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.

DIY Project: “Touching Up” a Small 6 x 8in. Flaking Paint Area on Garage Door

by Mark Malarkey 

  1. Sandpaper area. Sandpaper missing. One hour later, find scraps of used sandpaper under box of broken tools next to 10-year-old leaking cement bag now stuck to shelf.
  2. 4-inch paint brush missing–F*$K!
  3. Discover used can of matching paint. Lid not on. Paint resembles industrial strength glue.
  4. Go to Hardware Harry’s Discount (located next to RESTIN’ Peace Funeral Accessories: “Tasteful Accents for the Discerning Mourner”). Buy 4-inch brush, sandpaper, and small can of paint (more or less the same color as garage door).
  5. Sandpaper area. Area has mysteriously increased in size to approximately 6 x 4 FEET. Paint area looks darker than rest of door. Crap! Not to worry, will probably fade to match…
  6. When wife goes out shopping, call painter to paint both garage doors.

NEXT PROJECT: FIXING SHELF ON WHICH CEMENT BAG IS PERMANENTLY BONDED 

Landscaper Woes: Part One

Many years ago, before I found my present excellent landscaper, I decided to do some small garden improvements–nothing too elaborate. I called a landscaper for an estimate. He arrived in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. He was wearing an Armani suit and a wide smile that displayed more than a full complement of teeth. He handed me his card, on which there was an embossed crown and a proclamation that he was:

Earl le Baron

Majestic Landscaping

“We Cater to Aristocratic Tastes”

This was intimidating and depressing, for I had not even a nodding acquaintance with aristocrats. Let alone royalty! The card did not augur well for my bank balance. As we strolled around the garden, he kindly pointed out the mistakes I had made. He then launched into a description of the million dollar gardens he had installed. Deposed royalty, minor European aristocrats, and discredited third world dictators seemed to make up the bulk of his clientele.

“These clients had the good taste to allow me to capture the essence of ‘Olde Europe.'” He airily waved away my economical plan. “Leave everything to me, we want to start with a clean slate.” I had an uneasy feeling that his plan would rival that of Buckingham Palace–with a price tag to match. I pictured the face of my Better Half/Financial Backer; it would be sour. So I scratched him off my list (the landscaper, not my husband).

To steady my nerves after all the talk of clean slates, aristocrats, and royalty, I went inside and made myself a nice, strong cup of tea.

Have you ever hired a landscape service or someone else who turned out to work far beyond budget? Share your baffling experiences in the comments below!

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

DIY Project #1: How to Build a Pond by Ernie Eager

There are some unfortunate women who are married to men who like to fix and build things themselves. Though unskilled in painting, carpentry, and plumbing, they forge ahead with their projects in the misguided belief that they are saving money.

I decided to build a pond in the backyard; the wife was unenthusiastic. I canvassed everyone I knew who could advise me, including two neatly dressed gentlemen who came to the door clutching fistfuls of religious material–the mailman and both garbage collectors.

Hot diggity! My Uncle Jethro and Aunt Edie arrived in their motor home for their month-long stay with us. Uncle Jethro assured me he was an expert on pond building.

“Piece of cake,” he said, clicking his dentures. “We’ll have this sucker finished in no time.”

The wife said i should hire a contractor, then we’d have a guarantee.

“Guarantee!” Uncle Jethro said. “Don’t waste your money. They don’t mean nothing, boy. President Kennedy took out his gun and fired at the shooter. Guarantee? Crooks and thieves.” I gave up trying to make sense of the ideas rattling around under his John Deere cap; there was an ominous silence inside the house where the wife was sulking. Auntie Edie sat on the porch knitting a garment for her 82nd grandchild. When we started digging, she shouted encouragement every now and then.

The area seemed larger that I’d planned, but Uncle Jethro said, “No use fiddling around with a few cups of water, you want a pond you can see! You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.”

We started hitting large rocks; the shovel broke. Even the pick couldn’t move those rocks. Though Uncle Jethro was spry and enthusiastic, he had to retire to his motor home with a sprained muscle.

I asked my next door neighbor if he knew where I could rent a backhoe and a small tractor. He replied: yes, the neighbor’s cousin could help, but he could only do it on Saturday. Unfortunately, Saturday was the day the wife’s sister was getting married.

“No sweat,” said Uncle Jethro, “Me and Edie will be here to oversee.”

On Saturday just before we had to leave for the wedding, my neighbor’s cousin arrived with the machinery. With him was his 14-year-old son who was wearing pants so baggy the crotch reached almost to his knees; a purple Mohawk haircut and two eyebrow rings completed his outfit. The cousin explained that he had to go to another job, but that Shawn here was experienced. In fact, ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper he’d been messing around with machinery.

I had to leave, the frantic honking from the driveway warned me I’d better get going. Though nervous about leaving this child with serious pieces of machinery, Uncle Jethro’s words were soothing. I also remembered Aunt Edie’s shouts of encouragement from the patio.

Five hours later, I returned to find Auntie asleep on the patio, and a hole only slightly smaller than the Grand Canyon where my backyard used to be. A mountain of soil covered three prize lilac bushes.

Uncle Jethro tottered from his motor home, where he;d been taking a four hour nap. Gaping at the disaster, he adjusted his dentures and said, “What the f&%k??” That’s when two things happened:

1. Through the open window, I heard her ladyship talking to a lawyer about a divorce.

2. Uncle Jethro decided to cut short his stay.

When the wife put the phone down, and I called two contractors to come and give me an estimate for building a pond.

The lilac bushes never recovered…