Plants that don’t die

If it’s not one thing, it’s five others

It’s not bad enough that Lake Shitticaca shows up on my driveway every time it rains, reminding me of the Upcoming Great Retaining Wall Explosion Get Your Own Now Only $75,000 event, but we had quite a downpour yesterday and I could see just how quickly the bare ground, exposed by my overenthusiastic neighbor when he weed-whacked my blackberries (without asking), is going to wash away. Scary.

So I got a hook thingie and using all the muscle I’ve built this year pulled out from the trailing-blackberry cover the spring’s clematis prunings, which are conveniently wrapped up in bird netting, hauled the whole mess over to the naked area and plopped it over the worst part, hoping it will provide at least partial protection until I can get with a neighbor who has a pickup and go get 10 or 12 bags of mulch to cover it, and some jute cloth (ideally, but it seems to be hard to find locally) or more bird netting to anchor it to the ground. That ought to work, except that it looks as if one of the drainage channels is going to go from neighbor’s side of the property to mine, and I don’t want that At All. I may do some judicious dirt rearranging to make sure that doesn’t happen. His foundation goes down to bedrock, so his house won’t be floating down the ravine if all that dirt goes away; mine, as far as I know, has no footings at all. Of course. Having that shored up would probably be another $75,000 project. I don’t even want to know.

Neither of these has been good for the Anxiety Monster, who’s been feeding on them very happily and making my life a living hell. Acupuncture this a.m. helped a lot, but the effect starts to wear off after seven or eight hours, which is frustrating.

Good news is that I went to a readers’ theater group today and we ran through two old radio-show scripts from “Suspense,” and it was a lot of fun. And they let me in and were nice to the new kid and everything.

The “landscaping for erosion control using native plants” class I’m taking is going to be much more comprehensive than I really want, but I learned a lot in Monday’s class and the teacher said we’re starting on erosion control tomorrow. I’m surprised that the five-hour-per-day class exhausts me, but it does. Monday’s included about two hours in a local nature reserve that has about 100 native plant species. I discovered that I have a few red elderberries along with the sword ferns (which I will protect with my life, since they do extremely well with soil retention), a bunch of not-terribly-helpful bracken ferns, enough trailing blackberries to stock a nursery (which I’m sure everybody else has, too), and of course the big, non-native, invasive Himalayan blackberries (the huge, bushy ones that cities have to cut back every year and have thorns the size of a football field) that I have learned do a very poor job with soil retention. It’s not going to be pleasant trying to figure out how to get those things out (if I do) and put other, more suitable things in, and even less pleasant actually doing it.

So there’s my current life: one fresh hell after another.

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Found it!

Thanks to the erudite Paul and Toni on my gardening list, I have identified Lazarus as belonging to the Kalanchoe family, species blossfeldiana. As per here. Or maybe pinnata. The pinnata photo looks more like it; this one shows the little plants growing out of Leaf Mom. Apparently, if I don’t kill it, it will bloom this winter. If it has lots of 14-hour nights. Which shouldn’t be difficult this far north.

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Name the funny little plant

A couple of weeks ago, Arvin gave me a cutting from an odd little plant whose name he couldn’t remember and I didn’t know. He said that if you take a leaf off it and place it on dirt (or anything else), it will as it dries out start producing first little roots, then tiny little eensy leaves as it clones itself. The main cutting is still in a glass of water, but of course I had to pull off a leaf and drop it into another pot, in which I was rooting a couple of philodendron cuttings, to see what would happen.

Here it is, after two (maybe three) weeks:

funny plant

Pretty cool, isn’t it? The leaves are so tiny it’s hard to see what they look like, but a closer view shows they’re going to look just like their parent:

funny plant close-up

That’s a little blurry; it’s a dim day and my sensors don’t want to focus on the part I want them to focus on. The following has been sharpened to within a millimeter of its life, and it’s pretty noisy, but you can see the leaves a little better:

funny plant again

Isn’t it cute? I think I’ll name it . . . Lazarus! Now, can anybody figure out what its formal name is? I’ve tried searching, but can’t seem to hit on the right approach to get useful results. And I don’t have a succulent resource book. (I don’t see how this could not be a succulent of some kind.)

