mardi 31 mars 2009

Fish kisses


That's one of my four fish friends. The survivors. If I talk to them in their fishcan [trans.: a trashcan containing fish, rocks and plants], they will come to look at me. If I put the tip of my finger to the surface of the water, they will come and see if it isn't something to eat. This does not frighten me. They are not barracudas. It kind of tickles. A little bit of a suction effect. Like a kiss. A fish kiss. I haven't offered my own lips yet. The ends of my hair would get wet, and Baccarat might bump into me and send me headfirst onto the reefs below, scaring the few wits she possesses right out of Rapide, not to mention the fish.

Rapide has, by the way, been doing wonderfully since the vet operated to remove the cyst from her left tear duct almost two weeks ago. It's amazing. When he first saw her a couple years ago, he said that it looked like she had an inverted lower eyelid on the right side. It was true. You always saw the inside of the lower eye, sort of droopy and red. It seemed a bit of a shame for such a noble dog. It ran a lot, too.

Then, he noticed the cyst back in January.

"How long has she had that?" he asked in French.

"Je ne sais pas. Depuis toujours, ou longtemps au moins." I couldn't recall it not having been there, but I couldn't be certain either, and, besides, he notices everything. Wouldn't he have said something before?

"On devrait l'enlever," he said. I visualized myself writing more checks and Audouin sighing heavily over our pet budget. He's starting to wish he had gone to veterinary school and not medical school.

Let's check the earliest photos, taken in September 2006, just after we brought them home.

Oh. Hm. Not much there, is there? Maybe a tiny little something, if you look really close. Now I have to go through all the hundreds of photos to see when it first really showed up. It must have been very progressive because I look really closely at these dogs, a camera lens practically glued to my own eyes.

When she came out of the vet's clinic the day she had it removed, she was a wreck.

"Elle est terrorisée," said the vet, as she crashed into the door frame with her lampshade thing around the head and jumped back in fright. I barely recognized her, all scrunched up and shaking, her head swaying this way and that, trying to see to her side and figure out why she didn't make it around corners anymore without a jolt to her head.

"Je vois ça."

The lampshade thing protecting her stitches lasted all of 3 1/2 days. It was supposed to make it through 14 and be removed along with the stitches on the 15th. On the 5th, however, I was carrying it in my hand into the vet's office. The assistant took one look at it, glanced at Rapide, and asked, "How long has she had that off?" in French.

"Depuis avant hier soir."

"Et elle a toujours ses pointes de sutures?" I nodded.

"Elle ne les a pas touché, mais elle ne supporte pas cette espèce d'abat-jour." She nodded, looking doubtfully at Rapide. The vet laughed when we walked through his door.

"Elle a fait exprès," I said to him. At least not in the beginning, but after running into enough pillars and posts, corners and doorframes and seeing that it was breaking, she started in on it with energy and application, batting it with her huge paws until it tore clean to the collar, and when a second tear formed at the peripheral edge, she went at that one until I found her the previous morning with the thing bent back over her shoulders, a large section missing.

It was pointless to leave it on her. I watched to see if she'd go for the stitches, but she did nothing but gloat at her own accomplishment.

"Ben, si elle ne les touche pas, on peut le laisser tomber."

"Je pense," I said, "qu'on n'a pas de choix. C'est elle qui décide."

Upon examination, her eye was perfect, her stitches intact.

"Elle a ouvert son oeil quand?"

"Son oeil ne fut jamais fermé," I said. "Vous avez du très bien réussi. C'est ouvert et clair depuis que je la cherchai à la clinique l'autre jour, vous savez." Which reminded me that we had also noticed, or I had, anyway, that the droopy, red lower lid on the other side had disappeared right along with the removal of the cyst, and the eye teared less. I explained it to him, asking, "Est-ce que le cyst fut réponsable pour l'autre oeil?" He looked up from her eye and right at me.

"Non, pas de tout."

