Monday, May 24, 2010

Just whistle to me, my lad(der)!

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This was all set to be a walk-about of an Alaska garden at the end of May.  That was before “Mr. Energy” aka the Last Frontier Garden hubby in project mode, planted ladders about the yard like perennials.  Yes, you read that correctly…ladders.  I had a lot of time to ponder ladders, I was parked on one for several hours on Saturday.  Not at the business end, which would be the top, but the insurance end, which is the bottom rung.  I was making sure Mr. Energy didn’t drop to his death, perched atop a twenty-foot bit of aluminum.  Mission accomplished.

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Some readers may remember that Mr. E. threatened me with painting the house after the last garden dustup.  No idle threat, which I discovered this weekend when I stepped out of the house to work in the yard.  Why is this ladder here, I wondered to myself naively.  And this visqueen?  (Actually, visqueen is known as a “temporary tarpaulin,” so that explains it’s presence in our Alaska garden…gotta have tarps, even temporary ones)  And what are these wood blocks and holy moly, is that piece of cardboard on the Viburnum and Alliums?! 

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Like many people, I have learned to cope with unpleasantness by eating or shopping.  Since those options weren’t available at the bottom rung, I decided to do a bit of day-dreaming.  Blurring one’s eyes (or closing them, even better) for a virtual get-away is a good idea when the alternative is shouting, headaches, or giving up gardening altogether.  I decided to dream about ladders…I know, slightly disturbing, but I hadn’t thought of a post idea yet, and ladders don’t get much love (or press).  Check this link for info about different ladders, from the old trusty step ladder, to the more exotic cat, bridge, and turntable ladders.  Our own three specimens, pictured below in a happy group shot, were the extension, folding (the one with Mr. E’s feet on it), and orchard (the wooden one with three legs) breeds of ladder.  

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Ladders aren’t the new kids on the block in the tool shed.  There is a Mesolithic rock painting in Spain thought to be over 10,000 years old depicting a ladder.  They left out the part whether the caveman’s wife was standing on the bottom rung or not.  Maybe he placed it in her Mesolithic flowerbed and she is holding a club for when he climbs back down.  And maybe he saw the club and stayed on the ladder.  Sorry, letting my fantasy run away with me there….

Need to storm a vessel or building?  Why then you need an assault ladder.  Suited for, and I quote “covert operations such as sniper placement.”  Wow, I never thought a ladder could sound so…James Bond.  The other end of the sophisticated spectrum boasts the rope ladder.  Maybe boast is the wrong word here.  Just the sound of it makes me think of Tarzan or at best, the Swiss Family Robinson.  A rope ladder is indispensible for those with no storage space or if one hopes to summit a roundish object, say a planetarium or something.  I note that it requires more skill to climb than a “rigid” ladder and can “swing like a pendulum.”  Which guarantees I shall never be on one, if I can prevent it.

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Whether you love them or loathe them, ladders are as useful as tarps.  A high compliment from an Alaskan gardener, especially one whose had her plants smashed.  I feel no rancor, against the ladders, at least.  Now if I can just get my hands on one of those sexy assault ladders….

Got any ladders?  Are you a bottom rung-er or a top rung-er?

Monday, May 17, 2010

If a clown had a garden

File this under unnatural fears.  The clown part, especially.  I don’t know precisely what it is, whether it be the deathly-white face, big red nose, or multi-hued wig, but something about clowns triggers a primal fear in me.  I avoid them at all costs.  Fortunately, clowns don’t dig Alaska, so I don’t often encounter them.  Rumor has it they frequent birthday parties of unfortunate children, but in all my years of party attendance, both willing and unwilling, I have never seen one.  I hear the big cities are plagued with their less flamboyant cousins, the mimes, but I can’t say for sure. 

If you are currently considering revenge of some kind, do consider a hot tip: tell your victim to visit this search on clown pictures, which turned up a mere 3,980,000 results.  Not for the faint of heart.  I’m almost positive there is a movie genre devoted to clown horror (filed away next to dental horror) so I know I’m not the only one that gets freaked out by painted faces wearing day-glow polyester hair.

41K7TjKUWJL__SL500_AA300_ I can even buy this handy dandy book to overcome my coulrophobia, or fear of clowns.  Yes, it’s so prevalent, there is a real fancy-sounding term for it.  Egad. 

