Saturday, December 31, 2016

Save some resolve for the garden, would you?


Sunset in Alaska

Not all my New Year’s Resolutions are for the mind, body, and money pit that is my home. I have some for the garden, too. In no particular order, here they are.

1. Put some edging in. I am getting tired of the “dance of the edging tool,” performed by yours truly, every year. Sometimes the dance is a long one, other times only a few egregiously encroaching feet of turf grass are whittled away and tossed into the compost pile or at a nearby brushy spot in the yard.

This year, in a burst of energy, the dance took me out of the garden and down the sides of my driveway. I have regained quite a bit of drive space. It’s amazing how tough grass is, growing right over and into the asphalt.

2. Prune those competing central-leader branches on the spruce trees the former homeowner planted. Of course they are over ten feet in the air and require a ladder. And have you ever leaned into a spruce tree? Those things are mean. They scratch me every time I mow the lawn around them.

What I would really love to do is to cut down that very blue spruce that they planted. It is just there with no rhyme or reason amongst the green spruce. I don’t have a prejudice against the color blue on a spruce tree, and have grown several blue semi-dwarf varieties at my last garden. It’s just eye-catching when/where it shouldn’t be.

3. Plant some trees. I’m thinking some tall ones in scale with my house. We need some more privacy from the street. When the neighbors’ dog takes a dump in my lawn, I want to be surprised by it.

There is no fun at all in knowing which beast did the deed because you just witnessed the cheeky devil relieve himself from the living room window. I get to speculate based on size of droppings, distance from road, and whether it’s firm/crusty/mushy. Points awarded if I step in it while mowing the lawn.

4. Grow some herbs and other goodies for the ladies. We have three amusing, disgusting, lovable, productive, fluffy chickens. They love watermelon and will take one down to the very rind but those don’t grow so well here. Carrots and potatoes do well here, but our chickens don’t love them. Hmm, what do grow?

To stave off chicken obesity and just because she wants to, my kid takes them on walks in a harness and leash for small dogs. Some chickens enjoy this more than others, or at least, some can run faster and escape from the prospect of being a spectacle. Cars have stopped in the street to watch. Our “pet dogs with feathers” deserve a home-grown treat or two. We’ll see what I come up with.

I did start this list with two items and seem to be adding and adding so I’d better wrap it up. I don’t want to get overloaded with projects outside. Nothing kills resolutions faster than apathy, right? Or is it injury? For me, the real fun is still just being in my garden, whether with a shovel or a lemonade, it’s all good. Happy New Year!

What needs doing in your garden? And will you do it in 2017?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Apocalypse now…or at least by November 9


Image result for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Last Frontier Gardener checking in here. The kids are all telling me that the country won’t last beyond the next election. Mayhem, violence, government overthrow, you name it. I’m also reading about my fellow Americans’ opinions on our descent into doom, deviancy, and destruction. People across the land shaking their heads, clicking their tongues, and stocking up the pantry and/or gun cabinet.

Poor America, having to choose between Candidate Baggage and Candidate More Baggage. Or is it Candidate No Way and Candidate No How? But, I reassure myself, every country has its troubles, right? Right?? I don’t remember feeling quite this despondent about voting before, my thought processes running thus, “that one I’d just have to wince and hold my nose and check the box, the other one I’d gag and maybe throw up a little in my mouth.”

Perhaps a write-in campaign is in order. I’ve heard/read that, too. But whom to pencil in? I say it doesn’t matter, it couldn’t be worse than what we already have (cough, Congress, cough). You all know I love lists, so here is my top ten list to give comfort to those who fear this election may result in The End of America.

(Ten Reasons Why) America Will (Probably) Still Be Standing After Elections on November 8…

1. …because they both can’t win. We only have to have one of them as president.

2. …because we don’t have to feel bad for the loser. Speaking fees and book offers will no doubt cushion the blow, and righteous indignation will be theirs forever.

3. …because Alaska, at least, is probably safe from any looting/armed takeovers, despite high population of impulsive/reckless persons (according to my made-up statistics, 63.4% of Alaska’s population is made up of hotheads). It’s too cold out for that nonsense. It was icy and about 25F today. Stay home and watch World War Z in your flannel pajamas instead, ok?

4. …so we can all enjoy the sound of silence; the robocalls will stop. Praise the Lord.

