Monday, December 26, 2011

Lines from Ulysses: "In sleep the wet sign calls her hour"

She was born for water, I for tides;
               To make a seed, you first must grow a flower
She became the second of my brides.
               In sleep the wet sign calls her hour.

And now I have a third, I call her Keb;
               To make a seed, you first must grow a flower
A Saggitarius to a Cancer wed...
               In sleep the wet sign calls her hour.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lines from Ulysses: "There all the time without you"

Today I begin what I think will be a series of short poems inspired by lines or phrases that catch my attention as I read James Joyce's Ulysses for the first time.

Can it be? Were you
There all the time without you?
And are you?  Am I?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Morning at Lago Segretto

I'm having a slow start, listening to "All Night Long" by Lionel Ritchie, feeling some, but not a lot of, nostalgia for the seventies.

There....had enough nostalgia?  Kathy and I are still watching episodes of The Rockford Files with James Garner.  Remember them, the files, I mean?  I've got them all on DVD.  A few minutes ago I looked up a version of "Little Drummer Boy" that I remember seeing on TV in the seventies, a Bing Crosby Christmas Special.  He sang a version that had a duet part written for David Bowie.  That rendition was far from the worst of Bing Crosby.  I suspect that distinction goes to his recording of "Hey Jude."

But I'm not dissing the seventies, truly I'm not.  When I was roughing my way through them, they were so very "here and now."  They were as up to date as anything could be at the time, and I only felt mildly ridiculous (and clammy) in a polyester double-knit shirt.  I did not own a Leisure Suit.

Now the seventies are so far away, blessedly stored away with the eighties.  Today feels "here and now" more than yesterday, although memory is here and now, too, isn't it.  So in a manner of speaking, yesterday is no more unreal than the memory of five minutes ago.

I will close with a Haiku.

Dreamed I was holy,
Ghost-ridin' a papal bull
Way up in the sky.

    -- Cowboy Rodeo Haiku (Fusilli Press, 1997)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gradus Ad Parnassum

How-To books in the Olden Dayes had the elevated title, "Gradus ad Parnassum," meaning steps to Parnassus.  In 1970s slang lingo, that would mean "Be all that you can be!"  I use it to express the state of incompletion of our expertly-built deck and paver patio beneath it.

We are so close, but yet so far!  Here's a picture of the crew leader, Steve Brandt, attaching a header for the second set of stairs yesterday before lunch.

When they quit the previous afternoon, I stained the three "stringers," the header boards, and as many step boards as Steve thought he'd need (all of them in the garage).  As Steve and Tim Yanko got to building the steps in the afternoon, Steve realized he hadn't bought enough cedar for the steps and would come up three steps short.

Steve's father, Carl Brandt, came in the afternoon to take over what Steve had been doing and got the job to this point by quitting time.

Construction is held up while the lumber yard awaits delivery of some new, non-warped, cedar railings for both sets of stairs.  Steve will bring those on Friday, I hope, with the extra boards for the steps, and they will complete the deck in another two or three days' work.

The new sod on the right of the picture was laid down two weeks ago today, before a series of good soaking rains.  The sod crew was all over themselves complimenting me on Steve's 5-star job of laying the patio pavers.  We'll have to put a bit of furniture down there, as the area is no longer "just a simple walk-out."

If you look through the stairs, you can make out the big set of wind chimes I hung up to celebrate the completion of that area.  The chimes were a retirement present to myself in 2010 and had hung on the old deck here until Steve tore it down in August.  Now we can enjoy them again.  I enjoyed them last night as I drifted off to sleep.  They weren't loud enough to keep me awake, nor so silent as to have no presence.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Songs, Plain and Simple

A little over two years ago while surfing iTunes for singer-songwriters, I discovered the Canadian, David Francey, and downloaded his song, Midway, for a playlist I was creating for Kathy.


David's music reminds me a lot of Lyle Lovett, not so much in subject matter as a propensity for making the fifth of the major scale the center of gravity.  He doesn't have much of a vocal range, nor does he have any affectations or pretensions or any distracting mannerisms to take you out of the richness of his natural gift with words.  It doesn't hurt, either, that he is blessed with a rich baritone voice and the expert collaborator, Craig Werth, on guitar and back-up vocals.

David Francey sounds like your average Joe with a decent voice and an easy-going manner.  Listening to him sing, you wish he was in your neighborhood, maybe next door, a guy to invite over with his wife for a pot luck supper on the deck at the end of a beautiful weekend.

Well, he's not in my neighborhood, and I know him only by his recordings, which I can listen to for hours on end.  I told Kathy last night that there is something totally comforting in the sound of most of his recordings.  The acoustical space reminds me of the Ian and Sylvan records of the mid-60s.  Their recording engineers set up equipment in old hotels with big rooms to reflect the sound if the guitar and autoharp. They worked for a sound that didn't sound "engineered." Craig Werth's guitar work is right out of the 60s, too, the same finger-style patterns we all learned for coffee house work.  It is simple, clean, immaculate, and right for David Francey's manner of singing.

