Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm No Luddite, but Still ...

I've become quite tired of the whole "Twitter Phenomenon" apparently sweeping the nation. It seems that now every politician, celebrity, and millions of regular people are "twittering" their heads off all day long.in 140 character bursts of banality, but honestly, to what end? Mind you, I'm one of those people who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the cell phone age (and only for work purposes) ... but don't get me wrong, I'm not a Luddite, really! I was a very early adopter of most computer technology (way back in 1984) and have been amazed at how far we have come in terms of how computers can enhance and improve our daily lives. After all, I blog!

But this "Twitter Mania" is getting a little out of hand, and I view it much the same way I do the texting phenomenon -- as a supreme waste of time and effort. What's the attraction, really, of punching a tiny keyboard on a cell phone or Blackberry to send telegraphic, poorly spelled message bursts? Haven't these people ever heard of Instant Messaging Clients? I used to be a huge fan of IMing and spent many hours conversing with people from all over the world, and until I finally tired of it (or lost track of people), it was a great little technology, and still is. Hey TwitterHeads, a lot of those work on cell phones too ... so why the Twittering? As the French would say, Cela me dépasse totalement! (It's just totally beyond me!)

My entire life I've been one to avoid passing fads of all kinds, so I suppose that has something to do with it. I was a born curmudgeon and as I've gotten older, I've mellowed a lot, but still have to lash out from time to time, and coming across this amusing video from Current TV (Al Gore's channel) tonight finally made me speak up here on this subject, on my own personal creaky soapbox. (h/t to dday posting at Political Animal tonight) Take a look at this very funny cartoon (it's about 4 min long) and you can see why I decided to post it (btw, I'd be the guy in the cube on the left) ... so I wonder if this means that even the techie twenties types are starting to tire of it as well? If so, I commend them for their good sense! Anyway, click the image to watch the video....

As for my own "TwitterPhobia," I suppose I could follow my own usual advice about such things and just say ignore it all, but it's becoming increasingly harder to do that when even the regular news and politics programs I watch are featuring a "Tweet" segment (please, David Shuster, give it up! I like you dude!) and now we're seeing it pop up in such ridiculous venues as a "Twitter Interview" with John McCain ... come on! Not that I really expect anything approaching legitimate substance from the likes of him, but the whole concept is beyond weird ... it's just plain absurd.

Then there's the whole issue of the identity of the "Twitterers" ... Keith Olbermann did a piece last week on Countdown where he revealed that someone is impersonating him on Twitter and has several thousand followers (or whatever they're called). Who's to say whose "Tweets" you are really reading? Are John McCain's really posted by some staffer? (I think that might be a good bet, given that last fall he didn't know how to "Google.") Are you really privy to Paris Hilton's intimate (vacuous) thoughts? In many ways, it's an outgrowth of Instant Messaging, only more truncated ... that "HotChickDoubleD21" at the other end could well be a middle-aged, cross-dressing fat dude for all you know, so it's all a leap of possibly misguided faith after all. Caveat emptor.

Is this what communication has come down to in this brave new world of 2009? Besides the dumbing down and ruding up of people caused by cell phones over the last decade, we've gone one step further and completely reduced meaningful communication to "Tweets?" Twittering is for the birds -- literally. And should you ever hear any twittering on this blog, it will be that of the birds!

Disclaimer and an advance apology to a good blogging buddy:
I spent many years of my life mastering several languages and have the advanced degrees to prove it, so this is part of my resistance to technologies that I think "dumb down" language usage. During the numerous years I taught at the university level, I was appalled at how little regard students had for correct usage and spelling, considering it an unnecessary "nicety" of expressing themselves. Obviously, I disagreed and tried my best to convince them that how they expressed themselves in writing was indeed a demonstration of their intelligence, and with the advent of spell checkers (imperfect as they are) there was no excuse for misspelling basic words. As you might imagine, this led to much frustration, and ended up being one of the reasons I left the teaching profession, as much as I loved it. Rather than become bitter and totally disillusioned, I bailed ... for better or worse. (Well, yes, there were other reasons too, but this would have gotten to me eventually.) So there, sorry about the rant, but this little cartoon gave me hope that others out there feel similarly, so you can blame Super News for this post!

And now for the apology ... my good buddy FARFetched has had a Twitter feed on his blog for over a year or so now, and by no means do I direct any of this criticism his way, because obviously he finds some value in it, and after all, he's much more of an early adopter than I am, something I admire greatly in him. Maybe he can convince me that I'm just being grumpy about this subject....

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Snow (Crocus)!

Despite the fantastic weather we had last weekend, last week turned back chilly and cloudy again and since I last posted, it has been pretty dreary ... lots of clouds, temperatures back into 30s and 40s for highs and below freezing at night ... not a surprise, really, but still, it was discouraging after such a brilliant spring début a mere week ago! Fortunately, the sun returned Sunday and even after all the chilly nights, the snow crocus are still winding up steadily for their big show. Though we now have several different varieties in bloom out back and in the front gardens, I decided to feature Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor' in this post, just to give a better up-close look and sense of just how nicely these little troopers multiply over time. The clump in this first shot is one of several that have sprung up in the back garden (previously featured in long shot), and when they were originally planted I probably only put 1-2 bulbs in per hole, but in the past 4 years they have started to spread into small colonies, of which there are now probably about four scattered around the area. I'm not quite sure how crocus manage to move around, but they have definitely gone beyond the original area where they were planted, much to our delight.

Here's a smaller clump of 'Tricolor' that has appeared a bit removed from the one in the previous shot, however this one has a visitor! To be honest, I'd rather it have been a bee, but even flies count as insect subjects in our photography ... I'm not quite sure what attracts flies to crocus, but Fernymoss did remark that it does seem that they often can be seen visiting many of the same flowers as the bees do, and if you look really closely at this photo (click through for larger versions on all of these shots), you can see that his legs and antennae have a lot of pollen clinging to them. So even if they're not one of my favorite insects, they apparently do fulfill a few useful functions around the garden aside from providing food for the various spiders and other predators....

I guess one of the reasons I really like photographing crocus is for the many rich hues of colors you can get depending on how much sun you have to work with at a given time ... on a bright sunny day, the degrees of intensity you can get just by varying the angle of the shot can really be surprising at times. I'm always really pleased when I can get positively "sun drenched" shots that illuminate the blooms in all of their varied hues and 'Tricolor' certainly provides an excellent subject for just such shots. We have another purple variety called 'Ruby Giant' that I'm eagerly awaiting because of the intensity of its purple, paired with its pristine white center and brilliant yellow stamens ... you'll see it here when it finally starts blooming!

Here's yet another new colony out back among the Monarda (see the purplish leaves on the ground surrounding these blooms) ... I really liked how the sun caught the brilliant yellow of the stamens and the high contrast they create along with the gradations of purple in the petals ... truly, this is why I wish crocus had a longer bloom time than they do as spring ephemerals, but that's perhaps one of the reasons gardeners prize crocus so highly ... they provide such an incredibly rich variety of colors and 'wow' to the early spring garden that we might not appreciate them as much if they were to be in bloom for several months. Indeed, this is a case where absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, because once they are gone for the year, we know that it will be a long long wait before we see them again....

Ok, at the risk of burning out my audience on this particular crocus, I'm including this shot for its inadvertent catch of an insect caught in mid-flight ... s/he should be pretty easy to spot if you enlarge the photo, and if you look carefully you can even see the shadow of a leg on the flower petal below. I just love when we get fortuitous intruders in certain shots, because it seems that most times when we focus on the insects themselves they never seem to want to cooperate and pose nicely for the camera, so catching one on the wing is an event indeed!

