I had a ripping Spring day today despite that it's just the second week in
January. The temperatures were pushing 70o. F. I could feel the warm breath
of her as she blew all around the ridge top. The afternoon beckoned me to
come back outside and get into trouble, so I heeded the whisperings of the
fairies, and since Squire was off on adventures all his own with
bureaucratic schedules and paperwork and red tape to deal with.
As he drove out the driveway, (I had wisely left the dawgs inside while he
left so they wouldn't be tempted to follow him down the long, winding drive
to the end of the dead end until he was well over the top and heading truly
out) I headed immediately over towards the black cherry tree, because I saw
daylight where it shouldn't be.
Underneath the old tree, almost 11 years ago when we came here, I had
brought along an old oak whiskey barrel from Jack Daniels
brewery that Squire and I had originally purchased intact for $15 about 20
years ago to serve as the rear seat of our Harley Davidson '45 police trike.
He had installed inner coverings with handles to form a space for storage
and then cut an opening out of the side where we were going to pad the
bottom and inner back piece to support me. We sold the trike just two parts
before running because he had to return to driving tractor trailer and knew
he'd not have time to ride like he had wanted to.
Not wanting to waste a perfectly good solid oak whiskey barrel (when we
tapped it to make the cut, after sitting at the home improvement store in
the hot sun, and in our back yard for a few hot summer days, the barrel had
sweated inside and when Squire got it opened, we discovered about a gallon
and a half of the smoothest, aged Jack Daniels whiskey) I stood the barrel
on one end with the opening facing outwards on our front porch of my house
in Nashville that I'd lived in since 1974, and put a large potted jade plant
inside. Then I put other pots of tropicals on top and used it as a plant
Through the years, with the barrel being oak, I was able to leave it on the
porch and bring the tender plants inside, and when we moved to East
Tennessee in 1992, along with the whole yard, front and back that I dug up
and brought with me, I also brought all pots, stands, edger's and what-not.
Including the oak whiskey barrel.
This had become an old friend along with a few other treasures I've picked
up along the way, throughout the decades. It's like I'm some sort of
gardening magnet that attracts unusual plant stands and tables and what not.
A veritable rolling garden Shoppe!
Once moved into the farmhouse in White Pine, Tennessee, which had a really
nice front porch off the front that was high up and ran the whole length of
the front of the house unlike my old porch at my house back in Nashville, I
used the oak barrel the same way as before. The plants would change, but
mostly it served as a nice sturdy display for cactus or tropicals I wanted
to place securely somewhere to summer out safely.
When we moved into this house almost eleven years ago, selling my house in
Nashville which burnt my bridges behind me, I decided that the days of plant
display stand were over for the whiskey barrel and got the idea to lay it on
it's side, fill up the inside with soil, and plant little woodland bulbs and
plants in there to pop up and surprise me come Springtime.
And that's what I did. I moved the whole perennial garden, again, to it's
final destination, laid the barrel on it's side and rolled it over and
underneath the black cherry tree, and rested it against it's large trunk.
Filled it with humus red dirt mixed with mulch and leaves because I was
running out of soil to use, and over the years, have planted a veritable
forest of woodland bulbs and perennials.
I've lost a lot of things I've plugged into this soil in the barrel. When
someone didn't re-emerge the next year, I'd get something else, and fill in
the empty spot in the whiskey barrel's interior. Eventually I had success
bluebells, a lone cyclamen tuber, a nice clump of Te' te narcissus and now,
some rhizomes of perennial begonia.
As I approached the underside of the old black cherry tree, I realized that
the life of the whiskey barrel was almost at an end. The light I was seeing
were the side slats that had made up the top and the bottom of the barrel
originally. Now for at least 14 years of the last 20 in it's long existence
(there's no telling how old the whiskey barrel was, since the brewery keep
them for decades before they sold them to Home Depot) the sides have been
exposed against all sorts of weather, sunlight and temperature swings. And
insects. Time has taken it's toll and I saw the demise of an old friend.
I picked up the pieces of the "sides" and tossed them towards the burning
pit, and started looking for places to plant the Valley Valentine Pieris I
got replaced. The fairies were whispering quietly to me, and the sounds of
Maggie, the new kitten discovering the joy of romping thru the leaves and
tall grasses with Pester's her mentor and old buddy cat, along with the
scratchings and titterings of all the woods birds kept me company as I
threaded my way towards the front. Unsure what I was going to start doing,
just taking in the fact that I had on a sleeveless top and was comfortable
was all I thought about.
The Loripedilum along side the front sidewalk in the western sidewalk bed
looked so sad and forlorn, and showed me it was heaving out of the soil,
that I decided right there to find a shovel and lift it out and plant it
somewhere else. I already had an idea forming. The root ball was a joke.
