Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Perennial Labor

Posted on | October 18, 2010 | 5 Comments

There’s a whole to of work to be done in the garden.  All the support cages and stakes need to be pulled up and stacked neatly for the winter.  The soaker hoses need to be dug up, patched, and rolled into pretty coils.  The herbs need to be divided and transplanted.  Compost from the barnyard needs to be hauled down and spread in the rows.  And if that weren’t enough, more fence posts need to put in for the planned garden expansion and a mini-coop built for the guineas who will be placed in there on bug patrol next spring. So you better believe I have been finding plenty to do other than those miserable chores. I cleaned all the windows and sills and washed and rehung the curtains.  Now we can enjoy the cool fall breezes without having to look at the 2 inch high mounds of dead bugs piled against the screens.  I got out the spot remover, vigorously scrubbed the year’s accumulated stains on the carpets, and pretended I could no longer see the blotches after I was done.  I cleared a space in the goat barn for 2 new rolls of hay and even swept out all the spiderwebs in the rafters.  I shredded old bills for the nest boxes.  And finally, finally, with much sighing, I gathered my tools and wheelbarrow and headed down the driveway. Then I bypassed the garden and went straight to the perennial bed.  Figuring that whatever work was in the perennial bed wasn’t half as bad as the work in the garden.  Which may not be an  inspirational act of dedication to my flowering friends, but, hey this is a farm, not a Disney movie. My perennials have had a haphazard existence.  Sometime after planting them I had another child.  Then I got involved with ducks.  And chickens.  Then I had another child.  Pretty soon there were goats.  Plus, for some odd reason, we kept adding dogs of all shapes, colors, and sizes to our household.  It was like some kind of deep, subversive, subconscious plan to never have any time to do anything with my perennials ever again. But this year I rescued my perennials from their wilderness.  For two full days I dug, weeded, and pruned; thereby recovering a lot of beautiful and healthy plants.  I should mention I had a lot of help from the children.  They trimmed forsythia, carried away thorny briers, dug holes for evergreens, divided and transplanted lilies, and made water runs.  All this assistance only cost me $5 each to the three who did not crap out on the first day and stomp up to the house, crying all the way (you know who you are).  Which comes out to about 50 cents/hour, but you don’t need to pass that info along to them.  If they spent more time on their math homework maybe they could strike a better bargain.  Who says you don’ t need math in the real world? Even better than avoiding work in the garden,  this project enabled me to expand my landscaping with all the new plant divisions.  Which, in turn, gave me more time to avoid the garden because I was busy building new perennial beds.  Don’t you love the way this works? I settled on redoing the area in front of our split rail fence.  Mowing the grass in that space is awkward at best and still leaves lots of weeds that have to be taken out with the weedeater.  As if I have a weedeater.  Well, a weedeater that works for more than 5 minutes at a time without belching smoke, stalling, and needing a new string.  As if I know how to install a new string.  Jeez.  Definitely a good space for perennials.  Luckily for me, I had enough azaleas and roses to fill it.  Check it out:

I know what you think you’re thinking:  “Goodness, what a lovely bed of azaleas and roses.  Did you turn all that soil over by hand?  Don’t you deserve to be skinny for all that hard work! ” Wrong, wrong, wrong (except for the turning-over-by-hand and deserve-to-be-skinny part).  That picture, my friend, is a recipe for the weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Oh, sure the azaleas will blossom in the spring.  But before the roses are off to a good start, the wild onions will appear with their nasty spikyness and obnoxious seed-spreading puff balls.  The crabgrass will creep in maliciously from the edges of the bed.  Common plantain will bound up beside towering stinging nettle.  Need I mention the dreaded dandelion and unlucky clover?  I didn’t think so. Good thing I had the kids (minus the whiny one) pull up the old carpeting from around the established perennials so it could be used in the new beds.  I know you’ve probably considered using carpet in your landscaping, too.  I mean, who doesn’t get tired of spending hundreds of dollars on mulch, doing the back-breaking labor of spreading the mulch, and then standing alongside it, moaning in despair, when the grass and weeds grow right through the mulch?  Grass and weeds that can’t be mowed be cause they’re on top of 6 inches of mulch.  I’m not sure who’s trickier—-the grass and weeds or the companies that sell mulch. But with a bit of old carpeting and the redneck ability to put anything in your front yard without shame, you, too, can keep your plants weed-free.  Sure, it’s a transitional process.  When I first used carpeting, I insisted to the Other Half that I didn’t care what it looked like.  I told all my friends that I didn’t care what it looked like.  I told my neighbors I didn’t care what it looked like.  (Just kidding about that.  My neighbors stopped speaking to me years ago after I got my rooster.)  I told myself while I was lying awake at night, tormented by the images of old, dirty carpet around my newly planted coneflower, that I didn’t care what it looked like.  But it wasn’t until the coneflower was the only perennial left standing by fall that I started to believe myself.  Everything else had been devoured by the grass. So I started wrapping the bases of all my new transplants with carpeting.  It’s not forever.  In a year or two the plants are large enough to shade their own roots and you end up with a nice clean, weed-free space like the one in between these two forsythias:

For mounding or spreading perennials I just pull the carpet back a little each year.  This allows for new growth for plants like these wildflowers and juniper:

OK, so it isn’t pretty.  But it isn’t permanent and I’m way too old to get hung up on pretty.  As a matter of fact, this time I noticed that I installed some pieces of carpet face-up and others face-down.  And the edges aren’t even perfectly lined up.  And it doesn’t bother me at all.  I know.  Sometimes I even amaze myself with my emotional growth and maturity. In the end I had several new beds filled with potential:

(Now before you tell me about carpets releasing toxins into the environment, just relax.  We got rid of most of the toxins by inhaling them or absorbing them through our skin during the carpet’s years of use.  The only things leaching out of that carpet by now are dog urine and cat vomit.  Which should count as a natural, organic soil additive.  So, it’s all good.) I admit it isn’t Martha Stewart Living, but to the drivers going 80 mph on our country road, it probably looks just like the burlap that the professionals use.  And it goes along just fine with the trailer with a second story addition that’s right down the street (I’d take a picture of that for you but I’m too afraid of what might happen if I get caught sitting in his yard with a camera aimed at his place).  Besides, during this project I discovered something else I can do instead of working in the garden: Butchering the spring chickens.  Plump, juicy spring chickens who think it’s OK to scratch around the perennials I just finished carefully transplanting and weeding.  Here, chick, chick, chick…………

Comments

5 Responses to “Perennial Labor”

  1. Lisa D.
    October 19th, 2010 @ 5:06 am

    This is obviously why nothing grows at our house….

  2. Tonya McGuire
    October 19th, 2010 @ 5:51 am

    This is great…I love your creativity. Old carpet…I’m getting some ideas. Maybe I won’t have to tell people “those aren’t weeds, I planted them, I like them”.

  3. Annabelle
    October 19th, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    I love your “emotional growth” of not caring about using the old carpet. you can also use layered cardboard boxes and cover with mulch, (or soiled animal bedding).. by the time it breaks down, you won’t need it anymore.

  4. forensicfarmgirl
    October 21st, 2010 @ 8:07 am

    Ohmygosh! I was laughing so hard I almost peed in my pants! That was great!

  5. va_grown
    October 21st, 2010 @ 10:54 am

    It took forever to win my Mr. Fix-It over to newspaper in the flower beds. I don’t think I’m even going to bring this one up yet. But the cat vomit leeching into the soil is hilarious!

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