Friday, April 26, 2013

dandelions, and tiger lilies, and landscape fabric, oh my!

Last year was the first year that we lived here for the whole summer, having moved in the fall the year before.  We left behind our established asparagus patch, strawberry beds, and raised bed vegetable garden, just as things were beginning to yield their bounty.  That was hard.

So last summer I was determined to get our new garden going.  There was a perfect place for it, surrounding a just a little bit rotting and needing a new roof garden shed that would be cute and handy.  But when we moved in, there was a very large flower garden surrounding the shed.  It had clearly been beautiful at some point, and the family we bought the house from apologized for their lack of a green thumb and negligence of it, telling us that at one point in the past, this garden had been on a garden tour of Portland.  It had been memorialized in an oil painting left behind for us by another previous owner.

Left untended it had become quite wild, and tiger lilies had completely taken over.  But I was thinking that I had made it big here.  That a garden already in existence was better than what we had dealt with at our previous home.  There, our filled lot went rock hard with ledge about 5 inches down, hence the raised bed garden.  I thought that it would be pretty easy to turn the flowers into food here.

I was wrong.

Tiger lilies?  Not easy to remove. My plan had been to move all of the beautiful heritage, I am sure, perennials as they came up in the Spring to what Elliott started calling the rescue gardens.  Phlox, lilies of many varieties, irises, hyacinths, strawberries, daffodils, tulips, and many plants that I can't yet identify started popping up as the Spring warmed the earth.  The tiger lilies were everywhere, pushing up everywhere you looked.  A new one would show up a week later in the place where I had removed them, a single frond pushing up through the soil.  I could not keep up with them.  I rescued the lilies and moved them for a while, but eventually wheel barrow full after wheel barrow full ended up being muscled down into the woods and into the low area on the bank we were filling with yard materials to help with erosion.

My mother, on the phone, was helpful.  You know, people would pay you for those.  Maybe you should not be dumping them in the brush pile.

Elliott cried over each lily he saw in the wheel barrow.  I took to dumping them when he was not around, every once in a while rescuing one and pointing to where it was when he checked in to make sure I was not killing them.

And then, just when I was working out a system using a long handled shovel moving around the plant like clock hands, jumping on the shovel to sink it, prying it up until it gave a little, then wrestling the plant and its massive root system out of the ground and throwing it into the wheel barrow...and starting again...I hit another unexpected snafu.

Landscape fabric.

I don't know who made this specific kind or with what material, but this landscape fabric is like nothing I have ever experienced.  It was so strong my handy shovel would not go through it, even when I jumped on it hard.  I know this because one afternoon, blessedly alone while Jonathan had to kids off on an ice cream run, I began to work on another tiger lily patch.  I placed my shovel.  I jumped to hop on the shovel's edge, and the lack of give from the shovel unknowingly being just an inch above buried fabric made me jounce hard and pop right back off the shovel, propelled so hard by my carefully developed hopping routine that was supposed to sink not stop, that I flew off and backward and landed hard and flat on my back.  From a few feet away you probably would not have know I was there, because I was surrounded by my orange blossomed nemesis.

I broke the handles off three shovels.  Three very good quailty shovels.  I cracked the bottom of some very good quality shoes from so much jumping on the top of the shovel head.  Very high end scissors, given to us as part of our wedding gift knife set? Kaput.

The combination of well established tiger lilies pushing through space shuttle building material worthy landscape fabric covered in about 8 inches of heavy soil and weeds just about did me in.  But I hopped, pulled, strained, hauled, exacto knifed and tore it all out of there.

One tool that I purchased a few years ago and used a great deal at our old house was a dandelion fork.  It seemed an arduous but earth friendly way to try to stay ahead of the weeds taking over in our green challenged yard, likely exacerbated by the poor quality fill soil.  We planted clover seeds everywhere there and enjoyed watching the clover flowers bloom and the lawn's wildness amongst the carefully manicured lots of our neighbors.  I enjoyed that quiet rebellion within the rules of our homeowner's association.  The teenager who mowed our lawn for us would tease us after seeing me actually spreading clover seed one day.  He had been throwing down weed block across town to get rid of clover earlier that day.  He would see us in town and ask, so, how's your clover?

The next wave of revolt after the tiger lilies and landscape fabric came in the form of bulb plants and dandelions.  I used that fork in the garden like nobody's business, pulling up dandelions and things that looked and smelled like onions but would blossom beautifully if I left them.  I got most of them and relocated them to the rescue gardens, but hyacinth and tulips and daffodils still pop up in strange places, amongst the kale, pushing through the thyme, in the middle of the pebbled path.  I try to enjoy their rebellion against me.

I know I will be fighting the return of the overgrown flower garden for years.  The other day, I worked a patch of the garden, now mostly lily free but full of shallowly rooted weeds, so that I could put in the broccoli seedlings.  I found bulbs and phlox popping up still.  I finished clearing the area. Worked in some compost, and put in a bed of broccoli, rushing to get it in before dinner.

And turned.  Just in time to see Elliott, who had been quietly playing in another weed patch just over there, hiding little garden decorations here and there...blowing a dandelion seed head.  I started to stop him.  He turned to me, lips pursed, dandelion clutched in his chubby hand.  I thought of the bees.  I thought of how he thinks of dandelions as bouquet worthy, protects tiger lilies from the brush pile, and is drawing from the abandoned pile of root infested torn landscape fabric to use to cover his fort.

And let him blow.

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