Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa: Ten Things an Alaskan Gardener Wants

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Dear Santa,

Despite appearances, this only looks incredibly greedy:

1. Two weeks more of spring and autumn.  Three days of spring and 8.5 hours of autumn are just not enough.  To demonstrate my restraint in this request, I’m not even going to complain about our weeklong summer.

2. Moose that eat bears and bears that eat stray dogs, cats, and moose.  The fewer mammals pillaging my veggie patch, the better.  And one more fecal present from the local pets, unearthed whilst I am working the soil barehanded, and I won’t be responsible for my code red response.

3. A tomato/pepper/(fill in difficult-to-grow-in-Alaska vegetable here) that goes from seed to ripe fruit in oh, say, four weeks.  Is that so much to ask, Santa?

4. Tools that (much like the elves surprised the shoemaker in the morning with assembled footwear) sharpen themselves overnight.  A couple of out of work elves would do nicely.  They can live under my bed between the fire escape ladder, rifle case, and Tyrannosaurus-sized dust bunnies.  Cozy!

5. Some electrified fencing, in case number two isn’t workable.

6. Another blue tarp. That was a joke, Santa.  (I was going more for deep belly laugh, rather than outright shock, dearest Santa, so apologies if my humor was unfunny.)  Would it be too much to ask if you would, for the sake of beauty, neighborly relations (see picture), and peace on earth, please replace all those blue tarps with brown ones?

7. Catalogs for seed/plant companies that actually ship to our forsaken state.  We are part of mainland America.  This fact seems to have escaped the notice of some mail order companies.  I’ve received calls from nurseries telling me sadly, after I’ve placed an order, that “we don’t ship to Alaska.” 

“But your catalog says you ship to the U.S. and Canada.” 

“Except Alaska.”

Well, that grieves me, Santa.  Were we, or were we not, granted statehood in 1959?  And more importantly, I really need that rare grass/heather/salvia/what-have-you and it’s just not to be found here in old A.K.  I’m sure Hawaiian gardeners know how I feel.  They are nursery shipping outcasts as well. Aloha!

8. Plants that repel politicians and door-to-door salespeople.  I’d place a few (OK, twenty) on my front porch.  Don’t say red geraniums already do that, Santa, that’s just an urban garden legend.  And Santa, the plant has to let Girl Scouts selling cookies through.  I love the Thin Mints and the Samoas, which you must admit, dear sir, are heaven in a manufactured food item.  One final note: the plant should be absolutely toxic to men peddling magazines.

9. A perfume that, when spritzed into the breeze, carries itself to the nearest non-gardening neighbors, and infects them with a rabid desire to not only beautify their property with plantings, but to haul off the rusted-out snow machines and ancient truck on blocks.  I’m still mulling over ideas on a name for this miraculous scent.  How about we go halvesies on the patent, Santa? 

10. This one is a grab bag, Santa, you pick: a spare pair of felcos, pair of well-made wellies in (gulp) purple or green, lumber for a fence, or new garden gloves.

I have been a good gardener, you can check your list twice!  (Just stick to your naughty/nice list and avoid the police blotter and certain of my relatives and we’re golden.)

Sincerely yours,

Christine B.

The Last Frontier Gardener

What’s on your list?

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Hurricane Included


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Despite the gloomy sounding title, I guess I’m lucky.  The tree did not crash through the bedroom window, the trampoline did not mow over a pedestrian on it’s way to the neighbor’s ditch, and the computer is merely in a coma, versus flat lined. However, a blizzard has just been announced by the National Weather Service, so there’s that.   

Our desktop (say that slowly with me now, children: “desktop”) computer has been with us many years.  The way this machine behaves, you’d think it was a thrift store find, but my husband assures me we bought it retail, at about the time the Russians sold Alaska to the United States of America.  I am now typing on newer technology: a laptop that was manufactured circa Alaska gaining statehood (we’re the 49th state, in case you were wondering).  

The old desktop was very slow, and occasionally provoked me by freezing up or flat out refusing to be switched off.  Writing blog posts was especially agonizing.  The race was on to get my nonsense typed out before the great beast froze up on me.  Something once eminently useful, now a piece of junk. 

When people think Alaska, “hurricane” is not the first word to spring to mind.  Maybe “earthquake” or “wild animals eating one’s garbage” or even “cold, miserable, dark wasteland on the tundra” though I’m just speculating, of course.  Mother Nature threw us a curve ball yet again last Saturday, blowing in an unseasonal, warm(ish) wind from the south.  Not a gentle wind, mind you.  I’m not opposed to a little gentle wind as long as it gives a little body to my limp mane.  This Chinook wind took things to extreme.

We prepared as best we could as the wind started up.  Then the rain/snow came. Sideways.  The front window sprung a leak.  Mister Fix It was blown off his ladder trying to seal it with silicone it in the dark.  Don’t worry, he is tall, so the landing was shorter. 

However, that naughty trampoline rolled or flew or got up and walked through a formerly impenetrable thicket of alders and landed in a heap at the neighbor’s.  What little form and function left was reduced to nil after the head ATV driver pulled it back through the alders with a winch attached to the four-wheeler.  It is now completely retired from all jumping activities (see above picture), and on a related note, we have acquired ample metal to practice welding modern garden art.  Something once useful, now a piece of junk.

We awoke (if you can call tossing and turning, and waking at every big gust sleeping) to a tree blocking our garages and driveway.  The tree was kind enough to break halfway up the trunk, so there was a mere thirty feet of it to fly through the air and land on our roof and bash our (new) gutter on it’s way down.   

As we walked through the ‘hood admiring the damage the next day: at least a dozen large white spruce, a couple of which were blocking driveways or roads, a few birches, and an entire roof of shingles on one home.  Poor sap, hope he had insurance.  A little further down the hill, I spied a chimney blown over, a first for me.  Those of you in windy areas, no laughing now!  I’ve never experienced winds over 100 mph (I’m not counting those breakneck amusement park rides at Universal Studios) in my life, so the wonder and destruction of it all amazes me.

*Update: as I tap this masterpiece whilst my house is literally shaking from the wind, we are enjoying the first blizzard of the season, with 1/4 mile visibility.  And along with another dose of 100mph winds.  Is the Apocalypse near?  I hope not, I haven’t tried growing artichokes yet….


Got hurricanes?  Blizzards?  Ill-tempered computers?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Caught up in events beyond my control, as usual

I suppose dirty diapers or stomach upset fall into this category as well.  But I am really referring to several agenda items to canvas from my recent jaunt to Florida.  Plants will be mentioned, if only to maintain my claim to the subcategory “garden blog”.  (Really, I should just have done with it and call this a blog about nothing.)

