Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Turkey Trauma

I've long held that the Kansas Flint Hills provide the ultimate challenges for gardeners, whether it be from hail, high winds, ice storms, clay soil, summer drought, below zero temperatures, prairie fires, locust plagues, or just a vengeful Jehovah.  You name the catastrophe-maker in your own garden, and I bet I can match it here in Kansas.  

 One garden scourge that I hadn't counted on when I moved out onto the prairie, however, was the Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), an American native much more adapted to the prairie than I or most of my shrubs.  The picture at the right was taken early in June several years back and approximately 4 feet from my front door in the midst of my front garden bed.  The two vibrant males here were battling for an invisible female in the way of males of many species during early summer. Although they are normally cautious birds who run or fly at the first sign of danger, these two old boys were so oblivious to their environment that you could have hit them over the head with a club.  If you've been to a public pool anytime during early June, you can observe similar behavior in the teenagers of our own species. 

Unfortunately these particular turkeys were having their little tussle all over two variegated red twig dogwoods (Cornus alba variegata) that I had been nursing along for several years.  According to Wikipedia, the males heads turn red when ready to fight and blue when excited, the blood-engorged flopping wattles and snoods displaying their ardor. It is obvious we were in fight mode here as it has been some time since I've seen something so engorged and so red in my garden.  Seen in the background on the picture at left, neither dogwood survived being stomped on for several minutes by the 15-20 lb. skirmishers.   
I have since tried several other shrubs in those spots, including a couple of holly, but nothing quite perked my interest as much as the dogwoods. So this year and $100 later, I'm back with two more, this time with a more specific and I hope hardier cultivar,  Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’, pictured and circled at the left.  So far, one entire season into the repeat experiment, both survive and the turkeys are staying down in the prairie grass out of the cultivated landscape.

So, all those gardeners out there who gnash teeth and bemoan their bad luck;  anybody else had a shrub die by turkey attack?  Welcome to the Flint Hills and my gardening life. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gardening Resolutions

In the spirit of public service, I'm going to transmit, with some modification, some advice regarding New Year's resolutions that I heard on the radio last night while traveling back from a Christmas visit.

The radio topic was about how to improve your success rate on your New Year's resolutions (if you are foolish enough to make any). I'm sorry that I can't quote the station or the announcer for this info but I'll freely admit that it is purloined from such a source.  Anyway, the radio personality presented a four-part plan for making your resolutions stick which can be summed up in four "P's" (my modification):  Passion, Present tense, Put it in writing, and (have a) Plan.

I'll illustrate the above concepts in terms of a gardening resolution for me for 2011.  The first P, "Passion," stands for making a resolution on something you are passionate about.  It wouldn't, for instance, do any good for me to make a resolution that I'm going to add some marigolds to my garden because I have little interest in placing marigolds in my garden, nor any other annuals for that matter.  One thing I am passionate about right now is that I need to improve the garden bed pictured above by moving the large ornamental grasses (circled in the picture) somewhere else, maybe at least to the back of the bed, so the plants behind them can be seen better.  So my 2011 resolution is to move the darned Miscanthus cultivars in this bed somewhere else.  And if you think that action is not worthy of needing a resolution, you've obviously never moved a full-grown Miscanthus sp. anchored in rocky, clayey soil.

The second P, "Present tense" means that you should always refer to your resolution in the present tense.  For example, you're not GOING to quit smoking, you HAVE quit smoking.  I'm not going to move the Miscanthus sometime this spring, I'm already "in the process of moving the Miscanthus" (dread and procrastination ARE surely part of the process, and so I really have started moving them).

The third P, "Put it in writing" is obviously accomplished for me by writing this blog.  The act of writing down your resolution reinforces the chances that you'll carry it out.  It is a simple contract with yourself that you'll see later and be reminded that you were doing something about it.  In the case of this blog, I also risk the embarrassment of not moving the grasses and then facing local friends who read the blog and who may see the clumps next summer, still unmoved, sprawling all over the neighboring roses.

