Landscaper Woes: Part Two

The second landscaper arrived in a battered truck, one door of which had a massive dent roughly the shape of Australia. A broken window was held together with a cunning arrangement of duct tape and plastic sheeting.

At the back of the truck was a ferocious dog of dubious lineage. The landscaper, Hiram I. Swindell, was a gloomy looking man with a hacking cough–helped along by an ever present cigarette. The cough was rich sounding and productive. It started innocently enough with a slight wheeze, then degenerated into a deep rumbling sound. This soon turned into a frenzied sputtering with a gasping Hiram doubled over. This awesome sound stopped traffic in two counties.

Hiram set fire to another cigarette and introduced me to his “designer” Etta Mae–and their grandchild, a small snuffling child whose nose needed attention. Etta Mae measured the area and jotted the result down on a scrap of paper; she conferred with Hiram. The estimate was very reasonable and Hiram offered an extra 10% discount if the total amount was paid. I accepted, for hadn’t my mother always told me that a penny saved is a penny earned? Looking less gloomy than when he’d arrived, Hiram pocketed the check and handed me a card which said,

El Cheapo Landscaping/Sewer Maintenance

Thousands of SATISFIED Customers.

Before they left, I emphasized the importance of being careful with the sprinkler system.

“No sweat,” said Hiram, puffing on his cigarette.

“No problem,” said Etta Mae.

The hound barked and the child sniffed. He, Etta Mae, and the child whose nose now needed urgent attention got into the truck. Hiram promised to start on Monday. I believed him…

2 to 4 weeks later, the crew arrived; the “foreman” with a long ponytail and a beefy man with snakes tattooed on his bulging biceps. They both wore T-shirts that announced their preference for a certain brand of beer. They embarked on the most important part of the project–an early lunch. 3 hours later, they returned feeling refreshed from their watery “lunch.” I reminded them to be careful with the sprinkler system.

“No sweat,” burped the “foreman.”

“You betcha,” grunted the beefy one. He set to work with a vengeance, using a sort of rototiller to rip out the lawn while the so-called foreman studied “the plan.”

Two hours later, I discovered that they had ripped out not only part of the sprinkler system but also 3 valuable shrubs.

They headed for their truck saying they’d be back in the morning “to fix things up.” I never saw them again.

DIY Project – “Fixing” Outdoor Chair that “Rocks”

by Mark Malarkey

Tools needed: saw, sandpaper, heavy file.

  1. Saw four inches off three of the legs to even out. File legs, sandpaper them. Front leg uneven.
  2. Saw five inches off front leg, file, sandpaper. Two back legs uneven.
  3. Saw three inches off front legs. Still uneven.
  4. Saw two inches off all damn legs. Chair seems to be one foot lower than other chair.
  5. I know! Attach thick cardboard to legs to stabilize. Wind duct tape around cardboard, use glue to make sure cardboard is firmly attached. Chair still “rocks.” *%$&.
  6. Buy new chair. DIY Outdoor Chair

Perennials: A Picturesque Portrait

Breathes there anyone with a soul so dead,

Who would not admire a perennial bed?

Most of us start gardening too late in life. When we are young and sprightly, we have too many other interests. The middle years are taken up with furthering our careers and/or raising families, so that by the time we should be hitting our stride, our stride has turned into a totter; bones are creaking and backs are aching. The spirit might be willing, but the knees are weak. However, it’s never too late to start. Procrastinating about doing a project is like looking at a wheelbarrow; nothing will happen until we start pushing.

Planning a Large New Border:

Study the photos in gardening books then choose the layout and the plants you most admire within them. Like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, we must use the “little grey cells” in order to choose the best plants. Picture this large border as a stage and like Cecil B. de Mille you’ll soon be directing a cast of hundreds.

Digging:

Roses are reddish,

Violets are bluish,

But they won’t grow in soil that’s glueish!

Gardening is 10% preparation and 90% perspiration; most of the latter comes from digging.

  1. Make sure the soil is soaked but not soggy.
  2. The tines of the fork should go in the full length. Large clumps should be broken up with the back of the fork or spade.
  3. Spread large amounts of compost, peat, and manure then dig again. The soil will become friable. (For a vivid example of this, read page 39 of Too Late for Regrets.)

Planting:

Place the plants in the area where the holes are to be dug. Move them around until you’re happy with the result. Container plants bought from the nursery might have become rootbound; tease out some of the roots and spread them out before planting. Water thoroughly, and make sure that any weeds appearing are eradicated promptly.

Sun-Loving Perennials

  • Aurinia (Basket of Gold) – low growing, mid-spring
  • Rock Cress (Arabis) – showy racemes of pure white, late spring. Ideal for rock gardens.
  • Centranthus Ruber (Jupiter’s Beard) – has upright stems bearing fluffy clusters of pink flowers. 2 feet, needs staking.
  • Rudbeckia (Goldsturm) – Black-eyed Susan. Stunning orange flowers with a black center. Shasta daisy makes a spectacular splash of white, mid-summer.
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed) – “Early Sunrise,” “Sunray,” charming yellow flowers at the end of wiry stems, 1-2 feet
  • Heliopsis (Helianthus) – False sunflower, long blooming, 2-3 feet. Plant at rear.
  • Phlox Paniculata (Garden Phlox) – “Eva Cullum,” exquisite clusters of deep pink flowers on sturdy stems, stake. 2 feet, mid-late summer.
  • Aster Frikartii – lilac daisy-like flowers, late summer
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Achillea (Yarrow) "Paprika"

Achillea (Yarrow) “Paprika”

Aster Novae-Angliae

Aster Novae-Angliae

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

DIY Project – How to Fix a Lattice Fence

by Mark Malarkey

I woke up last Saturday to find that during the night, a gust of wind had blown down part of the lattice. The wife said she’d call the fence people on Monday, though secretly I’d intended to fix the fence myself. The wife and the kiddies were going to visit her mother (great news), which meant she’d be gone for at least 7 hours. This would give me plenty of time to fix the fence without all that nagging and advice.

