Garden Review: Sturdy Claws

Sturdy Claws

My expectation: 

To never need a trowel again.  To look like a super hero.  To be able to defend myself if ever my garden area comes under attack.

My experience:

When I first spied these gloves on Amazon, I laughed.  It didn’t take me long to get over the giggles though and begin to wonder if the makers of these pointy tipped garden gloves were on to something.  The fact that they were eligible for Prime pushed me to hit the Add to Cart button and immediately check out.  

They arrived swiftly and in good condition though with a strong sterile, plastic-like smell.  I was surprised that only the right hand glove contained the claws, which are hard plastic and concave on the palm side down, and pointy, though not sharp, at the tips.  I found later that having the left hand as just a regular glove proved useful in picking up items since my right hand had an almost Edward Scissor Hands handicap.  Trying to pick items up off the counter in my garden shed proved quite comical.  It reminded me of my days long ago when I sported acrylic nails though not as long as these claws.    

The one size fits all didn’t suit my small hands even with my longish fingers.  Swimming a bit in the gloves didn’t help my clawed hand and lended to its clumsiness.  Eventually I ditched the left glove for one that fit properly and just went with mis-matched gloves.  A left handed purple and the green clawed right.  My “garden” clothes seldom match either so I wasn’t concerned.  

Wondering what the backyard creatures would think (if they noticed at all) of my newly clawed appearance, I stepped from my shed into my yard with a goal of planting.  I wanted to start small and dig a hole just big enough to plant some annuals.  Clawed up, I left my trowel behind and found some already loose soil to dig.  

I dug using the motion my cat favors to make biscuits on blankets and was able to make some progress.  I was able to remove soil, but probably could have done so just as easily with regular gloves.  However, the too-loose fit of the glove caused it to twist around my hand and mostly annoy me.  Since I’m a bit stubborn, I decided to keep working and try to plant some seeds.  Since I am also right handed, I naturally tried to open the package of a seed product (review to come) with my right handed claws and failed.  I had to take the glove off to get the package open.  I then put the glove back on and tried grab the item, but kept missing when trying to pick it up.  I opted for using my left hand to feed things to my right.  Teamwork.  

My next test involved an unopened bag of soil.  If those claws were good for something, I was sure it was opening bags.  Again, the gloves were a bit too loose, but I did manage to poke a hole in the bag.  After that, I tried some harder soil and found the product to work okay, but a shovel would have been better.

Finally I settled on weeding.  Search and destroy was my goal.  This is where I found some success.  I could scratch and dig with my right and then pull with my unclawed hand.  This worked fairly well for some weeds, but the ones with long roots still required a weeding tool. 

Findings:

I think a snug fit would have made the gloves fairly useful so I’d be interested in someone’s experience whose hands are bigger.  Size selection is a must.

It takes some getting used to when you are used to your fingers being a certain length and you forget (even though you are staring at it) that the claws make your fingers a lot longer.

They smell bad.  Hope that you are working with some good smelling things to counteract this.

They are good conversation pieces or maybe they are just good for weirding out your neighbors.  Be sure to make a crazy face while wiggling your claw tipped fingers at them in hello.

They are not sharp so other than eye pokes (be careful not to poke your own), they are not good for defending your green kingdom. 

There is a reason trowels and shovels are gardening/yard supply staples.  They just work.   These gloves?  I’ll stick with my regular ones and use tools for now.

Green Mohawks

Three.  Three lawn mows down.  Many, many more to go.  

Another blogger, Erika in the Garden, referred to this time of year as lawn mowing season.  This made me both giggle and contemplate.  Erika is quite right after all.  It IS lawn mowing season.  Here in Western Washington, this season lasts as long as baseball season and is just as boring in my experience.  It is only made better, both baseball games and lawn mowing, by cold beverages and the belief that it will one day be over.  Both the current event and the season.  Only the end of the mowing season also means the end of warm weather.  The end of leaves.  The end of blooms.  The end of the magic in the garden and the beginning of the dreadful long wait for buds and blooms again.

So mowing is a must.