Finally, the radio emphasized that you should "have a Plan" for how to accomplish your goal.  My plan for moving the Miscanthus is to waddle forth sometime when the frost leaves the ground in late March, and, armed with mattock, spade, chainsaw, and a colorful vocabulary, I will begin to pry the Miscanthus from their current sites.  After about 30 unfruitful minutes of that effort, during which I shall likely accomplish nothing aside from bruising my insoles by jumping repeatedly on the spade, I will then go into town to hire three young strapping men to accomplish the feat while I observe and direct them from the comfort of the gazebo swing. That method seems to work best for the landscaping gurus I see on the TV shows, and so I have high expectations that I will, in fact, accomplish my New Year's gardening resolution.

How about you?  What gardening resolutions will you make?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bluebird Approved

I posted previously on my bluebird nest box design, so I wanted to update the blog to tell one and all that the "Roush" design is now NABS (North American Bluebird Society) approved. If you'd like to make one, my hideously self-drawn plans are here (page 1) and here (page 2).  Someday, I'll get someone involved with some drafting ability so they can make them a little easier to follow.  Right now, suffice it to say that I've aimed at making a design that uses standard cedar lumbar sizes for ease of construction.  It's front-opening, but could easily be made side-opening instead.  All I ask, in return for posting the plans, is that you help me save a few bluebirds...and support the North American Bluebird Society if you're able to.

Roush NABS-approved
 Bluebird Nest Box
For the unwashed, there is a whole sideshoot of science and pseudoscience involved in the creation of nest boxes that will attract bluebirds but will also be unattractive to sparrows and other winged rats.  They need to be a certain size and of exacting entrance hole diameters.  Ventilation is very important so that they don't overheat, particularly during the summer during the second nesting cycle.  They sometimes need various types of predator guards attached, depending on what roams in your area.  One of the things different in my design from the standard NABS box or Peterson box is the entrance hole is a little lower since it has been recently discovered that bluebirds will use shallower nest boxes and sparrows won't.  Every little advantage helps.

I got interested in the survival of bluebirds because they are a welcome bit of bright color in February against the brown Kansas prairie, and I don't want to see them go the way of the Carolina Parakeet. One of the best books I ever read, and a life-changing experience, was Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, about 10 or 15 years old now, by an English professor named Christopher Cokinos.   The book is a winner of several national awards and in it Cokinos tells of six birds that have gone extinct in North America within living history, chronicling the fall of each species and the heart-breaking attempts to save them.  Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Heath Hen, etc, all have a place in this unique and engrossing text.  The extent of his research is amazing. For instance, from an old magazine article about the last wild Passenger Pigeon, he found the family of the young boy who shot it in 1910 and received from them a manuscript written by that now deceased individual that described every detail about that fateful day.  You'll find yourself rooting for the birds, and then grieving as the last Heath Hens are wiped out by a grass fire.  Don't miss this wonderful read.

And please take Cokinos' book to heart and help us with the bluebirds.  More information is always available at the North American Bluebird Society webpage, but the "Roush Eastern Bluebird Nest Box" is only found here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No Point in Being Sensible

There's always inspiration and support on the Internet for gardeners, isn't there?  In a recent post on GardenWeb, a poster asked about extending their garden into a neighboring vacant plot of land with a near-vertical incline and the response by a reader named "catsrose" on 12/15/10, was to "Go for it. If it works it will be gorgeous and if it doesn't the goats can have it.  There is no point in being sensible about this sort of thing." 

What an absolutely great sentiment!  "No point in being sensible about this sort of thing" salves the conflicts we feel about so many of the enthusiasms we gardeners constantly get side-tracked into.  You've got 649 concrete rabbit statues in your 0.7 acre garden?  Who cares if that is a sensible number as long as you're happy?  Your back yard is impossible to navigate because of the overgrowth of 35 massive species roses hanging over the pathways and snagging everything in sight?  What could possibly not be sensible about having 35 fabulous specimens of the rose clan and even adding the 36th or 37th or the hundredth?  Traveling next summer to Nepal to pursue that mythical blue poppy species that will survive tropical heat as well as mountainous cold?  No lack of sensibility there since such a specimen is the dream of all who belong to the Meconopsis-less clan.  The last example, alas, may indicate that the gardener, however sensible, has taken a step towards living in a dream world since the desert climate Meconopsis sp. only exists on the planet Sirius Beta 3. 