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Light thingie and monster veggies

I’ve tried several times to describe what I’ve been working on to stick up over the bookcases and serve as a shade for some lights, which I will also stick up there. So far, I’ve not done real well, which is really frustrating since I deal in words for a living. But as they say, one picture is worth a thousand of those unsteady commodities. Here, then, is a shot of the first section, which I finished and stuck up there just a few minutes ago. It’s not properly in place, which is why the edge of the bookcase sticks out a tish; it won’t when it’s up for real:


I went outside this a.m. to water stuff (it’s been hot) and was reminded that two allegedly annual plants have become trees in my back yard. Unfortunately (but typically), neither of them is one I want to hang around for a long time. This one is Osaka mustard, which is pretty tasty but hot and tends to get awfully big. It’s at least two years old and survived a very cold winter this year.

mustard tree

It’s already bloomed and made seed, so I’m figuring that after tossing it down the coulee, it’ll spread all over the place. I’ve found half a dozen baby mustards around already. Probably from last year.

And this one just kills me. It’s a celery plant. It’s survived at least two winters now, and this last one entailed at least a week of 9 deg. F. temps. Though I should probably respect it for its tenacity and toughness, it scared me this a.m. when I walked past it; I heard it chuckle “bwa-haa-haaa” as I passed, so I knifed it down and pitched it down the coulee, too.

celery tree

It was about five feet tall (yes!) and looking exceedingly malicious, and I didn’t want it to hang around long enough to develop A Plan. I wouldn’t feel safe at night.

In other plant-related news . . . I’m thinking that the only way to guarantee that any given plant will grow is to dislike it. Couple years ago, when I threw out a whole bunch of beet seeds, every one of the dang things sprouted and grew. This year, when I carefully planted seeds from three varieties, I got nowhere near that percentage germination, and one variety (Rote Kugel) has been a serious flop–I don’t think there’s a single one out there.

I guess what I have to do is go outside and snarl and grouse at the seeds that I really want to grow: “Don’t you dare sprout, you rotten chunk of green manure!” And even I would feel silly doing that.

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The home stretch


Finally, finally, finally, I seem to be getting closer to the end of this bleedin’ yard project. After coming home from the 42 Months art installation this a.m., during which I wore myself to the bone herding a bunch of Grannies and a couple of very nice volunteers, I finished putting in the weedcloth, staked the four-bys and laid the bricks in very roughly. (They’re nowhere near level and probably won’t be even after I futz with them; if not, I shall simply declare that the result can be blamed on many years of frost heave. So there.) I intend to have another level of deck put in where the murkled-up ground in front is, though that will probably cost $2000. Everything does. Or more. Then there won’t be much I have to mess with.

Meanwhile, having missed three hours of sleep as well as run myself ragged for four hours, I’m whipped. It’s to the knitting chair for me for a while!

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B-i-g banana slug

big ugly slug (tm)

I have a philosophical affinity for these guys, since they’re native to the area and the Ugly Nasty Black Slugs ™ aren’t. I try to kill the UNBS ™ and leave the banana slugs alone. Until, at least, all the little slugs start looking like b-slugs, in which case I’ll have to stomp them, too.

This guy showed up on the deck yesterday and was undoubtedly the biggest one I’ve ever seen in my yard. He could move pretty quick, too, which is why I put down two quarters. In case he got away from the first one.

I usually toss the b-slugs down in the coulee where they’ll have lots of food and places to live, but I was not gonna touch this thing. I came into the house and got a latex exam glove and put it on before picking it up. It must’ve weighed three or four ounces and it was cold and slimy, even through the glove. Ishy. The things I do for principle.

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Blueberry run amok

Above is one of my three half-size blueberry bushes, one branch of which has run seriously amok. The white oval shows the main plant, which until this year was very well behaved and about the size it is now. This year, the monster killer branch (orange arrow) shot out and its leaves are at least three times the size of even a full-sized blueberry bush.

I rather doubt that I’m the only person on earth ever to have experienced such a thing . . . but as Snaotheus says. . . “Mom, you have more weird problems that nobody else has ever had than anyone else in the world!”

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Engineering feat … ?

cable time

Here we have the results of digging out the big bed and putting in stablizing cables. It looks pretty weird (if I were into bad typos, I’d say “wired”), but should at least keep the walls from sagging any farther toward Skagit County than they already have. I’ll let it set for a week or two to let the spikes adjust to the new position, then tighten it up again. Maybe a couple of times. Then put the dirt back in. Tried to keep the cables low enough that they won’t interfere with planting things.

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Kudzu of the North


Holy strangulation, Batperson! I flopped onto the porch swing this a.m. after shoveling half a yard of dirt out (yes, out) of the big raised bed, and barely escaped with my life.

