like every year.  We wait and wait until the bitter end (of autumn) to do those things that need doing before the snow flies.  For example, change out summer tires to snow tires.  Nope, I haven't done it yet either.  There is a considerable line at the tire changeover place (pictured below), and it's only going to get longer. 

We haven't gotten back our "driving-in-snow-legs" yet (a bit like sea legs, but you get the idea), they seem to take a few snows to kick in .  The sirens were wailing several times this morning.  Folks didn't slow down for the slick conditions, I suppose.  At the onset of winter, there are always cars in the ditch on the freeway.  We just aren't ready for the snow, some of us. 

But is the Alaskan gardener ready for the snow?  I find the first snows to be very beautiful in the garden, highlighting form and texture in a delicate way.  And hiding the tarp.  For gardeners, as always the proof is in the pudding.  How does your design hold up in winter?  Does your garden still capture your interest at a glance?  If the answer is in question, stay tuned for some winter design ideas coming soon....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Need a navigation system for online mail-order nurseries?

Until my experience with one last Christmas, navigation systems (picture from ehow) were just another car option I didn't see a need for.  We had flown to the lovely state of North Carolina and were making a drive to Florida.  No, we had never made the drive before, but waterparks and heat are a powerful incentive for Alaskans in December.  Our borrowed SUV had a navigation system with a calm, disembodied female voice that made random comments like: "In a quarter mile, take the next right turn."  I felt like we were in a Star Trek episode.  It was very convenient when it was accurate.  We almost drove off a non-existent exit once and made at least one burning rubber-type acceleration and right turn to follow this voice.  Convenience turned to dependance pretty quickly once we hit Florida.  If I never drive through Jacksonville at night again, it will be too soon.  Granted I'm from Alaska, pretty much hicksville when it comes to freeways, but that was an insane little drive.  The nav system got a bug or something for a while in Tampa at night in a bad neighborhood and I was almost in tears.  Begging, threatening, dispair, all levelled at "the voice" that wasn't working.  When it kicked in again and we found a hotel (hallelujah!), I could have given that sales guy on TV (the bearded one that hawks detergent and is always shouting) a run for his money selling navigation options on cars. 

Navigating the intricacies of mail order (I'm thinking of online ordering here, but the advice holds for "snail mail" orders, too) can be a bit like the Jacksonville freeways during rush hour: intimidating, and to some, not worth it.  Never fear, your Alaskan mail-order nursery navigator is here!  I have ordered from the good, the bad, and the really bad.  Have you ever had too many choices and been overwhelmed?  No worries about that with mail ordering in Alaska.  So many companies won't even consider shipping to us, it really pares down the options.  Not to say there aren't any.  There are plenty of quality nurseries that will ship up here.  And yes, contrary to popular opinion, Alaska is part of the United States....

The first place you should visit before you make a mail-order is Dave's Garden, so turn on the computer.  There is a handy list of top-rated nurseries, followed by recent ratings from gardeners, and then a search feature.  You can search for the nursery you have been hankering to order from and see how they have been rated by others.  Experiences are rated positive, neutral, or negative.  Some go into great detail as to why they rated a company a certain way.  If a company has a lot of negative ratings, be leery about ordering.  You can also search for a particular plant you want on the site and it will spew out what nurseries carry said beauty.  Very convenient.

The second place you should visit before ordering, after you have determined the company is reputable, is the nursery's website, if they have one (Bluestem Nursery's site, pictured).  Here they should have the most up-to-date information.  I say should.  Check to see that they do indeed ship to Alaska.  This can usually be determined by searching under the  "shipping" or "Frequently Asked Questions" or "Ordering Info" buttons.  If they do not, it typically says something like, "We do not ship to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico (or wherever else)."   Determine their shipping and handling costs and policies before making an order.  I have been (unpleasantly) suprised on this.  A nursery owner determined last minute, and with no notification, that shipping air would be better than ground (after I specifically requested and paid for ground shipping) and that increased my shipping costs by about 5 times.