Requiring sensibility, in a garden or in the gardener, drives out all the passion and love of gardening and makes the garden a boring place.   I, myself, should probably heed the advice and make a point of being a little less sensible about my garden.  Why shouldn't I create a nice water feature in my Kansas landscape, despite my arguments about wanton water usage being a little out of character for the Flint Hills?  As a compromise, even a dry, faux creek bed might make an interesting addition.  Why shouldn't I start working on a nice stone wall around the vegetable garden with the primary goal of being able to place several espaliered fruit trees up against it?  Such a project might indeed take years and involve some back-breaking labor, but why be sensible about it?  And lastly, why, pray tell me, does Mrs. ProfessorRoush think that the cement head pictured above, is creepy and disturbing rather than an interesting focal point in my garden?  Can't she be sensible about it?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Compost Musings

YES I compost, YES I do, YES I compost, how about YOU?

Sorry.  Some of the enthusiasm I occasionally run into when I talk about composting within earshot of the WEE crowd (Wild-Eyed Environmentalists) brought to mind an old cheer from high school basketball games when I thought about starting this particular blog, and that led to memories of friends and classmates who were high school cheerleaders or "pom-pom" squad, and that, of course, revived other old enthusiasms and left me mentally wandering....but I digress.

Actually, to be truthful, I was late to the composting game as a gardener and I still do it haphazardly.  For the first years of my gardening life, I was fond of throwing the weeds back down where I pulled them and letting nature do the work (I still do, to the chagrin of my wife, if I'm weeding far from the compost pile).  I am certainly not a religious convert to the organic-only mindset and, forgive me Gardener, but I routinely sin and don't compost many items which are compostable.  I don't, for instance, walk my wife's coffee grounds down the hill in the freezing Kansas wind to add them to the pile.  Nor the banana peels, or eggshells, or wilted celery.  My desire to compost, I'm afraid, ends at the onset of cold weather.  Just last week I read a locally-written article on how we should turn our compost piles every month in the winter.  Really?  I don't know about you, but here in Zone 5B, my compost pile has been frozen rock solid for the past three weeks and it'll likely remain that way through March.  I wonder if the local writer has really gotten out and tried to turn his compost pile lately, or if he was reading and passing on information written in Britannia or southern Texas?

Towards my salvation, though, over the past several years a good friend who lives amidst the trees has provided me with as many bags of fresh  fallen leaves as I can drive away with.  Routinely, that means that in making the compost pictured above in my makeshift compost pile, I've added about 50 large bags of leaves to the mix annually.  In fact, as you can see pictured below, I have several bins where leaves remain half-rotted until I begin cutting summer grass and pulling weeds.  I mix in the leaves with the green fresh material as it becomes available, and then turn the pile back and forth between bins until finally, all those bushels of leaves and grass become the pictured half-bin (2X4X4) of mostly compost.  

I certainly don't make great compost, however.  Somehow, I never reach the black, crumbling texture described in all the books, even though my soil thermometer tells me that I reached the prerequisite temperatures at least twice this year.  Perhaps, being intrinsically lazy, I don't turn it enough since I probably only turn it completely about 3 times in a summer.  Sue me, I just can't face turning the compost pile when the July sun is high and the temperatures start at 90F and end up at 109F.  And I probably don't water it enough. Although I try for the "wrung-out" sponge dampness, I mostly see repeatedly watering the compost pile as a bit of a waste of water in a landscape where water is a precious commodity during the summer. And maybe I fail because I mix in whole leaves and grass clippings and I don't chop them up fine enough. 