There were other crocus blooming today that I'll be featuring soon in additional posts, so there's more to look forward to this week from Casa IVG, and though the forecast for this week is little different from last week's (chilly and cloudy) I'll be on the lookout for more splashes of color popping up around the gardens. Today's photos are courtesy of Fernymoss (my arthritis has been keeping me from getting "down and dirty" with the flowers of late, thanks to the damp and cold) so any accolades should be directed his way!

Hanna update:
We passed the 2 months mark on March 18, and Princess Hanna has definitely decided this is her home! She's even been hanging out a bit in her crate (of her own volition, I might add) off and on, so we're pleased to see her doing that because the day will come soon that we will have to leave her alone sometimes, but we still take her everywhere with us as long as we aren't gone from the car for too long and the weather isn't too nasty. She went back to the vet's on Friday for her last bordetella vaccine and to contribute her fecal sample (oh joy!), which I found out on Saturday came back positive for Giardia (a pretty common intestinal parasite in dogs), so Sunday we went back to get her one week course of medication to rid her of those nasties. The weird thing is, she is completely asymptomatic for the infection (as are many dogs I found out doing research) but is a carrier, so Dr. B recommended a course of Panacur just to make sure she gets rid of the little buggers. After that's done and she re-tests negative, I'm hoping she'll manage to stay out of the vet's office till fall when she gets her rabies vaccine renewed ... I'm sure she'll be relieved too, because she's not very fond of having her temperature taken (though she cooperates just fine) and always has a very surprised look on her face when Dr. B inserts the thermometer! Easy for me to say, eh?

After her vet visit, we did something we haven't done in a while, which is to peruse the sale tables in Blockbuster for movies we've missed and since they were having one of their big sales, we picked up several titles we've been wanting to add to the collection. So, Friday night we settled in, made popcorn, and proceeded to watch a double feature of Iron Man followed by Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, both of which we really enjoyed despite their incredibly different "genres." Though I won't attempt to give full blown reviews of either, I will say that Robert Downey, Jr. was perfect in the role and I have a hard time imagining how anyone else could have brought the depth to that kind of role that he was able to achieve. I'm really glad to see he's got his act back together and is doing brilliant work again (I also thought he was very good in Zodiac). Now if I can just work up my nerve to see Tropic Thunder ... I've been told he was quite good in that one as well but I have to admit I have Ben Stiller issues, and I generally avoid his films.

I also picked up Burn After Reading, In Bruges and W, which I have been informed I will be watching by myself because Fernymoss can't bear the idea of seeing a whole film about $hrub. There's just enough of a trainwreck loving ambulance chasing rubber-necker in me that I just have to see it. I'll let you know what I think when I get around to it ... But the real find that I spotted and was considering buying before Fernymoss snapped it up was Marjane Satrapi's 2007 (Academy Award nominated) animated feature about growing up during the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Persepolis, which I do intend to review fully soon. It's too bad that it lost out to a snooty culinary rat that year, because it's a truly remarkable film, animated or not! So, sometime soon when I've had a chance to more fully digest it (and perhaps view it again to soak more of it up), I'll be posting a review. Needless to say, I highly recommend this film, and if you're lucky as we were, you might just be able to pick it up on a sale table for $3.99! It is worth every penny and then some!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rainy Day Discoveries ...

Spring is a season full of surprises and discoveries in the garden, whether they be pleasant or less so ... but today was filled with excellent ones! As I took Hanna out when I was done working today, I glanced back at the area I've been featuring in the last few posts, and to my astonishment, I saw little masses of purple! After she was done with her end of business, we both strolled back to the corner bed to see what was going on ... lo and behold, there were several small clumps of Specie crocus 'Tricolor' just blooming away where just a day ago there were none! Apparently I had forgotten that I had planted these back there in 2005 (though Fernymoss assures me that I did) because I wasn't expecting any more crocus to be showing up there ... and, as a really pleasant bonus, I discovered yet another blue Iris reticulata in bloom! Maybe we're not such failures with these after all! Now I'm encouraged to buy more of these in the fall and try a bunch in various other places in the garden ... so perhaps my earlier discouragement was unfounded after all....

Here's a closer shot of these little charmers blooming bravely into the late afternoon on a rainy and overcast day ... unlike the yellow crocus who close up shop the minute the sun wanes, these little guys were still showing off for me, even if the light wasn't optimum for capturing their true colors ... but never fear, we have plenty of these out front as well, so you'll be seeing them in sunnier conditions sometime soon! Note the prolific Monarda (Bee Balm) surrounding these beauties ... fortunately they'll be at rest before the Monarda shoots up and shades them out completely from the sun....

We're still in the savage back corner here (we need another couple of nice days like last weekend to get this cleaned up!) where I discovered some more of our original bulb plantings from way back in 2000. At that time, we were aiming for the "natural surprise" effect of Tulips and Daffodils in apparently random spots ... silly us, that was before we discovered the real benefit of planting these bulbs in masses for a more dramatic effect! We've changed out ways and now are firm believers in group plantings of Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus and Muscari, and as the Spring progresses, we hope some of the Tulip masses will make a comeback ... it remains to be seen, but all my lamenting about the Iris reticulata seemed to do the trick, so I'm going to keep our Tulip expectations low and hope for the best!

I'm sure Gail at Clay and Limestone will immediately recognize these emerging perennials ... it's Phlox paniculata (I'm not sure what variety because this was a gifted plant from another gardener), which we've really come to appreciate over the past couple of years as it has aggressively come to dominate the back corner bed ... last year it was so prolific that it crowded out a few things we may have lost (including a couple of hibiscus), so this spring we plan on digging up quite a few of these to move to the back fence line, where we hope our neighbor won't object too much ... they're so pretty (even if they are pink!), such long bloomers and are so fragrant that we think she'll be fine with having these lining her driveway. We have great ambitions for this back bed this year, after neglecting it the past two or three years ... we want to thin out the Monarda, Phlox and Coneflowers, move our Oriental Poppies from this area and get more Hollyhocks going back here again. This will also give our Black-Eyed Susans a bit more breathing room to spread as well, so wish us well on this project! It's going to involve a lot of digging and moving plants, and some will probably go to new homes too, if there's interest in adopting some of our more enthusiastic growers....

Well, these look mighty dead don't they? Actually there's great potential for beauty hiding in these pods! For anyone who grows this plant -- Baptisia australis aka: 'False Indigo' -- these will be easy to ID, and for the uninitiated, we can't recommend this amazing perennial highly enough! They're incredibly hardy from Zones 3-9 and though they take a couple of years to get established enough to bloom, they're very carefree from that point on. Aside from their striking long stalks of blue sweet pea like flowers, they have lovely grey-green foliage that remains attractive throughout the season (we often use it as filler in bouquets) and produce these pods in late summer and fall. I've read that some people dry the pod stalks for use indoors in the winter, but honestly, unless you do something like spray paint them, or prefer black pods, we've never seen much use for them as "everlastings." We just let the seeds fall where they may, and when we find volunteers in the spring, we find them new homes to inhabit ... they are truly striking and quite dramatic when they bloom in late May or early June and every year someone inevitably stops us to inquire just what they are. We don't see a lot of these around town and wonder why, because they are such an easy plant to grow ... they just require a hard pruning in the spring (they only bloom on new wood) before the new shoots emerge ... which, by the way, look like huge stalks of asparagus! If you're not familiar with Baptisia, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted and find one a nice sunny spot in the garden. We're going to move a second year seedling to the front this spring as soon as it emerges so we can have another spectacular display out in the boulder bed....

