Soon to be renowned!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


… Is the only possible explanation. Extraterrestrial, supernatural, parahorticultural—something freaky is afoot at Fencebroke.

Ebony Pearl is missing. She's a—was—a beautiful, unusual Rhododendron with dark, sultry leaves formerly planted about a foot from our front door. Then she vanished. Overnight. In her place, there is … nothing. No severed stem, no leaves, no hole in the ground where once her roots held tight. There is no evidence of a struggle. She was not dug up, cut down, ripped from the ground, or stricken in place. She was not in poor health, did not give any indication of dissatisfaction, malaise, or impending doom. She did not, as far as I can tell, even die. She's just not there.

It is as though she never were there. Like I had merely forgotten to plant something in that conspicuous 3x3 foot space I walk past on the way to my car every morning. Like the last year and a half's worth of fond gazes in her direction were nothing more than a recurring dream or drawn-out deja vu. Already her memory fades.

Did I imagine the whole thing? Did I ever have a rhody called 'Ebony Pearl'? Or is this yawning void in my garden indicative of some deeper, deleterious force at work in the fabric of my own being?

Probably not, but, you know … wow. What if?

And if she was, in fact, abducted—then by what hand? What agent's idiom could possibly include the surgical excision of rare plants from beneath a gardener's watchful eye. And to what end? Aliens probing for horticultural arcana in Fencebroke's borders? The astronomically improbable manifestation of quantum uncertainty on a macro scale right between the witch hazel and heather? Government experimentation in targeted teleportation run amok? Jealous neighbors? Rats?

Yeah, maybe just rats. They probably gnawed off the trunk just below the soil line and hauled off Ms. Pearl kicking and screaming into the night. Okay, fine, but 1.) How? 2.) Why? And 3.) What the hell, rats?

I'm getting kind of worked up about this Ebony Pearl thing. In my time as a gardener, I've killed lots of plants through neglect, ignorance, misfortune, and spite, but I've never yet lost one to … this. Whatever this is. I feel powerless, exposed, and confused. Not to mention paranoid. Didn't there used to be a plant there? How about there? Whatever happened to that cool Nandina I planted last year?

What if it happens again?

What if they come back for me?

That's it, I'm getting security cameras.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The (dis)satisfaction of a job well done

“Hey, check out all the bulbs I just planted,” said no one ever.

What'd be the point? You spend hours hunched over, on your knees, stabbing at the obdurate earth in an increasingly wild, spiteful, and unproductive manner, stuffing the ungrateful bulbs into their new home, only to step back and face the demoralizing realization that you have apparently accomplished nothing at all. There is no evidence to vouch for your toil. Most of gardening offers at least some small visual or aesthetic reward for a day's labor and pain. But with bulbs, the stupid things are buried, invisible, and forgotten as soon as you pop your spine into some semblance of a hominid and stagger off in search of ibuprofen.

Here, by way of example, take a look at Fencebroke's newest bed, along the sidewalk in our front yard:
Imagine it like this, but better. And maybe I buried treasure, too.

A lot of work went into this. Removing sod, fighting tree roots, laying compost, choosing, arranging, and planting plants. But with every step, there was clear visual affirmation that the place was changing as a result of my moving around and doing things—little psychological high-fives when I stood back and looked. Bare dirt: high-five! The dark stain of good compost: chest bump! The composition of plants: <catcall> looking good, baby! The plants sunk and watered, a landscape improved: vuvuzelas!

Bulbs planted: waa-waaa …

Trust me, they're there. Lots of fragrant Narcissus, Muscari, and Hyacinth. They'll be beautiful. Maybe. Who knows. Check back in Spring and we'll see how many weren't dug up by squirrels; or lost to rot; or skewered by my own shovel when I forget that I planted bulbs there because there's no way to tell!