The kudzu vines of the North—wild blackberries—have started to take over the deck and are seeking a way in the back door. Most of those on my hillside are the fairly well-behaved native variety, which tend to crawl quietly along the ground rather than growing thorny canes big enough to build with, but my proximity to the woods (which you can see, definitely dark and deep, on the right side of this shot) means they’re always trying to get in. Or out. Of the woods. Or somewhere where they’re not!

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The nasturtium that ate Seattle

Take a look at this puppy. This is one measly (hah!) plant. Just one. One. Now, why doesn’t anything else grow like this out there?!?

And while we’re at it, what would cause this? They go down the road for two or three miles before going out of sight.

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Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak

My buddy Rick was over yesterday and decideed he’d play with my Spiffy New Camera, and he got some good shots. These are Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak (one of the sets—there seem to be two pairs of black-headed grosbeaks around), who have become pretty sanguine about people being in the back yard and encroaching on their birdfeeder.

This one, of one of the Douglas squirrels, is really good. Yes, you’ll probably be sick of Cute Critter photos by the end of the summer!

And finally, this one ought to be titled, “Shake Your Tailfeathers!” It’s one of the many, many nuthatches that flutter around all day.

My fuchsia isn’t blooming yet, which is too bad, so the hummingbirds haven’t been hanging around the way they usually do.

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Back yard babies

Spring and summer are always amazing in my tiny back yard, because the forest is Right There and I get to see all sorts of neat things. Among those are the garden spiders, the Douglas squirrels, and the birdlets.

Now, I’m not too fond of spiders, but I can manage them as long as they stay in their proper places: Outside. Since moving in here, though, and witnessing daily their industry and suchlike, I’ve developed an affection for the garden spiders and found myself calling them “the sisters,” with affection. That, plus the fact that the poisonous spiders I grew up with seem not to be in much evidence around here. So each spring when their babies hatch, I’ve greeted them with excitement and watchfulness, moving them to areas I thought needed extra bug patrol now and then.

Right now, there are three big bunches of them: one on the swing, one on a window, and one on the back door. The one in front I put on the peas and strawberries a couple of days ago. Here are shots of them; keep in mind that they’re each about the size of the head of a pin. Very cute. I have to admit, though, that after shooting them, I keep itching for hours, as if little crawly things are all over me. 🙂

Little guys on the swing, about three days oldBaby spiders, each about the size of a pinhead

Along with those are the considerably more photogenic nuthatches (did you know they’re the only bird we have that wanders on trees upside down?) and the Douglas squirrels, which you’ll easily be able to tell apart:

Nuthatch on feeder


Douglas squirrel munching warily

Really, do they get any cuter than that? I don’t think so!

However, my ongoing quest to be rid of the invader gray squirrels came to a rapid halt the other day. I saw one of the juveniles on the bird feeder, chowing down like any good adolescent, facing away from me. Went outside, intending to chase him off or maybe (if I was fierce), whack him with something. Walked up behind him; he didn’t even notice. Made a sound; he didn’t notice.

Reached out and touched his tail. Still paid no attention, just like a teenaged boy with his head in the fridge. Took hold of a fuzzy tuft of tail and yanked.

The fur came out in my hand. Squirrel jumped and whirled in midair to face me. Eyes got big and round, the size of dinner plates. Jaw dropped (I’m not kidding, it did!) and he shrieked and leaped off the birdfeeder, flapping all four of his little legs fit to kill, hoping to fly but not doing it. Landed on a bush and kept on flapping, scuttling off into the brush as fast as he could.

He hasn’t been back since, so I must’ve scared him half to death. But Ryan was right; there’s no way I could kill one of those. I have a sort of personal connection with him; how could I? 🙂

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Catching up

I’ve certainly been derelict in my duty. Should have posted about meeting The Probable Future In-Laws last week, as well as several garden- and knitting- and exasperation-related things. But nobody reads this but Ryan and me, so who’s to care? 🙂 Here they are, left to right: Paul, Kristen, Eric, Les, and Diane. (Eric was lifted from another photo and I squished him in here, because he was outside the lens’s capabilities.) Nice people, no? 🙂