It’s a wonderful warm day just north of Seattle and I’m currently critiquing last weekend’s grass cutting.  Today is maybe the third day in a row it hasn’t rained and that is following the rainiest Saturday on record according to the local news.  This dry spell, at least I think I can call it that, has done wonders for the general attitude of the surrounding population including people, birds, and plants.   As I gaze out at the greenery, it seems as if every blade is standing upright at full attention and greedily soaking up the rays.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t so last Sunday when I mowed down a very soggy lawn.  

A break in the weather Sunday morning afforded me a chance to tackle a two-week grass growth.  My goal was to cut the grass a bit shorter than I had the time before so that I could go two weeks in between clipping without it looking too shaggy.  Did I mention that mowing isn’t my favorite?

I set my push reel mower down a level and got to work.  Yes.  A plain old push reel mower that my old neighbors used to scoff at.  As a guilty commuter, even with a small fuel efficient car, I like the idea of not using gasoline when I can.  So I have always prided myself on my “me fueled, no emissions (other than occasional swearing)” appliance.  Despite ridicule.  I’m saving the planet one blade of grass at a time after all.   

About an hour and a half later, I was quite sweaty, and overall pleased with all the neat, carpet-like lines in my lawn.  The over abundance of clippings left behind was too great for grass cycling so I made use of my newly acquired plastic rake (thanks Dad!).  I made several neat piles that eventually made their way into my yard recycling bin.  It was during this cleanup process that I began noticing a few tufts of green here and there that had apparently sprung back up after being flatted by my manual mower.  

Little green Mohawks in my otherwise newly manicured lawn.  

What did I learn?  My lawn is a bad-ass green belt that can’t be tamed.  At least not with a reel mower.  What else did I learn?  Despite my greenhouse gas-less goals, I secretly (cat’s outta the bag now) long for a lawn tractor.  A lawn tractor with a cup holder.  A bad-ass lawn tractor with a cup holder that will not tolerate any Mohawks in my yard!  Get off my lawn!!    

My Birdseed Brings All the Birds to the Yard!

One of the first purchases I made after we moved into our new house was two bird feeders.    One is a white, lantern-looking hopper feeder and the other is a plain wood and wire covered suet feeder.  Poles were already in place in the yard so I loaded up both feeders with food and hung them immediately.  It was late fall and most had already flown south, but there were still some hungry birds to appreciate my efforts.

Through the winter, I would focus my pair of binoculars on the feeders and the various birds that frequented them.  It was hard to miss the big birds.  I had no problem identifying the inky black feathers and intelligent stares of the American Crows or the bright blue bodies with dark mohawk heads of the Steller’s Jays.  I could easily pick out the red breasted American Robin and the dotted Northern Flicker with the orangish underwing.  The other little birds required some homework though.

At first, the little birds all looked alike.  Brownish, grayish little things that would swoop in fast, peck away at the feeders, and then swoop out again.  They were fast little buggers and I had to have the binoculars and my patience ready.  Only weekends seemed to afford me the time of sipping coffee in the morning or wine in the evening while gazing out the window.  While most the little birds were around the same size, I did start to notice some differences and began consulting Google.

My first discovery was the Dark-eyed Junco with its grayish brown body feathers and solid black head.  Then I began noticing other birds with mostly the same body coloration, but different markings on the head or wings.  I also became curious about their behaviors.  They seemed to queue up on nearby branches awaiting their turn at the feeders.  Most would also hop along the ground collecting any dropped seeds.  With the arrival of spring and thus more birds, I needed a book.

I came across a simplistic starter book entitled Beginner’s Guide to Birds by Donald & Lillian Stokes.  Containing lots of pictures with facts about identification, song, habitat, and nesting habits, it has helped me determine the species of several other birds that visit my yard and possibly call it home.

The book is divided into colored sections so I’ve been able to note a feather feature’s color and then narrow it down by characteristics within that color.  Since it is the Western Region edition (I assume there are more, but I have yet to look on Amazon), it only has birds that would naturally migrate or live year round in my area. So I kept filling the feeders and added a special hummingbird feeder as well.

