Friday, June 24, 2011

A Big Day Gardening Preceded by a Very Early Awakening

I woke up this morning at 2:30 am. This wasn't my idea. It seems to have been prompted by a combination of old guy aches and pains (been having a bitch of a time with nocturnal leg cramps, my doc will be looking at the results of Thursday's bloodwork and let me know if there is anything obvious going on; me, I'll be trying some Schwepp's tonic water which contains quinine tonight) combined with additional musculoskeletal aches caused by hefting around bags of compost and 16'' concrete stepping stones yesterday.

But mainly due to some anticipation of the Big Planting Day today.

Eighty-five plants to plant. Many in the front, many in the back. Mostly perennials, and a few shrubs. This woke me up early. Stupid fretting and planning.

I would not do the actual planting, my brass knee making work on ground level extremely difficult, but a guy was coming at 9 and I wanted to have everything ready for him.

I read for an hour, got drowsy, turned out the light. And returned to full wakefulness immediately.

"Screw this," I thought, and stole out of bed, as quietly as possible so as not to disturb Mrs Elliott (sleeping the sleep of the sweet and pure), pulled on my Pac Man jammy bottoms and Oregon Ducks t-shirt and drifted into the kitchen. Killed time on the Internet, eggs and bacon breakfast at 5 am, and watched the clock tick toward sane hours.

The garden plan and plant list for today's work had been provided by Karen Rossetto who works at Landsystems, that nursery out on Highway 20 just east of 27th street. I picked them to do the work because they were familiar with Libby's Garden, a lovely little spot of color near Drake Park, near the breezeway. Gardeners and landscape people unfamiliar with Libby's Garden are not worth a burnt-out match, as far as I am concerned.

Not just because I think that Libby's Garden is as pretty as pretty can be, but because Mrs Elliott's taste in plants is mainly in direction of flowers, flowers, and flowers.

Landsystems delivered the plants on Tuesday and I separated them into front yard and back yard groups, and had been watering them with the hose twice a day so they would not die before they had a chance to get into their new homes.

Because Karen did the planning a month ago, when last year's new perennials were still dormant, I asked if she could come by this morning to help place the new plants, thinking that now that last year's plants were now making themselves known she might tweak her design a bit.

So she came by at 8 am and sorted out where the plants were to go. Some existing plants were going to need to be moved.

I watched her placing plants, digging into the soil with her bare hands. "Don't you wear gloves?" I said.

"Oh no. I love getting my hands into the soil."

An admirable quality in a woman.

And there I was, wearing landscaper's gloves, feeling like a total wuss.*

At 9 am, Pedro Ibanez -- a fellow recommended by Bruce Miller -- along with a son (senior at Mountain View High), and a spare nephew (also senior, but at Summit High) came by, and we got the show on the road.

Though Pedro has a lot of experience planting and doing landscape maintenance on places like the amphitheater and the Old Mill, Karen stuck around long enough to give the Gospel According to Landsystems on how the perennials are to be planted: dig a hole twice the diameter of the container, fill it with water, wait for it to drain, place the plant and surround it with a 50-50 mix of local soil and compost, then pour on root stimulant to wake the plant up.

Pedro's English is about as good as my Spanish. I know a little gardening Spanish, he knows a little gardening English. The kids, of course, were just regular English-speaking high school kids. I split my time using pidgin Spanish with Pedro, who was closer to my age and a peer, and regular vernacular English with the kids, who are just kids -- they're nice kids, but they are still kids and therefore unsatisfying for conversational purposes.

It was fun unlimbering my Spanish, and though Pedro corrected me a few times (I used "antes" when I meant "dispues" when saying that we'd resume after lunch), and a couple other other flubs, we communicated quite well. 

So Pedro and youths dug and planted, I followed with diluted root stimulant in a big red bucket, and we generally plugged along like that for five hours. I turned on the sprinkler system to see if the digging had caused any problems with the existing lines, and we found a one place where the 1/2'' poly line had been punctured by a shovel, and three places where the 1/8th-inch drip lines had been severed or disconnected from the line.

Leaks need to be fixed, trips needed to be made to the irrigation supply house (Horizon, out on Boyd Acres) to get the required bits.

Two blue oat grasses, two ninebarks, and one "low grow" sumac -- all planted last year -- wanted to be moved, as they did not please where they were; and the five rhododendrons we planted last year needed to be replaced with new because the old had did over the winter for lack of water. Who knew that plants needed watering over winter? I thought they were dormant.

Lesson learned.

After the plants were in and the irrigation Band-aids had been applied, the boys hauled 40 two cubic-foot bags of medium bark mulch (Ace hardware, free delivery) down from the driveway to place around the path I'd created alongside the hot tub with the stepping stones  (which were probably responsible for the aches and pains which had woken me up so early this morning), and they dug up some disreputable-looking yuccas that had been lurking in the corner of the yard since we moved in, three summers ago.

I cut a low-hanging limb off a juniper, a limb which had knocked my hat off a number of times while mowing the lawn, causing me to develop a strong dislike for it; and we hauled rocks to plug a hole under the fence made by a mama skunk to gain access to her private little hideaway under the hot tub last winter.

I also modified the irrigation setup in the front so that the plants in the soil will be watered deeply twice a week while the hanging color baskets -- which have entirely different needs -- will be watered for short periods twice a day.

These guys were previously on the same circuit and that was another thing that woke me up: I saw how to reconcile these two needs cheaply and easily using parts found around the house.

While we were digging and planting and spreading, Mrs Elliott and one of her employees were doing tie-dye on the lawn for the KPOV Beatles singalong tomorrow night. Made a pretty awesome marijuana leaf banner, too, I must say!

Pedro was done at 3, and Mrs Elliott paid him (she has the money around here).

He'll be back next week to do lawn edging, something badly needed because I'm doing such a great job taking care of the lawn (it looks positively resort-like!) that it is vigorously invading the flower beds.

I tidied up, noticed that I was weary, drove to Newport Market (three blocks), picked up some kabobs to barbecue tonight and a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio.

I am now relaxing.

My ankle, the one that was fused in 2009, is complaining, but I am not: the flower beds look great. It was a very productive day. I hope Mrs Elliott will soon appreciate the beauty of perennials, develop the patience to let them really take root, and get over her longing for SoCal's more showy but (IMHO less-interesting) flowers.

Time will tell.

Tomorrow I'll pick up a bunch of marigolds, annual geraniums, and petunias to add some color for next month's annual summer party fest here at Maison Elliott, and install a whole lot more irrigation for the new plants.

* On the other hand, my son and I just finished watching Bill Burke's "Getting Unstuck," an instructional video about using chains and jacks and other manly implements to pull stuck vehicles out of sand and mud (considering that I managed to get myself stuck three times last year, it makes sense to learn how to undo my nitwittery) and he makes a point about wearing gloves at all times. "Keep your hands baby soft." 

And why not? I don't need to tear up my hands and fingernails to show how butch I am.


  1. Can't wait to see Le Jardin des Elliotts -- sounds like it will be bee-yootiful.

    Have you tried magnesium for those leg cramps? I'd suggest 500 to 1,000 mg. at bedtime.

  2. Well, I had blood drawn on Thursday and asked doc to look at my electrolytes. If there is a deficiency then I'll supplement. The Googles do not offer much in the way of etiology or fixes for nocturnal leg cramps. It's one of those "syndromes," like fibromyaglia, where no one knows what it be or how to make it stop.

    The quinine was not helpful. I'll wait for the lab results.


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