Bug Killer

There is a form of hypocrisy common to nearly all gardeners.  It does not affect only the gentle amateurs, but has been known to affect even the most hardened professional, who is not, generally speaking, a sentimental or squeamish man.  It is the human weakness which, accompanying our determination to rid ourselves of our slugs and snails, makes us reluctant next morning to contemplate the result of our over-night efforts.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

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I was sitting out with my husband the other night, which we tend to do a lot in the summer months.   I was telling him about some mysterious creature attacking my roses.  I never saw anything during the day but the next morning the leaves would be almost gone and my buds would disappear.   He gave me a flashlight and told me to go look for slugs.  I had just sprayed everything that day so smugly I took the flashlight not thinking I’d find anything.  I didn’t find slugs, but instead, multiple June bugs were having a slow menacing feast.  They kept on in their euphoric culinary heaven even while I flashed my light on them.  I flicked them off and they all landed on the ground with tiny crackling thuds like they were dead.   I grabbed a jar and gathered them up.  Then I went around knocking all the June bugs I could find into my jar.

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Succumbed to the poison they had consumed from my leaves, all but two were dead.  Or so I thought.  For twelve hours they sat still inside the jar.  Two still squirmed, clambering all over their dead in an effort to free themselves.  I thought it only fair to put an end to their suffering.  I soaked a tissue with alcohol and placed it inside.   It is the same thing I used to do in elementary school when we were assigned bug projects.   But somehow the alcohol brought them all to life again and they ALL began to squirm from the alcohol’s suffocating effects.  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t know June bugs played dead.  That’s what they were doing, hoping I’d leave them alone so they could continue their feast.  I promptly placed the jar in the freezer.  Now they are definitely dead.   Do you think I’m cruel?  Perhaps I am.   But I will only say, it is cruel for a creature to take away the health of my rose bushes.   There are plenty of other roses in this neighborhood.  The house next door, for instance, has two neglected climbers.   Since I gathered them, others have yet to find my garden.

If you do have this problem you can use a spray or dust with Seven.  You can also try to catch them in oil with a light, but I think drowning them in oil is just as cruel or perhaps more so.   It is cruel no matter what.  But we are human.  Unlike insects, we registrar thoughts and contemplate life and have to endure every bump and bruise conscientiously and to its full extent and if a beautiful roses bush brings us a little pleasure from all we must take on then God help the creature who treads through our gardens.

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What Books Can Do…

The more one gardens, the more one learns; and the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows.  I suppose the whole of life is like that: the endless complications, the endless difficulties, the endless fight against one thing or another, whether it be green-fly on the roses or the complexity of human relationships.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

It’s about time to prepare my rose bushes for the summer.  They already budding.  Michigan’s weather has been strangely mildly this winter which has caused the flowers, bulbs and trees to burst forth their early buds.  I’m praying we don’t get an ice storm.  I should be researching and learning about what to do with them, but I haven’t because I’m still in hunker down mode.  Although the winter has been mild we still get our cold days that make me want to curl up and read a book.   So, I have read many so far this winter but what to read next?  Usually I let the spirit guide me, or a book idea I have will flush out one in particular.

“The more one gardens, the more one learns; and the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows.”  I like to think this also applies to reading and continuing one’s education which works to brighten one’s curiosity.  I have a library of many books.   The problem however, with owning so many books is the perplexity of what to read next.  It comes over me and I stand agape at my shelves pulling different ones – reading a couple lines, hastily replacing them with an idea of when to commit myself… I know what I would read again if only I’d allow myself, but what of these other stories?   My next favorite could be among them!  Their contents are a mystery and it is always a risk for me to delve into the unknown.  Only dangerous because once I start I must continued until the tedious end, even if it’s not to my taste.

In a couple weeks I’ll go to Chattanooga, Tennessee to visit the battlefield.  I began studying the Civil War in seventh grade when I read a book entitled Red Cap.  Something drew me to the book.  What was it that made me pick it up off the library shelf when I was twelve and furiously read every word?  What was it that struck me as a young child when I read the tragic story of Ransom Powell and his comrades?   I was so touched by their story that it ignited in me a flame of respect and understanding, as well as a thirst for all knowledge of this violent war.
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 So with this trip on my mind I suppose I should delve into my arsenal of research books.  I have many and usually by the time we get to the site my husband and I have a general knowledge of how the battle went down.   Unless one visits the site however, it is hard to capture the scope of footwork involved as well as the lay of the land.

