Decay, wear, and transform

Decay, rot, compost, or any other word for the changes that happen in the woods for after-life breakdown; if you want to roam the woods or delve into the garden, you’ll have to get used to it. There will be no way to avoid it. The mulch or leaf litter you step on was living material not too long ago.

A few years ago, I had a surfeit of planer shavings and nothing to do with them; I built a little ramp up to the pond’s edge to use it as a viewing and photographic vantage. I didn’t give it much thought afterward until today. There, where I had spread the shavings, was now an imposing array of a fungus called, around here, dead men’s fingers. White elongated and not too pretty. I’ve left the patch alone. I want to see how long the fingers get.

Later on the other side of the little hillock behind the waterfall, I found this little seed case. The wings had decayed over the winter, leaving only the original’s casing and stripped veins. All softer tissue had worn away, leaving this skeletal filigree.

I so often walk my woodland garden looking for flowers that I miss the frequently interesting results of how things transform in the woodlands.


When you think that everything is going well, you get surprised.
In this case, oriental bittersweet popping up in the woodland garden area behind my house. When we moved in, this area was so overgrown with it that the realtors never realized that the woods behind the house were part of a wildlife sanctuary. Only weeks after, as I took to clearing the yard, did the sanctuary signs appear. The following spring, I spent months clearing as many roots and vines as possible. But it still shows up periodically.

Failure to go out and get it rooted out will result in what happened to a neighbor a few years ago. He failed to pull a few errant sprouts because he liked the “pretty vine” in the fall. This conceit proved asinine when two years later, there was more than a surfeit of bittersweet covering the back of his lot. He was flummoxed when chemical controls seemed to be shrugged off by the vines and dismayed when I showed him my yard and suggested that hand pulling was more effective…for several years to get it under control. He left the problem for the next person who brought the property.

So for numerous years, I’ve rarely found any bittersweet shoots. The ones I’ve seen are probably from seeds dropped in bird feces and brought in from my neighbors’ property by chipmunks. In a way, it speaks to the success of my work in the area. A few hours of weeding will set things right, and I can relax, watch the waterfall and enjoy the flowers.

No word from the “happiness” engineers on my issues yet by switching to Firefox as a browser I was able to add a featured image, but I can’t do pingbacks, categories. I had to rebuild tags one by one. WP is too damn big for its own good, and has no clue what it’s own programs are doing.

New Garden Beds

If things change quickly, it never hurts to have a plan B, C, or D. Arthritis is creeping up on me, and while I still have most of my regular garden beds, I am experimenting this year with an elevated series of wooden beds. I only have to spot water, weeding is amazingly easy without stooping, and it offers my wife an easy access kitchen garden.
I’ve fabricated hoops over the beds for putting up remay and greenhouse plastic for extended-season gardening.
For those familiar with the Catalan custom of Caganer, you’ll notice last year’s figure at work fertilizing the garden. I’d suggest this as a worthwhile plan for many other politicians rather than plotting skullduggery at the public expense.

Get to work, Donald; there are copious amounts of fertilizer left.

A venus flytrap flowers

I’m a fan of plants that grow in bogs. It’s an extreme environment, and some plants that thrive there have interesting adaptations. I even have a small wetland in a barrel by the greenhouse/ carving shop, and inside the house, I have a variety of carnivorous plants that generally like it a bit warmer than we have it most of the year in New England.
I occasionally get blossoms on my carnivorous plants. Being that the plants themselves don’t look like other garden plants, I always thought their flowers would look like caricatures of what other plants had. Instead, they are pretty tepid renderings of what the other plants’ sport. In the case of this little Venus flytrap, there are some pretty ordinary white flowers.

Chateau Xenia – April Newsletter

Here at Chateau Xenia, work on the catnip plantation starts early. Delicate paw cultivation, constant supervision of the human “help,” and careful regular testing of the fresh buds are only part of bringing in a new vintage every year.

Chateau Xenia: Massachusetts Gold, Black Cat Supreme, and Col. Clancy’s Finest Kind Bastard Blend. Not just any store boughten nip. New England’s Finest Kind!

Available for discreet and discerning cats only. Accept no substitutes!


Around here, we seem to forge ahead with spring earlier and earlier each spring. Some of that concerns our gradually warming climate and the rest to devices extending our growing season earlier in the spring. But while it is technically spring here in New England, you wouldn’t know it. Friends in more salubrious climates laugh when I say it’s spring. More like late winter, with a few warm days thrown in. OK, but you have to work with what nature gives you. This is why many of us resort to artifice to get a lead on the growing season.
I use fine spun fabrics like remay, low hoops covered with greenhouse plastic, classic cold frames, and the device you see in the photo. It’s a large plastic tub with a plastic greenhouse tub top. My wife bought it at one of the job lot discount stores. It did not work out for the purpose she had in mind, but I used to grow lettuce all spring and again all fall.
I’ve already started my early spring lettuce crop indoors, but yesterday I decided to push a bit and planted some seedlings into the plastic tub cold frame. After all, as usual, I had planted too many, and they’d only need thinning anyhow.

