Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pond Pump and Iris

In what is obviously a Christmas miracle, today I accidentally came across two pieces of documentation that I really needed and thought were lost forever:

(1) Our current pond pump's capacity is (a puny) 560 gph.  It's a "Smartpond" pump, model #DP560

To put this into perspective, my Christmas present this year from Matt is going to be a super-powerful "professional-grade" Savio 2050 (we got $100 off at Amazon!).  In other words, it will have 4 x the pumping power.  This will obviously require some kind of weir or basin at the top of our waterfall, or it's going to shoot water straight out like a fire hose.  Am thinking of attempting something with one of those cheap aluminum catering pans.

There's a guy online who shows how to turn a plastic tool bin into a weir, and I'm thinking of imitating him, only I need the flexibility of aluminum because of the irregular shape of the aperture at the top of our waterfall.

(2) The second documentation-related miracle was that I stumbled upon--and read, stranger still--an old Lowe's receipt that (amazingly) listed the name of the iris cultivar that I bought from them and then promptly forgot months ago: 'Spartan.'  (I had googled 'Hector,' 'Troy,' 'Achilles,' and even, desperately, 'Trojan' trying to track this thing down to no avail.  Right culture, wrong piece of geography.)  It's near the volcanic rocks in our pond bed, and is a lovely sulky shade of burgunda, or so the picture indicates.

Iris germanica 'Spartan'

Thursday, December 8, 2011

But I LIKED Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

We're going to take an unusual detour from our regularly scheduled programming into politics.  I realize that my readers (all three of you--how I cherish you!) don't come here for political disquisitions. However, this particular issue is important enough to be an exception.

The Senate has recently passed a bill (S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act) containing provisions that allows US citizens on US soil to be detained indefinitely by the military without trial. (It is a measure of how low we've sunk that we're accustomed to detaining non-citizens indefinitely, and we barely blink when US citizens are detained--or assassinated--by the US on foreign soil. But at least for the moment, the idea of detaining US citizens here at home indefinitely is shocking and appalling.  As it should be.)

The House also has a version of this bill (H. 1540), so the two bills are now in conference to be brought into consistency with one another prior to final passage and signature by the president.  The White House, though it has made some vague rumblings about vetoing it, appears to be doing so under the deranged impression that the problem with the bill it that it is too limiting in its scope of presidential prerogative.

If you like freedom, or America, or justice, or if you are opposed to banana republics in general and to living in one in particular, please write to the morally bankrupt goons in DC and tell them to knock it the fuck off. I don't know how they justify their actions to themselves (to us, they use a lot of bloviation about "protecting the American people" and how traitors don't deserve defense lawyers), but this bill is a wholesale violation of Amendments 5 and 6 of the Bill of Rights, which were intended to protect us against detention without due process and indefinite detention. 

On the lefty side, here's a detailed breakdown of the issue by Salon's Glenn Greenwald. The NY Times has a piece as well.

Right-wingers and libertarians have no reason to favor this bill, either.  To his credit, Rand Paul was one of only SEVEN* senators to speak and vote against NDAA.  Here's a right-wing perspective from The American Spectator.

The ACLU has a form letter you can use that they will automatically forward to your reps and senators.

Alternately, you can write your own letter and post it to each of your rep/senators/president will get you their contact info.

If you live in my neck of the woods, these are your elected representatives:

And here's what I wrote.  It's probably too wordy and sarcastic, and it will presumably only be glanced at by an aide or two and then deleted, but if enough of us write in... maybe the aide's delete finger will get a cramp.  That's something.

The National Defense Authorization Act is a travesty. It is blatantly unconstitutional, and more than that, it is immoral, unethical, and, by furthering the corruption of the government, undermines the stability of the country.  

It is difficult to find language strong enough to describe how evil and dangerous this legislation is, particularly sections 1031-1032 of the Senate version of the bill (S. 1867), which allow US citizens to be indefinitely imprisoned by the military and allow the military to imprison anyone who “substantially supports” al Qaida.

I’m appalled that I should have to point this out to the legislative branch of the government—people whose basic job qualifications include a passing familiarity with the US Constitution—but indefinite detention and detention without due process are blatantly, trenchantly, utterly unconstitutional. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments are perfectly clear on this point:  [No person shall be] deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; and In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. This echoes that fundamental formulation of American values from the Declaration: that among our inalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

You cannot attack a more essential principal of our government, even of our identity as Americans. It is ironic that this egregious example of legislative malfeasance is being defended in the name of fighting treason. The legislation itself is a more violent piece of treason against America than all of al Qaida’s bombing and shootings, including September 11th. In fact, it might be looked upon as al Qaida’s crowning achievement.

I vehemently urge you to vote against this bill when it emerges from conference. And I will vote against—and campaign against—anyone who supported it.


I had trouble coming up with an illustration for this post, but I finally decided to go with the cute little girl in the Statue of Liberty costume.  Let's not let this little girl down, okay?