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Firstly, a lifelong Alaskan doesn’t often look so sharp in 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  A partially melted ice cream sundae looks more put together.  I did my best by packing my newly acquired linen clothing (why do I need linen in Anchorage? It’s about 70F on a hot day) and channeling Katharine Hepburn. 

The effect, once the sun/heat hit me, was more “celebrities without their makeup”.  My bit of makeup seemed to pool up about chin level and drop in spatters onto the pavement, where I could have fried the proverbial egg.  That would have been more healthful than all the donuts consumed over the course of ten days of family reunion-ing.

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Secondly, I spent less time in lines that I had supposed.  The longest was about an hour.  The result of that wait: getting deluged to the point of actually ringing my skirt and shirt out upon exit.  However, the sodden underpants were more refreshing than an adult has any right to admit. 

This wet ride, Bluto’s Bilgewater (or something like that) at Universal Studios, was a true water ride. As in, you will be taking a lot of water home or down the path at least, and an hour later, will still be looking as if you wet your pants. (Sorry for all the commas in this post, I blame, jetlag.)  The water ride at Disneyworld a few days later was quite a letdown.  Only my right sleeve was soaking wet.  Just not good enough when one is melting like a pat of butter.

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Thirdly, I thought nothing could be more exciting than running with the reindeer, but Florida proved me wrong.  The sleepy little beach town of New Smyrna was an eye opener.  Not only was I caught up in my first pub crawl (quite perplexing for a teetotaler like myself) but about half of the crawlers were clad in red dresses.  Doesn’t sound so bad, and rather posh, but hairy chests bursting from scarlet satin are still rather rare in Alaska, so forgive the ignorance. 

Some of the men looked rather fetching in their frocks and were brave, too.  The tail end of a biker fest was being feted at the very same bars.  Can’t say I saw any of the Harley Davidson crowd in a red dress, but it must be rather difficult to mount a motorcycle in a miniskirt.  Me and my lot of squares just ate our yogurts (bacon flavor-who knew there was such a thing?) and watched the crowd, secretly expecting someone would be thrown through the front window of a bar before our eyes.

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Fourthly, (is that a word?) what’s with all the houseplants?  Types I beg and threaten in turns grow into the sidewalk cracks here with a jungle-like abandon.  The shopping malls in Florida even have better landscape fodder than the most blooming and lush specimens here in Alaska. (I didn’t see any dandelions.  There, that’s one thing we grow better!)  I freely admit it: I am jealous of all this botanical vigor.

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Fifthly, and lastly, a rundown of things I learned:

*wear sunscreen, stupid!

*do NOT eat at Pinocchio’s cafeteria two times in a row

*if wearing a skirt on a wild amusement park ride, use hands to hold down skirt unless you have a desire to flash everyone (I really am sorry about that!)

*try a frozen Butterbeer, after, I repeat, after you ride Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey

*perfect the art of pulling out your swimsuit wedgies as quickly as possible, so as not to flash everyone, yet again (so sorry, but I know you water park life guards have seen worse) at the bottom of the breakneck speed waterslide

*I (still) do not fare so well on long plane rides.  Orlando to Seattle: sanity in question, Seattle to Anchorage: insane, but welcome home

I loved Florida so much I was almost pressed into buying a timeshare.  Too bad twelve airplane hours with my six-foot frame cramped and near starvation (you call those peanuts sustenance?!) are what separates us.  I think I’ll try the west coast for the next family vacation.  Or even better, maybe somewhere within driving distance…I’m turning into a travel grump.


Vacation tips? Places you love to visit?

*Blurry picture with a portion of the red dress pub crawlers includes my brother-in-law, who insisted upon posing with this group

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Well. That was quick.

A faithful reader in the northwest USA gently berated yours truly for being so spotty about writing the blog lately. Duly chastened and slightly abashed, I disciplined myself to ponder pertinent Alaska gardening topics.  Just moments later I was done pondering and a sense of finality settled into my brain. We’re all done here.

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Of course I’m speaking of summer, and not of the mental state of Alaskans at large (though this might also be apt).  A few days ago some ominous-looking cloudy riff raff deposited dandruff on the lofty peaks to the east.  I suppose it must be snow but I’m not hiking up there to find out.  Curses!  The termination dust is here!

For those unfamiliar with the term, it has nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger, nor unsightly accumulations of particles under your bed.  Opinions vary, and if I were one for research I would find out which is the most plausible (or on a good day, factual).  However, Camp A insists the term “termination dust” was coined by those souls who believed the first dusting of snow on the mountains signaled the end of an all too brief summer.  Camp B shrilly maintains that the reference actually comes from the practice of laying off (firing) seasonal workers at the end of the summer.

I’m with camp A.  Our summer is about ten days long.  OK, I’ll throw in that sunny day we had in May and make it eleven.  By the time my petunias, dahlias, and fuchsias are reaching their peak, it seems like a crime of nature that frost should take them.  (And yes, I had a banner year of growing sophisticated garden plants.  Have I mentioned I grew hot pink pelargoniums, too?)  So when the white stuff is sighted on yonder lofty peaks, a constriction of the airways is not uncommon in gardeners here.

Sadly, I have to announce I put my containers away for the year.  (Now, now, dry your eyes.)  It seemed only natural after mowing the lawn one final time last night.  There was perfectly good icy blue Lobelia growing in one particularly fine container.  Good (as opposed to ratty, rip it out posthaste) Lobelia in September is akin to a good hair day without using conditioner: good luck. 

This particular container was a study in texture, or at least, that’s what I told myself as I rammed different blue leaved plants into the dirt with little method and most likely a spot of madness this spring.  The lobelia was a surprise.  I don’t usually (OK, ever) use it as it’s been done to death in my city and can be fussy on sunny days with it’s watering requirements.  I picked it up at a nursery that was offering a free 6-pack for Mother’s Day.  What gardener can resist a pack of free plants?  Apparently, not I.  Heaven help me if they start offering some kind of weed for free.

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Anyone a fan of the children’s book “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown?  An homage in the spirit of the season, by the Last Frontier Gardener:

Goodnight grass Goodnight mower cutting the grass

Goodnight sunlight and the red afternoon

Goodnight grizzly bears

Goodnight lawn chairs

Goodnight outdoor sittin’ and hello mittens

Set back clocks and put on wool socks

Goodnight garden tool abuse and hello cranky, hungry moose

Goodnight fork and goodnight hoe

Goodnight nobody Goodnight grow

And hello to the cold wind whispering “snow”

Hello bright stars Goodnight warm air

Goodbye summer everywhere

No doubt Lord Byron looks down fondly on me now.  Or else he’s getting ready to hurl a lightening bolt.  I don’t often feel poetic so this is a rare treat for you all.  If I get any more complaints, gentle or otherwise, I may riff on “Back in Black” by AC/DC.  So there, you’ve been warned.  Bundle up, winter is coming.


