Friday, February 26, 2010

A New Life

Talk about an alternate reality...
I wake up one morning in my comfy bed, I’m brought morning coffee by a kind and loving husband, and look out the window at the trunks of massive pines that tower overhead, scrub oaks that surround a small yard, and the glint of Silver Lake off in the distance.

The next morning I wake up in the same comfy bed, same smells, same dog climbing up to snuggle while I enjoy the morning coffee, but out the window a mountain laurel brushes the screen and blue mountain ridges outline the horizon.

It confuses Pearl a little, to be sure, but she is a dog, and dogs are remarkably adaptable.
We moved this week, leaving behind a three year accumulation of friends and garden clients in Tallahassee, Florida. We moved because we can, because sometimes a place whispers “you are home”, because we are not city people, and Tally, small and lovely as it is, is still a city.
The alternate reality part comes from my ability to take ‘home’ with me. For the past three years my husband and I have lived small, so to speak, in the cozy space of a 31’ Airstream travel trailer. I don’t call it ‘teeny tiny home’ for nothing!

The story of how we came to live in such a small space, I will save for another day. After all, it is only the end of February, and so it might be many days before I get the chance to blog about gardening again. Suffice it to say that I am happy in my teeny tiny home, and it may indeed be the case that I choose never to go back to a traditional house!

Newly arrived, not yet set up, but here we are. This spot is temporary, as we can’t move to our spot on Lake Jocassee until the first of April. This is the Lake Jocassee RV campground, where at least 20 people have parked their RVs long term to have a summer getaway on a cool, breezy mountain ridge close to Lake Jocassee. Right now we are the only humans staying here.
For the past two nights the temperatures have sunk into the low 20s, and last night the wind gusted up around 30mph. Teeny tiny home was snug and warm, laying to rest one of my only concerns about moving.

Pearl is fine with it all, as long as she has a spot on the sofa and her favorite blanket.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Canada! Oh, Canada...

...why is it that your government has so much more on the ball than your southern neighbors? Not only do you have universal health care to keep your citizens coming home every summer, but now you have taken the very pro-active step of ordering your nurseries and garden centers to remove an overused and minimally understood garden product from their shelves. As of the end of 2012, no longer will Mr. Joe Blow Homeowner be able to wheel cartloads of weed and feed lawn products out the door. Good for you!

Of course, Scotts and Monsantos of the world will not take this news lightly. Punitive lawsuits have already been filed against the Canadian activists and lawmakers responsible for banning the products in the provinces, but the move by the federal government to outlaw these products nationwide might indicate that Big Ag will not get any satisfaction in court.

In what might be a very shrewd move, the government bases its decision not on the health of its water supply, which very certainly is adversely affected by rainwater runoff carrying 2,4D, atrazine, dithiopyr, and the like, but on simple landscape "best practice" principles. They may well have avoided a long and costly court battle by using the common sense approach: a lawn does not have to be a strict monoculture of grass to be healthy and beautiful.

Having been in the business, I have given a lot more thought to the quest for the perfect lawn than most humans. It simply is not worth the cost to our water supply, to our own health, and the health of our children and our pets, not to mention the health of the entire ecosystem.

I can't tell you how many of my friends have announced to me -- quite proudly, I might add -- that they or their spouse had used a weed and feed product. One friend uses it on a lawn so small I could easily hand-weed the entire space inside of an hour. Another friend has an expansive lawn with weeds confined to one small corner, but of course he uses an atrazine-based product on the entire lawn. Did he read the label first, and apply according to the manufacturer's instructions? Doubt it. If so, does he have a clue how to calibrate a spreader, or even what that means? Doubt it. Seriously. By the time I am told, though, the damage is done. Preaching falls on deaf (and dumb) ears.

Last Spring I was standing in line at Lowe's and a nice looking fellow came up behind me pushing a cart loaded with faded-looking bags of a weed and feed product. He must have mistaken the look I gave him. "Look!" he said gleefully. "These are 75% off just because the bags are old!"
"Wow." I said. "You must have a big yard."
"Half an acre," he replied.

I did a little quick math in my head. Those bags treated 5,000 square feet, and there are roughtly 22,000 square feet on one half acre of yard. Subtracting 2,000 square feet for the house, not counting any additional landscape or driveway area, he had enough product to treat his lawn for four and a half years!

Here is my guess: he would either a) over apply the product to get rid of it b) throw it away c) no longer be able to read the label at all within two years, at which time he would forget what he even had. Either way, there is small chance that those bags of product will not ultimately end up contributing to the pollution of our water supply.

I just smiled, though, and said "What a deal." Coward.

Canada has opted to remove these products from their shelves, thus eliminating misuse by hundreds of thousands of people. Licensed lawn care professionals will still be allowed to use them, making the cynical me wonder whether they had anything to do with the homeowner ban. ChemLawn and TruGreen and other such companies will be the biggest winners here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Venerable Cycad

No one plant in my gardening career has been so ubiquitously requested as the sago. Most people don't know the name of the plant, but they don't have to get far into the description for me to know what they are talking about. "The bottom is shaped like a pineapple..." "It has long leaves, and they grow in a circle..." "It is dark green..." "It looks like a miniature palm tree..." No matter how they describe it I can show a client a picture of a sago and they light up like wet pavement. Everyone who comes to Florida from Somewhere Else wants a sago in their landscape, so about 98% of the homes here have at least a couple.

Small wonder these tough plants have survived 250 million years here on planet Earth. They are hell to work around, with their sharply-tipped leaflets and their hard, equally sharp spines, but work around them we must. Otherwise, they become quite a mess, as they have in this landscape that I am trying to reclaim from the wild. Sagos are prolific producers of 'pups', those offsets that grow around the base of the trunk. Removing pups after they have a few years jump on you is HARD WORK!

Then there are the seedlings... Pictured here is a seedling, a pup that was about six inches in diameter, and a pup that was about four inches in diameter. There were seedlings around two of the sagos (of the five we have cleaned up so far). Though the plants are King sagos, they include male and female plants.

The females are seed-bearing, and the males produce a bizarre, extremely phallic-looking cone. There were hundreds of seeds to pick up, roughly one-third of which had sent down a root, or sent up a shoot, or both.

Some people can grow a wonderful looking sago by letting some pups remain, but that is an art and takes skillful attention as the plant develops. More often, we like to see the form of a single, mature plant.

Like I said, it is a lot of hard work, and sometimes it is better to have your helpers en route before you let them in on the plans for that day. Otherwise, mutinies have been known to occur.

I am saving this one for another day. This sago has developed several dominant heads and someone has cut all the fronds off one side of two of those heads, because it was planted too close to the driveway. "But they are so cute when they're little!" Like puppies, plants grow, and we have to plan for the mature size of any plant we put in the landscape, as well as any puppy we bring home. Most likely there will be no limbs left on this plant when I finish, and it will have to re-grow a head for the sake of uniformity.

I am now 32 man hours in to the reclamation of this landscape.
Depupping the sagos has made a big difference, but there are still still a few to go.
I am SO GLAD this qualifies as winter work. At least it is not hot weather!