We had some feline excitement last night. Our youngest cat, Martin, came in around 9 pm, seemed fine, then suddenly started staggering, open mouthed, dazed. I can "home vet" most things, but anything that looks remotely neurological ...no way. We swooped into action, got him in the truck and headed south to the Emergency Vet. Everything takes twice as long becuase of the covid restrictions; they took him into the building, finally a doctor came out and went over all the horrible things that might be wrong with him (cardiomyopathy, poisoning, kidney/liver failure, stroke, hit by car, etc.) Then, once we were thoroughly terrified, she got our permission to run every test known to man and cat, take an xray, and left us to wait in the truck. THREE HOURS. We'd just about resigned ourselves to the fact that poor little Martin was a goner, when the vet came back out and told us he was slightly dehydrated and that a squirt of saline under the skin would set him right. **!#@@**! Son of a .... She said the xray showed he had a VERY full tummy and quite a bit of ...er..."digested food" in his lower tract. I said to her, "In other words, any other cat would have thrown up, taken a good dump, had a drink of water and been ok." "Yes, pretty much. Yes." **!#@@**! Son of a .... $300. Danged cat cost me $300 and a good year off my life. *LOL* We did not get home until 1 a.m. This morning, Martin was sleeping off his exciting night, got up, had a big breakfast, then made a tremendous "deposit" in the litter box (waiting of course until I had completely cleaned and sanitized it **!##@@@!!*.
I finally cut down and removed the last of the mugho pine in the Below the Deck garden. If you remember, I took down the bigger of the two pines last year because of blight. I'd left the smaller one hoping it would be ok, but in a matter of weeks it went from green to crispy brown and looked terrible. Now that it's gone, I really do need to rethink that whole big area. The mughos were the centerpiece of that garden, around which all else revolved. Now it's just a big open space with struggling hostas and pachysandra (they thrived in the shade from the pines, they aren't doing at all well in full sun). I had planted a young crape myrtle in place of the pine last fall, but it is only fractionally bigger than it was when it was planted and obviously it will take years for it to get big enough to cast enough dappled shade. I plan to take it out this fall and replace it with a very large flowering deutzia from the woodland garden, where it's being badly overshaded by the trees. Hopefully I can re-work the garden around that next year.
I've started lifting, dividing, and cleaning up the iris. I lifted a big clump of very early dark purple iris on Saturday; had enough to replant the original clump and make three new clumps, one by the road, and two up in the Top Border where I'm hoping to group a lot of iris. The interesting thing is that the original clump was in the Rose Border and it was inadvertently sprayed when I sprayed the roses with an all-purpose insecticide early this spring. No iris borers. An identical clump just at the end of the Rose Border, that did not get sprayed, was crawling with them. Hmm.
Tomorrow morning I'm going to lift a big overgrown clump of lovely raspberry colored iris from along the driveway, and I should be able to divide that into at least 3 new clumps. That's a winner. It came up on its own one year, I think it's a natural cross between the pale lavender Iris pallida and a tall buttery yellow iris.
Finally got a niggling little section of grass dug out of the newly expanded extension to the Top Border. This is one of those areas where Mother Nature has given me the plan. I wanted to expand that section of the Top Border to match the expansion in the main section, so I laid down pretty big logs to act as edging and then pretty much walked away. Naturally, the lawn grass grew tall inside the border, and in the existing older border area some tall mullein grew up, along with lamb's ear. Holy cow. What a combo! The tall lacy grass heads, the huge yellow spires of the mullein with those enormous velvety leaves, and the silvery fuzzy leaves and purple spikes of the lamb's ear are a great combination! I dug out the lawn grass (too wispy and spready) and intend to replace it with clump forming ornamental grass, maybe a yucca or two to bracket the area, and then in the fall I'll move some first-year mullein plants into the border (mullein is a biennial wildflower; first year plants are big soft rosettes; second year spires up to 7 feet tall with small yellow flowers). I left the existing mullein in place, and only trimmed back the lamb's ear because the flower spikes are finished and starting to flop over.
I've decided to try to limit the number of new plants/varieties I bring in to the garden. I've reached a point where my existing perennials and shrubs are big enough and plentiful enough to divide and I'd like to try to fill up the empty spaces as much as possible with divisions. Any "new" plants I'm going to try to raise from seed. It's much cheaper and I think that plants grown from seed seem to do better than full grown plants brought in from nurseries, etc. (I struggled for YEARS to grow foxgloves by buying plants at nurseries, but it was only after I tossed a handful of seeds into a gravelly patch of dirt that I had foxgloves...and they reseed like weeds now.) I'd like to concentrate my spending this summer on spring bulbs; with climate change, early spring is starting to be a very major period in my garden's calendar. March and April used to be very bleak, muddy, and cold months with very little going on beyond a few snowdrops. The past 5-6 years however, have been providing spectacular displays of early and late crocus, scilla, grape hyacinth, daffodils, even very early tulips, so I'd like to take advantage of that and get more of those small early bulbs to plant in areas that I can see from my windows.