I’ve spied the Spotted Towhee with its slightly robin appearance and its eerie, beady red eyes you can’t miss.  A Golden-crowned Sparrow has showed off its yellow racing striped head.  The head of a White-crowned Sparrow’s makes me think of skunk stripes.  The Red-winged Blackbird is exactly that with it’s inky feathers and starkly contracting splash of red on the wings.  I can’t decide if I have Chestnut-backed Chickadees or Bewick’s Wrens or both with their white striped faces.  Wide stripe or eyeliner?  I think I’ve seen both.  I’ve even seen a hummingbird, but they are wicked fast and I can only guess they’ve been Roufus Hummingbirds.  I hope I see more of them as the weather warms and the plants bloom.

As for the females, I’ve determined that they are the secret agents of the bird world.  I’m too much of an amateur to tell them apart, but I did see one poking its head out of one of my many bird houses.  I hope it’s building a nest, but time will tell.

Maybe it’s just that it’s spring or maybe the chirp has gotten out about the food, but my backyard is now a hot spot. I keep planting more shrubs for the birds to perch on and hide in.  Hopefully the flowers from some will attract more hummingbirds.  But for now…

My birdseed brings all the birds to the yard!

There’s something in the attic and we don’t know what it is.

There’s something in the attic and we don’t know what it is.

Yep.  I hear it before I fall asleep.  So do my cats.  They look to the ceiling and rant about the noise.  It wakes me in the morning with its footsteps and scrapes.  Sometimes scurrying and sometimes clunking or clicking.  My husband initially slept through it, but since I’ve added elbowing to the noise, he can no longer ignore it.  I think the little beastie(s) leaves in the morning and then comes back “home” in the evening.    We’ve been trying to identify this wild squatter, but our guesses are so far inconclusive.

Our house has little circular vents from our attic (I think) to the outside.  They are covered in a wire mesh, but inspection by binoculars (two story house) confirmed that the mesh has been torn and pushed aside in a few of the holes.  As I type this, that 80s song by Men At Work, “Who Can It Be Now,” creeps into my head…like that creature creeping into my house.  And I can’t get it out.  Either one so far.  So, who can it be now?

At first I thought it was a mouse, but it really sounds too big for that.  Much more substantial unless the mouse has been to the garage to lift weights and bulk up.  No evidence of that so far.  So something bigger I think…or at least not quite mouse-like.  While Mickey Mouse isn’t ruled out for certain, it’s low on the list of suspects.

A quick internet search suggested a raccoon since they are nocturnal.  Those holes are small though.  Maybe two and a half to three inches in diameter is all.  Raccoons are bigger than an average cat I think and our cats are definitely too big to squeeze their house-cat sized bodies through those little holes.  It does sound big enough to be a raccoon though or maybe it’s just the attic’s acoustics?

I can’t remember hearing it in the winter so maybe it wasn’t here yet or just hibernating?  If hibernating and most likely nocturnal, that may suggest bats.  And bats have been known to reside in attics.  Fun fact: hibernacula is the word for places where bats hibernate.  It sounds a bit like Dracula.  Anyway, little brown bats hibernate and are located in our neck of the woods.  Now that spring has (mostly) arrived, and bugs have returned (I may have just scratched a mosquito bite), they might have just woken up.  Since we bought our house in November when they were most likely sleeping, this could make sense.  They would also be able to squeeze into very small spaces.  Good thing I like bats. They kind of scare me, but I like them.

My husband seems to think that birds have moved into our attic.  That is a possibility too.  Birds could definitely fit through those holes and I did think I heard little chirps the other day, but it was morning and there are lots of birds in the yard that can be heard anyway.  So many birds.

So have we gone into the attic to see what it could be?  Nope.  No way.  I’m not going up there.  So…who do we call?  Not Ghost Busters.  Maybe an exterminator, but I really don’t want any bats or birds getting hurt.  I’ve heard for bats, if you wait for them to leave and then close the holes, they just can’t get back in.  However, you need to be sure no babies have been left behind.  That’s just cruel.

