Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THIS Is What They Do!

This is Baptisia 'Purple Smoke.' Last spring I planted seven of them. They developed a fungus on their roots and leaves, and died back in early autumn. I've never had a single problem with baptisia grown in previous gardens. I've found them to be tough, reliable perennials not subject to mildew, black spot or other fungus that can plague other varieties such as phlox, roses, and monarda. They've bloomed beautifully for me in part sun in previous gardens.

In the past I've planted the species, and it's possible this cultivar isn't as sturdy. The baptisia still haven't emerged, and I feared the garden had suffered more casualties. I dug up this one to inspect the roots. I found some dead spots and trimmed them off, and found no visible signs of the fungus from last year. I also saw, much to my delight, some small signs of new growth. After trimming the roots, I lovingly replanted the baptisia. Two days later, this is how I found it.

Evil yard monkeys had struck again. Anytime I have new transplants, I check them daily and too frequently find them dug up by the squirrels. Sometimes, with smaller transplants, they cart them off, never to be seen again. Fortunately this one was left behind. I replanted it, saturated it to settle the soil, and piled several inches of mulch around the disturbed soil. Squirrels seem to smell freshly-dug soil, gravitating to new transplants and digging them out before the roots have an opportunity to knit into the soil. Heavy mulching seems to throw them off. I leave only as much bare soil around the crown as needed to allow top growth to emerge. I didn't initially mulch this baptisia like that. But replanting it the second time, I didn't make that mistake. So far, it remains undisturbed.

Sometimes the silly yard monkeys replant their finds elsewhere. Last spring while planting a few hosta divisions, I found two missing astilbes replanted under an overgrown yew hedge. It was generous of the squirrels to reconsider stealing them, and so helpful of them to replant them and thus prevent the roots from drying out. Unfortunately, they haven't learned how to replant them crown side up. These two poor astilbes were trying very hard to emerge in spite of their dire circumstances. I rescued and replanted them. Also unfortunately, I didn't find them in time and they ultimately succumbed.

The squirrels are busily building their nests in our cedars. Next, as the maples leaf out, more nests will appear. We usually have at least five nests between the maples and cedars, with an average of 2-3 litters per nest per season. Like juvenile primates, young squirrels are often even more mischievous than their adult counterparts.

I have a friend who enjoys squirrel stew, and I've often fantasized about inviting him over for some backyard hunting. My friend also enjoys rabbit. Since the rabbits often eat what the squirrels don't destroy, I figure, why not let my friend cull the rabbit population as well. Don't be alarmed, it's just a fantasy, one I don't really intend to carry out. But on days when they pull stuff like THIS, my harmless little fantasy brings me some comfort.

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's All Melanie's Fault!

Melanie at Old Country Gardens wrote a post yesterday about Epimediums. As it happens, I've been eyeing Epimedium x Rubrum at the nursery where I work. I'd just gotten myself together to head to the nursery to do some pre-shopping for a client and to look at the new shrubs planted last week. Although I did plant some of the shrubs myself, most of them were planted by other people and I wanted to see what we had.

I already knew Epimediums were beautiful, since I'd seen them last year and again this spring at the nursery. I wasn't sure how well they'd fare in dry shade.

Before heading to the greenhouse, I indulged myself in my blog-reading addiction, and what do you know, Melanie had a post about Epimediums. How timely! She described the blooms as 'fairy-like.' Considering how kind the garden fairies have been to me this spring, I thought planting an epimedium might be a start towards showing them my gratitude. After reading the part about them doing well in dry shade, I was convinced. It's all your fault Melanie! You made me do it. I couldn't help myself.

p. s. Thank you Melanie!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Garden Fairie Magic

Garden Fairies have been working their magic here. Things I'd planted two years ago that never showed up last year have reappeared. And strangely enough, three hostas I didn't plant, and that I don't think even came from my garden have appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

These three bleeding hearts help tell the story. They were all planted two springs ago. The larger one came back last year, then was promptly trampled by rabbits and never even bloomed. The other two didn't emerge at all last year. See how much smaller they are than the previously-trampled one? Happily, the roots were still viable, and they'll catch up sooner or later, with the blessings of the fairies.

Old-fashioned bleeding hearts are one of my very favorite flowers.

I planted six liatris kobold which promptly disappeared two years ago. This one came back this spring. I had to move it, since I'd planted something else right next to it last fall. Maybe there's hope for more of them that just haven't emerged from the mulch yet. Or maybe the rest were dug up by the squirrels. Maybe this one was too, and maybe they decided to replant it.

