Why I Can’t Get Over It.

November 15th

Editor’s note: I’m having a hard time thinking about gardening just now, so we’re moving in a different direction. You’ve been warned.

Get over it! Your candidate lost. What’s the big deal?

I’ll tell you what the big deal is: Watching a woman who was arguably the most qualified presidential candidate in, oh, I don’t know, ever lose to a bullying misogynist feels like a direct assault on women.

I was raised to be a good girl. Good girls don’t make a fuss. Good girls go along to get along. We swallow our pride and our pain lest we offend someone. We work our asses off to be sure we’re taken seriously. We don’t cry. We do our best not to complain. We don’t ask for raises or promotions because that would be pushy. We don’t speak up or challenge male superiors because that would be bitchy. We laugh politely at jokes that make us uncomfortable because doing anything else would prove we’re uptight and don’t have a sense of humor. We swallow it all. Well, enough of that. I’m tired of saying nothing, or saying my piece only to people I already know will agree with me.

I have a long history of saying nothing.

When I interviewed for my first job after college, the manager told me he viewed every female applicant as a potential mate for his son, and every male applicant as a potential mate for his daughter. I stared dumbly and said nothing. I got the job. After I’d moved into a management position and started wearing suits to work, a supervisor in another department told me I had nice legs. I had to work with the guy; our departments needed to get along. I stared dumbly and said nothing.

After a few years, I was promoted to the top job in my department. But I didn’t get the same title as all the men who’d preceded me, even though I was doing exactly the same job. Nor was I offered membership in one of the city’s two country clubs—not that I wanted that, but it was a given perk for that position. But I was a girl, so.

When I was ready to move to a bigger city, the male interviewer asked why I’d gotten divorced; had we sought counseling? I knew he wasn’t allowed to ask those questions, but I wanted the job. “We grew apart,” I said, staring dumbly. “And yes, we got counseling.” I got the job.

It didn’t take long to figure out this was another old boys’ club. Only a handful of women had management positions, and they weren’t going anywhere. So I applied at another company. During the salary talk, I asked only for what I would’ve gotten with my next raise from my current employer. To the dollar. Asking for more would’ve been pushy. I got the job.

Newly remarried and ready to start a family, I perused the onboarding information and found nothing about maternity leave. When I asked the man in charge of benefits about it, he said, “We don’t really have a maternity policy. We don’t have that many women of child-bearing age. Why? Are you planning to have a baby?” This wasn’t the dark ages; it was 1989.

There was still no policy in place when our son was born the following year. I asked my boss if I could take off three months, with the balance beyond the legally required six weeks unpaid. He hedged, but finally said, “OK—but don’t tell anybody.” (Like, what, no one would notice I wasn’t around for three months?)

All that was a long time ago. Most of the employees (and managers) in my current workplace are female. It’s an empowering, supportive environment. But I suspect we are atypical. Many friends and colleagues have far more frightening stories of their treatment at work—male colleagues who assaulted them, asked probing questions about their sex lives, campaigned to get them fired. We all have these stories.

But things are getting better! There are laws to protect us! We convinced
ourselves the landscape was continuing to change for the better—that we were respected for our work, that our contributions and our dignity mattered. And when a woman finally won a major-party nomination for president, we were giddy. Could that have happened 20 years ago, even 10 years ago? We’d come a long way, baby.

And yet here we are.

When it became clear Tuesday night that our champion—a woman we admire for her brilliance, her public service, her tenacity, her grasp of how government works (hell, how the world works) would not break the most impenetrable of glass ceilings, we wept. Her loss was our loss. If Hillary couldn’t get the electorate to take her seriously, what hope is there for the rest of us? If a man with so little respect for women could be elected president, what hope do we have of hanging on to the small gains we’ve made?

I will never chant “not my president.” He is my president, for good or ill, but that doesn’t mean I respect him. I don’t, I won’t, I can’t. I am too fearful of what his victory means for women, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, for the environment, for our standing in the world, for our country.

I don’t believe all Trump supporters are hateful, or misogynistic, or bigots. But there’s no denying some of them are. And it’s that emboldened, terrifying band of hate-filled Americans I worry about. Anyone viewed as “other” is a target. At the moment, it feels as if women are “other,” too.

Tonight I went to the same gas station I’ve patronized for more than 25 years. There’s never been any weirdness there, unless you count people complaining that having to prepay at the pump is a damned inconvenience and what the hell. Tonight, an unkempt, overweight white kid was walking out as I was walking in. As he passed me, he did an elaborate backward karate kick, farted long and loud, turned back to make sure I’d noticed, then leered and went on his way. “Classy,” I spat at him, although he probably didn’t hear, or care.