I KNEW that young groundhog I trapped wasn't the only culprit in my veg. Today I found ALL my green Roma tomatoes gone....All of them. Nice big clusters too. One of the Big Boy tomatoes was munched too, I found it on the ground. All my sweet potato plants were munched down too. All this damage is on the East end of the veg; the beans were on the West end. Well, this means all out war. I got my Hav-a-Heart trap back from E, baited it with juicy cantaloupe and set it up near the eastern end of the garden. As soon as it cools off, I'm going to spray that stinky repellant spray all over that end of the garden and I'm going to wrap the Big Boy cages with bird netting to try to protect them. The Romas I'm going to cover with chicken wire. Since the Romas are now set back to where they were 5 or 6 weeks ago, I'm also going to give them a feed with organic fertilizer (something I never do), and keep watering the heck out of them to see if I can stimulate new flowering/fruiting and hopefully salvage some tomatoes later in the year.
I am both angry and disheartened. I know that this is my fault. I should have made the gates more secure, I should have raised the fence up higher all around the garden last winter. So, that's the third phase: I need to re-think how my veg gates are secured and I need to put up higher fencing all around. It just seems like a never ending battle.
I've also got to stop being so soft-hearted about the GHs. I should have set up the trap months ago, when I first spotted the GH grazing around the top of the lawn. But I figured, "oh, he's not hurting anything. As long as they stay up there...etc. etc." Well, they don't stay up there. They get in the veg and destroy months of hard work in one go. I'm still not to the point where I want GH's exterminated (my neighbor Bill reached that point a couple years ago and he shoots them whenever he spots them near his house...I wince, but I can fully understand. A couple years ago a big one got under his front porch and dug out a den along the foundation of the house. The thrown up pile of soil under the porch went up to the undersides of the floorboards and they rotted right thru. Hundreds of dollars worth of damage)
In other news *LOL*: Still horrendously hot and dry. Still no rain. The NWS keeps saying "Chance of thundershowers" but the skies remain clear. Everybody and everything is just grimly hanging on and waiting for rain.
Harvested my garlic. Meh. I got some nice bulbs, but nothing spectacular. I put them in way too late last fall so I really didn't expect much. Still, enough to get me through the winter.
Also harvested half of the first carrots. Very nice! I gave E a half dozen big ones and I've got about a dozen more in the fridge. At least the GH didn't destroy those.
Got 5 half-pints of red raspberry jam made up yesterday. More than I expected...so that was a nice surprise. I think I may be able to get a few more berries, but they are petering out and I'm happy to let the birds have most of what's left.
Overall, this is shaping up to be one of the worst summers I can remember, on all fronts. Granted, it's not as bad as the year the GH dug a huge den IN THE VEG, which took over a year to resolve. And it's not as bad as the summer when it stopped raining in April and did not rain until late September. Or the summer when it got to 100F in May and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the season. And each time, you know it's human nature to think "I'll never be able to bear this..." but you do, you gripe and whinge and grumble, weep and curse god and turn your face to the wall and pray for death (well, that's a bit dramatic but if you're a gardener you understand...). And then the rains come, the season changes, winter arrives and with it those glossy full color seed catalogs and the garden you swore you'd never ever ever plant again starts to form in your mind and then on paper, and first clear day you find yourself out there hauling compost and digging over beds.... Maybe that's the real benefit of gardening...it gives you perspective. Nothing is so bad that "next year" won't set it right.
We got 3/8 inch of rain on Monday evening. The NWS said there was a fair chance of "heavy rain" yesterday afternoon, but nada. We're still being forecast "chance of thundershowers" and high heat and humidity for the foreseeable future, so I'm hoping more of that rain finds us. Haven't stopped watering!
The beans that were munched by the GH seem to be recovering. I've been watering them every other day and have fencing over them to protect them from further predation (yes, yes, it's that "horse has flown" thing). I was able to harvest a surprising number of beans from the two patches, so maybe, fingers crossed...).
Harvested a nice broccoli for supper and there are at least 2 more very nearly ready.
