Monday, January 25, 2010

A Man and His Blue Tarp: It's an Alaska Thing

There's a saying here in Alaska: The odds are good, but the goods are odd.  It's about the ratio of men to women (more men here).  And I think it might apply to that fetish of all Alaska fetishes: blue tarps.  The odds are really good you are going to see one up here.  Did you know you can buy blue tarps by the caseload?  And if that's not enough, you can get 40' container pricing for all your...uh, I'm not sure why or what one would need a forty foot container of tarps for.  Though judging from the vast quantity of tarps I've spotted in my jaunts around this great state, someone could turn a pretty profit setting up a roadside stand on the New Seward Highway.

Perhaps this cheerful spring pansy is as blue as a blue tarp?  I don't think so....

Recently I was grousing a bit to friends about all the bright blue tarps.  I speculated that it must be a plague indigenous to Alaska, as I don't recall seeing too many blue tarps on my travels.  A visiting friend cut in dryly, "Well, there are plenty of blue tarps in Tacoma, judging from the bird's eye view I had during takeoff."  Blue tarps in other locales are a small comfort, I'm afraid.  Maybe we've just spread the "blue tarp love" down to the Seattle area.  I don't know how much of the country is infected.

Is this flower as blue as a blue tarp?  Nope. (Geranium 'Johnson's Blue')

Having blue tarps on the brain made me notice them more often.  I saw quite a few colors and styles covering woodpiles, campers, and shed roofs.  And boats, hot tubs, and small planes.  It's so ubiquitous in Alaska that I'm thinking of having a sidebar feature on the blog entitled, "Tarp of the Month," with an accompanying photo.  (this idea was too fun to pass up, check it out

Most original use:
I don't even know what this is covering.

Is there something inherently bad about a gray tarp or even a brown one?  My Alaska-raised husband and I came to a compromise on the issue of tarps.  "I must have one," says he.  "We are not tarp people," says I.  After much (heated) debate, we settled our differences.  "Fine, you can have a tarp, but not a blue one!"  He came home with a green one and proceeded to wrap our teak outdoor dining table with it, making a large chrysalis wound with that other Alaska fetish: duct tape (see this post for photo and duct tape lowdown).  Sadly, inevitably perhaps, he did succumb to the blue tarp addiction.  As explained to me, after the fact, "But hon, that's the only color they had at the store!"

Is this Delphinium as blue as a blue tarp?  Maybe....

What is it about the color of a bright blue tarp that is so jarring?  Is it the fact that it is not a color commonly found in nature?  Or maybe we're just used to looking up into the sky to see a color that intensely blue and when we see it looking down (covering a woodpile for example) something in us revolts and says: "That's just not right..."    I'm trying to think of garden flowers that are intensely blue ("tarp blue" as a selling point?) and I can only come up with Delphinium, Corydalis, and Meconopsis (blue poppies).  We grow blue-flowered plants here in Alaska very beautifully.  So maybe that's the answer.  For many gardeners that rare blue color is a holy grail of sorts, very uncommon in nature, thus highly desireable.  And then there are those who take it one step further, or backwards, depending on your view of things, and decide that such an unusual, intense blue is also good for covering the shed roof, '79 Camaro, woodpile, and the lawnmower.  There was a home next to a major road here in Anchorage that for years had a gigantic blue tarp weighed down with cinder blocks covering the roof.  That was a lot of blue.  I think it finally wore out (or the neighbors revolted) because a new gray roof tarp made it's debut a couple summers back.

Not blue enough for blue tarp folk: Gentiana septemfida var. lagodechiana

One thing about tarps: Alaskans will use them.  So to suggest we all go cold turkey would be futile.  I'm just humbly asking, when out shopping for tarps, give the brown, green, or gray consideration before automatically reaching for old blue.  Your neighbors will thank you.  And those flying into Anchorage International Airport will, too.

Oo-dah-la-lee, that's blue!  And (gulp) it's in my yard!

Local quirk or nationwide (dare I say worldwide) disease, you tell me.  Where have you seen blue tarps?

Monday, January 18, 2010

"MacGyver" moments in gardening

Ever rolled out dough with a sparkling cider bottle?  I had a "MacGyver" moment at the cabin on Christmas Day.  For those unfamiliar with the name/TV show, the guy was a physicist that could get out of any jamb with such mundane things as commonly found in a pocket or drawer.  Need to pry open an elevator door before you run out of air?  No problem, let's see what MacGyver has in his jacket pocket...toothpick, an old piece of floss, and two pennies.  He's out in three minutes flat.  He's just that good.  Anyway, back to my moment. 