Last night I thought of Gordon Lightfoot, the "dean" of Canadian songwriters when David Francey was growing up.  Lightfoot's recordings in the 70s seem over-engineered when I enjoy them now.  There is more interest in the instrumental backup than in the vocal delivery.  Lightfoot had a problem of vocal tension above middle C that became a liability as he aged.  The "sweet spot" of his voice was in the middle of the bass clef, and what a beautiful baritone sound he had when singing there.

Here's Gordon Lightfoot in 1979 singing his 1971 hit, "If You Could Read My Mind."  The melody begins in his sweet spot and rises to the range where he adds vocal tension -- clenched jaw, tightening throat.  For the next thirty years the sound was still recognizably his, but it was less and less listenable.

Francey's singing has a different technical flaw, the "Dylan haze" that comes from a general self-strangulation.  Bruce Springsteen and many others picked up this affectation from early Bob Dylan records.  If you've ever heard Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," you know the hazy sound I'm talking about.

I can't listen to Bob Dylan hour after hour.  These days, we put on the David Francey CDs an hour before dinner and turn the sound back when we sit down to our meal, and just enjoy the feeling that a friend came over with his guitar and swapped songs with us around the fire place.

Here's David again with Craig Werth in a radio studio in London, singing "Broken Glass."

If you come over here for dinner some time, chances are we'll still have David's CDs in the player.  And if you play "Midway" again, I suspect you'll remember this haunting image: "And the girls in the house of mirrors/combing their hair."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Student of Light

Since I was twelve years old, I have loved to see the world through a camera lens.  Several decades ago, when my father gave me his much-used SLR camera, I subscribed to Modern Photography magazine.  Of the many tips I filed away from the columns of Bert Kepler, this one tip became my "golden rule."  He said something like, "remember when you are taking pictures, that your subject is always light."  I began to see the world differently.

I always carried my camera in the car with me back then.  I was playing at being a pro photographer, which means I wasn't really making more than small change at it and it wasn't my real occupation.  It was my passion, though, and I wanted to be as good as the pros who regularly sold their scenic pictures to Vermont Life magazine.  I became attuned to the intricate play of light on the scenes I drove through as I traveled the length and breadth of Vermont.

The scene above, Main Street in Johnson, Vermont, was one I had seen hundreds of times, as I lived in the neighboring village and drove through Johnson a great deal.  One evening in May I was on my way to an appointment on the other side of Johnson, and as I rounded the bend and came onto Main Street, I saw a quality of light on the faces of the buildings that made me pull over then and there.  I got out of the car, snapped two frames of the same composition, and later sold the image to Vermont Life.  It was light that made me pull over, but Lady Luck who kept distractions out of the scene.  There are no moving cars in the image, no dog pooping at the curb, just the classic look of a small town with two white towers lined up on the same side of the street in the light of a waning day.

For the next decade, Vermont Life used my pictures here and there pretty regularly, and I realized that I had made it into the same ballpark as the "real" pros, but that I differed from them only in the ability to allocate full-time attention to the hunt.  At some point I became more interested in growing and hybridizing daylilies.  My love of photography followed that interest.

  I gave a talk to my daylily club last night and showed them this image in a section titled, "Color and Light."  To me, light is the true subject of this image, because without the slanted rays of morning sun turning the red petals into "transparencies," the picture would be cluttered and confusing.  Backlighting converts the picture into an advertisement for the pleasures of growing "spider" daylilies with narrow segments and lots of open space in each blossom.  You can also see this particular cultivar, "Red Ribbons," from all angles here.

I said I was the only person on the bus tour who stopped to enjoy the sight of these flowers before the sun rose to a height that took away the magic of this moment.  Everyone else walked right past this vision in search of "the latest and greatest" cultivars or the breakfast snacks. 

My advice to people last night was, "when you step off the bus at the first garden on the tour, look for the light."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deck Weather at the Duckworthy Estate

This afternoon I looked out over our deck to the gardens below and spied this daylily in bloom.  It's BELLA SERA!  I presented it to Kathy, who is polishing up a plan for the patio that will go below the deck.  We're using "Bella" stone, too.

A couple of days ago, the Branco crew laid the deck boards in front of the dining room and kitchen.  Here's Steve Brandt, President of the company, checking a spacing tool.  It has guides for narrow screws on either end.  The screws go into the deck boards at an angle, on their sides, so that there are no visible screws or screw holes on the surface of the deck.

You might notice in this picture that the deck boards are not at a 45 degree angle, while the corner of the frame is 45 degrees.  The reason the boards are not at 45 degrees is that Steve determined that he could use standard 18-foot boards at this angle.  At 45 degrees, he would need longer boards that are fabulously more expensive, and there would be a lot of wasted wood.  Knowing the level of talent and skill in the Brandt family, we told Steve to do whatever worked best.