I know, I know, these guys look pretty bedraggled don't they? But imagine you just spent the entire winter buried under nearly 5 feet of snow, covered with leaves and only got to see the light of day just recently and you might not be looking so chipper either! These are my prized Primula polyanthus, the ones I was waxing rhapsodically about last week ... though they don't look real happy just yet, look closer and you'll see there's a ton of new growth happening at the center of each clump. All they need now is some sunshine, milder weather and about another month to grow and they'll be blooming in all their wonderful jewel toned colors ... I can't wait, but guess I'll have to after all! Remarkably, these Primula tend to stay pretty green throughout the winter, even if they do look like wilted spinach. I'd venture to guess that for those of you in milder climes where the winters aren't as harsh, they would probably be evergreen throughout the winter. Their main enemy is too dry of a planting position, and I tend to pamper these during the hotter months and water them nearly every day if we're not getting regular rains. They're worth the extra effort for the show they put on every spring and sometimes even fall (when it doesn't get cold too soon).

Finally, we've come full circle from the far back corner to the front of the boulder bed where we discovered these delightful additions I planted back in 2005 ... look at the enlarged version and see if you can spot what I'm talking about ... these are Tulipa humilis v. 'Persian Pearl,' one of the many varieties of "wild" or Species Tulips. They're one of two varieties we have planted and I look forward to seeing them every year ... they're tiny dwarf tulips with every bit of the attraction of their larger cousins and make excellent additions to rock gardens or the front of a border where you want to show off something unusual and colorful ... so be patient and when they bloom you'll see them again in their full glory!

After our wonderful sunny and warm weekend, we're now heading into several rainy and gloomy days (in fact there's a thundershower going on as I write this) where it's forecast to be much cooler, with a few nights down into the lowest 30s, so that's bound to slow down the arrival of some of the other bulbs (such as those in the Woodland Garden), but unless we sustain long periods of sub-freezing weather (such as we did in 2007, which caused the great die off of many tulips and other bulbs), what's up so far should fare pretty well. At least I hope so ... one never knows with these wacky winters we've been having the past few years ... there was another huge tulip and daffodil die off again last year, though our Daffodils were spared and we had a good show ... and it seems the tulips are making somewhat of a comeback, so we're keeping all appendages crossed at this point! Of course, the chronicle will continue, so keep stopping back to see what's going on....

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Greening Up ....

It was another lovely Spring day here today, though not as warm and a bit windy, but still a far cry from our recent frigid weather! We took Hanna and ran a few errands early today, then came back to do some more clean up out front before the rainy weather predicted for the next few days moves in ... we got the rest of the dead stuff cleared yesterday bagged up for city compost and filled up the last of our bags (we're up to 8 so far!). It's amazing how fast things are progressing now ... I found a few tulips had come up literally overnight in a couple of spots, and crocus just uncovered yesterday were blooming today! Unfortunately we were both so busy that we didn't have the camera with us, so didn't get any new shots ... so these photos are from my session after work from last Thursday (3-19-09). The first shot is one of our 'Blue Princess' Hollies (Ilex meserveae), which of course is one of our few evergreen plants (unless you count the messy Blue Spruce in the back yard) ... you'll notice there are no remaining berries on it ... either the birds or other critters cleaned it out over the winter, which is just fine by us, since we have little use for them other than as Christmas decorations....

This is one of our Leatherwood Ferns in the Woodland Garden ... it's greening up nicely, but still remains prostrate which is normal until the weather warms up a bit more when it will go upright. It's the first of our many ferns to come back to life after a long winter and is a truly tough plant deserving of its tough guy name. As you can see, its companions the Maidenhair Ferns are still looking pretty crispy and won't spring back for a while ... even though they are such a delicate looking fern, they are really hardy and good multipliers in the Woodland Garden where they form a great fairy canopy every year. Our next clean up project is to get around to this side of the house and clear out the dead material ... we did get the Ostrich Plume Ferns cleared out today, but ran out of compost bags and decided to call it a day before moving on further. Since this garden is slower to wake up, we don't feel such a sense of urgency to get it cleaned up as we do in the front boulder bed....

As you can see in this shot, our little heirloom Sedum sarmentosum is already up and proliferating in the front beds and by June it will likely be in full bloom. As I chronicled last year, this used to be a plant we tried to eradicate (it was here when we got here), we finally made our peace with it and cherish it now ... it's one of those little sedums you can just yank, toss somewhere else (such as rock crevices) where it will quickly establish itself and return each year, and since we have lots of rock crevices, it comes in handy as a filler plant that will grow where others won't ... so, it's gone from being considered a pest to a valued member of the garden. Funny how things like that happen....

Now, just in case anyone was feeling puppy deprived in the last post, here are a couple of shots of Hanna playing with one of her favorite toys, her red Kong. Usually we stuff it with a few pieces of her food, some of the "Kong Stuffing" (peanut butter flavor), a little biscuit and any other treats we can pack into it. Being the quick puzzle solver she is, Hanna usually only needs about 10-15 minutes to get everything out, but then she loves to have us toss this Kong and make it bounce for her, something she never seems to tire of doing, unless, of course, it happens to land in Pepa's old bowl, which for some reason terrifies her....

Recently we have discovered a few little odd "issues" she has about things, and one of them is Pepa's bowl ... when Lacey was visiting we needed a bowl to feed her, so I was using Pepa's old bowl (which has only ever been used as a dog bowl) which we left out after she left. A week or so ago, we were tossing the Kong around for her (it has a crazy pinball type bounce to it) and it landed in the bowl. Hanna would not under any circumstances retrieve the Kong from the bowl. So Fernymoss tried sliding it across the floor to her, but the closer it got, the more terrified she got and ended up barking at it and running away from it. And now, she won't even go near this bowl, no matter what. She won't even retrieve a toy that is just close, but not in, the bowl ... we don't know whether she realizes it was someone else's bowl or if Pepa is haunting it and intimidating her, but I guess if we want her to leave something alone, we know where to put it!

Today we discovered another "issue." The garden rake! Our rake is so old that the wooden handle always gives us splinters when we use it, so Fernymoss decided to wrap it with duct tape to protect our hands and brought it into the dining room ... as he was wrapping it, Hanna was in the living room and saw the rake end moving a bit as he wrapped ... at first she had a freaked out look about it and the more it moved, the more perturbed she became, until she started barking at it and eventually ran away after Fernymoss shook it at her a couple of times just to see what her reaction would be. The longer we have Hanna, the more we realize just what a little individual she is as she reveals her idiosyncrasies! This one made us laugh a lot that she would be freaked out by a common garden implement, so now we know to tread lightly with the rakes around her ... who knew a simple rake could be so terrifying to a puppy?

But the thing with the bowl mystifies us still ... maybe she senses Pepa's presence too strongly by it (after all it was Pepa's exclusive bowl for her entire life ... I bought it at Target for her right after I got her and it has only been used as her food bowl all these years) ... but whatever the reason, it truly spooks her! If this means that Pepa is still around here constantly, that makes me feel relieved she's still with us in some form. But I'd hope that Hanna would feel more gratitude toward her (maybe she will in time) because without that dream I had with Pepa in it where she gave us permission to adopt Hanna, she very well might not have ended up living with us. But then again, maybe she's just teaching her that it's not nice to poach from another dog's bowl? Whatever the reason, it's really odd that she would develop bowl and rake phobias! Just another one of those moments I wish I could read her thoughts to find out what she's thinking! But I just haven't developed that super dog power yet....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring, Glorious Spring!