With the little lady out of the way, I inspected the damage–which seemed worse than I’d initially thought. Two of the posts were leaning and the wood of the lattice was badly splintered. Not to worry, I’d soon have this sucker ship-shape. I made a list of what I’d need:

Quick dry cement, spade, saw, industrial strength glue, hammer, and nails.

I assembled the tools–hammer, spade, saw…where’s the ^*%$ing saw? I searched through the garage (what are we doing with all this STUFF?) but found only a missing chisel under a pile of National Geographic magazine (1978). I eventually found the saw under a pine tree where someone had left it; it was rusty and unusable.

I immediately jumped into my car and in my hurry, backed into the *^#%ing mailbox. I left the debris on the sidewalk, sped to Sam’s Surplus Tools/Body Piercing Parlor, and bought quick-dry cement and a new saw.

Back at the house, I dug around the fence posts, mixed the cement in an old salad bowl I found in the kitchen, then poured the cement into the holes. The posts still seemed to lean slightly, but not to worry, they’d probably settle. I used the saw to saw one of the badly splintered lattice; the rest were easy to stick together with glue and duct tape. I fixed  the missing part of the two lattices with pieces of wood I found in the garage.

One panel looked a bit crooked, but was easily fixed with more duct tape. That’s when a large splinter pierced the palm of my hand…

When I got back from the emergency room, the little woman had returned–and surprise, surprise, her mother (that sour-faced bag) was with her. They were inspecting the fence, I could see that they were impressed with the work I’d done. The wife was holding the salad bowl; I suddenly remembered it had been a wedding gift from her Autie Irma.

It was obvious I’d saved a bundle by fixing the fence myself. So I can only say to all of you do-it-yourselfers: go for it, you’ll save a lot of money!

Repaired Lattice Fence

Repaired Lattice Fence

Annuals – Gems of the Garden

To plant is human–to succeed is divine. 

Annuals are indispensable for filling in gaps between perennials. They are obliging plants and will bloom until the first frost.

Gertrude Jekyll, doyenne of English gardeners, introduced an imaginative way of using annuals; she arranged annuals within the same color wheel. For example, she used various tints of blue and purple, or different shadings of pink. (See Victoria’s border “Pink Magic” in Too Late for Regrets, page 251.)

A circle around a tree or birdbath can be stunning.

The phrase “be fruitful and multiply” in the Book of Genesis applies to perennials; annuals, on the other hand, complete their entire life cycle in one year, focusing all their energy into making seeds, which is why deadheading is important in prolonging the flowering period.

While the blooming period of perennials is three or four weeks, annuals bloom more quickly and for a longer time. Although their stay in the garden is ephemeral, it’s brilliant while it lasts.

In colder climates, annuals brought from the cozy environment of the nursery should be hardened off for a few days before being planted. For example, one should bring them indoors at night. If perennials are the batter of the cake, economizing on compost is like leaving out the eggs or sugar in a recipe.

Annuals are the fastest way to achieve color. When the season ends one can sigh, “The annuals have ended, but the memory lingers on.”

Impatiens, begonias encircle a tree

Impatiens, begonias encircle a tree

Dwarf snapdragons, lobelia erinus and alyssum.

Dwarf snapdragons, lobelia erinus and alyssum.

Alyssum in a container, spill over in a pretty cascade.

Alyssum in a container, spill over in a pretty cascade.

Cosmos bipinnatus and zinnias fill in gaps between perennials.

Cosmos bipinnatus and zinnias fill in gaps between perennials.

Gloriosa daisy (rudbeckia hirta).

Gloriosa daisy (rudbeckia hirta).

Birdbath surrounded by flowering impatiens.

Birdbath surrounded by flowering impatiens.

Gardening Tips of the Week

  1. When buying annuals, perennials, or vegetables, avoid leggy or wilted plants. inexperienced gardeners will be disappointed at their lack of success; disgruntled, they will rush back to the nursery with their pathetic purchases, their dismay matched only by the gloom of the sellers.
  2. To prevent squirrels or other miscreants from digging up newly planted bulbs, throw a few mothballs into the planting hole.
  3. A pair of kitchen scissors is a useful garden tool. Deadheading, decapitating copulating slugs, digging out shallow rooted weeds and cutting string are among their many uses.
  4. Tie a colored ribbon around your small tools; if you lose them in the unmown grass, they’ll be easier to find.
  5. If you are stung by a bee or hornet and are allergic to them, elevate the limb and apply ice packs to the area. Contact your doctor.
  6. Please yourself; that way you’ll be sure of pleasing at least one person.
  7. Livening up inexpensive clay pots. Wipe the exterior of the pot with a damp cloth. Attach masking tape vertically to make as many stripes as you want. Paint the entire pot white (including tape). When the paint is dry, remove tape. The result will be a white pot with perfectly straight orange stripes. Plant with either boxwood or with annuals or perennials of the same color. Line several of these pots against a wall or along a path for a striking look.
    Healthy alyssum and petunias.

    Healthy alyssum and petunias.

    Vibrant flowers surround a fountain.

    Vibrant flowers surround a fountain.

    Great choices make for healthy flowers.

    Great choices make for healthy flowers.

    Potential DIY project for the spring - decorating a simple clay pot!

    Potential DIY project for the spring – decorating a simple clay pot!