lundi 28 avril 2008

Snooker, La Reine fait sa réapparition, biofuel and a dropped toad

Paeonia suffruticosa
That's some peony

I cannot concentrate. I am supposed to be outside planting what I brought home from the nursery yesterday, but it's cloudy, I'm behind the rock here in my blog, and Ronnie O'Sullivan is up 11 frames to 7 against Mark Williams in the best of 25 in the world championships in Sheffield. I have it streaming live on But, because I am also a fan of Neil Robertson, I have his game on Table 2 up in another window. He was down 8 frames to 0 against Stephen Maguire, and he is marching back at 45 - 0 in the 18th frame, 6 frames to 11. I can hear the applause from Table 1, so switching back to O'Sullivan's game, I see that he just took a 12th frame, leaving him with one to win. Let's just say it isn't going to be easy for Mark Williams.


The benefits of mowing the lawn

If I hadn't decided to mow the lawn yesterday morning, I might very well have missed one of the spectacular garden events of the year, the peony hidden under the spirea in blossom. It was a few years ago, probably while I was working on the lawn on the second terrace, which I was first doing in April in 2003. It doesn't seem that I saw it so early on here, though. It was such a big surprise that I must have wondered how I had missed it before. I'd have to go back through my pictures, year by year to see when it first appears in them.

There it is, April 28, 2004. Paeonia suffruticosa 'Cardinal Vaughn'. Now, where did I get that information then!

(Excuse me, Ronnie O'Sullivan is about to win; it's 73-0, and there are nearly fewer points left on the table than he has scored. He did it, he made the break at 88, and he is heading towards a win on a century. I need to be there. 104! There's the century! On he goes to clear the table. He's going to get the maximum 147. Whoo! Pandemonium, standing ovation... he did it! My hero. They can finally restart Robertson's game and I can concentrate a little bit more here.)

It was a huge flower, nearly as big as a dinner plate, and bright pink with yellow stamens. It is so heavy on the slender branches of the small, delicate shrub that is hangs downwards, nearly facing the ground. A flower like that, rivaling the sunflower in majesty, should be able to stand proud, but it can't. It needs to be surrounded by other Paeonia suffruticosa and even the bushier P. officinalis, roses to support it. Once it appeared, I looked for it to come back. The next year, there were three of them! I thinned out the old branches on the spirea, hoping for even more, or at least to make it more visible from under the protective, white-flowering arching skirts of its neighbor, but more visible was all I have achieved so far.

Then, I found another P. suffruticosa -- you can tell them by their delicate branching habit as opposed to the P. officinalis, which grows perennially from a bulb and whose scorched leaves have to be cut to the ground each fall -- that was completely obscured by the mass of huge Acanthus mollis leaves near the guest room on the upper terrace. I moved it out from underneath to sit between the A. mollis and the thriving Nandina domestica, which I hoped would provide the same benefits as the spirea, protecting it from strong morning light. It is producing several buds for the first time, to my knowledge, and I am waiting to see the color of the blooms. Eventually, I will try to bring them together in one place.

(After losing goodness knows how many in a row, Maguire just got a century to take a 12th frame to Robertson's 7, and needs only one more to advance. He missed on the 101st point, but that's good enough for a century and the frame. Do or die for Robertson, he's undaunted: 42-0 in the 20th frame to stay alive and misses at 47.)


The embankment and the Laurier

I don't know what got into me, but I went for one of the tasks I have been avoiding these last few years: sawing down a few ivy and other vine infested evergreens on the top of the embankment between our garden and the neighbor's to our right, as well as pruning the laurel shrub that overhung the retaining wall from the intermediary terrace by more and more each year, growing up into a lichen-covered and ailing tree that also badly needs pruning.

(Maguire is creeping up 28-47...)

So, while Audouin did battle with the recalcitrant pool pump, I went and got the chainsaw, the ladders, my leather gloves and got to it.

(43-47... oh well, at least I like Maguire, too. 52 and three balls remaining on the table. If he doesn't miss this one... Neil sees his chance flying away. It's done. He leaves the last ball on the table and shakes Neil's hand.)

The embankment has to be cleared to make way for a retaining wall to create more space for the garage and brick courtyard adjacent. All I have to do is have Eric Aubrun bring in the big equipment and the whole thing will be gone in a morning, but I have been looking forward to bringing that mass of vegetation down myself. Besides, it makes me hope it will be faster and cheaper if I get a lot of it cleared out beforehand.

In the case of the laurel, it just had to get done. It had gotten so overgrown that no light penetrated inside the large shrub, which sent ever longer and slenderer naked branches with a few leaves at the ends out to get the sunshine. Inside, an escaped convict could go undetected several years.