Bright Crocus and Tulips ... Spring, Glorious Spring ... It Finally Got Here!

The weather today gave us a wonderful official re-introduction to our long awaited friend Spring! We had a very busy day, starting bright and early by going to get our taxes prepared ... happy, happy, joy, joy! Actually, it wasn't that painful (both of us are getting refunds) and it's virtually done, all but for the signing and payment ... at least one less banal worry during the time we want to get kicking in the gardens. Of course Princess Hanna accompanied us on a couple of errands for groceries, so she was enjoying the going fast machine ... but our main accomplishment was getting almost all of the front boulder bed, sidewalk and the front gardens cleared out, cleaned out and raked. Some fantastic news to report: we were both seeing quite a few Tulips coming up, and to our memory more than last year, so we are cautiously optimistic they may be making a comeback..... Though we haven't yet found any bulbs coming up in the Woodland Garden, that's not surprising because it always stays coolest there and they usually arrive later than those planted further in front or the parking.

Today's photos were taken by Fernymoss ... You'll notice I changed the header photo again ... it now displays a Crocus that is actually blooming at this time ... The same variety you see in these first shots is called Specie crocus 'Dorothy' and was planted way back in 2005 when we really worked ourselves and planted hundreds of bulbs we had ordered, the same year we planted the 200 Tulips, 100 Spanish Squill and a bunch of Daffodils, Hyacinths, Alliums and Crocus. Many of the bulbs planted that year are now starting to spread nicely, especially these 'Dorothy' planted in the back with the snowdrops. We'll be seeing more of the progress of the rest of that year's class over the coming weeks and are looking forward to the show, given the number of bulbs coming up we uncovered or discovered today, which is only the start!

Golden chalices filled with sunshine ... that's what this shot evokes for me. A view you can only get if you're willing to get down, up close and personal with your crocus ... it's essential, I think, if only because their yearly visit is so brief, indeed ephemeral. Yet, they're such a deceptively complex flower when examined up close. To me, the outstanding features of this Crocus, aside from the brilliant gold accentuated by sunshine, are its hardiness (zones 3-9) and those dramatic stripes on the outside of the petals. And the nice bonus is that this Crocus naturalizes readily, and quite rapidly. As you'll see in the following shots, it has spread quite nicely in this part of the back corner bed.

These Crocus and Snowdrops are clearly establishing colonies in this bed, where they were originally planted on the periphery ... they've moved inward a bit, as you'll see in successive shots. At first glance, I missed the "baby" in this shot ... further proof that the colonies are reproducing nicely. You go, Crocus!

Here's a bit wider view of two small colonies of Galanthus elwesii and 'Dorothy' not far from the parent planting but moving inward ...in the forest of Monarda and Coneflower stalks, and if you look closely at the enlarged image, you can see the Monarda 'Blue Stocking' (purple) already up and growing ... in fact, the Monarda all around Casa IVG is already up and growing, despite the recent cold weather. After all, it is a member of the mint family, and one doesn't get rid of those easily! We make major exceptions for this one, however!

This is obviously the parent planting of the Snowdrops in this area of the garden, and it sure looks like things have gotten crowded enough that some have set off to establish homes elsewhere in the area, much to our delight ... the more the merrier as far as early spring bulbs are concerned!

Let's go a bit wider in this area to get some more perspective on these plantings and colonies ... now you can see how they've moved around a bit over the years ... naturalizing is what it's all about for me when it concerns bulbs ... yes, they're a lot of work to get started, but if one is patient over the following years, that's when the reward really starts to pay off. Of course, any perennial gardener already knows this, but I think it's worth reminding ourselves about this at times, especially when it relates to early Spring bulbs!

Despite my recent laments about the spotty performance of Dwarf Iris in our gardens, three of them have managed to sneak above ground since I last visited this area with the camera on Thursday! What a great surprise to find when we ventured to the back garden today! They came up remarkably quickly (I didn't see them on Thursday!) and have bloomed apparently the last two days, testimony to their ephemeral nature, as the one that looks purple is already a spent bloom ... the blue is fresh and current. These are such incredible little flowers, but I still wonder about expending much time, money and energy into growing them, given their spotty hardiness for us so far. We'd love to have a great mass of them ... but don't want to have to be planting them every year, so again, if anyone has great success stories to share about growing these Iris, please let us know. We'd love to be able to count on seeing them every year!

All in all, it was a great first Spring day here at Casa IVG ... the front beds got cleaned up and are sprouting all sorts of plants (including dandelions!) and the big wind up to Summer is starting with our earliest bulbular friends' (imminent) appearance. By this evening, all three of us were exhausted from today's work after dinner and conked out in our respective nesting places (recliners and couch) for a good portion of the night, so no Saturday Cinema here this week. But we all had more than sufficient fresh air, sunshine, warmth and work to wear us out, and when you add in a big dinner, it's easy to see why we all conked out for a while!

I think we're all contented with the arrival of Spring and all we got done today ... but it's going to be that yearly adjustment to the season (e.g. work and fresh air makes you sleepy!) that will send us into the full swing for the next few months in terms of planting. Weather permitting, we hope to get some more clean up done tomorrow, and perhaps even some seed planting ... we'll see how it goes, since the next few days are being forecast as fairly rainy. No matter what, we had some great flowers blooming on this, the first day of Spring! Let's hope old snow has finally been sent packing!

Friday, March 20, 2009

More Bulbs Are Starting to Pop Up ...

Today wasn't as warm as earlier this week, but at this point, even a sunny day with a temperature of 54 seems balmy! So I quit work at 4:30 and headed outside to survey our messy garden that's definitely starting to wake up ... even though I tied Hanna to her long lead in the backyard, she certainly seemed to enjoy the late afternoon sun while I strolled about the gardens ... except for that chattery evil tree rat that tormented her from the spruce. Actually I was amazed she didn't bark at it because it's already clear that she has no tolerance for such vermin! They better be on notice, because she's quick enough she may just nail one some day soon and that won't be a pretty sight (for the tree rat)!

Though these first few photos may look a bit like reruns, they actually have new flowers popping up in them ... this is the same area in the far back garden where the first snowdrops and crocus have appeared, but now you can see that additional clumps of both have sprung up since we last visited this area. Those crocus have definitely been moving around a bit, as have the snowdrops, so just click through to the larger version and let your eyes wander and find the splashes of gold and white ... also note the increasing numbers of Monarda (Bee Balm) starts coming up ... I think this will have to be the year that we thin this patch out! We have both the deep red and purple ('Blue Stocking') planted together out here and with all of the Phlox Paniculata (Pink) that took over back here last year, this corner is in serious need of some thinning. As for the Monarda, we'll probably just give it away to interested gardeners, and our tentative plan is to dig a lot of the Phlox and move it along to our back fenceline and hope it doesn't offend our neighbor, but we hope she wouldn't object because when it blooms, the scent around it is just delightful!

Here's a closer view of the same area, and I think I can spy some other things breaking ground here ... I hope one of them is that blue dwarf Iris! We would be two very happy gardeners to see it reappear this year, despite our doubts ... you'll be sure to see it here if it does!

