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Family Gathering


My family is in the backyard. Lordy, save me from my family.

They say that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Hah! Who is this “they” anyway? The same ones who say “The night is darkest before the dawn”? Well, for those of you who have difficulty figuring out the obvious, I usually find that the night is darkest pretty much about the time that the neighborhood cats get into a big ol’ hissy fight and guarantee that you will get about two hours of sleep–usually the night before a big morning presentation.

But before I get all depressed about the night, let me get all depressed about my family in the backyard.

I’ll start with the crazy cardinals—mainly because they just flew into my line of vision—who spend most of their days attacking the mirror I’ve placed in the yard. Everybody has some nutty relatives but you’d think that after three years these goofy birds would have figured out something. I mean, look around! Do you see a robin flying headlong into a piece of glass? No. My advice to the cardinals: “Hey, look in the mirror. That’s you! Get. A. Clue!”

Then there’s the lawn. In my opinion, a typical lawn is like a twenty-something who refuses to leave home. Basically, it sits there, takes up too much space, sucks up resources, needs constant attention, and rarely gives back. Do you think a lawn would ever cut itself or stay in bounds? No. Ingrate. “Dude. Can ya give me a haircut? I kinda need one now. Oh, wait, it’s raining. Come back tomorrow. ‘Course it’s gonna be a little longer then. Oh, and dude, I, like, have some Creeping Charlie that need pulling. Can you take care of that? It kind of makes me itchy. Whoa, dude, I seem to be a little compacted. Just rent one of those core aerators and give me a massage. Awesome! I like massages.”

Of course, every family has a relative who just disappears for awhile and then turns up at the most inappropriate time. There are a few plants like that. Amaranthus, for example. When you have a bare spot in the back of the garden bed and could use a nice, purple backdrop, they’re nowhere to be seen. But suddenly, there are six of them springing up smack in the front row of…well, it doesn’t matter what of. They’re in the front row! Geez, they don’t even have the sense to germinate in an odd number in order to form a “drift.” Go away and come to the next family reunion.

There’s crabby old crab apple. “I’m gnarly and I’m old and if we get more than a Dixie cup full of rain this spring, I’m going to get apple scab just to spite you and litter your yard with disease-riddled leaves. Heh, heh, heh. And you can’t cut me down, ‘cause you wouldn’t cut down an old and sick defenseless tree that was planted by your dear, sweet, favorite gramma who lovvvved this garden sooooo much, would you? Nope, you wouldn’t. I’m just gonna sit here and drop apple scab infested leaves alllllllll spring long. And you’re gonna try to gather up as many of those leaves as you can to keep the apple scab from coming back but you’ll never get them all. And I’ll be back next spring. Hoo, hoo. And because you can’t possibly clean up every single disease spore in the whole yard, the apple scab will be with me, too. I’m never going to die and you’re going to spend the rest of your life trying to manage my apple scab. And you’re going to dream of sitting at dinner and everybody else at the table is a giant apple scab spore! The main dish will be baked apple scab Alaska! And as you bite into it all of the spores at the table will burst out laughing while the room suddenly fills with floating spores!! Hee, hee.”

There’s the diffident relative who doesn’t seem to have a backbone at all. You’re always helping them out while they’re flopping down. Think delphiniums. Or seven-foot-tall lilies. Or peonies with blooms the size of tractor tires. “Oops. Okay, hang on, I have a stake here. Let me tie you up while…oops, come on, don’t do that. I’ll have you tied up in a second–oops. Help me out here, buddy. I’ll just wrap this little string around your stem and–oops. Stop falling into the irises. Okay. One more time…just…let…me…almost…got…it…oops. Stop that!”

You know the weird cousin who shows up at a funeral in red paisley pants? Got one of those in my yard, too. It’s the weirdest combination of garish fire engine red and unnatural lemon yellow and…and…wait a second. That’s the hummingbird feeder.

Sorry about that. Hmm. I wonder if that has anything to do with all of these spores floating around…

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questions

I have some peonies that I want to transplant but cannot plant them in their permanent place until next spring when our new house will be built. Can I dig them now and transplant them again next spring?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

I brought a frangipani (Plumeria) back from Hawaii last April when it was just a leafless branch. It sprouted leaves and grew over summer. Now it is losing its leaves. How can I keep it growing over winter? Will it bloom?

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