Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gardening From The Deck

As I sat out on the deck this morning enjoying the morning sunshine before it got way too hot to sit there, I contemplated the flower beds and their sad state this fine June morning.  While I have been laid up recovering from knee surgery, my garden has survived but could use some tender loving care from the gardener.  Trouble is, I'm sort of a fair weather gardener.  I love gardening in the spring and the fall but pretty much quit altogether in summer. 

In the spring, walking the yard is such a pleasure.  Everything is so green and I get to exclaim over all the new sprouts that show the perennials made it through another winter.  There are so many surprises and new life in the spring garden.  With a little rain now and then, you do not have to lug the hose around or worry about getting the sprinkler system going and timed just right. The "growing" takes care of itself.  There are lots of weeds sprouting too but you can pretty much stay ahead of them if you do a little here and there and keep an eye on things. 

In the fall, it is cooling down again and the garden is full of seed heads and the finches that love to eat the small seeds.  And putting the garden to bed for the winter is a labor of love.  The only chore to dislike is raking and bagging or shredding all the leaves from the big oaks and sycamores on the property.  At first, it is kind of fun to rake leaves - a chore that comes with the passing of another season.  But after about an hour, your shoulders ache and your back pulls from hoisting those heavy bags out to the curb and the joy of raking leaves disappears like morning fog on a sunny day.  So that is the time to hire a kid from the neighborhood to take care of the leaves while you plant the daffodil and tulip bulbs that come in the giant economy box that you got sucked into buying once again.  A gardener is a sucker for pretty tulip pictures on a box of bulbs. Show me a red tulip in the fall and I salivate with the thought of seeing those babies pop up in the spring.  I have gotten better on that.  I have learned that the squirrels and other critters rarely leave many tulip bulbs in the ground but they do not like daffodils so much so I pore over the bulb catalogs for unusual daffodils and limit my selections in the fall....okay, I try to limit my selections in the fall.  But that is difficult to do.

But back to being a fair weather gardener.  I absolutely hate working outside in summer.  It is just too hot and there are other things to do.  Well, I do some gardening in the summer.  Why, I have no trouble at all picking a ripe juicy tomato from the plant and eating it right there in the yard in summer.  But that only can work if I have kept the horn worms off the plants and picking worms off tomato plants in the heat is not fun at all.  And, after all, those horn worms are the catepillars of a beautiful moth and who am I to deprive a moth of its chance to survive and reproduce another summer?  As you would expect with this attitude, I do not get too many tomatoes to be eating fresh in the garden.  I now grown cherry tomatoes in a pot on the deck.  If it gets too hot to take care of them, I can scoot back inside where it is cool.  Not much work in that.

So, you can see my problem.  I was not able to get out and garden in the spring this year and it is still several months until it is cool enough to garden in the fall.  So I sit on the deck and contemplate the flower beds and all the chores that need to be done out there.  The roses bloomed beautifully but now need to be dead-headed and probably sprayed for black spot.  They are doing much better since they get more sun now that the neighbors have taken out the hickory nut tree on their side of the fence.  I had mixed emotions about that.  I am a total tree hugger and loved that tree and the shade it threw on the deck on summer afternoons but it did keep my roses from getting the 6+ hours of direct sunshine that they needed to fend off all the fungal diseases roses are prone to get when growing in partial shade.  And the squirrels did love the hickory nuts produced in abundance by the tree.  Turns out the nuts were the problem.  The nuts dropped (or were dropped by the squirrels) onto their roof all night long while our neighbors tried to sleep.  At some point, enough was enough so the tree had to go.  Since it wasn't our tree, I did not have to wrestle with the decision to save the tree and keep spraying the roses or let the tree go and give the roses and the rest of the flowers more sunshine each day.

I am easily distracted it seems so my thoughts move from the roses to the sight of a blue jay taking a bath in the ceramic pot in the top part of our pond.  Okay, it is more of a water feature than a pond but it does satisfy our need for water in the garden and gives all the critters a place to drink and bathe.  And this morning, a beautiful blue jay was enjoying a good bath in the pond pot.  And, of course, the hoytunia at the top edge of the pond has gotten out of control and just a little too high so I could only partially enjoy watching the blue jay frolic and splash and wallow in the water all over the place.  If you have never seen a bird take a good bath, you are missing out on one of life's most wonderful simple pleasures.  The birds just go a little wild when they find themselves in 1-2 inches of cool water and it appears that they cannot contain their pure joy at being in the cool water. 

But once again I am reminded that there are chores to be done - that dratted hoytunia will take over if you let it.  But also once again, I find that I can easily distract myself from the thought of the chores that need to be done.  I think of all the birds in the world and how much I love watching (and going out looking for) birds.  I am now reminded that they are descended from dinosaurs.  For those who love reading about dinosaurs and lament that they are extinct, I would remind them that the dinosaurs are still here - they just evolved into smaller and prettier and, perhaps, more manageable forms.  I read an article in National Geographic magazine recently about feathers and the article explored the questions related to dinosaurs and feathers and how flying came about.  The interesting part for me was that fossils are now being found that actually show the dinosaur bones with quills and feathers clearly imprinted on the stones.  So many dinosaurs had the feathers all the time.  Scientists are having to re-create all those dinosaur pictures to show fur and feathers and quills.  And they have discovered ways to identify the colors from the fossils so that they now know (speculate?) that the dinosaurs might have been as colorful and pretty as our backyard birds are now.   And probably for the same reasons - to attract females or to distract predators.  Fascinating.  (National Geographic, February 2011, pgs 32-57, The Long Curious Extravagant Evolution of Feathers)

So as I sit here on the deck contemplating the chores I do not want to do, I also find myself imagining a time when dinosaurs walked the earth and I imagine a great big one - a something or another "saurus" lopping on down to the estuary that is now the Chesapeake Bay - maybe down by Calvert Cliffs where fossils are found these days - and my dinosaur peers cautiously around and contemplates the cool water on a hot tropical type summer day and he looks here and there to make sure one of the big ole ugly boys with big big teeth is not watching to make a meal of some smaller unsuspecting dinosaur.  And my guy tiptoes quietly into the water and finds a good spot and settles himself belly deep into the water.  Ahh! Then with all the joy of a child or maybe a blue jay, he dips his head repeatedly into the water and feels the cooling liquid rush down his neck and over his big ole back.  Then before you know it, he is spashing and dunking and jumping and dancing around like a crazy one - enjoying the best bath of the day.  Now, that would be a sight to behold - a dinosaur three stories tall taking just a little bird bath.  Yep, that would be somethng to see.