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When we go to a battlefield the first thing I do is visit the Civil War Trust website and watch the marvelous animated map of the battle.  You can find their whole list of animated maps here.   Then I delve into my volumes of Battles and Leaders of the Civil war which is a first-hand collection of memoirs and letters from all battles and skirmishes.  After scouring the index of all my memoirs I then tap into the index of my 53 volumes of the Southern Historical Society Papers which documented every detail of the Confederacy.  I mean EVERY detail.  It even includes locations of where legs and arms are buried.  This collection was a gift from my parents and I cherish it very much.  Not only are the books beautifully gothic but they smell of old paper with a smack of cigarette smoke – I’m guessing from the previous owner.

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This is the wonderful power books have.  One book transformed my whole life.  I became more interesting and I became interested and curious.  With every fact there were counter facts and myths which I endlessly researched to debunk.   There were biases and shame on men who didn’t deserve their worth to be judged poorly by history’s malice.   Studying the war is an occupation that has kept me occupied for decades and will continue to do so until my death.  What a wonderful gift from such an unexpected source; a child’s book.

 What books have you read that peaked your interest and transformed your life?

Coming Home…

We have been warned that there may be a shortage of certain flower seeds after the unnaturally wet and sunless summer of 1954, and that it is therefore even more advisable than usual to order in good time.

-Vita Sackville-West
More For Your Garden
January 2, 1955

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I haven’t written in a few weeks.  During my time away, I was working on a couple books but through the toil of turning words, characters, and plotlines, I acquired an unprecedented lack of interest for all things green.

After reading the letters of Vita to Virginia Woolf I put Vita down for a while, her books sat on my shelf unopened.    I became so entrenched in my own writing I completely forgot the garden.   It went alright for a while.  Some of what I wrote turned out well and I was proud to call it my work.  But the creative juices eventually ceased for lack of nourishment and writer’s block hit me.  I wondered what had happened to spur the drought.  I read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, thinking the prose would inspire something in me, but it had the opposite effect.  If anything, it spurred a desperate yearning to be a better writer and work more intensely on my craft.  Forget the garden all together for there is real work to be done.

The writings of Virginia Woolf make everything I’ve ever written seem trivial and frivolous.   She holds a profound understanding of humanity at a distance, yet so close to the chest.  She writes with a cold intensity that could only be matched in warfare, yet soft like a passing thought or a summer’s breeze.  How does she do it?  The word genius comes to mind – that word which separates the masters from mere tradesman.

I finished the book last night; placed a four star review on goodreads and lifted Vita’s More For Your Garden off my nightstand.   Reading just a couple lines brought me home again and I instantly remembered why I was drawn to her in the first place.   Vita Sackville-West is my muse and my inspiration – not only for the garden, but for my writing.   She takes nothing away from her readers.  She will not strip you down and smugly examine you.   Instead, she will let you be just as you are, but nurture your growth.  Right there with you, she’ll hold your hand through the journey; a comfort and a joy.   She is a reminder of the consistencies in nature – the earth will always smell like earth, a rose will perpetually surprise you with its beauty, and if you cut a branch it will sprout anew.

Vita possessed the grounding element which Virginia lacked.  On the other hand, Virginia possessed a keen understanding of the human condition which Vita lacked.  I find this balance in their writing useful for my own.  However, there was nothing more refreshing than opening Vita’s little garden book after so long a winter; like a sudden warm breath of freesia and jasmine in the cold.  Indeed, it is good to be home.

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A Gardener’s Haste Makes Waste

No good comes of repining, so let me note one special thing I saw at Nymans on that rather bleak March day, a thing that can be planted by any of us during the coming autumn with an assurance of immediate effect next spring.  You know how truly right daffodils look in grass?  It may be a very obvious and orthodox way of growing daffodils, but I never care how obvious and orthodox a form of planting is, so long as it is satisfying for the eye and pleasing to the plant.

