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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