Monday, August 18, 2014

bank holiday

And another big project is underway!

On the west edge of the Upper West Side,
between the perimeter fence and the driveway,
is a narrow rocky bank.
It is partially supported by an old stone wall
that has been gradually collapsing for decades.

At the base of the wall is a narrow strip of rocky garden,
with violets and daylilies, and other lovely blooming things.

"Where are these violets?" you might well be asking.

"And what daylilies?"

 Fair question!
I think they're under here:

Buried beneath a tangle of bittersweet, grape,
forsythia, rubus...and did I mention bittersweet?
Every Spring I spend days hand-cutting and removing invasives
before the violets and daylilies (and I) become overwhelmed.
And prior to this year, I have always managed to enjoy 
at least some flower garden.

But last Winter, when a lot of this sort of thing was going on:

there was an unfortunate incident involving the plowman.
The result was a sadly gouged-up garden
buried beneath a heavy layer of driveway gravel and stone.
It wasn't the plowman's fault; my driveway is terrible.
I am very fortunate to have a plowman, after long years without.
(Some years, I call my driveway The Snowshoe Highway.)

But I must admit, it was disheartening
to imagine what the "garden" would look like come Spring.
And sure enough, almost all the plants appearing this Spring
 were those hardy and tenacious and prolific invasives.

So, when I recently hired the brushcutting fellow,
one of his first assignments was to take 99% of this bank vegetation
Right Down To The Ground.
Here's a progress shot, looking north after the first session.
See the bright green area along the fence to the left?
That's the edge of the terrace garden.

For scale, that fence is 6-foot woven wire with 2x4" openings.
Which makes this amazing squash plant about 7 feet tall so far:

It's a Sow True Seed winter squash, called
The description says each squash can weigh 25-40 pounds!
Do you think I should make little hammocks to support the 
two baby squash(!) already growing high up on the fence? 

I'm thinking maybe.

Today the brushcutting was finished.
When my younger helper comes on Wednesday,
he can pull all the wilted (by then) cuttings off the bank
and pile them up on the Very Raised Bed.
I am loving having a way to make good use of such material!

Now, I would love to have your advice, all you lovely gardeners!

I'd like to plant the whole bank with perennials this Autumn.
Any recommendations for plants?
What are your undemanding perennial favorites?
I'm in Zone 5, and the bank is rocky (of course).
It gets a lot of afternoon sun.
I'm hoping for plants that will spread densely,
but not grow tall enough to shade the terrace garden above.

So far, I'm considering daylilies and iris
(tall, so they would be planted at the base of the stone wall),
and several varieties of shorter coreopsis along the upper bank.
I've never grown coreopsis; not even dyer's coreopsis.
It is an annual, and since it is so difficult to garden here,
the return of perennials is important. To my sanity. seems there are now perennial coreopsis,
reputed to be equally hardy and even more colorful.
And perhaps a dye source! Worth a try.

That's all I've come up with for possibilities so far.
Please, please feel free to make suggestions.
Prepping and planting this garden is going to be a lot of work.
Any guidance to making it successful will be much appreciated!



It is Sunday this time. I checked.

Right after morning chores, Piper and I headed to the pond.
Our trip had three purposes.
The first was, of course, Piper Entertainment.

By the way, it is really difficult to get pictures of Piper lately.
She deliberately avoids the camera.
As soon as she sees it, she swiftly ducks her head
and looks at me reproachfully from the corner of her eye.

Like this:

It's truly bizarre.
All I can think of is she has started her own blog
and resents my use of her images on this one.
Secondly, our trip was part of the new
Cloud Harvest Cashmere Capture and Release Program.
Specifically, I am live-trapping chipmunks and mice in the goat barn,
and releasing them in a lovely location with natural shelter,
abundant food sources, running water,
and a lack of human habitation for miles in all directions.

I wouldn't do this when wild food sources are not available,
so it is important to do it now, well before Winter.
Plenty of time for the critters to make cozy nests
and gather up supplies to replace the oats
they've been stealing from the goats all day, every day.

Piper hasn't made the connection yet,
but every time the little traps close,
she gets to go to the pond!
Yesterday we went three times.
I will not be surprised if we do the same today.
Current tally: Mice 3, Chipmunks 4
The third reason for our trip this morning was to collect goldenrod.
Dyepot time!
I only took about 20 stems, because the flowers were being
enjoyed by thousands of tiny mystery insects.
Any entymologists here?
The bugs were thin, less than 1/2 inch long,
with orange heads and dark grey bodies. Very stylish.
They did not wish to leave the flowers.
I had to touch each one gently so it would fly to another flowerhead.
Back at home, google failed(!) to identify the bugs.
I am just hoping they do not destroy vegetables,
because despite my careful efforts
I'm sure I brought a few hundred home.

Since I took so few goldenrods,
I added a bit of Queen Anne's Lace
and a little yarrow.
(It's an experiment. It's ALL an experiment.)

Then I took every whole, clean leaf from each goldenrod stalk.
For some stalks, this meant nearly every leaf.
For others, it meant almost none.
When I was finished, Piper checked my work:

The clean leaves went into a quart jar
and boiling water was added.

I recently read that goldenrod leaves make a nice tea,
so I'll try it and report back.

The dyepot simmered gently all afternoon,
and is now cooling.
It smells nice.
At least, I think so.
But I've heard people complain about a black walnut dyebath,
and I think that smells nice, too.

If this was a scratch-and-sniff picture,
you could all weigh in!

When I first tried botanical dyeing, I intended to keep detailed records:
weights of plants and fiber, temperatures and times, and so on.
And keep samples of all results: fiber, fabric, other.
(Because I have that sciencey mind, you know.)
However, that approach soon seemed pointless. And joyless.
Because the variables are many, and some are uncontrollable.
Replication is, in a word, unlikely.

Now I approach each dyeing experiment
as a potentially lovely surprise.
And some have especially sweet associations:
plant materials collected for me by a forester I used to work with,
or the dye made with leaves and twigs of a tree that meant a lot to me,
and which is now sadly gone.
(Piper killed it - on purpose - but we don't talk about that.)

I don't plan to use today's dye immediately,
but when I do I will post about it.

Have you ever dyed with plants?
I'm sure some of you are far more experienced than I am.
I'd love it if you would share your thoughts - 
or even a link to your favorite dyeing blogpost? - 
in the comments!