A rat maybe?  Bigger than a mouse, it could be a rat.  I saw one in the yard today,  running toward the bird seed spilled from the feeder and scaring the birds.  I’m about 50/50 on whether I’d like an exterminator to take care of that.  Such cute faces.  Such gross tails.  I really hope it’s bats or birds.  I’m still not going into the attic though.  Someone else needs to seal up those air vent holes.  Not me.

One last thought.  ROUSes.  You just never know.  Perhaps one of those.  Still…small hole to fit though, but hey, a fairytale is a fairytale.  I’m hoping I’ll get an, “As you wish,” when I ask my husband to go up into the attic.  On the other hand, if the attic is opened, the ROUS could get into the main house and then where would we be?  Infiltrated with house cats as our only defense.  Best to leave it to the professionals.

So, what’s up there?  The mystery remains…

Weather by Minutes

It’s our first spring in our new house and I am outside listening to the birds while doing some sun exposure recon work for planting purposes.  Today is the first warm day in what seems to be a cooler than usual spring.   I’ve changed clothes three times already.  Long pants and long shirt morphed into tank top and long pants and finally shorts, tank, and flip-flops.  It’s about 62 degrees in the greater Seattle area, but it feels like 90.  90 degrees until the sun goes behind the wispy clouds and then it’s winter again for a minute or two.  The wind is picking up now and my pants and long sleeves might have to make a return.  I feel like the plants are having the same issue.  Spring in the Northwest.  Enjoying the weather in minutes rather than days.

Invitations Sent

Tomorrow is the first day of spring around the northern hemisphere and the very first one ever in our new home.  It’s that magical time of year when the garden starts to wake and speak in whispers of various colors and scents before the full ruckus summer party begins.  Of course this is only true if you’ve planned a good garden party.

Our new home appears to have thrown very spartan garden parties in the past.  In fact, I would say it was a real teetotaler with its vast amounts of beauty bark topped garden fabric  and crushed rock beds.  Plenty of green grass, moss, and arborvitaes for privacy, but no color save for the feathered inhabitants.

My winter has been spent sending out invitations to what I am hoping will be a very fun party for all in the near future.  A lot of prep work has been put into this effort so far.  I’ve been pulling up garden fabric, which has become my new nemesis replacing the blackberry bushes of our past residence.  That’s saying something (see scathing blog on blackberries).  Admittedly, this will be a work in progress as I pull it up and cut it out to make planting space for all the shrubs, plants, and flowers.  I’ve Aldo relocated crushed gravel and filled with soil for my new guests to enjoy.  I’ve even read some books and attended some garden seminars.

So far invitations have gone out to crocuses (always the first to arrive), tulips, rhododendrons, forsythia, gladiolus, gardenias, ferns, and lavender.  I made sure to add an arctic fire dogwood for some winter heat and Lucifer Crocosmia for when things really heat up.  Bleeding hearts and a weeping pussy willow are sure to show up and make a scene.  Hopefully the sun will shine enough for the roses to flourish and the wildflowers to bloom.

Of course a few favorites followed us here such as lilacs and potted Japanese maples, olives, blueberries, raspberries and even a fig tree.  Hopefully these friends old and new will like their new home once it warms up a bit more.  For now, they are just cracking their eyelids and trying to decide whether to wake up or go back to bed.

I’m just going to have to be patient for this party to get into full swing.

Northwest Winter Gardening: Primrose

Northwest Winter Gardening: Primrose

Ah Primrose.  A rose by any other name just hasn’t bloomed yet.  Except maybe the Lenten Rose Hellebore.  I’d actually bet there are more rose-ish plants that bloom in the cold winter months, but I’m pretty proud of myself for knowing at least two even though neither is an actual rose.

It’s January and about 45 degrees and raining outside.  Pretty typical for the greater Seattle area.  Frosty mornings are still a norm and there’s still a chance of snow, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pretend it’s springtime.  The cheerful Primrose can aid you in your winter denial and, if the ground isn’t frozen at the time, you can plant these color pops.

