Thursday, January 21, 2016

Picking up where I left off

I haven't done any serious drawing for over thirty years, and, for reasons to complex to go into, I recently decided to pick it up again. Here are a few of the drawings I did over the holiday break:


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rules for visiting a private garden

Spring has sprung and it is time for gardening. It is also about the time people start thinking that they'd like to see someone else's garden, in order to, you know, get ideas. As such, I thought it would be a good time to post a five simple rules about visiting other people's gardens. (I apologize in advance if I sound a bit scoldy about this, but you would be surprised how many people break at least one of these rules during a garden visit. And for what it is worth, I have broken every one of these rules myself at one time or another and regretted it, so this is your chance to learn from my mistakes!)

1. If you ask a gardener take a look at her garden and she says something like, "Gee. It doesn't look very good right now. I'd rather not show it to you," do not say, "Oh, I don't care about that. I just want to see it." A gardener wants to show off her garden in the best light, not when it is just coming out of the winter doldrums and she's been too busy to pull the spring weeds and there are unfinished garden projects afoot (see photo above). To press her on it would be akin to asking to see the bedroom when the bed is unmade and the laundry is not put away. If a gardener doesn't want you to see the garden right then, let it go.

2. When you visit a garden, say something nice about it. I don't care how tiny and insignificant it might be, say something nice. Gardens are hard work and heartache. The smallest improvement can be an enormous amount of labor. Show that you appreciate this. In other words, show that you know how hard it is to garden.

3. Do not ever point out a flaw. Never, ever. Do you think the gardener has not noticed the nutsedge herself? Do you think she has no clue that powdery mildew coats her squash? That the Mexican feather grass fills the cracks in the flagstones? That every single rosemary died during the last freeze? Of course she sees these terrible lapses in garden perfection. She is hoping that you will overlook the stuff she has not had time to address and notice the nice things instead. (See above.)

4. Do not offer advice unless asked. (I think this is pretty self-explanatory.)

5. Even if you are asked for advice, think twice about giving it. Sometimes what people really want is to tell you what they think should be done, and then get your confirmation. This is tricky. You're just going to have to figure out which it is. You will get it wrong sometimes.

That's it. Five rules for visiting private gardens. I think these apply whether you are visiting one informally or as part of a garden tour, since putting a garden on tour is an enormous act of courage and sacrifice, and should be recognized as such.

Happy spring, everyone!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Remembrance Day

My father died six years ago in January, on the first day of spring classes. It was actually on January 7th, which is not the first day of classes every year, but I loved my father and I have always loved the first day of classes, and they are now forever linked in my heart.

I was thinking of him today, in the main because it was the first day of spring classes, but also because I moved a corn plant (Dracena fragrans) that someone gave us at his funeral, from our bedroom downstairs to my study upstairs. There is a north window where it will finally get all the bright, indirect light it has deserved for lo, these many years.

It is a tough plant, and has defied all my attempts to neglect it. When we received it, it was just a little two foot mite, but now it is is five feet tall if it is an inch, and putting out new leaves like who laid the chunk.

I have no idea where the phrase "like who laid the chunk" comes from or what it actually means, but it was a favorite of my dad's, and when he used it, his eyebrows were always raised and he meant "more than you could ever imagine, Horatio." Or something like that.

The family got a lot of live plants for his funeral, most of which were kalanchoes, but one of which was this silly corn plant. I was the one chosen to take home all the live plants, because, supposedly, I am a gardener (though not a houseplant person, which is actually a different species altogether), and it was assumed that I would know what to do with them. (Snort! I didn't even know what these plants were. I had to look them  up--not that it did me any good.) Well, as you might expect, the kalanchoes all gave up the ghost in short order, because, as it turns out, houseplants require, you know, watering and shit. That is to say, they require attention from a houseplant-person (see above, in re, not necessarily a gardener).

But not, apparently, corn plants. They just trundle along in their dark corners of inadequate light, sans water, sans fertilizer, sans anything at all, waiting patiently for their annual spate of pathetic-houseplant-person attention. All it ever seemed to ask from me was no direct light and an occasional "last dregs from the glass of water," and in those things I was happy to oblige. When I thought of it.

