So, after blogging about Dana’s post about being “those” neighbors, I’ve realized we really are “those” neighbors.

I was showing off our swanky new exterior lifestyle areas, or whatever it is you call patios these days, to one of our neighbors. We rounded the corner and encountered the large walnut bookcase Husband and I have had propped up in the yard for weeks.

That’s right, kids, intellectuals don’t put cars on blocks in their yard. They put bookcases on blocks instead.

We’ve been waiting to get rid of the bookcase because it was damaged during construction. Spring is a busy time for our contractors and they just haven’t had a chance to haul it away for us. I’d better keep on top of this though, because time slips by pretty fast and if I don’t make sure it gets taken care of we’ll start ignoring it and the next thing we know the grandnieces will be building a fort on it while we sip our hot toddys on the porch and yell at them to get off the lawn.

Oh, the lawn. The accursed lawn. The lawn is a swatch of hay-covered parched clay because we can’t bring ourselves to shell out for sod yet. I’m sure the yarn gives the neighbors something to talk about now that we’ve made the rest of the place presentable. To be fair, we have very little lawn area left, what with the giant porch and lifestyle accessory zones and the flower and herb gardens. Still, there’s enough to be an eyesore.

Mostly, I ignore the desolate wasteland that is the lawn because I have bigger fish to fry. We had 16 arborvitae planted and until they get established, they need to be watered.

My spiritual advisor, Roger, also planted lots of sunflowers, but those need surprisingly little water. I make every effort to plant as few things that need regular (non-rainfall related) watering as possible.

Aside from the herbs and the trees, the rest of the plants are pretty drought and MeanLouise tolerant. I planted a shasta daisy seedling in 1998. Every year I divide and give away as many of it’s spawn as possible. I started out with that one little shasta daisy. Last month when I started dividing them I found I had 97 of them. These things don’t need full sun or water or, apparently, any attention whatsoever. Shasta daisies, like honey badger, just don’t give a shit.

IMG_2794

The trees are another story. This year, they need water, and we haven’t gotten any decent rainfall at our house in a while. According to the local rain gauge we’ve gotten about .10 inch in the last month. That means the trees aren’t the only things that need watering, because some idiot who lives here planted lots of tender herbs. The perennial herbs are troupers. The annuals like basil need water.

That involves hoses.

I have become like Wile E Coyote with the fucking garden hoses.

Dealing with garden hoses is going to break me.

For reasons I cannot even begin to explain – but trust me, there is a logical explanation – this is the hose situation as of today: We have 8 hoses connected to various bibs, winders, soaker hoses, sprinkler hoses, other hoses, and possibly my neighbor’s water feature.

I can’t be sure anymore.

What I can be sure of is that I must be supplying some form of comic relief to the neighborhood when I’m out in the yard swearing and fussing. Some of the neighbors are new, they haven’t acclimated to my tenuous relationship with both earthworms and reality vis-a-vis the wonderful world of gardening. I believe I may be frightening them, but they’ll learn. Or move.

I am simply not designed for this kind of domestic horseshit.

If I have to buy another splitter, connector, washer, winder, holder, nozzle, sprinkler, watering can or divining rod I am going to lose what little is left of my mind.

And now, to take my mind off gardening, let’s all have a moment with honey badger:

Usually I encounter the evangelicals stumping for Bush at the Metro. Yesterday, they came to our door to explain about how Kerry wants to outlaw the Bible and how the demonic jews and muslims and buddhists are ruining the country. Now, don’t be thinking the Jews aren’t useful – we need them to guard Israel until Jesus shows back up and breaks their lease. They aren’t keeping their part of the bargain though. We gave them Israel but they won’t all skeedaddle. There’s still too damned many of the bastards skulking about on our precious American Soil.

After I learned all about the evil Jews, got my Republican voting guide, and promised never to sacrifice goats in my yard, they asked me to pray with them for W.

I had a better idea.

While they were still trying to figure out if I was kidding about the goats, I asked them to pray over my house and yard. There was a Jew living here, I explained. I failed to mention that part about how this wasn’t past tense. (I certainly didn’t want them coming back)

They were happy to accomodate. They sang and prayed, prayed and sang for the rest of the afternoon. All over the yard, wailing away for Baby Jesus and George W Bush to deliver my dwelling from the taint of eeeeevil. I certainly wasn’t letting them inside, and with most of the windows shut I could tune them out when I wished. Oh, I have to admit every once in a while I sat at a window and drank coffee and watched the show. They didn’t care.

