Thursday, May 16, 2013

In which the cherry blossoms blow, and I covet paint samples

The blooms on our cherry pear trees were especially lovely this year. The white blooms stayed open for a full week, filling the air with their perfume, before they started to fall. There were so many petals that they covered the ground with deep drifts of petals and filled the air like our yard was a romantic movie set or a wedding.

My local hardware store clearanced a whole season's worth of paint samples. There are hundreds of little 2 oz containers of paint, enough to paint a swatch on your wall to see if you really like the color, OR, just enough to paint a dinged and scratched and worn object in a lovely color and breathe new life into it. I restrained myself and only bought seven different colors. I've set to work priming, painting, and sealing the decrepit and mismatched flower pots that I've accumulated across the years.

This is not a pear tree. It is our crab apple tree.
The blossoms are pink, and lovely.

We found an electric hedge trimmer. I'm quite excited about it. I have to remember to be careful in how I use it, lest I fall into the trap of "oops, this side is uneven, I'll just trim it down to match.... oops, now this side is uneven, I'll just trim it... oops...".  I took it for a spin this afternoon and finally beat our rhododendron hedge into submission. Now instead of looking line a furry blob, it looks like a respectable shrub. Granted, I need some practice, and it's entirely possible that there's a divot or two not shown in these pictures, but I'm really unreasonably proud that I did this well my first time out of the gate.

Before! Looking pretty shaggy.

After! Moderately acceptable, and definitely neater!
(Incidentally, hedge trimmers also work well to cut down thick clumps of crab grass that our vintage push-reel mower was having trouble with.)

A running count of weeds pulled so far this spring : 7507

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In which we consider ways in which we are willing to expend effort in yardwork, and ways in which we are not.

Happy Birthday to my wonderful mother-in-law, Elizabeth Claire!

Liam's Grandpa Jack is recovering very nicely from his heart surgery (a scheduled surgery, not an emergency procedure). He's up on his feet, and was cooking at the stove with no hesitation, shooing people away when they hovered and offered to help.

Yardwork is consuming all of our free time these days. We're anxious not to let our home become that house on the block where it looks like the owner has given up. You all know that house, the one where colored bottles and figurines and "collectibles" fill every window, where cheap statuary has filled the property, where dandelions compete with tall crab grass among the dust. The neighborhood children avoid it because of the neglected vibe it gives off, and the adults find their eyes sliding past it in embarrassment. We're not looking to be the best landscaped house on the street, but looking like we care, like we're trying even though we have no idea what we're doing, that would be nice. But we also have very little interest in maintaining a picture perfect grassy lawn, considering all of the effort that it requires compared to the reward. To that end, we're carefully considering every landscaping decision in order to achieve a property that pretty much takes care of itself.
The look that we're not going for.
Frustrated with our current lawn, which is patchy and scrubby with large areas of brown, we've decided to seed down microclover among the grass to fill in the gaps. Clover will provide lush green coverage (for appearances) and provides the environmental advantages of fixing the nitrogen levels in the soil, requiring less water, and shading the soil to keep nutrients and moisture from bleaching out in the sun. Perhaps best of all, it requires less mowing than grass.
I started raking up the dead grass and spring detritus in preparation of putting down lime and the clover seed. I've never done that before. I've always considered it a waste of effort. I'm shocked at how much nicer a lawn looks without all of the dead grass laying around! "Why," I said, "it looks so nice now! Now I see why people put in the effort of raking it up in the spring!" Pulling weeds up is easier too, now that I don't have to fight a mat of dead vegetation. Apparently it cuts down on ticks, too, which like to hide in leaf litter and dead grass.

(I got my first tick bite this weekend. I had just mentioned to Liam that morning how I had never had a tick on me before, and how bugs seem to leave me alone more than other people (which is fortunate as chemical insect repellents applied to my skin always leave me feeling ill). During our regular after-yardwork tick check I looked down to see one on my stomach. All logical reason left my brain and I started flailing at it and shrieking. Liam came to my rescue with rubbing alcohol to drown it and tweezers to carefully remove it, stopping me from ripping it out of my skin and possibly leaving part of its jaw on my body. Gross. New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of Lyme Disease in the country, which has me looking for natural tick repellents. I've started wearing geranium oil when I'm out in the yard, but I can't tell if it's working as I don't have a high rate of past tick passengers to compare it to.)