The third place you should visit before ordering is your local nurseries (inside Suttons Greenhouse in Anchorage, pictured).  You might be able to pick up that plant you have been craving for a fraction of the cost by getting it right here in good ol' AK.  There are some nursuries that make an effort to have a nice selection of the "latest and greatest" as well as the reliable Alaskan standbys: Fritz Creek Nursery in Homer, Sutton's on Tudor, and Alaska Mill and Feed come to mind, and there are others.

The fourth place you should visit is your garden.  Do you really need all those plants?  I have "window shopped" by putting things in the online cart but not committed by buying.  Often I will do this several times, observing the price fluctuations for my different wish lists.  If I see certain plants cropping up again and again in my "fake" orders, those are usually the ones I really want.  But take a gander at your yard or your notes and pictures to refresh your memory about what it was you wanted for the yard at different seasons.  Discipline is good thing, right?  You really don't want to take out a second mortgage for that order....

All this being said, ordering online is a very easy, practically painless thing to do.  Many of my rare or unusual acquisitions were from nurseries out-of-state.  So don't be afraid to get your feet wet with a web order if the plants you want aren't available locally.  To get you started, here are a few of the nurseries that I have had good luck with (and that ship to Alaska).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Whirligigs: whimsical or weird?

I suppose my next post will be about gnomes.  Anything is possible if I am writing about whirligigs.

Looking out across the neighborhood, my eye is caught by the sight of a lawn full of whirligigs.  Just what is a whirligig?  What does having one in your space mean?  If I'm feeling charitable, I might say "a touch of whimsy", if I'm a bit surly, "a touch of weird".  But pass it by without making a snap judgement, I cannot.  Certain aspects of gardening always seem to provoke strong reactions.  The decor/art category comes to mind.  One person's post modern outdoor sculpture is another's zoning violation or scrap metal heap.

Another snap judgement category would have to be certain types of annuals.  There is a T-shirt available from a very reputable (and sly) mail-order nursery proclaiming "friends don't let friends buy annuals."  Granted, up here in the far north, a lot more plants are annuals, whether or not they are supposed to be!  Admitting you plant marigolds (in some gardening circles) seems akin to admitting you bought your opera gown at Wal-mart: a bit embarrassing, even if it's true.  I do remember going through a phase (not so long ago) when the thought of a pansy (Viola spp.) in the garden would send a shiver of horror down my spine.  Guess I'm over that, as little blue ones seem to be re-seeding in a corner of the garden.  Very cheerful.  I also came down with a bad case of the ever-popular and sometimes recurring "geranium (Pelargonium spp.) loathes" but I recovered and now enjoy the fancy-leaved varieties in my containers.  Currently, my nose is in the air over gerber daisies and begonias and, though I can't imagine using them now, it is just barely possible that I could be raving about them next year.  I already slipped a little and used Begonia 'Escargot' in a container this year.  Oops. 

I s'pose the point to this ramble is, what you loathe in someone else's yard today may be in yours tomorrow.  Time can make fickle gardeners of us all when it comes to taste.  So when you spy that gnome family surrounded by pink geraniums and a ring of white lava rock, remember, laughing is more fun than crying.  Watching people drive by my yard laughing at my taste in yard art or plants might be a little disconcerting, but no more so than a lawn full of whirligigs.

 No whirligigs were harmed at this (blurry) photo shoot in front of Alaska Mill and Feed in Anchorage.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Does 35 degrees F sound cold?  If you are an Alaskan and it's October 20, the answer is "no."  However, I am tempted and spoiled by our unseasonable long and mild fall, to reply "yes."  It seems too early to be wandering around the house with a blanket draped around my shoulders, but alas, that is the case today.  I even had to brew up my first batch of hot chocolate of the season: caramel with a shot of cream.  Served in a Haviland Limoges porcelain cup with saucer (sounds very la-de-da but I purchased it for a song at a thrift store auction).  Something about the presentation just makes the cocoa taste better, more satisfying.  I feel like I'm indulging myself, and in today's hectic world, by taking a moment for myself and enjoying something tasty served in something beautiful, I sure am.

Presentation in the garden, have you thought about it?  What is the first thing a visitor to your garden will see, and what draws the eye?  Stand back from your home and try to observe what stands out.  I often do this in the street or ditch across the way (yes, I do check for traffic).  I take pictures from this perspective, and I have learned to do this for each season (see pictures).  The strengths and eyesores of autumn might be different than those of spring.  If you are an Alaskan, you sure aren't doing any gardening in the winter, so why not take notes and review the pictures you have taken at that time? 