"C'est drôle. Ce fut immédiat, et ses deux yeux semblent mieux." Maybe he is on the verge of a veternarial opthamological discovery. He has a specialty in this area. I did not, however, insist. Let him discover for himself. I'll bet you dollars to dozens that he'll be on the look-out now for the same with other dogs presenting the same symptoms and condition.

The cyst in protective fluid that went off for testing in Toulouse appears to have been benign, since we have had no news of it. Tant mieux.

So, the camellia.

The sick Camellia japonica

The camellia bush. I tremble.

My husband came home from work last evening just as I had let myself out the lower gate to take the dogs for a walk. I opened the large sliding gate for him to park his motorcycle. He got down, have me a kiss hello from inside his helmet and I cast my eyes down somewhere beside the rear wheel of the bike.

"Tu vas te fâcher contre moi."

"Pour qoui?"

"Parce que," my volume lowering defensively, mumbling, "j'ai oublié, en fin, je n'ai pas pensé à temps d'aller à la boulangerie chercher de pain, ni de vin."

"Comment? Je n'ai pas entendu." I grimaced. I hate having to say I didn't go get the baguette and wine before the stores closed.

"J'ai dit qu'avec le changement horaire, il faisait plus clair plus long et je ne me suis pas rendu compte qu'il fut déjà si tard, alors j'ai raté la boulangerie. Et le vin."

"Ah, il n'y a aucune importance. J'ai pensé que tu allais dire que le camélia est mort. Je l'ai vu ce matin. Ca -- ça c'est grave. Tu n'as pas de montre pour voir l'heure?" Actually, no. I haven't had a watch for awhile and I sort of avoid going to the store when I don't feel like it. I had both my cell phone and my laptp right next to me or in front of me. I could have checked the time.

"Il n'est pas mort. Je suis allée le voir aussi. Il a l'aire d'être mort, mais il ne l'est pas." Not yet. He looked as far from convinced and reassured as I have ever seen him look. Plants die. They die of all kinds of things. Sometimes you notice in time, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can save them, and sometimes you can't. You replace them when you can't. Audouin does not choose to accept, nor to forgive.

It's stressful being the resident gardener around here.

"Je vais m'en occuper demain. Je te le promets. Il se peut que c'est juste le choc d'être rempoté."

So, I did.

It could be anyone of several things:
  1. Root rot. Phytophthora cinnamomi Rands. Hm. Somewhat complicated to determine the causality. But, I did use sterile potting soil.
  2. Dieback. I don't think so. I don't see the telltale signs. Thank heavens.
  3. A case of the planting soil drying up and becoming hydrophobic, meaning that when you water the plant, the water just runs right through the planting soil, which is no longer able to absorb it, hence, the roots can't get the water you are offering and the plant dies of thirst. Soil doesn't look that way. I have done that often enough to know what that looks like now.
  4. Not enough water for other reasons. Neglect comes to mind. No chance with my husband's feelings about this particular plant. His ex probably gave it to him. [Die plant, die!]
  5. Too much water. Overattention and fear of being yelled at by one's husband come to mind.
  6. Too much fertilizer (engrais), or the wrong kind. Liquid fertilizers, it turns out, are too potent for camelias. They prefer long-release [Oh my! The frogs just started to make such a racket!] fertilizers, the granular forms. I used the only one I had available when I replanted it -- in acidic soil for camelias --, a liquid fertilizer that might not have been weak enough that I added to the water in the watering can. Oh oh.
  7. Rootbound. Not in this case. I gave it a bigger pot.
  8. Concrete pot, leaching lime into the soil and causing alkaline conditions. Nope. Nice terra cotta pot.
  9. Transplant shock. This is what I suspect.
  10. Leaf galls. Nope. Not life-threatening.
  11. Sooty mold. Yah. Not life-threatening. Will treat.
  12. Lichens. "Lichen are not organisms that damage camellia; instead they show up when the camellia (or some other plant/tree) is stressed for another reason. It is, thus, an indicator of a problem rather than a cause. Determine if the camellia soil is kept wet too long such that the roots are developing root rot." This is a back to the drawing board problem.
  13. Virus variegation. Not my problem.
  14. Root-knot nematodes. I'm getting bored.

