Your holiday grab-bag

Seized with some kind of spirit

Am I the only one who gets kind of taken over by the holidays?

I doubt it. In fact, I suspect you didn’t even realize that it’s been 11 days since my last post. Right? Because you’ve been busy:

  1. making latkes,
  2. panic-buying presents online or in person,
  3. standing in line (socially distanced, of course) at the post office, or
  4. indulging in the emotions that may be attacking you in this weirdest of holiday seasons, while we hover wondering just how high the pandemic spike is gonna go before Joe steps in and/or when our turn for the vaccine will roll round.

    syringe with an aquamarine neck, inserted into top of vial containing clear fluid; white background

    When will we get it?
    “Syringe and Vaccine” by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

With respect to 4. above, I suspect it will be April or May before I can get the jab. (I like that Britlish term better than the Amerlish “shot.” It’s honest about what’s being done to you, and risks no confusion with tequila or handguns.) And I’m placing no bets on the pandemic spike, except to hole up again. That’s a fair bit easier this time, since curbside pickup and home deliveries are far better organized by now. As for my toilet paper supply, I’m good till April or May.

Of 2022.

So there’s nothing to do but focus on the indoor gardening, or maybe shovel snow, which I’ve now done for two days running. And to think about what to put into the blog.

The result: today you get a bit of snow, a bit of garden, and for dessert, a medley of weird garden- or nature-related news that has recently arrived in my mailbox.

Snow jobs

Snowy scene with a large red barn and smaller red outbuilding to the right of it; bare-branched trees in mid-distance before the buildings

Some things look so good in snow!

First up: the snow! the snow! Did you get some? If you are anywhere north of DC and east of Ohio, you probably did, this past Wednesday-into-Thursday. My sympathies to the folks who got snow followed by sleet and ice. Not nice.

But here in western Mass. it was all powdery stuff because it was (and still is) also c-o-l-d. Not so cold that you can’t go out and shovel the foot of white flakes off the deck, which is what I did yesterday morning after shoveling a little path down the driveway just in case somebody (possibly even me) sent me a package.

Snowy scene with snowshovel in foreground, half-buried in snowbank but showing black handle and top part of red scoop; some bare-branched trees and evergreens beyond, and a white house with red shutters at the back

Kicks just keep getting harder to find.

Is it perverse to enjoy shoveling snow? I love it, if it’s not the wet heavy stuff. You get to admire how neatly you scour the pavement or the decking, while reflecting on how many calories per minute you are burning. Lots of them, undoubtedly. When I get back into the house and stomp off the snow that clung to boots and gaiters (I finally got to use my gaiters!), peel off all the insulating layers and shake my hair loose after its confinement in hat, I celebrate those calories by allowing myself an extra cookie.

Actually, if I’m going to tell you the whole truth: more than one extra cookie. That’s as whole a truth as you’re going to get.

I will, however, admit that atoning for those cookies figured large in my decision to go back out this morning to trim another inch or so of snow off the driveway (fallen after the plow scraped out the major stuff).

Photo ops

Closeup, from above, of dried-out sedum flower heads and a few stems barely protruding above snow, and with snow topping the flowerheads

All you can see of the sedum now!

Snow here changes more than the landscape. The fluffy stuff soaks up sounds. Every car going past on the road sounded like hybrids in stealth mode. Even the wind, which I could see whipping around by the swirls of snow it kicked up, did its business with nary a whoosh or whistle. It felt like the whole world had gone under the Cone of Silence. Blessedly.

Because then I could focus on watching things—fresh-snowfall things—going on around me. While clearing the deck yesterday morning, I got to watch neighbors pulling offspring along in sleds, and to see the kids sledding on a slight incline over at the farm. This morning, people on cross-country skis decoratively ranged the roadway down to the woods, and then back up it.

My apologies that I can’t share a photo of any of that with you. For once I was so rapt just watching that it never occurred to me to snap a pic. There are times when I feel like I’m living in the middle of a slo-mo animated holiday card.

Don’t be jealous. We’re supposed to get rain on Dec. 24. These little joys are fleeting. All the more reason to treasure them while they last. Hope you find some to treasure too!

A propos of which

The gardening has moved indoors.

And I have progress to report.

Indoors, a tall narrow pot containing an amaryllis bulb, with one spike of stem about 8 inches high, and about an inch of leaves and stem coming out of the bulb; in background, a snow-covered deck with railings visible, and beyond it some tall evergreens on the left, wooded hills and blue sky with scattered white clouds in distance

The amaryllis, getting there

The amaryllis “Flamenco Queen” is growing like blazes. As the garden store clerk assured me while I was trying to figure out which bulb to buy, this whacking big one will reward me with at least two flower stalks. One is well up already (compare this picture with the one in the previous post), and another stalk has already started emerging. Now that you don’t have the sasanqua camellia in Charleston to look forward to, you can eagerly anticipate my update photos on the amaryllis flowers’ progress. They will arrive sooner than your vaccine dose.

a metal shelf unit in front of a floor-to-ceiling window; four shelves, with three plants on the top shelf, one plant and a small object on the second shelf down, third shelf empty and two small kitchen appliances, one with red cover and one with black, on the bottom shelf

Big plans afoot

And I did create a space for plants at the window. The first of two metal shelf units is up. The basil and rosemary have already taken up digs there. A friend gave me some narcissus bulbs for forcing, and I unearthed an unused planter in the garage. (As I recall, I bought it 2-3 years ago for forcing dwarf irises, which I never got around to.) I bunged the bulbs in with some pebbles to hold them up and in, and watered them. These, too, will be flowers in the future.

