Archive for the 'Overheard' Category

The cherry blossoms tell you when to plant

Although I have professed my love for the flowering trees of D.C. (and, oh yes, that does include the cherry blossoms), I’ve got to admit – I never spent much time when I lived there thinking about their symbolism.

I mean, the cherry trees? To me, they symbolized the hurray of Spring, and they symbolized that the traffic around the Tidal Basin was about to grind to a halt, and they usually symbolized we were about to get a raw, wet, nasty day, generally timed to directly coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s long-planned parade, that would knock all the delicate blossoms to the ground as if they were snowflakes.

So I perked up, last May during my visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, when Gordon Wilson, the docent leading my walking tour, started explaining what the cherry blossoms meant to the Japanese.

Cherry Blossoms, San Francisco Botanical Garden

“They used them to indicate when to start the rice seed,” he said. “When the trees bloomed, it meant a period of warm weather was coming.”

According to Gordon, the next step in the process came after a specific iris (and although I was taking notes, I didn’t get the name of this one) bloomed as well. That indicated a period of wet weather would be coming soon, so that’s when the rice farmers would plant their crop.

See, this is the kind of gardening marker I can get behind. When this very visible thing happens, start the seed. When this very visible thing happens, plant the seedling. This doesn’t require hoping that the almanac is going to hit the last frost date accurately this year, or require searching old blog posts and for indicators of when the weather might turn.

Just blossom: start. Blossom: plant. Very simple, and beautiful, to boot.


No ID, no sale

Confrontation“You got ID, sir?” the NYPD officer said.

The man in the brown tweed suit continued peeling a potato, oblivious to the scowling officer standing over him.

“Sir,” the officer repeated. “You got ID? You gotta have ID to sell here.”

The man continued talking in an English accent about the benefits of the peeler he was using to nude up the potato. It was as if the police officer was nowhere to be seen.

“Sir,’ the officer repeated. It was obvious he was irritated, but did not want to call attention to himself, to the interaction, especially not with all the other people around. It was a crisply sunny Saturday at the Union Square Greenmarket, and the place was crawling with foodies interesting in hearing the brown-suited man prattle on about the peeler.

“Sir, I need to see…”

Joseph AdesWithout a word, the brown-suited man reached next to him and pulled out his vendor license. Then my friend and I were past him and across the street.

“That was hilarious,” I said. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” she said, looking back over her shoulder. “Oh, that guy? I just figured he was another crazy person. They’re all over New York.”

Behind us, the English man continued his spiel about the peeler. I glanced back one last time and saw someone hand him a $5 bill. He took it and handed them a peeler in exchange, without even missing a beat in his sales pitch.

Witness to the population explosion

“Do you own a cat?” asked my next-door neighbor earlier tonight. He was exiting his house while I was tending to the watering I didn’t get to before work this morning.

“No,” I said.

“There’s one standing by the car,” he said. “I wondered if it was yours.”

I shook my head.

“Do you want a cat?” he asked. “Because now it’s walking toward your front yard.”

“I’m more of a dog person,” I said. “But maybe it would help chase away the rabbits.”

“I’ve seen a lot more of those than usual,” he said. “Have they been eating your plants?”

“They were for awhile,” I said. “Now I think things are too big for them. But they ate all the peas. I got no peas this year.”

“They like the green stuff,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

Business travel shorts

I just returned from a longer-than-a-week business trip (well, business trip capped off by a birthday weekend with my parents), and even though I was away from the garden for longer than I might have liked, the garden, clearly, was not far from me.

1. National security threat

As I was going through security on my way out of Cedar Rapids last Sunday morning, a TSA agent helping shuffle belongings into the x-ray came to full attention, grabbed something off a gentleman’s bag, and flung it to the side as hard as she could.

“Japanese beetle,” she said. “I only know because my mother’s always pulling them out of her raspberry bushes.”

2. The bush-who-must-not-be-named

For weeks, I’ve been driving by a particular kind of flowering bush in town, suffering from a terrible and pernicious mental block.

Hibiscus? No.

Hyacinth? No.

No matter what I did, I could not remember the name of the stupid flowers.

But then I opened the book I’d brought with me on the trip: Book 5 of the Harry Potter series (I’m trying to race through the series again in preparation for the final installment), and there was Harry. Hiding. Behind a Hydrangea bush.

Hydrangea. Of course.

3. A cross word

The clue for 84 Across on the United crossword puzzle for July:
Miracle-____ (plant food)


4. No money where my mouth is

As I hurtled down a road outside Emmaus, Pennsylvania, in search of The Farmhouse (eat there if you’re in the neighborhood…it’s mighty tasty…), a baby bunny appeared in the center of the road.