<sigh> here's to a job well done.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Hive


Ahem! Attention! The following proclamation comes directly from the inner sanctum of Her Majesty Queen Aurea, supreme ruler of the Sod Pile Hive and proud mother to all faithful yellowjackets of Blue Fence Land:

Let it henceforth be known that on this day, the 20th of August 2015, all lands bound by the Blue Fence have been seized by and claimed for the indomitable Sod Pile Hive and H.M. Queen Aurea's golden banner.

After months of unprovoked aggression on the part of Blue Fence Land's human occupants towards the Sod Pile Hive—which atrocities include, but are not limited to: nightly chemical attacks; baited traps; torrents of water; disparaging, foul language; and the irritating, meddlesome cultivation of ornamental plants known as “gardening” in lands infringing upon the Sod Pile Hive's peaceful, industrious claim—the courageous workers and warriors of our proud hive have at long last driven the offending primates to madness, to tears, and to retreat.

No longer shall we suffer the lumbering apes' sprinklers, lawnmowers, and other machines of war. No more shall our brave drones go about their honorable tasks under the shadow of irresistible, deadly traps, whose clear walls display the corpses of their brothers in barbaric glee. No longer shall the mere buzzing of our wings in flight serve to incite the wrath of our overlords. No more shall we be swatted at! No more shall we be trifled with! No more shall our hive live in fear!

For today, Victory is ours!


Monday, August 10, 2015

Cookbook to Come

There has been a pronounced trend of late whereby famous chefs write gardening books and famous gardeners put out cookbooks. Although the connection is not a new one, this repeated treatment of produce=food as a startling, profound, and radical insight would have you believe that prior to the last ten years or so no gardener had ever deigned to cook a potato and no chef had ever planted a carrot.

To be sure, until I recently dug into some great books and articles, I would never have thought the summer harvest had a place in the kitchen. To think, I've spent my whole life crippled by the belief that garden produce must be consumed on the spot wherever it is plucked from the earth. Not that I didn't enjoy gnawing on raw collard greens and rutabagas, but I was moved to the point of tears that the great minds of our time had finally figured out a way to apply fire and flavor to home-grown vegetables.

No longer must my oven be reserved for frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets; no longer does water boil for tea and noodles alone; no longer shall salt be set aside in case of frozen sidewalks. The kitchen welcomes you, cauliflower; you as well, green beans; squash: let's see what you can do in a microwave. The possibilities are endless!

My own cookbook should hit the shelves soon, but for now, here's a teaser from the first recipe I've painstakingly developed. I call it: Put Some Vegetables In the Oven.

Put Some Vegetables in the Oven. Step 1.) Put some vegetables in the oven. Step 2.) You'll just have to buy my cookbook!
I'm still experimenting, of course, but additional recipes will likely include such brilliant culinary oeuvres as: Broccoli Suspended over Boiling Water; Kale-in-a-Pan; and Not-Raw Potatoes. Oh! but I've revealed too much ...

Monday, July 27, 2015


One of the primary squash flows off of Mt. Sod.

I'm sorry—this will have to be brief, we don't have much time before—oh God! It's right outside the window!

We have to evacuate—Baby, just leave the seed catalogs, we can't save everything!—but first, I have to get word out that Mount Sod, the long-dormant compost heap towering over Fencebroke North, has erupted. Seemingly overnight, the peaceful mixed bed over which it presided has been buried beneath a moving wall of squashes, melons, and other cucurbits. So far, the ejecta has been far more gourds than magma or ash, but the destruction is nothing less than complete all the same.

If we don't make it out before the—NOO! Anything but the plum tree! It was so young! Maybe I can dig it up before—aagh! A Japanese cucumber wrapped around my arm! Cut it off! Which one … ? The cucumber, the arm, I don't care, just get me out of here!

Get out of the way, Globe Thistle! Save yourself!

Whew, that was close … next time I might not be so lucky. Anyway, if we don't make it out before all escape routes are snarled in climbing Italian summer squash, please contact FEMA and have them evacuate the neighborhood.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to at least try to save the tomatoes. Wish me luck.

Baby, hurry! … Bring me my Felcos!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fencebroke Promontory Waterpark

That's right, in the true spirit of Summer, everyone's favorite promontory is diversifying its revenue stream once again!