These are the mystery hostas. I have no idea where they came from, except I know I didn't plant them.

I'm curious to see what varieties they are. I'm not even sure I have these in my garden. The second one is the most mysterious, as I'm sure I don't have this variety, which appears to be a lighter green than any other hosta I currently have. I'll leave them where they are for now - don't want to tempt fate. Eventually they'll have to be moved since they're too close together and in an odd spot.

Maybe the evil yard monkeys have learned to replant what they dig up and often carry away. I have a friend who enjoys squirrel stew. I half-jokingly invited him here for some backyard hunting to reduce our squirrel population. (yes, only half-jokingly!) I hope they took the threat seriously and have decided to behave themselves. So far this spring they've only dug up one thing. That's got to be a record low. Of course, there's still plenty of time for more mischief.

I'm grateful for the visits of the garden fairies. Maybe my fortunes in this garden are about to change. I might have to change my glass-half-empty view of this dry shade, maple-root ridden garden that has vexed me from the day I brought the hostas from my beautiful garden from my beautiful Georgian four springs ago. Magic is happening here this spring.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

Well, it wasn't really singing!

Our very own, first little house in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago, had such a big yard and so many trees. It had been farmland that was gradually suburbanized, and many of the old elm trees had been left standing. Our little house started it's life as a four-room, built by owner. Nothing about it was really square or level. There were a couple of additions done over the years before we bought it. But it was what we could afford, and it was all ours! Maybe more about that another time. But, on to the topic at hand.

Linda and her sister shared a bedroom off the dining room. Next to that was the room of the three bears, er - the three boys. At the other end of the house was our bedroom. Since the sun came in the windows very early in the morning, we had them well-draped, so the room was fairly dark. It was rare that I slept past sunrise, but it did happen on the few weekend occasions that our five little ones played quietly upon arising. Since their rooms were at the opposite end of the house, occasionally I could sleep past their getting up. Usually, however, they announced early summer sun-up with delighted squeals, shouts, or other noises purposely designed to get motherly attention, not to mention breakfast.

Their Dad could be nearly as playful as his offspring. He had quite a little-boy penchant for mischief, and was not above playing pranks of one kind or another. One or the other of the children, sometimes all five, were usually the object of his attention, but he was definitely not above showing his devotion to me by sharing the wealth.

Once in a while on a weekend morning, Dad would get up early, and quietly closing the door behind him, see to the children's breakfast. On occasion, I would even be served breakfast in bed. This particular Sunday morning was dark with clouds left over from a downpour during the night. In other words, it was a perfect morning for sleeping late. He must have gotten up before dawn. The house was very quiet and I didn't even hear the stirrings of the children. What a treat! I snuggled down and continued whatever dream I was having.

You know how sometimes you awake very suddenly, and for no reason you can identify? Well, I don't know what it was, but I remember my eyes popping open, with a vague sense of something - I didn't know what - being not quite right. I didn't shift position. Only my eyes were looking around, trying to see what seemed to have caused the sense of unease I felt.

It was still very dark in the room with just a kind of gray light coming in around gaps between the drapes. Did I see something?


Holy @$&%!!

That got me really awake. I still didn't move, but I thought there seemed to be a vague, dark shape, maybe a small movement, above the window on the wall opposite the bed.

OMG! as the younger ones would say these days. I sure didn't want to turn on the bedside lamp, nor give any other indication that there was a living, though barely breathing, being under those blankets. I tried to focus my eyes in the dusky light so that I could see what that dark, shadowy "thing" was. A bat?? But how? My eyes playing tricks?


Well, I'd never heard a bat, much less seen one up close and personal, but I was pretty certain they didn't sound like that. Hmmm, was that some rustling I heard outside the closed bedroom door? Uh, huh! Something is definitely afoot. But, I'm not moving until I can get a better idea of what's going on and what my options are.

Slowly, I uncovered one hand just enough to reach the small flashlight on the night stand next to me. I pointed it downward and turned it on, trying not to let the little slider click. Then I gradually moved the light to focus on the "thing". And, holy "pallid bust of Pallas", the "thing" resolved itself into a very wet, very bedraggled rather largish black bird. It was perched, not above my chamber door, but on the pleats of the window drapes. Since those kept bending under it's weight, it was shifting from one foot to the other trying to stabilize its perch.