Out front, the snowdrops are finally, slowly, showing up ... this is a shot of the Primrose bed by the front steps, complete with the "Round Tuit" that Shady Gardener gifted me with during her visit last summer (thanks again, Shady!). There are only about 4-5 Snowdrops in this bed, but I'd like to add more ... the ones that are here ended up getting planted because they were dug up inadvertently from other positions and I didn't want to lose them, so I put them toward the front of this bed where they are multiplying slowly.

I could see today that the Primroses are greening up and pushing up through the leaves, so this weekend, I plan to carefully rake out this bed to give them more air and sun ... I'm anxious to get a handle on just how many we have this year because last year they had practically doubled in number from the previous year and that would be a fantastic discovery to make again this year! I've been toying with the idea of ordering more from Spring Hill Nursery, which was the original source for these Primula polyanthus hybrids, which have been the only Primroses I've ever had any degree of success in growing. They're not cheap (3 for $12.99), but they're pretty foolproof as long as you pamper them a bit during the dry months and these have even been known to produce a brief flush of re-blooms in the fall as long as the hard freeze doesn't come too early. They're hardy from zones 3-8 (yes, Boran2, you could grow these!), and aside from needing a
partial to shady position in moisture retentive humus rich soil and some watering during dry periods, they're very hardy and these hybrids have multiplied pretty rapidly for me. This will be their fourth year here this Spring.

I fell in love with Primroses over 30 years ago during my first trip to France in 1978, where in the spring one sees these planted in huge masses in public gardens and many people also buy them on the streets to grow in windows and balconies ... seeing a mass of these planted by the hundreds, all blooming simultaneously is truly a beautiful sight! When I made my first hike in the Pyrenees (near Andorra) that spring, I also saw them growing wild and profusely everywhere (the "Cowslip" variety) and I still have a project I did for my exchange program --a notebook of dried mountain wildflowers-- that contains a yellow primrose I collected ... along with other flowers of Le Midi such as the famed Violettes de Toulouse, the native flower from my home base at the time. Little did I expect at the time that one day I'd own a home where I'd be striving to make them happy enough to bloom for me! It may have taken me a few years, but I'm glad I finally made it....

These next two shots are the first two snowdrops to show up in our "original bulb bed" that we started 10 years ago (yes, these were Martha Stewart bulbs, lol!) and are usually the first to appear, but this year this bed was piled high with so much snow over the winter it must have really frozen things down deep because even the many crocus in this bed haven't shown themselves yet, but won't be much longer I hope, because there are some real beauties planted here! I think I'll give this a light raking this weekend as well just to get the leaves off of the ground to encourage the ground to warm up a bit quicker ... aren't these two "twins" cute together nodding in the same direction?

This one had actually "speared" a leaf on its way up from beneath the ground, and it's funny, because though I had taken a (not so great) shot of this same flower while I was out, once Fernymoss got home from work, he grabbed the camera and took a few photos as well (he took these two) and he removed the leaf! Galanthus elwesii is a determined little flower and though it may take its time to show up, when it does, it's not going to let something like a leaf keep it from doing its floriferous duty! Now, if the rest of the crocus would just get busy and spear a few leaves of their own, I'll be a happy gardener!

This is actually an inadvertent puppy picture! The real subject of this shot was supposed to be one of our Chives plants in the little herb bed behind the house, but Hanna decided to walk into the frame just as I took it. So far the chives are the only thing that have come back to life, but there are also several varieties of Sage and some Thyme planted back here ... we'll also probably have some volunteer Cilantro and Basil as well because I let some of them go to seed last summer with just that in mind. It's good to see the chives back up, not only because I like to use them in cooking, but if you've ever grown them you know how pretty the flowers can be when they bloom in the spring, just one more reason to have them in the garden! One of many....

There are other things breaking ground here now that I saw today and I'll have another post sometime this weekend showing what I've discovered ... we also plan on spending some time doing clean up (it's supposed to be in the mid-50s this weekend) in the garden, so I'm sure we'll discover a few other Spring surprises ... just one more day until the solstice! It's about time!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gradually Greening Up ...

The real warm up finally started happening today! We hit 72 this afternoon and I was able to open some windows to let in the fresh spring-ish air and the furnace hasn't kicked on all day ... I'm ready for lots more weather like this after this past winter! And ... *drumroll* ... I spotted the first golden crocus in bloom today!! By the time I finished work and was able to get out with my camera, unfortunately they had closed up for the day. But, in the meanwhile, those naturalized clumps of Snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) I posted recently are doing quite well, despite the return to frigid weather right after they first started opening up ... fortunately, no harm was done by those several near zero nights we had last week. I was a little worried there for a couple of days because they didn't look happy at all in the cold, but they looked quite perky today....

Here's the same clump as above, but now you can see where the clump of golden Crocus is in relation to the Snowdrops ... unfortunately I was only able to get out about 5:30 (after work) so they had closed up for the day, but click through to the larger photo and check out the neat stripes on the petals of this particular variety ... they're quite striking. I'll try to get out sometime during the afternoon tomorrow when they're open to get some better shots ... You can also glimpse a bit of some of the other three clumps of Snowdrops behind the largest one ... they have spread out quite a bit over the years and it's a good thing they bloom so early, because in a mere month or so, they would be completely obscured by the purple and red bee balm among which they grow. In fact if you look really hard (and know what you're looking for) you can see that the Bee Balm is already starting to come up in spots. Now it's time to get out and clean out the beds so we're hoping the weather holds up through the weekend (supposed to be in the low 50s then) so we can get started on clearing out the brown out front and rake a bit so we can throw down some seed that needs to get out early....

Here's a closer shot of those crocus (click to enlarge and see the stripes!) ... if I recall correctly, these are the only crocus in this area of the garden, but I may yet be surprised ... the majority are out front in the parking, along the walk and in the main beds, where so far, there are no signs of them appearing. But this is one of the sunnier areas of the gardens and is where the bulbs always first make their appearance....

Nice patch of muddy looking dirt, eh? Look closer (enlarge to see) ... there should be Crocus coming up here (just planted last fall) but none have appeared yet, but something is stirring in the ground! If I'm not mistaken --and Fernymoss planted some larger bulbs here-- this would be one of the 5 new peonies we planted in this area last year! It seems unusually early to be seeing peonies breaking ground, but odder things have happened in the garden before. I looked for signs of other peonies in the usual places and didn't see any yet, but there's a lot of leaves and detritus to get cleaned up ... but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Bleeding Hearts are starting to come up, because they are protected by the house and usually start growing pretty early on. Now I'm starting to get excited about Spring growth ... because when it finally does get going every year, it seems like every day there's something new to discover ... I'm going to take a closer look tomorrow after work, so I may have some more news to report.

At least I've seen my first Crocus of the season and know there will be hundreds more to appear soon ... I hope that little Iris I posted yesterday reappears, but I have my doubts, so Iris, go ahead really make my day!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Don't get too excited just yet ... these are photos from last Spring (early and mid-April), previews of coming attractions if you will ... but I'm cautiously optimistic that the real show may start sometime this week. We have a real warm up forecast for this week, with temperatures up into the low 70s for Monday, the 60s and 50s for the rest of the week, and as long as there's ample sunshine, this should encourage our early spring bulbs to start performing. At least I hope so! Our basket of bulbs has long since faded and the couple of clumps of snowdrops we currently have just aren't enough yet! I'm more than ready to start shooting my Crocus close ups, Mr. DeMille.....