5. …because we are a forgetful people when it comes to politics. Or maybe it’s pragmatic, or apathetic. Whatever! We will all be able to enjoy Thanksgiving on November 24, without Grandma creaming Uncle Joe with the gravy boat or Cousin Right Wing spearing Cousin Left Wing with the turkey fork. At least for reasons related to which bubble on the ballot to shade. Long-standing family vendettas and grudges, rage on!

6. …because I’m told The End will be ushered in by 4 Horseman. If we can but keep Newt Gingrich off a horse, I think we’re safe.

7. …because I predict, in cooperation with Homeland Security, will have a big online promo November 9 to keep everyone distracted.

8. …because I still haven’t seen the last Hobbit movie. I refuse to participate in an Apocalypse until I know what happens to Bilbo.

9. …because we owe too much money to China. They are never gonna let us get away with some phony-baloney bankruptcy due to civil war.

10. …because it’ll be a Wednesday. Everyone knows The End will come on a Monday, it’s the worst day of the week.

Don’t worry, my fellow Americans. It’ll all be over soon (or is that, it’ll all be over in four years when we have to do this again?). As for the rest of you lucky readers in other countries, enjoy a Trump-less, Clinton-less November.


What are you looking forward to after Election Day?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

That day I never look forward to….

Look ma, frost!

Yep, we had a frost last night. A very official one, too. My lawn is silver with frost, even at 8:30am, as I write this. Fortunately, the hop vine is still perky, and my orange dahlias on the front porch are only half brown and dead. Those are my bellwether plants.

Mostly dead is a little bit alive, too

I used to plant Coleus, and that is a very sensitive plant at my place to any cold at all. And Ipomoea, the potato vine I used to buy in all sorts of obnoxious colors, was also touchy about the low temperatures. Thus those two, though very useful and beautiful, are not a part of the scheme anymore, I can’t afford the losses.

Porch plant becomes houseplant, for the third year!

I already brought inside my Carex, my beloved variegated sedge that doubles as a houseplant all winter long. The lavender plant I tried on a whim this summer got pulled into the house as well, if only to see if it would do something over the winter, which I am having my doubts about. I got one, count it, one bloom out of the thing, over the course of a record high temperature summer (so for us, lots of days in the 70’s Fahrenheit).

Dry river bed section of garden

Not much is still blooming or pretending to bloom out there. That Gaillardia blossom looks a bit too perfect for me to believe it’s not frozen to perfection, waiting for the wind, snow, and truly cold temperatures to turn it brown. Or maybe a moose will walk by and eat it. My snow-colored Alyssum, which seeds around with something quite a bit less than enthusiasm (two seedlings, sheesh!), is still a mound of stark white. A few purple Penstemon blooms ignore the cold, Achillea, Papaver, Viola as well.

Diascia lives...for now

Waiting for death, or the long winter’s nap, any day now in my garden.


Frost/no frost? When does your garden rest for a season?

Friday, September 9, 2016

They’re alive for now

The end of summer and it’s wonderful warmth seems to come a little later each year here in Alaska. I have no complaints. As a child, I remember thinking that when school starts, summer ends, no matter the date on the calendar. With climate change (and our increasingly hot summers and mild winters), autumn is a season we seem to get a little more of each year, and for that, I am truly thankful. It is my favorite season.

Sunshine, for now

Humulus lupulus 'Bianca'

Rosa glauca and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Eldorado'

The birch and cottonwood leaves are beginning to turn their various shades of brown, yellow, and gold. The strappy fireweed leaves have gone red and purple. Everything is wet, because it rains nearly every day, and our high temperature has plunged down in the 50’s (that’s in the teens for you Celsius people). I will not write of the low temperature, the potential kiss of death. So far, I’ve been spared.

The Carex in the background doubles as a houseplant in the winter

Penguin says we are not amused with autumn

I have a pile of various pruned organic bits moldering in the garden cart, and an edging tool with a pair of purple garden gloves on each side of the handle like antlers, both left for a moment that turned into days, sopped on the gravel. Everything waits. For the gardener, or for the frost.

P.S. Must be topped off every other day

Physocarpus 'Center Glow' with Penstemon

Love it when seedlings match the color scheme!

How long will those dahlias bloom? Will I get another week out of the golden hop vine? Will that spirea ever get a decent shade of red? Are my garden chores going to be completed before the snow flies? The mysteries of autumn abound.