The lettuce is not the only thing out in the spring rain this morning; garlic is too. Specifically, this was the garlic that I had seeded two years ago. This year it should result in harvestable bulbs. The garlic planted from bulb sets last fall is just barely popping up. My wife will have much more garlic this fall than we can use. If things go as expected.
But as you know, let’s not count our garlic bulbs before we pull them. Anything could happen between now and August to wallop our expectations. Last spring started with poignant beauty, but a series of late frosts hit just as the fruit trees were flowering.

Every spring, I have at least one experiment. I don’t think the early lettuce is going to be it. I’ll have to come up with something really fringe for New England – sugar cane?

Cold Frames

It’s unpredictable when we’ll get the cold frames going, but it will probably be sometime in the next two weeks. Max, however, is undaunted. The snow doesn’t bother him. He has already offered his services as a master digger. That was predictable. I absolutely declined and offered him a supervisory role in chasing chipmunks and squirrels out of the garden. He enthusiastically accepted.


A few weeks ago, I started the kale, lettuce, and some tomatoes on a window sill in a burst of pre-spring enthusiasm. OK, it was desperation; I couldn’t take winter anymore. So now I have some young kale plants that will need to be clipped for mini-greens because there ain’t no way that the darn plants are going into a cold frame yet.
The problem is, of course, that now is when lots of other things need to be planted, and I am running out of room. There are windows downstairs, but they are already crammed with plants that overwinter indoors. Also, the greenhouse/carving shop has all the over-wintering plants in the way of carving projects, so that’s out.
I’ve cast covetous glances at the windows in my wife’s newly renovated office, but she has already nixed that. It’s hers! All that golden sunshine and no seedlings.
In desperation, I waded into what remained of last week’s snow to see how soon I might resurrect the cold frames. Unfortunately, one is a wreck, the other needs work, and the last one I can save with parts salvaged from the ruined one. On the other hand, these frames are about ten years old, and I am amazed that they’ve lasted this long, so having two still functional is fantastic. Looking back on the last six years, I estimate I should be able to get the frost-hardy kale into them by April one; if I add a remay blanket on top of the frame. For the non-gardener, remay is a lightly spun fabric that acts as an insulation layer on top of the plants. Here in New England, the combination of cold frames, remay, and low hoop tunnels of wire and greenhouse plastic can extend my spring and fall gardening seasons by as much as a month ( with a bit of care and luck).

But here I am on March 20th with too much time left on the clock for getting outside, but needing to start more seeds. If you are a gardener, you know the frustration that develops when your plants are subpar because you began them too late, and they are puny rather than lush and fruitful. In discussions with friends whose plants are vastly more productive, you feel wounded and frustrated and vow to plan carefully for next spring.
Well, here it is, spring, and you’re again behind the eightball.

Let The Gardening Begin!

Describe the most ambitious DIY project you’ve ever taken on.

The end of February has arrived. Ahhh! Gardening season has arrived. Well, at least inside under grow lights. The kale, three cherry tomatoes, and lemongrass have sprouted. Over the following weeks, other things will be started. I do salad greens, lettuce, and broccoli early because they go out into the greenhouse and the cold frames early. Seeing the beginning of my gardening year gets me mentally away from the bugbear of winter and thinking about the renewal of spring.

Gardeners in the US Department of Agriculture zone 5 must be professional optimists. We take calculated risks and love to walk along the edge of the abyss. The frost-free date may say one thing, but we have plants in the ground under frost-protecting hot caps, cloches, and spun fabric covers weeks earlier. Some, hardier than I, are already in their plastic-covered greenhouses and planting in protected cold frames. For them, a March blizzard is just another challenge to overcome.

Climate change in my area has meant a greater degree of climate unpredictability. Proper mulching and soil amendment are practical considerations for water conservation, not just a feel-good thing. It has meant that all our season-extending technology, like spun fabric frost protection, is necessary when frost-free means “we’re not sure.”

Gardeners who can’t take a bit of a challenge should be disqualified; their hoes, shovels, and garden carts should be confiscated and drummed out of the fellowship.

Perhaps they could take up a less challenging DIY activity like blogging.

January Gardening

I sent off the first seed orders. Finally, the ideal time in January arrived, and I sat down with the pile of catalogs for a winter afternoon of dreaming of the tropical wonderland the garden could be. OK, maybe not so tropical for Central Massachusetts in the middle of New England. But one can have dreams. Even if the results will not be so high and mighty comes August.

I’ve also researched elevated garden beds. For durability, you are ideally looking for a cedar or cypress construction. But the ever-deceptive ads on a major online site call anything cedar, even when it’s the soft rot-prone Chinese fir. One critic warned that it seems as though the manufacturers were using the word “cedar” as a reference to the wood color rather than the species.
So rather than trust the onsite evaluations, I went through a number of the “Best of” sites for contrasting assessments. Unsurprisingly, 99 percent of the products were made in China. Buyer beware. A hint concerning reviews; most are done after assembly, not after a bit or a season of use.

Sol is steadily climbing in the sky. Every day just a bit further higher in the sky. While garden planning in January does not seem very topical for this time of year, I expect seedlings will be sprouting in the middle of February.

Now I need to get rid of the snow.

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