I think our Camellia japonica has transplant shock. It had to be pulled up from the entry courtyard for the work on the house in August, and I couldn't respect any needs it might have had in terms of timing and weather. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the best time to transplant a camellia is:
"before they bloom in spring, but a second option is when they start their new season of vegetative growth right after flowering, usually February to May for camellias. Transplanting young plants is easy, but older plants can be difficult. If you're thinking of moving an older plant, you may want to consider heavy pruning instead."
It sat in a pot, large enough to hold the root ball that I could dig up, a sad affair at best because the acidic soil-loving camellia and hydrangeas planted in the entry courtyard where stuck into the existing, lime-ridden chalky dirt. They were fairly scrawny, with the exception of one hydrangea that nearly killed me to dig out, with large main roots.

Audouin and I had carried that one together down to my new hydrangea border in the bottom garden, back behind the pool, and I did everything I could to take as much of the root system along intact. It wasn't much, and all the dirt fell off the roots. I had prepared a brand new bed with acidic soil, and I did my best to distribute it's roots in the new soil with care, watering profusely and tying the plant back to hold it in place. Of course, I should have cut it back significantly before transplanting it, but it was in its height of flowering glory, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.

It wilted some, but as it's flowers died, I cut them off, taking a good deal of the supporting stems, and the plant picked up a bit. Now, coming out of the winter, there is a good deal of healthy new growth at the base of the plant, and buds everywhere. I need to cut it back now to insure full, bushy growth, rather than a spindly plant.

As for the camellia, though, I didn't know where I wanted to put it. It needed more friends, and Audouin wanted to put it somewhere where it would be easily seen an enjoyed. If it were up to him, the entire garden would be right in front of the door to the house. The rest of it -- well, what would the rest of it be mon chéri? Tu veux un grand jardin, mais tu te plains que tu ne passes jamais dans la plupart du jardin pour pouvoir profiter de ses plantes.

I am under the obligation to plant lovely things throughout the garden, or suffer the criticism of neglecting it.

Il va falloir que tu aprennes de prendre le temps pour y errer. [Excuse me, he barely speaks English.]

And, so, there it sat while I wrestled with these problems in my head. I wanted to get it two more Camellia japonica plants and put them all down by the pool, where there are already azaleas and a rhododendron, ferns -- acid-loving plants. He wanted it in a pot in the front courtyard. It sat.

"Je suis sur que les racines ont gelées."

"Non." Maybe.

"Tu dois vraiment faire quelque chose."

"Oui." Yes.

I emptied a large terracotta pot of a dead pine, rinsed it out and set to work filling it with acidic planting soil for azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, placed the camellia in its hole and watered copiously, adding a liquid fertilizer to the water in the can in the correct proportion. It still might have been too strong for a camellia, though. If this is the case, the problem will pass as the plant is watered over time. I hesitated to remove all the old dirt from among its roots, even though it was the gloppy, chalky crap mostly. It was still holding its minor root system. I hoped that the new dirt around its edges, broken into it, would make up for it. I added (I think) root stimulator and set it where the morning sun would not burn its fragile leaves.

It slowly withered.

Then, it appeared to be dying.

Finally, it looked outright dead.

And, having looked into the affair, I conclude that it may have root rot and it is likely suffering from transplant shock. In the case of root rot, I have to dig up the roots and check to see if they are brown, and if they are, improve the soil conditions. Possibly apply a fungicide to the soil. This would surprise me, since I did what is needed to avoid it. I worry about checking for it, since if it is transplant shock, it would prefer to be left alone.

The best option might be to follow the advice of trimming it back, cutting each leaf in half, adding some sugar to the water and doing what I can to make sure the soil is draining well, including setting the pot on a bed of gravel to make sure that the water seeping from the soil in the pot is not saturating the ground below and preventing it from being able to drain fully. If the root tips are sitting in overly moist soil, the roots will rot.

Wish me well. I will win big marriage points if I carry the day with this camellia!

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