This situation would make me freak out if I were building it, but to Steve, it's just a saw cut.

Voila!  I love the odd look of that corner.  It's what a custom deck should look like.  Here's Carl Brandt, Steve's father, working on the longer boards.  What a team they make!

And here's Tim Yanko using the "fine tool" to cut the ends off the siding boards so that the deck boards can have a snug connection to the side of the house.

Looking to the right from the deck that evening, I took a picture of my "Nebraska" keeper bed and my seedling beds below it.

I named it "Nebraska" because it feels like I'm weeding a large state when the weeds get the upper hand.  I've resolved never to let them get the upper hand again.  The little yellow flags along the lower edge of the seedling beds are there to mark a boundary so that I can sprinkle grass seed on the correct amount of path between the beds.

Here's deck weather at the Duckworthy Estate.  The only thing missing are the ducks.

One builds a deck for this time of year, not for the smoldering furnace afternoons of July and August.  The season from Labor Day to Thanksgiving provides many good times for sitting outside with a glass of sparkling water over ice with a wedge of lime.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of our move here.  A squadron of ducks were sunning themselves on the dock, "Boone's Dock," when we arrived.  Hence, Duckworthy Estate.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

For the Love of Landscape

Yesterday the Branco work crew was rained out at noon while fine-tuning the deck frame.  We had a gentle soaker rain all afternoon.  It's exactly what the ground needed, but it's only a beginning of nature's restoration of all the life-giving moisture she sucked out of the ground in the past ten weeks.  Today is one of the happy times to celebrate the renewal of growth in the gardens with members of our daylily club.  We're having a picnic at the finest and largest Victorian-era walking park outside of England.  I mean, of course, Tower Grove Park, near the Missouri Botanical Garden.

We're playing a "take-away" game at the picnic.  It's like musical chairs, but it involves taking away a prize donated by a member, either from the prize table or from another member who already claimed a prize you wanted.  Kathy and I are donating two of my hybrid daylily creations.

This one is named MOM'S MIRTH for the brightness and bigness of my mother's capacity for enjoying a joke.  I knew the moment I first saw it in 2000 that it was likely to be registered.  I had crossed Bill Munson's very fine COLLECTOR'S CHOICE with my favorite Whatley, ROSE IMPACT.  This 7-inch whopper is bigger and brighter than either parent.  It expresses the form of Collector's Choice and the rich color and veining of Rose Impact, picking up a good scape from both parents and hardiness from Rose Impact. It has four branches and 27 buds. It starts early and usually reblooms in the first week of July.  I call the color "popsicle cherry."  I introduced it in 2010.

The one below is DAVID AND ALAN, my first registration in 2005, also selected in 2000 after I was revived from the shock of first seeing it in a crowded section I was clearing out.  Having heard that CATHERINE NEAL was a superb parent, I took its pollen to every red, purple, and rose daylily in my collection in 1997.  One of the pod parents was Bryant Millikan's CARLOTTA, and that cross gave me this winner.

The color of this is a super-saturated cherry-violet blend, quite distinctive in intensity and hue.  It's a vigorous grower, a sun-lover for best performance, and a fine parent to boot!  It has four branches and 25 buds.  It survives, but does not really thrive, in the zone 5a garden of its namesakes, David and Alan, north of Burlington, Vermont in a micro-climate near the shore of Lake Champlain.  It perished in a Zone 4 garden about five miles inland from there.  In some other Zone 4 gardens it can live.  It does best in zones 6 and 7.  I've sent a few plants to warmer zones, but have no information on how they have done.

Plants like these two will be grown into 5-foot masses in our huge back yard, where the view from the house or the deck will require large graphic effects to create satisfaction or pleasure.  Any patterns on the flowers will not be visible from our vantage points.

Here is the view looking left from the sliding glass door of our kitchen/dining room.

The darker boards show the "Sierra" deck stain I brushed on last weekend.  If the wood dries out by tomorrow afternoon, I'll stain at least the top of the new boards.  I can get the sides done if time permits, or later, but certainly not in one afternoon.  Staining the tops will give some protection when they lay down the flooring boards.

Now, making a quarter turn to the right and looking straight out to Hidden Lake, this is the view:

There are too many small clumps of daylilies in the gardens below.  Over time, we'll reduce the size of the collection and have larger clumps with better spacing and a variety of other perennials.  In those "empty" beds to the right, I'm going to plant some peonies and some Japanese, Siberian, and Louisiana irises.
Turning another quarter turn to the right, this is the view of the seedling production and evaluation area:

To the far right is an evaluation bed so large I have named it "Nebraska."  Kathy's almost finished applying leaf mulch between the rows of selected seedlings.  Just below that bed is the first of two beds to receive transplanted seedlings I hybridized in 2010 and germinated in a dense planting in one of the lower beds.  The little transplants are mostly of good size for moving now.  They will bloom in 2012 and 2013, when I'll make final selections from this crop.