Are you ready for the next season?  Or content and hoping it will never end?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why do I curl up in the fetal position, you ask?

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If that particular pose isn’t your thing, a primal scream is a good equivalent.  On several occasions in the past month, I’ve caught myself in the midst of a fervent wish to be: 1. locked in a padded, dark room, 2. myself, about two seconds earlier, before I’d seen/heard the horror, or 3. shopping for expensive leather goods. 

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The only feasible choice at the moment is rather impractical.  The attic is somewhat padded (I should know, I spent my birthday loading a hopper with cellulose insulation whilst the husband used the long hose to blow it all around the bottom of the attic.  Happy birthday to me!) and certainly dark.  I don’t have the energy to procure a ladder, boost the ceiling hatch, and fling myself into the void up there.  Though no doubt that would be something to write about and very entertaining to watch.

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Things I would have rather not seen, in no particular order:

1. the giant, gaping hole in my floor. And wall. And ceiling. And in that chasm, a leaking pipe from the kitchen sink that has probably been leaking for 25 years. The moisture and decaying food bits were supporting their own little ecosystem.  Strange looking flies lifted off en masse, mold flourished, and spiders scuttled out of sight.  What with the bamboo flooring ripped out, carelessly tossed into a pile of long sheaves and the stink emanating from the darkness below, it was too much for me.  I walked back the way I came in a haze and resolved never to respond to “Honey, I think you need to see this” ever in the course of my whole life.

2. those yellow leaves on the wild cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) trees.  At first, such infrequent sightings were forcefully brushed off as disease or a result of all the rain we’ve had in August.  Now there is no denying it: vandals are spray painting all the leaves around town a bright gold!  The nerve of some people.  A simple soul in the home dared bring up the word “autumn” and the result was just shy of apoplexy.  “Mommy, why are you clenching your teeth and tearing your hair like that?”

3. a story and X-ray of a gardening mishap so horrifying that I must caution you of feeble stomach not to visit this link.  To prepare you, a quote from one of the surgeons, Dr. Lynn Polonski: “It was wedged in there so tightly, you could not move it.  It was part of his face.” I will never look at, much less carry my felco hand pruners in quite the same way.  I say, he’s lucky to be alive and if his lady friend and team of surgeons ever let him garden again, I recommend a pair of child-sized safety scissors, welder’s shield, and ten-foot tongs to carry any gardening paraphernalia.

So in the last 30 days, I’ve had thrown in my face the awful fact that my basement is a smelly man trap supporting new, unnamed lower life forms, winter is coming in a week or so, and gardening can kill you.  Does curling up into a ball on the floor sound so bad?

*Pictures taken at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer last week.


What scares the pants off of you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

A river runs through it, sort of

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Let it never be said that this garden blogger is unresponsive.  One reader in Olympia wrote (and I paraphrase) “enough with the dipnetting…why haven’t you written lately?” So I hereby promise not to write about odd Alaskan pastimes for at least two weeks.

You’ll be pleased to know the house paint is on, the gutters are up, and the dirt work is done(ish).  I am now in the market for a dry streambed, slightly more exciting and quite a bit more attractive than a mud chute, which is the current incarnation. 

I know the neighbors are pleased.  We have large windows in the living room that I like to spy from, and cars have slowed to almost a complete stop.  I witnessed one neighbor enter a vehicle in her driveway and proceed to drive by slowly to snoop.  Then she turned around and drove back home.  She lives approximately 20 paces down the road, so a special trip just to see our progress put a smile on my face.  (Actually, more of a guffaw, but that’s not polite now, is it?)

Lucky for me the latest issue of Fine Gardening (October 2011, if you must know) had four whole pages on how to construct a natural looking dry streambed, imaginatively entitled “How to build a dry streambed” by Jeff Snyder.  We read that Mr. Snyder has actual experience with rocks.  What a strange and quaint notion. 

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Actual experience doesn’t seem to be an impediment to writing articles and giving lectures in the gardening realm.  Why we Alaskans are being treated to a special lecture by a plantsman of worldwide repute (so says the back of his book jacket) on plants that do well in Alaska.  This man is not from Alaska, nor has even a seasonal residence in Alaska, more’s the pity.  So just how is he supposed to get up and preach new plants for the Last Frontier? (I suppose next on his itinerary are “Plants that do well in Iceland” followed by “Plants that do well in Cuba” after which he’ll finish up with “Plants that do well in either Australia or Antarctica, take your pick.”)

He is in fact from the gardening Shangri-La of the United States, the Pacific Northwest.  Those lucky gardeners down there are loving that zone 5-8 and growing every plant imaginable.  (Phormiums in ground for some.  Have I mentioned how much I spend to winter over my wretched purple Phormium at the nursery down the road every winter?)  There is just no comparison in climate at all other than it rains, snows, and is sunny or cloudy in both places.  The proportions and severity are so different I wonder that this lecturer can really recommend his “finds” with a straight face. 

So here is my latest garden lecture fantasy: as the “will work in Alaska” plants are enumerated by the out-of-state gardener, I raise my hand and inquire: where in his experience has the plant been grown?  Then he will say at his place, and then I will say, you mean the one about 2000 miles away in Garden Wonderland? 

An absurd equivalent, to illustrate my point: I show up at some lecture in Portland and give a hoity toity presentation on what grows for me outside my igloo, therefore will grow for you in Oregon.  Puh-leaze!  The people would either 1. exit quickly muttering under their breath, or 2. stay for laughs.  There is always option number 3. they invite me back.  This seems de rigueur for certain speakers on the A-list.  You are an expert on X, therefore qualified to speak on Y and Z.  I’m not buying it.

Now you all know I would never cause a scene (during a garden presentation, at least…unless I was the speaker).  But I am a little disappointed with the clubs/organizations that want a “big name” and expect a very regional/local experience (growing certain plants in zone 7) to be everything to everyone (aka we zone 2-4 polar bears in Alaska).  Why not bring someone up from Minnesota/Wisconsin/the Dakotas or somewhere with a smidgeon of similarity in climate severity to Alaska to speak on what may also grow here.

It’s nice when the experts are experts.  Or in other words, it’s nice when the experienced have experience.

Sat through any lectures that you secretly wanted to interrupt?  Any favorite garden speakers?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Like a fool, back to dipnet

No one ever accused the Last Frontier Gardener of being too sensible.  Being in one’s right mind may in fact bar one from living in Alaska more than, say, 12 days.  As I am going on my 36th year in this state, calling my sanity into question is something even I do (and in winter on a daily basis).

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Luckily, I am not the only nitwit around here.  Approximately 75% of Alaskans are right there with me.  How do I know?  Not by the prevalence of blue tarps or junk vehicles, which is damning to be sure.  My made-up statistics are drawn from the fact that the hordes were drawn like locusts to the mouth of the Kenai River last weekend to dabble in that bipolar-like little pastime we call dipnetting.  For my fascinating coverage from last year, go here.

