Greeting and salutations, everyone; yes, once again it is I, Chess the purebred border collie, here to tell you all about my day. You may remember me from such delightful and informative posts as “Indubiably” and “Where We Live”, among so many, many others.
Here I am in a characteristic pose.
You know, people, especially gardeners, can be really strange. Now that it’s starting to warm up, the guy I live with is already out checking plants to see if they’ve died, which he told me you’re not supposed to do, but he does it anyway. You’re supposed to wait until later, and in the meantime pretend everything is fine.
He didn’t think this picture was very focused, and he was right. But I think you can see when I say it’s warming up, that it’s warming up. This thermometer is on the back patio, and in shade, too.
Anyway, he went out in the front yard, and proclaimed some plants to be “n.d.y.”, which I know means “not dead yet”. I did have to ask. He says there’s a subtle difference between this and “not yet dead”, like the latter assumes eventual death, so he says “n.d.y.”.
Now, he does admit that the ocotillo is “probably completely dead”. He does says it looks mostly dead anyway, but when it’s not really quite completely dead it has a tinge of green that’s visible to people who are used to seeing live ocotillos. There isn’t really very much green here. He says this is “architectural”.
The screwbean mesquite, on the other hand, is definitely not dead yet. The guy I live with says the other, “reg’lar” mesquite, “your reg’lar honey mesquite“, Prosopsis glandulosa, is still not dead yet, so why wouldn’t these be not dead yet too?
Well, I don’t know. The leaves, however, are dead, and just hanging on so that the plants don’t look dead. But the twigs don’t snap, which he says is a danged good sign. (He says you have to talk that way to grow mesquites in Denver. I think he’s the only person doing it, so he should know.)
The funny thing, he says, about plants like yuccas is that they can tolerate cold, but some don’t always like to have snow on them. “Imagine the difference between being around snow and having snow down your pants”, he says, but I don’t wear pants, so I can’t imagine anything. What he does is flick the snow off with a stick. He has what he calls a “snow-flicker” just for this purpose.
The stick comes in handy for cactus, too. The guy I live with says if you want to see if a cactus made it through a cold spell, try poking it with a stick. He’s said this before, of course, but he says “If it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying twice.”
The cactus should be firm. Not firm as a rock, which means they’re frozen solid, but certainly not squishy. Here’s how you do it.
The guy I live with says these three cactus are definitely “not dead yet”, but in this case the “yet” just means “wait a few weeks”. They won’t be here come next July. He thought that growing them right by the house and in two feet (60cm) of gravel might help, but it didn’t. Where he planted them did make them easier to poke, though.
Now, with conifers, it’s easier to tell. You grab some of the needles, like this. (Oh, we’re out in the back yard now.)
If they’re soft and pliable, that’s good. If they’re as dry as a three-week-old Christmas tree and the needles all fall to the ground, not so good.
He says this cedar could still croak, though it’s been here for a few winters already, and there’s a big healthy one over by the Asian Market that he and my mommy used to go to all the time. (He goes to a different one now.) They used to ooh and ahh over the cedar as they drove to the market. Well, the guy I live with did, anyway. One time they were standing in line there at the market and everybody in line came from somewhere else in the world and my mommy had a bottle of fish sauce (nuoc mam) and someone said “You like this?” and they both said how much they did, and everyone started talking about how food makes people less afraid of each other, or something like that, but when the guy I live with looks at the cedar in our back yard he always thinks of fish sauce, and, well, not to be too sappy or anything, world peace.
Well, there were other plants he checked out, ones that he shouldn’t have, even though they were okay, but I’m not going to show any more.
I’m almost done here. One picture I want to show is the one the guy I live with took of himself standing out in the back yard to show how warm it was. You can see how good he is at just standing there. I think he looks like an apparition or something equally disturbing. Santa Claus in blue, maybe.
I guess that’s really all. There are geese flying overhead in the late afternoon, so we hear a lot of honking in the sky. I’ll show a picture and then say goodbye.