Of course, there could only be one culprit responsible for setting up this dastardly morning surprise. And he, no doubt along with some accomplices, was outside my chamber door. I suppose they were waiting to be rewarded with screams of fright. Or at least some indication that this little trick had gotten a response. Which they didn't get, by the way.

Evidently, a puppy had needed to be let out early, and just outside the back door, Dad had found this poor, wet, young crow. How could he possibly let such an opportunity pass? Well, he could have, but having a rather twisted, (in my opinion), sense of humor, he didn't.

Though we had rescued several little birds, among them our little Robbie, and the now-famous Chipper, this one was perfectly able to be rehabilitated to the great outdoors. Which happened very quickly. With great glee, Dad opened the door and retrieved the "raven".

"Were you scared?", the accomplices asked with anticipation.

"Not on your life!", I said.

(Darn. Moms aren't supposed to tell fibs.)

Serviceberry Blossoms, and a Guest Post From Mom!

I love this shrub. It's beautiful spring, summer, and fall. I love its open, airy habit, the beautiful, delicate blooms, and its gorgeous fall color. This one is as old as our home, and unlike our ungainly 40-year-old Bradford Pear, the serviceberry has grown more graceful and lovely with age.

Mom surprised me yesterday with an email that said she'd been inspired to write a new guest post! I'm very excited! This time she'll be recalling a story from my childhood that I'd completely forgotten. As I was reading, it all came back to me, and reminded me of several other stories about my mischievous dad, who passed away too young, when I was only in my late 20's. I have lots of fond memories of him, including his playfulness and sense of fun. Thank you Mom for reminding me of this story. I'm so glad you were inspired to share it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The First Year They Sleep. . .

. . . the second year they creep, the third year they leap!

I don't remember when or where I heard or read this quote, which was referring to perennials. Other than most of the hostas and one geranium brought here from my beloved Georgian (sold after I married my husband,) most of the plants in my garden are three years old and younger.

Gardening in dry shade, dappled sun, and part sun while competing with the roots of 40-year-old maples, I've had more failures than I care to recall. The geranium I brought here is nowhere near the size a four-year-old would have been in any previous garden. The plants that have survived are slower to establish, and grow more slowly.

In the past two years especially, I've gotten smarter about what plants will survive, and even hopefully thrive in dry shade. I still can't resist plants like astilbes, which thrive in moist, shady and part-sun areas. Those, I site near each other and near the patio so I can watch them carefully and water them more liberally. Fortunately the patio area is less maple root-riddled as well.

In more far-reaching areas, I shoot for drought-tolerant plants. The garden as a whole still gets more frequent irrigation than past gardens. Although I still sometimes have guilt pangs for not being more water-conservative, this is how I have to garden in dry shade. I hope to ease some of that guilt by installing rain barrels. I need to make them budgetary priorities. With the size of the garden, the limited budget, and the high failure rate, like many plants I lust after, rain barrels haven't become a reality yet. I realize that as things get established, less watering will be required. Still, competing with the maple roots, this garden will always need irrigation to supplement the rain, primarily in July and August.

I sold the Georgian in February 2006. . . FEBRUARY!!! A gardener should never move in February, at least not in this climate. I had to leave my garden behind without taking pieces of it with me. Every other time I've moved, it was during the growing season. Divisions from my garden were the first things I'd moved. This time with the exception of the hostas and geranium, I started from scratch. I brought them here 4 years ago, but I've divided the hostas so many times, they aren't the size of 4-year-olds.

I've been very patient until now.

So c'mon 3-year-olds, START LEAPING! You toddlers and terrible twos, I can be patient a while longer. But you three-year-olds, consider yourselves on notice. I expect big things from you this year. Don't dissapoint me, or I'll. . . I'll. . . I'll put you on time out! So there!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Exercise in Restraint

Working at a nursery, going to work three days a week is an exercise in restraint. I could easily spend my entire paycheck at work, even with my employee discount. I've been eyeing these two for several weeks, and what do you know, somehow they ended up in my trunk yesterday along with a bag of hardwood much for the newly-planted shrubs, and a huge bag of Universal Mix, my favorite potting soil.

Brunnera Looking Glass, and Helleborus Brushstrokes Mix

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forsythia meets Arborvitae and Dogwood

We had a rainy Saturday and a gorgeous, perfect, warm, sunny, and productive Sunday. My dear husband tried out his new chain saw and cut down the Washington Hawthorn.