But the Kenai River is a world-class fishery, you say, what’s the big deal here?  Of course people are going to be drawn by the thought of catching 10, 40, 100 red salmon in a day or two.  (What they do with 100 salmon is a whole other essay.  The Last Frontier Garden hubby purses his lips and mutters things that sound suspiciously like “going to get freezer burned before they eat it” or “half of it’s just going to get thrown out in May.”) 

The problem here is this: mixing hundreds or even thousands of tired (do you know how long we drove to get here?) Alaskans (dipnetting is a residents-only type of harvesting fish) of varied backgrounds together on a beach with 20 foot-plus net poles, sharp filet knives, fish bonking clubs, and large rocks is bound to result in some kerfuffles.  Or as they say in Hollywood, there will be blood.  We need a few rules.

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It started out innocently enough, a wish expressed for some salmon in the freezer.  By early summer, bulletins go out by radio, TV, and internet.  The tension grows.  Orson Welles could be announcing over the airwaves that the aliens have landed and are sucking our brains out and we’d be a less captive audience.  And then the moment arrives: THE FISH ARE IN!  By the time the sonar count from 19 miles up the river has been announced, it’s a free for all.  An amazing 230,000 salmon already up the river to spawn by the third week in July!  Emergency order by those in the know: dipnetting doesn’t close from 11pm to 6am, no sir, open 24 hours a day!

I won’t describe the traffic.  Well, maybe a little, just to give those new Alaskans who haven’t yet experienced the joy of heading down to the peninsula to fish: “appalling” about covers it.  The words our driver used were somewhat less civil and quite a bit more eloquent. 

A vintage brown motor home from the 70’s, loafing along 20 mph under the limit was a particularly blatant offender, but was eventually passed by seven vehicles, two of which were other motor homes.  Those widely ignored road signs, the ones that read “A delay of 5 or more vehicles is illegal.  Use pullouts.” is expressly for motor homes (and Subarus in my opinion, tell me if I’m wrong) clogging up traffic on long drives.  And the few passing lanes that appeared on our journey were turned into temporary autobahns of desperation, with every vehicle racing ahead of as many motor homes as possible and trying not to glance at the speedometer to see how close to becoming airborne they happened to be getting. 

Alas, we did not take flight and the brown motor home conquered us (and those behind us) all the way through Cooper Landing and Soldotna.  I see I’m losing focus here and must firmly wend my way back to writing about dipnetting.  Drat.  As I am under limitations here (your attention span being an important one) I will cut to the chase.  Here are Christine’s Rules For Dipnetting, or Dipnetting for Dips.

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1. Equipment.  Basics include a dipnet, cooler, ice, filet knife, fish bonker, and waders.  Some folk think these are optional.  I noticed several persons fishing up to their shoulders sans waders.  Did I mention we live in Alaska and the water is what we refer to as cold?  Lots of things tend to shrivel after awhile in cold water, my desire to fish being one of those things. 

Some had no fish bonker, and clouting a slippery, jumping fish in the head with a rock is more difficult than it sounds.  The LFG hubby lost his filet knife in the hubbub on the beach after dark (luckily he’d already cut up 80% of our fish) and his folding knife was a poor substitute.  Bring sharp knives, you won’t be sorry.  If you catch no fish, they will come in handy for cutting up duct tape or slicing a hot dog or something.

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2. Friends.  Family is acceptable, too, I suppose.  Remembering just where you put your fish (because you have to get right back into the water or lose your place, depending if the fishing is hot or slow), braining the fish, putting in a cooler, etc. are rather time consuming things to do, especially when the beach is covered with hundreds of people trying to do the same thing.  And salmon tend to look the same.  “Hey, that’s my salmon!”  “No, that’s mine!” 

Or even worse, not noticing when the tide is coming in and it washes your landed fish away.  Save yourself some stress and have someone sit on the beach in a camp chair with a cooler and the bonker.  This might be, perhaps, someone who has no interest in fishing (gasp) themselves.  Some industrious sitters (not me) cut the fish up as they were caught.  Saves a lot of time.

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3. To walk or not to walk?  Decide whether you are a walker or a stander and get in the right area.  The poor LFG hubby blew a gasket or two over dips that would insert themselves and their nets into the middle of an area where people were walking against the tide in a line, and just stand there.  The line then comes to a screeching halt, no doubt with a fond desire to keep going right over the new stander and rejoin the walkers on the other side. 

For those that wish to stand, there are standing areas for that, usually on either side of the walking area.  The point is, look around before you put your net in: what are the other dipnetters around you doing?  Remember about those sharp knives and tired drivers, we don’t want to push anyone over the edge now, do we??

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4. Be aware.  Of others, that is.  There are net people. Knife people. Club people. Little people. Dogs. Coolers. Fish. Lots of things to trip over or get struck by.  Why I myself was struck with a pole and net from an overanxious dipnetter hauling out her catch.  And I was sitting halfway up the beach in a chair minding my own business.

Just know this: the dipnetters probably aren’t paying much attention as they haul fish out, so if you must walk on the beach near the water, keep one eye on them and the other on the beach itself, which is littered with nets, etc.  Or just go back to the tent and read a book, which I would have done, had not my electronic reader stubbornly refused to cooperate. 

Well, four rules is about three too many for Alaskans, so I will just have to wait for your memories to fade by next year to write my Advanced Dipnetting Etiquette tome.  Oh yeah, we caught 23 red salmon (and one pink salmon, but don’t tell anyone), about three more than I wanted, but about 100 less than the guy next to us.  Fish on!

What activities need posted etiquette/guidelines?  Have you ever told a stranger they were breaking an unwritten rule?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bobbing along

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“Bobbing along, bobbing along on the bottom of the beautiful briny sea.”  For the life of me, I can’t remember just where I heard that song.  After taking my ginkgo infusion, I seem to remember that a crusty old man was singing it in a movie, but the title eludes me.  I believe it must be a rather older Disney movie, but won’t swear to it. 

I seem to be just bobbing along this summer, not really doing any “serious” gardening.  By serious, I suppose I mean pulling weeds and occasionally fertilizing/watering my containers.  Have I dead-headed a single plant?  “No,” my petunias resentfully lament.  “Not once,” opines the Cosmos, littered with spent flowers rivaling moldy lettuces in attractiveness.  And my poor Alyssum needs the horticultural equivalent of a crash cart after three days of sun and not a drop of water.  I’m a horticultural serial killer this summer.

After cruising by some home improvement stores (who am I kidding?  I spend an enormous amount of time at the paint counters there.  We’re down to Behr’s “Rolling Pebble” and “Elephant Skin” for our home exterior.  Do cast a vote!) I noticed that most of their plants for sale are still full price.  This illustrates to me just how out of touch the rest of the country’s retail schedule is with Alaska. 

