Month: April 2016

I’m back!

It’s great to be back in the blogosphere! Fortunately all the data from my dead computer was recovered and transferred to the new one. My bookmarks! My garden photos! All those Word docs! I’ve been having a reunion with them all evening.

And now I’ll be able to “like” blog posts and comments again. For some reason it wasn’t possible to do that using my husband’s computer.

Once I’ve recovered from this experience (I was really fond of the late HP Pavilion) and from finishing up my income tax return, I hope to beaver up some real posts.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.

R.I.P. One Computer

Sadly, my 6-year-old HP Pavilion laptop, which has been a reliable and helpful tool, has bitten the dust. A black screen, and single flashes from lights near the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys meant CPU failure. I’m writing this post on a borrowed computer.

On Monday I’ll get acquainted with the new machine, and (of course) Windows 10. Why Monday? Because part of the setup process will be data recovery from the corpse.

One lesson learned:  back everything up. Even though I have copies of my really important documents in “the cloud,” a whole lot of stuff that didn’t seem all that important (but is) exists only on the now inaccessible hard drive. Hopefully recoverable.

So get an external hard drive, set up a cloud account, and do regular backups. Especially when your machine is getting on — 3 years and older, I would think.

So Long, Sucker! But There’s (Another) One Born Every Minute.

My garden is full of them. Suckering shrubs — Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus), and common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) — the last now in glorious bloom. There’s a suckering tree as well — the dreaded Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), known around here as the Tree from Hell.

Common lilac in bloom

Common lilac in bloom

The standard advice for dealing with suckers is to trace each one back to its point of origin on the parent shrub and tear, not cut it off. Tearing has a lasting effect, apparently (similar to plucking rather than shaving unwanted hair). Remove soil if necessary to accomplish this, the advice says, helpfully. Well, that’s fine if the shrub and its suckers live in solitary splendour with nothing around them except grass, possibly, but what do you do when the shrub is surrounded by perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, and even other shrubs? “Removing soil,” otherwise known as digging, isn’t really an option in a densely-planted mixed border, especially if a multitude of suckers has popped up several feet away from the parent plant.

The best advice is don’t plant sucker-prone shrubs to start with, no matter what other qualities they possess. So what if they’re native plants? Both Mahonia aquifolium and Symphoricarpus albus are native to my region, adapted to local conditions and trouble-free. They settled in happily here, sending up shoots with enthusiasm over the years. If I had several acres at my disposal and wanted a natural garden that could be left to its own devices, these plants would be great, but on a 50 x 120 foot lot (that also accommodates a house, garage, driveway and paved walks), planting these and other suckering shrubs guarantees either a wilderness effect or a gardener ready to nuke everything with herbicides and start over again. (I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self this lecture).

So — with the “nuclear” option not practicable, and not being ready to move to another patch of land, what do I do about suckers (besides curse and wail)?

In theory, it would be good to create a cordon sanitaire around sucker-prone shrubs, clearly defining a no-go area for each one. No suckers beyond this point! This would be done with a sharp spade, plunged into the ground all around the offending shrubs, at a distance of several feet. The process would have to be repeated at least twice a year, similar to edging a bed or border. Given the brutality and intensity of the work, there could be no plants of value growing in this foot-wide space. But setting a border makes the situation seem less chaotic and limits the space in which sucker removal is absolutely necessary.

Any suckers detected outside the cordon sanitaire would (in theory, at least) be removed immediately using minimally invasive techniques. First, the good old yank-by-hand method. Sometimes it works. More often than not, the sucker snaps at ground level, leaving a stump that’s hard to hold on to. Or the bark strips off, resulting in a little whip that’s too slippery to yank. A tool is then needed. For small young suckers, a dandelion tool works. Thrust it parallel to the sucker until it cuts and the sucker releases. (But remember, cutting isn’t as effective as ripping). For older, thicker suckers, a small, cheap, pointed saw of a type designed to cut gyprock (sheetrock) works fairly well. Like the cutting-with-spade procedure, this search and destroy operation is best repeated at least twice a year. Three or four times is better, especially in regions with mild winters. Constant vigilance is best.

I have a fleeting hope that if I follow these processes diligently, the shrub will get the message, “None of your suckers will live to see the light of day!” and stop sending out the roots from which suckers grow. But somehow I doubt that will be the case.

A forest of Oregon Grape suckers

A forest of Oregon Grape suckers

In reality, the years have a way of slipping by, and the gardener is not as diligent as necessary. In my garden, it’s too late for the cordon sanitaire. Roots of Oregon grape and snowberry have spread far and wide. For the past several days I’ve been engaged in an epic struggle with an enormous Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium). I removed three large stems (diameter 2-4 inches at the base) and reduced the remaining plant’s height from about 12 feet to 8. Worst of all was pulling, digging or cutting (sometimes all three) a multitude of suckers, ranging in size from less than a foot tall and 1/4 inch in diameter to 4 feet and 1 inch diameter.

Oregon Grape prunings (right) and suckers (distant left)

 

Typical Oregon Grape suckers

Typical Oregon Grape suckers

 

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The "after" picture

The “after” picture: remaining Oregon Grape visible behind the Ceanothus

I cherish no illusions that the suckers are really gone. Their stubs and deeply buried roots are still there. They will no doubt rise again, like a bunch of prickly green zombies. Really, the best way to avoid suckers is not to plant suckering shrubs. And if any plant shows suckering tendencies, rip it out.

This lone orange tulip has been blooming for weeks -- and doesn't sucker!

