May 2009

A good gardening day! 

Went out to Niche Gardens and picked up a dozen plants, all natives. A couple are old friends–two varieties of Texas sage, a giant blue aster–most I’ve never planted before, some I’ve never heard of–Cabbage-Leaf Coneflower, for example, gets six feet tall! Some are just awesome names–who can resist Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, or wild quinine? And the butterfly weed is mostly a hope–I tried to grow some from seed once and failed miserably, so here’s hoping.

I’ve pretty much filled in the bed at this point–there’s one spot set aside for black-eyed susans in the near future, and I could probably make room for some veronica, but the bed is set up. I may interplant some annuals for the gaps–it’s a rather large bed, and quite loosely packed at the moment, although once everything grows in, I suspect it’ll be what the gardening books call a "tight matrix."* It’ll probably be a year or two for most of these, whereas things like the pineapple sage will be four feet tall by fall. (And then may or may not die–pineapple sage is just at the edge of our area’s cold tolerance, and most local gardeners can apparently keep them alive for several years, and then we get snow and they bite it. I am assured that pineapple sage is not invasive in this part of the country, so this Mexican native finally got popped in the ground here–there’s nothing like it for hummingbirds.) 

My gardening experience over the years has been peculiar. I settle, plant, get hopeful–and then move. I have never experienced a second year in a garden as an adult. It’s not intentional, I never plan on it–it just happens. Repeatedly. (After my divorce I gave up for almost two years–there was just no point.)

As a result my hind brain secretly thinks that everything is annuals. And it doesn’t believe in bulbs at all. Yes, all these things come back, I research them all semi-obsessively, I believe that they return–I’ve just never been able to SEE it. I have vague childhood memories of a fondness for grape hyacinth and tulips, of a finicky orange rosebush, of scotch and Irish moss and azaleas, but that was over half my life ago. I had never gotten a second year in a garden.

This year, I have. I planted exactly four things last autumn, just after moving in with Kevin–anise hyssop, deciduous holly, snakeroot, and witch hazel. I did not, in my heart of hearts, believe that any of them would survive.

The anise hyssop is now thigh-high; the snakeroot, slow to break dormancy, is only a foot or so. The witch hazel is a tall, spindly shrub by nature, but it flowered like a trooper in early spring, and it continues to add new leaves. And the deciduous holly, which I fretted over and worried was dead, has added three inches of growth in every direction and now has the tiniest nubbly flowerbuds at the base of every stem.

They make me feel like a real gardener.

Everybody starts gardening out of hope, I think, and with perennials, hope is rewarded by the return of a plant the next year, and you are left trying to explain to non-gardeners that yes, you planted it and it came back, and no, it’s not that you didn’t think it would, but–well–it came back! Do they not understand that this is a miracle–maybe a predictable one, maybe one you were expecting, but still kind of incredible? There was a plant, and then there was dead stems and dirt, and now, look! Plant! Is this not amazing?

I knew the miracle existed. I counted on it. I held faith in plants and sun and dirt the way I hold faith in no gods and few enough people. But it was still hard being a one-year gardener over and over again. The anise hyssop and the snakeroot restored my faith the way few enough things could, the liatris, which came up from bulbs thrown late into the ground as an afterthought, and which is going gangbusters, makes me almost believe in bulbs again. (Not quite. Bulbs are a harder sell. Plants at least look like plants. Bulbs require a great deal of faith.) 

I have single specimens of nearly twenty species in the bed, and multiples of a handful more–mostly plants I know well to be reliable, like May Night Salvia, gaillardia, and Shasta daisies. Most of them are growing just fine at the moment. Depending on which school of gardening you apply to, I have either the design sense of a color-blind magpie, or a fine interest in biodiversity. (They’re mostly arranged by height, so that the tall stuff is in the middle and it shades out to the edges–at least in theory. Since I’m new to most of these, I’m going by the descriptions, and that’s kind of a crapshoot.) Half of it’s just that I have no damn idea what will grow here–I didn’t know that the hyssop would come back and I had given up on the snakeroot completely. It makes no sense to do a mass planting of something I don’t KNOW will grow.

The whole thing feels like a wild experiment sometimes, like it’s patently impossible to put stuff into dirt–dirt!–and expect anything to happen, as if the whole notion of gardening is patently insane, and yet it’s working, stuff I planted in March is flowering, there are strawberries all over the strawberry plants, the bees are on the salvia and the columbine has new flower buds on it…

If even half of these wild experiments come up again, I’ll consider it a staggering success. And plant more.

ETA: Oh! And while I was kneeling in the bed, planting the native blue vervain, I startled a teeny tiny Southern Cricket Frog! He was hanging out in my flower bed, so obviously I’m doing something right…

*According to these magazines on green gardening I keep impulse buying at the register, this is a good thing. Less weeds, or something. 