Then their car picked them up and they left. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m completely out of my mind, but I’m equally sure they’ve thought that for years.

My thinking was, if they’re exorcising my yard, they aren’t bothering anyone else with their bigoted horseshit. It’s like community service.

Works for me. Plus, now I can be assured that all of my earthworms have a place at the right hand of the Lord. That’s a big relief, I gotta tell you.

[this one needs lots of relinking]

It’s spring. That means that it’s that time of year those of us who are foolish enough to insist on heirloom plants and organic gardening techniques basically go out and spend hundreds of dollars on things like poop. Husband likes to go along on these adventures just so he can deliver Beavis and Butthead-esque monologues about excrement. I put up with it because he’s the one with the station wagon.

And he gets to do the heavy lifting.

And he’s really cute.

As you can imagine, there was much of the traditional earthworm angst today. The wildflower beds (which you can also read about at that link) look amazing and the only tricky thing today was deciding whether a few mysterious plants were invasive weeds or flowers.

(Oh, and should you go read that link and wish to lecture me about worms, you should first read the follow-up worm post from last years episode of annelid-mania).

In a bit of what seems to me like extreme silliness, I dug up and trashed a large expanse of dandelions today. This is extremely silly because I buy and cook with dandelion greens a lot. (Well, that’s not that often since I rarely cook, but lately it’s been fairly often because I’m addicted to this tempeh dish and it rocks with dandelion greens). I can’t bring myself to clean and eat the ones in the yard, however, because they thrive in a spot that’s, um, very popular with the neighborhood dogs.

It’s too cold to plant basil this weekend, since this is the weekend I set aside time to put in the herb garden. Nevertheless, overall it was a good day for gardening. Not hot, minimal sun, nice damp ground. The snakes were sluggish, which was good because I was in their habitat and I don’t think they were happy about it. Or maybe they were unhappy because when I found them I picked them up and threw them over into the park. I’m not sure garden variety snakes like flying.

No sign of Walter, though, which concerns me. I haven’t seen him since the day I stepped on him (barefoot) on the front porch. I know I didn’t hurt him, but I must have upset him. I can’t say I feel bad, he doesn’t belong on the porch and he knows it. The herb garden is as close to the house as he’s supposed to get.

Yeah, I know, last year he was only allowed as close as the wrought-iron bench. We renegotiated in the Fall. He looked at me with those big black eyes and I just couldn’t say no.

I really don’t want to recap who Walter is or why gardening is stressful and although it’s part of a longer post I already linked to, I’m going to repost the pertinent bits here and save you some surfing in case you don’t want to read about the wildflowers:

Now here’s the thing you have to keep in mind: gardening stresses me out. Gardening is not relaxing to me. Not the planting part, anyway. It’s all rather violent, if you think about it. When you plant seedlings you have to pull them out of those little plastic pots, you can break their little roots. I get very distressed about that. And then there’s the digging.

You have to dig little holes to put in the plants. And there are earthworms in the ground. I get so upset if I injure an earthworm. I make little offerings to them to appease their gods, but I still feel bad about it. I don’t feel bad about fishing with worms though. Fishing with worms is different than mowing them down in a drive-by trowelling accident while you’re planting phlox. Don’t ask me why. It just is. I’m the arbitrary sort-of Buddhist.

Grubs are another story. Again with the arbitrary rules…I toss the grubs I find to the cardinals. Nasty things. The grubs, not the cardinals. From a distance I must look like Snow White out there, with my cute little flock of birds following me around and singing happily to me. It’s the grubs. Make no mistake, those birds only love me for my grubs. I always feel bad about the grubs later though, because they’re immature scarab beetles and all – but they’re destructive, and I like the way the cardinals sing to me. It soothes me a little bit as I go about my unholy rampage of worm-decapitation and mayhem.