I realized that I had forgotten to bring the rolling pin, a handy item when homemade crescent rolls are on the menu.  What would MacGyver do?  No doubt it would involve a book of matches and an old receipt, but my father-in-law saved the day for me this time.  Apparently I wasn't the first person not to have the right tool for this job.  He said his wife had the same situation happen to her.  "Just use that old bottle of Coors Light in the fridge like she did."  It was gone, but luckily we had a stash of sparkling cider and I scrubbed the label off and it worked just fine. 

 Moral:  Sometimes you just have to "make do, or do without."

All manure puns aside, does "making do" happen in the garden?  Of course.  Case in point: In the beginning of my gardening adventure, I had no idea there was a special tool for lifting or dividing perennials.  What would MacGyver do?  I'm sure it involved an old rope and a wristwatch, but I came up with something that sent the Last Frontier husband into fits.  I grabbed what I thought was a small, curved, and rusty child's-size shovel (that came with the house), and was going to town with some Geraniums.  I looked up to find the guy taking my picture whilst laughing.

 "What?" I demanded.  "What are you doing?" he asked curiously, trying in vain to stifle a grin.  I explained all the biological and technical aspects of lifting and dividing perennials.  He looked pretty relieved and then hit me with, "Oh, that's okay then.  I thought you were digging for clams."  Yes, LFG reader, I admit I was using a clamming shovel.  And we live nowhere near the beach.

The notorious clam shovel

Now somewhere along the line I did feel like I should purchase a specialized tool for the purpose, and indeed it did work better than my "make do" tool.  But my clamming shovel cost me nothing and did an adequate job.  (And MacGyver would have been proud.)

I can't be the only gardener making do with what's on hand...can I?!

P.S. I learned that great quote, part of which I included in the above post, from a former roommate's grandfather.  It was verbally trotted out on many occasions and cross-stitched, framed, and hung on the wall at his home, as well.  I had never heard it before: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."  Grand, isn't it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hello from Cantwell, Alaska

Just be glad this isn't your bus stop. (Last Frontier Husband pictured above)

I believe this picture falls in the "one thousand words" category.  Or very possibly, "wish you were here"....  I'm going to go with the former because then that absolves me of the responsibility of writing a clever post this week.  

Ever seen a more unlikely bus stop? 

Friday, January 1, 2010

Heavyweight Bout of the Year: Trowel vs. Lemonade!

It's that time again.  With a wry face and a sigh I contemplate what went wrong in the garden or needs tweaking and just what I think I'm going to do about it. 

I resolve to enjoy my garden more often.  Lemonade in hand, rather than trowel.  Or shovel.  Or wheelbarrow.  This resolution is kicking in only after the botanical garden has a tour here sometime in late July or early August.  So yeah, three weeks of lemonade after three months of trowel.  It's still more lemonade than last year, even if only at summer's end.... 

Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam': Divide me, please!

I resolve to do less buying and do more giving.  What was I thinking buying a Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'?  Just where am I going to stuff it?  Meanwhile I have so many (fill in a genus name here) growing that I am like the old woman in the gardening shoe as far as perennials.  It wouldn't be such a problem if I wasn't a compulsive plant buyer.  Last year I had an informal policy that no one that I showed my garden to would leave empty-handed.  I dug up something on the spot if nothing was on hand to give.  "I'll just dig up half this patch of Veronica alpina 'Alba' for you.  Clematis 'Petit Faucon,' see you later.  You said you needed a dozen lilies, right?!"  My holding bed is still overflowing, and it wasn't that big to begin with....  This year I need to step the giving up a notch.  Maybe have a craigslist "come and dig" day or something.  I do have a bunch of ornamental grasses that need dividing....

The sorry state of these tools is a bit embarrassing.

And finally (because let's be realistic here, three resolutions is quite a lot for me), I resolve to clean my garden tools the same day-okay, week-after I use them.  End of season cleaning, or not at all, is more typical for me.  Though most of my tools are inexpensive, I do have a few expensive, well-made items that need looking after.  Yes, I hereby commit to make the effort.  Just how hard could it be to get concrete and rust off of a shovel?

Please feel free to share a garden resolution or three in the comment section.  Thanks, and Happy New Year!


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