-Vita Sackville-West
April 18, 1954
More For Your Garden

I imagine daffodils would look rather interesting planted among the grass.  However, it is an idea like this which I read about or plan diligently all winter which slowly dissipates.  The haste of the season spins me away from doing what I’ve planned on doing all along.  I find myself scrambling to get my garden in order and plant as many things as I can so I feel the summer was not wasted.  But by the end of the summer, I look at my hodgepodge of a garden and wonder what went wrong.  I have finally discovered the problem.

Last spring, I planned on focusing all my energy on roses.  But as the season unraveled, I found myself coming home with other plants and seeds which distracted me from my previous goal; nursing a fabulous rose garden.

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I have discovered my problem lies with the short Michigan growing season.    As the snow fell outside my window yesterday, I suddenly remembered my original love for roses.   I bought six last year (pictured throughout this post) which all got put on the back burner as I hurried to collect other flowering plants that would bring me pleasure.  In this haste, I had forgotten my first love.  As a result of my increasing neglect, they began to suffer from black spot and other pests I struggled to control.

There is a group; The American Iris Society.  Amongst other gardeners I follow, they have an obsession with the Iris.   Everyday on Twitter, they share new pictures of a beautiful Iris I would otherwise never have the pleasure of seeing.  I had no idea the Iris made such fascinating color combinations and had such diverse growing seasons.  I admire these folks.  I’m sure they love other flowers too, but they love the Iris most.  Perhaps it is where their love for gardening first appeared.  They know where their focus lies, and their gardens are top notch because of their mutual patience with the flowers over the years.

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As nothing in the garden seems to give me greater pleasure, I would like to do it right this year and really focus on my roses.  Yes, I love my honeysuckle and my clematis very much (among others), so much so I could kiss them, but there is something about the high-maintenance rose.  It is not easy to love you back like other plants.  You must earn its love, work for its love.  Yes, they are prone to pest and disease, but when they bloom for you it is all the more fulfilling.  So I have determined, and you can take my advice or leave it, when planning a garden one should travel back to the beginnings of their love for gardening.  It is here you’ll find your true calling or at least refocus your efforts.

Ask yourself: What was it that drew me to the garden in the first place?
I think in figuring that out, you’ll find your purpose and perhaps rekindle your lost love.

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Garden For The Eyes-Write For The Ears

The watchers out on the grass could see the interior of the rooms illuminated by the savage glow.  The paneling of the hall had caught, and even as they looked they saw the canvas of a portrait give an extra little spurt of a yellower flame and flutter without its frame to the floor.  This was the odd thing to observe: the mingling of such small detail and Wagnerian holocaust.

Vita Sackville-West
The Easter Party; 1953

Since we are approaching winter it seems appropriate for one to think about hunkering down with some good books-or perhaps finishing that novel or collection of poems you’ve been working on.  Can I please then, for a moment talk about writing?  I just finished the most glorious little forgotten book.  As most old books are forgotten let us not forget Logan Pearsall Smith and his little book of reminisces, The Unforgotten Years.  Beautiful little piece of history.  I was excited to sit and read each weathered page of my old copy.

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There seems to be a lack of appreciation of good writing today.   It seems the style that has come into fashion is a very dry prose with an over use of BIG words.   In reality, by doing so and too often, they are only extracting the richness out of their descriptions.  When reading some of the modern works today.  It feels as though the heart is taken out of the prose.  The humanity, or the human condition is no longer a factor to be examined.

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Ironically Smith complains about this same thing occurring in his old age with youthful writers over one hundred years ago.   He says:

“The truth is that almost all that makes the reading of old books delightful is neglected by those who wield their steel nibs in the age of steel.  There were arts, there were blandishments, there were even tricks, which were intended to beguile the older generations, and which have succeeded in beguiling subsequent generations as well.  In the first place good prose used to be written, not, as it is written to-day, for the eye alone, but also for the ear.”

When read aloud your writing should sound as elegant as intended.  If the reader must stumble over ostentatious verbiage most of the time- your point will be lost.  You see what I did there?   At least in my humble opinion this is the case with writing today.

Now, back to the garden for it too must hunker down and get to work.  Like the roses which must turn their fine petals of silk into rose hips for the birds, you too must do this with your writing.  Give the world something to feed upon that will enrich as well as  caress the broken hearts and the lonely souls of this world.

