gardening


For those of you who do not have palm trees on your property with which you have to deal, I am a bit jealous. We happen to have two. One is roughly a sixty footer that has been growing for perhaps near as long as our 1906 house is old. It stands majestically and relatively out of the way in the northwest corner of the backyard. The other comes in somewhere upwards of forty feet and it is literally and maddeningly situated smack dab in the middle of the backyard, about ten feet back from the kitchen windows.

I would estimate that in the course of the near thirteen years that tree and I have been acquainted, I have spent a cumulative total of two hours and thirty-six minutes just staring in WTF-style amazement at it wondering which one of the previous owners had the opportunity to uproot the palm tree in its infancy some half-century ago, but instead decided it would be a dang good idea to allow it to grow in pretty much the most obtrusive possible place that one could allow one to grow. Many’s the time I’ve looked out the kitchen windows and admired how much its trunk has all the view-blocking beauty of a utility pole or smokestack, and doubly so how its position subsequently limits any landscaping opportunities. Not coincidentally, many’s the time I’ve dreamed about going back in time and whacking that person in the shoulder with a frond for being such an idiot.

Speaking of fronds, that’s why I’m over-telling this story today. With the winds this past week, comes the trees’ inevitable shedding of its dead. The sixty-footer did so last week, dropping twenty-nine fronds heavily but mostly harmlessly onto the north sideyard. I came home last night to find the forty-footer had shrugged off twenty-seven. Why is it I know the exact number? Because I chop up each and every one — the better to pack them into the green bin and get them the hell outta my sight.

It wasn’t always like that. For our first few years together, the fronds would fall (I remember one bunch totaling 60 that practically scared the poop outta me when I was napping in the hammock and heard it break off in mass with a ridiculous shhhhnraaack! and then crash with a ground-shaking shhhhwhump to earth) and I would go about tying them up in bundles of 10 or so, lugging them all down to the curb and then praying and hoping that my bulky item pickup request with the sanitation department would get fulfilled — which it sometimes wouldn’t, forcing me to make another request, and the fronds would then sit there at the curb for another week. Maybe two.

I’d guess it was finally around 2008 or so that I decided to cut out the middleman, and instead purchased a pair of heavy duty shears, wherein after each frond fall I would cut up each one of the sometimes seven- to eight-foot tall beasts into three parts (as you can see in the accompanying timelapse of me attacking the forty-footers twenty-seven this morning): first separating the fan from the shaft, then the shaft from the tail. The process makes for a pretty good workout, especially considering that until chopping up the sixty-footer’s offering last Sunday, I was being a dumbhead in making the process aaaaaaall the more laborious by using the shears to forcefully make a full cut between the shaft and the tail.

Here’s the thing, decapitating the fan is a piece o’ cake. The shaft is very thin at the base of the fan and all it takes is a literal snip to make that separation. Down at the other end is a different matter. The shaft has not only widened out but it’s way thicker and denser too, thus making a full cut through that section took a lot of effort and time. It takes force, it takes position, it takes leverage, and then some more force, responsitioning and leverage. Factor in the inevitable dulling of the shears’ blades and it’s not a party. Not only that, but as a bonus on occasion, in the course of attempting that arduous cut– many of the fronds are lined with sharp little thorny spikes –the shaft would snap against my neck or head, cutting me. I sooooo rejoiced at the glory of life whenever that magic would happen. Hallelujah.

Apologies to Steinbeck for the “Of Mice and Men” reference, but for as much as I like to think I’m George, I can be such a total Lennie.” For whatever reason last Sunday, after cutting off the first fan I went to work at the other end, and it was only after roughly ten years of doing it the hard way of huffing and puffing and groaning trying to cut aaaaaall the way through that a light bulb went off and a voice said “Relaaaaax you numbskull. Don’t force it. Instead just cut into one side enough to score the surface and then bend it away from you!” And I was all, “Wha…?” And the voice was all “Just trust me. Truuuuuuust me.” So I said “OK,” and I scored the surface and then bent the shaft down and away and dang if the frond didn’t let out a satisfying kraaack! and part from the tail. Not fully, but after that making the remaining separation was an effortless snip with the shears on par with that involved at the other end.

I rejoiced in my ten-year-late discovery and upon finishing the job in record time came running in to share the news of my exciting discovery with my beloved Susan. In the end, let’s just say she looked at me very much the way a parent might look troubled upon a child who might be showing themselves for the first time (or fiftieth) to be perhaps a peck short of a bushel. In fact, I’ll it’d be a safe bet you’re looking at your screen in much the same way. I understand. Go ahead and tell me about the rabbits then, huh? Can ya? Tell me all about the rabbits!

Anyway. There is much joy here in Frondville on this day. Next year when the palms drop their next batches upon the ground I won’t be jumping with joy at the task at hand, but at least I’ll be accomplishing it more efficiently. Hallelujah!

I always feel a twinge when something living gets destroyed, but in this case I’m in full agreement with our neighbors, who decided the towering row of out-of-control, top-heavy and increasingly teetering giant birds of paradise growing on the south side of their house needed to come down. Proof of how awesome they are: they even gave us a heads-up as to their plans and asked if we were cool with it.

So when I heard a crew arrive this morning and begin to make preparations for the plants’ removal, I grabbed a cam for before and after shots from the same vantage point (click them for the bigger pictures):

Number of seeds: Five

Planted: July 4

Sprouted: July 8-11

Patched (as seen below): July 12

The good news is that — as planned — I got an earlier start with my pumpkin patch than last year. The bad news is that — not as planned — juuust like last year instead of planting pumpkin seeds I may very well have planted completely similar looking butternut squash seeds. Again.

Basically what happened last year is that I mixed up seed sets of the two veggies because I just left them sitting on the sill unidentified. When I planted them last summer I did an eenie-meaney-miney-mo and thought I’d planted pumpkin. It didn’t take long to be shown my error and we wound up with a nice 11-pound crop of butternuts.

To remedy that fail I vowed not to repeat it, but once again the batch of seeds left on the sill in a shot glass went unlabeled and now I’m not sure if they’re one or the other. But whatever they are they have happily sprouted and been transferred to the patch.

PS. It wouldn’t be a proper day of digging in the backyard if I didn’t unearth something (however minor) to add to the Backyarchaelogy Museum: