I was driving to Nashville on my birthday last week and traffic had slowed down to a crawl. I mean, I could have WALKED the dawgs it was going so slowly. But when you're forced to slow down to a walking pace, you get a rare chance to examine the sides of the road for greenies and growies.
I tend not to look at trash, but at what's growing in the asphalt, concrete, gravel, and general muck from civilization that nature has to deal with, and along side those same surfaces. It's amazing how tough not only the weeds are, but how tough common flowering perennials are. When you're a gardener like I am, you become able to identify the weeds from the flowers. I've gotten so good at leaf identification, I can nail quite a few common perennial's identities that in days gone by WERE weeds!
There are those of us who like a nice flower who will argue that those aren't weeds, they're wildflowers <g> As we crept along at less than cruise pace, I gazed out of the window (yes, my foot was on the brake.....) and saw what I thought were balls of cotton. My mind slipped in and out of reasoning for a moment as I picked up the distinct formation of not only wild daisy leaves in their identifiable winter mounds just past the fleeting image of cotton, but some were actually blooming on shorter stems! That so distracted me I started looking for more way too early signs of spring brought on by the false Spring-like temperatures we've been experiencing lately.
But as my eyes swept the sloping median turfs and surface, my memory snapped back in place and I thought, "Wait a minute!! COTTON BOLLS in TENNESSEE!???!? 'well yeah, in fields, near farms' but growing along side the I-40 East bound interstate in downtown Knoxville? "
The traffic was going along at a walking pace, and even stopping now as we got to a point we affectionately call "Malfunction Junction". This is a point in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee that starts to rise over older streets of old neighborhoods, and when they first built this interstate back decades ago, they neglected to purchase or get power to expand too much. There is a merge lane coming out of downtown Knoxville and UT and does a right merge into steady eastbound traffic going to 40 or 75 thru Chattanooga. It's a continually busy section as it's a point where other main roads intersect. The only merge lane into Knoxville is a left merge where the road literally ends with the points of guard rails staring you in the middle of the vehicle you're driving if you make that left turn. Two lanes continue with a left merge lane coming down. Right there it's officially "Malfunction Junction". So now you know what I'm coasting alongside of. Little soil, concrete, asphalt and trash, with Pawlonia and Mimosa and Sumac trees rising up from below thru the open spaces of these exits and merge lanes. It's a bizarre image.
I start deliberately looking at the plants growing in the cracks of the asphalt and concrete next to where the grass and dirt started along the narrow shoulder (you couldn't pull over here, but walking is assured if you have nerves of steel to ignore the traffic). I saw plant after plant of little prickly cotton plants. I identified them only as cotton plants because they DID have thorns on their stems, the bolls were open and dirty cotton was still stuck in some of the seed calyxes.
If I'd had the opportunity, I'd jumped out and pulled one up or at least snagged a cotton boll to get the seeds out of. None of these plants were over a foot tall. Most were less than that, more eight inches. But each and every one of them had at least one cotton boll pod, some had two and three and one that was growing closer to the soil and slope had five distinct twig ends with bolls still hanging on. Could these be the cotton source for the dirty little city faeries? <gbseg>
The source for the slow down was revealed as the speeds picked up to 5 mph and then we actually started moving and the field trip was over. Back to driving and just seeing landscapes as they passed by in my peripheral visions. But the image was seared into my memory for the day.
As I moved westward, I started watching for winter signs and noticing the landscapes along the road. Dead Kudzu in great brownish gray masses covered the south side of the road as I got past Knoxville and aimed true West as 75 split and went southwards. The hills rose up ahead of me and leafless maples, oaks and poplars and dogwoods and what have you were mingled in with the Jack pines and white pines and Cedars.
Here it looked more like Winter and the shades were softened by the many twigs. Where people had landscaped the dwarf nandina's were blood red. As I drove towards a particularly beautiful area called the plateau that rises above Rockwood, I started seeing signs of massive damage to tens upon tens of pines from the pine borer beetle. Trees were killed and then after being dead three years in all the winds we get and the storms that cut thru the plateau, the trees have snapped and stand like faint ghostly spirits of former proud Jack's. It's got the feel of a graveyard, but at their feet, you see the evergreen twining of the honeysuckle as they rise up to snatch at the bark and remaining tree stumps, along with the scrabbling, itchy and hairy vined poison ivy.
I see diligent stands of brigades of sumac stems rising up in formations. They remind me that they colonize and I really need to cut down the one on the other side of my shared driveway before we have a whole grove of them (I won't allow that, I tend to rip out any seedlings I find and whack any sprouts that come up at the base, so far, so good......). Out in the wild, where they don't conflict and have a lot of competitions, they make 5 to 19 individual branches of young plants. In the fall they are most spectacular in colors.