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Just In Time For Tea

The marvel of Peru, Mirabilis jalapa, is familiarly called four o’clock, because it opens only at tea time and shuts itself up again before breakfast.   It is an old-fashioned herbaceous plant, seldom seen now, but quite decorative with its mixed coloring of yellow, white, red, or lilac, sometimes striped or flaked like some carnations.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening
1958

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Indeed, the four o’clock flowers show themselves every afternoon and until morning, then shut themselves away again. I suppose they are conserving themselves for the next show.  It’s rather intelligent of them to expel their energy only after the blaring heat of the sun has gone.

I’ve found that mine don’t open until dusk.   They’re scent is subtle, but increases as it gets dark. It is a sweet fresh scent that I can’t really describe specifically.   Next time I happen to catch it wafting through the humid night air I’ll do my best to detect it.   You can cut it, the blooms will open for you.  But to get its second bloom, one must be diligent to trim the stem every few days to keep it fresh.

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I planted them last year.   My Grandma had given me some left over seeds and I thought I should try them.  Assuming they were annuals, as told to me by the package, I planted a few seeds to try my luck, jam-packing them in a neglected corner.  They came up yellow that August.  Not that impressed, as yellow was not my favorite color last year, I vowed not to plant them again and didn’t give them much thought after that.

Imagine my surprise when the pesky things found their way into my garden this year!  I failed to take note of their self-seeding quality.  Happy in their random places they have found for themselves, they are popping up everywhere in the most unexpected nooks and crannies.  But a couple pink plants have emerged!  Magenta we’ll call it, as my daughter argues it has a purple tinge.  I rather like the places they’ve turned up.  They seem to keep politeness and punctuality about them – showing themselves on schedule every day and not treading on my rose bushes or my other coveted plants.  Perhaps they know best as they’ve shown up in spots that were left bare by me and now my garden has filled out in a lovely way.

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Hollyhocks That Grow On Trees?

Spring and summer are well provided with flowering shrubs, but it is a puzzle to know what to grow of a shrubby nature for colour in the late months of July, August, and September.  There are the hibiscus (Althea Frutex) which are attractive with their hollyhock-like flowers…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
June 25th, 1950

Everyday I run two miles with my dog and my kids in tow on their bikes, and everyday  I pass by the same bushes.  They sit in my neighbor’s yard oddly out of place toward the road.  I never realized these bushes were anything special until July rolled around.  With the heat of summer beautiful blooms began to emerge.

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Tall bushes they were, at least eight feet, with abundant blooms.  I thought immediately  I should plant several along my fence to block out my neighbor’s barking dog.  Perhaps the solution should come from these enormous shrubs of flowering beauty since they grow very tall and can live a life-time or more.

Indeed, they look like tree hollyhocks as Vita has mentioned in her books.  Miniature hollyhocks in fact, that come in a variety of color.  My neighbor has three, two white, and purple.  It was the white that caught me because I remembered seeing something similar in pictures of the white garden at Sissinghurst.

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At first I didn’t know what they were and I asked the neighbor if they were some sort of hibiscus.  She shook her head,  “No,” she said. “They are Rose of Sharon.”
This puzzled me because I thought for sure I was correct.  Being she is new to the neighborhood and had only just inherited those bushes I decided I would do some research before taking her word for it.  The name spelled out in my mind and I remembered Vita mentioning something about Rose of Sharon.  However, she does not refer to them as Rose of Sharon, rather she called them by their Latin name, Hibiscus Syriacus.   So we were both correct.

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Vita advises that they should be placed in the warmest sunniest spot you can find.  She often thought the spot she had hers could have been a tad more sunny. She says most, “are trained as a standard, with a great rounded head smothered in creamy flowers blotched with purple, giving the effect of an old-fashioned chintz; but charming as the hibiscus can be, I suspect that it needs more sun than it usually gets here, if it is to flower as we should like.  Perhaps I have been unlucky, although I did plant my hibiscuses-or should it be hibisci?- in the warmest, sunniest place.”

I think it would be a good investment when looking over shrubs to plant this fall to consider the Hibiscus Syriacus.  The flowers last quite a long time and in a warm, sunny place, as Vita suggests, its foliage will be full when it’s not in flower so you can use them to equally block a view while enhancing it.

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