All the Kristen clan

Very nice people, enjoyable, I felt quite comfortable with them immediately. Probably because this was nothing like an actual social occasion—they were all out here helping son Eric move to Seattle, where he’s just gotten a new job. We had lunch, did some furniture shopping, and went back to Eric’s new place, where he spent the next three hours trying to make his home theater system work. Very focused and determined young man, but I thought it was quite telling that, even though he’s got an engineering degree, he dove into troubleshooting with a distinctly non-engineering, non-logical, and hence non-traceable approach. 🙂 Kristen was trying to convince him to use a more structured approach here, setting a good example by reading the manual. 😀

Here are Ryan and Kristen showing off their team building skills, as opposed to team-building skills, with Eric’s recalcitrant TV in the background:

Kristen and Ryan and bookshelf

Still, it was wonderful to spend some time with Ryan and Kristen, and I got some measurements off her so I can finally (I hope) start her top shortly. Since I sprained tendons in the PALM of my HAND yesterday—how on earth I do these things, I do NOT understand—it may be a few more days before I get to it. I also have an enormous stack of yarn purchased for the socks/hats project for Pine Ridge that I need to get started on, and ran across a shawl pattern that would be a great granny accessory. I’m not a shawl person and certainly don’t need the extra layer of warmth, but it’s a good thing for a granny costume. The blanket-thingie proceeds apace, with only about two skeins left before I need to join the pieces. Hope I can figure out a way to do that without its making a ridge.

Day before yesterday, I transplanted the gourds into big pots up by the garage, where I hope they’ll get more sun and hence grow better. However, the root balls were not very big. Yesterday, when I came home from town, most of the plants were flattened out and droopy. It had been sunny all day, as opposed to the previous week or so’s coolth and cloudiness, so I hope it was transplant shock; but who knows. I’m just baffled as to what’s going on. Used to, I could stick something in the ground and it would grow lush and lovely. Then I had children. Everything I put in the ground turned brown and dried up. The children grew up and left home, but still, nothing seems to grow well for me. Maybe having children gives you a black thumb.

I’ve not gotten Grandma’s birdfeeder up yet. Haven’t quite figured a way to do it with minimal damage to the screen, and I’m trying to come up with a good tether so that when it falls off her window, it won’t be hard to retrieve. I’ll work on that this afternoon.

Meanwhile, critters at the birdfeeder this year include two pairs of black-headed grosbeaks, a spotted towhee (cool, because of its bright red eyes), a couple of black-headed juncos, lots of nuthatches and chickadees, some finches, and the acorn woodpecker who showed up last week, though they’re not supposed to be here. Haven’t seen the pileated yet this year, but he’s pretty cagey. Also, of course, the little brown squirrels and those damned squinty-eyed gray squirrels. So far, the blowgun project isn’t going particularly well. That shouldn’t surprise me.

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Squirrel bait

When I picked up stuff for Grandma’s bird feeder the other day, the seed-store lady and I had an interesting discussion. She insists that she’s caught several squirrels with her Havaheart trap, while mine has sat, set (the trap is set—I’m not having sat-set usage confusions), on the deck for a year and nothing goes near it, whether it’s baited with goodies or not.

So yesterday, I followed her advice: put yummy squirrel stuff on the deck trailing up to the trap, and put some peanut butter with sunseeds in it inside. She swears this will catch anything. But nothing appears to be even noticing it exists, so I’m not holding my breath.

Actually, I’m wondering where the #@!! raccoons are, since none of them appears to have gobbled up the yummy corn-etc-trail overnight, either. Bah.

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Disgusting bugs

It’s almost June, and half my plants or more are still inside. A good portion of that is, I suppose, because I’m dirt-shy after putting things out at a time that turned out to be too early last year. But my little gourds and tomatoes, still in the house, are starting to put out blossoms, so unless I want to play bee with a paintbrush, they gotta go out.

Learned yesterday that spit bugs shouldn’t be simply ignored, which is what I’d been doing. My poor little rosemary plant looked as if it had been slobbered over by some drooly giant, so I (gag) put on a latex glove and started squeezing the spit blobs to kill the bugs, a la Ciscoe. Only trouble is, they’re all wet and slimy, and so when you squeeze them they shoot out from between your fingers like a wet grain of rice. Ick.

Eventually, I got ’em all killed off. But then, two of my lilacs were looking awful, so I pruned them way back. I don’t quite understand this; they were doing pretty well last year, especially considering that two of them had been picked up and moved a couple of times. I really have never had much difficulty getting things to grow, and I think it’s quite ironic that I’m having the most trouble here in this extremely growth-favorable climate where lush green things are all around. Probably they sense desert in me and die.

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