This first shot is one of our ever dwindling, but lovely, dwarf Iris ... years ago we planted about 20 of these in various spots in the garden and though they are reputed to be hardy to our zone, they have gradually disappeared over the years, much to our disappointment. They are truly a Spring Ephemeral, because when they do show up and bloom, they rarely last much more than a week before vanishing. I wonder if the two that showed up last year out back (by the snowdrop clumps featured previously) will return this year ... I hope so, but given their history at Casa IVG, that's far from a sure thing. They certainly are beautiful aren't they? We'd like to try more of them, but given their track record, we wonder whether they are worth the effort and expense ... there seem to be certain plants that just refuse to grow for us (Hardy Cyclamens for example!), but if you've been successful with these Dwarf Iris, please let us in on the secret, because we'd love to have them around in masses!

This Giant Dutch Crocus ('Pickwick') should look familiar ... it's the same variety that came planted in the bulb basket we got for Valentine's Day and I shot these as they were beginning to open last April 13. We have small groupings of this variety sprinkled about in the front garden, mixed in with other varieties ... in the coming weeks, I hope to be able to capture lots of "bouquets" to share with my readers as the Spring show really gets into gear around here. We're hoping this year will be especially colorful with all the (300) new crocus Fernymoss planted last fall, along with the other new bulbs and of course, our old reliables. We're hoping for a miraculous resurrection of our tulip stock, but that may just be wishful thinking, given how few returned last year, but where we lost over a hundred tulips, other gardeners lost masses of Daffodils and ours were unfazed, so we hope they have been busy naturalizing and will be back bigger and better than ever!

I don't recall exactly what this variety of Crocus is called, but it's one of the snow crocus mix we've planted twice (in 2005 and 2008), and for want of a better name, I just call them "Butter Crocus" because they have such a luscious buttery color to them. So far they've been excellent little naturalizers and this particular clump has grown from a single bulb planted back in 2005, so I'm anxious to see how many friends they bring back with them this year ... I have these planted in several spots with other colored Crocus and they look great in with some of the purple or tricolored ones, and as you can see here, they look lovely all by themselves as well!

Now I can definitively identify this particular Giant Dutch Crocus, it's "Jeanne d'Arc" and despite its simplicity, I think it's a really pretty flower ... the only thing I could criticize is that they seem particularly delicate and often succumb to high winds by losing their petals much more easily than the other Giant Crocus, so when they bloom, you have to really enjoy them while you can. Given the often gusty and even violent winds we get in March and April, they are often the first victims of weather events. But they are lovely additions to Crocus plantings and look especially striking mixed in with the purple and golden varieties ... again, we have these scattered here and there out front so look forward to seeing more of them as Spring progresses ... provided it arrives on time!

As I was perusing the archives preparing this post, I ran across this shot that I thought I'd throw in just for fun ... these are the initial shoots of one of our more unusual plants we have in the Woodland Garden. For regular readers, this will probably be obvious, but I'll just call it a "mystery plant" for now, in case there are any uninitiated viewers of this plant still out there. Of particular note is the multiple shoots coming up around the base of this plant, and I think we counted at least 5 that came up and leafed out last season, so we're wondering if we'll get multiple blooms from them this year, and if we do, wow that will be spectacular! If you already know what this plant is, I'm sure you're just as excited at that possibility as we are! In any case, we'll all know sometime in June, around the time the peonies bloom....

And now for the puppy portion of this post! Hanna had quite the active weekend that started with her first visit to the vet late Friday afternoon ... we had thought that she was completely up to date on her vaccinations, but found out that she needed a couple of boosters and a heartworm test, so we had those done while she got her first exam from Dr. B. Her overall exam was excellent and she's in excellent health, which was a relief to hear from Dr. B. We also had her vaccinated for bordatella ("kennel cough") as a precaution since she had suffered a bout of that while we were waiting to adopt her, and Dr. B said that smaller breeds like her were particularly susceptible to kennel cough, so she had her first dose and goes back in two weeks for the second dose, after which she'll be totally up to date. Everyone at the clinic thought she was a charming little pup and quite spirited (she was quite vocal about some of the other dogs coming and going in the office, which embarrassed us a bit!), but she cooperated quite well and made a positive impression I think....
Today Hanna got to make another trip to Petco which she thoroughly enjoyed because she got to peruse the toy aisles, and though she didn't get to pick this new one out herself, she has been really having fun with it since we got home. We've realized that we have to get the toughest rubber toys for her because otherwise she just destroys regular squeaky toys way too fast and the tough stuff is what suits her at this point where she still wants to chew on things. Fortunately, she does limit her chewing to her own toys and not other things, but we really have to pick out things that she can really abuse without too much damage. As you can see, this "spiny bone" has little pockets for hiding treats, so of course we had to try those out with her tonight ... as with her Kongs, it only took her about 15-20 miinutes to get the treats out ... she has an uncanny way of figuring out these puzzles quickly and getting to the goodies, but even after getting the treats she spent most of the evening playing with her new toy as you can see in these two shots. So she now adds this to her two Kongs and the "tickle bone" she plays with daily, along with the "invincible chain" we use to play tug of war with her, but have to take away when done because she tries to demolish it and eat it ... good for play time, but it goes up when we're done so she's not ingesting bits of rubber. This little dog has some powerful jaws!

We also got her a crate today ... regretfully, I must say, but when the few times we've had to leave her alone, she has gotten into trouble by herself, so for her own good (and ours) we got a crate to put her in when we can't take her with us or I have to be gone during the day. I have to go to work meetings a few times a month and am gone for several hours and last week when I was gone for about 3 hours, she made quite a mess of the house by spreading potting soil (from some dead plants) all over the downstairs and chewing up a cardboard box ... that was the final test for trust (she failed), so today we got a crate we have set up in the dining room and so far she seems fine with going in and out of it ... we'll see how she reacts when we have to put her in it when we can't take her with us ... hopefully when she's a bit older and wiser, we won't have to resort to this tactic. But it's clear that she's familiar with being crated before, so she may not object too much ... we'll find out! Such are puppy challenges and as easy as Hanna has been so far, we realize that we still have to work with her on establishing trust when we're gone... it all goes along with having a terrier (mix) and if I were to recount some of Pepa's early exploits, they'd far eclipse what Hanna has pulled so far ...but then, she turned out so very well, so it's just a matter of getting through the 'ornery' phase, and Hanna is doing very well so far! I'd say give her a year or so and we should be able to skip the crate ... but we'll see! In any case, she's here to stay. She's been such a great addition to the family, we couldn't see not having her around ... we just have to accommodate the puppy phases! And for anyone who has ever had a terrier, this probably sounds familiar ... Pepa was a holy terror the first year or so and Hanna has yet to equal those exploits, so we're confident she'll be fine in the long run ...after all, she was Pepa approved (in my dream) so I'm not going to worry about it!

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Snowdrops Have Finally Arrived!