I screamed. My boss screamed. My other co-worker, who was in the back, made an unintelligible noise. I braked, I swerved, I cringed as we rolled overtop of the little, fuzzy, cute, not-eating-my-plants-so-for-a-second-I-felt-sorry-for-it creature.

After we’d passed over it with no thump and no sign of squashed rabbit in the rearview mirror, my coworker in the back, who had admitted earlier to being a regular blog reader, said, “I can’t believe you didn’t try to hit it.”

5. No children, just tomatoes

At a business dinner, my clients and my co-workers were making their way around the table, exchanging kid stories. I’m always prepared for moments like these. I come armed with stories about my godson, my college roommates’ kids, and the various children who belong to my various cousins.

But as the attention turned to me on this particular night—as one of the clients said, “So, Genie, do you have any children?”—my boss, who is always quick with an excellent response, whether it’s in a business meeting or not, said, “She has an excellent blog. About gardening. She grows tomatoes.”

And thus, the conversation turned to my tomatoes. About which, as you regular readers know, I have plenty of stories.

Parsley, watered down

Last year, I did not grow nearly enough parsley. What parsley we did grow came up sparsely (Parsley, sparsely. It feels like an Ogden Nash poem…), and it never felt as abundant as, well, grabbing a bunch at the store. You know those store bunches: fat and happy and usually more of the flat-leaf variety than you can possibly use before it goes limp?

That didn’t happen in my garden.

This year, I vowed not to repeat that experience. But I also wanted to try growing more things from seed…including parsley.

Parsley seedsLuckily, after I bought the seed but before I planted it, Kalyn posted a very helpful tip that I took to heart: soak the parsley seeds for 24 hours before you plant them.

“Are you making parsley seed soup?” Steve asked as I flooded a bowl of the teeny seeds with water from the tap. “Is this like the spinach seed salad?”

“No, I’m soaking them,” I said. “For 24 hours. Like Kalyn said.”

Steve nodded, bearing that look that said, She’s quoting her bloggy friends again…

The next day, I stared into the bowl. If you want to know how tiny parsley seeds actually are, think about a pencil dot, and then shrink your thinking. They’re quite miniscule, and would slip through my sieve without a second thought. How to get them out of the water?

Then it occurred to me…it was not as if the seeds were soaking in lye or, for that matter, some sort of Scott’s Miracle-Gro product. They were in…water. Which, really, wasn’t going to hurt the soil one bit.

So I took the whole bowl outside, and dumped it, carefully, into two pots, dividing the parsley seeds in half as I did it. It was an awful lot of seeds, so something will have to come up, and with two pots, I figure the chances are even better that I’ll have the kind of abundant crop I’d hoped for last year.

This is my post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which, this week, is hosted by the intrepid Pat of Up a Creek without a PatL. Please stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of posts!

Compost on the cheap

There are a few ways to acquire compost. You can buy it, you can borrow it (it’s the giving it back that’s hard) or you can make it.

Although Steve and I finally decided it was time to make the leap to making it via a compost pile, that wasn’t going to do us any good as the planting season got underway. We had to come up with an interim solution.

Thanks to a comment from Don and some helpful suggestions from members of the Iowa City Freecycle listserv, I learned the Johnson County Landfill offers compost for next to free. All you need is a truck.

Unfortunately, trucks aren’t free. Nor do we own one.

“Maybe I could line some of our big pots with plastic garbage bags and go get some,” Steve offered. “After all, you said I have the Dirt Car.”

I looked up the information online and learned that, in fact, you can get up to 200 pounds of compost from the landfill for $1.

Yes, I said $1. Now I understand why Don said it’s cheaper to just go get a truckload there than to mess with making it on one’s own.

Compost potsSo, yesterday, Steve took a trip out to the landfill and picked up three pots of compost for our spring planting needs.

“Did you have any problems?” I asked when I got home.

“Not at all,” Steve said.

“How much did it cost you?”

“Nothing,” he said. “No one stopped me when I drove in, I followed the signs to the compost pile, I took some out of the pile marked ‘Finished Compost’ and I left.”

This afternoon, as I stood in line at the nearby Earl May Garden Center with a couple of bags of potting soil in my arms, I overheard a customer ask where the compost was.

“Over there by the lightpost in the green bags,” said the store manager, pointing outside. “You pay here, and then just go pick it up and load it in your car.”

I chuckled to myself. If that person only knew what kind of bargain was available across town…but she was already whipping out her credit card, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

Dirt in our future

As Steve walked by me the other night, I said, “Do you know what we’re going to have to do soon?”


“We’re going to have to go to Paul’s Discount and get a bunch of dirt,” I said.

There was resounding silence as Steve fled into another room.

“Aren’t you excited?” I yelled after him.

He walked back into the living room. “I’m going to plead the Fifth,” he said. “I don’t want to convict myself yet.”

Getting in touch

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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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