Archive for the 'yard work' Category

Did I set this up?

July 21, 2015

I can’t remember whether I transplanted this day lily to the base of the stump on which my black Buddha sits because its colors reminded me of Buddhist monk clothing or because it seemed like a good spot in the yard to absorb yet another day lily.  I know I was searching for a place for it — my recollection is that I needed to remove the plant from where it was and couldn’t figure out where to put it.  But I don’t remember what the deciding factor was for choosing this spot.  I do know that one of my considerations was whether I would be creating, by where I planted it, yet another area I would have to mow around and not through — I already had to mow around the pear tree stump, so this spot did not add difficulty to that task.  And some other areas I was considering for the transplant had too many tree roots or early-spring flower bulbs to make them suitable locations in which to dig a hole.


The day lily didn’t flower last year, and maybe it didn’t flower even the year before, so I didn’t remember what it looked like.  When it bloomed this year, its first blossom opened at the same time I was reading a column on the NYTimes website about the Dalai Lama.  I think there was a picture of him included with the column online.  It made me happy to see his colors echoed in the flower.


Red, not so wild roses

June 20, 2015

I wrote about the wild roses that grow on my property as a kind of more interesting sort of weed.

I have also recently noticed a new red rose bush, of the sort one buys at the nursery, has sprouted up among the rosa rugosa planted along the edge of the back path.  It’s not a rugosa, which do spread, by runners, I think, but more like a floribunda, with bright shiny dark green leaves, more-discretely-placed thorns, and more-sharply-shaped petals.

This is the third red rose bush to pop up.  One I think was a stow-away transplant in a block of earth we moved years ago from the backyard to the front in order to transplant a pink azalea it contained.  The pink azalea I think was near a red rose bush the previous owners of this house had planted.  So when a red rose bush started growing out from the pink azalea we transplanted, we were surprised but we could trace how it probably got there.  One was new growth from root stock after the pink rose grafted onto it had died back one winter.  This third one must have started from whatever roses germinate from — pips?

This third red rose bush started itself among a group of rose bushes, in a small bed in which pink cone flowers and orange day lilies have also appeared of their own accord.  A landscaper I hired one year to replant grub-infested areas of the back lawn had mulched in between and around the rugosa, creating a flower bed where before there had been just individual plants.  When Joe performed carpentry repairs on my house last summer, he unearthed a bunch of rocks, and I distributed some of them as edging around the mulched area.

At some point during Joe’s repair work on the house, I got out an old photo of the area near the shed, in order to figure out something or other, I can’t exactly remember what it was now, maybe it was to see how high an old shed door had hung — and Jordan was struck by how bare the area of the yard looked then compared to how it looks now.

That’s probably how the unexpected plants strike me, as part of an increasingly lush development of vegetation.

Not everything has gone in that direction, of course — the summer sweet in the large garden has died back a bit after this winter, and the butterfly bush is regrowing from its roots, while its old branches still bare.

I knew a prize-winning gardener, who told me that a lot of gardening is determining which, and how much of, plants should grow where, that it’s not about, “This plant is good, that plant is a bad weed.”  She, of course, maintained more control over her gardens than I do, and could coax growth and flowers from plants that need more care.  (On the other hand, after she sold her house and moved, the new owners of her house ripped out her gardens there and sodded and paved over the areas.  Sic transit gloria mundi.)  Her point about having a looser way to think about garden growth I have found helpful.

My reaction upon first realizing that a red, more refined-looking rose bush was growing among the hardy and slightly wild-looking rugosa was that it had strength to emerge in such a context.  I suspect, though, that it, too, is hardy in its own way, as the other two red rose bushes that popped up are quite effusive in their own growth  —  although two of the previous house owners’ red rose bushes have, over the years, succumbed (to too much shade, mainly).  So maybe that will be my take-away, that hardiness, maybe I could even characterize it as spunkiness, may lurk in seemingly decorative or delicately growing plants.

Competing plants

March 3, 2015

Well, maybe they’re not competing, maybe they’re keeping each other company.  I was thinking about plants in the yard that are growing intertwined.  For example, an azalea and a rosebush, or a rosebush and a lilac, or a mock orange and a spirea.

I have policies about vines (honeysuckle or grape) growing up into trees and shrubs — I prune them out before they strangle the host.  I prune back two adjacent shrubs growing across the space between them and getting entangled with each other.  But two shrubs with roots in virtually the same spot I have trouble figuring out how to treat.  Do I prefer one shrub to another?  Do I rescue the weaker one from the stronger, let the stronger overcome the weaker, take into account how the situation developed in the first place?  I generally end up letting the whole thing go and seeing what happens, pruning back some of the shrubs involved for other reasons but not resolving the competition issue.

Of course, most of these plants are buried beneath piles of snow right now, and it’s snowing again tonight.  I think maybe I am looking forward to gardening and yard work being my concerns, instead of snow shoveling and ice dams, maybe I am impatient for spring.

When grass looks dead

September 19, 2014

This year I learned that while some patches in my back lawn looked similarly dead, the symptoms were being caused by different problems.