There are a couple reasons why these little beauties are worth every penny.  Emphasis on penny because they are often under $2 for a starter plant that has anywhere from 4-6 blooms already.  They are inexpensive enough that if there is a cold snap and you “lose” a few, you’re not out much and can easily replace them.  They are readily available at both grocery stores and nurseries.  At Fred Meyer, you can get a latte, groceries, and Primroses!  Another great thing about Primroses is that they’re perennials so they’ll keep coming back each year.  They are also flower powerhouses and will bloom almost year round if you remember and take the time to dead head them.

So for the price of less than a latte, one can buy a calorie free (though I read they are edible?  Not sure on the calorie count), favorite colored (oh yeah, they come in loads of colors), year-round flowering (winter too), bit of cheer to combat the gray skies.

The Tomato Battle

Today would have been my Gram’s 94th birthday.  When I was finishing my last year of college, I was laid off from my job and about a month away from being a homeless student. My Grandma offered to take me in so I moved into the old, spacious room in the basement that my dad and my uncle shared growing up.  I really cherish the time I spent under her roof, sitting at her kitchen table, and really getting to know her.

When I moved out and didn’t visit as often as she’d like, she would tell me she needed her stairs vacuumed or some such chore and I would come over to take care of it for her.  The thing is, as soon as I would arrive, she would convince me that I was much too tired from driving to do the work and that I should just sit for a while.  After she wrung all the gossip out of me, and she reminisced on old times and told stories, it would be too late to do anything and I would just have to come back another day.  She was a tricky old lady.  I was on to her game though.

Now my Gram wasn’t much of a gardener.  At least not that I knew of.  My Gram was a great cook instead. She did have a pretty good garden story though and one that she often told while sitting at that kitchen table wearing a brightly colored silk moo-moo, martini in hand and gazing out at beautiful Lake Washington in the distance.

Gram had discovered a pretty tomato plant in her basement one afternoon.  Now, as a northwest gardener, I know just how important sun is to tomatoes.  The little cherry ones do pretty well, but big tomatoes need a LOT of sun.  Gram knew this as well because she scooped up the plant, whisked it up the stairs and then out onto the front lawn for maximum sunlight.  I imagined her smiling while imagining all the wonderful things she would cook with those fresh globes.

The next day, she found the tomato plant back downstairs in the basement.  Someone had moved it.  So again, she scooped it up and out it went into the sun.  This process repeated itself for many aggravating days.  Out into the sun.  Into the basement.  Out into the sun.  Back into the basement.  And once again back out into the late 1960s afternoon sun.

It took a little while until she discovered that her youngest son was actually hiding the plant in the basement.  It took her only a little while after that to discover that it wasn’t a tomato plant at all.  Dad wondered why the plant kept ending up outside.  Gram…well I supposed she just got mad, but she sure laughed about it later.

I have no idea what happened to that plant, but I’m sure it didn’t see daylight again.  It probably didn’t see the basement again either.

Now when I grow (or try to grow) tomato plants, I remember her story.  The sound of her voice emerges from my memories and I can hear her laugh and it makes me smile.  I can’t wait for the ground to warm up and the sun to shine around here again.  Soon it will be time to plant again.

I miss you Gram!  Happy Birthday!!

Hibiscus, Prosecco, and Friluftsliv

It’s almost 2018.

Just three sleeps away and I am just now writing my first entry of 2017.  It’s not that I didn’t have any gardening adventures.  It’s just that for various reasons I didn’t type my thoughts on visiting the Royal Gardens of Kew and St. James’s Park.  I didn’t lament on the back pain I experienced when building a retaining wall or the mistake of feeding my (would have flowered beautifully) lilac bush with food that was meant for azaleas.  I certainly didn’t strike keys to the joy of watching little birds raise their new families in my tree branches.  I just didn’t this year and I’m not exactly sure why since it was a very green year.

Maybe it was all the rain.  Endless rain it seemed.  On vacation.  At home.  Monsoons or so it seemed.  I still went outside to be amongst the greenery and even though I’d come back inside wet and muddy, I was always a bit happier.  My mind a little less chaotic.  When the sunny season arrived, I slathered on sunscreen, attempted a veggie garden, and watched the flowers (and weeds) grow.  My love affair with nature has been blooming more and more each year it seems.  I worked hard in that wild backyard of mine battling blackberry vines, giving the ivy haircuts, and powering the push mower.  I guess I just was too tired to fight my failing laptop when I came back inside.