But, even half-finished, the plants don't seem to complain when they're mulched with my meager offerings.  And I trust the ingredients of my compost enough to put it on my vegetable garden, in contrast to the local municipal compost.  The latter, while free and available in large quantities, tends to have a bit of gravel, bottle tops and rubber items occasionally mixed in.  I might not mix my partially-aged compost into the soil for fear of losing a little available nitrogen, but the worms seem to appreciate its presence as a mulch. 

I'll leave you with this very deep thought:  however reluctantly and imperfectly, I suppose all gardeners eventually compost.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Rugelda' Sounds Regal

In choosing a rose for my not-quite-weekly focus, I had several refined and delicate roses in mind earlier this week, but at the last minute, I thought "Hey, it's time I displayed 'Rugelda'."  And indeed, it is time and perhaps past time.

I've alluded to this somewhat little-known rose before in other posts, but I've never fully expressed my admiration of it.  'Rugelda', or 'KORruge', is a hybrid rugosa bred by the great rose breeding family W. Kordes and Sons in 1989.   While not known well in the United States, she perhaps has more recognition in Europe and she won an award of Anerkannte Deutche Rose (Anerkannte means "Recognized") in 1992,  A cross of 'Bonanza' (a yellow and red blend 1983 shrub by Kordes) and bright red 'Robusta' (a 1979 rugosa hybrid by Kordes), 'Rugelda' really doesn't exhibit the textured leaves of the rugosas, but I've always felt that it has some of the nicest glossiest mid-green foliage of all the roses I grow (next to 'Prairie Harvest'). That perfect disease-free foliage has been described as "holly-like" and it certainly has a bit of that look and indestructibility to it.

'Rugelda' is a double, bright yellow rose made unique by the unusual pink edges of the petals.  She fades to a more graceful lighter yellow and open form as she ages.  Cane hardy to at least Zone 5b by personal experience and, according to one website, perhaps into Zone 3, I've got two 'Rugelda's' that have survived now upwards of 10 years without winter protection or spraying.  'Rugelda' is trying to be a climber and annually puts out strong, lean canes up to 6 feet tall.  She is one of the roses that I cut back to about 4 feet each fall so that the long canes don't whip about in the Kansas wind.  Sge is also one of the roses I am most wary about being around; the thorns are wicked, much like the 'Robusta' parent, and really reach out to grab idle bystanders.  Fragrance is moderate in my garden, but reports on the Internet range from little fragrance to very fragrant.
If 'Rugelda' has a unique feature that sets it apart, however, it has to be the perfect hybrid-tea-like form of the buds in contrast to the normal blowsy open form of other Rugosa's.  That beautiful red/yellow coloring of those buds does not hurt them either.  Take a good long look.   Don't you want one in your garden?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Perpetual Garden Fantasy

A recent post on threw me for a momentary loop, but it also turned my thoughts and outrageous fantasies in a new direction.  A simple post from someone talking about his Old Garden Roses being in the peak of bloom seemed innocuous until I thought, "Wait?  What?" and checked the date on the post, and found the date to be correctly listed as the end of November.  Further investigation, of course, revealed that the writer was based in Australia, where evidently early summer has just arrived.  Easy sometimes to forget that the world has gotten a lot smaller with the Internet, isn't it? 
But dream with me a minute, won't you?  Imagine that suddenly you've won the lottery and have riches beyond your wildest dreams.  Planning to buy that yacht for around the world sailing?  Thinking about that trip to Egypt and the Orient to see the Seven Wonders?  Well, it occurred to me that a great choice to spend my unearned gains would be a second home, Down Under.  I suddenly have visions of two seasons of 'Madame Hardy' every year.  Two glorious summers of waves of Old Garden Roses with no need to wait around to see the browning buds and the onset of August blackspot.  Two periods of delicious fragrance from 'Madame Issac Pierre', 'Variegata de Bologna' and 'Salet'.  Two summers a year in the garden.  

