Prickles Prove Prickly

Sometimes things do too well. All things in moderation, they say, and we generally want things to do better rather than worse, but sometimes things go crazy and require serious cutting back. Yesterday I cut back the blackberries, black raspberries and raspberries. I not only cut them back. I gave them away.

I should have known better than to move them into the garden in the first place. I should have realized that with the better soil in there, with the continual feeding they get from decomposing leaves, they would thrive. Last year already they looked like this. There is a vague way to get between the rows, but it had begun to be tricky even then.

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This year I was too embarrassed by their overgrown tangles to take a front-on photo. They snuck into this image from when I was weeding in July. You can see there is no way in.

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They do produce berries, lovely berries, but you could pick only the ones you could reach from the perimeter of this berry jungle. I did enjoy a few handfuls of reds and blacks. I assume the birds got the rest, though how they navigate in there beats me.

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I am ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it’s the prickers. Do you see what I see among these cut branches?

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Look carefully. One pricker after the next sticks out in random directions every inch or so. They are razor sharp and get through even the super-coated work gloves I have, the kind made for winter work – warm and thick but still movable. They stick through the plastic coating into your fingers without warning and they break off into the same plastic coating to sneak up on you and stick you later as well. Some get past and make it into a warm bed under your skin. This one I pushed out this morning. See how teeny? I think maybe different gloves would have been better.

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When I started this job, I knew there would be pain. There were a lot of branches.

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Perhaps you can’t see them very well behind the bench. Let me help.

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The blue lines give an idea of how tall they were, but not how many. There were way more branches than blue lines. By the time I was done I had three piles.

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It was a gray day and not a fun task. I had just enough energy for this and nothing more, being on the recovering end of a bad cold, but not 100% better yet. I offered the plants to Tracy, who came later to dig them out. She filled the back of her pickup with foot-high starters and will find a perfect place with lots of room between the rows to plant them. Whatever comes up after she has taken all she wants, I’ll put elsewhere, outside the fence, and let them have at it, go to town, reproduce like rabbits if they want. I just don’t want to deal with the prickers anymore.

This morning I went out to check on the chickens, fill their feeder, check for eggs. I moseyed over to the dormant garden to look at those pricker branches once again, perhaps to rejoice over a job done. The garden is a little depressing in winter. The mum that was so spectacular in October is just sad now.

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The lemon grass that had bushed out so far it overgrew its planter box had been hit by frost finally and cut back.

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Not an overly uplifting mosey. Even the bird bath up close had nothing to redeem it.

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Then something green caught my eye. Something green in January.

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On October 24, just over three months ago, I planted some garlic bulbs that Tracy had given me, garlic bulbs called Nootka Rose (who comes up with these names?) that had sent green shoots into the air. Green shoots! January! You know, sometimes it doesn’t take much for our spirits to be lifted. Look at that green!

And the seasons, they go round and round…

Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange

I know there are people in the world who would feel, as I do, a twinge of sadness the day after a storm splits the gigantic chrysanthemum.

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Or who wish they could wander out to the garden to pick fresh oregano and purple basil for the homemade pizza about to go into the oven (see the basil in the box behind the rosemary?). Or who would like to make applesauce together from freshly picked heirloom Virginia apples. I suspect there are people who have some time – a few weeks or a few months – to explore a corner of the world that is surely different in some ways than their own and who wonder about my corner of Virginia.

I’m thinking this is Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange.

There’s always something going on around here: planting, harvesting, building, cooking, baking, (eating!), trying, creating, discovering, resting, marveling, playing, listening, digging, watching, learning, discussing, fixing, pondering.

There are my various gardens with herbs, vegetables and perennials. I’ve moved the azaleas in between the crape myrtles in front of the fenced garden. Turns out, the neglected bush that just got dug up in the front corner of my house was actually two bushes. This photo shows them moved, with their fresh dirt around them, but not yet trimmed, staked or mulched. I did that later in the day, after taking the photo. I had to take the photo when I did, and you see why. I did not ask little Coco to park herself there to enjoy the sunshine…

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We have got to do something about the blackberries that are going crazy inside the garden, and the tomatoes could be pulled and winter crops planted. The asparagus bed is none too tidy, begs for attention. One of the rudbeckia got smashed somehow and needs a little love. The front yard is a mess from the recent Big Dig, but soon we’ll be pouring footings and building a nice front porch.

My two custom-built chicken coops provide palatial accommodations for 29 interesting (some bordering on ridiculous) chickens. They need new mulch or straw when they’ve scratched through what we put down before, but they give lots of amazing eggs to make good food with! My lone araucana isn’t laying her greenish eggs any more though – could there be a reason? This black copper maran had a face-off with Coco yesterday. Both have curiosity, but the chicken less so. She just wants to get back to scratching in the straw. A white silkie came toward us to investigate.

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When the sun rises on a day with too much cloud cover, and it can’t quite get its rays to stream through the giant trees in my back woods, there’s always an otherworldly feeling and sometimes a glorious mist that sparkles on the leaves or in the air.

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When the wind kicks up such that those trees can’t help but engage in a wild dance, it’s a sight. The not-so-manicured trails through the woods are a pleasant walk leading to the beaver pond with its lodge and dam. The beavers keep making their pond a little bigger. I don’t get down there often enough.

When a fox trots in a wide circle around the coops, wishing (you know it!) that there was a way to get to those fat and surely delicious chickens, it doesn’t know how its red fur shines in the sun. When guests stay at my gorgeous Airbnb cottage, they just might see a mother bear and two cubs walk through the yard. A few weeks ago, someone did.

Recently I was in Seattle and met several enthusiastic, capable au pairs. I got to thinking that some people who would like to come to Virginia for a little while (but don’t necessarily have a friend here already) might prefer a household without small children, and might prefer a country setting. They might enjoy getting to know the plants that grow in this climate, or the way we lay decking boards, or the vibe of downtown Charlottesville, fifteen minutes away. It’s a vibrant university town with great restaurants and shops, exhibits and lectures, sports and music events. The Presidential homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are all within half an hour’s drive.

Over the years I’ve had short- and long-term visitors many times and would love to share my little piece of the world with some new friends. If you are thinking it’s a good time to do such a thing and have a little interest, you can let me know.