Dec 7, 2009

More Work Time

Though I am mostly at home with California-style seasons, the one thing I do find a bit tricky is the fact that the time of year when the yard requires most work (i.e. planting time) happens to coincide with the shortest days. I typically experience something close to agony when the sun sets on weekends, especially Sundays, because inevitably I’m nowhere near finished whatever I’m doing. I’ve maimed innocent plants by stomping around well past the time where I could actually see them. This weekend was different only in that I could thankfully note that it won’t get any worse.

I mention this because there seems to be a semi-common misconception that this happy milestone falls on or around December 21. But don’t delay celebrating: the evenings are getting longer already! The solstice is the shortest day, but the earliest sunset is before, about two weeks at our latitude, and the latest sunset about two weeks after. I was raised with a pack of science-minded siblings and never allowed to harbor misconceptions regarding celestial goings-on—not that I necessarily absorbed the mechanisms, in this case no doubt some perturbation in the planet’s rotation and/or orbit—and we always marked December 7 as the dusk-sodden day after which evenings would brighten. That was in Montana, and way down here in the Bay Area, it would be a day or two different. I couldn’t seem to find to-the-second data online, but it doesn’t get earlier/grimmer than this weekend. From here on out, our yard work time increases! Unless you’re the type who’s out there at the crack of dawn—I am, um, not.

That said, I don’t think there’s a whole lot left to do! Every plant that was ready for the ground is in it, bulbs are in, a few drainage issues are managed to the extent that they will be this year...The only thing I ran out of time for this weekend was seeds. Pity, because there is a string of lovely rainstorms in the 15-day forecast, and I hope, hope, hope there won’t be any major rain stoppages for the rest of the season. That would mean that once the seeds go in, I can in theory do things other than yard work on weekends. Not that there’s anything I’d rather be doing, but there are other things in need of doing. (I wonder if I can remember how to clean the house—where do I keep the vacuum? Do I have one?) I find it alarming that the yard does take so much time, but this is only fall #2 since the Ivy War. I couldn’t do everything the first year (in addition to the Ivy War, there was also Operation Lawn Begone and two neglecte
d slopes in need of reclaiming), but this year should pretty much get me to where, going forward, I’ll just be doing maintenance and refinements. Some time soon I will sprinkle seeds of annuals in strategic locations, including patio pots (things like baby blue eyes and tidy tips are amazing in pots—I had better pictures, but they were lost in a computer melt-down), but I had also wanted to sow flats of all kinds of perennial seeds I collected last year. I don’t know, though. If I sow them, I will have to babysit them, pot them up…Possibly that is not the kind of thing gardeners with day jobs should attempt, regardless of sunset time. Unless gardening is their day job. I wish. Well, I’ll see. When I get out my little box o’ seeds to scatter the annuals, the lure of the other seed packets may be too much to resist.

Dec 1, 2009

Remembering the Ivy War

One-year anniversary of the end to major ivy fighting marked by ceremony, controversy

The sun rose bright and warm but the mood was somber as the yard’s native plants, nonnative trees and human resident gathered to mark the first anniversary of VS Day (Victory in the South), the last day of major fighting in the Ivy War. Veterans and residents recalled the gruesome battle of the Sunday After Thanksgiving, 2008, which raged from morning well into the night. Attendees recalled that resistance forces had been advancing along the southern front, battling entrenched ivy roots for weeks, and the four-day weekend associated with Thanksgiving had been set as a the target for victory.

The final battle was especially brutal, due to the refusal of General Spod (Swinging Pick of Doom) to budge on the end-of-weekend deadline. At the time, the general famously pointed out that war strategists had originally set November 1 as the deadline, and that this had already been missed by weeks, thus wasting several good rainfalls that would have benefitted new native plants, had they been able to move in on ivy-vacated ground. “We missed November 1, but we’re sure a hell not going to be out here in the trenches come December 1,” Spod told embedded reporters at the time. “To any critics out there, I would just say that if you spent one day out here on the ivy battlefield, you’d understand why we don’t plan to come out here again next weekend. The war ends here. Today.” As that Sunday battle raged, troops kept a nervous eye on the sun, undeterred in its westward movement toward its 4:51 setting, one of earliest of the year. Once the sun disappeared, the troops made the controversial decision to set up a work light, arousing neighbors’ concern for the human resident’s mental state.