Right about when I’ll be starting to feel a desperate need for some.

More in the works

A second shelf unit still has to go up. I have grandiose plans for installing grow lights, starting herbs and greens from seed—making my own tiny farm at the edge of the living room.

That will be in the nature of a science experiment. Will the seeds I never got around to planting this past year, or was it the year before, still be viable?

The suspense should enliven the rest of December, and the first part of January, while we wait to find out whether a president really can pardon himself. If we’re still in suspense (about the seeds) come February, I fear the answer will be no.

By then, the seed catalogs I’ve ordered should start arriving. Year-round gardening, I call it.

Meanwhile, I’ve amassed a small stash of strange tidings to share with you.

Weirdness roundup rodeo: Beyond white

First up: Pantone has announced its “color of the year” for 2021 and it is <<<drumroll>>> two colors! Pantone 17-5104 Ultimate Gray (seems more suitable for 2020, not?) and Pantone 13-0647 Illuminating (a mellow yellow, of the sort you might see in a healthy egg yolk). The combination, according to Pantone, represents the “message of happiness supported by fortitude.”

Yeah, we could use some of that.

You may wonder, though, what this has to do with gardening. I’ll tell you: one of my valued long-distance plant suppliers dispatched, with lightning speed, an email featuring things I could order from them to hit that palette. Three plants ogling my wallet produce blazingly buttery yellow flowers, while two wormwoods and one brunnera sport silvery foliage. The Queen of Hearts brunnera has me tempted, but maybe by spring I’ll have beaten the urge.

Isn’t it nice to know that you don’t need paint to make a palette? Picasso, meet Gertrude Jekyll.

Weirdness roundup rodeo: Forced stunts

In case that wasn’t weird enough for you, how about boozing up your forced narcissus?

Closeup photograph showing three paperwhite narcissus flowers in full bloom with several dark yellow stamens showing inside the central cup of each

What we hope for when we force those bulbs
“Narcissus” by ceasol is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

One thing always bugs me about forcing those lovely flowers in water. The stems get longer and looonger and loooooonnnnngggerrrrrr. By the time the blooms appear, the things are so top-heavy they all flop-heavy over. Unless I stick in bamboo chopsticks or twigs (if I can find any; depends on snow levels) and tie everything up with twine. This makes the babies look like a bunch of clueless debutantes trying group BDSM for the first time.

Why didn’t it occur to me to do an internet search? The solution to any problem lives on the Net (barring, perhaps, a crazy national debt or an insane pandemic or a complete network takeover by Russian state hackers—all of course totally hypothetical).

Leggy paperwhites? No problem!

Here’s what I found, but this only works for growing them in water, not in potting soil. Nor do I guarantee that it will work beyond paperwhites, but we gardeners live to experiment, right?

Once the roots have sprouted in water and you see an inch or two of green shoots, pour out the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol. This supposedly restrains their growth to a half or a third of normal height, but the flowers come out full size. Replenish the properly balanced solution as needed.

A metal planter containing several narcissus bulbs with inch-high green shoots, and behind the planter, bottles of tequila, scotch and gin

Indoor gardening is fun again!

You can use ordinary rubbing alcohol, but that’s hard to find in insane-pandemic times. Luckily, the debutantes are not choosy. They will take tequila. They will take scotch, or vodka, or any other hard liquor. Just keep the wine and beer to yourself. Since those two tipples are contraindicated due to sugar content, I’d suggest also steering clear of Cointreau and Kahlua and Harvey’s Bristol Cream and other sweet nips.

The full instructions are here. Read carefully; arithmetic matters. I’d say measure booze and water separately. That way, if you happen to splash a smidgin too much scotch into your measuring cup, you can always sip it till you get the amount right. Who knows, it could take several tries. (Do not sip if using rubbing alcohol.)

Booze. Not just for people any more!

Weirdness roundup rodeo: Shit happens

For our final item from the Weird hopper, we find a report scatological.

Featuring: everybody’s favorite lovable cuddly black-and-white animal, the panda. Come cold weather, pandas living in China’s mountain wilderness kept turning up brown-and-black. They’d been rolling around in horse manure (thoughtfully dropped by the horses that roam the Qinling Mountains) and smearing more of the stuff on with their paws, for good measure.

scattering of horse manure on ground

Smells like…
“5-13-07 043” by markyweiss is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you hang out with dogs on walks, you’re familiar with the putrid result of such rolling. Be glad your dog doesn’t have the right kind of paws for smearing extra.

