Saturday, April 27, 2013


On a June 2011 visit to our Idaho farmhouse, I spent 'quality' time digging Austrian Copper rosebushes away from the foundation. These had been planted by Steve's mother, Alice (1912-1998), who had also planted a row of daffodil bulbs under the wide living room window. The daffodils make a stunning show every spring, and their foliage stands until it's mowed into the adjacent lawn.

While digging rose canes, I had naturally dislodged some daffodil bulbs, and though it was not the proper season to dig and separate them, I brought a few home, let them dry throughout the summer, and planted them in the fall without much hope. Idaho daffodils, I believed, would need a cold winter to flower. I was happy to be proven wrong, but still not confident that the bulbs would really naturalize. Maybe they were still feeling the benefit of freezing during the winter of 2010-11.

During the long fring and wring seasons of 2012-13, tall daffodil foliage appeared in our front garden, and by mid April I had to admit that Idaho daffodils had naturalized and were blooming against a backdrop of lavender and white freesias.

As you can see by the bit of brick in the lower left-hand corner of the photo above, I had planted the daffodil bulbs quite close to the edge of our bulb bed. Their drying foliage now stands in a row, sticking through the mulch I've used to cover spent freesias. The bulbs should be easy to find when I'm ready to dig them out in late summer or early fall. Then they will move to a circular space at the foot of our largest lavender tree, and thus the display of naturalized Idaho daffodils will be more graceful in spring 2014 and beyond.

But wait! What if Alice took the daffodil bulbs from SoCal to Idaho sometime in the 1940s or 50s and had naturalized them there in spite of the freezing winter? What if I was bringing them to their home instead of taking them away from it?

Many humans have believed that they 'took dominion' over the vegetable kingdom a long time ago, but plants can still have their secrets and surprises. Rightly so, I think.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

lavender paradox

See the tiny white flowers in the picture below?

They're lavender. The Spanish white lavender (Lavandula stoechas) I planted last spring. The word stoechas refers to the pineapple-shaped blossoms which are typical of Spanish lavenders, in contrast to the more familiar dentate blossoms of English and French lavenders..

See the lavender-and-white flowers in the picture above?

They're not lavender, except in color! They're freesias, displaying their relationship to irises by bearing their matte, pointed leaves parallel to each other and, for the most part, parallel to the ground.

See the little shriveled blue thing between two sprays of freesias near the lower left corner of the picture above. Up until last year I thought it was a Hyacinthus orientalis, but it's actually Hyacinthoides, a member of the asparagus family. Its leaves are the shiny ones -- longer and clumpier than freesia leaves.

I didn't think I was taking a picture of a hyacinthoid, but I'm glad it's there. I've been meaning to set the record straight on these delightful flowers, and on hyacinth beans, which turned out to be a colossal disappointment -- a woody-stemmed perennial that's almost as invasive as asparagus fern.

You can't see the pink or blue ("dilly, dilly") of any English, French, or Spanish lavenders in this picture, because they stand tall. Sometimes it's nice to focus on the beauties of the ground.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

azalea from 'a' to 'z'

Evidently some sort of magic occurs on February 27. On that date in both 2011 and 2013 I noted the first blossoms on our white azalea. This leads me to wonder whether the same thing happens every year. Shall I make a note in my 'tickler' file for next year?

In mid to late March, when the azalea is totally covered with blossoms, it receives a lot of attention from passersby. Sandra, who moved out of the neighborhood last spring, reported that she had used it as a backdrop for photographing her grandchildren.

This year, a woman stopped while walking her dog and asked me how I managed to make the azalea bloom so prolifically. Essentially I told her the pruning story I had related in the 2011 link above. She shook her head and walked on with her impatient dog, who may have been eager to get away from my dogbane.

Now the azalea is past its prime for sure, and the ground under it is littered with limp petals, contributing to the dismal array of freesias breathing their last. Fortunately the freesias still smell wonderful, but I'll start deadheading them soon. It will be a relief to cover the whole area with a fresh layer of mulch.

It will take a long time to deadhead the azalea. I've been allowing myself about 15 minutes a day for this ritual, but may be able to squander an hour on it some day next week. Occasionally I'll take off a twig or two, but the real pruning must wait till the deadheading is done so that the shrub isn't wasting energy on seedpods.

Passersby with their dogs and children may think I'm working hard -- unless they've read Andrew Marvel's The Garden and guess that I've chosen this time "to weave the garlands of repose."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

a mushroom chronicle, part 2

Early in the morning after crocheting and 'planting' my first mushroom (see a mushroom chronicle, part 1), I started watching for Mr. B to come out and spot it. Yes, I must have an audience for this work! When he came out, I simply had to point it out to him: "Did you see the mushroom under your chocolate-berry bush?" It looks quite real from a distance. He quickly spotted it and walked over to it, then looked at me and asked, "Did you make this?" I quickly confessed, and then had the slightly narcissistic pleasure of watching him show it to Mrs. B.

Naturally I had to make more mushrooms, and by the time I'd used up my skein of Lion Brand Homespun, I'd  added seven more fabulous fungi, in different sizes, to the neighborhood crop. A total of three are growing at the original site under Mr. B's chocolate berry bush. Four are peeping out from among the dense blanket of dogbane leaves under a Chinese evergreen elm tree in our parking strip, and one was placed at the base of another elm tree across the street. Alas! That last one seems to have disappeared -- gone the way of the bus-bench upholstery I'd installed on International Yarn Bombing Day in 2012.*

It's been fun to watch various mushroom sightings, and to speculate about occurrences I haven't seen.

A couple of days after the first mushroom was placed (and I think there was probably a smaller one next to it by that time), I looked at the spot and saw that the original mushroom was hovering a little over an inch above the ground. Evidently someone had tried to pick it, but did not complete the heist. Had s/he thought it was real, but was deterred by the sweater-like 'feel,' the tension of the wire base, or the shock of realizing that it might be a valuable piece of art? We'll probably never know.

When there was just one large crocheted mushroom under our evergreen elm, I was sitting at our bistro table in the front garden when two elderly gentlemen walked by, carrying on a lively conversation in Russian. The taller one moved out ahead of his companion and then turned so as to face the mushroom, to which he pointed and, I assume, described. His friend reached his side, turned, spotted the mushroom and literally shouted "MUSHROOM!" Then he turned to face me and asked, "MUSHROOM?" I replied, "MUSHROOM!" He smiled broadly,  gave me an enthusiastic 'thumbs up,' and hurried to catch up with his friend.

Sometime after Mr. B's grouping of three mushrooms was complete, his neighbor on the other side noticed what he thought was a proliferation of real mushrooms under the chocolate berry bush. Mr. B disabused Mr. J, whom I later enjoyed joshing.

Will there be a mushroom chronicle, part 3? I sincerely hope so. With a fresh skein of Homespun in hand and my newest mushroom gracing a potted plant in Sacramento, this has become a tale of two cities.

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* Upon looking up the posting where I described that project, I found that I had not written about its loss. Once again, I seem to be setting the record straight.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License