THIS WEEK WE are moving into December. We’ve been through our normal up-and-down weather-wise November. It seems like the temperatures usually stabilize in December. Hopefully, we will see 60s and 40s for the next couple weeks, and it wouldn’t bother me if we saw temperatures in the 70s for Christmas. It certainly makes it easier to sneak out for some fresh air when the house is bursting with people. Thanksgiving is behind us now, so it’s time to figure out how to have a great Christmas that makes almost everyone happy.
Mimi and I have our winter annuals planted, and our early spring bloomers are settled in. We have covered most of our garden beds with foxgloves, dianthus, poppies, larkspur and snapdragons. Those plants will be tuckering out right about the time to plant our summer veggies. It’s kind of how we slap our own hands from planting veggies too early. There is one project that has been breathing down our necks for a while. The summer heat was my excuse for not getting around to it earlier, but I don’t have that excuse anymore.
At the front of our long driveway we planted Grey Owl junipers as a backdrop for our seasonal bedding plants, which are edged by a short rock wall. I didn’t realize how big Grey Owls ultimately grew. The tag says three feet tall and three feet wide. They must have made those tags before the plants fully matured. Ours have been planted there for nine years and they are five feet tall and five feet wide. “I’m sorry!” to anyone whom I planted Grey Owls in inappropriate places. Our choice was to pull them up, and transplant them somewhere else in the yard, or to prune them into interesting shapes.
One Saturday I got in the mood to start pruning them into tree forms. It was one of those pruning jobs that took getting braver with every snip. I have seen photos of junipers carved up into great shapes. I see this done more out west, and it looks really cool with brown pine bark mulch beneath them. The trunks are really beautiful with shaggy dark brown, almost black, wood that curve around in the most interesting shapes. My goal was to find the best three or four trunks and cut away everything else leaving the smoky blue tips floating on top. I had three sizes of pruning shears, a large set of loppers for the big branches, a smaller pair of pruners for most of the branches and a really small set of snippers for fine clean- ing the small bits of juniper foliage from the now bare branches.
I wanted this to come out great since Mimi didn’t know I was going for it that day while she was away. I had about 25 fully grown plants that would need haircuts. After I was finished with the first one, I knew it was going to be time well spent trying it out on all of them. I knew that there is a chance that we might not like this unusual look and they might get dug up in the end anyway, but I felt like it would be worth a try. I kept at it for the next six or seven hours until it got too dark to see, and I wasn’t finished. Mimi wasn’t going to be home in time to see them, so I told her what I had done. We walked down there after dinner and saw them with our landscape lights. It was a little hard to see, but after all these years, I’ve learned to speak Mimi. It was going to have to grow on her or it would be an acquired taste, as they say. That’s usually not a good sign. When someone says it might take time to acquire a taste for something, it usually means that I will have to say the right things about it until I don’t have to any more.
The next morning after Sunday scones and coffee we headed out there to have a look at it in the daylight. It looked pretty cool, but we didn’t think we could make a definitive answer on whether they should stay or go unless we finished the last eight or nine of them. Finishing them would at least give us a chance to chat while working slowly through the new landscape look. While we were chatting, the pile of branches from the day before, plus that day's clippings was growing into quite a heap. We discussed how to get rid of such a large amount of branches. We could either stuff them into the bed of the golf cart and take many trips to our debris pile on the back of our property, which would take forever, or we could get them down to the cul-de-sac to be picked up by the City of Ridgeland. We didn’t know they offered that service until a neighbor started using that area to leave all his trimmings from whooping his yard into shape.
I don’t know the pick up day or the minimum length and diameter of allowable branches, but I felt sure our clippings would fit into the regulations based upon what I have seen hauled off from there before. We are so lucky to live in a city and a county that offer these services. Our trash and recycling programs run very smoothly and efficiently as well.
Now... to figure out how to get them down to the cul-de-sac without taking too many trips. We have used tarps before for big jobs like this. I headed to the barn to get one stored there with some rope to tie it to the golf cart so we could drag it. When I got to the barn, I saw exactly what we needed. When Max was in high school, our barn was party central for him and his buddies to work on their old trucks. Max bought the body of a mostly intact 1958 Ford F-150. His plan was to restore the body, drop a newish motor in it, then paint it with some cool color. He got pretty far on that project and worked on it every chance he got. But, the time to go off to college arrived before he finished the project. Foreseeing this would be the end of his interest in the project, I asked him to have everything gone,
sold, traded... whatever...before he moved out. There were parts and motors and lifts and stuff all over the place, which didn’t bother us at all while he was working with it. I just didn’t want to deal with it after he left. We realized that he wouldn’t be moving back in with us, most likely.