Since I was working out back I didn’t run into Walter, which is good, because there’s a whole other set of arbitrary rules for our friends the snakes. When I encounter a snake I try hard to repatriate it into the wild (okay, the neighbor across the street’s yard) but if they startle me I can make no promises. I know they’re beneficial, but I hate them. Walter lives in my next door neighbor’s front yard. Sometimes he comes over and suns himself on the rock border around my herb garden, even though he knows he’s not supposed to. He and I have discussed this, you see. He’s very pretty, actually – a brilliant emerald green. Next time I catch him on that rock though it’s into the shoebox with a one-way ticket out of town. I didn’t encounter any snakes yesterday so I don’t know how I got off on this tangent.

Randomly, my brother-in-law explained to me that most people never realize their attics are infested with rat snakes. I wish he hadn’t done that.

But enough about serpants. It’s time to confess that I may have lost my mind, I’m now running with a very bad crowd. Yes, it’s true. I put in a rose garden. Does this mean I have to quit mocking people with rose gardens? Or does this mean I can now mock with impunity?

I didn’t plan to buy a bunch of rose bushes, but I was at the nursery and there was this really cool-looking one and when I read the description I found that the nursery tag described the blossoms as gaudy. I found that appealing. Plus, they were called Peace Roses. How could I resist that? And once you pick out one color you realize that a lone rosebush is kind of sad and lonely and, well, let’s just say that This Way Lies Madness.

I managed to plant them without scratching myself once. I’m very proud of that and it was no easy task, these are pretty good sized bushes. Now, we’ll see if they survive. They’d better. I had to displace a lot of earthworms to dig holes big enough for those bigass rootballs.

One of my coworkers said, with his usual impish grin, “These are for your Husband, so don’t eat them.”

Then he handed me a package of Mexican Spice Flavored Worms.

I assured him I could resist the temptation to snack on them and would make sure that they reached Husband un-opened.

Having said that, curiosity is getting the best of us. He’s given them to a number of people here and we may have to break open a package of the Chedder Cheese flavored worms and try them out.

I love the ingredients list. “Insect Larva, Seasoning.” And only 9 calories per serving (1.4 grams).

Here’s a link to the Food Insects website, a cooperative project with the University of Wisonconsin-Madison. I’m disappointed that they still haven’t published the piece on the nutrient content of the House Cricket, Acheta domesticus, but they do have A Concise Summary of the General Nutritional Value of Insects.

I’m more convinced than ever that this Microsoft Bob thing is an elaborate hoax. Microsoft wants us to think they are powerful enough to have wiped our memories, so we will fear them. It’s an elaborate conspiracy, a vast sleight of hand designed to make us believe that they possess vast and unimaginable technology to induce selective amnesia a la Men in Black.

Or maybe I’m just paranoid and we should move right along to this story in today’s Washington Post. (Don’t let Boris read this one, Faith).

“Pinched Pug Retrieved by Alexandria Police: Molly Is Safely Home After Being Snatched From Her Dog Sitter’s SUV; Suspect Charged”. And they all lived happily ever after. Except for the poor cop who solved the case, because other cops are going to be calling him “Ace Ventura” until the day he dies, and I bet it’s going to get very old very fast.

Seems lots of folks have lots of time on their hands these days to share with me the many gospel truths they know about annelids. I’m not in the best of all possible moods today. Consequently, I’ve decided, just for shits and giggles, to blow this all out of proportion. Now, let’s be clear. I don’t give a hoot about any of this, but obsessing over worms is harmless and amusing. In the event you missed the post that started the whole worm fracas, it’s here.

This morning, I collected worm specimens. One from each arbitrarily defined location. It wasn’t the best sampling technique, but the NSF isn’t exactly funding my blog so what do I care?

After I got to work, got my coffee, and made an initial identification of my worms, I marched over to the bio lab for secondary conformation from one of those learned types. I love my colleagues – they don’t even question why I wish to know for sure that these specimens are, indeed, Lumbricus rubellus and not Lumbricus terrestris or Helodrilus caliginosus. You know, this was the first time I’ve been back in this particular lab since I graduated. What’s scary is it hasn’t changed much. It was fun. Made me want to dissect something. Or someone, but that’s just a further indicator of my mood.

