Birdbath Planter

Birdbath Planter

The discovery of a woodchuck burrow in the garden was disheartening. I have enough garden foes— deer that lie in our grass and dine at night; they won’t run unless you chase them, and invincible, invisible armadillos. Not to forget the other members of the Jacob backyard animal alliance: possums, rabbits, raccoons, fox, squirrels, chipmunks and coyotes. Someone is sending a message: Forsake gardening. Your yard is destined to be a wildlife preserve.

My top stress-relievers include reading and gardening. When gardening is stressful, I go shopping. I don’t head to the mall—four hours in a mall and I need a therapist—I go to nurseries and greenhouses.

The array of vegetables, flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees in a nursery can capture my attention for hours—hours that pass like minutes. My friend Kathryn says time stops in a nursery. This peculiar loss of time also occurs when I write. It does not occur when I’m chasing deer; that is a waste of time.

Last spring I planned to buy old-fashioned impatiens but changed my mind when I saw a new cultivar. The label stated they tolerated part sun/shade. Other labels said shade/part sun. I tried to remember how many hours of sun and shade hit the area of the garden where they were going to be planted. Kathryn noticed me staring at the ground, which was atypical considering my surroundings. She asked what was wrong. I explained my confusion over the sun/part shade versus shade/part sun labels. Kathryn, a Master Gardener Emeritus who knows the Latin name of nearly every plant, laughed and said, “They mean the same thing. The plant does well in shade and can tolerate several hours of sun, but not during the hottest part of the day.”

Nurseries often showcase the latest landscape and container garden designs. I saw a cement birdbath used as a planter at a local greenhouse. The form and texture were perfect for a large-scale container garden. There weren’t many birds frequenting my birdbath but I’d seen plenty of mosquitoes flying around despite the charcoal pellets I threw in the water to stop their eggs from hatching. I dumped the water and turned it into a centerpiece for a small area I named the Birdbath Garden. (It’s been renamed the Woodchuck Garden.)

Nurseries and greenhouses are great resources for plant identification. If I have time, I look at all the plants in a nursery and quiz myself on names. Because I’m a Master Gardener, people get a thrill out of testing me on plant names. I can’t remember the names of several plants in my own garden.

My husband RJ uses word association to remember plant names. It works but unfortunately the names stuck—the variegated leaf Santana in our garden is blooming. The light pink flowers on the Spyro Gyra are gone and the Peter Yarrow is drooping. Occasionally RJ breaks with his musical theme. He glanced at the purple, spiky flowers arranged on the dining room table a few years ago and said, “The Saliva looks great this year.”  (You say Lantana; RJ says Santana. I say Spirea; he says Spyro Gyra. We both refer to Salvia as Saliva in the privacy of our home.)

Like an antiques dealer at an estate sale, a gardener hunts for treasure; a new species or cultivar nobody dares call garden variety. I was in my favorite nursery when I screeched, “What is that?” after spotting flowers with lovely yellow throats and gently ruffled white borders. An older gentlemen with perfectly creased trousers stared at me. My face blended nicely with the scarlet petunias. I was reaching for the mystery flower tag when a hand gently touched my shoulder. The older gentlemen told me the flowers were the first yellow petunia, a cultivar called ‘Lemon Zest.’ He and his wife, who passed away five months prior, thought they were remarkable too.

The chance of running into someone in a nursery who doesn’t like gardening or lacks awareness of his or her effect on the environment is rare. The benefits I’ve detailed, plus the lack of mirrors and changing rooms, makes garden shopping a therapeutic experience.


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RJ was sitting at the counter rearranging newspaper sections when I entered the kitchen.  “We trapped something last night,” he announced.

“Really?” I poured a little coffee into my mug of Land O Lakes Fat Free Half and Half. “What is it this time?” Chances were greater than us catching the armadillo that it wasn’t an armadillo.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know,” I repeated as I stirred three packets of Splenda into my coffee-flavored cream. “I better go see what we caught.”

RJ sipped his normally-prepared coffee. “Don’t bother. He broke out.”

“Let’s pretend I’m surprised. How did he get out?”

“Forced his way through the trap door.”

“I’m confident this mystery animal is a she.”

