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."