We are practically a different country here: call us Canada West or Southern North Pole.  When July rolls around, Alaskans start that resigned sighing known as “it’s practically the end of summer”.  The desperation doesn’t start ‘til August, but the cooler temps start then also.  Don’t smirk, you’d be desperate if summer was only 3 months long, too!

So here we have only two more summerish months and Home Depot still wants $30 for a dahlia?  I gasp at paying $12 at the beginning of summer for my favorite orange dahlia every year.  Spending $30 on one annual might push me into the “society page heiress” category of plant purchasing. 

I’m wondering just what the plant spending habit break down is for avid gardeners.  Do most buy full price?  Only on discount?  Sow their own?  I tend to buy annual cell packs full price, but look for deals on anything bigger than a 4” pot.  Of course I occasionally splurge on the bling, like my $12 dahlia or a really unusual perennial/shrub/tree, but not often enough to call myself a plant heiress.  Good grief, I can’t even be bothered this year to water what I have, I shouldn’t be thinking of acquiring more victims.  “Christine, you’re needed in the plant ER, STAT!!  And bring your watering can and felcos, woman.”

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(Rolling Pebble on the left and Elephant Skin on the right. Adventurous, no?)

How much is too much, for a plant?  Would you pay $30 for an annual?       

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alaska Gardener Answers the Unanswerable

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My writing options this week as far as subject matter goes were, and I quote verbatim: 1. the bunny and the dandelions, 2. something about the clouds, 3. something about gardening because this is a garden blog, and 4. the tortoise almost ran away.  As suggested to me by my sounding board of 12 years whilst I was collapsed in a heap regretting I had nothing to write about (again).  All were rejected in favor of answering reader “questions”.  Much more entertaining.  And I would have to do actual research (sort of) to find out about clouds beyond what I learned from Sesame Street and the ninth grade.

I had great fun answering the search queries that led to my blog here.  Now trolling keywords in blogger has become an addiction for me, along with jelly beans and cheap trowels.  Judge me not…I know each one of you has a similar cringe-inducing habit.  Otherwise, why the plethora of lawn gnomes, movies starring terrible actors, brisk trade in white tube socks, and extensive chocolate-themed aisles at Costco?

Query: those things in Alaska with the color

Answer: Subduing the natural urge to write “huh?” I take it to mean you are referring to blue tarps, that purple house on Hillside Drive or one of it’s many brightly hued brethren around town, or the approximately one trillion yellow dandelions around here.

Query: Keep closed unless airborne

Answer: If by keep closed, one is referring to a motor-mouth or a full purse, then I say “hear, hear.”  Actually, those needn’t be opened on a plane either.  I spilled the contents of my purse on a flight once and it wasn’t pretty. My favorite lip balm is probably still rolling around on some Delta flight, tripping up little old ladies in velour track suits.  And as for the blabby guy with the carrying voice that seems to be on every red-eye flight I am, well, I guess I didn’t need those five hours of sleep anyway.

Query: trees that moose won’t eat

Answer: I’ll let you know if I hear of one.  Even if they won’t eat it, they can still snap off all the leaders or mar it in some other conspicuous way before determining the tree is not snack worthy (my poor, poor Prunus maackii trees will never be the same).  Stick with evergreens, kid, and you may have a chance.

Query: alaska, when to give up on perennials

Answer: When you spend more time spraying, dividing, and coddling them than with your family, job, and other hobbies combined.  Have the Extension Service do a soil test.  Are you trying to grow them in construction backfill or a swamp?  And try the easy ones first.  In Alaska that’s Trollius and Iris.  Take a garden class at one of the nurseries.  Pick a veteran gardener’s brain.  Enroll in the Master Gardener course.  Say it with me: “I can do it.”

Query: gas station plants

Answer: No. You can’t make me.

Query: difficult neighbors and fences

Answer: If I had the answer to this, I’d be richer than Bill Gates, more revered than Mother Theresa, and probably a top advisor to the President of the United States.  I think this problem is ubiquitous, and generally speaking, difficult neighbors will still be difficult whether or not there is a fence involved.  So why not get the fence and then you will see/hear less of them.  I prefer a ten-foot brick wall with razor wire running along the top and accompanied by a drooling pack of mastiffs, but strangely enough city ordinances frown on this approach.  If all else fails, try cookies or homemade bread.

I’d like to thank all of those earnest searchers out there who were brave enough to tap out their heart’s desires, I’d like to thank Google for referring them here, and I’d like to thank you all for reading this goofy blog.  Next week, I really must write something about gardening.  Or perhaps I’ll run out of time (as usual) and be left with one of these lovelies: “Strolling with Stratus,” “Counting the Cumulus,” or maybe “The Nimble Nimbus.”

Do you search for garden answers on the internet? In books? Or in person?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I’m just a little black rain cloud

Now how many of you finished that phrase with “hovering over the honey tree” or some other Winnie the Pooh nonsense?  Today’s twittering (in the old fashioned but non-avian sense) is all about what to do when it’s pouring, drizzling, driving, or pelting rain. 

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For me, the answer should be: not gardening.  I imagine all that fabulous soil structure (I’m an optimist) I would be compressing to bits whilst tramping about.  Instead of “think of the children,” I think of the pore spaces and that precious oxygen.  Anyway, the children are in the basement watching “The Andy Griffith Show” reruns, so they will give me (a few giggles and) no grief.

Those fellow gardeners inhabiting famously dampish climates are no doubt old pros at what to do when even the briefest excursions must involve galoshes, trench coat, umbrella, wet suit, and snorkel.  If they don all that to garden, they get a gold star and a pair of wool socks from me.  We get a mere 16” a year of precipitation, so technically, I’m a desert dweller.  In a parka.

So far, on this rainy day I have:

  • consumed a pack of Skittles
  • changed from my shorts and short-sleeved shirt to a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt (I know, classy)
  • got suckered by an online sale and spent way too much time deciding if that cute cropped jacket was in fact “my” yellow or would make me look jaundiced
  • made my bed, then got back into it (don’t worry, I managed to eject myself from it’s cocooning coziness for a second time)
  • noticed the tortoise did his business
  • scrounged the house looking for that giant jar of jelly beans that was (too successfully) hidden from me last night
  • looked at the dead leaves and other outdoor debris on my white living room carpet, and thought “I should vacuum”

I did manage to comb my hair, but thought it was too trivial to mention in my list. So you don’t get a wrong impression of me (I’m only lethargic on days when it’s cold, rainy, snowy, or hot), yesterday, a cloudy but dry day, I managed to spend a couple hours outside jack hammering dandelions out of the lawn.  Note to self: wear gloves next time, dummy! 

