Spring Breaking, or Broken?

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Sunday evening, March 16th – Spring Break is hurrying to an end. It’s been a great stretch of puttering, doing more or less only what I felt like doing. If I want to think good thoughts about the weather, I can be glad it’s been so variable. On cloudy wet days I sewed to my heart’s content, and as soon as the sun came out I turned my back on that sewing machine like the most fickle friend imaginable. Dropped that hobby like a hot potato.

Working in the yard has been bittersweet, rendering those good thoughts about the weather difficult to come by. The last, meanest freeze turned new leaves brown and crisp, and killed buds on too many flowering shrubs to count. We won’t have any purple mountain laurel blossoms this year to intoxicate the bees with their grape-soda scent. Nor will the pittosporum between our house and next door be covered with tiny white pungent blooms that attract bees and butterflies from miles around. The spirea in the sidewalk garden will have to be cut way back, and I don’t even know if the pomegranate will survive at all – although the lady out at the Natural Gardener help desk suggested a heavy feeding and a wait-and-see attitude.

No matter how natural such events may be, they do take a toll on the spirits. A couple of weeks ago the sidewalk garden pomegranate was covered with waxy perfect leaves.

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Then the freeze. Now this:

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What can you do? It’s enough to turn anyone gloomy.

Speaking of variable weather, at this very moment the sun is shining and warm at my back as I write this, but it appears spring is being blown to bits by a north wind that has been positively obnoxious all afternoon. It’s been one of those days that seem very pleasant in a sheltered space, and maddening when you step around a corner into the chilly tumult. A weird start to spring.

Friday was pi day, ninth birthday of grandson #2. He and his older brother came over after #1’s batting practice, to spend the night. That meant waffles for Saturday breakfast, ignoring all time limits on cartoons and video games, a couple of trips around the block on scooters, and about an hour of Monopoly. I  scooted around the block with #1 at some point and found myself missing skating, although the pavement was wet enough to remind me how miserable skating on wet pavement can be. I made Molly W’s macaroons with chocolate ganache, which were a big hit after supper. Okay, well, before supper too. I am a grandmother, after all.

Despite my unhappiness, and perhaps with half an eye to allaying some of it, last Monday Travis and I started Spring Break the right way: with a trip to The Natural Gardener. Things are certainly starting to spring up around there, with tall rolling containers of flats filled with little pots of herbs, perennials, succulents, and who knows what-all else. People were pulling red wagons noisily over the gravel pathways, loading up on the last of the lettuce and the first of the tomatoes.

Travis and I wandered over to visit the animals, because I know exactly where he likes to poop – off in a secluded corner near the donkey pen. When he was done we paid a visit, and I scratched some furry ears.

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On our way to dispose of Travis’s deposit, we said hello to the goats, who were enjoying the mild air. All around we could hear the mad shrieks of the guinea fowl, who were stalking about and flying from tree to tree trying to impress each other, I guess. I never knew they were so raucous.

IMG_1072It’s impossible to walk around such a place of abundance and remain in a freeze-induced funk. It makes you believe there’s such a thing as a picnic under a shade tree alongside a spiraling herb garden with herbs for cuisines from around the world.

IMG_1074Or a wee stream that sends water bubbling over rocks in a cheery sort of way.

IMG_1077We picked up a few plants, just to keep thoughts of spring alive: basil (not ready to go in the ground yet), and some perennials for the sidewalk garden (various sages, some Black Mountain daisies, a rock rose and a few et cetera). Travis was petted and admired over and over again, which contributed to the lightening of our mood.

At the advice counter, the lady suggested I feed everyone who’d been so rudely frozen, then see where they bud out and cut them back accordingly. I felt a fragile sense of hope and loaded up the wagon with three kinds of plant food. As we checked out, Travis peered over the counter in search of a dog treat and when the woman said they didn’t have any yet this season, I told her, You explain that to him. 

Travis gave her such a disappointed border collie face I don’t think she’ll recover quickly. I hope she went home and baked some dog treats herself.

It’s difficult to explain about Tuesday. I’m not quite sure what happened. I do know at some point Travis and I rode out to Floyd’s shop. All three of us crossed the dusty driveway and stepped into the office of Daniel Stone (the enterprise, not the person). They know Floyd up there of course; not only is he a pretty good tenant, but places that have things made of steel sometimes need a good welder. As I was paying, Floyd was talking to the owner about a job needing done. The man joked to Floyd that we’d give him some money, then he’d give Floyd some money, around it goes. And we both pay taxes on it, my dear husband pointed out.