Note to people who plan to give live plants to bereaved families: Corn plants. Not kalanchoes. Kalanchoes are lovely, but they require, you know, watering and shit.

Anyway, today on this anniversary of sorts, I moved the corn plant upstairs, re-did the stakes that prop up its leggy stems, gave it an actual watering--and get this, fertilizer!--and danged if it doesn't look happy to me.

I miss you, Dad. Wish you were here so I could tell you about the corn plant and how it is being  a tough little nut, resistant to all neglect, like who laid the chunk.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

In which I begin the greenhouse adventure

My first memory of being in a greenhouse was when I was a teenager, tagging along to a wholesale nursery with a friend who had a thing for plants. I did not care about plants one whit at the time, but I remember walking into this structure filled with light and life and thinking, "I need to live here."

I have always disliked being indoors. I teach most of my classes outside because I can't stand the confines of a classroom. In clement weather I shut off the air conditioning and throw the windows of my office wide open so I feel less claustrophobic. As much as I can, I try to be outdoors gardening, or cycling, or just sitting around on the wine patio. I even take my writing projects outside, to the garden. In fact, if I could, I'd be in the garden all year 'round. That I live in a place where I can do this three seasons out of the year is a plus in my "Quality of Life" column.

But winter, you see, has always been a bit of a problem for someone who doesn't like to be inside, for obvious reasons. With a greenhouse, however, that problem is ameliorated somewhat. I think I knew this, on some deep, cellular level where the soul resides, when I walked into that first greenhouse. Since then, I've always noticed them, wherever I've gone. I spy the top of one through some trees or over the fence in someone's backyard and wish I could check it out. Or I find the glasshouse conservatories in the public gardens and make a beeline for them. Or I try to peer inside the sunrooms of nice houses as I ride by on my bicycle--not out of nosiness, but out of envy.

I first entertained the thoughts of having a greenhouse of my own over twenty-five years ago. But they seemed out of reach and impractical. First, they simply cost more than I could afford at the time. And second, it wasn't that I especially desired to use them for planting things--I wanted the structure made of light more than I did the plants (see above, in re, not caring one whit for the plants), because greenhouses are, well, a way of being outdoors inside. I worried that since I wasn't that interested in plants that should be in a greenhouse, I would build one and never use it for what it was intended. (Even so, through the years, I'd see a plant particularly suited for a greenhouse and think, "I could grow that someday...")

But I'm now at a time in my life when a greenhouse makes sense. They have come down considerably in cost and after years of gardening, I, too, have a thing for plants. However, the real impetus for finally deciding to build one is this realization that they are a way to be out in the garden in the winter. In fact, in what I think is a brilliant design solution to my desire to write outside, I have set it up to be the winter version of my garden writing room (I'm writing this in the greenhouse right now, at 6:30 AM, when it is 18° outside.

So shortly before Thanksgiving, I ordered a 6'x8' Palram greenhouse kit (which is all I have room for) from Greenhouse Megastore, and when the holiday school break came around in December, I commenced to building. Here, in pictures, is the story of putting it together. In future posts, I'll talk about specifics--like heating, the plants I've put in, how I've set up my writing space, and so on. The build and set up was an adventure, but not one that has ended, since my inner engineer has resurfaced as I've tweaked and refined the kit to customize it to my needs desires.

The whole build took eight days, from ground breaking to move-in. The kit itself only took a day for one person (me) to put together, while preparing the base took three. The remainder of the time it took was devoted to the tweaking and moving stuff inside (and buying plants).

Making the base level and square:

I installed PVC pipes so I could run extension cords and a water hose into the greenhouse. I've decided that at some future date, I'll have an electrician put an actual outlet in the greenhouse space, but for now, extension cords are working just fine:

The base was filled with 3/4" limestone aggregate and the next day I began to put the kit together. It was done (except for the roof vent and door) in a matter of a few hours:

I've run a garden hose from a nearby faucet into the greenhouse and wrapped it with insulation:

Starting to move plants and furniture in:

It snowed the day after I finished: