idol survivor | daily-fic challenge, day 17 #2 | 2130 words
It's Sunday and I have two Idol stories to write, and yet I found myself in the garden this afternoon. There is so much to do, inside the house and out, with whole weekends of chores and projects that have already been deferred many times over for weather or for writing. At this point, it would help just to get some of them done.
But the only one I was really prepared to do something about this weekend was the garden.
The beautiful spring day was a reminder that there is a limited amount of time to clean things up and do some replanting. Once the weather turns hotter, any new plants are likely to die, and the ground becomes so hard that trying to remove weeds is like trying to chip concrete. Last year, we missed out on replanting altogether. Nurseries were closed due to COVID, and by the time they reopened, it was too hot for new plants. We have a dead rose-tree that needs replacing, because HalfshellHusband (HSH) stumbled over it and killed it a couple of years ago. Then there are the trouble spots, two along the front walkway, two next to the house, and the remaining two are in semi-open areas in the middle of the lawn. All of those spots are revolving doors, where plants go in and then die a year or two later—or their neighbors die instead. Too sunny, too wet, too… cursed? It's always something.
Except for the areas near the house, the other spots were shaded by really large trees when we moved in, and they have been nothing but trouble since we had to remove those trees twelve years ago. It's the Sacramento heat and sun that does it—few plants can tolerate being out in the open. But because those areas were previously landscaped, it's hard not to want to revive them. I would be more prone to let them go than HSH, because the yard is already over-planted compared to the amount of time I have to spend on it. But so far, he hasn't liked the idea of letting more of it transition to becoming lawn.
The previous owner apparently hated mowing the lawn, and probably invested heavily in landscaping (OVER-landscaping) because he knew he'd be selling the house at some point. But the lot is a third of an acre, and there are just too many areas of open dirt (weed magnets) and too many plants that need pruning, deadheading, or other cleanup.
I focused on weeding and cleanup last weekend and this weekend. Buying a new rose tree requires going to the big nursery five miles from here, and that place saps my will to live. \o? I love the smaller nursery just a mile and-a-half away, but they don't have enough stock or diversity to find a suitable replacement there. The previous rose tree was one of ten, all of them different, so variety is key. I'm putting that trip off until after Idol is over, since I already have more than the maximum amount of stress and time-commitment I want right now anyway. :O
Last Sunday, I cut back the rose bush by the pool, where it crowds the pavement and makes it hard for anyone to get past it. I do this multiple times a year, and that plant frustrates me for a number of reasons. It sends up tall runners, which need pruning, and the branches perpetually die back in random places. There are tons of dead stems underneath it that need removing, but they're hard to get to, and it's a very "stabby" plant. It has soft, pliant branches that specialize in getting caught in your skin, and it's hard to get unstuck. Eventually, I always lose patience with being clawed and scratched by it, and move on to work on something else.
Last weekend, the 'something' was nailing a fan trellis back together and remounting it along the wall next to the pool, so it would be ready for the morning glories in that area to grow on again. Then I went out front to do some weeding.
Weeding is a hopelessly endless chore in our yard. That's true of most yards, actually, but ours is so large that you can never do more than make a small "dent" in the job. I've wanted to put down landscape fabric and groundcover material ever since we moved in 22 years ago, just to slow the weeds down. But so many parts of the yard had blooming bulbs that it just wasn't possible. It was only a few years ago that I realized that because I don't actually love those flowers (virtually all of the bulbs produce paper-whites or white gladioli, and white flowers bore me)… I could dig them up! And then begin slowing the weed production in those parts of the yard.
So, I've spent the last two years doing bulb removal, and now I'm just waiting to remove any remaining gladiola shoots that show up this summer (the bulbs create tons of 'babies', each of which can host its own plant, and those babies are tiny and hard to find in the dirt). Then it'll be time to install the landscaping fabric and groundcover.
We actually pay for a gardener (an expensive one), but his idea of weeding is like HSH's, meaning that it involves using lots of Round-Up, which leaves a garden full of ugly dead weeds behind. The gardener also uses it on weeds that are near the bases of real plants, and I worry that he's going to get Round-Up on the plants we like! So, I weed pre-emptively, clearing out space around our plants so the gardener won't be tempted to get too close.
Every region has its weed-scourge. In Sacramento, it's grasses and spurge. The latter is full of seeds, has a deep tap root, and needs almost no water. In the summer, I think it survives just on dew. It used to plague most of the yard, but in the last couple of years, something new has take its place—something besides the increased moss. I tried figuring it out by looking at weed pictures and filling out online weed-questionnaires, but no luck. The survey questions were especially useless: "Do the leaves alternate, spiral, or run parallel?" Um… none of those? "What color are the flowers?" Flowers? There are no flowers!
