Wednesday, May 30, 2007

controlling Mother Nature

In the past few days, I have been encountering a lot of and a lot about dandelions...

First there was Ottawa Gardener's post about them. Then I saw seas of yellow in many fields and my own yard followed by clouds and clouds of dandelion seedheads. I've been digging dandelions out of the veggie garden (I'd be a fool to try to dig dandelions out of the lawn and I refuse to use poisons).

Unfortunately, the dandelions in the garden are very happy there, huge things with seed heads (I know, I know, I shouldn't have let them get away like that) that shatter as soon as I touch the plant. The ground is literally white with fallen seeds in some places. I know: I'm shaking my head myself as I write this!

I grow a French variety of dandelion greens that does not seed as readily and often use the tender greens of the prolific wild variety too in salads. Somewhat bitter, it adds a nice touch to salads of mixed greens. While bitter greens are much more popular in Europe, dandelion greens are probably too bitter for most North American taste buds to use alone, the way many North Americans use iceberg lettuce alone in a salad.

Ki's comments on the ease of growing dandelions made me smile. We gardeners are an odd bunch. Maybe I shouldn't over-generalize, but, hell: we're never happy. That's what gets us out into the garden in the first place. We go out there, morning coffee mug in hand, to sit in the morning sun and relax in the garden and before you know it we spot a spent bloom and we're up deadheading this, picking a weed, down on our hands and knees up close and personal with bugs and dirt, digging, rearranging, pruning, transplanting, watering, mulching... As I've often said, I lose endless mugs in the garden that way!

Ki's suggestion to allow the vigorous weeds to just grow happily on without interference from us would take us out of the game completely! Whatever would we call ourselves if we could not stick our oars in and try to control Mother Nature's profligate abundance somewhat?

In my experience, gardeners are an odd bunch anyway. The really good ones stick out like a sore thumb, even in the suburbs where some attention to "the garden" is expected. But gardeners have their own aesthetic ideas, quite different from squirrels and often also quite different from their neighbors. Many's the gardener who has come to grief when their garden's exuberance passes the unspoken line of "nice" in the neatly manicured lawns and foundation plantings of suburbia. The exact position of that line varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, but let me assure you, it is there!

Reminds me of a crazy story from my childhood. I lived on a quiet residential street in the suburbs of Toronto long ago when the neighbors actually knew each other, even if only at the nodding acquaintance level amongst the adults. Children played outside until it got dark or the streetlights came on. If we got into mischief, we got told off and our parents heard about it and we got trouble again at home. It was a neighborhood where working class families lived cheek-by-jowl with middle-class profesionals. While everybody made some effort, not much fancy gardening was done. The lawns got mowed, but that was about all. Some gardens were memorable for this or that: a climbing rose here, a lilac bush there, a peach tree, an apple tree, a peony bush, a grape arbor over somebody's patio, a lawn shaded by maple trees. No big deal.

The exception was the house across the street from ours. Their lawn was lush and green with not one single weed in it. In the middle of that perfect deep, velvety green was a birch with sparkling white bark! How they managed that was a mystery because I don't recall seeing them out there working to maintain the lawn. Plus they owned a great big St. Bernard. I concluded they must have trimmed the lawn with nailclippers at night. As for the dog, he was usually in the house or the sideyard. And somehow, even though it was a corner lot, we all understood, by osmosis perhaps, that we should never take shortcuts across that lawn or play anywhere near there, or probably lightning would strike us dead. And even though the dog was big and friendly and tempting, we -- usually -- stayed away from him too.

One day, I heard an awful racket out in the street which of course drew everybody outside to see what was going on. There in the middle of the street, one of our neighbors from four houses down, Mrs. S., a small thin woman with her small yappy terrier on a leash had drawn the attention of the St. Bernard. Unusual to see the St. Bernard out on the front lawn, I thought.

The terrier was doing it's best to lead the way down the street, excited, barking, jumping up and down. Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip! Mrs. S. was not too successfully trying to control the terrier. I had never liked the terrier because besides not being trained to walk on a leash (this was an unusual event), the terrier always unnerved me with its ferocious yapping whenever it was out.

The St. Bernard of the perfect lawn was all attention, watching, barking. WOOF. WOOF. Things were already getting crazy, the terrier wrapping the leash around Mrs. S.'s legs, when the St. Bernard went into action.

Suddenly, the St. Bernard was in the middle of the street. Mrs. S. was on her back on the pavement, kicking and screaming, with a death grip on the terrier's leash. The terrier was bouncing around and around like a balloon in a gale, happy and nervous, yipping and yipping and yipping. The St. Bernard was standing over the terrified, shrieking Mrs. S.. A giant of a dog, he towered over the scene. Tail wagging as if he were contented with his excellent achievement, he was barking to the world in general: WOOF...WOOF...WOOF. He was all smiles, huge globules of his slobber glistening in the sun as they fell from his big red tongue.

At the time, that to me was so much more fun than the aftermath. I don't recall which of the neighbors came to sort things out. But I suppose they were sorted out.

Sadly, we saw even less of anybody actually living over there at the house with the perfect lawn after that, if you know what I mean. Even the St. Bernard. We didn't really miss the quiet man and angry woman of the house, but we kids, we missed the St. Bernard.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Larry said...

Oh, just a wonderful and discursive story, Kati! From dandelions to early memories of dog encounters... keep up the good writing work!

5:27 PM  
Blogger Nickie said...

Well....I had a dandylion problem....last year. But since they seem to be my pet behemoth sized rabbit's favorite food, I now have a lack of the dandylions anywere in my yard as I feed them to him when I see them.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

I saw some dandelion greens at our grocery store and tried it as wilted greens with olive oil. A little bitter but not much more than endive. Now why didn't I just pick them off my lawn or better yet there was a huge bunch under the plastic basement window protector with long tender leaves because it got little light. Too lazy I guess, easier to buy them in the store. I've found that when you harvest your own greens there's so much cleaning to do. I waste a huge amount of water washing the dirt out and a lot of work getting rid of the spoiled or inedible parts.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Hayden said...

wonderful story. You sucked me in with the dandelions... I LOVE dandelion greens.

met a new friend recently who has established fruit trees... many of them... in her Northern Ca. city yard. A couple of years ago the 'authorities' called on her to 'remove the dead sticks standing all over her yard.' She had to explain - not dead, deciduous, come back next spring for the blossoms, late summer for the fruit.

sigh.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Kati said...

Thanks, Larry. Glad you enjoy my odd little memories.

Nickie, your rabbit reminds me of another childhood memory...

Ki I eliminate the wilted-parts-problem by simply picking a handful of the tenderest leaves one leaf at a time. Making a salad for one this way ensures the freshest and cleanest greens. As for dirt, I don't find there's much. I fill the sink -- yes, even for a salad for one -- with coolish water, dump the greens in, swish them around gently, then thrown the greens into a salad spinner. Never have had any grinding crunching stuff in my teeth this way...

Hayden, your story about the fruit trees does not surprise me much, sad to say! And no doubt the "expert authorities" looked at your friend like she had rocks in her head as well!

11:04 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

Great story, Kati, winding from one memory to another!

12:22 AM  
Blogger Kati said...

Larry, I'm sometimes afraid that the thread is not even there; can't help it. Sometimes I just write whatever pops into my head as my tangled thoughts unwind!

12:41 PM  

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