Many of the newer lots here in Anchorage are of smallish size, rather close together, and have few trees for privacy, so an example of notes might be something like: evergreen tree to block view of automobile and snowmachine graveyard, deciduous tree to block view of neighbors riverboat that only shows up in summer, brightly colored shrubbery to divert attention from garbage cans/Dumpster, a brown tarp for the convertible instead of a blue one for next year, widen the path to the front door, etc.

My own notes include: install "moose repelling" pinwheels, plant decidous tree where Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid' is now ailing, rip out declining Cladrastis lutea 'Rosea' and plant Malus 'Prairiefire', level gravel walkway, touch up stain on fencing and backyard deck, plant more bulbs next fall.  That's just for starters off the top of my head.  A sobering thought indeed. 

Another good reason to be taking mental stock of the "to do" list for improving yard/home presentation in winter: it takes me that long to rest up mentally and physically for all the exertion that lies ahead.  Ugh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Power tools and pinwheels

OK, so this is post number two about the moose pinwheels.  I needed to turn a flat sheet of galvanized metal into a pinwheel that attaches to rebar by a welded-on bolt.  Follow that?  Luckily, I had printed out a how-to-make-a-pinwheel instruction sheet from wikihow, so that was a big help.  How did I cut the metal? 

Electric cutting shears (pictured) helped.  The yellow ones are the old fashioned manual tin snips.  I used those, too.   After cutting the pinwheel out I whipped out the Dremel tool (looks like an archaic dental drill). 

I used a grinding attachment to make patterns on the sheetmetal. 

And I used a wrench to make it wavy.  I wasn't sure how to tack the bent ends onto the pinwheel. ( I absolutely had to fasten them down somehow, they were very sharp, and the metal was too thin to bend down permanently without creasing the pinwheel.)  On the cheap plastic ones, the tacking down is usually accomplished by a bead or button.  My clever husband had a great idea: a riveting gun.  I expected something that looked like a gun or at least a tool with a cord.  Not so.  The thing looked very unglamorous, a bit like a three-hole punch.  It did the trick, as you can see below.

Next post about this project will be how I stick the leaves onto the rebar stems.  Any ideas?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Just passing through

Those giant metal pinwheels can't come soon enough.  The moose have been tromping though the yard every day for the last week.  We have to listen at the front door before we open it because sometimes they are right there!  Though the moose haven't eaten much, they certainly don't help soil structure in the raised beds by compressing it.  And plants don't care for having their crowns stepped on, even if they are ignored as a food source.  My poor newly planted rhubarb!  Almost a direct hit.

It has been unseasonably warm.  Get those bulbs planted NOW.  Planting bulbs is a pleasurable activity in this kind of weather.  Miserable when it's cold.  You've been warned.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Welding 101

Or more appropriately, welding for dummies.  There is something magical about taking raw materials like sheetmetal, rebar, and bolts (pictured)

and turning them into garden art.  Luckily, I know a fearless metal artist.  I say fearless because, would you let me weld in your garage, when I have had no prior experience?  I think I only blinded her once or twice (starting my weld without warning her to put her helmet down).  We assembled my art project about halfway, so this is just part one.  Here is the one of the beasts I worked with:

And here is the other:

I think she said the cutting torch was oxy-acetylene (the one with the green tank).  How is that for a vocab word?

I conceived this big idea after learning of a gardener that had used rebar rammed into the ground part-way, sort of like a jail, to keep the moose out.  Additionally, I saw on a Master Gardener tour last year that some practical soul was using cheap plastic pinwheels to frighten moose off with some success.  Very cheerful looking, too.  Voila, rebar and sheetmetal pinwheels!  A couple of people stopped by the garage and checked things out.  There was some amused skepticism about how the durn things would look in the garden.  "At least it's not a gnome or something like that," said my welding guru.  Well spoken.

Did I mention I got to wear a leather button up shrug?    
Next time maybe she'll let me wear the leather apron/chap combo...stay tuned for part 2.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Something misty this way comes....