One was dryness and scorching.  It seems that the top of the lawn, near the back retaining wall, is more exposed to sun, perhaps on account of tree removal elsewhere, than it used to be.   We apparently didn’t get a lot of rain either, and there is “ledge” not far beneath the dirt, I am told, so I guess the whole thing dries out easily.

That area has come back from its dormancy with watering.

Closer to the house the patches were being caused by grubs.  I have had this problem in that area before, had it treated and replanted, but the little critters are back, and we’ve had to, again, pull up the dead stuff, take off a layer of dirt, treat with some sort of chemical product, put in new soil, and then seed.

What we were shown was that in the dry patch, the roots are still there.  In the grubby patch, the grass just pulls right away without application of real force  —  the roots are gone.

Why is this interesting to me?

It reminds me of the problem of trying to differentiate between spiritual emergency and mental illness or between dyslexia and cognitive impairment or between viral sore throats and strep — all kinds of situations in which a differential diagnosis makes a big difference in terms of choosing an effective treatment.

It also reminds me of the problem of calibration, another factor that is relevant to finding a helpful response.  Some people become calibrated for people with low pain thresholds or high drama affect, and they become callous to anything short of hysteria.  I’ve encountered doctors and nurses like that, some of whom were apologetic after they discovered their misjudgment.

On the other hand, I am leery of putting too much emphasis on diagnostic category, either.  That can turn into a proxy for getting stuck in the problem and not doing what can be done to improve things:  “Oh, it hurts to walk because I’ve had surgery, I’d better stay in bed, I’m just a post-surgical invalid.”  Or, “I’m not sure what the correct diagnosis is, so I won’t bother looking for strategies that help.”

Of course, if the patient says, even calmly, “This really hurts too much,” it might be well to see if there isn’t actually a complication that warrants a different response.

The other reason the lawn issues catch my attention is that, just as there is a New Testament metaphor about the soil on which the seed is cast, there is, I believe, an issue about on-going upkeep  of the crop  —  if the grass begins to die, we may need to be careful about finding out the cause, because that may make a difference in terms of what response will be helpful.  Watering a patch destroyed by grubs won’t help, reseeding a dry patch is an unnecessarily intrusive intervention.

Catcher in the Rye

September 15, 2014

Sometimes when I find myself complaining (perhaps even whining) about my familial role, I talk about feeling like Holden Caufield’s interpretation of a Catcher in the Rye — I do often feel as though I am responsible for keeping people from falling off the edge.

So it was quite a thing for me to realize, after the urgent situation this afternoon had subsided, that I had sort of literally done that for a neighbor.

She is elderly, has dementia, and had apparently wandered across the street and up onto my porch.  I became aware of this only after my son and another neighbor were trying to get her back into her house.  I had been in my backyard doing yard work.

Long story much shorter, a police officer held the senior under the arm, while I stood behind the elderly woman and provided physical support as she made her way up the steep back stairs to her house using her hands as well as her feet.  When she got to the last step and began to stand up straight, I braced myself against the house as I stood on the steps, and I could feel the weakness in her legs as they quavered, but I gave support and she got up there, in her Boston Bruins slippers, and I gave a cheer.

I had kicked off my yard-working clogs before I ascended the stairscase;  I knew I needed as much grip as possible and the best chance at keeping my balance possible.  (I wasn’t wearing any socks.)  I have always had a terrible sense of balance, and I do have ear issues, so I suspect my balance issues have a physiological component.  I am not fond of steep staircases with shallow steps like the one we had to go up.  But no one asked me if I wanted to play my role — the other neighbor made it clear she wasn’t going to do it, and my son I think was up on the back porch already, minding the backdoor and the husband, who also suffers from dementia, waiting to receive the elderly woman.

So afterwards I was sort of amazed at what we had done, and I realized I had kept the lady from falling off the stairs — not exactly the Catcher in the Rye, but close.

Falling tree limbs

June 1, 2014

The other day I was engaging in behavior Jordan associates with “old people” and watching out the window what was going on in a backyard up the hill.

It was tree trimming from a huge cherry-picker truck.

An additional point of interest for me was whether the trimming would include trees that had grown along the stockade fence that had been erected after that neighbor and another had had a dispute over the clean-up of a fallen limb from one neighbor’s tree into the other neighbor’s backyard.  Those trees along the fence seem to have remained untouched;  the work seems to have consisted of thinning the lower limbs and branches of older trees elsewhere in the yard.

This occurred the other day.

Yesterday I was refilling a birdbath towards the back of my yard, and discovered behind the area in which it sits a substantial downed limb.  It was from a maple and from a tree rooted elsewhere but which provides shade for my yard.

It was big but not huge.  I carried it out front, lopped what could be lopped with the loppers, and then Joe broke up the thicker parts into sections we could dispose of.

It was not a big deal, especially with Joe around.  (My sons were otherwise engaged, one in New Hampshire, the other more locally.)

When tree limbs fall softly and with no discernible damage and are easily put into the composting stream, I feel some cycle has occurred successfully.