Wading pools! Sprinklers! Drip irrigation! Watering Cans! Why not come on down and see what all the hubbub is about?

Well I pretty much just told you what it's all about … but, you know, um, still come on down, otherwise our revenue stream won't diversify all that much. As it is, most of the outflow of said stream has been redirected straight out of the garden hose in an attempt to keep the most critical of Fencebroke's crops from wilty mutiny in what has been an extended and premature dry spell for the Northwest.

So as long as we've got the hose turned on, why not pay us money to join in the fun!

Run through the sprinkler as we struggle to keep alive a doomed patch of spring-seeded lawn! Take turns watering veggie seedlings—don't stop, or they'll die! See how many watering cans you can carry to that one bed the hose can't quite reach! Whoa, don't give up yet, see if you can beat your own record! Dip your feet in one of our two—that's right TWO! luxurious kiddy pools. Or dip one foot in each pool because … well, the pools aren't really that big. Or take a trip down the water slide! I mean, it's a water slide if you put water on it! As it is, it's just a slide. OK, it's Daisy's slide, and usually she's on it, but I'm sure if you ask nicely she'll … well, it's Daisy's slide, I won't speak for her.

Let's see, what else is there? Oh—hoses! There's no more refreshing way to cool off than trying to move a dripping soaker-hose from the berry bed to the fruit trees! Whoops, looks like you've got a few kinks there. Yep—and there … don't worry, it's all part of the fun!

What a great way to spend a hot summer day. If you're looking for a bargain, swing by for our early bird special pre-dawn watering. It happens every day before I go to work! Bring coffee and don't talk to me. For an even more immersive experience, come for the early bird watering and then tag along as I go to work and spend another several hours watering there! Be entertained as I hilariously attempt to justify this exorbitant water use by taking shorter showers myself. Ha! Then stick around and place your bets as I … reveal the monthly water bill!

How high will it go?

You'll have to come on down and see!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rutabaga Debate-a

I'm sure you've all been here before, but it's a new one for me.

At long last, having plucked that most elusive specimen—The Perfect Rutabaga—from the garden, after too many seasons of hand-wringing, worm-ridden failure, egged on by the halcyon aftertaste of sweet earthy flesh on the tongue years before and the coy promise of more to come, I am torn by indecision.

Do I eat it or save it?

Preservation concerns aside—I'm sure there are any number of readily available cryogenic/taxidermic/embalming options out there for the root enthusiast—I am faced with a narrow window in which to make the prudent decision. I mean, this rutabaga is beautiful, is it not? (A more manly man than myself might deny the tear in his eye when beholding its lumpy perfection, but not your humble narrator.)

Like staring into the face of God.

So do I add it to Fencebroke's trophy case, to hold court for posterity alongside other such priceless horticultural treasures as The Spiral-Carrot, The Two-Headed Raspberry, The Tom Waits Potato and The The One Squash That Didn't Get Powdery Mildew—or do I subject its purple splendor to the torment of slicing, cooking, mashing and all the other disgraces of being food, just so I can taste what my eyes know to be true, that this is indeed The Perfect Rutabaga?

Plenty of painful deliberation to come.

Also, does anyone know how do cook this thing?

Sunday, May 17, 2015


A local franchisee hard at work.
This notice is hereby issued to inform the proprietor/s of the following garden, orchard, or small suburban farm: FENCEBROKE PROMONTORY GARDENS that this horticultural operation has been officially sanctioned by local representatives of the National Bumble-Bee Pollination Guild. Furthermore, for reasons necessarily secretive but assuredly whimsical, the aforementioned Guild has seen fit to establish a new franchise on the premises from which to base local bumblings including, but not limited to: pollination, nest building, mating, buzzing about in a lazy, cartoon-like fashion and encouraging local toddlers to try out those funny “B” sounds.