Having originally been a three gallon pot, I had forgotten that I'd just dug
a hole in that spot where the Helenium refused to survive, made the hole
wider and planted the Loripedilum without much thought. I didn't know if
the southern sun would be too much on it or not, but was willing to give the
plant a chance to tell me before I let it cook or scald. The small bush was
fine except that the great, smothering Blue Enigma salvia that grows at
least six foot and flops about, did what it does best. It flopped about and
little burgundy shrub from getting the full benefit of the sunlight.
What I was seeing before me was the central most part of the bush
successfully still leafed out in dark reddish purple leaves along one
arched, thick branch. As I lifted the bush out of the hole, I realized how
foolish I had been to have tried to tuck it into the bed in that spot. On
either side of the root ball, were the enormous bulbs of my trumpet lilies.
They weren't bothered by the smothering branches of the salvia. They shot
on up thru them like bothersome grass, or the Herman's pride laminastrum, or
yellow Archangel that has made a nice variegated ground cover for everything
else. It holds the soil, but the other perennials and bulbs push thru the
mat just fine.
Once out of the dry, loose soil, I saw the initial problem at hand. The
outer roots were dead, with the inner tap roots still healthy. I was able to
tear off the unusable roots and had a nice arched shrub that would look just
fine on the opposite corner of the black cherry bed. There is another
Loripedilum on the south end corner.
I moved the oversized glazed snail over that I picked up 28 years ago in
Colorado that is now in two pieces but still looks like a giant snail, and
dug at the corner just outside the bed where Hellebore are sending up new
shoots and leaves of this years plant and flower stalks. I knew there would
be little rhizomes of the perennial begonia in the soil, but I carefully
dirt on either side of the hole, and then nestled the little shrub into it's
newer, more hospitable home, top filled with all the black, humus soil I'd
taken, and added in a good handful of leaves and beginning compost once I'd
firmed the roots in.
Tamp it with my feet carefully, make a mental note to trim it later on after
the rains come and go this week and tamp it again to settle it after the
moisture. I might even lift a few bulbs and plant them at the feet of the
little shrub for company, but I suspect that the perennial begonia's will
keep it company just fine.
Now I had a taste for gardening full throttle. Time to get real, and rip
vinca. The day was perfect for it, the ground was loose and I knew I could
at least get a good start. There was no way I'd be able to do it all in one
day, but you have to start somewhere, and I'd already started on it a short
while back and gotten distracted and then the weather got cold again, so I
had waited for another window of opportunity, and here it was.
I never think, though. You'd figure since I've taken great pains to obtain
good gardening tools,of all sorts, that I'd think to rummage around in the
tool trugg, pick out a couple of necessary ones that will make my work much
easier and get about my work. Oh no, not that simple. I am a spacey old
garden hippie. I start out with my hands. Against Vinca major. I am truly
That, and I love the feel of the soil, and I can grasp the cluster of sinewy
vines at the center where they all splay outwards and rip out the whole
thing, and if it's tenacious, I can wrap the vines around my wrist and
provide extra leverage. But as that last sentence soaks into your brain,
you and I realize what I just said......for something to be that stubborn
and tough to be able to wrap around, it's going to quickly wear me out. I
The first plants I tore out were so easy, I just kept going. From the
sidewalk where I'd taken the Loripedilum, I traced a stray Vinca vine and
pulled it carefully out, tossed it to the west end where the BBQ pit
fountain/garden is and the porch swing, and then discovered sneaky plants
underneath the three landscape timbers at the soil level underneath. They
were happily growing thru the cracks of the stacked timbers, up thru the
soil and across the bed and over into the soil from the almost two foot
height the raised bed was. When I moved all three timbers, I revealed the
parent cluster and when I pulled the white shoots, I saw I had gotten the
whole plant instead of just snapping the vines at the base.
The soil was dry and loose, but near the bottom it held it's shape to where
I was able to replace the timbers and move down the bed, pulling out ALL of
the vinca I came across. There was one problem in one spot that I couldn't
do anything with. That was where the downspout from the west gutter hooked
back and went under the concrete sidewalk around the house, underneath the
side yard and down to where Squire had built me those two high raised beds.
I've since located the corrugated leech pipe that directs rainfall, but we
know rerouting it would be more work than what we want to attempt.
I stood there cursing that one, incredibly healthy, happy and tough ass
old Vinca as I broke the vines to just next to the concrete near where the
downspout went into the ground. If I couldn't rip it out, then I'd
partially disable it. I knew pulling was useless and didn't want to
dislocate or tear my shoulder muscle. I was out of shape and had to use
There is now a pile about three foot high of Vinca to be piled up into my
yellow two wheeled garden cart and dumped somewhere other than my
As I worked my way around the bed, tearing around the singular Kerria
Japonica that had sprouted up thru the vinca, and other plants, I thought I
heard the telephone. It always figures, about the time I am really getting
focused, the phone rings, or I think it does. As I straightened up and
pulled out another clump of vinca, I finally heard the loud bell I'd
installed on one phone where I'd hear it, and rushed inside to discover I'd
forgotten the tea
kettle.......sigh...........fill it back up, check the caller ID and call
Squire. He's having a meltdown. Soon as he gets back, I'll have to take
over and do that voodoo that I do so well........