It also reminds me of understandings people receive from what’s beyond us:  they should fall into our perception without harm and we should incorporate them into our life stream easily, they should not fell us as they fall themselves.  So when the physical tree limb falls harmlessly, I am hopeful that it echoes a safe landing for other falling phenomena, too.


“And the walls came tumbling down”

May 4, 2014

It’s herbaceous walls in this case.

My back neighbor came to the front door yesterday, to let me know he wanted to trim down the hedge above the retaining wall that separates our properties, in order to stimulate bushier growth lower down on the plants.  I endorsed the idea, noting we have no dog at this time — Caesar would have taken a lower hedge as an invitation to go visiting.

While Jonas, Jordan, and I were out in the back, in part to clean up the trimmings that fell into the yard, our side neighbor hailed me and asked if he should do the same for the hedge that separates our properties.  I said sure.

It’s going to be a whole new look, at least until the plants regrow.

Early dinner

November 24, 2013

We ended up with Thanksgiving dinner, in a way, yesterday.  I cooked it, so I can’t claim it happened to me passively, but I didn’t plan it.

My son’s friend came over, to hang out, to enjoy our internet connection, and to help do some pruning around our yard.  He does landscaping work professionally, and my son has helped his family with things like winching up docks, so it seemed like a fair arrangement, and I let the young men know I would pay them besides.  I haven’t gotten to much of what I normally do on my own, in terms of pruning, this year because of my fiduciary duties to my father’s estate and to my mother.

I had bought a small turkey already and trimmings on Friday.  My own Thanksgiving plans are up in the air.

I decided, why not, roast the turkey and have it with Jordan and his friend.  They’d probably be hungry after yard work.  So I did roast it — stuffed it first — made the cranberry sauce, etc.

After dinner, his friend and I did the friend’s laundry.  He has recently moved into his own apartment, and this saved him a lot of logistical hassle, I think.  It’s also why he was enjoying our internet connection.

He had planned to stay the night as well, but his father called and said he wanted to have breakfast with him this morning, so he left last night.

This friend is going through a difficult patch, and he has before.  I am aware that not everyone would be open to doing what I did.  What struck me was that, while I am aware of this, it wasn’t why I did what I did — I did it because it worked out well for all concerned, myself included.

What happened flowed in a way that didn’t seem to come from me.  It felt, in a way, like following a lot of cues.  When that happens, it feels as if I am filling in a piece of a puzzle.  Sometimes it feels as if I’m participating in a reenactment of something that has happened before.  In any case, it feels “necessary.”

Sometimes these episodes that feel like reenactments or puzzle pieces are painful, but yesterday’s wasn’t.  It helped me to be in a role of asking Jordan’s friend for a favor and also then being able to do something for him that he needed.  The other parts of what happened, including the meal, elevated it above some sort of bare-bones give-and-take — there was good feeling involved.

I think I’ve wished to participate in this kind of scenario with myself in the friend’s role, but that pattern always seems to fall short of suiting everybody involved in some way.  It has often felt as if I’ve done the pruning, but there is no meal, no internet, no laundry, no desire to help in return forthcoming, so to speak.  I’m not sure what that means, but I will say that the pattern yesterday and my role in it suited me just fine — I enjoyed the day.

Cleaning up after others

November 16, 2013

I took in my garbage cans and recycling bins this morning.  The yard waste hadn’t been collected yet.  Instead, it had been added to.

Someone put very old Christmas decorations on top of one of the garbage cans I use for some of my yard waste.  It turned out to be a wreath and some sort of garland.  I clipped off the plastic cords and labels.  Jordan put them on the ground next to the can so that at least the collection folks will take our leaves.

The issue is that there’s a collection date (one) for Christmas trees and, I think, these other kinds of evergreen decorations.  It comes in early January.  I don’t know that they will be accepted as part of the regular collection program.  If not, then I’ve got somebody else’s detritus to dispose of, kind of like a game of hot potato.

It is more interesting to me than just that sort of potential hassle, because of the discussion about whether people with good health and particular lifestyles should need to contribute to the same insurance pool as people with bad health and lifestyles that contribute to their ill health — do we help clean up after others?

I’d say part of the answer has to do with, simply, whether we can and whether we are better positioned to provide the help than the other person.  If we can provide it, in some way that is effective and does not harm ourselves, I think we should at least try.  I think it’s a continuum, between no cost to ourselves and some cost to ourselves, and that different people draw a line in different places.

Wet newspapers

October 6, 2013

It’s raining, and I’m kind of glad, because it seems to me it hasn’t rained here for a long time.  I’ve been noticing that because we reseeded a couple of parts of the lawn and I’ve had to keep them moist by watering them with the hose.

But I realized when I heard the rain this morning that I was entering the “Will my newspaper be wet?” sweepstakes.

The bag to The Boston Globe was open, the bag to The New York Times knotted, so I brought them into the house thinking the Globe would be wet and the Times dry, but in fact the opposite proved to be the case.  (I think the tying of the bag for the Times may have ripped the bag in another place.)

I hate to let a good metaphor go to waste:  openness preserves our interiors better than trying to close ourselves off.