“Well,” RJ said. “He/she bent the spring loaded bar that locks the door almost in half. Bent it back so far that he…”

“She,” I interjected.

“…Was able to force the door to unlatch and he escaped.”

BentTrap“Impressive,” I said. “What animals around here are small enough to fit in the cage and strong enough to bend it and break out? Since you used worm for bait again, I’m going to find out which native species eat worms.”

I poured another cup of cream and coffee and headed to the office. My Google search results for ‘animals that eat worms’ produced 242,000 results. I modified the search to ‘Ozark animals that eat worms.’

“Hon,” I said. “Do we have badgers?”


“Is a fox too far-fetched?”

“They’re too smart.”

“Now you’re just stereotyping. Do you think juvenile Razorbacks would dare cross the Arkansas state line?”

RJ shrugged. “Probably. Maybe it was a woodchuck.”

“According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, woodchucks are herbivores.”

“Maybe he needed protein.”

“I don’t think it was a woodchuck. I bet it was a raccoon.” I Googled ‘raccoons natural diet.’ “Did you know raccoons use their front paws like hands? Did you know they rinse their food in water? And did you know raccoons eat worms?”

“Yes, yes and no,” RJ answered. “A raccoon makes sense. I concede.”

“Female raccoon,” I said.

“I think it was our armadillo that escaped from the trap last night. He’s stronger and smarter than your average ‘dillo.”

“Well, if that were true you should call him Mr. Ed and I should go eat worms.”

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October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993. The document defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”

Twenty-one years later studies show violence is as common in same-sex relationships as it is in heterosexual ones. Preconceived notions about gender roles delayed awareness and acceptance of domestic violence in the LGBT community. Despite sexual orientation, 95% of intimate partner violence victims are women according to The US Department of Justice. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence puts the percentage of women victims at 84%. Although the percentage varies, domestic violence is color blind; women of every race are equally at risk.

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Artemisia in Jules’ Rock Garden

Countless gardeners say they’re anal or have Type A personalities. Gardeners are a bit dysfunctional due to their desire to control—nature among other things—but I’ve known gardeners who believe their super-power methodology bestows life to every plant in their garden.

Gardeners inflicted with God-of-my-Gardens Syndrome expect people to worship them as well as their gardens; after all they’re responsible for everything—genetic modifications, photosynthesis, how rain forms… These perfectionists, who pace around their gardens waiting for a weed to poke through the soil in case anybody driving by can see it, should be committed to psychiatric hospitals where they can prune box hedges into animal shapes for the rest of their lives.

Contrary to what Home Depot, Lowe’s and thousands of garden writers want us to believe, there are plants that procreate with abandon and live long after their supposed life-givers are gone. Yes, we help spread seeds but so do birds. The plants that evolved and survived did it in spite of us, not because of us. A walk or hike through a natural forest, prairie or glade is a quick reminder.

Gardeners are good at suspending disbelief—it could snow in April but I can plant these tender annuals at the end of March because they’re blooming on the shelves at Home Depot.  Newsflash: In the spring, greenhouses force the little, bitty plants crammed into six packs to bloom so you’ll be tempted to buy them. The energy goes into the blooms, not the roots. The roots are the plant’s foundation; without a strong one, a young plant has little chance of surviving poor conditions. Big box store nurseries adore gardeners who suspend their disbelief. They sell annuals to customers beset with spring fever and count on customers returning to their stores to replace those that died.

It’s difficult for me to tolerate narcissist gardeners. They spray, spray, spray non-organic insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers because the beauty of their lawn and garden is a reflection of them. They don’t care about the environment. They don’t care if they kill bees, worms, butterflies and ladybugs. They’re more interested in seeing the garden of the month sign in their front yard.

Years ago I was a narcissistic gardener. I used chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. My lovely garden was featured on three tours. I was proud of the pictures in local papers—they were proof of my supreme reign. Circumstances in the last four years pushed me to reform. I’m learning to live with and accept garden imperfections for the health of family, neighbors and the planet. It isn’t easy—beauty in the eye and all—but most gardeners want to be environmentally conscious. They’re also less annoying than squirrels, smarter than possums and prettier than armadillos.