This lone orange tulip has been blooming for weeks — and doesn’t sucker!

 

Fiction and technology — a guest post by Audrey Driscoll

Thanks to Kevin for giving me a venue to hold forth on this topic!

WHAT THE HELL

Cracked Smartphone5

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about how writers today are steering clear of references to modern technology. Well, Audrey Driscoll, a supremely thoughtful writer, thinker, and gardener from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, commented on the piece in such a provocative way, I asked her to contribute a guest post on the subject.

Here it is, and many thanks to Audrey!


TECH IN FICTION: ARE WRITERS STUCK IN THE 1900s?

by Audrey Driscoll

baby 167_pejkdjkfdoNo, this isn’t about Word or Scrivener – it’s not about using technology as a writing tool, but incorporating it into written works. Right after I read Kevin’s post, “Why does fiction eschew modern gizmos?” I thought of several reasons why modern tech may be absent from current fiction:

  • Many authors, especially self-published ones, are retired folks, middle-aged and older. Quite often their fiction incorporates or is inspired by events recalled from…

View original post 1,028 more words

Retirement: Week 1

April Fool’s Day. Is this a good day on which to begin something new, I wonder. Retirement, maybe? Quite possibly, since it’s viewed as a transition from Productive Person to Old Fool Fogey.

For the first month or so, I have no definite plan. The idea is to do whatever I feel like, with plenty of little rests between bursts of activity.

Day 1: the Spouse, the Dog and I went on a small ramble in East Sooke Park, one of the more scenic spots in a region that abounds in such spots. The Dog met a puppy that wanted to play and obliged politely, much to the puppy’s owner’s delight. Other highlights of the walk were a small beach of coarse sand and small pebbles, sightings of Erythroniums and Fairy Slipper Orchids in bloom, and the distinctive foliage of Rattlesnake Plantains (not in bloom). On the way back to the parking lot, the Dog was in her element, bouncing through a rather muddy field. A surprising amount of soil came home with us, leading to muttering about “spending my retirement cleaning up after that Dog.”

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Erythronium in East Sooke Regional Park

Day 2: in the garden, edging, mowing and raking the remains of the two small sections of lawn that are frequented by the Dog. I’m hoping the grass that remains is a specially tough variety that will persist. Otherwise, replacement with some sort of gravel and/or pavement will be necessary. Even in its ravaged state, it looks much better after the attention received.

Day 3: in the garden again, yanking out snowberry suckers from one of the perennial beds and wondering why I ever planted snowberry. Yes, it’s a native plant and drought-tolerant, but it sends roots and suckers all over the place. They come up in the middle of perennials such as asters, necessitating surgical probing and removal which is probably temporary. Note to self (and others): if ever creating a garden from scratch, avoid suckering plants. Snowberry isn’t the only one here with that sneaky and annoying tendency. There are also Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), common lilac and the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), also known locally as the Tree from Hell. It forms weird brain-like structures underground at considerable distance from the parent tree, from which grow clumps of suckers.

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Gardening in progress! (Note the fork).

Day 4: grocery stores and banks. Tedious but necessary, and it’s a novelty to do this stuff on a Monday. Nice long nap in the afternoon.

Day 5: a cool showery day, perfect for distributing compost to various perennial beds. It’s verging on too late for this job, because plants have sprouted and leafed out to the point that one can’t just fling the compost around without worrying about crushing delicate new growth. So I deposit it unevenly and tell myself that as it’s absorbed into the soil, the benefits will trickle down, like wealth from rich to poor. (We’ll see about that).

Day 6: a morning walk with Spouse and Dog along the southward-facing bluffs by Dallas Road. Glorious day, cool enough that the sun feels good; not too windy. Dog wet and happy after romping in the waves; several walkers not happy about wet dog nose. Then back to the garden: potted up a couple of refugee plants, did some spontaneous weeding here and there, and removed a large foxglove plant that was impinging on a clump of asters and some feeble lilies. Foxgloves are another near-weed that does well here (and almost everywhere). This one was the standard magenta type, so no great asset. Away with it! Later: made some Root Beer Barbecue Sauce.

Day 7: another glorious summer-like day (will have to start watering soon, if this keeps up). Went downtown and acquired three books (A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and — with reservations — The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), and some tea (Murchie’s Raspberry and Ceylon Uva), courtesy of generous colleagues and coworkers. At home, stashed away items brought home from the office a week ago — photographs, pen-holders, three rocks (used to weigh down the pages of books being catalogued, or as paperweights) and scraps of paper with helpful or inspiring quotations.

Rocks & Quotes

The quotations: “Faith is the ability to live hopefully without answers.” (Mary Fisher, I’ll Not Go Quietly)

“You don’t want to sharpen the axe for your own execution,” and, “Uncommonness is a reason to prompt reflection and inquiry, not necessarily to exclude.” These two from cataloguer librarians, in posts to the Authorities and Cataloging (Autocat) email discussion list, which as a cataloguer I found to be an invaluable resource.

“Perhaps the greatest folly possible for a culture is to try to pass itself on by using principles of efficiency. When a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough to afford redundancy of nurturers, but eliminates them as an extravagance or loses their cultural services through heedlessness of what is being lost, the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide.” (Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead).

And finally, “The world is full of possibilities. Things irretrievably lost may not be lost. Believe in yourself. Trust your intuition. Stick to what you know to be true. True stature comes from within. Turn grief into music.” (Linda Zuckerman, quoted in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, volume 54, number 1 (January 9, 1995).

Forget-me-nots and Gentian

Forget-me-nots and Gentian