Yesterday was very productive. I did a Digger, wrote a page or so on Wurstbreath, fooled with the website, and did a painting.

Then Kevin and I went to sushi with friends, and to a friend’s drinks night, where I drank enough absinthe to become an honorary French Impressionist, and became embroiled in a discussion of that age old question–how do Smurfs reproduce?

We went through the usual theories about asexual budding and magic, and then I had the great geek epiphany that in some ways, the Smurfs resemble the first bit of Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, and somewhere there must be a smurfiform parasite keeping them alive. This struck me, in my alcoholic state, as genius. (Or, as my buddy Badger said "You’re proposing a Smurf-Hyperion pastiche–god, I can’t believe I’m saying these words–!")

Meanwhile, behold the terrifying power of:

Rasta Cthulhu

I got html stuff to work! I am so proud!

(Okay, I realize for most people this is a minor thing, but for me, getting buttons to actually work and manually taking out the borders and all is like Black Magic, and I feel like I have triumphed over Nyarlathotep or something.)

The new website, including all new automated shopping cartness, should be going live very soon! Not all the art will be up–it’s a work in progress, and I’ll be adding more over time–but most of the popular work is up, at least. Other stuff we hope to add soon is a search function, which y’all have asked for, and maybe some nifty additional content.

As it is, though, look for a launch of the brand new Red Wombat Studio in the next week!

Muerte Mouse

A new painting up in the gallery, which you can probably see over in the sidebar on the left.

It’ll probably be another few days before the site goes live, but I figure I’d get in the habit of uploading…

I spent most of today doing this, in one of those crazed fits that hits occasionally…

I keep wanting to do something Day of the Dead-esque–I love the visuals–and it keeps sort of skittering off to one side and I wind up somewhere only tangentially related.

Muerte Mouse

ETA: Somebody pointed out how appropriate this was for Cinco de Mayo. Um. Sure. Yes.

(Okay, fine, I did the sketches three days ago and didn’t even think about it until somebody pointed it out.)

Got up an hour early today to go make sausage…i.e. vote. Chatham County is having a referendum on "Liquor by the drink." Bars in the county aren’t allowed to serve anything stronger than beer, so the vote is to allow them to serve mixed drinks or not.

It’s not expected to pass–the weird "dry county" mentality still persists strangely in parts of the South–but Kevin and I slogged out in the rain and voted anyway.

My poison ivy has reached the scabby crusty oozing phase, which looks positively leprous and feels worse. (They say leprosy doesn’t actually hurt, since the nerves go long before stuff starts falling off.)  I slather it regularly with anti-itch cream, which I think is mostly camphor. Sadly, despite all of our lidocaine creams and everything else, it’s plain old camphor that offers me the greatest relief. Go figure. (I have tested this extensively on my last bout of poison ivy, an appalling number of tick bites,* and The Chigger Incident.)

I have a week and a half to write the rest of Wurstbreath. Fortunately, I’m nearly done. Yesterday got me through the bit with the sewers and the potato salad, and now I just need one good fire-on-the-mountain writing day when I hammer out the Dramatic Climax, and I’m done.

It’s raining, so I don’t have to water the garden for a couple days, which is good. A pair of chipping sparrows were on the feeder earlier–that’s a new one for the yard. Sadly, the rain or wind or something flattened the one iris that had bloomed unexpectedly (the last tenant threw some bulbs in the ground–bi-colored dutch iris being one, apparently. There’s also a bed of daffodils and, under vast tangles of bindweed, what I think are daylilies valiantly clinging to life. I cleared out the bindweed, so we’ll see if they get around to flowering.)

Astonishgly, my liatris bulbs are actually coming up. I tossed ’em in the ground in a seriously half-assed fashion–another mail-order thing that didn’t look particularly likely to survive, planted months late, and wham, here they are. Darwinian gardening for the win! (I’ll probably buy some bigger established plants later in the year–I love liatris, and the goldfinches tear it up getting at the seeds.) My catmint is blooming dramatically in the extremely dry hillside area, and the bees are all over it, and my wild indigo is turning purple.

Indoors, my zoanthid garden continues to spread. The original 8-polyp colony has reached a whopping eighteen polyps, and the various others that I haven’t counted polyps on are spreading across the rocks. (Meanwhile, the mushroom coral, which has the reputation of spreading to take over THE ENTIRE TANK, the first coral I got, hasn’t so much as twitched. At some point, I’ll pick up some more mushrooms, since I love them, and apparently I do not provide the conditions required for total overrun.) Crab Bob has figured out that the chopstick that comes from above (I use a chopstick to push flake food down from the surface occasionally) frequently pushes tasty food into his vicinity, and will come out from under a rock, reach out a claw, and snag the oncoming flake, then gobble it voraciously. 