Calamagrostis brachytricha, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Have you said goodbye to summer? Any plant casualties of temperature to report?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Draining my bank account: Alaska State Fair edition

Me and my 1000 bestest Alaskan buddies

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Alaska State Fair is in full swing, and being the die-hard fair goer that I am (see here for prior coverage), it wasn’t a question of if, but when. Saturday, August 27 was the day, and along with 50,000 or so of my fellow Alaskans (oh all right, I did see a car with a license plate from Canada in fair traffic) packed it up and drove the miles to stand in lines, spend too much (honestly, a corn dog for $8!?), and eat too much (see aforementioned corn dog plus other things I would rather forget).

Motivated kids win ribbonsAn octopus with a monocle, a cousin of the Planter's peanut guyDancers putting on a show where pigs used to race

So maybe I’m exaggerating about the number of attendees last Saturday, but it felt very packed. I noticed an unusual amount of people using carts, crutches, and canes to get around, and finally realized, with my usual quick wit, that it must be Family Day at the fair. No, that’s really a Day there, and kids get in free. Maybe Seniors, too, cuz old folks were everywhere! I would have invited my grandma, but she is about 2,000 miles away and spent her Saturday watching a tractor parade. Oh la la.

Wineck barn, I think

I tell you what, when I’m my grandparents age, there won’t be a single soul on Earth that can convince me to march, mingle, and get mashed on the hard pavement amongst the green-haired kiddies, strollers running over my feet, and smell of grease. I will sit on a bench and eat a turkey leg (that booth always has a long line when I walk by hungry) and holler at my grandkids instead. I can’t wait.

Scary rideI watch because I am too tired to walk anymoreCool photo op

We got up early on Saturday, and after a few well deserved hints to the kids to get moving, pack up their raincoats, and use the toilet, we departed only an hour behind schedule. But about 300 cars behind schedule, too. The traffic past the Wasilla/Palmer freeway turnoff was not quite horrendous but well past dreadful.

We groaned and griped all the way through the back end of Palmer (look kids, potatoes!) until we parked the car and turned off the engine. After a reminder that I wasn’t going to carry the “backpack of necessities” the whole time like last year, like some sad Sherpa for my lazy kids, we entered the gates…after standing in line for a very long time to get to those gates. No really, it gets fun now.

I hate zucchini

So where was I? Oh yeah. All my fellow Alaskans (and Canadians) at the fair. It was sunny, so my pictures are nothing special, but the flowers at the fair always put other public displays around Alaska to shame. Honestly, why doesn’t Anchorage hire the gal that designs all this? Everything from matchy, matchy to humorous to sublime.

The veggie gardenGrasses galoreThe testing garden near an entrancelove the berry colors, so do the waxwings in winter

Veggie garden next to the Fair main office

I note the walled perennial garden is still aptly called “Perennial Garden” and am shocked it hasn’t been named after some politician or corporate sponsor. Our Alaskan legislators aren’t fixing our dreadful budget mess, so I’m sure they’ll have plenty of time to debate names for it this next session. I suggest christening it the “Beat it kids, I’m trying to take a siesta” Garden. Must be over 30 to enter.

Behind these trellises is a good spot to sit, don't tell!

The white flowering section

Some highlights:

1. PowerHouse percussive dance routine. Holy smokes, that kid, “Pee Wee,” can dance! Don’t miss all the clogging, tapping, and stomping. It’s free, which is nice because you already have to choose between a semester of college and that cheeseburger.

This was planted outside the quilt exhibit building

Quilt exhibitPlantings of bees in the middle of the fairAnother view of beesHow'd you like to maintain this plantingSome plant magic in a fair border

2. The gardens. The beehive and the quilt (pics above) were some of my faves. For some reason, the giant vegetables didn’t really thrill me this year. Meh.

3. The chick incubator tub. Don’t pick up the chicks! And I included my kids in that admonition. We already have 3 chickens at home, which is probably 3 too many.

4. The food. Ok, some of the food. A long line doesn’t necessarily mean the food is worth it. It just may mean your kid is screaming and you want to plug that hole with the nearest (fill in the blank food).

Some lowlights:

1. Traffic. Every year I say I’m going to pony up the cash and take the train. Future self: take the train!!

2. Not enough places to sit. They have been making improvements, but after 5 hours of pounding the blacktop, we need more places to park our sorry, tired selves.

3. The prices. I spent $100 on tickets: not to the opera, internationally known band, or all day waterpark venue, but for four rides for 4 kids, plus some games and food tickets we didn’t really want that came with the package. What a racket!

It’s 6 tickets for most of the big kid/adult rides, which is way, way up from the 2 or 3 tickets from my Pleistocene childhood, but still, I ask you, 6 tickets? The $8 corn dog is indefensible, but I did buy and eat it, so what does that say about me?