Now that I’m armed with a new laptop, I suppose I have no more excuses other than the hibernal solstice, which is the much more appropriate name for winter solstice.  Hibernal must be a form of hibernation.  I refuse to look this up, because I want to believe that this is the reason my body has had no energy these past couple months and has been trying to hibernate.  Now that the solstice has passed, I (want to believe) that I can look forward to more energy and eventually spring when mother nature will wake the earth (and me) again.

In the dead of winter (I am prone to dramatics and apparently parentheses), the only flowers in my presence are the various shades of pink from the Christmas cactus my mother gave me as a housewarming gift and the syrupy hibiscus flower currently residing in my flute of prosecco.  Confession: my cats have nibbled on a good deal of the cactus and I am on my second hibiscus flower.  Those flowers are edible and taste like raspberries.  At least that’s what the package says.  It looks like a sea anemone and the first one I ate tasted of mostly prosecco.  Chewy prosecco.  Now I’m wondering what wild hibiscus flowers taste like.  I plan to Google this since trial and error in the plant consumption realm can be quite risky.

One risky thing worth mentioning here is that my husband and I very recently sold our house and purchased a new one with a yard almost twice as big, but without all the trees.  I will surely miss all those established trees and the hill where the wild things grew, but I’m very much looking forward to spring to see what this new green space reveals.  I’m hoping some pretty flowers will breach the surface when the weather warms, but other than the few bulbs I planted, I’m not overly optimistic.  Garden fabric is everywhere.  I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors soon I think.

At the close of this year I’ve finally found a word for that happiness I feel with the sun on my face or even the rain pelting my head.  It’s friluftsliv.  It’s a tribute to my Swedish heritage and I plan to fully embrace it.

Whatever comes in 2018, I hope there are flowers.  Lots and lots of blooms even if there are some weeds interspersed.

Cheers!

Knock-Knock…Who’s There?

 

I was working diligently in the yard yesterday afternoon when I heard a succession of taps that could be heard of the music pouring out of my iPhone. Had I been wearing ear buds instead of sharing with the neighbors, I may not have heard. It sounded like knocking and I was curious as to whom or what was interrupting my raking and ivy pulling. A quick visual search of the yard settled my eyes upon the birdhouse I risked my life hanging high in a tree several weeks ago.

  
Eyes fixed upon the little hole in the side of the house, I waited quietly. With bated breath. Yes, a bit dramatic, but there it is. After a few moments, a beaked head protruded through the hole and then an instant later, the rest of the body followed it out and fluttered to the nearest branch almost faster than my eye could catch. That’s not saying much since I was wearing my glasses and they were smudged with dirt. Still, the speed of the bird was impressive.

Could my little birdhouse have found a buyer? Could there be a bird family living in there soon? I think so. I had actually resigned to the fact that I would probably have to wait until next year to have bird neighbors, but I was wrong. I watched as the bird flitted between branches and flew off only to land again bouncing from a branch behind the house to one in front of the house and then quickly entering it again. I’m not quite sure how it fits its body through that hole, but it does.

Birds! In our birdhouse! It was working!! If you build it, they WILL come. Or if you hang it, whatever. I hopped up and down like a 5-year-old on candy and silently clapped (not like a 5-year-old) in celebration. A minute later I wondered if any of my neighbors saw my actions and then shrugged it off. If they were still around after my bout of swearing at the ivy I was pulling then that’s their fault.

Tap-Tap-Tap.

What’s it doing in there? After listening for a short while, my theory is that it was just building a nest. That would make total sense though it did sound more like its hanging pictures. Perhaps that’s where the term “nesting” comes from. I just Googled it. Yeah, that’s about right. Once I’m able to snap a few photos of said bird, I will Google again for identification. I love Google for instant answers; yet miss being able to wonder and debate things for some time. I should just wonder and debate for a time before checking Google, but who has that kind of self-control?

For now, just thinking of birds in that little house makes me smile.