You could actually breathe the moisture in the air, it was so heavy.  Sort of like North Carolina minus, oh, about 40 degrees.  It made for some fun picture-taking weather though.

The Bergenia are coloring nicely.  Also pictured are Viburnum (several different kinds) and Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'.  And ornamental grasses, but of course (Deschampsia, Arrhenatherum, and Calamagrostis).

Take some pictures now while the weather is decent.  This winter when all the mail order mags start arriving, refer back to your photos.  They will be a reminder of what you need (something vertical, or bold, or evergreen, or with a blue flower, etc.) so you can focus, sometimes a difficult proposition while oggling all those botanical beauties in the catalogs.  "I want that! and that! and that! and that!!"  Am I right? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

They're baaaack!

Line from a movie or line from Anchorage residents heard about this time of year.  You decide.  Our topic today, an Alaska gardener's adversary, the moose.  I get a kick out of gardeners in the Lower 48 whining about the deer problem down there.  I say, get a dog and stop fussing.  Moose don't care for dogs, but I know most dogs don't want to be stomped by a moose.  My sister-in-law's dog was dumb enough to jump on top of one laying in the snow.  Kapow.  Kung fu moose.  That dog was stomped.  Luckily the snow was deep and he just sunk way, way down.  The two moose pictured are eating the willow (Salix) trees in my neighbor's yard. 

What's the big deal about a moose in the ol' yard, folks in the contiguous U.S. will say.  What's so different about it than our deer?  How about a couple of stats from the Alaska Fish and Game website: up to 1600 lbs. and 7 feet at the shoulder.  You really want that in your garden looking for dinner?  I sure don't, but they are cruising neighborhoods this time of year looking for grub.  They aren't really desperate yet, but just wait four months or so.  That Prunus maackii (Amur chokecherry) they passed up in October could be on the buffet in February.  It depends on how hungry they happen to be at the time.  And, according to some long-time gardeners, it depends on the moose.   Something moose won't touch in Sand Lake might be on the menu for moose in the Muldoon area.  I guess this means we have to be moose whisperers, knowing what "our" moose like and planting accordingly.  Or you could plant the moose equivalent of brussel sprouts.

Some plants that are at the very, very bottom of the menu for the moose would include spruce trees (Picea), mugo pines (Pinus mugo) pictured, certain roses with really vicious prickers, like Rosa rugosa 'Wild Spice', and aromatic perennials or herbs.  Many perennials with a silver cast or fuzzy texture would fall in this category, for example: Achillea (yarrow), Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears), or Artemisia

Keep in mind that if they are starving, they will eat nearly any plant (or bark from most trees).  One stripped my neighbor's small pine tree a couple years ago.  It looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree!  I didn't think they ate evergreen trees before I saw that happen.  Also, they may destroy the leading shoot of a young tree trying to see if they like it.  Moose snapped off the leading shoots on all three of my hand-picked Prunus maackii specimens and now I have the difficult job of trying to re-train a new leader.  They didn't eat the branches they broke.  They were just sampling it and left the broken branches on the ground.  Sort of like chewing up a chocolate and then putting it back in the box.  Thanks but no thanks.

There are some plants that the moose will eat, or at least try (and mangle in the process), nearly every time encountered.  High on the list are Sorbus (mountain ash) pictured, Cornus (dogwood), and Salix (willow).  A good way to know if moose are around your neighborhood is whether anything is about to bloom.  They seem to have a sixth sense about this.  If the tulips are about to bloom on your side of town, bam, they are decapitated or eaten to the ground by morning.  Have your heart set on watching the dramatic unfolding of a peony over the course of a few days?  Don't blink or it may be all over 'til next year. 

Like many of us, they are fond of homegrown fruits and vegetables.  You have an unfenced veggie garden at your own (major) risk in this state.  Check my post "Of moose with the munchies" for a few preventative tips or ring up the cooperative extension, always a wealth of info.  If all else fails, some gardener's swear by an electrified fence.  Keeps the bears out, too, I hear.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Welcome is as welcome does

Don't you just love before and after photos?  Our topic today: welcome mats and first impressions.