The heavy clay soil was impossible to till, having baked into brick hardness all summer.  I let the lawn sprinkler run for a three hour session on those beds and the Troy-bilt "horse" tiller made quick work of the task.  Once I broke up the soil, I tilled in two thick layers of leaf mulch to lighten it up.

As I raked the beds smooth for planting, I also made new measurements to assure no more than five feet of width for these garden strips.  The ground-breaking process had encroached by at least a foot into the grassy paths, so I marked the restored boundary with small yellow construction flags.  Once I finish planting the two beds (I am halfway through the crop now), I'll rake a light layer of topsoil over the grassy path and reseed with a fescue mix. 

Then I'll till and form the other beds so that side of the property will look neat, and I'll weed the two seedling strips closest to the lake shore.  They are choked with weeds right now.  Kathy plans to get some fall vegetable crops into those extra beds if I'm able to get them prepared soon.

It's work that couldn't be done if we weren't retired and if we didn't love to develop gardens and landscaping.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Deck at the Duckworthy Estate

These past couple of weeks have passed so quickly, and I'm glad for that.  It feels as if my life has lately been one continuous weeding session with Kathy.  We've put in three or four hours every morning to get control of runaway encroachers of every kind, from varieties of prairie grass to some kind of woody scourge that spreads like a mat, to seedlings of several kinds of trees.

This drama has been an accompaniment to the construction crew's work on our new deck.  Getting the bandboard mounted, with proper flashing, took several days.  Then came the moment of building part of the frame and supporting it with two-by-fours.  Here's a happy moment on August 22 when Carl Brandt and his helper, Tim, started to mount the diagonal corner pieces.

As quitting time approached, the three-man crew finished the other corner.  That's Steve Brandt, Carl's son and the President of Branco, with his back to the camera.  He is applying pressure to get the boards into perfect alignment.  That attention to "better than good" is the signature of Branco work.  These guys were in our house doing interior remodeling for six months, and we never worried about them overlooking a serious flaw in the original construction or the subsequent remodels of this place.

They came back to dig the holes for the concrete piers.  Last week the city inspector approved their work and they returned this week to pour concrete.

I was up early yesterday to prepare for the final assault on a garden bed I've named "Nebraska" to remind me of how big it seems when I've let the weeds take over.  I went out to get the newspaper and saw this amazing dawn picture a few minutes before the sun came up behind the line of trees across Hidden Lake.

This sight took me back about forty years to a morning in Durango, Colorado.  I was a young professor then, living in a small ranch house that we'd bought (yes, bought) through some combination of miracle and fluke while I was staying over in town after accepting the job offer at Fort Lewis College.  I'd been unable to find anything to rent or buy in two days of looking with a realtor, when a future colleague called me at the hotel to say he'd learned of house that a man wanted to unload fast for the $500 equity he had in the house.  I was able to assume his mortgage and become a homeowner, thanks to a small nest egg my wife had saved before our marriage.  One winter morning I saw such a sky and took a picture much like this one.

Kathy and I finished "Nebraska" in the mid morning, leaving me time to drive over to University City and dig the last forty selected seedlings at the Green Center, where I have been a "resident hybridizer" for eleven years.  Now that lovely chapter is closed, and all my daylilies are in one accessible spot for the first time since I began to hybridize in 1993.

This morning I planted those forty while the crew began to work on measuring and cutting notches in the first two support posts.  By the end of the afternoon, they had the support beam in place for the eight-foot wide walk-out section from the dining room.  Here's the view of the scene from the sliding door there.

We've had regular visits from a family of Canada geese all summer.  They like the seeds of weed grass and the tender shoots of things sprouting in the drainage swale and on the edge of the lake.  They have two teenage children.

 Either Dad or Mom are guarding the rear of the procession.

I was so happy to see the main support for the deck take shape that I rushed to Westlake Hardware and bought three gallons of stain, color "Sierra," because of the California connection to Kathy.  Of the three Haas girls, I am convinced that I got the one who is perfect for me, as I am for her, so she says.

Tonight at dinner I played a CD that just arrived, a reissue of a Paul Desmond jazz LP that I discovered in a New York record shop about fifty years ago.  That is a span of time I find difficult to talk about, though it seems like just last week.  It was Desmond's first recording session with the guitarist, Jim Hall.  The CD is titled "First Place Again."  I just about wore out the LP.

That's a nice image on the CD cover, but the car looks mid-50s to me.  I wish they'd used a picture of a '58 Chevy Impala or a '59 T-bird.
Another memory from almost fifty years ago is seeing Paul Desmond and the Dave Brubeck Quartet play at the Lambertville Music Circus across the Delaware River from New Hope, PA.  I sometimes went with a date, sometimes with my family.  I remember seeing Ahmad Jamal, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, and Pete Seeger there.  These musical excursions were the highlight of my summers at that time of my life.