We have about 8 more hours of “lawn vs. weed” labor…and then the back yard.  I’m thinking of investing in either 1. a flamethrower, industrial size, or 2. a large earth mover, whereupon I will bury about 50% 85% of the lawn and plant trees, shrubbery, and ornamental grasses.  While I’m dreaming, I might as well have a pony.  (But not a Shetland, I’ve heard they are mean….)

This is a strange day and a strange post.  I seem to have both done and written pretty much nothing.  I’m not even making dinner tonight.  We’re having leftovers.  Hurrah for inclement weather and Winnie the Pooh.  Silly old blog.


What do you do on a rainy day? Do you garden in the rain? 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shameless promotion: in Alaska this weekend??

Every year in June (the 11th & 12th this year), the garden event of the year unfolds off of Tudor and Campbell Airstrip Road.  Yes, I tapped that out with a straight face.  Now Alaskan’s know that our gardening scene is a more subdued affair than a similar event in say, Seattle, Portland, Connecticut, England or any other big hotbed of horticulture.  But though we are few, we are just as ready to spend our dough on plants, trinkets, and art for the garden. 

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ABG Garden Fair 039Some of the art is, as art tends to be, subject to the viewer’s taste.  Our city has a different bunch of artists decorate fiberglass salmon every year.  They resulting “pieces” (I’m using arty language here) are then salted throughout Anchorage.  The Botanical Garden got one last year, and as you can see above, the placement at a public garden was only natural.  Besides the “high fahlutin’ art” for sale at the garden fair, there is quite a selection in the more modest “trinket” category, as seen below.

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There are scads of well-known plant vendors/growers/nurserypersons lining the walkways and hawking choice selections.  But don’t forget to stop by the ABG’s own plant nursery and gift shop.  As a courtesy, they offer a plant holding area, much like babysitting for plants, only the babysitter’s are volunteers.  I am proud to be a humble sitter of leafy greens for the past…well, more years than I care to say.  It’s like shopping vicariously and none of the guilt at the end of the day.  “Can you believe he bought that thing?” or “Where did you find that? You say it’s the last one??  Nooooo!”  Well, something like that, anyway.

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If you have all the plants you care to own (is there a gardener out there that can really say that?), enjoy the multitudinous offering of classes, presentations, and informational booths.  There are even classes for the kids at the “Children’s Village.”  And if music is your thing, imagine wandering through a delightful woodland with live music wafting through the trees.  Now I realize some think music can’t waft, it can only drift, permeate, or float, but I’m hear to tell you it can indeed “waft.” I get a kick out of the bagpipers when they wander through.  It’s like that flick Braveheart without all the blue paint and Mel Gibson.

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Now, now, I know you’re freaking out at this point: “Where’s the food, woman?  We can’t mill around without food.!”  Simmer down, there is a very reputable food court that offers such tantalizing morsels as chocolate dipped ice cream bars covered in sugared pecans.  (Pardon me as I dab up a spot of drool.)  I also favor the reindeer sausages, but for those that frown on cooking up Santa’s fleet, the menus and cuisine run the whole gamut. 

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Those savvy ABG folk, they’ve thought of everything.  Lots of portable toilets, so no mad dashes for the car on that account.  Plenty of wagons to tote loads to the car.  Oh wait, you’ll probably be riding a bus there, as the parking lot nearby is way too small.  The shuttles run continuously, so if you have to wait, it won’t be for long.  There are usually pickups at the Alaska Club and the Troopers parking lot.  Check ABG’s website for more details. 

Just remember to bring your umbrella, bug dope, sunglasses, camera, Uncle Ted, kitchen sink, and discretionary funds for the Alaska Botanical Garden’s annual Garden and Art Fair.  And don’t forget to say hello to me and the plant sitting crew in the Plant Holding area from 9:30-12:30 on Saturday morning.  Arrive early for the best selection (and smallest crowd). 

Hours: Saturday-11-6, Sunday-11-5, members only preview Sat. 10am

Going to a garden fair this summer?  Have all the plants you need?  Favorite fair food? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I guess I’m still insane

How else to explain the weekend spend marinating in bug spray, smelling like the proverbial bull got loose in a chemist’s laboratory, and with a clothing-permeating, heavy dusting of partially combusted spruce trees? 

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I know I’m not the only one that lost my marbles and went camping this Memorial Day weekend.  How do I know, you ask.  Why else the miles long processional featuring motor homes, motorbikes, and fifth-wheels, boats of all shapes and bikes strapped to every auto extremity, and absolute impossibility of fueling up at the gas station without a long wait?  It’s a fact of life, long weekends mean camping here. 

Normally, I would say long weekends mean fishing here, but the big runs of salmon haven’t quite come in yet in south-central Alaska.  Once they do, abandon all hope, ye who drive out of town on the weekends.  Your drive time will be sluggish, nearly as much so as the behemoth motor homes that could be mistaken for greyhound buses on steroids.  (Except the motor homes have tricked out interiors that resemble a Vegas casino lounge.  If I ever win the lottery, I'll be sure and buy myself one of those palaces on wheels to “camp” in, but mostly to hold traffic up by crawling at a rate of speed Fred Flintstone’s ride could beat.  Step on it, would you?!) 

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Some high points: 1. sighted 24 bald eagles fishing on the mud flats for hooligan at low tide, a first for me, 2. we were able to get one of only two spaces left at the Black Bear campground near Portage Glacier, 3. I didn’t forget the pink and white frosted animal crackers, which would have been, as a grown man put it “a crisis”, and 4. we had a seventy degree day, maybe the “best day of the summer” as another grown man put it.  Dreary thought, as summer doesn’t start officially for another three weeks.  And in Alaska, perhaps not even then.  (All together now: knock on wood!)

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Some low points: 1. the dratted barking dogs, all night long, 2. my sleeping bag was, shall we say, insufficiently warm, 3. wood smoke in my eyes for an extended period, and 4. the absolute worst Kevin Costner movie I’ve ever seen, which is saying something.  Might I suggest when one goes camping, if a movie is in order, pass by “The New Daughter”.  My eyes/brain are still cramping up from the experience.

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Still, the taste of an ooey, gooey, slightly burnt marshmallow and it’s attendant graham cracker and chocolate bar make up for a lot.  Perhaps not Kevin Costner’s movie, but close.  And the feeling of exhilaration from a bike ride literally over the river and through the woods was worth something.  It won’t build the enamel back that I ground from my teeth whilst watching the movie, alas.  I must be crazy for watching it to the end.


Seen a bad movie?  Camping tips?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Babysitter's Dilemma: Tortoise or Hare?

A blindingly obvious choice for anyone that has 1. raised a child, 2. taught kindergarten, or 3. seen how fast a hare actually moves.  Do I commit to tend a slow reptile that drinks/eats every other day, makes a sloth look hasty, and needs cleanup every three days?  Or do I take the (admittedly geriatric) highly strung bunny, that needs daily feeding and watering, clean bedding, cuddling, treats like fresh carrots and rutabagas, and probably a big pink bow as well? 