I have favorite rest stops because they've tried to have grown trees nestled in the sides and one is more shady and they've planted Oak leaf hydrangea's up by the main building. I always look forward to seeing their massive leaves and the shades of browns and deep burgundies, with the flaking bark underneath, peaking thru the branches and showing different colorations. I walked the dogs over to the large area for them and turned them loose and was looking at signs of deer near the edges of the wooded area just past the rest stop. Sugar and Sméagol both picked up on their scents and had a good time checking each spot out, with the occaisonal distraction of identifying some other dog who had left their calling card for them to read.
Sméagol, being the younger and rather insecure in being allowed to just go, didn't follow Sugar too far despite that she's like his mama. She was more aventurous than he, as he'd run back to me smiling like he has shown us he does (his cheeks pull up in a distinct grin with dog dimples and his eyes squink up and he looks Oriental when he smiles). Whistle for Sugar and hook Smeag's leash onto his collar, Sugar doesn't have a collar. She was wearing Rose's old chain collar but it's too large for her. She has a much smaller neck than the old girl, and one day in a mama and puppy fight, Smeagol took it off her as he likes to nip at her neck, ears, face, anything he can get a good nip in. Once it came off, I left it off. So now I have to loop the other leash thru itself and put her on it because even though she never met a dog she didn't like, she has now become protective of her puppy charge and she acts differently. I can't take that chance.
Put the dogs into the van, and puppers immediately starts protesting that he knows I'm gonna leave them. I started up the long sidewalk and start looking for my friends, the oak leaf hydrangea's. .Rats......they've whacked them back to about seven inches. They look like spikey tattered shadows of their former beauty. Someone didn't appreciate the beauty of maturing Oak Leaf hydrangea's stems in winter with the showing the barks make, and had cut them ALL back to within six inches. Now I'm compelled to make sure to pass thru again and see how they suffered or didn't this severe pruning. I know this was recently because I came thru in Thanksgiving and they were still intact.
Heck, I can understand some pruning, even taking out crossing branches (although in this bushes case, it needs to be left alone to grow tall and wide and proud and floppy........ahhh that's the key word. Floppy. My own oak leaf beauties grow against a chain fence teasing the wild honeysuckle and other weeds in the pasture on the other side but is proud to flop her arms wide. I just wish I had another to plant in the center left of my woods to just laugh once it's established. I tuck that memory to get a nice potted one this spring and plant it in the first cleared spot between the tree saplings trunks down in my rather dry woods back in my gardener's memory, and go back to finish my trip.
In the backseat floorboard of the van is a garden faerie to go into my daughter Jennifer's flower beds. She's just recently gotten a house back in June and hasn't had time yet to plant, but I know soon she'll get winter blues and pre-Spring fever and tuck some things into the sides of her house. She has a real yard to play with, with all sorts of spots to put different things, and this will give me an opportunity to bestow on her some of my passalong plants later on.
This faerie is a matronly gnome like creature. She has a long skirt on and a straw hat and a smile on her middle aged face. She holds little green frogs and there are frogs at her feet as she stands smiling in her secretive way. I have one too. She sits under the leaves of my Hellebore under the black Cherry tree by my driveway.
I have Jen reach into the bag once we put the dogs inside her garage and we start walking thru her "Dagon Alley" the little alley she has between her storage/garage building and the utility room the previous owners built under her deck. I can picture smiling sun faces and crecent moons on the sides with maybe a flower pouch or half pot to house shade plants. The steps are railroad ties cut down to four foot long and alongside the rise, is a raised bed that I had secretly tucked some daffodil bulbs into at the end of a frenzied planting spree on Thanksgiving. Good, no signs of green noses here. These bulbs know it's still winter, unlike the silly things I have at MY house where they're poking up in every pot and point the sun kisses.
While I'm down there, I slip back into time and remember what it's like there in winter and having a city lot to plant things in. We still have the weedy privet. Even more so it seems because so many used it to hedge their yards and against their houses when they first built these homes. While I write this, ladybugs fall onto my head and I pick them gently from my hair and brush them into the Rubra and Green and Gold oxalis in the maroon pot. "Work on them, not me" I mumble at them and go back to this ramble....
She places the little female gnome in a corner spot as you rise above the side yard and later, I move her a bit so that the bulbs under her feet will come straight up true spring. I can't remember who I planted where, so they will be the faerie's surprise to her as well as to me. She has gargoyles and gazing balls and such all around her house and wonderous things to catch your eye as you wander around the house. It has good potential. Later I will see what is up front along the small stoop and we can put adequate things there to enjoy thru the seasons.
I'm already picturing a Crispa spirea to give textures as well as flowers several times during the warm months and nice bones in the dead of winter.