Tonight as we enjoyed grilled salmon with sauteed spinach and some rice, all these memories came into our Now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sodder But Wiser, She Says

My Kathy can be a goofy girl, and she is also sometimes a mime.  The expressive faces are a reflection of her good-natured father, Al, who I wish I had known.  I suspect she gets her superb knack for taking pictures from him, too.  Oh, Al, I think I got the best of the Haas girls!

Kathy took these pictures the last couple of days to document the continuing saga of sod here at the Duckworthy Estate at Hidden Lake.  I've never laid sod before, so before two weeks ago I'd never made a sod pun.  Today the pun is Kathy's.  She named the picture folder "sodder but wiser."  Har har har!

Here's the work site behind our house.  Steve Brandt had graded it to assure good drainage away from the house.  In fact, he was still doing tractor work when the big rains of June came our way and spoiled the back yard by washing the loose dirt off the slope.  Today's the one month anniversary of the worst rain in living memory and it was to have been the completion date of sodding in the right side of the graded area.

This is the view of two ruined planting beds taken from "Boone's Dock" on the lake.  The piles of dirt came from my digging of the swale.  The big chunks of Highway 94 came from the swale, too.  The whole lower back yard is an asphalt and concrete mine from a time, years ago, when the previous owner requested the highway crew to drop truckloads of "fill" in his back yard to improve the slope.  He forgot to say "Clean fill," of course, and the rest is History.

I'll wheelbarrow the chunks up to the driveway and have Steve haul them away with the debris from the deck when he tears it down in two weeks.

Here's a better view of the graded area waiting for sod.

Carl Brandt told me I could lay sod up to the chimney and not be in the way of the builders when they construct a new deck. (Carl is Steve's dad, the founder of Branco Construction, and he is somewhat retired, though still active in the business.)   In the foreground of this picture is the recently-laid sod covering the new swale and its sides.

First thing to do in an area like this is establish a straight line and rake the area smooth.  Don't want any rocks or bumps.  Then lay a first course and stagger the ends of the pieces in subsequent courses.  You try to make the edges meet tightly and invisibly, but my reasonable amounts of effort, pictured above, did not make the seams invisible, though the pieces are snug.

It is a wet and dirty business no matter what the temperature. The sod is anywhere from damp to sopping wet, due to devoted watering at the nursery.  When I pick up a wet load of 12 pieces, there is water in the spare tire well of my trunk that has to be removed promptly lest the car stink.  I use my garden cart to bring four pieces at a time down to the back yard.  Any more than that and I'd risk the wheels and axle.  A sopping wet piece weighs about 40 pounds, I'd say, maybe a bit less, and I hold each piece close to me so as not to put a strain on my lower back.

I got this much done yesterday morning -- 36 pieces -- and when I took the last load, Daniel, my nurseryman, told me to feel free to come as early as 6:30 am, before they open to customers, and take what I need, paying later.  So this morning I was there at seven, and it made all the difference.  I laid 36 pieces yesterday before the heat drained me.  This morning I laid 46 pieces and heat was not what made me quit.  Tiredness was.

When Kathy took this picture at 10 am, I had a few more pieces in the car and I was ready to call it a morning.  Tomorrow I'll finish this section with about 10 more pieces cut to fit in snugly.

Upstairs at the sliding door to the deck, Lola the Poodle was wishing she could watch me better.  She feels anxiety when I leave the house, or when we both leave the house.  Where's Daddy???  Kathy takes her out onto the deck to confirm that I'm there, but then it's indoors for a black, heat-absorbing dog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

iPhone Wallpaper

When my iPhone Classic fell out of my shirt pocket and into the water at the lake shore last week, I shared a few choice words with the local turtles and with my walking companion, Lola the Poodle.  The speaker and microphone were ruined, making the phone obscenely expensive to repair, so I bought a new one for a quarter of the repair cost.

I have minimal needs of my phone and didn't need all the razzmatazz of the iPhone 4, so I bought the 3Gs, which sounds like some kind of sports car.  The new iPhone software comes with new wallpaper choices and none of the old that I liked so well.  Thus, I searched the web for wallpaper options and found so many that I decided to jump in and make some of my own.

The water lily with cloud reflection and water ripples is my current favorite.  The Missouri Botanical Garden offered many photo inspirations last week, so here are a few more.

This is an inverted reflection of a window in a lily pool.  I turned it upside down to enhance the strangeness.

This is Rudbeckia "Indian Summer," I think.  I thought it would be much too busy for a background, but it has a certain charm when used as phone wallpaper.

It's really hard to make a landscape picture work as wallpaper.  Lake water helps, because you can place the water under the bottom row of icons so that the focal point is not obscured by them.

This closeup of foliage on a Smoke Tree becomes little more than interesting texture behind the icons. I think it, too, works.

Several of these landscapes are keepers because the photo without the icons is so beautiful.  Can't let go of them.

Here I've placed grass at the bottom where the main icons rest, with lots of "reflection water" to occupy most of the screen and a beautiful bridge at the top.