Proprietor/s of this garden should use their newly sanctioned status to immediately plant way too many tomato plants and boast about their recognition by the NBBPG to anyone who will listen. In the course of such boasting, please avoid direct contact with your local franchisees, as they are still bees and will defend themselves from undue harassment. Any such provocation will be considered grounds for immediate and permanent revocation of NBBPG “Sanctioned” status.

It has come to our attention that a resident toddler has already attempted to “pet” the local franchisees; please note any additional tactile apian affection of this sort will result in probationary status for FENCEBROKE PROMONTORY GARDENS.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

If You Love a Potato ...

... Let it go. If it comes back to you, it is yours to eat.

Oh man, am I going to eat some potatoes.

You see, prior to our evacuating Fencebroke Promontory on the crest of the Great Washing-Machine Flood of 2015, I had tearfully released several seed potatoes into the wild.

“Go! Be free,” I said. “This backyard life will soon chafe your russet skin. Go see the world; visit Idaho. Get out there and make something of yourself.” And then I shut the door and wept.

I've always wanted to grow potatoes.

With time I came to terms with my loss. I told myself every morning that those fingerlings and reds would be happier, better tubers out there on their own than if they set root in my humble garden. I never fully believed this, but with repetition it took on the soothing cadence of a mantra, and I was able to move on.

However, just in case my prodigal spuds ever returned, I built a home for them: a potato house. This would be a place to call their own, apart from the sunup-sundown brawl of the vegetable garden, where they could stretch towards the sun and have soil heaped upon them, the better to start a family of tender new potatoes.

Even as I cut the cedar boards, I knew this was just a dream. The potato house would be nothing but a sad memorial for the starchy little ones I let go. But I couldn't stop, and soon the house was complete and soon after that we were forced to abandon Fencebroke.

Weeks passed. And then, some untold time and countless omelets later, when we got the “all-clear” to return, and when I had almost forgotten ever slapping together that ridiculous, hopeless shrine in the first place, I came home and saw this:

And once more, I wept.

The potatoes, they came back!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fencebroke Promontory Suites

The whole gardening thing was getting tiresome. So was the whole washing machine and the inch of water with which it decided to flood the entire floor of our house. To remedy both ennuis, we decided it'd be fun to pack up and stay in a hotel for a few days. And by “we” I mean the insurance company. And by “fun” I mean necessary. And by “pack up” I mean evacuate. And by “a few days” I mean indefinitely. Come to think of it, that original sentence was pretty misleading.

So it is that Fencebroke Promontory has temporarily set up shop in a nearby hotel, where we have been familiarizing ourselves with the omelet bar and trying, unsuccessfully, to blend in with the dour business travelers. Mostly, we've been riding the glass-walled elevator up and down with our awe-struck and very confused Daisy, who now considers this ritual to be as indispensable to daily life as Curious George. “Elevator” is pronounced “Alligator”, by the way.

The hotel is, actually, pretty nice. I confess more than a bit of surprise and gratitude for the quality of our accommodations (is it possible that Nationwide really is on your side?) The one aspect of mitigation and compensation that homeowner's insurance cannot seem to help with, however, is that related to the most innocent and utterly helpless victim in all this: the gardens of Fencebroke proper.

Early Spring is not a good time to be an absentee gardener. The lawn needs mowing; the crops thinning; the beds weeding. I myself need the therapeutic touch of cool dirt between my fingers; I have tried plunging my hands into the old potting soil of the houseplants in the lobby, but any relief thus provided is minimal, fleeting, and soured by stern looks from hotel custodial staff.

This is not the only difficulty I have encountered in redirecting my gardening urges towards activities more becoming of hotel guests. In the gardening year, April in particular is ruled by the urge to sow. And while so far, no one has seemed to mind the handful of broccoli starts I snuck into the landscaped parking lot beds, I fear it is only a matter of time before I am deductively linked to the large squash mounds which popped up overnight in the manicured front lawn. But what else am I to do? It's the only spot on the property that gets full sun.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the omelet bar closes in 10 minutes and Miguel the cook will be worried if I'm not there for my ham and pepper fix.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Remember to Tip Your Hellebores

I don't really want to get caught up in the whole “who to tip and how much” debate on a simple garden blog; but then I never really wanted to get caught up in a garden blog either, so what I want clearly has little if anything to do with the content or existence of what you are about to read. What can I say? Keys get mashed, topics barreled into, and I'm just kind of dragged along, kicking and choking, behind the rowdy old writing horse I keep thinking I can tame. Which makes you, I guess, some sort of leering spectator who, for some reason or other, enjoys the disgraceful spectacle. I can't say I blame you—everyone enjoys a good train wreck.