Yes, it does make a difference doesn't it?  Painting the door dark blue would be even better, but that's a project for next summer.  Makeovers are much in vogue right now, and this is an inexpensive, big impact one.  Think about what colors or designs you might like for a mat and what would set off the house color, or add some color if you have a beige or white house, and get out there and get shopping.  I picked up mine at Target in the Smith & Hawken section.  I have seen cute mats at Alaska Mill and Feed, too.  Spring has the best selection, fall the best prices.

What sort of impression do you get from the door with a mat compared to the door without one?  It is a totally different feel.  The entry to your house is the gateway to your lifestyle and is therefore very important in setting the tone you wish.  (If the tone you are going for is the trifle neglected, forlorn, home of many animals and/or persons, by all means, don't repair that deck squeak, wash the door down occasionally, or put out a welcome mat.)    
You can really get a feel for a neighborhood by looking at the front porch areas.  Next time you are out, notice the way you feel while driving through different neighborhoods.  Why do you feel that way?  Are the houses well kept on the outside?  Does the front door look welcoming?  Now take a look at your place and see how you feel.  If it doesn't bring a smile or satisfaction to you, consider a (new) doormat and some cleaning or editing of the space.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Late night drive-in

Just wanted to let you all know the oft mentioned, always feared moose visitation happened last night.  It was around 10pm, so call it the moose equivalent of Taco Bell's "fourthmeal."  Two shady characters visited the front porch containers, not quietly.  There just isn't a way for hooves on a several-hundred-pound beast to be stealthy on a wooden deck.  Gardener's response to moose in the yard: "AAAAAAHHHHH!!!"  Non-gardener husband's response: dash upstairs to fling open a window and try out moose calls. 

Thankfully I practice what I preach, in this case copious and frequent dousings with Plantskyyd, or the damage might have been substantial.  Though this late in the season it is difficult to produce feelings of actual concern about something as fleeting as annuals.  Roll call of the casualties: one ornamental kale, one Pelargonium (Latin name for our gas station annual, the geranium).  Yup, that's it. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gas Station Plants: Yes You Can!

Savvy gardeners often malign the common, everyday shrubs that find their way into spreads at big box stores and service stations.  I guess if anyone can grow it, no one needs to coddle it, and it never stops blooming, there is no attraction.  We like a project.  

With this in mind I have developed a perverse streak.  I will find a planting that makes easy-going, forever-blooming Potentilla look fabulous.  I will, I will.

Not too bad, eh?  I snapped this one today (Achillea 'Paprika' with faded red blossoms, Potentilla 'Abbottswood', and the cute little grass, Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum 'Variegatum').  Now if I can just find the inspiration to place the gold flowering one languishing in my holding bed....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Musical chairs

The picture of Actinidia kolomikta (hardy kiwi vine) below is the after shot in a 3-year game of musical chairs in the garden. When I first started gardening, every time I moved a plant, I would dwell on the idea that I had made a mistake. Now that I have moved, oh, say every other tree, shrub, and perennial in my yard about 3 times, I have come to a few practical conclusions.

Conclusion one: sketching things out, even in a very rough bubble-looking form of where, what, and how you want things to look, helps minimize future digging games. If you know you would like a patio in a certain area and you block it out in a sketch, you most likely wouldn't plant a grove of spruce trees in that spot by mistake. Get out those pencils and paper, class!

Conclusion two: read the tag for size (please, please!). This is most often a problem with trees. If that "cute as a button" little 5-foot tree you planted 10 feet off the front door of the house gets to be a 30-foot wide behemoth, goodbye all sunlight in the front room. And any visitors for that matter. How could they get to the front door?

In general, I find the width measurements more important than the height measurements for trees and shrubs. Unless you are planting under a utility line. Also, I don't plant any trees closer than 20 feet to my house at a minimum (and these are usually narrow or dwarf varieties that won't eat up space). Many of the house lots in developed now in Anchorage are relatively small, so I often recommend varieties that don't get very wide. One tree that is tall and narrow, for those tight spaces, is Populous tremula 'Erecta' (which says on the tag 40' x 6'). Yeah, I know, it's a poplar. But you can't get much narrower than that in a tree up here. Other small trees include some of the crabapples (Malus spp.), serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), and some mountain ash, such as Sorbus decora. Go ahead, snoop around, visit nurseries, read magazines, surf online. Find something that fits and will still fit in ten years or twenty.

