Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gassing the Woodchucks - The musings of Jenny Sullivan

Do I have your attention? Not to worry: I am not gassing woodchucks, shooting rabbits, or doing whatever one does to deer who destroy a garden, but I am frustrated this summer. For some unknown reason, I have never had critter problems before on this property that I have occupied for over thirty years. I take that back, the squirrels and chipmunks steal and eat my flower bulbs. But I made my peace with that years ago. I submitted to the reality that what I call “my yard” is not my yard only. Dig a little deeper, try the folkways of putting some cayenne in the soil, and you can have enough bulbs to emerge to enjoy lovely flowers while supplying the more ambitious rodents with food to feed their families.

However, this year I have had deer come up to the patio in the afternoon, look me in the eye through my French doors,  then bite the tops of my tomato plants and defy me to do anything about it. Little fat rabbits scurry when they see me coming, but they don’t fool me. I know what they are doing. And as of today, I am sad to report that I have no Asiatic lilies left, no hostas left, and half my black eyed Susans are gone. My tomato plants (the only vegetable I am attempting this summer) are housed in a maximum security prison rivalling Attica.

Finally I can identify with the speaker in a poem by Maxine Kumin called “Woodchucks.” I used to teach it to my college freshman on the first day of Introduction to Literature because it is a great poem, amazingly written, and because it would engage students, especially some of the young men, in a subject—poetry—that they were not readily disposed to. It begins

Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone.
                but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

On the next day, the woodchucks are back. The speaker tells us that the cyanide overnight had done no more harm to the woodchucks that the “cigarettes and state-store scotch” the householders had partaken of during that same period. People and critters survived their toxins.  In the poem, the chucks plow through the supposedly protective marigolds and begin “beheading the carrots” and “nipping” the broccoli. The speaker goes on to say something that I quoted to that deer munching on my tomatoes at my patio. Shaking my fist at him, I declaimed, “The food from our very mouths.”

The gardener in the poem then does what I don’t plan on doing. She gets her .22 rifle and stalks the family of chucks with clearly mixed feelings.  On the one hand, “The hawk-eye killer came on stage forthwith." She is “righteously thrilling” to the hunt. But on the other hand, the “Murderer inside me rose up hard” as she shoots “the mother” and “another baby next.”  By the end of the poem we see her wishing they had all “died unseen” underground from the knockout bomb.  Nevertheless, she is still pursuing the remaining animal, the dad. In one of the best mono-syllabic sentences you will ever read, the speaker declares “There’s one chuck left.” She is obsessed with him, “Old wily fellow.” She hunts him all day and dreams about hunting him all night. He keeps her “cocked and ready.”

I love that poem. You can go online and read the whole thing Here. I love the poem, but in real life, I have decided to let go of my frustration and anger.  Anyway, I don’t own a rifle. And I ought not to be shooting one in my small suburban back yard if I did. No, I will feed the critters if I must. I will be wiser next spring.  For now, I’ll just get a glass of iced tea and go sit on my patio and relax. Oh, I forgot, a robin somehow made her nest on a slanted blade of my patio fan. I don’t want to scare the babies. I don’t want the parents to poop on me, and I obviously can’t turn on the fan to cool off on this muggy day. Hmm. I wonder what’s on TV.

Jenny Sullivan became a garden club member here in Northern Virginia, after retiring from 42 years of teaching English.  She has authored two books in retirement, From My Father’s House, a southern novel click FMI here and The Purpose-Driven Life: A Children’s Catechism click FMI.  Jenny recently taught a course on Flannery O’Connor in the spring for Arlington County’s Encore Learning Program for Seniors. She will teach a course this fall on Hawthorne and Melville, beginning October 1. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

What's In My Garden? Hollyhocks. And more! A post by Thea McGinnis

I'm not one to complain about rain. Rain and gardens are very good friends. And rain gives me the best of excuses for having an at-home day and getting some belated writing done. Of course, with all these showers, and lots of warm weather, I've got more than enough weeds but one must take the good with the bad, right?  So, what's been growing in my garden lately, besides weeds:

Hollyhocks! (Alcea rosea)  This one's a real looker.

I get plenty of folks who will stop off and ask me what they are. They are what some call an old-fashioned plant.  They definitely have  a place in cottage gardens and less formal beds. Although, I have found they are a plus in defining the architecture of a garden because they grow straight and tall, with attractive foliage, widening toward the bottom. They flower from the top down along the stalk. They are showy but not pushy.  In a previous garden of mine, I planted them on a corner of the house, like a traffic sign. Here in this picture, my friend, Sheila, lets her hollyhock speak for itself.

Your eye was captured by the hollyhock,  travel down the length of the plant. Then you'd check out the porch side of the house planted with roses, lavender, sweet peas, coreopsis and swaths of silver king artemesia (a bit invasive but spectacular in floral designs).  The other direction was more dark green shrubbery and lots and lots of cranesbill geraniums of a mysteriously glowing blue flowers.

Cranesbill geranium is a favorite of mine
Hollyhocks are simple to grow, too. Just cast the seeds where you want them to grow! However,(there's always a however, yes?) I find them prone to rust and bug nibbling.

see how the lower leaves are bug bitten? Ugh
They might grow five to six feet tall, but the bottom leaves can be messy and unattractive.  The other issue I have with them is it takes forever to see flowers.  The first year, they just grow roots, stalk, and leaves. They winter over, then finish growing and bloom, generously reseeding themselves. So it takes a good three to four seasons before you can enjoy an eyeful of hollyhocks. They grow very much like foxgloves. Those beautiful foxgloves you get at the garden center are year two.  They, too, drop seeds but it takes a season or three to achieve the show off stage you want from them. I haven't had much luck with foxglove from seed or from the garden center, although I find them quite lovely. Their flowers are like freckled fairy hats. Foxgloves are classified as biennials (Biennial means that the plant's biological life cycle takes two years. Hollyhocks are supposedly perennials.  But, for me, having grown them, they grow like biennials.

My friend, Rosette, decided to grow a dedicated garden bed full of assorted color hollyhock. The bed was against her lovely white farm house in the country.  She gifted me a baby food jar full of seeds for my garden and I've kept it in the freezer until I get around to clearing some space in my garden. They do require full sun and like well drained soil. You can see how nice they show en masse.

Another garden favorite of mine that Rosette gave me is a perennial Verbena (Verbena bonariensis). It also reseeds itself.  My verbena likes to wave in the wind showing off her purple sign of peace. Even though they grow tall wands, they don't block other plants so you can grow them anywhere in your bed, front to back.

So, what else is growing right now? I've got lilies, and some lovely native monarda (Monarda fistulosa L.) It's also invasive so plant only if you want a swath and you don't care if it takes over most of a bed. I have to ruthlessly pull.  It's easy to share with friends as is the Verbena and Gooseneck. Hey, what are friends for? But share with warning.

I've also got milkweed. This milkweed was given to me at garden club and it's quite pretty. I've put it right next to my over seeded zinnia beds. I plant them both especially for bees and butterflies.

Enough about my garden. What about yours? If you are of a mind, send me a photo of something in your garden you love. I'll post them on Fridays. Identify the plant or insect if you can. Send your photos to ncagardenclubblogger@gmail.com

Have a wonderful July!  Talk to you soon ~ Thea

Thea McGinnis is a member of Rock Spring Garden Club in Arlington, Virginia, NCAGC District III, and writes and administrates this blog and the Facebook pages of both her club and District III. Visit both as they are chock full of interesting information about gardening.