Friday, May 14, 2010

Cleanin' Up

My mom always had problems with leftovers. We kids always took our lunches to school; my dad packed his lunch and thermos too, in his old metal box. Clearly, what she cooked would feed somewhere between four and seven, but not two full family meals. As a result, periodically my mom would find little plastic freezer squares with....hmmmm, something green and fuzzy inside. This was such a small blind spot that it got to be rather endearing; there was even a cartoon on our fridge for years about green things lurking in the fridge.

She also had cedar chests of fabric remnants. Often, these pieces of cotton kettlecloth would resurface as jumpers or skirts in our wardrobe, but the levels of colorful cloth in the chest or on her sewing table never seemed to shrink. There was just too much potential good in these pieces of the end of the bolt.

Blind spots shift from generation to generation. I have far too many clothes in my closet, but I am not a fashion hawk and don't send nearly as many well worn shirts or tees off to Good Will. My work clothes are more disreputable; the standard level of wear and tear and grime is high, but the dress code at my job has a low threshold for stains and tears and a threadbare tee still has its place as a transition between spring cover and summer ventilation. Blake's overalls head for the trash can when certain key seams fail, but not when the cuffs are frayed or the pliers pocket springs a leak from one too many screwdrivers.

The most obvious blind spot: the piles. Piles of newspapers at the foot of the couch. Piles of magazines on both ends of the kitchen island. Piles of paperbacks on the coffee table. Piles of paperbacks and travel books on the little kid's chair on my end of the couch. Piles on the big desk upstairs...these are undifferentiated agglomerations of newsprint, excerpts, research booklets, reprints from the internet. Any one of these could be vital. Some are passe'. But until the occasion arises, no one knows which is which.

The best recent cleaning event was the painting/carpet cleaning/ furniture moving/file cabinet acquisition project in the greenhouse office. By the end of the plant season, the office is an abysmal quagmire of mulch, potting mix, scraps of paper, tags, discarded clothing. On the Sundays I do payroll, it takes an hour of picking up before I can even stand to attempt to do office work (one of my admitted quirks). How satisfying it was to move even the old bed, ditch the stuff stashed under the bed, and paint over the stains and grime accumulated over the last two years. Rug doctors are wonderful appliances, but nothing beats new paint for a pick me up.

Alas, the big cleanups at Spruce lie ahead. The house plants are still living in the sun porch, happily because it has stayed cool and they had some heat this winter, but they will still shed mighty amounts of organic matter on their way down the stairs and out the door for their summer sojourn. Before I can begin potting the summer pots, I make myself move the house plants. We've lived here for nearly eight years now. Do you know what that means? Eight years is as long as a perennial garden can survive in a grassy environment without major rehab.

This week as I delved into the back yard for the first time this spring, I just about went back inside to crawl under the bed and stay. Despite days of hoeing last fall, the brome has completely eaten my daylily bed and the bed around the old lilac. DESPAIR!! My loving husband, in a moment of crystal clear perspicuity, offered to find some magic in a sprayer that would attempt to rescue the perennials from the ravaging monocots. I have to tell you that desperate times require desperate measures, and if the daylilies cannot be salvaged, I will take a Roundup jug to the whole mess. That's rather like burning the barn instead of scooping out the manure, but not really. My first garden at Deadman's was plagued with bindweed.
 Roundup would knock it down but by the end of the summer, the hideous white blooms would dominate. Only a good six years under black ground cloth killed it back...but for well less than six years! I know well that that a pasture in mid Missouri wants to become a forest, even though the transitional stage of cedars and brush is no more attractive than growing out a perm. But here on the prairie, every natural process points to grass and only 1) a prescribed burn, 2) Roundup, or 3) yearly tillage and a planting of annual flowers or vegetables prevents this natural transition from occurring.

So, darn. Before I can call my spring cleanup complete, I have to face the sea of grass in the perennial beds. Last weekend, it took me two hours to clean out the closets and bag the two piles: one for Goodwill, one for the trashman. But it will take at least one pair of garden gloves, innumerable sharpenings of the hand hoe, several tank mixes of Roundup and whatever other magic Blake has up his sleeve, AND digging up the enormous clumps of daylilies from their current home, to make spring cleaning of the garden a reality. When folks tell me they want to plant perennials so they don't have to plant every year, I don't climb on my step ladder and begin to preach.
If anyone should ask my opinion, I would tell them to eschew perennial gardens for mixed plantings with wide swaths of glorious colorful annuals. Like a firebreak, an annual garden provides a barrier to the invasion of the rhizome. I love daylilies; I love balloon flowers; I deeply adore coneflowers and rudbeckia. I am passionate about my July flowers.

But for cleaning purposes, give me a good sun coleus any day.

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