If we want respect, it’s clear we’re going to have to fight for it. I’m done being a good girl.

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Cheyenne Spirit FTW.

August 1st

A little slice of sweetness.

A little slice of sweetness.

This sweet little area of the garden has finally blossomed into what I’ve been trying to achieve for years—-a lush mat of groundcovers interspersed with taller, lovely plants that need little to no care but bloom religiously. The creeping plants–ajuga, sweet woodruff and a form of yellow-flowering sedum I’ve yet to identify–have spread beautifully, choking out most weeds (looking at you, garlic mustard) and even tamping down the previously rampant wild strawberries. (I spare a few of those to provide berries for the critters; besides, I just like seeing a red berry pop up amid the greenery.) The real stars here, though, are the coneflowers.

I bought these last year from a nice young man at a farmers market. I’d been reading about a new cultivar, Cheyenne Spirit echinacea, that promised to do the impossible: produce flowers of different colors on the same plant. None of the garden centers I’d visited had it or even knew that the heck I was talking about, but this guy had four of them. Four! When I told him I’d been looking for this cultivar, and why, he assured me that no echinaceas do what I was suggesting. Perhaps I misread the story? Pretty sure I didn’t, nice young man, but you’re the grower. So instead of buying four Cheyenne Spirits, I just picked the four plants that looked healthiest. Well, one happened to be a Cheyenne Spirit, and guess what. Check out the blooms on the second plant from the left. Yup, yellow and purple.

I could kick myself for not buying all four when they were right there for the taking, but hey. These plants are blooming like a house afire. And they ask nothing of me but that I admire them. Which I do. Who needs a watering can anyway?

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Two words: Mint. Don’t.

July 25th

11267999_10153376126323535_130107203_o When we moved to our house seven years ago, I decided to let nature take its course. We had extensive plantings and I wanted to see what came up on its own before intervening. When our good friend John (your webmaster; hello, John!) and his wife, Sammy, visited, we took a walkabout. I pointed to something vigorous growing under the apple tree and asked Sammy–archaeologist extraordinaire and a very knowledgeable gardener–if she could ID it. She plucked a leaf, rubbed it between her fingers, assessed its scent, and announced, “Mint.” Great, I thought. I’ll find some uses for that.

If only I’d known.

The mint kept mostly to itself, and I was able to keep it in bounds, until a major regrading project kept me out of the adjacent garden beds the entire summer. The mint, sensing a golden opportunity, took off like–well, a weed. By June it was choking out the hostas and irises I’d so lovingly planted. In short, it had become a scourge. That tall stuff in the background? That’s mint.

I did my research. The only way to kill this stuff is to dig out the roots. Unfortunately, these plants are so well-entrenched now that I’d need a backhoe to dig out the roots. I rarely if ever use chemicals, so that was out. I tried hacking back one plant down to ground level (and even that is tough, given the fierce, dense roots at the surface), then poured a generous amount of white vinegar on the stump. That worked. But there isn’t enough vinegar in the world to deal with this infestation, and that could damage desirable plants nearby. So I’m doing the newspapers-and-mulch thing–yanking up as much as I can, layering tons of newspapers on top of the soil, watering them down, and covering the lot with bags and bags and bags of cedar bark mulch. (Props here to Mr. Trowel Tart for lugging said bags from the hardware store to the backyard.)

In theory, next spring I should be able to dig through the mulch down to the soil level–the papers will decompose–and have a lovely weed-free home for new plants. But I am terrified all this hard work (and make no mistake, this chemical-free approach is a backbreaker) will be for naught and the mint will pop up again the minute I dig a hole. If you have any experience eradicating mint, please share your thoughts. And if you’re planning to actually grow mint yourself, confine it to a pot. I’m begging you.

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Die, buckthorn. Die.

April 30th

A couple of weekends ago, I participated in a riverfront cleanup project sponsored by Milwaukee Riverkeeper, a fine organization dedicated to keeping our local waterways clean. Volunteers were assigned to walk stretches of the riverbank, picking up trash and eradicating buckthorn, a nasty invasive species that grows to tree size and chokes out native plants. The male of the species will eventually sport extremely nasty thorns that make it even more difficult to hack down. And it’s difficult enough as it is. Even the smallest plants can have deep, woody roots that resist digging. Since we’ve had plenty of these in both properties we’ve owned, I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to count digging them up, or trying. They do not seem to succumb to anything but Roundup, which is tricky to apply without killing everything else within spray range.