Here are the first three in what will be a mixed shrub border. Forsythia Lynwood, meet Emerald Green Arborvitae! Arborvitae, meet Bailey Red Twig Dogwood.

(Dogwood Bumsted is just starting to leaf out.)

My nursery trip earlier Sunday netted, in addition to the arborvitae, two Japanese dappled willows (Salix integra Nishiki - the taller variety, although these are definitely not tall yet, and are also dormant, so they look even more insignificant!) The willows will be gorgeous. They have a lovely shape, almost weeping when they are more mature, with bright pink stems, and beautiful, colorful foliage. I would like to have gotten larger ones, but no one had them larger. I have it on good authority that they grow fast. I hope so. They're puny now!

I should have taken a picture before my Beloved cut down the hawthorn so you could see how pathetic and sad that poor tree was. It's hard for me to imagine that tree ever being pretty. With the hawthorn out of the way, I planted the River Birch on our beautiful Sunday. Still dormant, it doesn't look like much now. But one day it will be a beautiful, peeling cinnamon barked, multi-trunked pretty-leafed, sturdy tree. This one is over 6 feet tall, and nicely branched. I could have spent more and gotten a larger one. Considering the mature Cornelian Cherries right behind the birch and all the woody roots from those and from the hawthorn, I opted for a smaller one. I didn't want to cut up too many existing roots to get the birch's root ball in the ground.The nurseries are all open and teeming with stock. Next up, I'll be looking for pink pussy willows. I'll make phone calls first. (Have you seen the price of gas??? They weren't kidding when they said it would be $4.00/gallon by summer.) I think I might dust off my bike and strap shrubs to my back! . . . Or maybe I could buy some saddlebags. Make those 3-gallon size please!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Desert House

Here we are once again at the Garfield Park Conservatory, celebrating 100 years on Chicago's west side this month.

This time, I'll show you a few of the interesting specimens displayed in the Desert House. Almost all of these are native to South Africa. The shrub Aeonium comes from the Canary Islands. Aren't these just the coolest plants?

Necklace Vine

Pie Plant

Orange Button Plant

Baby Toes

Wandering Star

Shrub Aeonium

Desert Geranium

Splitrock plant

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making Progress. . .

There still aren't a lot of shrubs in the nurseries around here. It's a little surprising to me. I think the earlier in the spring shrubs are planted, the better, and the more time they have to get established while the weather is relatively cool and rainy. I really prefer to plant trees and shrubs in the fall, but early spring will do in a pinch. The privacy we lost along with our neighbor's weeping willow tree qualifies as a pinch, so this time, spring it is.

I've got the forsythia planted, and my latest shopping trip, though still not as productive as I'd have liked, produced a red twig dogwood and a river birch.

The dogwood will take it's place near the forsythia. I think the contrasting bark colors will be nice in winter, and the forsythia blooms and red dogwood branches will be pretty companions in the early spring. The river birch will replace a sorry looking, half-dead Washington Hawthorn near the spot where the willow came down.

Although our neighbor's shed helps with the privacy situation, the back of the shed isn't much to look at. So I dug up three blackhaw viburnum suckers and planted them on our side of the shed. I hope I got enough roots and they'll survive the transplant. They're small - 2 are about 2-1/2 feet tall, and the third is only about 18 inches tall. Planted as they are on our side of the shed, it's ok to start small. Anything I plant in the void where the tree and other shrubs used to be will be as tall as I can get!

The viburnums will provide food and shelter for the birds, and they have lovely white flower clusters in mid-spring. We keep the viburnum hedge trimmed, so it doesn't bloom much. The three babies in back, if they survive transplanting, will be allowed to grow in their natural form, bloom, and get to their full mature height of about 15 feet, whereas the hedge is kept to about 7 feet.

Next up, I must find some willows! I want catkins to force! I like the ones with pink catkins. I hope I can find them. And maybe one more forsythia. That should just about fill the void, and I'd still like to add a couple of winterberry hollies. I'll need two - one female for berries, and one male for pollination. Oh, and I almost forgot, maybe a few arborvitaes to layer behind the deciduous shrubs. These should all do well in the moist soil back there, provide cover and/or food for the birds, and go a long way towards restoring our backyard privacy. We're making progress while impatiently waiting for the garden centers to get their shrub stock in.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Robbie Robin

Robins have been one of my favorite birds since I was a little girl. Each spring I'm reminded of something that would forever impact my understanding of environmental responsibility. Long before it was hip to be "green," decades before global warming was part of our everyday vocabularies, Robbie Robin was an early and dramatic lesson in my little-girl world. He was my awakening from environmental unconsciousness. I still get teary-eyed remembering him.

