Last Blog of the Season

The gardening season is about to begin and soon I’ll be up to my knees in dirt–digging, planting, and weeding. I won’t have the time to write blogs.

Over 100 tulips have already popped up and together with yellow basket-of-gold and lilac-colored catmint, the front garden this spring should be charming.

My thanks to all the bloggers who have followed me on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you enjoyed reading the blogs as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Heartfelt thanks to Genesse Carrillo of Montana Moon Productions for arranging the texts and photographs so beautifully.

So for the time being, it’s farewell to dear Jane Austen, Penelope Lively, landscapers, the Armani-clad Earl le Baron, the cigarette puffing Hiram I. Swindell, and of course that optimistic DIY-er Mark Malarkey.

Maureen.

In the meantime, don’t forget to order your copy of Too Late for Regrets. Hard copy and e-books available here: http://www.amazon.com/Too-Late-Regrets-Maureen-Jabour/dp/0692229663/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425072314&sr=8-1&keywords=too+late+for+regrets

Gardening Tips (On the Lighter Side): Part Two

Healthful Benefits of Gardening

If you think that over the winter months you have overindulged and packed on more than your share of adipose tissue, answer the following questions honestly.

  1. When you stand sideways, do you look like a pouter pigeon?
  2. When you contemplate your back image in the mirror, do you resemble a well-nourished baby hippopotamus?
  3. When you manage to squeeze yourself into your jeans, do you find that every stitch has to do its duty?
  4. Have you found–to your horror–an extra roll around your mid-section, making you look like the Michelin Man?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then it’s time to start gardening. Digging, weeding, lifting, and planting will soon whittle away those unwanted pounds, and by the end of summer you will be your old sylphlike self. You can cheerfully say, “Goodbye Mr./Mrs. Hips!”

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.

Garden Containers

Of all the garden ornaments, containers can be the most satisfying way to express one’s artistic leanings. They can transform a drab section of the garden or brighten an apartment balcony. Vast acres and a deep purse are not needed for this hobby. Large containers are indispensable for use as focal points, while the smaller ones are useful for moving around or filling in seasonal gaps in beds.

Various containers grouped imaginatively can have an immediate impact on a bare concrete path or patio. While large urns or wooden tubs should be positioned with care (and once placed are difficult to move), smaller pots can be constantly moved to suit a gardener’s whim. The advantage of large containers is that they allow the gardener to create bold, lavish designs and if planted with a long term shrub can provide year-long interest. Fox example, a large urn with a centerpiece of either clipped rosemary or a small Alberta spruce with cascading verbena can be striking. Large containers lined up and planted uniformly make a useful boundary marker; this method could be used to break up bare expanses of wall.

Garage sales can turn up a surprising number of quirky and unusual containers. Old tin buckets, milk pails, and watering cans with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage would make an interesting centerpiece for a cluster of small pots. Daisy-like flowers such as gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta) or Coreopsis “Sunray” create a more informal look.

Balconies:

On an apartment balcony, a sense of summer can be evoked by using pots of various sizes and planting them with perennials and annuals. Perennials such as lavender, marguerite, and pincushion flowers are but a few of the myriad choices. A north-facing balcony could have pots filled with impatiens or begonias. Ferns incorporated into this shady scheme would add textural contrast.

Vegetables in Containers:

Certain vegetables will grow happily in pots–another boon for the sunny balcony. Voracious slugs and their equally repulsive brethren are less prevalent in container-grown vegetables. Lettuce (buttercrunch), spring onions, and radishes will make a nice little salad. While you might not be able to feed ravenous guests with the modest output of your little garden, it will give you a sense of satisfaction when you snip a lettuce, parsley, and spring onions. Tomatoes too can be grown successfully in a container; the taller plants might need staking.

Tips:

  • Containers must have adequate drainage. Place a few small stones over the drainage hole to prevent soil seepage.
  • Mix half cow and compost and potting soil to fill container to within a  few inches of the top.
  • The plants should be well-watered before planting. Plant in the cool of the evening. After planting, sprinkle with Osmacote or any slow release fertilizer. Water gently but thoroughly every morning and evening during hot spells.
Classical Urn

A classical urn.

Another Classical Urn

Another Classical Urn.

Petunias.

Petunias.

Annuals in a variety of pots.

Annuals in a variety of pots.

A charming cluster of stone pots and baskets.

A charming cluster of stone pots and baskets.

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)

Water Features

The human fascination with water features in the garden goes back thousands of years. A shared reverence of nature inspired the Chinese and later the Japanese to become masters of the art of using water and rock. Experts in the management of water, the Romans built aqueducts and fountains, some still in use today. Islamic gardens always included water to counter the fierce heat. Their influence spread to Southern Spain. The most notable of these designs exists today at the palace of the Alhambra, with its formal canals, rills, and fountains. Gardens today can be improved by including some part of water feature.

There once was a heron–a fairly large bird,

He came quite early before we had stirred,

He ate my prize fish, almost every one,

Then he gobbled the last one just for fun.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

A lion's head fountain.

A lion’s head fountain.

A tranquil scene.

A tranquil scene.

Lily pads float on surface.

Lily pads float on surface.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See "Too Late for Regrets" page 251 for a description of Timothy's water feature.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See “Too Late for Regrets” page 251 for a description of Timothy’s water feature.

Water trickles into pond.

Water trickles into pond.

Tulips surround fountain.

Tulips surround fountain.

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

Jane Austen – An Appreciation

While I am not a scholar or expert on Jane Austen, I am an appreciative reader. It’s remarkable to think that the novels she wrote 200 years ago are still relevant today. The human condition hasn’t changed; jealousy, spitefulness, gossip, hypocrisy, and rumor mongering are the traits still prevalent in today’s society.

How was she able to capture all these characteristics while living in a vicarage within an isolated village? She had no formal education, but with the encouragement of her brilliant father she started to read at an early age. She devoured books, and as a young woman she became a master of the English language.

This branch of the Austen family was poor. However, they were upper class; many of their relatives were gentry and aristocrats.

When Jane and her sister Cassandra visited these relatives at their large estates and grand houses, they were exposed to a wide variety of people in these social settings. Balls, dinners, card parties, and picnics were the settings for many of her novels.

With her satirical eye and sharp wit, Jane observed and made mental notes. When she returned to the vicarage, she used this knowledge in her novels.

The family also visited Bath, the beautiful town with its exquisite architecture, its squares and crescents. Here was another opportunity to study the foibles and peculiarities of the gentry and leisured classes. Balls and concerts in the great assembly halls, the constant parade of elegantly dressed men and women–all were grist to her mill. Everything she wrote about is still pertinent in today’s society.

And the mothers–oh, those mothers! Vying with each other, scheming to ensure that their daughters would capture the most eligible (and rich) bachelor.

The famous first sentence in Pride and Prejudice says it all: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

A hundred years from now, when all the bestsellers of today are long forgotten, Jane Austen’s novels will still be read and enjoyed.

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel? Who is the classic author that continues to inspire your work today? Share your thoughts in the comments below!