So, for your dining and dancing enjoyment, here’s a generalized response to what I learned from this week’s silly mail:

I’ve learned that a worm is a worm is a worm.
Nope. There are over 12,000 identified species in the Phylum Annelida. They are devided into three classes, Polychaeta (marine, roughly 8000 species identified), Oligochaeta (primarily earthworms, roughly 3,000 species identified), and Hirudinea (leeches, which are fresh-water critters and therefore distinct from the marine Annelids). Today, we will concern ourselves with Oligochaeta.

I’ve learned that, since a worm is a worm is a worm, and there are millions of them in my yard going down to depths of hundred of feet and growing to lengths of several feet so I shouldn’t worry about them.
Well, for starters, I’m not really that worried. I would, however, be worried if this small worms (average length being way less than even a foot) suddenly grew that big. Beyond that, your numbers are pretty goofy there, particularly since the critters in question like to stay pretty close to the soil surface. There’s quite a horror movie in the scenerios presented to me as the gospel fact though, come to think of it…

I’ve learned that earthworms are native to North America.
Don’t tell them that, most species found in North America they think they were accidentally brought over from Europe.

I’ve learned that all earthworms and grubs are benevolent.
Don’t tell the researchers investigating the potential threats posed by earthworms to both the biodiversity and long-term stability of the hardwood forest ecosystems in the Great Lakes region. And grubs, grubs are nasty things that do lots of damage. And it’s not like I’m poisoning them or something. If I find a grub, I feed it to the birds. I’m not out there hunting them.

I’ve learned that earthworms are immortal.
Um, no, when I squash them with my trowel, they stay squashed. Try this experiment at home: Take a worm, your choice – just pick a worm. Take a trowel (a hammer will do in a pinch). Give the worm a good wack. Observe. Still dead? Keep observing. Still dead? Keep observing. I’ll check in with you again tomorrow, at which point it will still be dead. And it will probably smell bad, too.

I’ve learned that earthworms multiply by being chopped into bits, at which point all the parts grow into new worms.
Don’t tell the worms, you’ll ruin their fun. Although many species are apparently hermaphroditic (including our friend L. rubellus), they seem to think that they need to mate in order to produce eggs. You see, when one annelid loves another annelid verrrry much….Actually, Physiology of Annelids, (ed. P.J. Mill, London: Academic Press, 1978) has a rather fascinating chapter on reproduction. Well, fascinating to me, anyway.
Some annelids can, under optimum circumastances regenerate lost segments – generally this tends to be posterior segments. You know, the tail. This can occur if predators such as birds or moles (who, incidentally, can and do eat three times their weight in worms each day) don’t get them while they’re injured, if they haven’t regenerated often in the past, if they haven’t lost too many segments, if it’s not too cold out, and if they’re one of the 10-30 (estimates very and this seems to be slightly controversial) species that regenerate. Oh yeah, and if they aren’t flattened.

If you’re really that obsessed with worms, I suggest a visit to Another Can of Worms, which is the clearinghouse for Annelid research, hosted by the University of New Orleans.

Personally, I find worms boring. I always preferred spending my time with the insects. I’m not a working biologist, I know very little about annelids in the grand scheme of things. I just have years of biology courses somewhere in my distant past and a generalized irritation with people who think that watching a few nature films when they were in 8th grade makes them Charles Darwin.

I’m tired and you’re being condescending. Sorry.

To keep this annelid-related, I’ll tell you about the Medical Leech Museum in Charleston. (that’s not much of a link, but it has the address). Leeches are loads of fun. I’m tired and so perhaps we’ll talk leeches another day.

I should add one final note for those twitching and fussing: No. This isn’t about you. Unless you sent me a snarky email about worms. Then it is, in fact, about you.

Weeding is a crap shoot because I can never tell which are the wildflowers and which are the weeds until they start blooming. Really, you could argue that all wildflowers are weeds – and sometimes I do just that rather than tend a bed.

One bed, for those playing along at home, is about 40 x 2, the other is about 15 x 3. There are no fancy patterns or clever design elements. They’re wildflower beds. I don’t understand why people put in wildflowers and then try to do precious things with them.

Now here’s the thing you have to keep in mind: gardening stresses me out. Gardening is not relaxing to me. Not the planting part, anyway. It’s all rather violent, if you think about it. When you plant seedlings you have to pull them out of those little plastic pots, you can break their little roots. I get very distressed about that.

And then there’s the digging. You have to dig little holes to put in the plants.