My mom found Robbie one spring when I was six years old. She had mixed feelings about interfering with nature. But in our neighborhood most house cats were indoor/outdoor cats, and baby birds fallen from their nests whose parents weren't nearby stood little chance of surviving more than an hour or two.

There were lots of mature trees in our north-side neighborhood, and no shortage of babies fallen from their nests. We children whose eyes were still so full of wonder and so close to the ground found naked babies barely breathing or already dead and carefully scooped them up to bring home to our mom. We hoped for miracles. At least if they died which they usually did, we'd given them a safe, warm, peaceful place to die instead of in the jaws of a cat. Mom would help us find a little box when we had the solemn duty of burying the casualties.

Robbie was one of the few who'd had a chance, and our family again set about the serious business of baby bird rescue and rehabilitation. Mom called the Little Red Schoolhouse nature center for advice on how to take care of our new baby. We fed him raw hamburger, cut-up worms, mashed boiled eggs, and water from an eyedropper. Mom made him a soft, warm fabric nest in a box where he mostly slept when he wasn't hungry.

After two months of tender care, Robbie's flight feathers were growing longer and our parents decided it was time for him to get used to the outdoors. What better place could there have been than our landlord's fenced vegetable garden? It was a confined space where Robbie could exercise his wings. He loved it in there. He hopped all around and pecked at the soil, often still wet from dew or an early-morning sprinkling. He loved it in the garden and the damp soil was perfect for learning to hunt worms.

We don't know exactly when he started to get sick. The first sign was his legs becoming first pink, later red and swollen. He didn't seem like himself. Mom called the Little Red Schoolhouse for advice. After she got off the phone and gave us the devastating news, she had to deal with not only her own heartbreak, but the sorrow of her five children as well.

It seemed our beloved Robbie had been poisoned by the chemicals our landlord was spraying on his garden. We didn't know he was spraying, and he didn't think it was important enough to mention when he gave permission for Robbie to play in the garden. I remember how angry and sad we were. Who sprays poison on a backyard garden where children are playing??? It was then I first remember my parents talking about one day having a home and yard of our own.

Robbie's condition worsened. His head got wobbly. He couldn't stand up. Finally, he couldn't eat anymore. He lived only a week after we noticed his legs. We made him as comfortable as we could. Even the Little Red Schoolhouse couldn't help us save him. We buried him in the backyard in the nesting box we'd spent many vigilant hours lovingly guarding.

Losing Robbie broke my 6-year-old heart, made me angry, and awoke my environmental consciousness. Four years later my parents made their home-owning dreams come true. We remembered Robbie as we planted and tended our own garden and our mom taught us the joys of organic gardening. I'll never forget, and am forever grateful for the lessons learned from Robbie Robin.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Aerogarden Herb Combo, and an Award!

The Aerogarden was a Christmas present from my husband in 2006, with extra bulbs and a variety of herb seed kits. It's a fun toy, and an easy way to have fresh, organic herbs for the kitchen year 'round.

Although hydroponic plants aren't supposed to do well transplanted into soil, last spring I tried anyway and plunked a batch of Aerogarden-grown French herbs in a bowl for the patio. I threw in a few spare cell-pack impatiens and a sweet potato vine for color. To my delight, the combo thrived. This is what it looked like right after planting:

As summer went on and the plants got taller and fuller, the bowl became a nice addition to the patio garden. It got only morning sun, and that was enough. It smelled wonderful, and looked pretty with the surrounding pots. The parsley, savory, chervil, thyme, and sweet potato vine trailed out and covered the cheap plastic bowl, and I harvested fresh herbs from it all summer. Hmmm. . . that worked out pretty well. . . I just might have to try it again this year.

An Award! Meems at Hoe and Shovel has honored me with this:
Thank you Meems! It means a lot coming from you, whose writing and photography I so enjoy and admire. Meems lives, gardens and blogs in central Florida. Her garden is a gorgeous tropical feast for the senses.

The rules for passing along the E award are simple and straightforward: By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you agree to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Blog Award worthy.