Musing on clown behavior, something I try not to do by the way, has led me consider if there are plants ideally suited to them.  I’m not thinking obnoxious behavior necessarily, but I am reminded of the old clown gag where too many clowns fit in one tiny car.  I guess I can be clownish in the garden, ramming things in cheek-by-jowl until there are so many things in such a small space that it’s a fight to the death for the poor things, a horticultural “Lord of the Flies” if you will.  Some actual plants with clown names include Clown fig (Ficus aspera), Clown orchid, Hibiscus ‘Clown’, and Amaryllis ‘Clown’.  My two bits: a clown friendly garden would include bold colors, plants that “leave a mark,” and plants that are out of scale (large leaves or microscopic plants). 

Clowns are all about color.  When I think “clown”, I don’t think of pastel or muted shades.  Clowns are primary color loving, loud and proud, just think of a box of crayons.  I realize this is a touchy subject, for what is the high and Holy Grail of the plant world for some is the chewing gum on the bottom of the shoe for others, for both color and combination thereof.  And genus too, I suppose.   Some random ideas in this department: Gladiolus, Gaillardia (the bright red and gold one, I just can’t get myself to like it, no matter how I try), white daisies (don’t ask me why), and gerbera daisies.  Please feel free to add (or subtract) from this list.

fall 2006 023Take a sniff, I dare you…. 

So what does a clown love in a flower?  I think clowns would really love lilies: any flower that makes a perfectly reasonable person look like a fool has got to be on the list.  Think of the clown gag involving the lapel-mounted flower.  As the sucker goes in for a sniff, the clown squeezes the magic button and “squirt,” the sniffer gets a shot of water in the eye.  I suppose the horticultural equivalent of the lapel squirt is sniffing a lily and ending up with pollen on your snoot.  Been there, done that.  Pollen is one of those really-difficult-to-remove-from-anything-but-a-bee type substances, ranking right up there with red wine, dog urine, and grass as far as things you don’t want to get on Aunt Clara’s white couch.  If not lilies, then Euphorbia.  The sap really does cause blistering (at least on my face, it did).  Those freaky horror-type clowns would get a chuckle out of my discomfort.

I can’t think of the last time I saw a clown tastefully dressed in clothes, let alone shoes, in the proper size.  It just isn’t done.  So a clown garden would be full of big, over-sized flowers and plants.  That, or teeny, weenie, tiny plants.  Scale be darned.  Many (admittedly fantastic) tropicals are on the short clown-approved list: Colocasia, Musa, Alocasia, Hedychium, and we mustn’t forget Zantedeschia.  I guess alpines and dwarf conifers would be on the list, too.  I keep coming back to Gerber daisies, but maybe it’s just a mental block.

So to sum up this silly bit of prose (which may in fact be the dumbest thing I’ve written in a long time), many of us garden in a distinctive style, whether it be prairie, cottage, formal, New Wave, minimalist, what have you.  Most styles are characterized by certain types of plants so I think “clown” is a legitimate design category.  Clowns are supposed to make people laugh, right?  I probably could stand to laugh more often, so maybe I’ll convert my minimalist garden into a clown garden.  (That was a joke.) 

Any clown lovers out there?  Any clowning around in your garden?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Garden art gala at gallery

Normally I don’t cover gallery happenings, but this is an exception for two reasons: one, I love this gallery, and two, their opening gala featured a metal artist I am a big fan of.  And a bonus reason because it’s Monday: The show was called “The Artful Garden.”  Now what kind of responsible garden blogger would I be if I wasn’t covering the big garden art happenings?

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Back in February, Half Moon Creek Gallery and Glass Company shuttered their doors in Anchorage and headed down the road a piece to Palmer.  I managed to stifle a sob when told of this move, but croaked out, “why?”  Apparently the gals have families in Palmer that wanted to see them occasionally.  The nerve.  After making the round trip for the show, I can see how driving for an hour each way would seem like a time suck.  At least the scenery was picturesque.  Can’t say that about many highways….

halfmooncreek 119 The featured artist, Cindy Shake, has been working long hours for this show.  I’ve been following her blog, by the way, which is good fun for those of us that are, how shall I say it, less than handy with the welding torch.  The Last Frontier Gardener can only dream of creating beautiful things out of metal, but for a few ugly things I’ve welded, see here and here.  (I snapped up the toothy fish below to add to my collection of “tough” art that the kids can bounce balls around.)

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I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the garden art being displayed outside, though it did challenge my already subpar photography skills (check me out in the window reflection taking the picture below).  I didn’t have to lay on too many cars to get a few shots of the goods.  Love the sax reuse in the photo below.  It reminded me of a saxophone fountain I saw at the garden show in Seattle.  Maybe brass instruments are going to be popular in garden art….  To ensure I was restrained in my purchases, I left the full-size truck at home.