I got so desperate, I finally Googled the thing it looked like, because sometimes that leads to a helpful answer if other people have asked the same question. Instead, it turned out that "soil algae" is actually a thing all by itself! So I'll be looking for ways to eradicate that. \o?
A different weed that started showing up maybe five years ago, one I kind of like. It has pretty little orange flowers on it, and if I lived in a wilder, less landscaped area, I would be happy to let it grow in little clumps. Google tells me that it's a scarlet pimpernel, which is a surprise. I've heard of that, but would never have guessed it looks like this thing. Mainly because, who was the bozo who named it? "Scarlett" means 'red,' and this flower is decidedly orange.
It is not the prevailing weed in the large front-yard circle I've been replanting over time, though That area used to have a huge tree shading it, but now half of it is in the open sun for most of the day. The change in "climate" killed most of the azaleas that used to ring that tree, and I've replaced them with more sun-loving plants—some of which also died within weeks or months of being installed there. It's looking more stable now, but there are a ton of weeds and a lot of cleanup to do. If I ever get it under control, it will be an early candidate for landscape fabric and bark chips or rocks.
I started working on that area last Sunday, but ran out of time before I could do more than a quarter of it (which is typical). Even then, I'd intended to stop earlier, because I was losing daylight. But I spotted an enormous weed standing up out of some flowers, and went over to pull it. Then, I discovered that the flowers belonged to a single plant on the far side of the circle that had spread to cover nearly half of it, and had consumed an azalea and another plant as well. I was out there in the dark cutting part of that thing back, and I went out again today to scale back more of it.
Rhizomes. No one told me there would be rhizomes! That's how it spread so far.
It's a pretty plant, low-growing with lavender-blue flowers, and it blooms through the end of summer. That's a quality I look for, because "summer" is the season we have from mid-April to September here (and sometimes longer). It's always a surprise to work next to this plant, though, because it smells like, well… horse sweat. Kind of acrid, with a hint of rye grass. Not like a horse stable, like actual horse sweat. Yay? It's a type of sage, but different from the two tall, dark-blue sage plants I have, both of which are trying to recover from temperatures that hit freezing for a couple of nights this winter. Wimps! They and a few other plants died back a little because of that, so I have to prune the dead parts off and hope the plants will resurge. So far, so good.
The tall red sage in that large circle is one of the plants that died off at the tips. From previous weeding efforts nearby, I know that that it's very popular with butterflies and bees—both honeybees and the large, black wood bees that frequent our yard. Today, it also attracted a hummingbird.
People talk a lot about hummingbirds, but no one ever seems to mention how they sound, and what they sound like is an extremely large, buzzing insect. Eeeee! Every time I hear one, I'm afraid I'm about to be attacked by a giant bug. They've dive-bombed me before, maybe because I have reddish hair, but my hat covers that up today. So instead, I watch this little creature zoom and swoop and then hover to sip from the red blossoms, again and again. At one point, the slant of sunlight across his throat reveals iridescent red feathers, which go back to looking black when he shifts position. I've always thought the hummingbirds in this area had black throats. The ones I grew up with in Oregon are red throated, and I've missed them.
He flies to a nearby tree periodically, a little worried about my presence, and I hear a "Pip! Pip!" that I realize must be his. Such a tiny little sound, so hard to notice over the song of the mockingbird a couple of houses away that is going at it full throttle. Eventually, he leaves me in search of different blossoms, possibly somewhere else in our yard. The red camellias that flower in late Fall are another hummingbird favorite, but those are out of bloom now. Perhaps he'll visit one of our many rose bushes? We still have more than fifty of them, and most are in the red/pink/orange color spectrum.
I get a lot of weeding and cleanup done in that circle, but again—there's so much, I can never really finish. Some weird little weed that looks like a miniature tree is really prevalent there, and for the first time, the seeds from the two nearby Chinese pistache trees have sprouted everywhere and are creating extra work. Ugh—no thanks!
Still, things are looking much better. The catmint and lantana are starting to come back from the freeze, though the dwarf morning glory is looking like a goner—another failed experiment. The azaleas are in bloom there and all around the yard and the roses are starting to flower.
All in all, it's the most beautiful time of year in our garden. Even though the work is endless, and there's so much that it's closer to being damage-control instead of tidying, it's still relaxing and rejuvenating to be out in the dirt and grass, surrounded by all of that gorgeous life.
Neighbors walking by often tell me that our yard looks wonderful, and I'm usually surprised, even though I shouldn't be. I need to try to see it through their eyes, instead of with the critical gaze of its chief maintainer.
Just like remembering to see the forest instead of the trees, I need to learn and relearn how to see the garden instead of the weeds.
I'll try to add on some pictures later, if I get a chance.