Anyway, I bought another couple of tons of rocks. I had one day to get things ready for the delivery and the shovel-and-wheelbarrow fest. What is wrong with me?

IMG_1082So we can summarize my Spring Break yard escapades quite simply: A few new plants and a whole lotta rocks. I’m glad to report that the last few were put in place this afternoon.

Oh, now I remember what I was thinking: I was thinking that the back yard needed some attention. My hope is that we will install a source of shade this year – even if temporary, since Floyd wants sail shades and the Homeowners’ Association most certainly does not want sail shades. Last summer the patio took the sun full on the face, rendering it impossible to sit out there in the afternoons. So I thought I’d spruce it up a bit and maybe we could pick up a pop-up gazebo thing at the Big Box Store.

DSC_0005Here’s the scruffy old corner with that crape myrtle I keep killing and bringing back to life. When we moved in it was splendid, but surrounded by odd round shrubs. Boxwood? What the heck for?

When I took out the shrubs, spiderwort and wild lantana emerged as if they’d been waiting for their moment. The bees were ecstatic, but there was a bit of a takeover aspect to the plant life. It’s scary enough to live in Texas where all sorts of dangerous wildlife lurk around every corner, without being afraid that crossing your own back yard will result in something with sharp teeth running out from under the bushes. So rocks.

DSC_0013It looks nice and clean, but I suspect plenty of lantana and spiderwort will be back. Taking out the spiderwort with the pitchfork, I could see how it got its name: the bulb and roots look exactly like a dirt-encrusted giant spider. The real name is probably “spider-root.” At least that’s what I would have called it. I should have taken a photo for you but I didn’t, and now I’m too tired to go out and forage through the yard waste bags for a specimen. You’ll just have to trust me.

In the front yard on that same side of the house, the time had come for me to deal with the unruly mess alongside the air conditioner. It seems like every yard I’ve ever had has a sort of neglected area. Often these places give me the creeps, but in this case it just gave me annoyance: why should a perfectly good bush – whatever it was – up and die? And how could any plant with a root system like the one I wrestled out of that ground not thrive? And how did fig ivy come to be immortal?

Well, I hope that whatever killed that big-rooted shrub won’t prove fatal to the two Texas mountain laurels I put in. There’s the gardening life for you: keep on acting as if hopeful is a sensible position in this mad existence.

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It’s a terrible picture, but by the end of that work day I was pretty sure I was about to have a heart attack and people on the brink of death can’t always compose pleasing photographs. Well, I can’t, anyway.

The two little mountain laurels are on the left near the air conditioner. I feel sure they’ll get enough sun to thrive and soften the harsh mechanical edges. The area to the right of the hose was changed again this afternoon, when Floyd mentioned – not for the first time – how much he would like to use the space as a short cut to the hose.

A short cut to the hose.

This is a man who rides a road bike long distances, mountain bikes like a thirtysomething, carries steel up and down stairs, and is generally more fit than most American men half his age. And he wants a short cut to the hose.

Fine. While he was off to buy a pneumatic staple gun for re-covering the seat of his motorcycle, I dug out that Sago palm and then I went into all-out shovel warfare with the rosebush alongside it. Threw down some leftover pavers from the back yard and gave Floyd his short cut, only a little the worse for wear. (At the moment both my hands are quite predictably dead asleep and it feels like someone is pounding small nails into the fingers of my right hand.) No good deed goes unpunished, and all that.

I’d heaved a bunch of rocks around to the other side of the yard too, to that corner where there’s a bench set an a good angle for spying on the neighbors.

DSC_0016I’m glad that didn’t involve but half a dozen trips with the wheelbarrow, since it was very difficult for me to wheel it in there at such an angle as to make dumping it out possible. Lots of those rocks were unloaded by hand. At one point I was almost having fun tossing stones and measuring my accuracy of placement.

Things over in that corner are also rendered a bit interesting because that dark patch under the bench is the ground-level stump of a huge old pine that came down just before we moved in. Wood-eating fungus have been working busily for four years now, so that what wood remains is pulpy as wet paper and not a little creepy. You can easily nudge away good size chunks with your foot. When I moved the bench aside to make room for the wheelbarrow, one leg slid down into a void that showed no evidence of having a bottom.

This seems like an excellent argument for having someplace else to sit this summer.

All in all a good week, yard projects going a whole lot better than my sewing efforts. Floyd says I should know better than to attempt such projects during a full moon. It’s been fun to hang around with Travis; an old unruly gardener can get away with talking to her dog more than she can with talking to herself. And it’s been just enough work to brighten the prospect of returning to my cushy day jobs considerably. I just hope I won’t have to write by holding a pen between my teeth.

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