And why stop there?  If it's a really big lottery win, homes in Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, and Canada might be in order as well;  four seasons of Madame Hardy in the northern hemisphere and then another season or two in the southern.  Just follow the wave of rose blooms northward, and at the northern end fly to the opposite pole of the earth and start over.  Or back to Texas again to see the succession of daylilies start up.  Bored as the perfect blooms of  'Madame Hardy' fade?  Just a short skip in the private jet and you're back to 'Harison's Yellow' again!  Think those surfers in the documentary "Endless Summer" had it good?  "Hey man, those 'Charles de Mills' blooms look pretty rad, dude" could become our new mantra.

'Ballerina' at Denver Botanical Gardens 06/24/10
I do have to confess it's not the first time a similar thought has occurred to me.  I've always joked with friends that when the rest of the world finally broke me, I would run away to a secluded cabin in Montana.  On a trip this summer to Denver Colorado in late June, I chanced to visit the Denver Botanical Gardens and came upon a most gorgeous display of old garden style roses. Thinking that I'd come across some new David Austin varieties that I'd never seen before, I took a long look at the ID tags and realized that I was seeing the same old garden roses that had bloomed in my garden a month earlier, at  roughly the same latitude, just at 5000 feet higher in altitude and one month later.  At that moment, my crumbling escape cabin in the Rockies got mentally surrounded by a few acres of imaginary roses. Blooming, healthy, disease-free imaginary roses.

While I'm dreaming, do you think it's too much to ask that the cabin would be in a magic deer-free zone of the mountains as well?         

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seeds of a Trellis Future

One of my fall projects, just completed, was to place another walkthrough trellis structure on the beginning of the path down from the back of my garden to the cattle pond, hoping to define that view and the walk as one of my garden entrance or exit points. My trellis's are certainly not things of beauty, made to take advantage of standard commercial lengths of treated posts, lumber, and lattice, but they are quite functional and easily built (and easily cemented into the ground so they won't blow away within the first week of creation). I already have one similar trellis at another point leading from the garden, covered from both sides with different varieties of Wisteria, but I was thinking for the second trellis of something more like a grapevine, or climbing rose.

Passion Flower /Maypop seeds
However, serendipity has stepped in and I've now decided that the second trellis will be covered with annual and perennial vines obtained for the perfectly affordable price of $0.  On one side, I'm going to plant seeds from a Passion Flower vine (Passiflora sp), obtained simply by picking up a mature fruit dropped in late September from the vines at the KSU Gardens. I cleaned these rather unique seeds with their golf-ball textured exteriors from the slimy fruit and dried and stored them.  At the Gardens, they completely cover a long stretch of chain-link fence and flower over a long summer season. Because of their size and perennial nature here, I suspect the species of which I purloined seeds is Passiflora incarnata, or the "Maypop," a common species in the southeastern US. This subtropical variety of this mostly tropical family is cold hardy to  -4°F (-20°C) before its roots die.  At least, finally, I'll have some passion in my garden and be able to enjoy the fruit of it.
Hyacinth Bean Vine seeds
On the other side, I'm going to plant some Hyacinth Bean vine seeds gifted recently by a fellow Master Gardener.  The Hyacinth Bean vine (Dolichos lablab) is a fast-growing annual with maroon sweet-pea type flowers that blooms in mid-summer.  It is certainly not a new find for the world (it's also known as Indian Bean, Egyptian Bean, Chinese Flowering Bean, and Pharaoh Bean), but I'd never heard of it myself until the beans were thrust into my hands at a local meeting.  I also had to resort to the Internet to lear about them, as I couldn't find them at all in my not-inconsiderably-sized reference library. Hyacinth Bean is drought resistant, and the only cultivation tip that it seems to need is to soak the seeds overnight before planting (which I would do with any bean seed as a matter of habit anyway).  It is reportedly used as food for both humans and livestock in some parts of the world, but several sources caution that the beans (that look like small ice cream sandwiches) must be boiled carefully, changing the water twice during cooking, to allow one to avoid the toxic cyanogenic glycosides they contain.  I don't know about you, but I'm not about to provide Mrs. ProfessorRoush any poisonous beans that I expect her to feed back to me.  I don't think I've done anything that might lead her to a simple cooking "mistake", but I always find it better not to tempt fate when one can avoid it. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Buds of Hope

M. stellata
Even as the garden winds down for winter, I gain hope and strength from the briefest hints that my garden fully expects that Spring will return in due time.  I'm writing, of course about the many hardy buds on shrubs and trees that each are whispering to me, "Just wait, you'll see, I'll be green again when April beckons."  Hope springs eternal in the gardener's breast.