MAX IS KNOWN FOR his good luck and, once again, he proved to be charmed when he found a guy who would buy it all. He even agreed to come pick it all up, and he took some other stuff we no longer wanted. With Max’s help they left the barn looking great, and Max had some folding money for his pocket to head off to bigger adventures.
The one thing the guy didn’t want to buy is what helped me figure out how to haul this large amount of debris. There it was, staring right at me when I went for the tarp. The truck bed liner for a full size pickup truck, complete with holes for tying, would be just perfect. We tied it to the golf cart with an old extension cord and dragged it to the front of our driveway to test it out. It was easy because it was sitting on the ground. There would be no up and over the sides of a truck or trailer, dropping most of the stuff you’re trying to get rid of. When we made it to the dump spot for the first of two loads we both got on one side of it and easily flipped it. Job done. The second and final load went the same way.
After failing at trying to talk Mimi into riding it back to the driveway, we did talk about how perfect the bed liner would be tied behind a four wheeler when we get our annual ice or snow for the year. The front of the plastic bed would keep the rider from getting all wet and would give them something to hold on to while the driver tried their hardest to make the rider fly out.
As we were discussing how necessity really is the mother of invention, I was picking up the last of the little cuttings off the ground so they wouldn’t turn brown on my freshly sprouted rye grass. I’m sure we have all used the rake in one hand and the other hand to hold it all together method. I mentioned how nice it would be to have two rake heads with no handles on them, but instead had straps for your hands like a baseball mitt. You could rake everything up and pick them up in one fell swoop. Mimi said, “Hang on a second,” and she took off towards the house on the golf cart. When she returned, she handed me exactly what I had just dreamed about. She said that we have been selling these hand rakes this year. I had no idea. I put them on my gloved hands and they worked perfectly.
That brought on a conversation that we have had many times before. There is a huge potential for new inventions in agri- industry. There have been many times while working at a client’s yard or at my own house that I or the folks doing the job with me thought how nice it would be if we could just... fill in the blank. Sometimes it would be about getting things from one place to another way faster than the way we were doing it.
The idea might be about how to move something very heavy into a spot where machinery can’t access. In the greenhouses, where speed and efficiency are everything, we have come up with countless ways to plant faster with fewer steps, ways to move air or heat throughout the greenhouses, ways to get to the tops of the greenhouses for repairs or to change the roofs out. I know farmers come up with better ways to do things with things that aren’t on the market by making what they need. It always helps to have and know how to use a welder. Once you can weld you can move on most of these ideas instead of just dreaming about them.
Nursery people have to load and unload all kinds of weird shaped things into and out of the smallest spaces, the folks faced with these challenges come up with some pretty cool stuff to make it happen, often on the spot. Often these inventions are very specific to the job at hand but sometimes they are inventions we use regularly. I remember one that Cesar came up with 20 years ago that we still use today. We were at the end of a truck unloading some very large containerized trees. It took two guys to drag the trees to the end of the truck so the two guys on the ground could muscle them off to the ground. Cesar excused himself for a minute, when he returned he had with him an old golf club that he had found somewhere and a tractor. He had put the putter side of the golf club on the grinder to make it like a sharp hook. He pushed a tree over in the truck where the guys were still struggling to move them. He took a big overhead swing at the root ball in a pot. The The golf club easily bit into the plastic bucket, he then extended his arm and easily dragged the big tree to the end of the truck where the tractor with a front end bucket waited for three more trees to offload and put the trees in their final resting place in the sales yard. People went home feeling a lot less sore since we let machines and gravity do most of the work.
Sometimes the ideas are right in front of you, but they don’t get carried out from fear of ridicule or if it doesn’t work or from not having the materials with which to put your idea together. I believe every gardener has invented some way to make their gardening day go more easily, whether it be a heavy duty job, or just a way to keep your water colder longer while you work. It’s fun to go to the local garden centers around town to see just what has been invented and intro- duced into the mainstream. There are tugs for carrying produce, kneepads or single foam pads to kneel on, and even hose pegs that allow you to pull a hose through your yard without the hose flopping into your beds causing damage. There are all kinds of gadgets that make weeding easier, and the world of hoses has also grown. All of these things make great Christmas presents for yourself or your favorite gardeners.
You should do yourself a favor and come see how satisfying it is to buy some gifts for the people you love that are obviously not from Walmart or Target. You might be sur- prised how inexpensive and life changing these gadgets can be. They say it’s the thought that counts, so show the receiver of the gift that you do know and care what they really want for Christmas.