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A Window On My World

This is not a daily blog.
Posts will be published on occasion and irregularly as I am able.
Some of these posts are from my web site The Garden At Crocker Croft.
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Saturday, March 07, 2009

I Think I Killed It

Barbee' seemed to disappear along about August last. Things were happening... not writing, but other things. What's wrong... where was she... what's happening... did she drop in a hole? Kentucky does have all those limestone sink holes. Did the ground open up and swallow her? Did she forget how to type?! Barbee', are you OK?
Notice: The following photographs are not of the garden this year (2009).

The oppressive heat of zone 6's spring, summer, and early autumn kept heat-sensitive me running to the cool basement family-room before I could faint. Outdoors, it didn't take long for me to grow faint and dizzy. The young people looked at my scarlet face and wondered. They kept going. I couldn't tolerate the heat long enough to do a good job of supervising. Back to the basement. Making some good use of my time I managed to write a little - very little - my mind was out in the garden where little was being accomplished.
The pile of years and cup of health drying up pulled me down.

And then, cooler weather finally arrived. Whew, what a relief! A grand push was made to re-do the Island Bed. (Remember the iris project?) I thought this might be the year, and the time! Things were falling together: Some irises had been moved in early summer; I had two new part-time helpers, one was good at details; the weather was cool enough for me to bear; the soil was dry. We began.

The challenge:
The Island Bed has two rows of peonies extending the full length of the bed. They have never been well cared for, because I could not reach them when they needed deadheading and weeding. That is because the bed is solid with spring bulbs that have multiplied over many years until they are solid. As a result, the bulbs have gone to grass (as it is called when they get too crowded, produce foliage, but few flowers). The bloom ratio to foliage is fewer each year. They have needed thinning for many years, that is, the new young bulbs sorted out and the large mature bulbs planted back in.

First to bloom are the Daffodils/Narcissus, and grape hyacinths. (Notice how the March wind deposited a white chair in the Island Bed, and tipped over the green metal chairs.)

As they begin to fade...

they are followed by the English Bluebells, Spanish Bluebells, and, I suspect, hybrids of the two.

Further challenge:
As if that were not enough, there were overgrown irises
throughout on top of the spring bulbs. A mess? Absolutely!divider

If you click on the following three photos and enlarge them, you will be able to see the fading blue and white bluebells mixed in the whole bed, and the ball shaped buds of peonies. That bit of red is a tulip that squirrels relocated from elsewhere.

Because of the large size of the bed, and volume of irises and bulbs, I knew it would be a bear to tackle!

I had put it off nearly twenty years, but it began to look as if it might be do-able at this time. New beds had been prepared the past two summers. In early summer, an experienced helper moved approximately a third of the irises to the new locations. That gave me encouragement.

The new, detail-oriented helper was assigned the task of laying out steppingstones to make three paths alongside the peonies. First she had to take up all the irises in the paths, then weed and dig up the bulbs that were under the irises. I told her if any remained down deep underneath the concrete pavering blocks that she was placing, they would just have to come up under them and eventually die. The project being such a behemoth, that would be the best we could do.

I stretched a string the length of the bed to mark one side of the path. For paths numbers 1 and 3 that worked quite well. Path number two, the one running between the two rows of peonies, was a bit of a challenge. The rows of unkempt peonies were not straight. Dropped seeds had produced new plants, and old ones had enlarged in girth over the years. The rows were blurred.

To make matters worse, the perennials had been cut back to 3 or 4 inch stubs. They all looked alike! Is that peony, or ironweed?! Do we dig it, or avoid it? Frustration! They all look like peonies, but not sure... lets leave them until spring when we can make a positive identification. I looked at old photographs to see if I could determine what was what. Patient Helper was asked to make swerves around some out-of-line clumps. She wanted to make the paths aesthetically pleasing, and was not happy with the way the middle one looked. In hopes she would not be too unhappy and fret, I told her: Once the foliage grows in the spring, the paths will not be seen. So far, so good with the paths.

In the meanwhile, the other new helper was set to removing irises in section A.
(We tried to keep the groups of irises separate in hopes of keeping colors separate.) Then he dug weeds and spring bulbs sorting them by categories: daffodil/Narcissus and English bluebells.