I did a version of that one with no grass, more water, and a larger bridge.

This shot of a concrete shrine is more about the textures of trees.

Finally, this shot with two lily blossoms probably could have been made more effective if I had zoomed out when I framed the picture.  I didn't take alternate shots of this subject, so I'm left with an also-ran.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Completing the Landscape Picture

On May 25 I was happy with the way the landscaping was shaping up in the back yard.  We had a heavy rain, and I saw how the water wanted to flow across the garden.  I thought we could live with this.  I would just raise the bed a little to catch the water, and I'd plant Japanese and Siberian Irises there to enjoy the wet soil.

But then we had some grading done to ease the slope, and some soil was smoothed onto the slope to reduce the angle of descent.  The plan was to stabilize it with straw and then seed it.  However, some big rains changed our plans.  This is what the same area looked like on June 18.

Intense rains brought sheets of water down the right side of our property, washing the loose soil across the near flower bed and leaving a 2-inch thick layer on the grass and the circular bed beyond.
I sent this drainage plan for a swale to our contractor that day.

Even heavier rains came the next weekend, making any work with a tractor out of the question.  And so I began to dig the swale by hand.  Yesterday I completed the task of laying sod into the swale and began to fill in the picture on the sides.  This morning I prepared the area next to the swale in the two flower beds and laid sod to create a good mowing and walking path on either side.  Here's a photo I took before dinner tonight.

I've drawn the outline on the area I covered today and yesterday.  I'll lay sod on the bare rectangle on the far side of the swale and the small bare spot on the near side tomorrow morning.  There's more to do on the upper part of the swale, but there's an inconvenient growth of real grass and weed grass in that zone, so I'm going to spray that with Roundup and let the heat wave eliminate what would otherwise require an hour or so of brute force with a straight-edged shovel.

Here's the view of the upper part from the deck.

The swale extends another twenty feet up the side of the house, and there's another twelve feet of ground needing sod beyond the beginning of the depression.  That's part of the Roundup zone.  For the next few days, while the Roundup does its work, I'll try tilling the broken dirt of the seedling beds beyond the swale.  The heat should be drying it out so that I can use a tiller.  If things are favorable, I'll till in leaf compost and rake it smooth to eliminate the rough look.

It has been hard to feel any passion for daylily hybridizing when so few plants have set seed pods even on favorable days.  I think their energy is diverted to surviving a late move to this property.  I doubt that I'll have more than a few dozen pods for almost two thousand attempts.  But that is the way it goes with living plants.  Sometimes you have to be grateful that they survive the torments of heat and lousy soil to build themselves up for beauty next year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's not a water slide for the ducks

Today I laid the 110th piece of sod on the top half of the swale I dug to give the neighborhood storm runoff a direct route to the lake, rather than the "natural" route over our gardens in the back yard.

On the far side of the swale, I'm extending the sod to the existing grass, covering some bare spots that our contractor created while grading to assure drainage away from the house.  He got things pretty well smoothed out and contoured when the worst rains in decades hit our area and washed most of the loose soil on the slope down over the gardens.

On the near side of the swale, we're leaving the ground bare until the deck is replaced in three weeks.  Kathy's going to cover that bare spot with straw to help deal with the slipperiness of the clay when even a little water gets onto it.

I was driving home about a month ago when one of those epic rains hit around lunch time, and I got to our street just as the worst had passed by, so I saw the water run off the higher properties in sheets, across the street, and onto my front lawn.  On the right side, the sheets of water ran over my two curved daylily beds and on down the hill, carving a scale model of some lovely canyon into the bare soil that covered a recently-buried extension of the rain gutter system.

Another big storm at the end of June readjusted my landscaping priorities.  I was going to try to get the sea of mud off the grass in the back yard until that rain showed me the folly of attempting any cleanup before taking care of the source of all the mess.

So I spent three or four work sessions with my spade and carved out a curved depression about 33 inches wide.  We had a palette of sod -- 100 pieces -- delivered last Thursday morning, moved it to the big bare spot behind the house and watered it well as I fussed over fine-tuning the contours where the swale would make a slight S-curve.  We started to lay in the pieces on Saturday and Sunday, took Monday off because of killer heat, and finished the 100 pieces yesterday afternoon when the temperature and humidity both dropped in the afternoon.

This morning I drove the two miles to the nursery and bought 10 more pieces.  That's about the capacity of the trunk of my car, and I wouldn't want to put much more weight in there anyway, because they were dripping wet from irrigation.  Before I went there, I used my straight-edged shovel to scrape off enough dirt in my work area so the sod pieces would have their outer edges nestled into the existing lawn without sticking above the soil level and thereby drying out.  I dug and scraped for an hour, cooled off inside for a while, put on a dry tee shirt, and picked up the sod.  Because of the need to cut various pieces to fit, it took another hour to set in the ten pieces and then more time to set up a sprinkler for maximum coverage.  In short, it was a morning's work to finish the far edge of the swale with ten pieces of sod.