Now, I can let Vinca difformis, or Periwinkle, run free to cover the area below and around it with scilla siberica, Geranium sylvaticum 'Birch Lilac', and Cyclamen hederifolium -- blues, pale violets and purples from February through November.

Then, I silenced the crowd of clamoring fears gathered at the foot of the extension ladder leaning up against the tree that felt like it could crack and fall down any second and called Sam down to hold onto it, while I reached up to saw off some high branches from the tree with my under-sized chainsaw, to no avail because I can't get them down.

They are just dangling there, waiting for me to call Florian and get him to come and do the stuff I just can't.

All of this made for an exceptionally large -- even by my impressive standards of previous production around here -- pile of biomass to burn.



No, not the wrong kind. Just the kind any good old garden happens to produce, and in enormous quantities here -- I would need the additional space of both of my neighbors' gardens to compost it all. I'll get to that very important activity when I have things under control.

I had to hurry yesterday because it got very hot, very fast, and one of my favorite new people at Florosny agreed with me, "A storm is coming; it got too hot too fast for there to be nothing brewing." It broke just after dark, after I had watered the fledgling lawn, just in case she and I were to be proved wrong. Meanwhile, it has dropped from the 80's yesterday afternoon back into the 50's today. I certainly hope it warms up again because we turned the furnace off yesterday, and I hate to have to switch it back on when it's almost May.

It's already not easy to burn green wood; it is that much more difficult to burn sodden green wood, so if it were going to rain, I had to hurry and get a fire going if I ever were going to get it going. After half my small collection of circulars newspaper and nearly a half a box of kitchen matches, I did what any thinking person would do and went for the dry kindling Audouin stores at the barbecue and made a fire in the middle of my pile. Biomass becomes instant biofuel! And Nero fiddled while Sisyphe dragged more and more branches onto the pyre and the dogs napped in the softly falling ashes.

There's still a large amount to burn, but I couldn't lift it alone, a small tree trunk with a crown of ivy that lay where it fell, and Audouin was still deeply engaged in trying to remove the last of the four bolts from the pump housing by trying to KD-40 it out, saw it's head off, and, finally, drill it to death with one malfunctional and another non-functioning electric drill.

A French husband could easily be mistaken for his American brother-in-law...

I spent Saturday morning cleaning the pool pump house, knowing he would be spending his weekend in there. I filled an entire vacuum cleaner bag with spider webs and nearly filled the garbage bin with the stuff Audouin never takes to the garbage. Every broken and empty object just might have a second useful life in, oh, say 10 years.


And, the dropped toad

I scared the bejeepers out of Audouin when I screamed in shock. OK, so it was a little bit of the merest overreaction, but I was very surprised, and a little worn out from my weekend's activity.

I was practically next to him, scooping dead leaves out of the flower urn, partially hidden under the mass of the box hedge down the staircase, when I felt something terribly cool and soft for dry, dead leaves. I let out a shriek and the thing dropped from my hand, even as I realized what I had just done to this poor creature, now lying a couple of steps down on his back, pale belly to the wisteria beginning to blossom above. Not that he was contemplating the beauty of the opening bunches of pale violet blooms having just landed from over a meter on his head and flipped to his back.

"I killed him," I gasped.

"You scared me to death is what you did. Do you have to do that? You scream like you are badly injured, and it's just a toad." He was fairly seriously peeved. I think it was the frustration of the stuck bolt. Just a toad. Ignoring Audouin, I picked him up. Dead, he couldn't be any colder. Just stiffer.

"Look, he's OK."

"Of course he's OK. He's a toad." Yeah, like toads can't die or something. They have special built-in protective helmets for their heads.

"He's peeing all over my hand."

"Watch it -- move! It's getting all over Baccarat's head!" For some reason, he was all worked up over this. It was a lot of water, though. Who'd have thought a toad would have it in him?

"That's not my fault; she's in the way and he's stressed. Baccarat, move."

"It's disgusting. He's emptying himself."

"Yeah, that's what happens when you pee." I put him back in the urn from whence I had so suddenly and heartlessly grabbed and flung him, "He seems OK."

"Put the dry leaves back in." Good idea. He made himself a nest again and kept one, single gold eye on me, looking very grumpy.

I promised to leave him alone, forever.


And none of this got the new plants I brought home planted... two Euphorbia characias 'Wulfenii' (pretty wilted looking), the appalling rhododendron (but I'll save that story), a Potentilla fruticosa 'Abbotswood' (the white one) and a Clematis clematis 'Ville de Lyon', to add to the Clematis viticella 'Polish Spirit' and the Lonicera x heckrottii 'Goldflame' for the gazebo that I still haven't planted.

That was supposed to be today, and the clouds have gathered while the Tigers play the Angels on Sport+ and the dogs look at me forlornly, wondering if they are ever going to get out to pee.

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