Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stress is good?

I know it doesn't make sense to say that stress is good, but it might help native plants grow a bit more like they do in nature. Earlier this year I wailed and moaned over the destruction wrought by the dreaded voles, tunneling and gobbling up many plants. They really did eat a lot of stuff.

But then I started to notice that some of the plants they ate came back later, and had spread out into much more natural-looking plantings. These gallardia whose dirges I had sung but a few months ago started coming up around the end of July. The voles had eaten the mother plant but spread roots and seeds around.

Same thing with this lupine. There was a plant, now gone, in the middle of these, but earlier this summer a bunch of small lupines sprouted up around the original vole excavation. The bloom is over, sorry...

So, I have these two pretty large "creeping" Oregon grape (Berberis repens) shrubs that I planted fifteen years ago. The joke is that these monsters had no intention of creeping anywhere; they were fat and happy right where they were. Here is one of them.

For several years I kept looking at these, thinking that they looked like mutants. Then, last year I got the idea that maybe they needed to be stressed, kind-of like what happened to the gallardia and lupines. So, well, I mowed one. Just to see what would happen. Ran the big ol' DR Field and Brush mower right into the thing. And now, a year later, it has begun to creep! The green around the base there are little runners shooting out.

That other monster, above, had better watch out--I finished mowing the epilobium cloud today...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Pink Cloud

Asters (Aster occidentalis) in the foreground, Tall willow herb (Epilobium brachycarpum) in the distance...that's the pink cloud.

I am facing a dilemma. The pink cloud of epilobium is even more substantial than last year's, on which I posted exactly one year ago today. Here is the standard view, taken today, of the northern part of the prairie--
Beneath this pink cloud is a good spread of Idaho fescue, quite a few geraniums, some lupine...all sorts of young prairie plants. I have been going through and digging out individual weeds (some sow thistle, China lettuce, mustard, a few salsify, but not too bad) and wondering whether this epilobium will put down too much seed or if this is the kind of biomass that is going to help create the mulch that makes a prairie. My dilemma is whether to mow it down before it goes to seed or to leave it. At the moment I am thinking I should mow. Even now I will still get some epilobium seed, but not the awesome onslaught I (or my neighbor Jerry) would get if I don't, and the clarkia has already gone to seed, so that seed will be planted anyway. At some point I need to let things go but I'm not sure this is the time; while perennials are still pretty young and small, mowing doesn't upset them too much at this point and it might even the playing field.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A new instrument, part 2

I was a little stunned to look back and see that it was February 1, more than six months ago, when I posted the first bit of this story. Here's what happened: I decided that I needed to finish a room that I had been working on for four (!) years in this house (which I have been working on for 20 years). Get something done, and then I will start on the gourd banjo.

In the interim, I did work on some music of course, and I moved many yards of river rock by wheelbarrow, and I had a lot of prairie maintenance and seed collection in there. But I also finished this room, and it was an important one because it's for my wife, Dona, a sanctuary for her spirit and her stuff, away from the crazy lives of her boys ("I live with boys!," she says). Beginning with the stair railing in 2007, this has involved as much woodworking than the kitchen did. The newel post here at the bottom was original (though I added the maple cap and Dona's dad Frank turned the walnut finials), but I made the other 4 1/2 from a beam recycled from an old church in Pullman.

In 2008, I trimmed the stair landing and built some cabinetry. The white drawers and the trim above them come from an old bolt cabinet I found in the barn. The drawers, with the delicate calligraphy of Vo Lucas (who lived in this house from c. 1940-1980) labeling garden supplies, turn up in the kitchen, there's another bank in this room, and there are a couple drawers left over to use in the bedroom, when I at last finish that room.

The bookcase was built (also in 2008) out of a taller bookcase that came out of someone's office at the University of Idaho. I tried to get it upstairs but it wouldn't fit through the opening for the stairs, so I cut it in half and built it into the knee wall. Sealing and insulating that wall made a big difference in the coziness of this room.

The rest of the cabinetry along the knee wall, the window and skylight trim, baseboards and door trim took me the last year. So, I was really already seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel when I realized I wanted to build an improved gourd banjo last winter.

It feels a lot better to take on building this new instrument, having reached an important milestone in the renovation of this home, finishing this special room for a remarkable woman.