Some tentative signs of spring have finally arrived in our neighborhood ... at least the first snowdrops have broken the ground! Actually these clumps (in the far back garden where it's much sunnier than out front) first emerged on February 25 (the first two shots) and were promptly buried again by snow and then that torrential rain-hail event we had the day after that. But, true to their tough reputation, they persevered and are now entering into full bloom.
This first shot shows the flowers just breaking through the surface and beginning to unfold their leaves .. I first thought these might be crocus, but closer examination revealed that no, these were indeed Snowdrops. This particular clump has migrated a bit from the original planting and appears to be doing quite nicely spreading out around the area. We're glad to see them gradually forming more small drifts of flowers each spring, which is precisely what we wanted them to do over time. These were some of the very first bulbs we planted over 8 years ago and every year we're thrilled to see them arrive and bring more of their friends with them, because where Snowdrops are concerned, the more the merrier! We'd love to plant several more big masses of them, but for some reason, Snowdrops are a very pricey bulb for such a small flower ... averaging just under a dollar a piece, which seems inordinate to me, but hey I don't set the prices. Maybe one of these days we'll find a mega sale on them and we can plant them everywhere, but for now, we just have 3 areas where they grow, out back where these are, in the Primrose bed and a few in our original bulb bed by the sidewalk. Fernymoss told me today that the ones out front are just beginning to come up, so I should have photos of those soon!
Here's the more developed clump ... as you can see the flowers are just beginning to emerge from their stems ... then nasty weather hit for two days (Snow, Rain, Hail!) and I was afraid to go check on their progress (besides it was like a lake in the backyard!) until late last week.
Friday I could tell from the window that they were indeed blooming now, so after work I headed out (swamp and all) and took some pictures ... They're coming along quite nicely now! I'm glad to see them finally arrive, and given the chilly weather we're due to have this week, I think they'll stick around for a while. Snowdrop blooms can last quite a while as long as the weather doesn't turn off hot (fat chance of that here right now!), so they should be around long enough to join the crocus when they finally get going, so look forward to much more of them together.

Honestly, I'm getting really impatient for the crocus to appear! Both of us have been scouring areas of the gardens where they will come up and haven't seen a single sign of them yet ... I think it's going to take a few days of really nice, sunny weather to spur them along, but when they pop, we're looking forward to a veritable explosion of crocus!

And yes, I'm a bit antsy about that ... I've had more than my fill of winter and all its "bugs" that have been hitting me all winter long! Last Tuesday-Thursday I was hit with yet another intestinal bug that gave me intense and very painful stomach cramps along with everyone's favorite, vomiting as well. Tuesday and Wednesday night were miserable and I could hardly sleep at all and it was Friday night before I had much solid food other than saltines and toast, but finally I was able to work my way back to some scrambled eggs. Oddly enough, at some indeterminate point on Friday afternoon, I suddenly felt all better, so apparently that particular nasty bug finally decided to exit my system. Thanks for leaving, and please don't come back will ya? It seems like I've had every single thing that has come through town this winter and have been sick off and on since Christmas, and I think I deserve a break! Anyway, I hope you helped yourself to the cheese while I whined there....
Ok, excuse me, but I still can't resist precious puppy moments ... here's Hanna from Friday night as we were watching John Waters' A Dirty Shame ... obviously this one didn't capture her interest any more than Wallace and Gromit the previous week. I guess she's just not a movie dog, though she has shown some interest in The Dog Whisperer and a few Animal Planet shows we've watched recently, mostly because they had barking dogs in them, I think. But then she had played really hard with Lacey several times Friday night and I think at the point I took this shot, they had both been played out and Hanna didn't even twitch when I took a whole series of her ... she was totally out to lunch, curled up in a ball and didn't move until we got ready to head upstairs....Actually she pulled a funny stunt last night after she got all wound up playing with Lacey (who then tired and quit playing) ... she started tearing around the room at breakneck speed, running behind all the curtains, couch and furniture multiple times before sailing across the living room toward the couch ... she made a minor miscalculation in jumping and rammed head on into the base of the couch! She paused briefly, as if saying, "I meant to do that!," then jumped up on the couch and curled up. We were both cracking up because it was such a classic cartoonish moment, one that made me think of Pee Wee Herman on his bike. It's moments like those that make us savor every silly puppy moment she gives us ... she's such a happy energetic pup who really knows how to live in the moment. I think in that respect she has a lot to teach us. It's rarely a dull moment with Hanna around!

Well, Lacey went home today and it's much quieter (and oddly more spacious) around here now. I'm sure Lacey is home now, relishing the peace and quiet without a crazy puppy pestering her to play at every instant ... she's such a patient and loving dog. I do think the two of them did bond somewhat over the week or so we had Lacey around and by last night they were even snuggling up together briefly, but the best thing was that there were no spats or too much jealousy exhibited. We're just hoping that Hanna filed away those good puppy tips Lacey had to pass on to her ... I think she will. She's a great little dog with a good start and learns so fast that we have really high hopes for her ... we just have to keep her busy and stimulated. Which reminds me, it's about time to play "find the treats" again ... it's a game we used to play with Pepa and Rolly ... very simple actually ... the dog must leave the room while we go around and plant bits of dog food in the room, out in plain sight, but odd places (windowsills, baseboards, ledges, etc.) then let Hanna back in, tell her to find the treats and she gets busy! The last time we played with her, it took her about an hour to find all the pieces (there were a lot) but she was a happy pup when she finished!

Now a few words about A Dirty Shame ...
Our Friday night dinner and a movie was purely escapist and frivolous, as only John Waters can deliver ... so this week's choice was easy ... when everything else sounds blah, delve into the Waters! I know many of you may not be familiar with John Waters, other than perhaps Hairspray, but he's been an obsession of mine for many years ... I've followed every film of his since Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs and the infamous Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble since the late 1970's. I've watched with fascination how he's morphed into more "mainstream" filmmaking over the years with films such as Polyester, Hairspray, Cry Baby and Pecker, and have generally been pretty approving of these works, even if they strayed pretty far from his original radical épater le bourgeois ("outrage the bourgeois") type trash fests. With a couple of exceptions I find somewhat questionable, Serial Mom, Cecil B. Demented, I love his entire trashy oeuvre. (Did you know William S. Burroughs gave him the moniker of "Pope of Trash?")

Now, Waters' films are not for everyone. In fact they generally aim to offend, outrage and make you laugh at the absurdity of we silly humans. No obsession is spared, no fetish or foible is spared ... Waters lays it all out for ample mockery. If all you've seen is Hairspray (hopefully the Waters non-musical version), there's a whole world behind all of that awaiting you, and it's not always pretty, but it's funny as hell.

So ... it was with slavering anticipation that I awaited the arrival of A Dirty Shame back in 2004. Alas, this film got such a pitiful release (only in big cities) that it never made it to Des Moines, or else no one would book it, I'm not sure which. That was a pity, because this is perhaps the funniest Waters film in about 30 years, and is, in many ways, a throwback to his earlier, trashier and more jubilant films. I've always wondered if he had this idea filed away somewhere from way back because it seems like such a fit for his regulars such as Divine, Edie Massey, Mink Stole and the rest of the Dreamland crew of yore ... but no matter, how he finally brought this to the screen is brilliance. Casting the likes of Tracey Ullmann (that woman can do no wrong!), Johnny Knoxville and Chris Isaak, it had to be good!

The plot, quite simply, relates the war between the "sex addicts" and the "neuters," who engage in battle in modern day Baltimore, centering around the tawdry "Pack n'Sack" convenienence store run by Ullmann and Isaak. One morning, as Sylvia Stickles (Ullmann) heads to the store, she runs out of gas, gets out of her car and is whacked on the head by a passing vehicle, which leads a to life changing moment ... at that point she becomes a sex addict who is rescued by Ray Ray (Knoxville) and introduced to a whole new life diametrically opposed to her humdrum sex negative life. What follows is a compendium of sexual perversions and fetishes as we meet the various denizens of the sex addict community, all to hilarious results. Even Waters admits he doesn't think some of these are for real, but he just had to include them for comic effect.