While he did that, I worked on the iris plants that he had removed. They had never been thinned. It required a lot of cutting back foliage, peeling off old dead foliage, and pruning of rhizomes to remove old and diseased parts. All of that was sent to the landfill tied up in plastic bags because they surely contained eggs of iris borers.

My next step was to clean them in a bucket of water. Next they were soaked in a bucket of water with a small amount of chlorine bleach for thirty minutes. Then they were rinsed in clear water. By then they looked pretty good, so I spread each group on the sun warmed backdoor steps; one group to a step. After they dried for two days, I bagged them in plastic bags.

That process went on for days on end. I had the help of a third person for a few days, so he was the one who set out irises and bulbs into new areas. I sent an e-mail message to homeowners in this neighborhood offering free bulbs. I gave away hundreds.

At that time the soil was the texture of loose sand, we could take up a handful and spill it through our fingers like sand; we felt as if we were working in a desert.

Some days the high temperatures returned and I could not work. So much to do! and I had to stay in the cool basement.

The plan was:
(1) Clear out Section A, plant some of those in new areas, save the best to plant back in, and give away as much as possible.

(2) While I was working on cleaning those irises and giving away bulbs as much as I could, Section D would be cleared.
Some of its plants were added to the give-away pile.

By the time it was clear, plants from A would be ready to be planted into D.

(4) Plant into D. Meanwhile, I would work on cleaning and sorting plants from D. When that was done...

(5) they would be planted into A.

(6) During which, I, and only I, would work on B and C where the peonies grew.

It never happened.

Section D was never finished of removing the bulbs, and weeds.

(Look at the plants, not the woman in the funny sweat band and hat, and sweat drenched clothes!)


Now... Sections A & B, left and center paths:

Sections C & D, center and right paths:
Section D, right path:
You can see where he stopped when the rain began.
Almost halfway through the whole process, the autumn rains began. And that was the end. The gate of opportunity was slammed in my face.

The good bulbs never got planted back in. Right now there are dozens and dozens of uncleaned iris plants and bulbs sprouting in plastic bags in the garage.
To prepare a virgin area for a new bed and plant it out must be a great joy, I will never know. To wrestle with an old one and try to restore it is an onus. If I were young, strong, and energetic perhaps it wouldn't be quite so bad.

I knew we were racing against nature's clock, but I had to take the risk. Did I ruin the bed? Come spring will it be pathetic looking? Will it be salvageable? Your guess is as good as mine.

Once the autumn rains started
with such an immediate heavy handed onslaught, we soon realized there would be no mild, forgiving winter this year! Immediately, day after day, we have had either heavy rain, ice, or snow, or all the above almost every day since then. Drab, cold, wet winter weather slammed the door on me and my plan while it was still autumn.

Only the calendar noted the difference when autumn slipped and slid into winter.


Anonymous said...

The new bed looks amazing, Barbee! What a lot of work! Although, I must say it was beautiful as it was, too. It's good to see you again -- good luck in finishing off this lovely garden this year. And I'm with you when it comes to heat tolerance...I don't. :)

themanicgardener said...

That really is a "behemoth" of a project. And while it's discouraging not to have finished, it seems to me that you accomplished a great deal. And I'll bet you didn't kill it. You should know soon.

Here's hoping there's less heat this summer, and you get to enjoy your garden more.

patientgardener said...

Barbee welcome back - that sounds like a mammoth undertaking. I am sure in the end you will look back and feel it was worth all the effort. Things always have to get worse before they get better. I wished I was one of your neighbours as I would have enjoyed receiving free bulbs!!

tina said...

So much lushness and beauty on your piece of land. It is simply stunning. I bet it will come back even better.

Barbee' said...

nancybond: Smiles to you, too, Nancy; sounds as if we are two of a kind when it comes to heat. Thank you for the encouragement.

themanicgardener: Oh, I hope so, Kate. I guess if I did kill it, I can consider it a new slate.

patientgardener: Thank you. It is good to be back. It has been a rough winter; I'll write more about that later. Wouldn't it be fun if gardeners could live near one another and trade back and forth, and visit each other's gardens. There is one energetic man in this neighborhood who took many bulbs of all kinds. And, now he says he wants some Eranthis. I think I have plenty to share, don't you?

Hi tina: Oh, thank you! It is true: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, I am glad that you like what you see. Thank you for the encouragement.