We have the tortoise.  A shock to all, I realize.  Some members of the family were expecting a small, hand sized creature, harking back to pet turtles of yore that never quite managed survival and attainment of greater girth.  We tend what can be termed a largish dinner plate with chubby, clawed legs.  Weight watchers may not be out of the question, for the blasted thing might weigh twenty five pounds.

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Such an alarming pet, for such a slow and gentle beast.  We must wash our hands after every contact, even the most casual.  Salmonella is a bit catching, says our local tortoise whisperer.  Now conversations around the house are likely to be punctuated with “and wash your hands!  With soap!  For more than seven seconds!!”  Mealtimes are even less pleasant, more like interrogations. “Did you wash your hands?!  Let me see!  If you’re not telling the truth, you could get very, very sick” and etc.

[Change of topic, because I feel constrained to mention: I planted my containers last weekend, and risk the wrath of Nature/Murphy’s Law/certain Alaskan garden experts by planting out early.  We shall see who has the last laugh.  For all the pesos I spent on annuals this year, I sure hope it’s me.  Back to compelling tortoise narrative.]

A dog wandered into the front yard on Saturday, and it was as if the Russian army had been discovered swarming the coast (I can see Russia from my place, you know….).  The five alarm klaxon went off.  Adults were hollered at to protect the tortoise, who, blithely ignorant of his impending doom, was roaming the yard at the speed of molasses.  Fortunately, the aged, drooling Labrador was driven off and “Tort” was spared.

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Our “rent-a-pet”, for lack of a better word, is summering with us.  For his day job during the school year, he spends time amongst children aged 3-5 years old, gadding about the preschool room, avoiding craft projects involving paint or hole punches.  I came to a realization last week, at approximately the same time I was loading Tort’s coffee table-sized habitat into the truck.  I am one of those sucker parents, that takes the class pet because no one else volunteers for it.  I felt sorry for a tortoise.  At least the class pet wasn’t a wolverine, a rhinoceros, or a blue whale.  I suppose I’ll be president of the PTA next…. 

Any strange pets?  Been subjected to a guilt trip?

Monday, May 16, 2011

A chuckle (at another’s expense, of course!)

I found myself in quite a quandary a couple of days ago.  My Friday evening was spent, spade in hand, lifting perennials.  How sublime, you’re thinking. Not really.  I fit about three wheelbarrows’ worth of plants into one load.  Very irresponsible, but quite efficient.  What’s the quandary, woman, you’re now thinking.  Well, the owner of the said perennials mentioned I could take as many as I wanted as she was moving and turning the house into a rental.  The problem?  I have nowhere to put them.  At all.

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On to new and totally unrelated topic: Fellow bloggers, have you ever checked under “Search Keywords” and discovered just what phrases tapped into a search engine led a person to your blog?  It’s such fun!  I often wonder if said person feels quite deceived when they land on my blog, as I’m sure the poor sap who searched for “buy miniature evergreens” did.  No evergreens for sale here, my good man.  In fact, you’d have a dickens of a time finding any in the state of Alaska.  But I’d check Faltz Nursery if I were you…. 

I feel as a courtesy I should be attempting to answer at least some of the queries, and address (if humanly possible) the statements, however bizarre.  (Long time readers know I make “bizarre” something of a specialty.)  So without further blather, I give you actual, real examples of search terms that led people to my blog.

Search: When can I plant in the ground in Anchorage, Alaska?

Answer: The jaded Alaskan gardener in me wants to answer “about three weeks before the first snow flies” but I mustn’t be bitter, so instead I write: Wait a bit.  The traditional planting out date is Memorial Day weekend (last weekend in May), so a couple of weeks yet for most ornamentals.  For cheaters (like myself) as soon as the birch leaf out…so pretty much anytime now.  Also, the soil in containers is warmer than the ground, so I plant my containers early as a general rule. 

My lawyer tells me I need a disclaimer, so here goes.  Disclaimer: Anchorage has had late frosts in June before, so you’ve been warned.  Don’t blame me if you plant early and your heliotrope turns brown or your impatiens go to mush.  It’s risky, I tell you, risky!

Search: What can I have in my yard that the moose won’t eat?

Answer: A grizzly bear, a blue tarp, or a rusted out Chevy Camaro.  Old timers also swear by tall fences, junkyard dogs, and Plantskydd, a blood-based repellant.  Good luck.

Search: “Sneezy” from Snow White psychological disorders

Answer: Blame your parents, kid, everyone else does.  That’s what I get for writing a post about Snow White. Which coincidentally is my most popular post.  Go figure.  Here’s a tip- write a post about a Disney character, prominently mentioned in your title, and prepare to have all blog records broken.  Disney isn’t a brand, it’s a cult.  (If anyone has tips for visiting Disneyworld, let me know.  I am being forced to go in October.  I’ll need a double ration of Paxil.)

Search: “Garden whirligigs”

Answer: No thanks.  But if they tickle your (ulp!) fancy, head down to Alaska Mill, Feed, and Garden Center.  They have an unrivaled assortment.  Hopefully my neighbors aren’t reading this.  If they are, I say, “I am already dealing with your badly behaved dogs, don’t you dare add whirligigs to the mix!” 

Search: snow garden pictures

Answer: If you figure out how to garden in the snow, let me know.  I assume a snow garden picture is as easy to find as a documented sighting of a sasquatch.  If you’re referring to strong design and lots of evergreens making a garden interesting under snow, well, why didn’t you say so?

Question: And just what did I do with that aforementioned barrow load of perennials?

Answer: There are nestled in a blue tarp, one on top of the other all higgledy piggledy inside the wheelbarrow.  No fence to keep out bunnies and moose.  No safe ground (we have some drainage issues and need to do some re-grading).  At this point, I’m thinking a few bags of compost inside the abandoned dog run, heel in, water, and call it good.  Or maybe I’ll search for “place to plant perennials when there is no place to plant” and land on one of your blogs….

Questions?  Answers?  Amusement park tips or horror stories?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Are the oldies goodies? You decide.

Every area has it’s classics, the plants that are de rigueur, be the home a cottage or manor house.  Sighting one of these standbys can conjure up feelings of nostalgia, reminiscences of the hardships endured by the pioneers to the area, and satisfaction at the longevity of perennials. 

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Such plants can also inspire dread at the chores involved (pests, staking, fertilizing, etc.), disdain at the short flowering season and uninteresting foliage, and resignation at the futility of trying to introduce/try/share the joys of growing something new or different in the area.  But this is supposed to be a touchy-feely post, so I shan’t dwell on that last bit.  Onward, to Alaska’s most time honored perennials.