Until next time, then.
Oh Chess we am very confused about your weather, albeit jealoous as we have had nothing but temps in the mid 30s vertually for 3 months and my gal is over it. I don’t mind as I’m obviously crazy and lie in the sun in this heat, mad for an almost all black border collie cross belgian shepherd isn’t it. Anyway back to confusion. How much does it snow there, does it come and go with warmer days in between or is it just once and then it starts to warm up again. Until I started reading your blog some time ago I didn’t even know it snowed in your neck of the woods. You can tell we are really confused can’t you. Apart from that good photos and storytelling again Chess and nice to see you and ‘Santa’ in a photo together.
It snows here all the time. Any time from September to the end of May. The snow usually melts, or, really, evaporates. Quite often the temperatures go wildly up and down all winter long, and in spring too. I like to lie out in the hot sun too. I don’t like hot weather, but I like lying in the hot sun. The guy I live with thinks this is odd, but what does he know.
Yes, Chess, as Petabunn noted, it is nice to see you and the guy you live with together in one frame. You’re right to keep an eye on him: his pose makes him look like someone who would go about poking cacti with a stick, which cacti look healthy enough to me, but I’m not the one thumping them. Your snowy garden looks very good in the sun. In the lead photo, you look, Chess, as if anticipating sun on your back. What great weather for a purebred border collie.
It really is excellent weather for a purebred border collie. I should note that it’s a little after 9 p.m. here and still above freezing. Outside, I mean. Above freezing. If you look really closely at the two mammillarias, the second and third poked cacti, you can see the tubercules are yellowed, and that’s a sure sign of Doom. When poked with a stick, they’re all squishy and stuff, so he says anyway. (He claims not to care about the mammillarias very much.)
I would try the pokey-stick trick except my cacti are under 6″ of snow. I’m being optimistic and telling myself the snow isn’t melting, so it’s insulating them against the extreme cold. Yeah. That’s sounds like really good, positive thinking. Optimism!
Insulation is always better than melting and then freezing, over and over again. By the way, the guy I live with says that his stick-poking method isn’t patented, trademarked, or copyrighted, so anyone can try it. It’s supposed to be 53F here tomorrow. That’s almost 12C. (53 does sound better than 12, though.)
“Santa Claus in blue”…love it. Excellent photo too, the chairs, Chess…
n.d.y. and n.y.d….sadly I’ve been saying similar.
It kind of reminded the guy I live with of Duke Ellington. When the guy I live with was writing his books that’s about the only music he listened to. It looks like the worst of the weather is over, for now. For now. That’s why “n.d.y.”, because there are still a few months to go. “It looked okay in February; I don’t know what happened….”
I liked the story of fish sauce and cedars — a fine embroidery of memory and time, as befits the best story-telling. Memory has a big role to play in my gardening, which is one of the reasons I don’t go poking around in the snow. If it doesn’t come back, there’s a good chance I won’t remember what was there . . . until I look at photographs, and then say something like, “What?! I don’t remember that! What happened to it?” And then I get to be amazed with myself twice: once for having planted such a thing; and again at losing such a thing without noticing.
The guy I live with, while in one of his “phases”, decided to become a Czech rock gardener (which by the way he has, again), and got rid of all the labels in the garden. He felt really excellent about it, until he started slicing through bulbs left and right. But until then he did say that one advantage of a label-less garden is that “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart can’t grieve for”. Here’s a nice introduction to Czech rock gardens written by his late friend Daniela Goll: http://www.thealpinegarden.com/czech2NS.htm The “SAJA” came to the garden here too.
Don’t even get me started on labels! I was in charge of demonstration gardens at the extension (as a Master Gardener) in Flint, and the bitching and whining about lack of labeling, then when I did label, that the labels were too low, or too this or too that just drove me around the bend. I agree with the end quote of the article, that labels detract from the looks unless it’s a store/nursery. I prefer the method they use at the Illinois rest areas, where they have native prairies — and a bulletin board with posters identifying the flowers. I learned that the flower I coveted was Verbena stricta (Hoary Vervain) in that fashion. It seeds itself freely all along my driveway now.