I can lay down about 20 pieces in an hour if there is not much cutting to do, but only 10 pieces if I have to make every piece fit into the "puzzle" of the previous work session.

The top part will require an extension of about twelve feet after I lay sod onto the lower half of the swale, but for now I've got the top even with the bare spot beyond it, so water will run onto and not around the grassy beginning of the "water slide" for ducks.

Tonight before sunset I'll go out and improve the slope and contour of the lower part so that I'll be ready to lay more sod in the morning if it doesn't rain.

At the moment I'm running a slow drip hose on my new Redbud trees on a berm on the right side.  The berm holds moisture pretty well, but the trees are looking stressed.  I should have done the drip line whether they seemed to need it or not.  That's my self-indictment of the day and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

There are Limits

There are limits to what you can imagine.  I never imagined this daylily when I crossed SERENGETI SUMMER with QUEST FOR ATLANTIS.  I didn't know what would happen, but wanted to find out.  Serengeti Summer is a radiant orange and yellow blend, standing tall, full-formed, ruffled, something Van Sellers shouted about, and so I up and bought it from him.

Quest for Atlantis came as a bonus plant from Bonnie Holley.  It's a unique orange daylily by Jeff Corbett, who lives in the vicinity of the Holleys in northern California.  It bloomed well here, grew as if born here, so I thought I'd see what would happen if I crossed orange on orange, fine on fine.

If fate should decree that this plant will only make four or five flowers in a season, I will take them all!

There are limits to what you can imagine.  Here is what made me think of this theme.  Kathy and I just had lunch at Chimi's, our current favorite Mexican restaurant nearby.  I ordered Burritos Verde.  I wanted to recall my favorite lunch from 35 years ago in Santa Fe.  I'd drive down Cerillos Road from the College of Santa Fe, where I worked, to Flora's Mexican Cafe, and I'd invariably order a beef burito with green chile sauce.  In Santa Fe, the green sauce is a light green chile stew, with little bits of pork, potatoes, and diced green chiles.

I asked our waiter if their green sauce had diced chiles.  He said no, it was a concoction involving tomatillos, which is a world away from green chiles.  He asked if I would like to try an off-menu hot relish they make for themselves back in the kitchen, invested with jalapenos and habaneros.  I opted for that and used it sparingly as a topping on my burritos.

The basic burrito flavor at Chimi's was a dead ringer for the burritos I remembered at Flora's, but the tomatillo sauce was tasteless and the habanero relish overpowered everything with burn.

But then, I think the truth is, you can't imagine what I'm talking about if you have not savored an authentic Northern New Mexico beef burrito with green chile sauce at Flora's Cafe in the same era I did, and perhaps at the same age and in the same frame of mind about flavor, location, air, and sky.

There is a limit to what you can imagine.

Enjoy this seedling of mine while I spin a tale that came to me some years ago and gained an embellishment or two over dinner with friends the other night.  The seedling is BRIDGETON FINESSE x TOWARD THE BLUE.  Bridgeton Finesse went to charm school, while Toward the Blue is a painter trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, dressed in worn bluejeans and a black tee shirt, smoking a cigarette while riding a Harley on the Interstate.

So imagine this:

The woods around you are eerily quiet, as quiet at the feathers on the owl that is watching you.  You don't see the owl, and you don't know what you're doing in the woods.  You just woke up there, standing up, with a weak flashlight in your right hand, and you are moving down a sandy dirt path wide enough for an old car, toward what you don't know, but you can tell you're descending, and it's a little chilly and damp.  The flashlight is hardly any good to you.  The battery is about shot; the weak light flickers, and you're spooked by the absence of any sound.  In fact, you realize you cannot hear your feet and can't tell whether you are wearing shoes, sandals, or bedroom slippers, and you can't see your feet because the flashlight just quit.  You can't see the sky, and you don't know what time it is or how you got here.

The owl that is watching you specializes in patience.  His meditative state infuses the creatures of the woods with blissful, if instinctive, purpose, but tonight they make no sound, and neither do you.  It is as if all of creation is holding its breath in a moment charged with "next."  You stop short of the thing in the path that will trip you because you can't see well enough to continue.  It's not exactly pitch black...there is some smidgeon of light from the firmament above, which you can't see because of dense overgrowth, but you have a vague sense of being not just in a woods, but in a space through which you can move without walking into spider webs or thorny things.  There may or may not be horse droppings, bear dung, or cow pies on the path ahead; you can't see ahead, and I simply don't know.  It's possible, though, that squishy, smelly things of some kind are on the path.

What sort of squishy, smelly things, I wonder.  Corpses?  Old burritos tossed away by urgent high school lovers earlier in the day when the summer sun streamed through the pines overhead and warmed first her bare skin and then his?  Although I have suggested it's summer, it may not be.  Maybe it's a warm time in April, or maybe it's Indian Summer.  You don't know, because in addition to not knowing how you got there or what time it is, you don't know what season of the year it is or, even, where it is.  For all you know, you could be in the piney woods outside of New Egypt, New Jersey as easily as you could be on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in western Illinois outside of Edwardsville or in the woods on either side of the Current River in Southern Missouri near Doniphan.  If you haven't been in any of those places, how in the world can you imagine what scene I've set for you here, or her?