But these Riverkeeper folks had just the thing. They outfitted us with businesslike loppers and bottles of something they’d labeled Buckthorn Blaster—Roundup in the same kind of dauber bottle people in these parts use for playing bingo at reservation casinos. They fill the bottles with Roundup and a little food dye, then daub it onto the exposed stumps. (If you reuse old bingo daubers, maybe there’s enough ink left to add a little color to the herbicide.) With any luck, the buckthorn dies. And if it doesn’t, next year’s cleanup crews need only look for the dye on old wood to be sure the new growth they’re sizing up is really buckthorn. Way to be, Riverkeepers. I’m trying this as soon as I get my hands on a dauber. Maybe I need to start visiting those casinos.

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Rock, trowel, scissors.

April 27th


And so the gardening season begins.

It’s been a beastly spring here, with record rainfall for April. You know it’s bad when there’s a raging current running behind your house, in a spot that’s normally just a grassy swale. When a mallard pair showed up to check it out, I groaned. They’re pretty. But they bring ill tidings when the nearest body of water is two miles away.

Much of this torrential, God-smiting-us rainfall ended up in our basement, so Mr. TrowelTart and I are undertaking a massive regrading project that will involve removing several trees, replacing window wells, adding drainage tile and—this is where I come in—digging up a pantload of perennials that must be saved (the perennials MUST be saved!) before the dudes with the backhoes show up.

Today I concentrated on removing some plants I knew would tolerate hanging out in pots until I get around to replanting them, and moving a wheelbarrow’s worth of big honking rocks aside to save for another project. It’s the tip of the iceberg. Sweet woodruff, columbines, hostas galore, and the random bleeding heart or two await my ministrations. And the rock pile is going to get much, much bigger.

No idea what to do with the daffodils, which are finally blooming—they showed their green tips before Christmas, so the fact I have any blooms at all is a miracle. They’ll be spent before the big project starts, but the foliage won’t have died back. Do I dare dig them up when their stems are limp but still green? I could use some advice.

And if your garden is crying out for ajuga or dianthus, let me know.

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Late-summer lessons.

September 3rd

It’s a breezy 61 degrees here today, finally cool enough to wander around my garden and figure out what I can accomplish before the snow flies. It’s also a good time to ponder what worked this year, what didn’t, and start compiling the miles-long to-do list for next year. What I learned on my summer vacation:

* Red salvia = good. I’d never tried these annuals before. My experience with annuals has been pretty limited, since I have a spotty track record of keeping them properly watered. But these guys are definitely on my must-buy list for next year. Even when I neglected them, I could practically watch them bounce back and perk up after I watered them. Bonus: It’s actually better to not remove the spent blooms and seeds, because the seeds attract goldfinches—something I never knew. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been watching whole families of finches devour the seeds from the salvia on the patio. One of my favorite moments was watching a male and female perch on stems on opposite sides of the pot, bending the stems parallel to the ground, just hanging out and gazing out at the yard. Poetry.

• Cigar plant = deer magnet. I strolled right past this little novelty item at the garden center in spring, because the fools wanted $25 for a hanging basket. “They’ll attract hummingbirds!” the clerk trilled. I thought, hmm, not at that price. Waited until July, when I found a much-cheaper batch in flats and figured I’d give them a go. The hummingbirds stayed away in droves, but this funky little plant did attract marauding deer, which boldly marched right up onto my patio, skirting a multitude of rocks, pots, solar lights and a birdbath to get at them. Chomped them down to pathetic little stubs. They aren’t even that pretty!

• Clear plastic is useless for weed control. One of our neighbors has an ugly, weed-infested strip of yard that abuts the railroad ties at the back of one of our garden beds. Two months ago, they apparently decided to deal with it—by covering the whole mess with clear plastic and weighting it down with bags of mulch. I’ve been watching with interest, wondering if clear plastic could possibly work as well as black. It doesn’t. This project now resembles nothing so much as a terrarium, with the weeds utterly unchecked, growing happily under a condensation-coated sheet of plastic. Why wouldn’t they? They’re getting sunlight and plenty of moisture, and the edges of the plastic aren’t secured, so they’re getting plenty of air, too.