Conclusion three: read the tag for cultural requirements! Does it like sun? shade? wet soils? being trampled by the neighborhood children? Putting the plant in a place it will be healthy also minimizes those annoying musical chairs games.

Conclusion four: even if you have planned for every contingency, requirement, and eye appeal, you may decide you just don't like that plant in that place. Don't feel too bad. Mixing things up occasionally keeps the garden fresh and interesting, so go ahead and plan your moving projects now. When spring fever hits, you'll know where to dig.

Disclaimer: If the plant you want to move (or remove) could possibly fall onto your neighbor's yard, your home, overhead wires (in other words, if it's anything bigger than say, 8 feet), an arborist would probably be a better option than a DIY project.

The before musical chairs picture, a mishmash of Rosa 'William Baffin', Rosa 'Pole Star', and Actinidia kolomikta, all fighting for vertical space against the house. What a mess. Nothing a little digging won't fix, though. If you decide you are willing to part with plants you have dug up, consider sharing with a friend or neighbor (or put them on Alaskaslist). These days, I prefer to think of moving plants around as an opportunity (so long as my back holds up). So should you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Art in the Alaskan garden: the whimsical, the wacky, the what were they thinking!?

I think this baby falls under the "whimsical" category, don't you think?
I was going for a really strong vertical modern look. That's how the birch tree section got hauled home from the cabin. All two hundred pounds of it. It was so heavy I just rolled it into place. It was effective for the first year by itself. Sort of modern Alaska minimalist. Not even the gale-force winter winds could budge the thing. Being frozen to the ground always helps. Year two, my hubby was threatening to hang a bunch of old antlers around the house. Now some are calling the garden home, including this little moose rack, randomly plunked onto the birch. Voila, art!

This wacky guy was acquired in the Mat-Su Valley. I almost missed out, not wanting to make the 45-minute drive on a Saturday. But I took a chance and attended the Alaska Garden and Art Festival at the Palmer Fairgrounds. Lots of booths with whimsical goods, some weird, and a few "what were they thinking?" I found the mother lode at an older gentleman's booth. He informed me that he uses mostly recycled "junk" to make his work and really enjoys what he does, even recruiting his wife to paint some of his art. He had pigs, faces aplenty, bugs, lobsters, and I can't remember what else. A lot though. I snapped up a few other quirky items from him before I left. He said he might be at the Alaska Botanical Garden Fair in June next year (2010). I hope so, I am planning on adding one more funny face to make it a trio.

Now I'm not much a collector of anything froggy, but my mother-in-law has a large and fabulous collection of frogs. Glass, wood, porcelain, metal, gem-encrusted, you name it. I think she would approve of this copper specimen nestled amongst the Ligularia 'Othello' and hostas. I couldn't resist taking it home when I saw it at the gallery. There were snails, snakes, praying mantises, owls, bats, and our unofficial state bird in Alaska, the mosquito. I took that one home, too. I have a weakness for copper in the garden. Even my fence posts are topped in copper. Weird or wonderful, you decide. I think having one "main" metal color fosters a certain cohesiveness between house and garden. I like copper. Some prefer steel, brushed nickel, brass, black powder coated metal, etc.
Saw this guy on the Anchorage Master Gardener Association tour. I admit plant envy readily, but garden art envy rarely strikes me here. Not so in this case. I kind of have a salmon theme going in my yard, so I really wanted to know where the gardener found this. Unfortunately for me, she was yakking to a small group about her veggie garden, which was large and cleverly laid out on a sloping backyard, so I never found out the info. Oh, well. Maybe I'll make one myself. A friend is teaching me how to weld specifically to make garden art. That post might be called "Adventures in the ER", we'll see....

Monday, October 5, 2009

Of moose with the munchies (and machetes, oh my!)

Ah, the memories this photo brings back. Feelings of futility, rage, anger...but I will focus on the humorous story that goes along with it. Perhaps you did not know that in a former life, the Last Frontier Gardener had another alias: the Southside Chopper.

