Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lotus Blossom

'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum' lotus in bloom

'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum' has put on its first bloom--isn't it a treat? It's supposed to be heavily tinged with pink (see here), but its present pale lemon-butter color actually melds very nicely with everything else that's blooming in the pond.

'Mrs Perry D. Slocum' lotus, unusually devoid of pink

It had already dropped a petal or two in the water, causing Matt to uncharacteristically murmur, "Lotus petal, floating in the pond..." which sounds rather Eastern and poetic, but actually makes for a somewhat odd half a hiaku:
Lotus petal, float-
Ing in the pond...
Very pale 'Ellen Bosanquet' crinum

Our pondside crinum, which is supposed to be 'Ellen Bosanquet,' is also in bloom, though it too is a little off color--unusually pallid.

'Steven Strawn,' the fountain, and (in the way back) the blooming lotus

And my new fave, 'Steven Strawn' is blooming again. When water lily blossoms fade, they sink back into the water, where they take on an oddly poignant quality, like so many drowned Ophelias.

One living and two dead 'Steven Strawn' blooms

In the event that you were worried about the fish (in light of the pH weirdness), look! A fish! First one captured on... digital thingies. I actually saw at least 4 this morning (not sure how many of the orange comets I saw--they all look alike): at least 2 comets, plus Lena and Jupiter. None of them looked sulky or depressive, so I think they're all fine. Admittedly, it's hard to tell with fish.

They're hard to photograph, though, so I had to futz with the pic in Photoshop for the little fella to be visible at all. See the orange smear to the bottom right? That's him. Unfortunately, I'm not the world's most adroit Photoshopper, so now the picture's about as convincing as those photos of the Loch Ness Monster.

It's a fish! I swear!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

pH Pain & Blissfully Pink

Our new 'Steven Strawn' hardy water lily (Kirk Strawn, 1999)

What Gives, Pond?
The pond's pH problem is turning out to be more intransigent than I had expected. After discovering that the pH was 9.0, I went to one of our local pond shops and bought 3 bottles of Kent brand pH reducer. The pond folks said that 1 bottle should reduce the alkalinity of a pond our size by 1 whole point. I was to add 1 whole bottle, wait 24 hours, and re-test the water, repeating until we got down to around 7.

Well, I've used all three bottles of acid, and the pH is still 9.0. I started to wonder if maybe our pH kit was deranged just read everything at 9.0, so I tested our tap water: 8.0.

So somehow our pond is intensifying the alkalinity of the water that is added to it, possibly above 9.0 (since three bottles of acid failed to mellow the reading at all). Go figure. We haven't used any mortar yet, nor any easy cheese foam-in-a-can, and Dad says our rocks are sandstone, so I really have no idea what could be causing the problem.

I'm kind of out of patience with it. I don't want to get involved in some constant battle with the pond's own natural inclinations, having to buy and apply untold gallons of caustic chemicals and monitoring daily. That's not the point of Lake Laissez-Faire at all.

The folks at pond store #2 recommended dropping some pantyhose filled with peat in, as a gentler and more long-term solution. I'll give that a try, move the Sagittaria deeper into the shade, which may take some of the pressure off of it, and call it a done deal. As long as the fish don't go belly-up, I'm not going to spend a lot more energy on this one. If the pond is just determined to be alkaline, well, so be it.

Because There Were 6 Square Inches of Unoccupied Space

Meanwhile, my multiple trips to the pond store exposed me to this exceedingly and entrancingly lovely water lily, 'Steven Strawn.' I'm generally not wild about the color pink, but this combination of shades is awesome. Long story short: here it is, settling nicely into our pond, alkalinity notwithstanding.

Our first bloom of 'Steven Strawn'

Interestingly, 'Steven Strawn' is from the same breeder as one of our other lilies, 'Colorado' (Kirk Strawn,1994).

...and here it is again. It's a really pretty flower.

I think I've pretty much exhausted our lilyspace, though. We may actually be approaching that ideal 50-70% coverage.

