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E-Garden Almanac: August 2008

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Location: Iowa

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Teasing Autumn

Cold fronts and weathermen on all channels have blessed us in recent weeks with mild, seasonal weather and even occasional spells of much needed rain. The once hard concrete of my garden has mellowed again to look more like the Iowa loam it is. But with all of these blessings comes fleeting hints of finality, the drawing close of a growing season that I never look forward to but anticipate with readiness.

It's about this time of year that my thoughts involuntarily shift beyond garden chores. School has started, seeds from summer breeding work need sown, and calls start coming in for lecture engagements aside from my other writing projects and ever persistent work in the nursery office. Sometimes I wonder if time is really my own, when it rightfully should be! I've let more weeds come on too than I should and have gradually let deadheading give way to computer work. I've pared back my plant ordering this fall too (unorthodox and potentially blasphemous for this plantsman) in anticipation of trial specimens I'll bring home from the upcoming Garden Writers convention in Portland, Oregon.

But aside from the normal shifting of seasons, and the reprioritizing of my gardening life in seasons not conducive to much gardening, I seem to be teased by autumn. I love fall colors, leaves and fruits. I enjoy the pace, no slower but with a different beat. But autumn also brings a sense of nervousness in me, a rush I feel only when I'm caught between two things. In this case I suppose it's winter and summer. I'd rather plant, weed, and stroll about than bundle up and trudge. It's all done in fearlessness though, for gardening is endowed with an unwavering promise of another season; perhaps only cynically dimmed by the outlook of the farmer's almanac.

Incidentally, the farmer's almanac is predicting a warmer October than average for Iowa. Just another element of a teasing autumn!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mr. Toad

Like any plant-crazy nut, I've made a habit of ordering seeds upon seeds from my favorite houses over the past few seasons when the dreaded "spring clearance" notification email hits my box. I even drug in a friend on the fiasco and managed to spend $150 last spring with Gardens North (terrific source for unusual perennials). So over the last year, in perfect synch with each species' biological needs, I've been sowing various Corydalis, Lilium canadense, Lilium concolor strictum, and an assortment of other "must-haves".

But it's my lilies that I was most proud of. I had a small lawn of seedlings in two, two-gallon containers of each of the aforementioned species. Tender, grass-like blades emerged from each pot teasing my senses with thoughts of their grandeur in maturity. Lilium concolor strictum boasts multiple sanguine-hued blossoms in bijou little clusters in July. Lilium canadense on the other hand is much less gaudy, but intriguing nonetheless in mixed shades of lemon, gold, and apricot spotted wildly. I had spots picked out for them, combinations planned, and photos shot in my head. I've slowly been taking on a lily obsession and this was step one in the program.

You can imagine the look of aghast (okay, frankly I was just plum pissed) on my face when back in late June I came out to the garden to find both pots bubbling at their rims with the sandy potting mix they contained. Who did I find? A jaunty amphibian companion that I dubbed Mr. Toad. He'd found a cool respite in the confines of my lily pots (both of them...had to pick the best one of course).

Needless to say this nasty habit of his has continued all summer without regard to what he's digging up in the process. My formerly grand stand of lily seedlings have been diminished to the largest bulblets that I've managed to salvage from the mounds left behind. My Corydalis seedlings are all but nonexistent, though I'm hoping that the pots that were tipped from the well cover where they sat might yield some surprise seedlings growing in the path next spring. Wishful thinking I'm sure. If there were Corydalis in the bed as it were, reseeding to hell and back, I couldn't keep them out of the path.

And to top it off, tonight I found another smaller toad creeping about some seedling Amsonia I transplanted last month. But I can't say that I'm mad anymore. Why? It'll just give me warrant to buy some more seeds next April come clearance season.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of Acorns and Oaks

The beauty of this blog is that it's as erratic as its author. Nothing like skipping July, right? But why blog when you can garden? I admire and have great reverence for my garden writer colleagues who maintain a vigilant, unwavering presence in the blogosphere. But alas I lack the dedication to preach vociferously to what I know must be a small audience. A great deal stirs the listserves, at least in garden writing circles these days, about the opportunities of the future. Will they be there? What will they be? It seems that a paradigmatic issue surfaces regularly. What is the future of traditional communication mediums? The underlying tone of most of these discussions is gloomy and foreboding.

These technocratic discussions about Internet piracy, media literacy, and communication systems aside, the oaks here on my southwestern Iowa farm are putting on heavy loads of acorns bearing the full weight and might of their limbs it seems. Fuzzy, pokey, and spiny green golf balls hang patiently from every bough waiting until a layer of cells in the peduncle that holds them to that limb senesces and gives way to gravity. Tumble they will all over my patio, sidewalks, roof, and into anything with an open top; "marble city" as we call it around here. But as annoying as the biennial event may be, I have a resolute fondness for our aging stand of bur oaks. Their stoic presence goes on most days without mention or recognition, much as it has no doubt for the last 100 or so years many of them have stood here. What is about oaks that I find so inspiring? Years before a computer, the Internet, or even me, they've put on rings of wood, set acorns, and shed leaves ritualistically and programmatically. Not out of any sense of disregard mind you. They're just trees, living organisms performing a life function much as we do when we worry about our kids crossing the street alone or learning to drive for the first time.

So why on this most serene evening in August would I choose to write from my now acornless patio about oaks? If it's native wit to worry, I'd rather worry about stumbling and tripping on acorns then the strife of a digital age. By the way, don't tune in again soon. I might be picking acorns.