Gail said...

Barbee, I don't think you killed it...you edited and the flowers will come back better then ever! I agree with the other commenters...that was a huge project and you did get most of it completed. gail

Barbee' said...

Hello Gail: I think you 'Picked' my post in Blotanical, thank you. I guess we will soon know the status out there in the Island Bed. Over the years my husband has said more than one, that I over-do things. But, I didn't know what else to do. I am grieving over the plants dying inside plastic bags in the garage. If the winter had not been so wet, I could have continued tucking them into the soil here and there. But, the rains began with not time to dry up between, and my help gave up and disappeared. Hope they will come back in the spring (with the birds :)

Titania said...

Hi Barbee; I came a few times but you were not there I thought a long holiday was due. What a mamoth task. Once the beds are planted out again it will be a joy next spring. I am no good in the garden when it is hot, so in summer my garden grows into a wilderness! The bulbs you gave away will look a treat in other spring gardens. I hope spring and summer will not be to hot for you this year. Best wishes T.

Skeeter said...

That sure does look like quit a project there! I dont take the heat well either. I work myself ragged this time of year in order to get it all done and sit back and enjoy it all during the hot summer months. I now have a water sprinkler to take care of most of the watering as well to keep me out of the heat. I cant wait to see your beds when they are full of pretties…

lynn'sgarden said...

Barbee, your mess of the Island bed was never a mess...just a beautiful collection of pretty bloomers! What beautiful photos from past years. But I understand the need of a gardener to dig and divide..a chore we ALL put off..lol. Your irises will thank you when they're in their new home...reminds me..I gotta divide mine!

Mariaberg said...

Has it been your birthday?
Happy Birthday!!!


Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

Nice that you are back - and you have been so busy - WOW!
I dont think you have killed it - its just resting before taking off in a new direction.

blossom said...

Nice plots. Beautiful flowerbeds. What a big garden you have there. Lots of work for you, big project to be completed and smiled upon.

joey said...

Wow, lots going on, Barbee! What is it about time ... Never seems to be enough and certainly flies! Delighted to see you back :)

GardenJoy4Me said...

Barbee ! Holy Moses Girl !!!
I can't even imagine trying to tackle such a huge project as you have had on the go. I too hide in the house from the heat, so mornings are jam packed for me to try and get as much done as possible .. evenings I just go to bed so no nice summer nights outside either.
A huge wow ! and it will look wonderful .. just hang in there and let mom nature help out too

JGH said...

Missed you, Barbie. Wow you are a regular bulb factory over there - and your lucky neighbors now too since you are spreading the beauty out around the neighborhood! What a job. Can't wait to see the effects - the pathways look amazing.

keewee said...

My goodness, what a huge undertaking. I think I have learned a lesson,from reading your post. I will try to keep on top of things like digging up, separating and relocation my bulbs as needed. This is one of the reasons I love blotanical, I am learning so much.

Gardeness said...

Holy smokes you're driven! That's impressive for sure. Can't wait to see it all back and beautiful.

Esther Montgomery said...

Oh, this is an agony post. I almost wish I hadn't read it.

Such a lot of work. (I hadn't known about the soaking in chlorine bleach.)

And such a lot of worry.

It looked lovely, absolutely lovely before . . . and I hope it will again . . . and now you have people all over the world willing it to come right (and better) (no, better isn't possible . . . more manageable? healthier?).

Really looking forward to what happens next!

(What's happening now?)


garden girl said...

Wow - that's a lot of work! It looks great!

Good to see you back!

Balisha said...

Hi Barbee,
I feel like I've been through all the work with you, reading your words of description.What a huge undertaking. None of us can keep up as we age...just do the best we can.We are all in the same boat. The picture of you with your flowers is so pretty.

Barbee' said...

Titania: Thank you for your interest and encouragement. It is very, very much appreciated!

Hi Skeeter: Don't expect too much of the beds full of pretties. I may turn the sprinkler on me and work in wet clothes when it gets hot again. That might feel good.

lynn'sgarden: I know people who got rid of their irises because they were so much trouble what with the dividing, and in this area we have the iris borers, which are probably hatching out there right this minute. I have read the eggs hatch once the temperature reaches 70 degrees F. I should be out there cleaning irises in the front that have not gotten it, yet, but here I am at the computer. I do get torn between writing and the garden work.

