Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beauty for Ashes

Lenten Rose in the front garden this morning.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a traditional day of repentance for Christians all over the world. Today is also a terrible day of loss in the life of someone I love very much. When I asked if there was anything I could do for her, she asked me to pray. I haven't prayed formally or even been to church in years and I've gotten less and less religious with time. So, in order to give comfort and let her know I'm thinking of her, I'm veering off topic a bit today. But not all that much, really, because some things are hard to separate.

This year's Christmas tree going out in a blaze of glory.
The past few weeks we've been clearing and burning on days when we are allowed to in order to get ready for fire season.

Buddleia thicket
Things that have grown too large have been cut down,

Buddleia thicket cut back to stubs.
and burned.

Allowing this much fuel to accumulate in front of a propane tank is a bad idea. I was afraid to do what needed doing because I didn't want to disturb the occupants of the thicket.

Checkerspot larvae 
I shouldn't have worried. When the sun hit the inner sprouts, the little Checkerspots came out to feed. 

Grandma and Grandpa's Dutch oven.
Up in the horse pasture we built a bonfire out of the branches that came down this year in the big windstorm. We made stew in the Dutch oven and sat around the fire until after dark.

In the morning, all that was left was ashes. Today you might see people with a smear of ash across their forehead. This is a sign of their repentance for their sins and their faith in Jesus to redeem them. As I remember from childhood, as the priest anoints you with ashes he says "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Genesis 3: 19

I looked up the Bible passage where I believe this comes from, and it seems more like a curse than a blessing. We're just compost. Not very comforting at all. I don't understand why this is so often used at funerals as well. Because, after all, as Christians we are taught that there is so much more.

Isaiah 61: 3
I went looking and found something very beautiful and very comforting.  It's a promise. But not only that, it's something that I see out in the garden every day.

I put a bit of ash under the apricot tree this year.
Beauty does spring up from the ashes.

My daughter brought this back from Rome for me. It's blessed by the Pope.
So, I'll be praying for you. The old way.

Nature's wordless eloquence is always perfect.
I think this is meant for you. It's a sunflower popping up in a pile of ashes, today, in the middle of Winter.

One more thing:
 When I dusted off my old Bible today, look what I found tucked inside.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Leaning Trees

For me, the last chore of each gardening year begins with an impossible puzzle. After much swearing, I head out to do battle with a new blade in hand.

This is the first horrifying sight I encountered this year. Suckers from its rootstock have completely engulfed this poor little apricot tree. This is purely from neglect on my part. I should never have let things go this far. I do have a good excuse, though: ants. Each time I tried to get close enough to the tree to pull the suckers off, my legs were swarmed by wicked biting ants. I finally just gave up.

This is my poor little tree after surgery. I had to actually saw into the burl to remove all the suckers. I doubt if it will live and I feel terrible about it.

Next, another apricot. Believe it or not, a few years ago, this was my best looking fruit tree. It was tall and had a nice top. It did have a tendency to lean, but I tied it up straight to a post and called it good.

Over the course of time, the tree began to lean even more. The more it leaned, the tighter I tied it. It just kept leaning anyway and eventually leaned the post over along with it. What I think I have here is a non-conformist tree. Whenever I look at it, I think of Hermie wanting to be a dentist. 

Next, it sprouted these crazy tentacles way down low on the opposite side.  A four headed hydra.  With trees, after many mistakes, I'm finally learning when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

It does have a sort of strange symmetry, doesn't it? I could have chosen to lop the top off right above the sprouts, but look at all the flower buds on top. I could have cut the sprouts off, but then the tree would still be leaning. In an orchard this tree would be culled out for being the rogue it is, but I'm choosing to leave it be and call it a fabulous one of a kind tree.

When I look around, there seems to be a whole lot of leaning going on around here.

I don't even know what to say here.

My first dog leg

I've read many text books on the correct way to prune trees. I know about things like central leaders, scaffold limbs, and crotch angles. What none of them tell you is that trees exercise a certain amount of free will. This was my first attempt at correcting the shape of an asymmetrical tree. My thought was just to lop the top off and start fresh. This was before I knew about the leaning. Well, the tree budded out directly South/West. So now instead of an ugly top, we have a ridiculous trunk. I banished the tree to a back corner and turned it so you can't see the kink.

This was my second attempt at correcting an ugly tree. Look at how perfect the top is with its "branches radiating around the trunk like spokes on a wheel and nice wide crotch angles".  Here's the problem:

Damn, another dog leg.

This time I attempted to outwit the tree by selecting a bud on the North side of the tree and making the cut right above it. I thought that as the new shoot leaned South, the trunk would straighten out on its own. The tree chose not to sprout right below the cut, but instead from several feet lower, on the South side, of course.

Plum tree before

Not all of the pruning was weird.

Plum tree after

The little plum tree just needed to be thinned out. This is going to be a nice tree someday.

Yellow Delicious apple before

Yellow Delicious apple after
Pretty straight forward. Just needed thinning out too.

Arkansas Black apple

This tree has been awesome right from the beginning. I've never pruned it at all.

20th Century Asian pear

Here's my newest tree. Any more, I just look for trees that aren't too small or too big with tops that look strong and ready to go. I won't be messing with this tree. It's not perfectly shaped, I know, but I'm much more accepting now of trees and their strange quirks.

Leaning pear

Young Catalpa in a straight jacket
This little tree began leaning almost immediately after it was planted. I suspect that eventually it will end up right about at the same angle as the oak in the background.

Here's a little volunteer Willow that sprouted up in the front garden. It's leaning so far over, it's practically flat.

On the other side of the gate is a Pomegranate. I didn't plant it and can't think of a worse place for such a giant shrub. Apparently the carpenters who nailed together the house had a hobby: seed spitting. It's leaning right into the arch.

And here, in the front garden, a quiet rebellion has been brewing for quite some time. The Japanese maple has been growing very tall and very wide, hogging up all the sun and causing its fellow garden citizens to seek light in any way they can. I think of the newspaper headlines when I see this and chuckle.

A smaller Japanese maple has become vine-like in its search for sun.

So has a shrub rose.

The big maple is also coming perilously close to the chimney. Something must be done, but what? Any gardener knows the correct answer.

Top that tree and limb it up a bit! A garden is more than just one plant.

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