When I get back home, I find myself thinking of cotton bolls along the interstate on the other side of Malfunction Junction as I drive eastwards. The kudzu is more noticable on this side as it's where it is but it's highly noticable from the opposite side of the road it's taken over so much.
The ghosts of Jack's past moan past me as I drive thru the lower plateau and I remember this as I look at my own Jack's as they stand in a group at the north side of the house, protecting me from the sloping hills that rise up beneath and behind it. The dogs are happy to be home. It took me longer to get home. Off to their secret spots, I have the day to myself and it's beautiful. I walk over to the shade black cherry garden and look for Sméagol signs. I've laid wire on every diggable surface to deter his little curved, sharp nails from destroying in his manic way he has.
He still gets entranced when he gets started. He'll get this glazed look on his eyes and he really goes to town on a hole. So far, I leave him to his little pup holes in the driveway. And he has taken to escavating the fire thorn bushes on the opposite side of the cheap fence that my neighbor put up years ago for his mother when she thought she'd plant things over there. He gets bored and leaves because the holes are still small.
No signs of digging anywhere else, but all sort of signs of bulbs up in the black compost soils I've built up around the cherry tree's roots. Muscari, hyacinth, daff's and wood's hyacinths, no signs of the alliums I tucked in on the northeast side, and the Azalea I put in the last hole the pup dug seems to be fine so far. What comes out at the foot of the bush in spring will be revealed only when it's time.
The leaves are finally off the cherry tree, but there are still some clinging to the twig ends and I get a good idea how the tree is doing. She's got some splitting going on on the east side of her where years prior there were fires to burn wood. It hurt me more than it did the tree (I doubt that) when Squire decided to use the concrete to pile up burnable stuff one spring and it scorched the limbs of the watersprout trunk. I later had to cut it off completely near the main trunk because it showed it's dislike of the heat and flames by dying. (yes, I pointed this out to Squire and he doesn't burn there anymore).
Lady Jane magnolia is loaded it seems on every twig with fuzzy buds. This spring's blooming will be most grand if we don't get too harsh freezes during the winter months. She sits in front of the stump of the mulberry tree at the corner of the carport, and I remember I want to buy some retainer blocks to put around her feet to protect the bulbs and soil I had to pile up around her toes when I didn't dig the hole quite deeply enough. There's wires over her toes too, as one of the dogs decided this smelled too good to leave alone right after I plugged in some wonderful bulbs for spring around her feet.
Once I get two high blocks around her, I will fill in the spaces with more soil and I'll have made a place for the cats to sit and ponder (I will too, but the cat's will beat me to it). Before I wander off too much, I will stop here and leave you with the damp smells of leaves and the soil underneath my feet as I think of tucking a small shade garden under the balcony next to the carport on the northeast side once I remove the tires. (or maybe I should just fill the tires up with soil and plant them too with Veronica?). We duck inside the downstairs where the laundry is and Squire's dragon cave and I stop to water the tropicals that are sentenced there. The Crinum, Pearline, the large leaf Spathphillium, a pot of Sanseveria, a Schiffelera tree with sanseveria coming up along side her twisted trunk (the reason I keep her still, is her trunk I use as handle when I move her in and out). In the cold toolroom, are the clivia's and I water them and the scrawny Schiffelera that I can't decide if I want or not but don't have the heart to let die like I did the rubber plant.
Once the earthy smells get heavy in the basement, I come back upstairs to the rest of the house, and start watering the cactus as it's a heat pump desert up here. The plants hate me this year. I get distracted like I always do and here I am at the computer.
Outside the evening air is getting cooler and damper. We've had lots of fogs these last days as a lot of moisture has risen from the saturated clay soil and in the wee hours yesterday morning, it froze into hore frost. It looked as if it has snowed and dusted with confectioners sugar everywhere. Tonight, the dampness of the last few days of false spring end with orange lights in the western sky, and I find myself wondering if any frogs have awakened too early and are singing lonely solo's, but not tonight.
In a brutal moment, I had stepped outside the nook door and hunting down the pruners, went to the NSSG and lopped the pink butterfly bush down to a trunk. I hate I did it now, as it was a single trunk, but now I'll have hopefully more branches and I can shape the shrub to grow alongside the boardwalk. While I was down there in the light of the nook's doorway, I noticed the red twig variegated dogwood was almost non-existant, so I cut them down to the ground as well, and could see in the porch light the young shoots of leaves under the older, leathery leaves of the plants. Buds will be forming soon and I find myself tucking away another thought for later to investigate.
Thanks for allowing me to share with you these random thoughts about my passions and tangient obsessions
madgardener up on the ridge, back in Faerie Holler, overlooking English Mountain in Eastern Tennessee, zone 7, Sunset zone 36