1. Delphiniums.  We grow these better than anyone, save perhaps the English.  A staking nightmare, but we can’t have everything now can we?  (Though a gardening staff would be helpful if you’re growing more than three.)  Watch out for Delphinium defoliators as well.  In many colors and flavors: white, green, blue, purple, pink.  Don’t even get me started on “bee” colors.  Lots of choices.

2. Trollius.  If it likes the spot, it may seed around a bit.  Emerges earlier in the spring, a bonus for Alaska when all we have to look at is brown dirt.  The classic yellow gold and orange colors are pretty common, but if you’re searching for something a bit less conspicuous, try the creamy ‘Cheddar’.

3.  Iceland Poppy.  Or Papaver nudicaule, for those that speak Latin. The Iceland poppy is so happy here, it seeds around in ditches. The most often sighted colors are orange, yellow, and white, but they come in a range of warm tones.  Buy in flower, as they are most often grown and sold as mixed colors.  Look out for the more unusual champagne, peach, or scarlet.

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4. Siberian iris.  Many have a fondness for Iris sibirica, I must conclude, as I see them in nearly every Alaska garden. The Siberian iris will be here, along with cockroaches, and coyotes, after a nuclear annihilation.  It is tough.  We have a native iris also occurring in large numbers on the Palmer Hay Flats and surrounds, Iris setosa.  It is very lovely and occurs in purple and blue shades (and the occasional white).  Needs division pretty frequently to look it’s best.

5. Bleeding heart. Good old Dicentra spectabilis, never lets you down in the shade. Seeds a bit when it’s happy, too.  I had the white flowered form growing in rocky crevices at my old place.  So sublime in spring! Not much happening after flowering….

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6. Geraniums, called cranesbills by some, are represented by four species here, including an introduced weed (thanks a lot!) from across the pond.  This pioneer plant, brought into the garden from the forest, is G. erianthum. Seen in light violet and occasionally white. I know it’s not PC, but I prefer cultivars like ‘Johnson’s Blue’.  I’ve found the native plants a bit sparse foliage-wise and shy of flowering.  [There, I said it. The native plant purists, with accompanying sharpened trowels and pitchforks, may now be sent for…. ]

7. Ox-eye daisy, or Leucanthemum vulgare, or whatever the taxonomists are calling it today. White flowering and often found growing in ditches. People often lift it (or the birds plant it) and it can become quite a nuisance in cultivation.  Don’t you be fooled. A weed.

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8. Columbine, or Aquilegia. Very common, and very charming in a mix of colors.  Not much going on after bloom, except defoliators and leaf miners.  Hooray?

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9. Pasque flower, or Pulsatilla vulgaris, is a spring bloomer, most often sighted flowering in white or purple, but also available in pink or red. I love the fuzzy look of this one and surprise, the seed heads are interesting as well.  Rather a shocking trait in a spring bloomer, at least to this jaded gardener.

10. Meadow rue, another one Alaskans grow better than anyone (why are all such plants requirers of arduous and complicated staking?), comes in a range of sizes. If you’re Latin, you call this one Thalictrum. There was a specimen of T.rochebrunianum (Lavender mist) at the Alaska Botanical Garden that must have been nine or ten feet tall.  Boy, did I feel sorry for the poor sap that had to stake that thing.  A lot of work for not much payoff, in my humble opinion. Try one of the smaller species unless you enjoy staking plants.

Luckily, at my new place, we’ve only numbers 2 through 4, so the staking chores are still nonexistent. Now what to do with the hundreds of Iceland poppies popping up everywhere?!  Guess I’d better get the hoe out, or have a plant sale….

What are the classics in your area, and do you like them? Alaskans, did I miss any?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Trump, trinkets, and trash…not in that order

This post is written under extreme duress.  Currently, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” brainchild of Mr. Donald “Wheaties in my hair” Trump, is playing loudly in the background as I vainly try to type a coherent sentence, or at least, one that doesn’t involve the phrase “you’re fired.”  I would turn it off, but Father’s Day is coming up, and this counts (in my book) as a generous gift.

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I think I was set to write something about the annual citywide Cleanup Day (which is actually a week), how I filled six bright orange bags with trash alongside a freeway, and what interesting bits and bobs I discovered along the way.  How difficult this task has become, as I try to block out the sounds and sights of our cultural heroes.  “Low down, dirty back stabbin’…she been vicious, honey….”  Who could not admire a person that says all this in front of a table full of peers and the Donald plus a national audience, and in a manner that implies the subject of the diatribe is not in fact two places down the table from the ranter.

OK, the channel was changed momentarily to a “Closer” rerun, so I am able to tap out a few pertinent sentences.  In my experience (and I’ve been doing cleanup day since I was a kid), the type of rubbish depends on the area of town.  I cleaned an area of downtown once (15th and Denali, for those that want to know) and my top three finds were 1. a used drug needle, 2. a pornographic magazine, 3. a used prophylactic, and 4. a car stereo.  Quite a haul.  Next time I clean there, I’ll bring my industrial sized tongs and a HAZMAT suit.

My finds this year were rather less exciting.  Top picks: safety goggles in great shape, an ice scraper, two golf balls, and a race car-themed kids shoe.  I usually find money every year, too.  Not so this year.  I suppose my site next to the freeway is to blame.  The trash is more of the fast food, beer bottle, mattress, and broken bumper variety.  A road near a high school is the way to go if you want to find money.  Dollar bills are common, but once I found a ten.  Who says virtue is it’s own reward?

The Donald and team are back, so I can no longer refrain from mentioning that one of the contestants has dark glasses on at all times (and most unfortunately, poor soul, teeth that resemble mahjong tiles).  Isn’t there a song about “…a future so bright you gotta wear shades?”  And is landing on “The Celebrity Apprentice” indicative of a bright future?  Another struggles to grasp the basics of the English language.  Endearing in a two year old or immigrant to this nation, depressing in a born and raised adult U.S. citizen in an industry and role that puts them in the public eye.

Next year, I must remember to bring an extra pair of latex gloves, as picking up slimy cardboard and dripping wet fast food bags with ripped up gloves is akin to picking up slugs with bare hands.  Who does that?  The Last Frontier Gardener is admittedly squeamish with slime, but the whole experience was improved by a medium coating of road dust from head to toe, wind blowing said dust in my face, and the beep, beep of friendly passersby. 

I’m now hearing a commercial for a beauty product, hawked by a well known thirtysomething actress that appears to be untouched by age, sun, or the genetics of aging.  I bitterly console myself that strong, bright light will do that.  I should have the kids tote movie lighting around after me, or wear dark glasses everywhere, indoors even.  She asks “how do I stay young?”  OK, that’s it.  I can’t hear any more. And now “Two and Half Men” is on.  Must turn off TV and have a primal scream.


How do you stay young? Any Trump, TV, or trash lately? 


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