In the front, maybe 'Queen of Siam,' 'Colorado' in the middle, and 'Steven Strawn' back behind the fountain

'Colorado' had a particularly nice bloom on it, as well.


Friday, June 11, 2010

The Persistent Garden

"Gardens are only temporary works of art which nature and time try ceaselessly to erase."

So I came across this striking sentence on the Sweetbay blog. It isn't how I usually think of gardens--I'm so interested in things like trees and antique roses in part because of their permanence, and part of the charm of bulbs like crinums and oxbloods is that they can persist after the the structures they were once planted around have crumbled--they're like little time capsules.

(To be fair, I think Sweetbay is more design focused than I am, so her conception of a garden is probably a lot more formal than mine. She seems to have a good bit more intentionality and nuance about what she puts in the ground than I do. I stumble across something pretty and stick it anyplace it'll fit. I figure a garden has survived if a couple of shrubs and a handful of bulbs are still with us.)

But at the same time, I'm only now coming to appreciate how much mutability is an integral part of a garden, which is part of why I was so struck by her statement. (The other reason is that it's a nice, resonant bit of epigram--it has that same sort of long, measured euphoniousness as the opening of 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'--"Thou foster-chiiiiild of Siiiilence and slow Tiiiiiime...") I think this has to do with the whole "grown up" thing. Like most kids, I used to assume that adults reached a sort of stasis by about 21 (hah!) and pretty much just plateaued for next 50-odd years. And even though I know this is complete bollocks and would be ghastly if it were true, I sometimes discover that I have failed to recalibrate some of my assumptions in light of this little epiphany.

So, for example, I'm unpleasantly surprised when I realize that a bed I went to great pains to install is too narrow or too short, or needs its major plantings dug up and replaced. So it turns out that adulthood is not about weighing your options, cogitating deeply, making the best, perfectest choice, and then living with it--like the Honeychurches' drawing room furniture in Room with a View--for the rest of your life.

As soothing as it would be to be infallible, it turns out that adulthood--and apparently garden design--is about taking your best guess, sticking a shovel in the ground, and screwing up. (Why did you plant those pink Echinacea in front of the red '4th of July' rose? Why did you give valuable rose garden space to that nameless orphan that turned out to be a totally charmless, formless magenta--ick--semi-double? Why did you make that walkway so skinny? Why are all your trees crooked? Should you have really planted that oak so close to the mutabilis? &c., &c. Arrrrgh!)

A writer named Kathryn Schulz, who is evidently also quite a good interviewer, has been doing a series for Slate on being wrong, which includes this encouraging quotation from Ira Glass: "If you do creative work, there's a sense that inspiration is this fairy dust that gets dropped on you, when in fact you can just manufacture inspiration through sheer brute force. You can simply produce enough material that the thing will arrive that seems inspired." Or, to translate into horticultural terms, keep transplanting that poor rose, and you'll eventually find a spot where it works.

But even if time & nature are eroding Sweetbay's garden, and wrongness is constantly subverting mine, sometime, every now and then, you're going to plant something strong and sturdy in the right spot and it's going to stay there for the next 100 years until someone from some future generation comes by and thinks, "Gosh, that's a nice, shady tree. I'm sure glad someone planted it here." Or "What a lovely old rosebush this is--they don't make them like this anymore." Or "These big old lilies are so fragrant--I wonder how long they've been here?" And that's good enough for me.

Future generations: feel free to admire our 'Little Gem' Magnolia grandiflora

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ohhhh... Maybe THAT'S the problem...

Skeletal leaf corpses and one desperate inflorescence on pH-sensitive Sagittaria montevidensis

Well, I think I figured out the pond's problem. I got that pH testing kit today, and the pond's got a rip-roaring pH of 9.0, the highest this little kit was able to measure. Ouch.

At the pond shop I also picked up some more goldfish. Bob & Lyn are exceedingly shy, so I'm hoping that if they travel with a larger entourage, they'll be easier to spot. Also, I'm hoping that the extra fish poop will add nitrogen.

But the plants aren't likely to get any happier till I buy some chemicals to treat the water. Ug.