So I stayed inside and washed up and waited until he got home. Loaded the
dawgs up into the van, and as I pull out of the driveway, I stopped and
grabbed the mail outa the huge Farmer's mailbox of ours, turned southwards
and captured the incredible view, heaved yet another deep sigh of discontent
at being uprooted from what I was so diligently working at, and climbed into
As I was just getting settled and heading for the bottom of the dead end
road, I got just past my other neighbor whom I share the hill with's barn
and pasture next to the old, old house that was one of the first homesteads
to be built around here. It IS the Wine house. When they settled here over
200 years ago, and built this two story house against the hillside facing
southwards, eventually at some point, at the bottom of the huge expanse of
yard, someone planted Forsythia bushes between the ancient dogwoods.
I had just remarked to my gardening friend the other day when we were
returning from a field trip, as we shot UP this dead end road, I had pointed
to those huge, perfectly proportioned shrubs and remarked that "well, if one
is to have and actually ENJOY Forsythia's, this is the way to have them.
Unhampered and with enough room that they can show their tendencies to grow
in a vase shape. Look how loaded the branches are with buds. Wait until you
see these in bloom this spring. It will knock your eyes out..." We sat
there espousing the love/hate theory of forsythia's, me the ever optimist
touting the clean yellow bells, if the shrubs were this magnificent, you
could take cuttings to bring into the house and the shrubs would be
forgiving....the leaves turn the most impressive purple burgundy in the fall
and hold until the very last on the branches.....she wasn't buying it, but
she did have to agree that they were most impressive, and we made note to
slip past one day and take a few cuttings for our vases to force into bloom
for drab days.
Well, now I couldn't. Before me was absolute carnage and destruction. C.H.
was on his tractor with the blade, and he was working the front of his
wife's homestead.....he had completely cut the forsythia's down and was
trying to tear them out of the ground. Only problem was, it's really not
easy, even with a tractor to pull out 150+ year old forsythia bushes out of
red clay soil.
I went through the stop sign there at my corner and as I turned to head out
and do the business at hand, I had a sad, sinking feeling. And yes, there
were tears. It's so sobering to think that the simple beauty of blooming
spring shrubs was missed on an old, crotchety, curmudgeon of a man in his
80's. If his wife weren't in the nursing home, and with Alzheimer's, I'm
sure she'd have given him a rash of hell for doing this.... And now it
appears just to enable him to be more nosey to the traffic that is coming
and going more frequently up the road now. (There is a subdivision about
three hills behind us that has been expanding, but it won't come anywhere
close to us, as the interstate cuts between it and us).
My other neighbor, Miz Mary Wine whose ancestors were the ones to settle
this whole hill and holler area informed me all he did this for was not
because he was a farmer and bushes were useless to him unless they provided
a service (which was Squire's way of thinking when I told him about it) or
boundary, but he did it to be more nosey and because he was in a hateful
mood yesterday and was just out destroying because he COULD. I just hope
he doesn't get a hair up his keister to tear out the ancient dogwoods. It's
bad enough the utility company misinformed our new neighbor's in the woods
to the south of us when they were first building their house and had to cut
a looooooong driveway along the property line and fence row of the pasture
that belongs to the Wines, and took out over 100 white dogwoods that were
well over 200 years old and would have made a most impressive display along
their new driveway.
They cut them all down, and discovered there was no need. The utility
company was under the impression that power lines would be threatened
eventually, and were too stupid to realize the trees they told them to cut
down were full grown and would never reach the heights of the power lines at
all. Just sad. I cried that first spring after they cut them all down,
because it lifts your soul and heart to see acres along a fence row of
ancient and proud white dogwoods in full bloom. And again as a reminder come
fall when they burgundy their leaves and shine with red berries for the
When I got back, he had stopped his destruction and gone inside his old
house, and once again it just saddened me to think that this year there will
be no incredible display of four fully grown and magnificent Forsythia's in
bright fireworks of yellow. Those bushes were spaced about 25 foot apart,
so they were in full, glorious form. Never trimmed, allowed to be the shape
they were meant to be. (around here the fools trim them into horrible
I went back to my own destruction of a different nature. The vinca. And
before I ran outa energy, I got quite a dent accomplished. Now come another
nice day, I'll continue until every shoot of it is removed once and for all
up here in Fairy Holler. Thanks for allowing me to share with you. Today
the weather turned completely around after a storm moved in across the whole
state, I first had thick, dense fogs, and rains well into the morning, and
then Mom's Nature opened up her wind bags and the winds shooed the clouds
across the face of English Mountain and over into North Carolina with only a
few hanging up on the bare tree branches. The skies are blue and white
cotton now and it seems the temperatures will be warm again, so with this
moisture added to my soft raised beds, I can get even MORE vinca pulled out
madgardener, up on the ridge, back in Fairy Holler (no, not Vinca gulley,
nor Vinca Holler, FAIRY Holler <g>) overlooking English Mountain in Eastern