Although I'm still a wet-behind-the-ears blogger and blog reader, it's easy to think of ten award-worthy blog writers:

Hinsley Ford of The Oxygen Chronicles: Hinsley is a gifted writer and poet dedicated to giving a voice to millions of chronic pain and illness sufferers whom our culture often turns away from. Her blog provides a compassionate, sobering, unblinking inside look at what it's like living with severe, life-threatening chronic illness and pain. Born prematurely, Hinsley has suffered a host of chronic illnesses since infancy. Her very survival is testament to the strength of her beautiful spirit. She shares her life with candor, wit, and self-deprecating humor. Currently she's working on a book form of her blog that encourages readers to persevere in the face of serious illness while not losing track of their lifelong dreams.

Esther Montgomery of Esther in the Garden: Esther is a new garden blogger living in England. A newlywed, married a Martian, she blogs about the twists and turns of interplanetary marriage, the challenges and surprises of interplantetary children, curious neighbors, and her passion for gardening in a most imaginative and wryly humorous way.

Abraham Lincoln of My Birds Blog: Mr. Lincoln, married for 52 years (he deserves an award just for that,) specializes in wildlife photography, and captures beautiful images of the wild things that visit his bird-friendly back yard.

The next seven, whether new to gardening or lifelong gardeners or somewhere in-between, are all garden bloggers I enjoy reading:

Crafty Gardener is one busy lady! I sometimes find keeping up my one measly blog challenging. Crafty has three, and they're all wonderful: The Gardener Side, Sow Then Grow, and The Crafty Side. Mr. McGregor's Garden - a garden blogging 'neighbor' who also hails from the Chicago area - excellent writing, great sense of humor, nice photos, what's not to love? Melanthia at Garden Muse blogs about the challenges of bringing up baby while gardening and trying to maintain sanity (ah, I remember those days so well!) Garden Fairie's Musings - I love her sense of humor and creativity!

Blue Fox Garden - she is one artistic, creative gardener whose resourcefulness I admire. Les's Garden - My yard is too shady for a vegetable garden, so I enjoy veggie gardening vicariously now! And last, but certainly not least, is Lady Greenthumb's Garden. Living and gardening in Croatia, this very cool young woman writes well, takes great photos, makes me laugh, and I love her travel blogs. She stirs up my wanderlust and makes me want to visit the wonderful places she writes about.

And now, just because, here's another photo from a recent trip to Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Show House

They don't call it that for nothin'! The Show House at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago's west side is home to several seasonal displays each year. Later in the year, themes will include "Flower Power," set to 1960's and '70's music referencing plants and flowers, "Mum's the Word" in the fall, and "Winter Holiday Traditions" at the end of the year.Now through May 11th, the theme is The Age of Azaleas as the show house highlights azaleas, hydrangeas, stock, and more than five hundred daffodil, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs. Strolling through the Show House was like strolling through a Monet.The scents and colors are scrumptious.OK, one more. . .

Saturday, April 5, 2008

He Melted My Cold, Hard Heart

No dog could ever take the place of Eric. He was a one-in-a-zillion dog. I honestly can't remember a single 'bad' thing he ever did. He was house trained and heeling by the time he was three weeks old. "Training" was something I never did with him. All I did is take care of him and love him, and the rest took care of itself. He was so smart no explaining was necessary. We were such soul mates and he had such trust he just effortlessly came along, learned, and applied. I knew there'd never be another one like him, and after him I could never (Eric and Me, circa 1972.)

even think about opening my heart to another dog. Someday maybe I'll tell you Eric's story. After Eric, I never wanted another dog.

Until George.

George was one of twelve puppies born to a yellow lab mom. K, my oldest daughter, rescued the mother and puppies from a neglectful situation, and was caring for them all. After they were weaned, she kept one puppy, and found homes for all the rest except George. It's not an easy feat finding homes for twelve puppies, but between friends and Pet Adoption League and the Adoption Fairs they hold at local PetSmart stores, she found homes for all except one of them. Sensing what was probably about to happen, I told her, "Take him to one more adoption fair. If no one wants him, I'll take him."

I tried not to fall in love in with George. I really tried. I purposely avoided visiting K and all those puppies. I could feel myself getting sucked in. I could feel my heart strings being pulled. The logical, rational part of me thought I was nuts. "How silly," I told myself. DO NOT get attached to that puppy. "Your kids are all practically grown up. Why would you want to get a dog now? You can see the light at the end of the tunnel - freedom from responsibility, freedom to travel, a clean, neat, orderly house. . . Don't. do it!" In the end I couldn't resist.