4. Not enough cute baby animals in the livestock area. Fooey. All right, all right, the little goats were cute.

So get up early, pack the hand sanitizer and sunscreen/raincoat (look out the window first to pick which), and head out to Palmer. The Fair runs until September 5. Don’t forget to cash out that 401(k) first if you want to eat.


Outrageous prices? Fairs you won’t do without? What’s your report on the fair in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

That movie where the birds attack

Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. It’s been so long since my last post, that I’ve had a dickens of a time figuring out my password. I had to uninstall and reinstall programs, for goodness sake. The formatting looks strange to me, too. Anyhoo, we’re still gardening here in the Greatland. I’m not bragging about where I live, that’s really a nickname for Alaska.

Last year we were given, with no prior notice, some live animals. Yes, this paragraph can only get more horrifying, so buckle up. A car drove up the to the house. A car trunk was opened. Most unfortunately, in an unguarded moment, my garage door was open. Into this garage (and from the car in the driveway) were placed 4 chicks, a handful of feed, and a water dish. They were in a small cardboard box. Since people have been killed on slighter provocation than a drive by insta-pet dump, you’d think this person (a relative) would know better, but you have relatives like that too, don’t you?

So we have three chickens now in our garden. Those are the first, and most important birds of note in my garden, according to time and money spent, worry accorded, and noisy racket generated. We do get eggs, so I suppose that’s a consolation of sorts. Our brown chicken, Duck, eats slugs as well, so that’s nice. P.S. A child decided on the name for our chicken named Duck, so don’t judge me.


The second birds of note this summer are the “Charlies,” a slightly less technical but more affectionate term for the Stellar’s jays, Cyanocitta stelleri, that case our joint about once a day. My grandmother, Ruth, called every Blue jay in her Portland, Oregon backyard “Charlie,” so it has become a tradition for me with the Blue jay’s Alaska dwelling cousin. When I was a child, she told me jays always came in threes, Charlie and his two girlfriends. I have found that to be very often true. Sometimes just one jay, sometimes four, but most often three.

Jays are noisy and capable of making sounds that defy imitation, so instead of trying to talk to them in faux bird-talk, like I do the chickadees, I just holler, “Here Charlie!” That seems to work, as Charlie will take an unshelled peanut from my hand. The other three Charlies (fledglings, I suspect, or maybe they don’t like the look of me) are too shy to do more than land on my deck railing and look wistfully at the peanut in my hand, and make popping or scratching noises to the brave Charlie. 

A note to those interested in taming a Charlie: they have trained me and my two children to run to the bag of peanuts any time we hear their squawk or see them sitting on the rail. Sometimes they will fly up to the window if they see me inside and brush the window with their wings to get my attention. They’re pushy like that.

The third bird of note is the giant buzzard that has been hanging around the swing set, a good perching place for checking out the chickens. “Giant Buzzard” is the lazy person’s Latin for Bubo virginianus, or the Great Horned Owl. He showed up with much fanfare in the form of shouted alerts from my kids about chicken safety, or lack thereof. He also showed up with much poo. On my roof namely, but also my wooden decking. Never fear, the chicken pen was hastily (much in the manner of grave robbers working through the rainy night) covered in netting, and the owl was foiled. The poo was removed by scrubbing. Fooey.


I know you’re thinking, that’s a lot of bird adventures for one garden, but wait, there’s more. Other than the hawks scoping out the chickens in the form of dive bombing, which we will not mention, because they are never still long enough for a photo, we had one other cool sighting this summer (yeah, I say that like summer is over because, Anchorage, it is) of a hummingbird. Which is no biggie for you California or Oregon gardeners, but a cool and unusual sight for most Alaskans. It is so unusual for me (as a lifelong southcentral Alaskan, I’ve only seen two other sightings) to see one, that I didn’t know what I was looking at, at first glance. I thought the wind was moving some Lamium stems unusually fast. Nope, it was the first sighting of the little tyke, which hung around for about a week in late June, justifying all that red, pink, and purple Penstemon I planted everywhere. See if you can spot it perched on my tree cage (stupid moose, grumble, grumble).


So the bird season here is winding down, at least in this garden. Chicks fledged, robins mostly gone, feeder birds gearing up for the big vamoose back to warmer climes. It will be interesting to see what birds show up next year if we have another warm summer (please, oh please, yes).

What birds were hanging around your garden? Any unusual avian visitors?


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