We wonder every time it happens why dogs do this. We’re told it’s because the more ghastly the odor, the better they love it. But more rigorous scientific research might be called for on the canine side. Read on!

After ten years spent keeping an eye on pandas and experimenting on mice, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the pinnacle of Chinese hard-sciences firepower, discovered the possible reason why pandas roll around in horseshit. Chemical compounds in the manure seem to short-circuit cold-sensing proteins in the pandas’ cells. They may not get warmer, but they feel like they do.

May I say I personally am glad that back in the early Anthropocene, Glgh and Irbza opted for fur coats and fire rather than taking the manure route. Otherwise, think what we’d all have been doing after that heavy snow this week.

Poop. Not just for compost any more!

And now, your turn:

Please post your comments below. I try to answer every comment, but you should feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What’s your favorite part of post-snowstorm days?
  2. Will you join me in the great narcissus stunting experiment? Booze or rubbing alcohol?
  3. What kinds of topics do you think I should tackle in 2021?

If you’re commenting for the first time with a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After you’ve had one approved comment using that address, your next one should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

I also hereby announce a contest for 2021: the reader who sends me (kateriffoley at gmail dot com) the weirdest garden-related snippet of news or information between now and December 31, 2021, will win some kind of cool prize. Might be a hori hori: might be a gorgeous gardening book. I’ll offer a few choices when the time comes. So please, keep your antennae up for choice tidbits, and send them on!

Wishing you safe and happy holidays, creating some memories you might want to hang onto after this year from hell is over.

P.S. I’m going to take some time off for the holidays myself, so the next post probably won’t be till just before New Year’s Day.

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11 Responses to Your holiday grab-bag

  1. I’m going to try a little vodka for my next batch of paper whites; the current four are over three feet and starting to list.

    So alcohol stunts their growth? Maybe we could get them to take up smoking . . .

    love this blog

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks so much, Irene!
      There wasn’t space for my update on my paperwhites; I’m not sure the alcohol trick is working. Kicking myself that I didn’t set up a control group. Maybe you could do that? Next week I promise to include a picture of what’s happening with my babies. Next year maybe we can plan a large-scale experiment, with many blog readers starting their bulbs on different solutions. Vodka sounds like a good choice; hope it works for you.
      Smoking might help stunt them, but then it could also cause them some premature wrinkles. And the cough, my god the cough!

  2. Kateri says:

    A little update on 12/19: I did it, I soused the narcissus bulbs! They now sit in a solution of alcohol + water. But when it came to the moment of truth, I quailed at the challenge of converting booze-proofs to alcohol percentage and then calculating how much water it would take to dilute properly. So I raided my stash of rubbing alcohol (intended mostly for sanitizing garden tools), determined that at 91% alcohol content a ratio of 16 oz. of water to 1 oz. of the alcohol would give me approx. 5% alcohol. It took most of the 17 ounces to provide enough liquid for the bulbs in their residence tub. Now we’ll see. It only occurred to me afterwards that if I wanted to be really scientific about this, I should have a control group of narcissus bulbs receiving only water. And maybe an additional control group with the Jose Cuervo. I may be obsessive about some things, but not to that degree. Plus, I might need a lot of margaritas before the garden is open for business again.
    Anyone else trying?

  3. lorna says:

    Up until last week I was still eating kale for the garden. Now all that is on my mind is shoveling more paths. My birds are eating mne out of house and home. They fight with each other so much so that I have to call out to them, ‘there’s plenty for everyone!’

    • Kateri says:

      Isn’t it a pity you can’t make the bad birds sit in a timeout corner, the way parents do with kids?

      I’m so impressed that you were still harvesting kale, Lorna! I’ve heard tales of its hardiness, but I always thought they only applied to the stuff that had the advantage of living in cold frames or under plastic tunnels.

  4. Susan McKenna says:

    Love this post! Everything about it, but especially the part about using “jab” to disconnect from the drinking shots association. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a little holiday cheer. And more to come if that idiot ever leaves the WH). Kateri, I have two requests. First, since you enjoy shoveling snow, would you like to drive over to my house and help out? Second, I have a request—since I am familiar with other writing from Kateri, I would enjoy having some of the Tiny Town Tales integrated into this blog.

    • Kateri says:

      Susan, thanks for your comments! I love to have the blog loved.
      About your requests: I do love to shovel snow. But I hate driving in it! Or trying to park right after a storm. If you were within walking distance, I’d be there in a shot. Or a jab.
      As for Tales of Tiny Town, I’m afraid those have to be reserved for possible publication, but I won’t say I might not sneak a little glimpse in here and there–if it serves the blog’s basic purposes.

  5. Hillary says:

    My paper whites already blooming

  6. Merry White says:

    I can’t believe you’d use Oban for the narcissi! Those babies sure are pampered!
    I’ll try Nikka Days on mine.

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