After Eric, I refused to have a dog. I just couldn't imagine going through that kind of heartbreak again. I did have cats all the time, but never again a dog. I even tried once when my kids were small with a sweet English Springer Spaniel who was looking for a home. She was too much of a handful though, and too rough with my small children. We worked with her for about six months, but Youngest Daughter was scared of her after being knocked down a few too many times, and her little preschool friends wouldn't come over to play anymore because they were scared of the dog too.

We found her (the dog, not my daughter!) a better-suited home with kids too big for her to knock down all the time. Her new family loved her. I never thought twice about it, since I hadn't let myself get attached to her anyway. After that I stood firm on my NO DOG policy in spite of my children's pleading. I'd let my heart turn to stone where dogs were concerned. Even puppies weren't enough to soften my cold, hard heart.

I hadn't thought much about how attached I am to George until the past four months while he was visiting Youngest Daughter. I didn't even miss him much at first. I kind of enjoyed the freedom. I definitely didn't miss the hair everywhere. But the longer he was gone, the more I realized how attached to him I really am. The last time I visited him I cried when it was time to leave him. "How silly," I thought. It's only now that he's home that I've really realized how attached I am to him, and it's a little scary.

In spite of his hair everywhere, his OCD tendencies, and the fact that he's the biggest baby and the whiniest dog I've met in my life (for George, to breathe is to whine,) he's just a big ole' sweetie and I've never regretted opening my heart to him.

Bonding with a pet brings joy, life lessons, and many experiences, not all of them easy to bear. I know he won't be here forever. A large-breed mix, at seven years old, he's already considered geriatric. So here's a toast to you George: May you live many more happy, healthy years. And may I never take your big old sweet self for granted again.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Project Privacy

Last Friday I shopped. I hate to betray my gender, but frankly, I don't like to shop. The one exception to that rule is garden shopping. Since I'm chomping at the bit, I called around to see which of my favorite nurseries were both open and have shrubs available. I didn't get too far, as the ones that are open don't have much yet, and others aren't open for a few more days. I ended up at the local big box home improvement center. They had weeping cherries, a few evergreens, and forsythias. Since forsythias are on my wish list, I got one! It's nicely branched and nicely tall. For the rest, I'll have to be patient until the nurseries start opening and the stock starts rolling in.

Of course I had to prune it. . .

Even after pruning our new forsythia is about 6' tall. It's a start. A pussy willow or three or four is next on the list, maybe another forsythia, a red twig dogwood or two, a winterberry, and a river birch. I'm eying a blackhaw viburnum that suckered - a freebie if I can dig it up.

I'd like to transplant the baby, since the rest of them are in a hedge that DH likes to keep nicely trimmed. In the 4 years I've lived here, I've only seen one flower cluster on the entire hedge. I'd like to put one in the back in our newly-naked area so it can get to it's full natural size and bloom.

Blackhaw viburnums tend to get rather unkempt looking when they're mature, which is why DH likes to keep them trimmed. As an individual shrub in a mixed border all the way in the back of our property though, I think it will be fine. It will be dense and tall, great for privacy, they're beautiful when they bloom, they make excellent cover for birds, and birds enjoy the berries. I know it will be fine in the wet soil where I'd plant it, since the viburnum hedge ends at the back of our property where the drainage swale begins.

The new forsythia is in the ground already, and I'll post a picture when it blooms.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Do You Think Anyone Will Notice?

Our poor dear, Mr. Froggie Rain Gauge, lost an eye some time ago. Yep, evil yard monkeys knocked him down and messed him up but good - left a jagged white socket where an eye used to be. Embarrassed to show himself in such condition, he languished, hiding behind a large maple for almost a year, where I found him lying yesterday. He would only agree to this picture if I promised not to reveal his broken eye. That's how bad he felt about his appearance, poor thing.

With Mr. Rain Gauge's consent, I decided to perform plaster surgery. These were my surgeon's supplies: (Froggie would consent to this photo only if I promised not to show his gaping wound.)

He's already feeling much better about himself, rejuvenated and ready for the spring rains (at least while the nail polish holds out. . . shhhh, don't tell him I said that.)

Plaster surgery can do wonders for a frog's self esteem.

Do you think anyone will notice?