In the interim, let's think about the pretty fish. (Matt, be the way, reminded me with a bit of a smirk that you're not supposed to actually buy fish from pond stores--$$$$. Well. My new fish are way handsomer than the cheapo, knockoff, Walmart fish that I could have gotten for half the price. So there.) I bought two basic orange comets, (Thor and Big Olaf), two Sarasa comets with big orange blotches on their heads (Jupiter and--the cautious one--Safety First), a white comet (Drusilla, the homely stepsister), and they accidentally gave me a white fantail (fancy!) instead of a second white comet, so I named that one Lena because it sounds pretty.

They've formed a little school of 6, but Bob & Lyn don't seem to have sent out the welcome wagon--they're off sulking by themselves. Thor & Co. appear to have taken over the sweet hangout spot under the lotus, forcing the reclusive Bob & Lyn to flee to the less desirable real estate under the tropical water lily.

Exciting times in the big city.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Macho Pond Work

After a couple weeks of adding plants and watching flowers bloom, it's back to the macho work on the pond: hauling sand and moving rocks.

Yesterday we banged in metal edging, laid and cut ground cloth, and moved the remains of our sand pile (originally purchased to create part of the pond's underlayment--note to aspiring pond-builders: 3 cubic yards of sand is too much) onto the terrace between the gazebo & the pond. Today we harvested all the spare pieces of rock we could find to cover the exposed black plastic between the water's edge and the rocks sitting on top of our little levee.

There was much manly grunting (mostly from me, I think--Matt doesn't grunt much; he just gets shit done), and much sweating, although the mornings this weekend have been in the eighties, so it hasn't been too awful.

But we've now got the foundation for a nice, spacious terrace, where we can maybe grill out, eat dinner, or lounge by the pond, when the weather is nice. I keep having second thoughts about the right side, though--should it be bigger and wider? I think maybe it needs a couple of extra feet.

The next steps are:
  1. Buy more rocks (sandstone, I think). In addition to large flat rocks for the levee and terrace, we also need rubble to fill in all the little gaps through which the plastic is visible.
  2. Use easy cheese (puffy foam) to glue levee rocks in place. Use easy cheese and rubble to fill in gaps.
  3. Lay out terrace rocks.
  4. Buy crushed granite. Will probably buy 4-5 cu. yds. just to be on the safe side. We have lots more crushed granite projects to come, so it certainly won't go to waste. Fill in spaces around flat rocks with crushed granite, making sure whole thing is level-ish.
  5. Buy & install more metal edging--this time to define beds to go around remaining exposed sides of pond.
  6. Buy a ton of topsoil (3-4 cu. yds.?) to fill in beds.
  7. Buy a ton of mulch to cover exposed dirt.
  8. Wait till fall & plant stuff.
  9. Somewhere in there, we need to get the waterfall to function without leaking.

At the same time, I've got some concerns about what's going on in the pond chemically (and that's before introducing the unknown element of easy cheese). If you look at the pic above, you'll see chlorosis and/or necrosis on:
  1. lotus
  2. tropical water lily
  3. oar plant
  4. sweet flag
  5. water poppy
  6. arrowhead (most of whose leaves are now lacy skeletons)
What gives? For the moment, I'm hypothesizing either excessively high pH or else the shock of adjusting to a new environment. Alternate possibility: insufficient nitrogen. Maybe we need more fish?

The whole thing's especially puzzling given these happy facts:
  1. Bob & Lyn Goldfish are doing just fine. They swam over to check out my legs this morning as I waded about installing stones.
  2. The lotus, waterlilies, baby Thalia, and bullrush/tubegrass are putting on new leaves at a pretty rapid pace
  3. The clover fern (Marsilia) is pretty as can be and growing ecstatically.
  4. There are flowers all over the place: pickerel, water poppies, both water lilies, Thalia, and even the traumatized-looking arrowhead.
So sometime next week I need to buy a pH testing kit and some more fish. Between the extra fish poop and whatever I end up doing about the alkalinity (presuming it's high at all), hopefully we can get the pond's foliage looking a little perkier.
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