My friend, the late Helen McGrath of Oak Bluffs, used to offer up three bits of advice. Affectionately known as Nurse Helen, she was endlessly cheerful. When people or things would get you down or irritated she would quip, “Put a smile on your face and it will work its way in.”
Her favorite old adage for a person prone to self-doubt she reminded, “A clock that’s stopped is right twice a day.”
Finally, she always believed there were no bad days, only bad moments. If she were alive I’d call her up and say I’ve been having a series of bad moments.
My elderly and favorite cat escaped the house and has been wandering for days. If you see an extremely skinny grey tiger with no tail, ring Laurie Clements, the best animal control officer ever. She keeps the four-legged of Tisbury in line.
As you remember last column, I went on about my plethora of dahlias. I spent last rainy Tuesday all day transplanting hundreds into plug trays and flats. Then, the end of the week three freezing nights in a row managed to kill every one. We’re talking 23 degrees. My hoop house only has three millimeter plastic. The other houses have a double layer of six millimeter. Now you know. Spend the extra money for the heavier gauge plastic film. My other annuals in the smaller greenhouses came through the freezes just fine. It took me two full days to regain my composure. I brought every package of purple alyssum from Shirley’s and overseeded the pathetic remains of dahlia death.
I used to view alyssum, geraniums and pansies as old lady plants. Now that I am one, I am enjoying all three. Alyssum can be strewn about under anything to cover the soil. It also reseeds, so pay attention when starting your first cultivation and mulching.
We finally hooked up our generator, thanks to Danny Larsen. I had been hauling water twice a day. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for our ancestors and third world farmers for whom watering was and is a major chore. It is difficult for us to understand life without the benefits of the faucet.
Back to my dead dahlias for a moment of Zen. The day I transplanted them, Violet and her friend Cesca were having a play date in the greenhouse. They had the My Little Pony palace set up. I eavesdropped on their make-believe. We ate lettuce from the tubs, the rain and wind were very loud on the plastic roof, and the girls would run in and out playing in the mud. The dahlias are dead but the day was beautiful and memorable. There you have it — life goes on.
Finally, the forsythia are blooming. An old plant can be revived if you are ruthless. Eventually they become a fumbled mass of growth with very little bloom. Get out the hand saw and knee pads. I cut out every branch at soil level bigger around than an inch. When in doubt, cut it out. Five or six young twigs left will give you a beautiful, airy foundation of color next spring, and for heaven’s sake, resist the temptation to cut the ends of those branches. Save your need for globes and squares for boxwoods.
I’ve been busy liming and fertilizing this week. I have been remiss the past few years at some of my places. I use palletized lime. It has been rolled in molasses to make it spreadable. The first rain leaves the white powder. I scratch it into the soil or cover with a layer of compost.
As I’ve mentioned many times, North Country Organics is the fertilizer of choice. I use pro-holly on the evergreens, azaleas,and hydrangeas and pro-gro or pro-start on everything else. All soil can be improved.
My friends call me a Luddite because of my disdain for computers. The Luddites were members of a social movement in Britain. They were textile artisans in the 19th century who protested the industrial revolution. They feared change in their lifestyle and went about destroying mechanized looms. Today a person who dislikes automation and new technology in general could be comparable to those Brits.
I, of course, tried to defend myself. After all, I can Google in a pinch, and I can text, for Pete’s sake. Naturally, I use full sentences and proper punctuation and capitalization.
My son, Reuben, says, “If the Internet were a real place you’d be ashamed to be there.” I might have to agree after hearing about some of the anonymous vitriol that goes around cyberspace. Just because some information is on the web does not mean it is true.
At any rate, I have now explained to my patient Gazette editor, once again, why this column is handwritten. Thanks again for your indulgence.