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The gallery was still in the process of unpacking, but I was assured they would have most of their inventory out for display “in a few days.”  Meanwhile, I was appreciating their opening hors d’oeuvres as I had brought no lunch.  As a frequent attendee of gallery shows, I was impressed with the grub.  One posh gallery in Anchorage (in)famously serves an atrocious, cheap cracker mix in a giant bowl for their openings.  Gross.  Nothing like that for these classy gals: grapes, cheeses, breads (I saw focaccia!), and were those chocolate-dipped macaroons?  Whatever they were, they were lunch.  Thanks, ladies.

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Half Moon Creek is also a glass gallery and workshop and they are working on a space for their glass crafting classes.  I was just enjoying all the wild colors of the glass sheets, rods, and dust.  Surely some reader knows what all these bits and bobs are for?

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There were a few other collections out that weren’t part of the show.  Taking photos at a gallery opening was a little trickier than I had supposed.  Dodging patrons and trying not to step back into something fragile and expensive kept me on my toes.

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For those contemplating a drive to Palmer, Half Moon Creek is at 439 W. Elmwood Avenue off the Glen Highway, or in Alaska lingo, on the corner that doesn’t have a McDonalds, Carrs Grocery Store, or gas station.  Go soon for Cindy Shake’s garden art, go anytime for a fun, friendly gallery with with plenty to see (or in my case, buy: Happy Mother’s Day to me).   

Any great galleries in your area?  Garden art you can’t live without? 

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Empty Veggie Garden is Good For…

Still too wet and cold for me to be planting my veggies out.  This is a good thing, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.  First, ask yourself: ever been surprised in your garden?  I mean really, truly surprised.  This was an experience I had to savor, like drinking orange juice after brushing my teeth, in the garden this week.

spring 055 Yes, James, there was a tarp involved.  My first thought upon glancing at the apocalypse in my garden (in the shape of shovels, trenches, gravel heaps, caulking, and foam board insulation) was “curses on the Y chromosome” as my teeth were being ground down to powder.  Mostly, I was just frozen into place, part of me not wanting to believe what I was seeing.  But I blinked and the carnage was still there.  It has been mentioned briefly, everyday, for the last three months, to everyone under our roof, that we have a garden tour this summer.  People are paying to look at our yard and a certain responsibility (and perhaps a touch of anxiety) goes with that.  I want everything to look dynamite: gravel heaps and tarps are not dynamite, not even in Alaska.

spring 062   My zombie-like demeanor (the raging, lightning quick reflexes zombie, not the slow, dull-witted, and knee-less zombie) must have tipped off the offender as to my state of mind, for their was a hurried explanation all while backing slowly away from me.  The few words that penetrated my consciousness included something about the home energy rebate program, which we have been working on for our home.  Basically, depending on how much more energy efficient you make your home, you can be reimbursed for your costs up to a certain amount.  So we’ve been insulating, replacing old appliances, installing a new garage door, furnace, etc.  The last thing to be done was to “slip” some rigid foam board insulation under the fireplace chase, accessed from outside the house.  Apparently “slipping” the three-inch board under the fireplace frame involves massive earth moving.  And even worse things, for a gardener….

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Yes, take a deep breath or avert your eyes if you need to: you are looking at a fresh footprint in a garden bed, one of many.  I have decided not to show the pictures of the crushed crocuses et al: too graphic.  Mister Energy, as we shall hereafter refer to him, had the gall to stomp through the garden while I was watching.  Shocking!  I treated him to my best soil lecture, complete with references to the convenient rocks placed throughout the bed for any access needs.  Mister Energy struggled with the reasons for hopping from rock to rock.  I started in on pore spaces, oxygen, soil structure, compression of wet and silty spring soils, etc.  Watching a 6’4” man leaping about the garden from rock to rock like Mikhail Baryshnikov was almost worth the previously caused damage.  My only regret, no video camera.  Any YouTube ballet dreams shall remain unfulfilled for now. 

So moving on to alternate reasons for having a veggie garden.  “Are those green things weeds, or what?”  Some ornamental onions were growing (happily) in the gravel and had to be moved during the big dig.  But where to move them?  Most of the garden is still frozen any deeper than about three inches down.  Enter the raised bed in the form of an empty vegetable garden.

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As if there were another option.  My holding bed for example, designed for those impulse purchases, has been filled for two years now.  At this juncture, keeping a small corner of the veggie garden free for any other “emergencies” sounds like sensible insurance.  The insulation was installed, the dirt was replaced (well most of it, Mister Energy forgot the three laundry soap buckets full of “bad” dirt in the wheelbarrow…you don’t want to know what he did with them), and the gravel re-laid.  Project accomplished. 

Then he hits me with: “do you think we need to repaint the house?  We’ll have to put a ladder in the middle of this garden bed.” 

Any surprises in your garden?


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