There were four candidates for faith in Spring in my garden this past weekend.  The first of these were the small fuzzy buds of the magnolias, most prolific of which are my Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’).  Magnolia stellata is one of the few magnolias hardy enough to prosper in this area (I grow three different magnolias in total), and so I watch it carefully during the winter, holding my breath as the buds swell and the shrub proves to me that it has yet again survived the winter. 

Lilac bud
Lilacs, of course, provide a reliable display of tight brown buds in the Kansas landscape during the winter, seemingly armored against the winter cold, and the lilacs are our alkali-soil-loving stalwarts for spring fragrance.  Native sumacs, of course, dot the prairie everywhere, but their buds in my garden are best contemplated on the tamer Cutleaf Staghorn sumac, 'Tiger Eye's' (Rhus typhine) cultivar. The fuzzy stems of the sumac resemble, of all things, deer antlers (interestingly, since deer love to eat these stems) and the buds as small scars, but eventually the buds grow out.


'Tiger Eyes' Sumac

If there are buds that I watch most closely, though it's the hard brown orbs born by Aesculus carnea 'Briottii'  that stands as a specimen tree, albeit still small, in my back garden.  I had a heck of a time getting this one to grow, trying twice before I got a specimen to survive its first winter.  And even now I must watch carefully in the spring as the turtle-like shell of these buds opens to reveal the most delicate fuzzy green innards that slowly expand like cabbages.

A. carnea ‘Briottii’

The second year I had this tree, I was examining the newly opened buds and looking at the delicious-appearing light green foliage and I thought "hey, I bet the deer would really love this thing and I'd better get some fencing up."  I procrastinated of course, and the very next morning I found half the tree denuded of the new pubescent foliage.  Figuring that the deer had already had their fun, I still didn't cover the tree and, unsurprisingly the following morning the other half of the tree had been nipped in the buds.  That spring, the tree started all over again producing leaves, but it survived and ever since, I make sure to protect it when the smallest green shows through the buds.  Fool me once, shame on the deer, fool me twice and I'm going to be stocking the freezer with venison. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Henry Mitchell Lives On

Every Sunday, without fail, I turn first to the portion of our local newspaper that features a column by the county Extension Horticultural agent.  There is just something comforting and satisfying about having that weekly local perspective on my garden travails in Kansas.  In a similar vein, although I don't often feel that I've been shortchanged by never living nor gardening in our nation's capital, I do regret that I never had the pleasure of anticipating the Washington Post's Earthman columns from the late, great Henry Mitchell.

For almost 25 years, Henry Mitchell wrote of his own garden and his interactions with it for the pure pleasure of the readers of the Post.  He died in 1993, alas before I became an avid reader of garden literature, so I never saw one of the columns in its natural newsprint. Thankfully however, for the reading gardener, many of the best columns were reprinted in one of three collections; The Essential Earthman (1981), One Man's Garden (1992), and the posthumous On Gardening (1998).  Rest assured that all three books would make my top ten list for best garden literature.  I read them for the very dry, sometimes dark humor of Henry commenting on life, garden, and his dogs.  I read them for the useful technical garden tidbits and his assessments of specific plants. Sometimes I read them just for the pure pleasure of Mr. Mitchell's command of the English language. I have read and will continue to re-read them over and over.  Whatever the subject for any particular essay, there is no doubt where Henry stood on the subject.  It is a measure of his genius (and perhaps of the slow pace of garden advancement) that after thirty years and more, none of his writings seem out-of-date or inaccurate.  Sometimes kind-hearted and jovial, sometimes cynically and with the best voice of the curmudgeon, Mr. Mitchell's wit and love of gardening and human-kind (and dogs) lives on. 