All that being (regrettably) said, there is one standout member of the plant community whose reliable and unwavering service is in long-overdue need of some recognition and gratuity. I'm speaking, of course, of the courageous, the honorable, the rugged and downright … um, pretty … sentinels of the garden's Winter Guard: the hellebores.

Sure, everyone is quick to ooh and aah when they're on display at the nursery: up on shelves, in pots; gorgeous, moody colors paraded like caged, exotic animals. Any plant can (and should) look vibrant and healthy in such a controlled environment. What people often forget, however—especially those who do not have plants of their own—is that hellebores provide this thankless service even when turned loose in the most unforgiving soils and neglected garden beds. 

 Helleborus 'Elly' keeping vigilant watch over Fencebroke South. Still resplendent 2 months after her bloom began.

Every year, these dutiful, beautiful warriors surge up through frozen ground in the darkest depths of Winter. They cast their soft radiance across the wasteland as a strong but gentle light, penetrating gloom and despair for weeks into months—however long gardener or passerby is in need of a firm reminder that all the outside does not necessarily suck in the barely-days of year's end.

So I urge you all, the next time you come across one of these lovely stalwarts standing their faithful watch, please offer a small token of your appreciation. My rule of thumb for gratuity is 20% of the hellebore's original purchase price. This usually calculates to about $2-$5, which sum I fold neatly and tuck into the unfurling leaves in late Winter/early Spring. To what ends the hellebores use this bonus, I cannot say, only that the money is usually gone by the next day. Hellebores are a prudent bunch; I suspect they deposit the funds in savings as soon as my back is turned.

If you find yourself in the presence of a worthy hellebore, but short of cash, I am quite certain any small gesture of thanks would be similarly appreciated: a small bow or curtsy; a tip of the cap; a soft but earnest round of applause; a honk of the car horn as you drive past; even a brash high-five would go some ways towards assuring their happy return next Winter when our downtrodden spirits are once again in need of their guiding light.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Everyone Be Quiet and Go Back to Sleep

Please; I am begging.

Fencebroke Promontory is run amok with feather-light sleepers. Fitful bed-thrashers abound; from our beloved (but tending nocturnal) Daisy to the young nectarine out back, which felt warm sun and heard birds chirping and jumped out of bed into full bloom, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sometime in February.

A mild (to downright non-existent) Winter is to blame. We all tossed and turned through the holidays, saw the dawn's glow on the solstice, and figured we may as well get up if we couldn't sleep. The bulbs put on a pot of coffee. The ornamental plums started frying bacon and roused all the later Spring-blooming trees to an early breakfast. Insomniac perennials, having stayed up all night watching TV with Witch Hazel and its winter-buddies, look ragged and surly. The raspberries partied late into fall, passed out for a couple hours, and woke up hungover. They whipped up a batch of bloody-marys for everyone: it's going to be a long year. The bees look confused. The birds got the worms.

Meanwhile, The lawn is getting a head start on its yearly campaign, seeking to establish an autonomous prairie state; the weeds are staking their stubborn claims; the veggie garden is looking for action and the fruit trees are playing chicken with late frosts. Customers at work are frothing at the mouth, making delirious, sleep-deprived demands for basil, tomatoes, and petunias. Daisy, for her part, has taken to late-night nature documentaries.

It is a boisterous, caffeine-fueled and thoroughly exhausting start to the year. There is a tenuous energy and optimism to the place which threatens, with every mild afternoon, to collapse into a lengthy and catastrophic series of naps.