• Red geraniums attract hummingbirds. I’ve had geraniums before, but I’ve never seem hummingbirds come to them until this year—maybe because they were in a hanging basket. I’m trying this again next year, and this time putting the basket in a spot that’s more visible. My husband had a prime vantage point from his favorite chair. I rarely get to sit in his favorite chair.

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Lousy timing.

August 11th

I’ve been thinking of Lloyd Bridges’ character in Airplane! lately. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking/quit smoking/quit sniffing glue/quit amphetamines/start a gardening blog!

Honestly, I can’t remember a summer in the past 20 years that has been less hospitable for gardening. First it was the mosquitoes. Then it was the torrential rains that left much of my yard a swamp, thus generating even more mosquitoes. Then it was the invasion of pesky little taupe-colored moths, which flushed from the grass and shrubbery at the slightest touch. Then it was the Invasion of the Monster Insects. I’ve spotted a 4-inch praying mantis (I know it’s harmless, but yeesh), some enormous winged insects hanging out menacingly in the driveway (the kind of thing waaay too big to step on), and other unidentified beastly hard-shelled things stuck in spiderwebs. The anthills in the backyard have multiplied and spread alarmingly. Friend of TT Vickie suggests blasting the hills with malathion, but I just can’t go there.

Our yard service guys say they can take care of all this for a couple hundred bucks. But we’ve gotten this far into summer; I can’t see us dropping that kind of change. It’s not like we entertain in the backyard on a regular basis. And if we had that kind of spare cash lying around, I’d put it toward repairing something we could appreciate year-round, like ripping out the water-damaged wallpaper in the master bedroom and patching up the drywall underneath it.

The mosquitoes show no signs whatsoever of giving us a break. We’re loath to use a lot of chemicals around here, but even my husband had enough when he had to fight his way through a cloud of skeeters to get from his car to our front door, a trip of perhaps a dozen steps. He grabbed a can of repellent we hadn’t used since our elder son’s graduation party in 2009 and went nuts. I couldn’t blame him.

The only gardening chore I’ve been able to manage in these godawful conditions is keeping the pots of annuals watered, and even that requires a lot of breath-holding and/or chuffing air out through my nose to keep mosquitoes from flying up my nostrils. Watering takes maybe 10 minutes, and that is just about precisely how long I can stand to be outside in my own damn yard.

These Cambodia-like conditions have everything growing like crazy, of course, including the weeds. The bed I cleaned out for transplanted hostas and daylilies under the apple tree last year is now sporting knee-high junk that needs to go, but it’s also in the wettest part of the garden, where the skeeters are at their most bloodthirsty. I’m hoping for a cold snap that kills the little varmints so I can get something accomplished out there before the snow flies.

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Damn you, Bambi.

July 30th

If blogging about gardening has taught me anything, it’s this: Take a photo the minute you think of it. Don’t wait for the weekend or a moment when you “have time.” What’s here today could be gone tomorrow.

That’s what happened with a little bed I started in a spot at the corner of the garage. We’d removed a ginormous yew that had been carefully trimmed over the years into a cone. Problem was, the uppermost point of the yew had grown beyond the gutters, and no clever finagling with a ladder could get me anywhere near it. Have you ever seen a 12-foot conically shaped yew that’s pruned up only for the first 8 to 10 feet? Pretty it isn’t. Out it went.

We were left with a generally rounded spot covered with heaps of volcanic rock, with black landscaping plastic underneath. I started with the hole where the tree had been, pulled away as much of the landscape cloth as possible, transplanted some of the daylilies I’d dug up and divided, and waited for them to get busy. They did come up, although only a couple flowered. I just sighed and hoped they’d do better next year.

Then Mother Nature threw me a bone: Volunteer musk mallows. I’d transplanted a few daylilies from our old place, and that garden was rife with musk mallows, so some of the seeds must have migrated along with the daylilies. While these flowers are pretty enough (they’re related to hibiscus and hollyhocks, but with much smaller, pale pink flowers), they spread like virulent weeds. My previous garden was one long, continuous bed, and I had to weed out the volunteer mallows like a zealot (and yank up seedlings in spring) to keep them from taking over.

This spot, though? Golden! Nothing around them but daylilies, which bloom earlier (so we’d have that staged-bloom thing going on); weed treatments applied to the lawn would halt their spread there. Yesterday they bloomed, delicate little pale things I found I could actually appreciate. I should take a picture, I thought.

Today I went outside to do just that, and guess what? Flower tops snapped clean off. Frigging deer. As if they don’t get enough yuks from eating my hostas and head-butting my bird feeders. But I’m still hopeful. In a rose mallow vs. deer smackdown, my money’s on the rose mallow.