In the veg, I went over the central circular shaped bed, which is planted with ornamentals, not veg. It needed a good weeding and tidying. Then I drove up the mountain and brought home a load of mulch. Watered the circle bed well, mulched it, and it looks good. A bit sparse now the tulips and alliums are gone, but ok. The small "starter" dahlias I planted there are up and growing; being watered and mulched should do them a lot of good. The big dahlia clumps that I put in along the veg fence are really doing well and I hope I can actually see blooms on them this year. One dark leaved variety with melon-colored single flowers is already blooming!
When I got the mulch, I decided to be smart. Instead of just heaving it into the back of the truck, I took 20 big buckets and filled each one. I almost never bring home a heaping full load of mulch, and having it in buckets makes it soooo much easier to unload.
I don't see any further damage from animals in the veg, but I am not letting my guard down. E borrowed the Hav-A-Heart trap to catch a young GH in her tool shed, but as soon as I get it back, I'm resetting it and let's see what happens.
For the first time in 33 years, I'm also having a little trouble with squirrels. We've never seen them on the property, but last winter I spotted a nest in one of the woodland area trees and yesterday one of the little buggers got the suet feeder open and polished off a brand new cake! I'll have to get something squirrel proof.
I've been trying to work areas of the garden every day to keep things going forward, but with the heat (90sF) and humidity, it's been slow going. I finished weeding and tidying up by the Asian Garden entrance and that certainly looks much better. I'd like to introduce some sweet woodruff up there to spread around with the vinca. Also more alliums for spring "pop." Started to prune the Autumn Olive; it needs a good going-over. If you keep them well pruned they make lovely small spreading multistemmed trees, but if you leave them to their own devices, they form dense shrubs. I've learned that pruning during July seems to keep them from throwing up hundreds of watersprouts and new shoots. I'm glad I took out the big honeysuckle bush that was growing next to this autumn olive; I dithered over that, but removing it has let the dramatic shape of the autumn olive really show.
It's been a bad summer. In mid-May I started having trouble with vertigo (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)). I have had this before, and it just generally goes away after a while. It finally cleared up about 10 days ago, and that's a relief. It's not very serious, just that sort of "losing balance" feeling whenever I tip my head back or get up from lying down too quickly. But then losing my two cats and all the anxiety that caused, and now this intense heat and drought. And the groundhog damage, which admittedly is small potatoes compared to what a lot of people are facing, but still...it's a bother. And of course, there's the underlying worry about the covid epidemic; the news there just keeps getting worse and worse. It's just been very stressful and I've found myself having a few of those "what's the use" moments. I think I'm past that, and I'm trying to get back into the rhythm of the garden. Today, I'm going to make a few pots of jam from the red raspberries, and I think I have enough beans and carrots to bring out the canner and put up a few jars of each.
I'd like to also try to get back to work on some of the main projects. I need to finish off the Folly Wall and the steps between the two raised beds. I'd like to re-lay the brick paths down near the Pond Circle...they've gotten sunken and uneven over time. If I can get more bricks, I'd like to make the side paths a bit wider too. Then there's the new topiary gardens that I'd like to get into shape. The shrubs that I planted in those two areas are doing very well, but I havent done anything beyond that. Should get those areas cleared off, mulched, etc.
I have a feeling that most of this is going to wait until we get a little cooler weather, and also, I've committed to helping E build her drystone wall so that's going to take time and energy away from my projects. I guess the only thing any of us can do is "Keep calm and carry on."
Brummm brummm Brummmm brat brat brat brat brat brat brat brat.... DAAAAA!!!! Yeah, that theme from Jaws is what I heard in my head this morning when I went to check on the Hav-a_Heart trap. It was empty. But one of the fiberglass fence posts that E and I used yesterday to support the extended chicken wire fence above the regular garden fence was SNAPPED IN HALF. Something big hit that fence and hit it hard. We're going to need a bigger fence.
Still horribly hot and dry. The chances for rain keep edging upward, but so far, nary a drop. I'm staying indoors this afternoon, getting caught up with housework, sewing projects, and office work. This morning, E and I drove the truck down to Maryland to see about gathering some rocks for her wall project. Beautiful countryside down there around Broadfording. When we arrived at the house where the rocks were, which E found out about through a post on Freecycle, by coincidence it turned out that she and the woman of the house actually knew each other. That's always a facer. After exclamations and raising of hands were completed, we followed her husband across a cow pasture to a couple of piles of miscellaneous rocks. Most were not what we were looking for, but we did come away with about 20 good wall-building rocks and a handful of small, flattish stones to use as wedges and fillers. He told us we could come anytime and get more. I am not extremely happy about bumping across 32 acres of cow pasture to get to the pile and I hold a very dim view of working in a field where a bull is resident. He assures us the bull is so friendly he'll let us scratch his ears (not going to happen), but I told E if we do go back, we don't go near the small herd and we leave the truck doors open at all times, keys in the ignition. I grew up around people with livestock and my father always emphasized how very unpredictable male animals could be; he would never let any of us near a bull, a hog, or a stallion, no matter how "tame" the owners claimed they were. It's good advice; not that many years ago, our rural community was horrified when a man was killed by his bull.
On a less ominous note. The mimosa are in bloom and the air is filled with their honey scent. And my oakleaf hydrangea is also in bloom; that strange, musky, evocative scent is something I always equate with mid-summer. That and the smell of corn fields in bloom...one of those scents that I'm never sure I like or not.
Whoop, whoop! I caught [a] groundhog in the Hav-a-Hart trap and relocated him to a big field about 3 miles away. I am not sure, however, if he is the only culprit in my ongoing war on woodchucks. That's it, we'll call it that: The War on Woodchucks, otherwise WOW. Last evening, I went into the veg to water the tomatoes and noticed my cat acting a bit strangely. Went to investigate and there in the trap was a young groundhog. Poor little guy. I know I talk all tough and no-nonsense about fighting them, but my heart just goes out to the poor things sitting there in that cage, terrified. I got the cage into the truck and drove him over to a mowed hayfield, where there's a big rock pile and woods along the edge of the field...perfect GH territory. Let him go and he dashed for the rock pile. I think he'll do just fine.
The problem is, I'm pretty sure the GH I actually saw IN the veg was bigger. This means there's likely another one prowling around. So I re-set the trap and I'm monitoring it all day...I check every hour or so, so nobody is stuck for very long. The trap's in the shade too, to be safe.
This morning E came over and together we got that chicken wire strung up along the southwest corner of the veg garden fence to raise it up. With her help it only took about 20 minutes so that was great. I think if I can keep the mangled bean plants well watered and protected, they will recover and I'll probably get more beans off them later in the summer. This evening, I'm going to also re-spray the entire corner of the veg with that repellant just to be sure.
Very hot and more humid today, forecast high in the mid 90sF. Still no rain in sight, but the chances for "scattered thunderstorms" seem to be going up. I was able to do a little deadheading of lamb's ear and some general tidying up along the upper part of the South Border, but there's really nothing much to do in this heat. I did get a clump of iris cleaned up, badly infested with borers. This was a clump down in the Long Border that somehow got neglected last year. The borers I found were pretty small and the iris should recover nicely. I did not have to dig the iris up and really tear them apart to extract the pests. But, boy, there were a lot of them...in one fairly small clump (maybe 2 feet square) I dug out about 10 borers. I'll need to go back over that whole border, clump by clump, and make sure I stay ahead of these awful pests.
I'm trying to figure out a way to make a sort of temporary/portable fruit cage for my raspberry patches. What I'd like is a "module" kind of thing, maybe panels of screening that could be easily hooked onto temporary (sturdy) posts during the fruiting season, then taken down and either stacked or used else where in the garden (to protect young seedlings, or provide shade, etc.). So far, I'm thinking the support posts could be simply PVC pipe set into concrete bases, just heavy enough not to topple in a wind. If I made the posts in 2 pieces that connected together with a PVC "collar" connector, then I could actually adjust the height of the posts...low for protecting let say a bed of cabbage seedlings, high to protect the raspberries. If I drilled holes in the PVC and insert hooks of some kind, the screened panels could simply hang on them (with maybe zip ties to anchor them more securely). When not in use for the cage, the posts could be used as supports for climbers like beans. I wonder if I should do a "proof of concept" with some of the scrap materials I have lying around the place...hmmm....a way to be productive during this heat wave.
One good thing about these hot breathless July days is that I'm forced to sit down and just "be" in the garden. I've been making a point of taking my morning coffee out to different locations around the garden and just sitting and observing. It's a REALLY big garden! *HA* I guess when you garden like I do, hitting one small area at a time, moving on, a little here, a little there, it's easy to lose sight of the "big picture" and I tend to forget just how "grand" this place is, or at least is moving toward being. I'm also surprised and pleased to find that I have little "vignettes" popping up here and there, a nicely placed bird bath, an unexpected pot of succulents, things to catch the eye and pique the interest. I'm so looking forward to growing my garden over the upcoming years. It's gratifying to see that the oldest, best established borders and areas are really taking care of themselves now, with only necessary input from me a few times a year (mulching, tidying, etc.).