Monday, November 22, 2010

The off season: hooray?

Alternatively entitled, “What to write about when there’s nothing to write about”, or possibly, “Winter blahs: yet again”.  There comes a time every year when I mentally scroll through blog posting ideas and come up with nada.  Zilch, zero, nothing.  With the temperatures hovering in the twenties (Fahrenheit), and the gravel encrusted snow as my muse, how could I come up short, you ask.

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Some of you preparedness nuts out there may remember I wrote about having a few posts on the back burner for situations just like this.  A glance at my rough drafts reveals that none are quite ready.  You’ll just have to wait for my soon-to-be-famous treatises on bunny boots, ice fishing, and snow shoes.  Some much needed research has to happen first.  I say that with heavy heart and a large dose of trepidation.  Just who looks forward to spending the day on a frozen lake with a fishing pole?  Perhaps my impending research will reveal the answer.

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I have no inspiration to catalogue, no tours to sing the praises of, and no to-do tasks to share.  If it hasn’t been done by now, it’s frozen and not getting done until spring.  We’re not even in a “pretty” phase of winter, with a landscape looking as if it were dusted by white frosting.  No, no.  Imagine more of a blighted look, with a dash of grayish, dirty snow and complete with a repressed looking populace, clad in large coats and bad attitudes.  So I ask you, what do I write about?  I’ve got nothing….

What do you write about (or like to read about) in the off-season?  

Monday, November 15, 2010

I’m going to beat the rush…for once.

You know…that impending onslaught of postings in the very near future on the general topic of thankfulness (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and instead post a few bits about gratitude in the garden.  A cooking class last weekend whet my appetite for that grand American holiday approaching in a mere fortnight.  That would be “Thanksgiving”, or as it’s known in more sophisticated circles, “Turkey Day”. 

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Now it’s more than a mere holiday celebrating a large and top-heavy bird: there are potatoes, dressings, gravy, and homemade rolls to be feted as well.  If, in the midst of all this artery busting fare, one finds the strength to count blessings, so much the better.  All whilst watching your team lose the big game on the telly.

I prefer to sidestep the stomachache, this week at least, and sing the praises of a few of my favorite gardening things.  Not out loud, you’ll be relieved to hear (my alto isn’t that impressive, just ask the church choir director).  I’ll keep it short, you have a Thanksgiving menu to plan.

I am thankful for:

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1. felcos (I have number 10).  Thank goodness for the Swiss and their national fetish for precision.  If you haven’t tried a pair of quality pruners like these, you’re probably missing the tips of a few fingers, like me.  I finally made the investment and haven’t regretted it. 

2. compost.  If you don’t understand the science behind it, just think of it as a magic soil additive.  Improves silt, clay, sand, and everything in between.  Improved a soil so infertile, it blew around like an Oklahoma dust bowl under a spruce tree at my house.  Now the “dust bowl” is home to a small sun and drought tolerant garden.  Thank you decomposed clippings, thank you!!

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3. ornamental grasses, bergenias, and viburnums.  Easy, gorgeous all-arounders at my (former) place.  Not glamorous enough to win the crown, but gets the Miss Congeniality award.  I planted them everywhere, all around the yard.  No regrets.  I do have to spray the bergenias and viburnums with,

4. plantskydd.  Keeps those pesky, gigantic deer cousins at bay.  If you garden in Alaska, moose damage is a fact of life.

5. other gardeners.  The wit and wisdom of my fellow gardeners is inspiring!  The local Master Gardeners have been having some great programs and tours the last few years.  A great way for me to meet new people that know their stuff.

What garden products/plants/resources make you grateful?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Five ways to know it’s winter in Alaska

Other than lots of snow and cold, yeah.  My springtime version of this list was such fun, I couldn’t resist trotting this idea out once again.  Whiny excuse alert: Though my post idea isn’t thought provoking, witty, useful, or original…in my defense I’m closing on my house of ten years tomorrow, I’ve been cleaning said house all day, and my dinosaur of a computer is acting up at my temporary, one-bedroom apartment housing.  Four of us are living there together.  Cozy! 

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1.  The only vehicles on the road busier than the snowplows are the tow trucks (see number 3).  Scads of medium-sized snowplows, great big snowplows, and itty bitty snowplows in evidence today.  Those last mentioned are called “snow blowers” and can be used to clear driveways.  No such luck, we have a shovel.

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2.  Cars have a marshmallow-like covering in the mornings.  It’s a courtesy to scrape it off before you hop on the freeway, so it doesn’t blow off into the car behind you, obscuring their view.  At least scrape the windshield clean…you’d be surprised at how many don’t even get that part done.

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3.  Traffic is slow because people are rubbernecking at all the cars in the ditch.  I saw a dozen today, four within about 100 feet, amazingly none had hit any of the others.  Two upside down and one balanced perfectly on it’s side.  My city’s motto isn’t “Big Wild Life” for nothing.

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4.  Everyone looks about forty pounds heavier with all the puffer coats, big boots, hats, and gloves.  No, it’s not a good thing but it’s warm and sensible and what choice do we have?  At least boots are fashionable these days….

5.  You won’t see or speak to your neighbor for the next five months.  A former neighbor was expecting, gave birth, and had a boy in a stroller in spring.  I said, “And who is this little critter with your son, X?”  “Oh, that’s my son Y, he’s four months old.”  Yes, an embarrassing little episode in the life of the Last Frontier Gardener.  I had no idea because it all occurred during the winter.  No, we don’t linger outside and visit.  A quick dash to the mailbox or grudging bout of shoveling about covers it.

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Don’t worry.  Twenty years experience driving in this mess served me well today.  Only one close (very close) call with a blue minivan.  She had a cell phone and was drifting into my lane (and my car).  A friendly little toot with the horn took care of that.

Is it winter?  How do you know it’s winter where you live?

Monday, November 1, 2010

We all want this plant

The holy grail of the plant world, the most desired, coveted, and beloved in all the Kingdom Plantae is __________.  What was that?  You thought I would tell you?  I wouldn’t presume to know what your favorite is and surely every gardener has a different one!

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After moaning about my upcoming move last week, and the accompanying feelings of desolation, isolation, and consternation that go with leaving a garden behind, I have decided to look ahead.  Momentarily at least.  The houses we’ve considered are what I like to term “garden challenged,” meaning no garden.  I don’t count a lilac bush and a few scrawny looking pansies as a garden.  So what would be the first thing I would plant?

“First” sort of implies essential, does it not?  Something you cannot live without another day…like the internet, Velcro, Pepper Jack cheese, or supportive undergarments.  Since installing an entire garden in one season is not in the time/funds budget, I’ll have to settle for just one selection.  No doubt the rest of my time will be spent painting walls, tiling floors, or ripping out a Mary Kay pink Jacuzzi tub. 

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What are the qualities of something essential?  Useful, beautiful, sturdy, hardy, low-maintenance…well, you get the idea.  And so, with much thought and no further ado, the first plant to transform my new lawn (this is Alaska, yards are almost always a lawn) to a garden will be: Pinus aristata, the bristlecone pine.  It’s a small specimen tree, not very romantic but useful as a diversion or focal point if there are lots of blue tarps, garbage cans, or junk vehicles around.  I’m thinking with a skirting of Alopecurus pratensis ‘Variegatus’, golden foxtail grass, it would be simple, eye-catching, and satisfying even in winter.  And if I am to be removing a giant pink tub and ripping up carpet, I won’t have time for much else.

What would be the first/essential plant you would put in a new garden with a blank slate?


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