I, for one, am going back to bed. If you could all keep it down for a couple weeks, I'd greatly appreciate it. I'll never make it to May at this pace.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Great Wall of Fencebroke

Slashing the Earth in Twain
It arose seemingly overnight. Where once only a gentle slope separated the fertile plateaus of Fencebroke Promontory's farmland from the untamed valleys below, now stood a mighty barrier wall. Towering three bricks tall in places and stretching from one horizon to the other, the looming edifice erupted from the very earth to set in stone the boundaries of natural law. On this side crops would grow; mouths would be fed; civilizations would flourish. On the other: the tribes of chaos.

Though no one could explain its creation, many would try. Tales were spun and carried down through the years, each proclaiming a different motive force, a different mind, a different hand stacking fired red clay to divide the land. All these naught but woven lies, born of fear and ancient distrust.

“Can't you see, the wall was placed to guard our crops from jealous, lowland barbarians. Thank the gods, we will be safe up here amongst the rutabagas, for no siege could ever topple our massive, mortared fortr—eh, what's that? They didn't use any mortar? … Oh. Well, still … no invading force could ever overcome the … uh, massive psychological barrier of our imposing—though admittedly fragile—wall!

And dissenting lore from the other side:

“Clearly, the gods saw fit, at long last, to halt the marching empire of the produce. Each year, they spread into our territory, taking more and leaving us less. But no longer! This backyard will not belong to the carrots! Thank the gods, the cancerous garden has been forever banished behind this impregnable wall of mortared brick and—oh dear … did that one there just fall over? I see. Well … so long as no one … uh, bumps into the impregnable wall, we should be reasonably safe from the imperial veggies. Could someone put that brick back, please?

Though neither side could ever truly grasp the motivation of whatever all-powerful force erected the Great Wall in such haste, there was one one matter upon which they agreed: the wall itself was of poor quality. In recognition of this undeniable truth, an accord was reached to the satisfaction of all parties, wherein no roughhousing or shenanigans would be tolerated in the vicinity of the wall—lest the beloved, timeless monolith crumble from the glancing impact of a stray soccer ball or paper airplane.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Year End Review, or, At Least the Fence is Still Standing

Don't get me wrong, it's still broken, the fence. But while it may be listing in spots, rotted in others and individual boards may have defected in the night like cowards, the fence is, by and large, still there.

And that, I'm sorry to say, counts among our notable achievements for Fencebroke's 2014 gardening season. Additional triumphs include: buying a wheelbarrow and eating tomatoes. Rather a lot of tomatoes, if I recall. The fact that a lot of tomatoes grew to be eaten at all was in itself a triumph, but here the credit must go more to an unusually favorable growing season than to our own efforts. These same ideal conditions led to a bumper crop of unappetizing, difficult to prepare but aesthetically appealingin an alien spaceship sort of waysummer squashes. I don't know if that's an achievement or not.

In evaluating FPG's performance (which graded out at a solid C/C-, for those seeking a touch of arbitrary pedagogy in their garden bloggery), such factors were considered as: planted vs. successful crops (one wormy rutabaga doth not a stew make); percentage of beds/edging torn up in frustration; number of free plants successfully shoehorned into the planting scheme; is there a planting scheme?; number of zip-ties used; number of “mulligans” used; number of stumps removed; number of free plants removed from the planting scheme; stop taking home free plants from work; number of trips to the ER/urgent care; percentage of projects resulting in trips to the ER/urgent care; calm moments of grateful reflection vs. calm moments of grateful reflection interrupted telling Daisy not to eat dirt; tools lost; toys lost; plant-tags lost; patience lost; focus lost; look—a hummingbird!; number of laps run by screaming toddlers; remonstrations not to play in the bird bath; OK, fine, play in the bird bath; vines trellised; vines admonished; vines punished; toddlers trellised; toddlers admonished; footballs thrown vs. frisbees thrown; wading pools inflated; leaves crunched underfoot; stolen moments in the sun …

OK, this year wasn't so bad.