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There were crucial issues to worry about during my absence. Did RJ remember to water? Did he purchase a steel trap or a .22? Was there a dead armadillo behind the woodpile—dead plants, beer cans—anything? Did the deer that jump up the tiered walls of the garden to the front porch—partaking in the plant buffet along the way—break in and slash the kitchen walls with their hooves like those in The Leftovers?

Worrying works for me. It’s like refusing to carry an umbrella on a partly cloudy day to dare the rain to fall, and refusing to carry an umbrella on a completely overcast day to ensure I get wet. When I arrived home a few beer cans were in the recycle bin and RJ and the Siamese were roaming about the couch. (Cats, not twins.)

RJ, Juju and Loki were happy to see me. Thai, our eight year-old Seal Point Siamese, looked guilty. “What did he do?” I said.

“He went overboard with a chipmunk. I have good news, though. There wasn’t a sign of armadillo damage in the garden while you were gone.”

“You’re messing with me,” I said, patting Thai’s head. “I can’t believe he actually caught a chipmunk.”

“He did. And I’m not kidding about the armadillo.”

“Of course,” I said, looking at Thai curled in RJ’s lap, thinking ‘hunter gathering.’ “I wonder what happened to the armadillo.”

“Maybe he moved on. Aren’t you happy? It’s your garden.” I noted a twinkle in R.J.’s eye but a bit of a shine on his forehead.

“It’s our garden.”

“It’s only ours,” RJ countered, “when you want me to work in it.”

“Okay, how about you join me in the garden to smell daisies and sunbathe then?”

The garden was lush and lovely for September. It rained three times during my absence—my worrying about RJ watering the garden worked, like not taking an umbrella when it looks like rain. The joy of seeing undisturbed plants and the New England Asters New England Asters and chrysanthemums in bloom temporarily replaced the loss of my arch-a-dillo.

My grandson, Aiden and granddaughter, Lillian stayed with us for the weekend. Aiden and RJ were up to something in the garage Saturday afternoon that involved running back and forth to the house and profuse hammering.

Our friends and their six year-old daughter, Hannah joined us for a cookout. After dinner, Aiden worked on his mystery project an hour before I had to see what he was doing. I turned the knob to the garage door and pushed; it only opened halfway, enough for me to see a complicated system of rope, twine and wooden stakes that ran from the door, to a workbench and to the refrigerator. I forced the door open—a wooden sword flew off the workbench and landed at my feet.

Aiden jumped out from behind the door, yelling, “It worked!”

“Whoa,” I said, taking a step backwards. I looked at the blunt sword and exhaled. “That was awesome. Is this part of your pirate ship?”

Aiden laughed. “No, I made it. It’s a trap!” “See,” he said as he ran to the bench, dodging rope and twine, “when you forced the door open, it made the sword fall. When you step on the sword it tightens the rope to the fridge.” Aiden pushed the sword hard with his foot, demonstrating how the rope opened the refrigerator door (with great effort.) “Hopefully he’ll be strong enough to open the door. He’ll go in the fridge and die in there.”

“How will he close the door? Wait. Who’s going to die?”

Before Aiden could answer, the girls entered the garage, screeching in mock terror one minute and giggling the next as only little girls can do for two hours straight. They tugged and pulled on the ropes, moving closer to the refrigerator.

“No, Lilly!” Aiden yelled, jumping in front of the fridge.  “Get out! The trap is not for you.”

Even though the refrigerator door was closed again, I nearly passed out from the trap-refrigerator-child combination. I handed the girls their bubble swords. “Refrigerators aren’t for playing, they’re only for storing food,” I said sternly.

Silence, all three kids staring at me. Lillian said, “Geez, Nana, we know that” before she and Hannah screamed merrily, merrily, merrily all the way to the front yard.

“Who’s the trap for Aiden?”

“The Marmadillo.”

I smiled so hard my bottom lip cracked. “Why would he go in the fridge once he pulled the door open?”

“Because that’s where Pop-pop keeps the marmadillo’s worms.”

“Smart,” I said. “It’s armadillo, not marmadillo.”

“Ah,” Aiden replied, grinning at me. “A-arm-a-marmadillo.”

“No! Don’t ever arm a…”

“Nana,” Aiden interrupted. “Do you think I’ll catch him?”

“Absolutely, with a trap like yours, you’ll catch that Marmadillo.”




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