Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bamboo Takes One for the Team

I'm convinced that the nice stand of Bambusa oldhamii in our back yard is smarter than most plants. Spooky smart. Until a few weeks ago, the canopy was very full on all sides, and then it just opened up around the new culms. Before, you couldn't see the new shoots at all. Now, they are clearly visible, limbless and shooting to the sky.

Why did this happen? To allow in some sun, I suppose. I don't know. I mean, how does a plant know to do that? The other plants out back are just mildly opportunistic--they grow and push and shove until I reprimand them or until the rain quits feeding them. But they don't make room for other plants.

The Bamboo, though, always seems to be thinking and working together. It (or is it a they?) drops its leaves and sleeves on the ground and creates it own mulch. Each culm sends out branches, but not to compete with the neighbor culms--there always seems to be enough sunlight for all. Not bad for beings in such a crowded space.

Now I've discovered that 3 or 4 of the culms are broken at the top. Sure, maybe the wind snapped them.

Or maybe it was intentional, knowing that the real estate is limited up there on top, with just enough room for a few branches at the crown, so maybe they drew straws (as plants are known to do) and the short straws took the hit for the good of the team and snapped themselves.

Anyway, it's just a theory in progress...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Frisbee Season

Frisbee season is officially open for Willow now that things have cooled off. She would gladly play all year long, but after watching her pass out from heat exhaustion a few years ago, I have probably become overly cautious. Even on a cool day we only play for a few minutes.

We are reminded lately that Willow is getting old--she's almost 10, but what does that really mean? Her behavior has certainly improved. No more hopping up and down like a bunny, jumping on house guests. Is this evidence of old age?

And I'm sure there are other signs that I rationalize or refuse to see (like those gray hairs on her chin), just as I do when looking in the mirror.

So I have to accept the possibility that we are growing old together, slowing down like objects on Einstein's train, slowing down from the perspective from others but unaware of that fact, maybe...

A video might make the case one way or the other, so I took one. Slowing down? Not this season.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Confronting the Vines

Another result of our rain-soaked summer became clear to me this weekend as I sought to clear out some vines that were threatening to overtake our two cute silver palms in the front yard, a job that took about 4 hours.

I try to keep an open mind. Plants do what they need to do to survive. An oak tree will shade out and kill a whole village of its neighboring plants once it gets big--I won't hold any ill will toward it. But let a skinny, pipsqueak vine attack one of these giants and I am outraged.

The picture above was taken midway in the process, after I had pulled the vines from the palm but before I went after the heavily-laden Cherry Laurel tree on the right. These vines (there are about 4 varieties of them) pop up in so many places that I can imagine the vast underground net of roots, as dense as a seine.

I punish them and cuss them. I pull up their roots. I taunt them and embarrass them and belittle them. But they don't care. They have no real defenses at all. They have a vicious grip on their host plant--some of them grow to the very top of the oak trees--and yet they are as easy to cut as a stem of asparagus. There's a lesson here somewhere...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Load of Fertilizer

As a rule I shy away from seminars, classes, meetings and all forms of regimented assembly. And certainly I steer clear of any clubs or groups that would, as the saying goes, accept someone like me as a member. Yoga class is the one exception.

But this weekend Cheryl and I were drawn to a local plant nursery where a plant guru was scheduled to speak about Florida native plants that thrive in the shade--just exactly what I'm interested in.

We gathered outdoors in the perfect weather, sitting in a grove of oak trees (a place that I learned is called a hammock because of its slight elevation above a neighboring marshy place). About 30 people were assembled--granola crunchers with assorted khaki hats and hiking boots, serious tree-huggers. The popularity of Florida native plants is growing, mainly for all the right reasons: to reduce the use of herbicides and the drain on the water supply. These were my people, for sure.

I learned lots of things: the crinkly leaf ground cover in our yard is called basket grass, and it is a native. This gave me a warm fuzzy inside, and I was tempted to raise my hand (like in grade school) and tell the class that I have basket grass all over the place. In fact, I felt compelled to make them all like me, if only I could think of a way.

After about an hour I noticed that no one had asked a question about fertilizer yet. If I asked a good question, I reasoned, then everyone would like me. Timing is important. And just then the instructor mentioned the anise plant. My hand shot up, and I asked "What kind of fertilizer should I put on my new anise plants at home?" explaining how they were deep in the shade, etc.

"A very good question," he answered. Home run. "Very soon," he said with the most serious tone, "we will be forbidden by law from putting anything except a few types of chemical fertilizers into the earth."


Not a single person would look at me as he listed off the evils of fertilizer, even swatting down my attempt to weasel out and claim that I, of course, only meant organic fertilizer. But it was too late.

Cheryl, who had the good sense to wander around the nursery instead of sitting through the speech, laughed when I told her what happened. She asked, "Did you tell them that your favorite plant is a Chinese bamboo?"

Damn! I should have...

Friday, October 8, 2010

What I Don't Know

Our friend Suzanne gave us a cute little beautyberry (Callicarpa) plant that I put into the ground out front near the thriving wild coffee bushes and under the lesser oak tree, though while doing so I failed to notice that I had placed it on a slight hill, making my attempts to water it a chore since the water just runs off and onto the sidewalk if I'm in hurry, and I'm always in a hurry.

I don't have any water lines out there, so what to do? The little guy needs water for the next few weeks or it will pucker up and blow away.

Then it hit me: I could fill a plastic bag with water, punch a tiny pin-sized hole in the bag, and just let it run out. Preliminary testing at the kitchen sink found this to be a deliciously successful idea (how could I be so smart), so I set out the bag early this morning. It went drip, drip, drip, just like I hoped.

Except just now I went out and found the bag still full of water. What happened? Like many other concepts that I should have learned at school, this one is a mystery to me. Even so, my mind believes that it knows why the water stopped dripping out. My mind believes that the minerals in the water are clogging up the hole.

Pathetic. I am incapable of just saying I don't know.

No I'm not.

So I punched a bigger hole. Meanwhile, in the backyard, I am drawn to this milkweed plant, the host plant of the Monarch butterfly, with the prettiest reds and yellows I've ever seen (though i can't seem to get my camera to believe it). If I were a butterfly, I would squat all over this.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toast and Coffee

Today Willow and I are exploring the simple perfection of toast and coffee. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (the no-Berkeley days) I fix a piece of wheat toast with my second cafe con leche, take it up to my office, and tear off pieces of bread--one for her and one for me (she loves bread).

Now that I think about it, this sounds pretty much like prison food. Oh well, we like it.

On Tuesdays and Thursday, we have a different, more puppy-centric routine. No toast. And definitely no coffee for Berkeley, who could probably fly after a nice latte.

I am, however, sharing some coffee with my new anise bushes, which are hungry for organic matter, so says the nursery guy, who squinted at us with some doubt when we bought the plants last week, as if he suspected we weren't responsible plant owners, which we probably are not. So I save up the grounds and each day I pour them on a different plant.

Also, when no one is looking, which is every day in our backyard, I have a brief coffee-chat with that anise plant, just getting familiar and keeping them in a positive frame of mind (not that there's anything weird about that). After the spectacular failure last year of our verbena plants (all but two of which are dead and gone, and the those two are sad little dwarfs), I'm taking no chances.

Note to future self: I'm not actually talking (out loud) to the plants, at least not yet. But stay tuned.