The Distraction

Island Life


The news people were saying last night that there are just four more months to the election. When November rolls around, that is about the time that I begin to think about, and soon after that act upon, switching to my winter tires and the extra traction they provide in the snow that we mostly don’t get around here. I have been dealing with snow on the roads over the last three winters when I go to Montana for the film festival in Missoula. The trip this past February saw a fair amount of snow, and the drive over and back is the only trip I have taken this year. I have only put twelve gallons of fuel in my car twice since then, and the snow tires are still on. Part of the reason I opted for studless snowtires was that we mostly have snowless, if not necessarily dry roads around here most winters, and metal rivets scratching away on naked asphalt is just annoying, as well as destructive. And so, I am driving around on slightly more aggressive rubber, but not tearing things up, and not driving much at all. So the question poses itself- do I even bother to switch to summer tires this year at this point?  If I do decide to make the switch, that also means I will have to buy new summer tires to replace the old ones I have beaten the crap out of by way of my two cross-country road trips in the last two years. We’ll see. I suppose the choice would be: head into Seattle for the second time since February and risk exposure to the expanding plague, or stay here and tend to the plants. Given current circumstances and a lack of any future travel plans, perhaps that decision has already been made for me.

While I kind of quit being a plant person almost ten years ago, the truth is you can never really un-plant yourself. It would be nice to say that all the plants that were started here and placed in the ground around the property have carried on and flourished. Unfortunately, that is never the case. Especially when you have the competing interests of other plants and things we call weeds and the new and different swings in the weather that tend to change well thought out plans in a moment’s notice. And so it is that I look around for plant survivors as I make my way back to the neglect that has overcome a fair bit of the landscape. There are the obvious plants – the ones that have thrived regardless of how much attention I have not paid them. There is the rose that one could say is “going to town” in the front yard right now. I spite of parts being torn down in the snow two years ago, ‘Sir Cedric Morris’ is blooming like crazy as it always does around this time of year. I always thought of it as a climber, as it is now at least forty feet up into the maples and the south American Beech, but technically I guess it has been classified a rambler. As the word for the month in my minute movies group is plant, and since I have selected this particular ramblin’ plant to highlight in it, I won’t say much more, other than the fragrance is a subtle but welcome ambience every time we go out the front path, and after a week or two of multiple single white blooms, Cedric is starting to shed its petals in random, botanical snowfalls each time a breeze passes its way. The rest of the front yard is slated for clean up at some not too distant future time- for now our focus has been on easy livin’ in the back yard.

That is after all the way it is supposed to be, isn’t it? The great, American backyard has been cast as both refuge and retreat. I should probably stop there, because while our backyard space has become both retreat and refuge, it is not a typical example of Americana. There is no lawn- there is no barbeque pit or gas grill. There is dirt, which until we get the bridge across the pond (hopefully later this summer) is now the three dog wrastlin’ arena. I had thought about doing vegetables there, but that would have never worked, given the mayhem they manage to inflict upon the potato patch behind the fence as the rough house rumpusing sometimes goes out of bounds. The potatoes are doing well, although sometimes partly trampled and broken. And as we beat back the incursion of weeds and stuff into this open space, we have moved to the edges of things and dug into areas that have suffered from the I’ll-get-to-that syndrome for too long. It is there that I have made some interesting discoveries of plants I had thought were long lost. As I was cutting back a clumping grass in one area, I noticed small starts of leaves that were coming from a place where I had planted a species lily- L. pomponium- years ago. I do not know that I have ever seen it flower there, and if it had flowered it would have been hard to miss its deep orange-red bloom, even though it only gets to about a foot tall. Having not really noticed anything of it at all as of late, I had been fairly certain that being overwhelmed by the grass and chomped by the slugs, all had probably ensured that lily’s demise. I made a teepee of sticks over it to keep the dogs from stomping it and cleared back the surroundings. It has since been overwhelmed again, so my next plan is to dig it up, pot it and look for a more suitable home for it in the hopes that I won’t lose it again.

Another plant whose survival completely astounded me is a relative of the jack-in-the-pulpit clan, and is known as Pinellia tripartita. As there had been a couple of other arisaemas in that same area and also from the aroid family, my assumption had been that all had perished in what appeared to be a case of just bad soil, even though at the time I had planted everything I’d felt as though it had been amended enough- apparently it was not enough to their liking. Anyway, I was tracing back to their roots a number of our native, running blackberries that were streaming up and out of a shrub that had also collapsed to one side in the snow two years ago, and I noticed once again a cluster of leaves coming up from the area where I recalled the Pinellia had been planted. As with the lily, after the “it can’t be” had passed, I dug down and found a grouping of bulbs that separated into four, which did wind up being potted and now all of them are displaying their characteristic three-leaved stance at about eight inches. I’m not expecting Jack in his pulpit for another year or so. I have planted out at least five or six varieties of arisaemas over the years and all were not long lived. It was a pleasant surprise to find this aroid still kicking, and I’m looking forward to finding some other places in the garden where hopefully this aroid will thrive once they’ve had a chance to bulk up in their pots and with more focused attention.

I know I did lose one of my pineapple lilies, because I know there was one in each of the beds on either side of the path to the raspberries. We have gotten most of the weeds out of the north bed and there is no evidence of a survivor there. Surprisingly, as everything began to surge in the garden this year, I happened to check in amongst the seedling geraniums, which have spread everywhere, and near the Lilium pomponium mentioned earlier what appeared to my wondering eyes was a bit of Christmas in June, in that the Eucomis that I thought had perished was indeed making a comeback. Even with all the cranesbill foliage, and the morning glory that has not been excavated and extracted yet, it was not hard to miss the burgundy-red foliage of this variety of pineapple lily. This South African native seems to be perfectly hardy here, in spite of its exotic looks. I think what I may do this afternoon is head out in search of more gallon pots and come back to my makeshift potting zone and get both the eucomis and the lily out into better soil in pots, and then seek out a better future home someplace else in the garden.

Perhaps the most curious find while out in the back was the appearance of a seedling lupine that I spotted as we were getting the area ready to plant the potatoes. The rest of the weeds had not started sprouting after the first tilling, but there near the edge of the patch was what looked to be the leaves of a lupine. It stopped me in my tracks, and sparked a memory of this area many years ago. Before my time here, this part of the yard had been planted as a berm border, and in seeing the seedling I was reminded that at one point there had been a tree lupine growing here. I think it disappeared during the succession of really cold winters we had in the mid-eighties and early nineties, I don’t remember for sure. But it has been at least twenty or more years since that plant was here, so this was indeed a testimonial to the longevity and viability of lupine seed, and without any special preservative action. This seedling is now in a pot and has tripled in size to about six inches. If it is the plant I think it is- Lupinus arboreus- it is a woody lupine that grows to be a small shrub with yellow flowers. I have an idea as to right where it will go. In the mean time, I need to get back to the weeds that have not yet plateaued in growth or spread. There is a weedy Arizona zone out there with the potential to cause an out break in our Colorado-like potato patch, and we just can’t have that- not in our back yard.