Our story unfolds a couple of years ago in the lovely metropolis of Anchorage. The city was making improvements to a park in my neck of the woods. Mountain Ash (genus Sorbus) were planted. Right next to a swamp and forested area. If you have lived in Alaska more than, say, 10 seconds, you know that moose frequent forested or swampy areas. And moose love, love, love mountain ash trees. It's not if they find them, it's when. And they did a couple of months after planting at the park. They snapped off all the leading shoots. Major scaffolding limbs were smashed and left at odd angles on the trees. When Ralphie's mother said "you'll poke your eye out," she could have been talking about a stroll down that sidewalk. Yikes.

I drove by this unlovely sight for several months before I snapped. I packed my pruning saw, Felco hand pruners, and Plantskyyd and headed out for some tree TLC. I parked the car, hiked through snow, and avoided the icy patches as best I could. I hacked away for an hour and forty-five minutes. OK, hacking doesn't quite describe it. Artfully, sensibly, pruning the broken branches with saw and hand pruners. A lot of cars were slowing down to check out what I was doing as they passed. A woman rolled down her window and thanked me. I was starting to feel pretty good.

After I slipped and slid to the trees planted in the median, I got started spraying the Plantskyyd. I love the stuff. If I didn't have it, I'm convinced my front yard trees would be short, wooden poles. As I was starting to wrap things up, saw in hand, covered in a fine mist of rotted animal blood (just what do think Plantskyyd is?), two APD cruisers rounded the corner. (My internal monologue something like: probably just some tykes into a spot of graffiti down the road. They are slowing down though. Is it possible? Yes, they are here for me!) They cautiously exited their cars, hand at holster. For a moment, I thought I might laugh but instead I said "hello, officers" and one answered by saying "uh, what are you doing?" I explained myself in my most cheerful tone and he had the good grace to look abashed and say "some lady called in and said a crazy woman was cutting down the street trees with a machete." They drove away and I laughed 'til the tears came down. Housewife doing volunteer work rates two police cruisers...I couldn't make it up if I tried.

You should know that a few days before this event, a disturbed person was running around the Sand Lake area of town with a machete and was styled "the chopper" by some, including myself. I was covered in (animal) blood and sliding down the icy sidewalk with a hand saw. I suppose I can see how the caller was confused (and now you know how I acquired my alias). The handsaw (or so-called machete) in question, is pictured, along with co-defendants (pruners and gloves).

The real point of this long reminisce is to remind you to get out the Plantskyyd (which I used religiously) or whatever you use as a deterrent and put it on any plant the moose can reach. I much prefer it to the orange vinyl construction fencing, black garbage bags, or duct tape contraptions. If you wouldn't dream of sending your yard to sleep without wrapping the trees, try burlap. It is far less conspicuous in the landscape than home improvement orange. Your neighborhood will thank you. If you need something less "mummy-on-top-of a-tree-looking" than wrapping and less odorous than spray, consider fencing. I've seen some decent chicken wire cages, both the permanent and temporary kinds.

So, final questions. Do you want your valuable, venerable, and vulnerable trees to transform into wooden sticks? Do you and the neighbors want to be looking at elevated, bright orange "tree-mummies" for 7 or 8 months? Now is the time, as my brother says, to "T.C.O.B." That's "take care of business." You've been warned.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Have you planted your bulbs yet?

Lucky for me, this year I only planted about 5 small bags. Some years I plant hundreds of bulbs so it was a welcome change to be done in two half-hour bouts. I still bought too many. It's easy to tell when that happens because one or more of the following things happens: 1. the process takes so long you need a visit to the chiropractor for your lower back, 2. you are clean out of planting sites and still holding a sack of 200 daffodils, or 3. your dug-up yard is starting to resemble a prairie dog colony.

And what did I choose in this season of apparent restraint in my bulb purchases? Allium moly (cheerful yellow spheres), Allium sphaerocephalum (dark violet), Muscari ameniacum (blue grape hyacinth), Narcissus 'Sundial' (a miniature yellow daff, very refined-looking).

Advice for next year: buy the so-called minor bulbs, like Scilla, Crocus, and Allium. You can plant a lot more in a hole versus the big daffs and tulips. There are still some bulbs out there for the procrastinator. Just be sure to choose healthy-looking, plump ones with the tunic (onion -like covering, usually a brownish color) intact. If it looks wizened or feels squishy, keep moving.


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