While I spent the weekend getting a sunburn out in the yard, Liam hiked Mt. Rattlesnake with Rob and the dog, pulled out all of our patio furniture from the shed and attic, and built a screen for our front storm-door. Why did I think that replacing screens was difficult, or something specialists did?! Two sets of hands make it easier, but actually inserting new screen into the screen frame took less than five minutes (building the frame to fit right into the door took much longer). It made us pause and look around at all of the small tears and gaps in our window screens, considering the possibilities.
Nashua is six months old, 48 pounds, and a terror embracing his rebellious "teenage" phase by gleefully disobeying all of the commands he followed two weeks ago. He likes to disobey until I've had enough and sentence him to a timeout in his kennel, whereupon he'll immediately lay down where he is and look innocent. "Me? Kennel? Oh, no, kennels are for sleeping and Bad Dogs. Look at what a Good Dog I am! I'm just laying here, chewing on a bone, not... doing... anything..." This is a blatant lie, and because I can't back down without becoming a doggie pushover (which leads to more disobedience once he's learned that he can get away with it), this usually turns into me picking him up under his armpits (legpits?) and hauling him into the crate as he resists and howls about how he CAN'T GO BACK TO JAIL! His new favorite outdoor toy is the garden hose, both because it dispenses the Magic Water of Fun, and because he enjoys watching us try to catch him before we think to stomp of the hose and restrict his movements. When we fill his kiddie pool with one inch of water he spends all of his time "digging" in it, splashing water everywhere. When we fill his kiddie pool with six inches of water he growls and bucks and stomps and plunges like a crazed dolphin, splashing water three feet high as he tries to bite it.

A running count of weeds pulled so far this spring: 6549

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Things I'm Learning About Gardening: Part I

Things I have learned this week about gardening and landscaping:

  • Gardeners cuts blooms and branches for their tables not only because they look lovely, but because pruning the plants keeps them in check and keeps them healthy. This has literally never occurred to me. 
  • Forsythia branches turn into roots where they touch the ground, and the bush expands in this manner into a snarled mess. This is why I had difficulty mowing the lawn around these bushes last year.
  • Forsythia is not pronounced "For Cynthia". I don't know why I put an 'n' in there, but I think it sounds nice.
  • If you rake your lawn in the spring, you can pull up the mat of dead grass left over from last year's lawn.
  • Take before and after pictures before you go at an overgrown tree or shrub, so you can see how much work you did, and admire how much better it looks.
  • Stone is expensive. I'm not sure what I expected, but I just want a few stepping stones and most places want you to purchase a whole pallet of the nice kinds.
  • The dog is really interested in digging in freshly tilled soil.
  • The dog is also determined to steal my root digging tool, convinced that it is a magical stick that is ideal for playing Keep Away. He tries to be sneaky, which is quite adorable because he's terrible about being sneaky.
  • Spending two hours pulling dandelions is akin to two hours of squats. I have muscles screaming at me in places I didn't even know I had muscles.
  • If you put a "Free!" sign out in front of your pile of limbs and branches, teenagers planning a bonfire will haul away your pile for free.
The annual war against dandelions has begun. In the last four days I have pulled over 2000 weeds from the yard and garden (mostly dandelions, but there are lots of tiny maple saplings too), in a bid to reclaim my lawn from the anarchy it was allowed to enjoy in years past. Counting helps me power through the tedium, and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Last week was World Book Night. This year was the first year I participated as a Book Giver. I chose the Penacook Soup Kitchen as my location to hand out books. I was so nervous! I was certain that I would be rejected every time I offered someone a novel. I shouldn't have worried, though. I handed out my twenty books in under five minutes. Some of the people were already starting to read their books before I had even left. This week I'm trying to find homes for the extra books left over from the bookstore.