So if you've ever been wondering what "Yodeling in the canyon" is, or a "double decker" or what a "plate job" is, this is the film that will reveal the answers for you. I've omitted a few of the more unsavory references (well, quite a few of them!) but this should give you a flavor of what's in store. It's all in good natured Watersian fun and if you approach this film with the right attitude, it should be a lot of fun (we got our requisite bellyaches of laughs as always). Obviously, if you have kids around the house, make sure they're fast asleep unless you want to be answering uncomfortable questions for quite some time! "Daddy, why is that guy eating dirt?" "Why is that man dressed up like a baby?" "Why is that woman's crotch burning?"

Thankfully, dogs don't ask those kinds of questions.

Monday, March 02, 2009

More Bulbular Delights

After all the weather excitement of the other day, this weekend ended up being pretty quiet ... we did get an inch or so of snow from that storm Friday night (much less than predicted) and it's been pretty cold still, but nothing too dramatic. Just Ole Man Winter overstaying his welcome (as if he really ever had one!) a bit too long. And March entered quietly, if cold ... so who knows what that portends for the rest of the month. I'm still battling the residual effects of the double whammy flu-then-cold I had all February and wasn't worth much (again!) this weekend. Neither one of us has really been able to shake this persistent bug we've had and quite frankly, I'm quite tired of spending what little time off I have feeling lousy! Anyway, at least I awoke today to a cheery sight downstairs ... the tulips (which have been budding the past few days) opened up to their full glory today! The Hyacinth and Squill have been open a few days now ... perfuming the room nicely ... but the tulips were a real eye opener, and though there are still two more budding, the first three are quite lovely don't you think?
Fernymoss took these shots this morning as the sun was pouring into the kitchen and was able to really capture some firepower from the tulips. They're really a great shade of red, and have yellowish interiors and though they're a bit small, probably because they've been forced, they'll look fabulous once they're established out in the front garden! As you can see, the Narcissus have done their thing and the Crocus are now just a memory, but we should get at least another week or so out of the tulips, hyacinth and remaining white squill. I gave them a light feeding a week or so ago, and as soon as they are done, we'll just let them die back naturally and water lightly until the foliage is ready to go. Then we'll find them a nice spot out front where we can plant the whole arrangement when the ground thaws (if it ever does!) later this spring and hope for the best next year.... No matter what, we've really enjoyed having them brighten the house even during this brief period ... though they were a bit pricey, they were well worth it! Oh, and the Primrose I have in the kitchen window has stopped blooming for the moment, but is doing quite well with the sun it gets there, so it should be able to hang in there until it can join its cousins out in the primrose bed by the steps....
Well, little Princess Hanna has been getting used to having a visitor around the past few days (until March 9) ... Fernymoss' parents are on a trip so we have their wonderful big girl Lacey staying with us! Lacey is a fantastic dog, just sweetness and obedience personified, and we're hoping she'll pass on plenty of "good dog tips" to Hanna while she's here. Lacey is only eight, but really graying quickly (as you can see in the photo below) and I swear that every time I see her she has gotten grayer! No matter, she is still a pretty lively dog for her age and is a joy to have around the house, and sometimes she's so quiet that it's easy to forget she's even here! We think she finds Hanna a bit of a "pawful" because she is so insistent on wanting to play with her, but when Lacey's in the mood to play, she's been really accommodating and she and Hanna have had some vigorous wrestle and snarl (all in play) sessions. But when Lacey's done, she just sits down and refuses to play anymore and that's when we have to call Hanna off. But being the good pup she is, she cooperates and calms down quickly, and then both of them usually take a nap to rest up for the next round....
Here we have the two girls posing by the table in the dining room ... I like this shot because it gives a much better idea of just how small Hanna is in comparison to other dogs ... of course Lacey weighs about 100 pounds and is one hefty girl (whereas Hanna weighs less than 20 pounds!) but Hanna could care less ... she loves playing with the big dogs. She may be small, but she's in no way intimidated by the big dogs! It will be interesting to see how she does with Lacey here for an extended visit ... she has shown a bit of mild territorial "pique" at first and of course is jealous of any attention Lacey gets (which is plenty), but we figure she'll just have to get over herself, as her place at the pinnacle of the house here is well assured. We think it's just a good step in her continuing socialization with other dogs that will pay off in the future. After all, she is still a puppy and learning every day, but thanks to her foster mom, she has a great start on becoming the really great dog she has every indication of being ... and we're learning along the way as well, so the experience is good for all of us!
Over the past 6 weeks we've had Hanna with us, we nicknamed her "Hanna the flying banana" because of the way she positively sails around the house when she's wound up ... she can go airborne in an instant and when she goes up the stairs she usually skips the last 3 and flies right into the upstairs hall. So, when I took this shot (while she was on my lap!), I immediately envisioned her sailing through the air with her ears pinned back. She's quite the jumper and several times today I saw her jump higher than Lacey ... she's a real "boing boing" cartoon type dog who can go vertical in a heartbeat, and though it's fun to watch, it's something we know we have to work with her on, because not everyone likes having a dog flying through the air at them! But for the moment we are enjoying her displays of exuberance and to her credit, she does tend to limit them to greetings and being told it's time for "walkies" so we're being indulgent for now. I'm sure that as she matures more, she'll learn when it's ok behavior (Pepa did eventually, and when she was young she was an amazing jumper too... even into her later years) and mellow out a bit.

I think we're all just getting impatient for Spring to arrive and going a bit stir crazy being inside all the time ... I know I am! We can't wait for warmer weather to arrive for real because we have some great activities planned for Hanna ... we've decided that since she likes to jump so much, we'd work with her on some basic agility activities such as jumping the hoop and perhaps going through a tunnel ... we'll have to improvise (I've priced the equipment and it's expensive!) a bit, but we don't have any intentions of having her compete, we just want to help her burn off the puppy energy and have some fun! Fernymoss has even dreamed up a way to make a course of "weave poles" for her using bamboo stakes, so we'll see what we can come up with to make the back yard an agility course for her. She's got the potential to excel at agility, so we might as well take advantage of that while she's young and in her formative days.... And as a final aside, she recently had her first encounter with a bunny in the back, and she was NOT amused. If she hadn't been on the leash, who knows what that bunny would have experienced! True to terrier/corgi form, she will not suffer rodents gladly ... which is something we're happy to see in her. After all, that's something that has bonded terriers with humans for centuries ... the instinct to go after vermin, and it's a strong instinct we shouldn't (and probably can't) discourage. At least the bunnies are on notice from now on out that even if Pepa is gone, they're not in the clear!

A final movie plug: Friday night we introduced Hanna to Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, mostly because we love that movie so much and we were curious as to what she'd think of it. Well, for Hanna it was pretty much a snooze-a-thon, but we enjoyed it as always! That film is so much fun on so many levels and every time we watch it, we get more of the the "in jokes" built into the script and background details. After all, you have to love a movie devoted to gardening and vegetables and battling bunnies ... and for me, the best smile comes from having a vegetable merchant named "Harvey's" with a giant carrot as their sign. I'm sure that kids under "a certain age" don't get the humor, but the reference to one of my favorite movies of all time always does it for me! If you haven't seen Wallace and Gromit, put it on your list and get ready for a veg-tastic time at the movies ... it's that good!