Also indoors, Ben continues to play Kevin and I for chumps, and manages to get three meals a day instead of two about half the time. He’s so pleasant now that his mouth is better that it’s hard to begrudge him, though–whenever we walk through the front door, Ben’s up on the end table, pawing the air, wanting to climb aboard somebody’s shoulder and nuzzle their ear, and in the evening, when Kevin and I are laying in bed watching Mythbusters or re-runs of Johnny Quest, Ben is usually right there snuggling and purring and generally making an enormous feline roadblock in the middle of the bed. (Angus sometimes joins in, but prefers to wait for days when I get a nap, and snooze with me.)

Meanwhile, I have coffee from the little drive-thru espresso joint, the rain continues to pour and the sky is backlit grey, and I have paintings to paint and miles to go before I sleep.

*Ticks out here itch. I don’t know why, I know they don’t usually, but this variety of tick bites about five times before it finds a nice place to settle down and suck, and each bite ITCHES. And then scars. These are the most malicious bloody bugs…

A truly wonderful day today. Brunch, farmer’s market, gardening, and strawberry shortcake. Life does not get better than this.

On the downside, I got poison ivy a few days ago. It’s a remarkably contained patch, just up the wrist from where my gardening gloves stop, so it was obviously a glancing blow, and I must have washed it off immediately, because despite two or three more days, no more patches have appeared. Still itches, though.

Kevin spotted a spectacular lizard hanging out in the pile of defunct kid’s play equipment that needs to get dragged down to the dump one of these days. It was an adult male broadhead skink! The image doesn’t really express the sheer SIZE of the lizard, which is over a foot long and very thick. They’re a completely different scale than the little whippy blue-tailed ones that run all over, or the little green anoles that cover everything later in the year.

On a whim, we picked up some cantaloupe starts at the Farmer’s Market, which left us with the problem of where to put them, which is why Kevin built a vegetable bed in the backyard this afternoon. Needs more dirt, but he laid out the borders in more lengths of downed pine (there’s scads of it from an ice storm in 2002, and I’ve been using it for bed edging.) 

I had not planned to grow vegetables, but hey, cantaloupe. I figure they will A) all die, B) we will get ONE undersized cantaloupe or C) there will be FIFTY MILLION of them, and we will eventually have to change our names and move to Costa Rica to escape the ravening vegetable hordes.

With the rest of the bed left to fill, I’m wondering what else to grow–we don’t do a lot of cooking from scratch, and there’s already plenty of tomatoes on the patio. (We got something called a jellybean tomato, which is supposed to produce teeny tiny tomatoes that supposedly do not taste like a cherry tomato. Who can pass up such a thing?) I’m thinking strawberries, basil, and onion, as we’d be likely to actually use the onion, homemade pesto is a beautiful thing, and having just had fresh, homegrown, not-gas-ripened-supermarket strawberries–with cream–I am suddenly less sanguine about my plan to get maybe one or two random strawberries from the ones out front. I don’t know how many one is likely to harvest, but even a single strawberry with cream for the occasional breakfast garnish suddenly seems like a Wonderful Thing.

Also, I picked up some paint. I am going to paint random doors bright colors. I feelthe need. The fact that Kevin is unconcerned about me attacking doors with colors with names like "Fireberry Red" and "Roman Violet" is a good sign.

Never fear, he’s the one who will actually remove doors from hinges. No sense tempting fate…"OH GOD!" "Wow. How did you get a door in your eye?"

So I was killing pest anemones with this gunk called "Joe’s Juice" which is basically a solution of hot pepper and nastiness, and it dried to a crust on the outside of the syringe, and I flicked the dust off the syringe, and some of it got on the back of my wrist, and some minutes later, into my eye.

It’s possible that my eyeball will fall off in the next few hours, but after hasty flushing with water, there seems to be no long-term ill-effects. (Had I been using peppermint shrimp to control the pest bobs, this would have been much worse, as they’re much more difficult to flush and can really get a grip on the eyelid with the claws.)

On the scale of pain, (she reflected, face-down in the sink) it was significantly less than getting hot pepper suet up my nose that one time,* and a LOT less painful than the time the squirrel repellent got in my eye, which was a sort of personal ocular Waterloo, during which I ran out of swear words and vowed never to use the stuff again, partly out’ve respect for my fellow mammal, partly out of fear it would happen again.

This tells us two things.

1) The amount of nastiness required to kill a hardy denizen of a coral reef is infinitely lower than that required to momentarily inconvenience a squirrel.

2) I am a very short step away from having to wear a helmet indoors.


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