Mariaberg: Thank You! How did you know I had a birthday in October?! I have one every year :)

Karen-An Artist's Garden: Thank you, Karen, for the positive feedback. What would I do without everyone's encouragement!

Barbee' said...

blossom: Thank you, thank you. I still call that large one the Island Bed (which it was when we moved here) even though over the years I have made it more the shape of a peninsular.

joey: I think with me it is because I get slower each year. Thank you. I have started another post, but it is way not finished.

GardenJoy4Me: Yep, I never have been what you would consider bright and quick of mind. Now... I know what I SHOULD have done. I should have taken just one section at a time and completed it before going to the next one. The problem was: I was trying to get the most efficacy out of the students helping me, for I knew classes were starting and they would be gone. Therefore, I spread them out over the whole project, and tried to synchronize everything that needed doing.

JGH: Thank you. I thought she did a very good job. It was a dirty job, but she didn't hesitate to tackle it.

Barbee' said...

keewee: Welcome! Great to see you here! Feel free to learn from my mistakes.

Gardeness: Can't wait to see it all back and beautiful, myself :) It may be a while getting to that point.

Barbara said...

Morning Barbee, Love the pictures of the garden. I know it takes lots and lots of work to keep one going, I admire your work.
Thanks for coming to visit. Come again.

Pomona Belvedere said...

Since I have the same tendency to come up with huge projects, I can sympathize. But put me in with the other commenters who point out that this was an enormous task and you finished quite a lot of it.

I don't do well in heat either. Some of my tricks might not work for humid areas, but I see you already use one of them: soaking your clothes. Looks dumb, feels great. A trick from the Chinese is forsythia and honeysuckle tea (fruit of Forsythia suspensa, flower of honeysuckle - plain old Hall's honeysuckle). If you don't have the ingredients in your garden, Chinatowns will have it, often in an instant powdered mix with sugar. It's a great iced tea and really helps the heat thing.

Barbee' said...

Hi Esther: It was an agony project, too. I do the chlorine bleach soak in hopes of killing iris borer eggs and bacteria that might cause the pruned and damaged rhizomes to rot. I don't know when those photos were taken, but each year it has looked worse. It really needed a firm hand. What is happening now?... rain and cold.

Garden girl: Yes, it was a lot, and still a lot to go. Thank you. I can't manage to blog regularly; I just snatch a few minutes here, and few minutes there.

Balisha: Thank you for the positive feedback. If you feel as if you did the work, too, I hope you aren't feeling the soreness.

Pomona: I have been wondering where to put a few vegetables this year, if I have too much bare space in the big bed I may put them in it. Thank you for telling me about the Chinese tea mix to offset heat problems. I had never heard of it, but I will look around. We have some Chinese supplies stores.

Cait O'Connor said...

What a fabulous garden you have Barbee, I have enjoyed reading about it and looking at the wonderful pics.
I will visit again.
PS Thank you for your kind words on my blog.

Barbee' said...

Barbara: and, top of the morning to you! I am beginning to wonder how much longer I will be able to keep this garden going. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. I know I am behind with my blogging.

Cait O'Connor: Thank you, Cait. I appreciate your visiting us over here. My roots are in the British Isles, so I love to visit blogs over there. My maiden name is Jones, and father and grandfather were both named Wesley. Sounds Welsh to me! We have visited Wales once and spent a weekend there. What gorgeous far vistas. I think I know why we in my family are far-sighted. It came in handy while I was there. I loved it!

Barbarapc said...

Barbee - I've missed you! What an enormous job and sooo much work. I think it's going to be better than ever. Fingers crossed for a benevolent spring. I hope your cold is on the mend soon - Kevin & I have had success with ColdFX - it's a Ginseng formula of sorts - really keeps the symptoms down & shortens the colds for us - don't know if they sell it where you live. Take care!

Barbee' said...

Barbara: Thank you, Barbara, I appreciate your visit and the information. I finally have another new post published.

quu said...

You and your helpers made a huge job!

I can't stop loving and watching your big trees around your garden, so lovely they are :)

Barbee' said...

Quu, I am so glad you came over, and that you found something here to enjoy! We love the trees, too, though they do cast a lot of shade. As I get older, and the climate becomes warmer, I am learning to appreciate the shade more and more.