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After the flood.

July 23rd

Tending a big yard with a challenging assortment of perennials, shrubs and trees is about as close as I’ll ever get, in this life anyway, to being a farmer. So I figure I’m entitled to complain about the weather.

Those of you who’ve found this site through my bff’s blog may already have read a brief synopsis of last night’s water woes. It was a storm of biblical proportions, the sort of relentless pounding that makes you wonder: Is God smiting me? If so, why? And will the sump pump hold?

I was feeling pretty darn smug when news of a tornado sent us scurrying to the basement. Just 10 miles north of us, cars were floating away in flash floods, drivers stranded on the freeway were fleeing the floodwaters by swimming their way out (or turning their cars around and going the wrong way to head back to the nearest on-ramp), tornado sirens were wailing in every direction. But our basement was dry! I silently congratulated myself on the mudjacking, concrete patching and window-well improvements. We’d be fine.

Less than two hours later, water was seeping in from almost every corner, the window wells were filled to the brim, and my plucky sons were bailing them out in the middle of a fierce electrical storm while I manned the mops, towels and broom in the basement. I don’t have a rain gauge, but I know the first surge brought at least 6 inches of rain in under two hours, because that’s what was in my (previously empty) watering pitcher. The boys spent two hours bailing the window wells, moved rocks and sheets of plexiglass around to better protect them, then began bailing water from the patio, which was ankle deep. (Mr. TrowelTART was otherwise occupied at the newspaper, which needed all hands on deck in a major way.)

The rain had tapered off by about 11 p.m., when the boys called it a night and decided to hit the showers. Then it started raining again…and continued until this morning. That second surge brought another two inches or so. It cleared up and got beastly hot and humid mid-morning, and the ground is much drier than I expected, but now we’re bracing for another round of storms expected to drop another 2 or 3 inches by morning.

And yet, I can’t really complain. It’s a nuisance, but we didn’t lose a car, as one friend did, or have to stay up until 3:30 this morning bailing out the sump pump, as another did. We weren’t struck by lightning, as two sisters were last night while walking home from a restaurant; one is in a coma, the other in critical condition. Our car wasn’t swallowed by a sinkhole, the fate suffered by an Escalade driver who was fished out by a good Samaritan. (At this writing, the car is still in the hole, engine running; there are live electric wires around it.) We did not see our basement windows blown out by the force of floodwaters, or our kids’ high school locker room turned into a 5-foot-deep pool littered with football equipment. We’re all safe and sound. Sore and tired and mentally spent, but safe and sound.

As for the garden, I can muster only a passing twinge of curiosity about what this deluge will mean long-term. The raspberries were unusually sweet today, and the impatiens are blooming like mad. Whatever else happens, we’ll deal with as it comes.

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Getting there.

July 21st

I’ve been reluctant to take any photos of the rocky front garden bed because, well, I expected it to look much better by now. My little village planted a series of water-filtering median strips after a construction project last summer, and those beds look fabulous, as if they’ve been there forever. Maybe I should give my six readers a photo of them instead. And maybe I will.

But for now, this is my work-in-progress. It remains an ongoing surprise/learning experience. The things I’ve planted here expecting great things have been big disappointments—I’m thinking daylilies and hostas, about which the best I can say is: They aren’t dead yet. I’m perplexed by the yarrow as well; I planted a couple of those smack in the middle of the bed, at its highest point, since these plants can get pretty tall. They have formed a dense clump that looks vigorous and healthy—but they’ve remained much, much shorter than their counterparts elsewhere, which are in the shade and flop over helplessly after they bloom. These yarrows, in a perfect spot for their kind—hot and dry—have yet to produce a single flower. What the?

But since I’m a glass-half-full kind of girl, I’m happy with the cosmos, which are doing a great job of filling in the empty spaces in the back of the bed. Even better, they haven’t cost me a dime since I bought them two or three years ago; they just keep reseeding themselves.

Mr. TrowelTART noted the other day that rain has been sparse lately, and suggested this bed might need a good dousing. “Are you kidding me?” I said, incredulous. He seemed surprised by the vehemence of my response and reasonably suggested that our teenage boys could do it. “Forget it,” I said. This is a survival-of-the-fittest garden. I have enough trouble keeping my potted plants alive; my goal is to do nothing with this bed except weed it — and continue the search for plants that will tolerate that.

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