May 9, 2020

May birthday roses
May 2020 birthday roses (Inktense pencils and Opera watercolor on Canson Mix Media paper)

Here are a few preliminary sketches of roses I’m thinking of rendering as a botanical or two. (I’ve ordered the illustration board from Blick’s and waiting for it to arrive.) Sometimes I wonder how anyone, me included, could think they are remotely capable of improving on, or even maintaining, the beauty of such roses in the flesh. But I am always drawn to attempt imitating the colors of such lovely ephemeral things anyway. It is my experience that none of the colors from nature actually come from a tube or cake. (I just realized that I sometimes use Opera right from the tube. The top rose was drawn with several Intense pencil colors, as well as undiluted Opera watercolor. I guess I’m not really the color diva I think I am. Oh, well.) Even though I know I won’t actually create the colors of nature I do enjoy the challenge of experimenting with combinations of one color or another, always mindful to leave enough white paper showing to add a highlight or color effect that I am seeking. I’m very aware of the number of layers of pigment I plan to use. If I’m not careful sometimes a color looses its intensity and luster. And there have been many times that I’ve gone too far with a pot of watercolor and it looks kind of muddy. I just toss it out and start again, trying to remember where I should have stopped in the first place. For my botanicals on illustration board I speed up the initial color threads with Prismacolor colored pencils.

Anyway, last time I wrote about the diseases and critters that can ruin roses. But of course there are all kinds of vermin that can get into any garden and take it down whether you have roses or not. A while back I planted what I am calling my victory pickle garden and have had a bit of trouble with the bugs ever since. But instead of listing all the creepy crawling things who decimated two thirds of my cucumbers and dill I decided to describe the unsung online appropriately socially distanced heroes who have helped me along the way, turning all that buggy mayhem into a pretty good start to a summer vegetable garden. Go pickle plants and friends, go! 

My son has been making pickles and enjoys putting garlic in the brine with the cucumbers and dill. If this pickle garden was going to have all possible ingredients I knew there should be garlic and it should go in the ground first. I ordered that straight away. (I have actually already written about ordering garlic seed from Filaree Garlic Farm in Omak, WA. See the art of garlic and story, January 25, 2020.)  Filaree Garlic Farm also sells asparagus, potatoes, shallots and sweet potato slips. (I grew Yukon Gold potatoes in Grass Valley a number of years ago, and harvesting those spuds was a fun version of digging for gold. I discovered many plump potato nuggets in every shovelful of dirt. I also tried growing asparagus in my Grass Valley garden, but that didn’t turn out so well. My chickens ate all 7 spears down to the ground before I could chase them away.) Once the garlic arrived I tucked it into the prepared ground. About that same time I also got a small dill plant and two different kinds of dill seed from my local Ace Hardware Store. I soon planted the plant and dug in the dill seed (Ferry-Morse Bouquet and Long Island Mammoth). Then I turned over the soil for the tomatoes and cucumbers. It was about this time that we were to stay home and if we were to go out we were to keep 6 feet away from everyone. I called my local Armstrong Garden Center and ordered 3 different kinds of tomatoes and 2 kinds of cucumbers (one for picking and one for salads—Lemon Cucumbers). They were delivered to my door the very next day. I put the tomatoes in right away. But I waited a bit to be sure the small cuke plants had hardened off before putting them into the ground. During that time I ordered online a cucumber and squash A-Frame support from Gardener’s Supply Co (in Burlington Vermont). It’s a metal lattice frame that folds into a triangle and a cucumber plant can then grow vertically up the sides. I don’t have a lot of room in my garden and thought this a good solution for a plant that needs some space to spread out. Once that arrived, I set it up and planted all the cucumbers. We had a fair amount of rain then and it seemed to suit everything in the garden, and everything started to increase in size ever so slightly. But once the temperatures warmed and the sun peeked from behind the clouds I noticed several of the cucumbers were looking puny and maybe a little dried out. I thought they were getting too much sun (that doesn’t seem like a bright idea now, but it seemed right at the time). I put out an umbrella. After a day or two of shade it was clear that wasn’t working. By then it was making sense to me that these plant needed the sun to grow, right? I finally realized, too late I might add, that some creepy crawly critters were eating the cucumbers and tiny dill seedlings. I decided I needed to get some cucumber seeds and start again. But I had heard that lots of people were planting gardens and vegetable seeds were becoming scarce. I looked online at veggie seeds available at Ace Hardware and there were no seeds of any kind to be seen. I took a chance and called my local Ace Hardware and a person there went to check to see if they had any pickling cucumber seeds. They had three kinds—(Ferry-Morse Sumter, Cucumber Slicer and American Seed National Pickling Cucumbers). I was saved and asked her to set these aside, which she gladly did for me. Within the hour I donned my mask and sun hat and walked there to get the savior pickle seeds and some diatomaceous Earth to take care of the crawling bugs. So, do you think I was satisfied? Was my garden now complete? Of course not. I realized I wanted a basil plant, even though it was not to be part of the pickle project. I knew it would be more of a friend of the pickles like the tomatoes. For this one I splurged a little and ordered an ‘Italian Large Leaf’ basil from the Grower’s Exchange in Sandston Virginia. As of Saturday, May 9, 2020, I can report that the victory pickle garden and friends is looking great. So, now we wait for the actual fruit.

If you are not a real gardener at heart, you probably stopped reading this garden tale by the second paragraph. But I thought it important to share all the businesses who are still out there, waiting to help us with a dream garden or whatever you are dreaming about right now. And they don’t have to be from CA to please this CA girl. Thank you!

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