And there are earthworms in the ground. I get so upset if I injure an earthworm. I make little offerings to them to appease their gods, but I still feel bad about it.

I don’t feel bad about fishing with worms though. Fishing with worms is different than mowing them down in a drive-by trowelling accident while you’re planting phlox. Don’t ask me why. It just is. I’m the arbitrary sort-of Buddhist.

Grubs are another story. Again with the arbitrary rules…I toss the grubs I find to the cardinals. Nasty things. The grubs, not the cardinals. From a distance I must look like Snow White out there, with my cute little flock of birds following me around and singing happily to me. It’s the grubs. Make no mistake, those birds only love me for my grubs. I always feel bad about the grubs later though, because they’re immature scarab beetles and all – but they’re destructive, and I like the way the cardinals sing to me. It soothes me a little bit as I go about my unholy rampage of worm-decapitation and mayhem.

Since I was working out back I didn’t run into Walter, which is good, because there’s a whole other set of arbitrary rules for our friends the snakes. When I encounter a snake I try hard to repatriate it into the wild (okay, the neighbor across the street’s yard) but if they startle me I can make no promises. I know they’re beneficial, but I hate them. Walter lives in my next door neighbor’s front yard. Sometimes he comes over and suns himself on the rock border around my herb garden, even though he knows he’s not supposed to. He and I have discussed this, you see. He’s very pretty, actually – a brilliant emerald green.

Next time I catch him on that rock though it’s into the shoebox with a one-way ticket out of town. I didn’t encounter any snakes yesterday so I don’t know how I got off on this tangent. Oh yes, so here are some of the new kids: Scabiosa (pink mist). I have to admit, I’m a little worried about this one. It’s an import (from England) and my least favorite exotic invasive, English Ivy, is, well, English too. (I know. I’m a hypocrit. Let’s not talk about the bamboo, okay? I’m not perfect). What makes me particularly wary of this one is the prohibition from propagation that I found both on the tag that came with the plant and at Heritage Perennials. I don’t know if that’s a patent issue or if this plant has some potentially unsavory quality like English Ivy.

Nevertheless, I planted it anyway. The Scabiosa, not the Ivy. I’ve been waging war on that damn Ivy ever since I moved in here. (And this task is made all the more difficult because I react to English Ivy the way most people react to poison ivy). English Ivy is tangible proof that evil exists. Do not plant English Ivy in the United States. There are native groundcovers that will do the job. English Ivy is invasive and it wants nothing more than to damage your house and your fencing and to kill everything in it’s path. You will understand this if you ever have a 40 foot tall tree lean over your house the day after you buy it because it’s been weakened by Ivy. Then you have to pay a lot of money to have what was once a perfectly good tree removed. If I ever catch you planting Ivy I will personally come to your house and remove it. Are we clear on this?

Good.

I added a few more Coreopsis grandiflora (early sunrise variety) because they’re so darn cute. They self-sow nicely but I only had them in one bed so I bought a couple more to fill out another bed. I liked that this bed was all blue and purple flowers but it was a bit too cute that way. Eh, if it looks bad they can always be moved. Butterflies really dig these flowers.

At the back end of this bed I put in some lupines because the Hummingbirds like to have little orgies with them. There are few things as enjoyable as sitting quietly, drinking tea, and watching a hummingbird frenzy. Hummingbird feeders attract ants. Lupines don’t. Well, if they do, you have other problems.

The perfect edging plants for this kind of wildflower bed (read: unkempt and sort of Darwinian) are Alaskan Shasta Daisies. Neither Alaskan, nor daisies, I suspect. They are identified at perennials.com as Chrysanthemum weyrichii ‘White Bomb’. Okay, whatever. They’re cute, they don’t take over, and I can ignore them once they’re planted.

I filled in a few spots with some annuals, Gazanias. Some people claim that they can keep these going as perennials. Yeah, maybe in southern Africa, not here. These are really cute because at sunset you can watch their flowers close up, and then in the morning you can watch them open again. This enables you to deny that you’re just sitting and staring into space.

“Don’t bother me now, I’m watching the flowers.”

Gloriosa Daisies are another handy filler. They don’t always self-seed the way they should, but they’re easy to replace and they like to be ignored. I like that in a plant.