I slice through bulbs, too, but it’s mostly muscari or squill, which are trying to take over, so they aren’t missed in the least. I feel much worse when I slice through a worm. I did label the ramp I planted — from a bunch we got in our CSA box (I couldn’t believe they included the bulb!) because I planted it in a wild area in the way back of our yard. It’s the one thing I am really anxious to see make it through the winter (and will be disappointed if it doesn’t). I started using the weatherproof labels printed on a laser printer. Good stuff.
I did really like the Czech gardens in this article. The small area I have as an overrun (by sedum) rock garden is 3 terraces down the side of our pond, that’s maybe 3′ X 6′, total. Only room enough for a couple of really little evergreens. Species tulips need to be replanted. And blue. Lots of blue. The blue starts there.
Labels do detract, and I hear a story that one of my predecessors (certainly not me), when he was a puppy, decided to go on a label-gathered spree.
The guy I live with says they are a “necessary evil” here, and considering his new-found passion for expensive, rare bulbs, probably not such a bad idea.
What would be cool is some sort of computer program like DBG has (Gardens Navigator) where you could input the location of something and then refer to it before slicing through an expensive snowdrop.
Of course he would have to check the program before going berserk with the trowel, which is another story altogether. You should hear what he says when he slices through a bulb.
Oh, speaking of which. He was planting something near the patch of crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) last September, and he knew they were there and so dug careful holes, and he said when he dug the hole he could smell the bulbs underground. (It’s true that when my buddy Slipper got sick, the guy I live with became part border collie, but still it was strange that you could smell the bulbs that way. He says it’s not a bad smell at all.)
Blue starts with gentians.
I suspect that winter is your color. You are even more the Platonic ideal of a purebred border collie against a winter backdrop of snow. Your guy looks good, so keep up the good work!
Yes, with a red collar, too. I mean on me. The purebred border collies who have lived at this house have always worn red collars. I think the guy I live with kind of looks like a dandelion gone to seed. ….
Re tags, so true that “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart can’t grieve for”; I often forget I had a plant till someone mentions theirs of the same kind…
The guy I live with said that my mommy used to ooh and ahh over a plant in someone else’s garden and he would say, very quietly, “We have the same plant in our garden” ….
Thanks for sharing the camera, Chess. You all look very fine, enjoying the sub-zero respite.
We kind of hope it’s a long respite. “Until the year 2067”, he says. I like the cold, but it does tend to make me creaky.
True label story: Guy served in the Army in Germany, way back when there was East and West. Went all over Europe on his motorcycle collecting roses. Back in the states he set up as a tree nurseryman in the Way Outback, a place that gets desert-type heat in summer, snow in winter. He planted his roses along corrals and fences, allowing them to grow to full height and width as huge shrubs and ramblers. All went well. Then his wife decided living Way Outback was too far Way Outback. The night before she decamped, she strolled around collecting all the rose labels.
The poor guy has spent decades trying to lure people (rose experts) Way Outback so he can relearn the names of his roses.
The guy I live with says if he croaked, the house would be sold and the fifty tons of gravel and rock sold to a gravel and rock company, everything covered with green lawn, and all the named snowdrops and fancy-schmancy other bulbs would vanish, unless someone came and got them first. That’s sort of why he has labels, except also for the slicing-through part. (He says the bulbs usually survive that.) He also says you would think rose people would jump at the chance to see if there was something really rare there, since a lot of roses have disappeared from the trade. (Try finding ‘The Garland’ or ‘Dream Girl’.)
Chess, spent yesterday housecleaning for the holidays. Listened to this on the radio:
Thought of you and the guy you live with and the squirrel feeder. I’m assuming your squirrels are native?
The guy with the unknown roses should hold a weekend-long party and invite people from online rose-lover groups. I bet people would come to ID the roses especially if offered free BBQ in the summer.