Critics of the way the final battle unfolded have pointed out that substantial risks were taken with the wellbeing of both the large juniper trees, who suffered repeated pick blows to their root systems, and of the human resident, who suffered wrist and elbow tendonitis and lower back pain. At the anniversary ceremony, the human resident gave the following account of the battle: “My wrists and elbows were killing, man. My back was so sore I couldn’t stand up straight from noon on. I only got two bathroom breaks and no lunch!” But Spod could not launch attacks without the human resident’s aid and insisted on not backing down. “After the sun went down, I expected to be able to go back to the fort,” said the human resident. “But no, next thing I know the *%$# work light is out of the shed and set up on the sidewalk. The cord was draped over the fence and everyone was afraid Spod was going to slice it and get me electrocuted. It was *%#$ hectic, man. Plus the light was really directional, so everywhere you looked there were shadows, and it was *%$# impossible to tell the *%$# juniper roots from the *%$# ivy roots. I didn’t think anyone was gonna get out of there alive.”

The juniper trees, also attending the memorial, added, “We lost probably a dozen or more good roots, just because there was ivy wrapped around them. The ivy tried to hide that way and we were the collateral damage. A certified arborist had been called in at some point during the war and advised General Spod not to sever any of our roots that were over 2 inches in diameter, but some got cut alright—maybe not severed, but cut up pretty good.”

Embeds witnessing the southern front battlefields did at the time report heavy juniper root damage, filing grisly accounts of the shocking red root interiors exposed and mixing with the ivy’s tan roots in a tangle of rhizomatous carnage that littered the yard and sidewalk.

The battle finally ended that Sunday at 10pm, and the front was declared liberated. Troops were too fatigued and demoralized to raise a “mission accomplished” banner and unceremoniously returned to their forts. The human resident recalled the battle aftermath: “I was so tired, I thought I might puke, but I didn’t. I probably wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for the other human resident, my sweetie, greeting my return with a massive plate of pasta and a DVD of Robot Chicken Star Wars sketches. Man, that *%$# saved me, man.”

President A. Manzanita addressed the crowd at the memorial, urging assembled plants to reflect on their freedom to spread and grow roots, free of ivy repression, and to give thanks for their cushy garden conditions. “Let us remember the resistance fighters who cleared the yard, and look to a future where all the yard’s plants—newly established natives and surviving exotics alike—join roots and thrive and in harmony under the banner of equality.” Manzanita added, “The ivy war was fought so that we native plants may enjoy luxuries that wild plants don’t. In our great yard, Yarrow and Salvia bloom into fall, and Needlegrasses stay green all summer.”

Later, in answer to charges that peacekeeping troop levels are at a season high, Corner Yard Chief of Staff Trichostema lanatum replied, “While it’s true that peacekeeping missions uproot ivy insurgencies every week, we must remember that not a single perennial or shrub has been lost to ivy attacks. Though we mourned a handful of annual wildflower casualties last spring, let’s remember that we lost more annuals to the one Gopher Incident than to all ivy explosions combined.” Lanatum also acknowledged that several Allium and Triteleia families had been rousted by anti-ivy forces, but added that all were successfully relocated, being dormant at the time.

Protests briefly interrupted VS Day ceremonies, with angry plants charging that the Grindelia stricta community had been unfairly exiled. President Manzanita replied that the Grindelias’ ouster was in the best interest of the yard’s security. “Let’s face it, the Grindelia were attempting a coup. We basically had a ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ situation on our hands. The Grindelia was the next ivy.”

Many children of the Grindelia, who now number in the hundreds, called the charge a gross exaggeration and vowed to keep drawing attention to their cause. A nearby Saliva, who refused to give her hybrid name, seemed to sympathize. “Hey, I had my limbs cut way back by the hand clipper unit, and for what—because me and the Grindelias were hanging out over the sidewalk? I’m lucky to still be here.”

Still, most of the ceremony attendees, many accompanied by seedlings, projected a solemn, yet joyous attitude one year after the ivy liberation. A non-native Azalea, a long-time denizen of the yard, remarked on the post-ivy standard of living. “I’m doing better than ever,” she said. “I don’t know why. Maybe I get more water without ivy roots sucking it up. Or maybe it’s just an attitude thing—anyway, I now bloom from the beginning of November right into May, and I never used to do that.”

Local bird populations seemed to concur. Said an American Robin, “I never used to stop in this yard. With so little space to forage on, it just wasn’t worth it. Now there are worms and bugs to go around.” A nearby Lesser Goldfinch agreed. “Now that there’s no ivy, the ladder can be set up under just about any tree and it seems like there’s a bird feeder everywhere you look. Not to mention fresh Yarrow, Buckwheat and other seeds. It’s like a whole buffet. Me and my buddies practically live here.”

The day’s memorial ended with a Christmas-light vigil, intended to commemorate both VS Day and the anniversary this week of the Christmas Light Uprising that started the war.