Who was she?  I mean the urgent high school girl who felt the warmth of the sun on her bosom as her boyfriend lifted her tricot top off her, having lowered the top of his convertible.  You may be or have been her classmate now or decades ago.  The odd thing about this night is that you don't know the time, the place, or even how old your memories are.  They could be, all of them, only minutes old, and you could, possibly, be the urgent boy who hastened to get half-naked with the winsome high school girl hours or decades earlier.  All you really know is that it's dark and quiet, and what I know, but won't tell you, is that it's exactly as quiet as the feathers on the owl that is watching you decide whether to take another step down the path.

For the life of you, you don't know why the thought of a bare-breasted girl and shirtless boy in the front seat of a convertible flitted through the confusion that is your present moment.  Wondering if her eyes are hazel or brown, and if the boy is her first love or one of many, you make the fateful choice of continuing down the path, and you trip and fall.  I'm sorry I can't imagine what happens next.  I have been distracted by the idea of the convertible.  Is it his father's or hers?  Is it nearly out of gas, and will they have to walk out of the woods rather than drive?  Was the owl asleep during their half-hour in the dappled shade (of pine or of oak I can't say)?  Was that a question or a statement, or both?

You have fallen, and your wrist hurts bad.  You're not in shock, but you're confused.  The entire area is as quiet as a feather, and you didn't even hear the sound of your own self-pitying groan when you sprained or broke your wrist.  Now, as you rise, you realize the path is flat and you don't know which way you came or went.  For all you know, something will make you stumble and fall in the dark if you move on, and yet you feel an urgent need to move out of this situation to something you can grasp with your mind, as your sprained or broken hand won't be grasping anything at all for the next four to seven weeks, depending.  The owl that has been watching you is smiling as he, or she, remembers the song he or she heard from the convertible's radio earlier in the day or century, when the boy and girl enjoyed the feeling of skin on skin, something about "every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Song Triumphant - The Hybrid Daylily

The past two weeks, I've been paying close attention to daylilies that were transplanted from an unfavorable situation to a favorable situation, but in very unfavorable conditions!  Oi!  I have hoped that the daylilies that I seemed to have stressed to the point of death would, in fact, revive.  And, lo, to use a biblical expression, most of them have this week.

This is a daylily named SONG TRIUMPHANT, living up to its name after playing dead for two weeks.  It had arrived at the wrong address and sat in moist conditions in its box for two weeks before I planted it in a perfect spot.  It sat there, just a tube of dead plant tissue for two weeks.  A few days ago, I broke open the tube of dead tissue and saw some living tissue within.  Today this is what it looks like.

There are two dozen or so daylilies in the same fix, and all but a few are showing regrowth now.

I have known that daylilies are tough plants.  In 1996 I shipped my Vermont daylily collection to my temporary address in St. Louis in the month of May.  When I dug them in Vermont, a snow flurry was discouraging my work.  When they arrived a few days later, St. Louis was in a rainy season, and the clay soil where I lived was unworkable.  So I arrayed all the plants bare-root on the concrete floor of the garage and let them sit there for more than a week.  The garage wasn't super hot, so they didn't cook, but they dehydrated over time.  I thought about a story I heard about an international shipment that was in the box for six weeks because of a problem.

When I finally got my plants into the clay, they took a long while to revive, but revive they all did, except for one, which died after its brief revival.  It was just played out, I guess.

This month the problems of moving plants were more serious.  The heat was in the 90s.  I was digging them by the dozens and leaving them on the ground inside plastic grocery bags, exposed to the heat.  Occasionally I'd move a batch to the trunk of my car, which sat in the shade.  Within a day, I'd plant them here, also in high heat, but in moist soil, and I watered them in and kept them in wet conditions.

The plants in the most serious trouble were the ones that lay in plastic bags on the ground too long, both at the digging end and at the planting end.  Several still look quite lifeless and hopeless, though all of them felt viable when I planted them.

The unfavorable conditions at the digging end began with the ultra-close planting last August when I moved them into temporary quarters.  At the time, I thought I'd get them all out in April, but April was a rainy month here, and I didn't get to them until the end of May.  By that time, the "early risers" in that bed had put up enough foliage to completely shade the late risers.

Many daylilies can't tolerate dense shade, so a lot of my plants regressed to pitiful shadows of their former selves.  Some of them were so meager that I put them into an "intensive care" area of the garden where there was no chance of competition for light or nutrients.  Most are reviving now.  Some are probably lost.

I lament the losses, but they are so few in number that I celebrate the general toughness of the daylily.  It's hard to kill them.  Better not push your luck, though.