That was pretty interesting. The squirrel here is the fox squirrel, and I suppose the extreme western limit of its range is just a few hundred feet west of here. Purebred border collies do not chase squirrels. We are far too sophisticated, though we do draw the line at cats in the garden. So, the guy I live with is now feeding the stupid things (they are very stupid and at least one had to be shown how to lift the lid on the feeder). Digging up crocus would mean serious trouble for them.
Sorry to keep posting here, but this blog touched on things I’ve thought about quite often but have rarely seen addressed in writings about gardening.
One thing I realized is that I do mark the ephemerals in my shade garden by circling the plants with rocks. It made me laugh to think how that would not work in a rock garden.
The main thing that tugged at me, to the point of coming back here, is thinking about what might happen to our gardens after we die — I’ve thought about that because although my husband understands in a general way that gardening is a motivating force in my life, he doesn’t know squat about gardening or what flowers we have in our yard. There’s a book titled “Take Good care of the Garden and the Dogs” — which is one of the last things the author’s mother said before dying.
But it’s not just death that takes us away from our gardens (and vice-versa). Moving does, too. I had the same feelings and thought about leaving my garden in Flint when we moved here. I hated the thought that all my work and caring might be undone (it was). Mulling this over today, another memory perked to the surface: when I was 3, my parents moved our family to a Victorian house in a small town. The previous occupants had been a married couple, and the father of one of them. The father was a retired gardener, and he created a beautiful border garden along the neighbor’s white picket fence. I can remember my mother telling me the names of the flowers: bleeding heart, snapdragon. And I can remember being not much taller than the ‘black’ tulips, staring down into them mesmerized by the iridescence. I also remember watching bumble bees fumble around the bleeding hearts, which I loved even more than the black tulips. I’ve had bleeding hearts every where I’ve lived. My mother was not a gardener — she never added to that garden, but she kept it up as best she could.
There was a big maple tree in the back yard of that house, and when we moved again 3 years later (to the house where my father still lives today), shortly before I turned 7, I carried a seedling from that maple tree in a Dixie cup to the new house and planted it in the back yard, where it grew for almost 40 years, until misfortune befell it. I can never decide if I should say I became a gardener with the staring or the planting, but I will say that a man I never met made me a gardener.
No, we like comments, and thanks for the nice story.
The main reason why the guy I live with let me start doing the posting is because all he thinks about is my mommy, basically, and so he thought the perspective of a slightly spoiled border collie (who was my mommy’s favorite, of course) might make the blog less gloomy.
The idea of a garden as a permanent thing is very odd. Christopher Lloyd referred to Great Dixter as “a happy, if impermanent, microcosm”. The garden here has changed so much in the last twenty five years that my grandpa Flurry wouldn’t even recognize it. It changes constantly. Not just with the seasons, but plants are moved or given away, more plants are acquired, a plan that sounded brilliant when it first entered the guy I live with’s mind is seen to be stupid a few months later, and so on.
Back in graduate school (sociology) in Iowa City, I was good friends with a guy who was a zoology grad student, and I remember him talking about the two types of change: gradual and cataclysmic. Even though the two types should have been — duh?! — totally obvious, his talking about it and putting names to it was a real revelation to me. He was talking about evolution, and I guess it applies to the evolution of gardens. The gradual stuff is what makes gardening interesting. The cataclysmic may have positive results in the long run, but in the short run, it’s just cataclysmic. That friend now runs a native plant nursery with his wife in upstate New York, and they breed Icelandic sheepdogs.
A gradual change can also be seen as a series of imperceptible, but still real, changes. The changes around here have been mostly the result of The Great Upheaval, which is, according to the guy I live with, still in progress. He puts white flags, made from plastic bags, so that I can see the changes at night. Like a tree right in the middle of the lawn, which might be in one place one day, then moved to another place a few days later, then moved back to its original place. (I’ve said before that he’s kind of a nut.)