*The seven nays were Coburn (R-OK), Harkin (D-IA), Lee (R-UT), Merkley (D-OR), Paul (R-KY), Sanders (I-VT), Wyden (D-OR).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Designy Thoughts

I've never been very designy about gardening--mostly, I find a neat plant and then find some place to stick it. But I'm trying to be a little more deliberate about our planting decisions (after our front beds suffered an overdose of the I-don't-know-let's-just-stick-it-here syndrome). As part of this effort, I recently bought a book that's just a fat little compendium of gardens.

Each garden gets a single page with a paragraph or two of text, which I thought at first was going to be annoyingly superficial. In the end, though, I think such a broad survey actually helps to clarify things that you hadn't ever articulated to yourself before. For example: I like topiary. I had no idea. I never thought I cared about topiary one way or another.  But many of the gardens I sticky-flagged were topiary embellished if not downright topiary-centric.

For example, I mentioned in a previous post how much I liked the use of topiary in the Bagatelle rose garden in France. I like how, in combination with the lawn and the trees in the background, the smooth green of the boxwood edging and the topiary cones keep the roses from being too gaudily overwhelming.

 The rose garden at the Bagatelle in France.  Image from

I also like how they impart structure and tidiness--roses being a bit apt to be blobby or scraggly.  And they provide height, as well, which is nice since roses tend to be short--the topiaries add drama and help integrate the rose garden with the background.  The columnar metal trellises, standard roses, and swags provide a similar punctuation mark sort of function--they help break the garden into discrete and intelligible chunks instead of its being an undifferentiated mass.

 Another view of the Roseraie at the Bagatelle in France.  Image from

The same concepts apply to this garden at Arley Hall in the UK.  A riot of a perennial bed, made intelligible by the pauses and cleanness provided by an immaculate green lawn, some austere topiary/hedges, and a brick wall.  I look at this example with particular interest because a perennial bed is alarming in much the same way as blank verse is--it's such a free-for-all. There are so few rules or guidelines.  How does the gardener (or poet) know where to begin?

Arley Hall's Herbaceous Border, Cheshire.  Image from 

The Foresters House in Wiltshire (couldn't find a pic online) by Preben Jakobsen, though much more contemporary, was similarly interesting.  It showed how you can choose a plant with a strong, dramatic structure (in this case, an iris), and use it in the perennial bed to slow down the viewer's eye at some strategic point.  It's like it gives your brain a place to pause and process.

Then there's the Birch Allee at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Ohio.

Birch Allee at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Ohio.

The walk is actually much longer than this photo indicates. In the Garden Book photo, the base of the trees is planted, dully, with Asian jasmine.  And really, what we're talking about here is two long rectangles with a perfectly straight sidewalk in between. And yet, that long, golden walk with those pale, white birches is just so arresting. If I ever get a several-thousand-acre estate, I'll be sure to plant an allee just like this.

One of my very favorite gardens in the whole book had no flowers whatsoever--the curious topiary garden in the cloister at the Monasterio de San Lorenzo at Santiago de Compostela.  It is wonderfully strange, secret, and mysterious. What do all those endearingly stubby symbols mean? And why do they look Asian? Or possibly Mayan?  Unfortunately, there was exactly one photo of it on the internet (how is that possible?!?) and it is copyright protected (see link above).

I also liked Mottisfont Abbey, designed by the very same Graham Thomas for whom the lovely but maddening 'Graham Thomas' Austin rose was named.

Graham Stuart Thomas's garden as Mottisfont Abbey.  Image from

Once again, I think I was drawn to the contrast between formalism and informality. Somehow, I had never grokked onto the fact that a cottage garden can include formal elements like giant topiary pillars. I know it now, though...

But that's not really enough topiary. What you really need is nothing but grass, a pond, and a dozen or so gargantuan clipped yew pyramids.

The Stonehenge-like collection of weird giant topiary at Athelhampton Manor.  Image from Alice's Garden Travel Buzz

This is from the grounds of Athelhampton Manor in Dorset, UK.  I like it for all the reasons I would think that I wouldn't like it--it's austere, rigidly geometric, the colors are decidedly sombre, and it's utterly artificial.  But I love it.  Monumental, inexplicable pyramids towering over the visitor like Ents or moai or something. What every garden needs.

Finally, the book had a surprising number of Chinese garden windows, apparently known as "lou chuang." I couldn't find any really good examples online, though this one is certainly quite pretty:

What it doesn't capture is the way (some) Chinese gardeners use the windows in garden walls to artfully frame some particular scene or garden element, or combination of colors and textures. I'm hoping to someday make a western version of this in the fence by our pond to create (what I hope will be) an enticing glimpse of the pond as seen from the side of the house.

So that's it: topiaries and garden windows. I'm not really sure how to break this new development to Matt...

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