A brief scan of any of these books yields a treasure trove of good gardening thoughts and quotes.  The following examples from One Man's Garden are just a small quick sample:

"Some people are clearly better at maintenance in their gardens than others--the same ones, probably, that keep files of birthdays and jokes for all occasions and have neat desks."

"If you must have an oak or one of those wretched Norway maples, at least plant it in the center of the garden and build the garden around it, thus sparing neighbors as much as possible from the effects of folly."

"One of the truly dumbest things a gardener can do is start building something.  I speak with full authority on this as I am always in the midst of a shed or a summerhouse...when the work of weeding is already neglected."

"A stout plastic bag of manure is a splendid gift.  I think a whole load (of manure) is too much like giving emerald cuff links--a bit much and rather improper, unless you know the gardener well."

"Peace comes to the gardener when at last he has all his flowers in reasonable and sane balance--the day after the undertaker comes."

"The trouble is--one trouble is--I like agaves, the bigger the better.  Well, these things work themselves out.  Sometimes the gardener gets hit by a truck before he has to face the fact that the house won't hold but so many..."

"It sounds very well to garden a "natural way." You may see the natural way in any desert, any swamp, any leech-filled laurel hell. Defiance, on the other hand, is what makes gardeners."
I even used a quote from The Essential Earthman for the opening chapter of my own garden manuscript, Garden Musings, repeating the immortal statement that "Wherever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It is not nice to garden anywhere. Everywhere there are violent winds, startling once-per-five-centuries floods, unprecedented droughts, record-setting freezes, abusive and blasting heats never known before.”  My only wish now, with Christmas coming on, is that the Washington Post and Mr Mitchell's family would release a "complete collection" of the Earthman columns so that we could judge the best for ourselves, unfiltered and raw as Mr. Mitchell intended. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Edge your Paving!

For all the do-it-yourselfer gardeners out there, this post is a flat-out informational piece in hopes of having you learn from my mistake.  And this particular one concerns the importance of using "paver edging" for your brick paver projects.  Please do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do (did).

About two years back, during my preparation for having my garden appear on the local area Annual Garden Tour, I erected an octagonal gazebo from scratch (kids, don't try that at home!).  Because of the prevailing gale-force winds of Kansas, I erect all outdoor structures with the anticipation that a tornado will appear over the next ridge at any moment, and so my structures are overengineered to last wherever possible; no less so this gazebo which is anchored by eight posts cemented into the ground.  For a floor, since I disdain wooden raised gazebo floors under which snakes and pack rats may breed in private perpetuity, I laid brick pavers for an approximately 10 foot square floor.  I'd had good luck with pavers elsewhere in contained areas, so I knew to place a good sand base down and level the pavers, but I'd never made a free-standing form in the middle of the yard before, and I'd never heard of brick paver edging.  Such are the mistakes made by those who think they can just muddle into the job.

Alas, you can guess that the result was having the bricks at the edge eventually shift away from the center on all the edges, as pictured at left above, leading to an unattractive affront to my in ordnung sensibilities.  Fortunately, the K-State Gardens had recently installed a paver walkway and I had carefully observed the construction and learned of the importance of paver edging.  Paver edging is a simple commercial strip of plastic, "L"-shaped in cross section, that we lay down beneath and along the edges of our paver constructions to prevent just such migrations.  Priced at approximately the weight of the plastic in gold, it should nonetheless be viewed as  a necessity in your paver designs.

The result of a few minutes work yesterday was to lift the bricks at the edge, lay the paver edging and re-square my gazebo floor.  Happily, the Gardening Gods gave me a 60oF November day to make it all work out.  Now, hopefully, a real tornado won't come over the hills and send my gazebo to New York by air mail, but if it does, I have a nice ten-foot square dance floor in the middle of my garden that should hold up to foot traffic for years to come.


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