Thoughts on all things garden themed from an antique dealer gone amuck! I write, play with the dogs, and fill my house with garden art. There is hardly time to work the dirt!

Copyright 2010-2013 Barbara Barth, Writer With Dogs

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Murder Most Foul - Crepe Myrtle Death By Pruning

     I don't need Miss Marple to find out who butchered my Crepe Myrtle trees. I walked in on the last few minutes of the brutal crime, too late to come to the rescue, but not so late I didn't stand there, my finger pointed at the young man with his electric saw, and scream “Murderer!”

     It was a serial killing. In the corner of my yard, by the bathroom window, another Crepe Myrtle had suffered the same abuse.

     The other culprit, the boy's mother, ran to me from the corner of my yard. Clippers were still in her hand. A lone pink blossom and stem dangled from her weapon.

    “They are not dead. Only trimmed. Your two Crepe Myrtles will bloom again.”

The victim (before)

The crime (after)

     Actually, the scene did not play out as I wrote above. The real cause of the problem was me. I hired a tree service, one that had done a grand job in my yard in previous years, to come clean up the overgrown shrubs and trees so I could find my yard again.

     The Crepe Myrtle, smack dab in the middle of my back yard, had grown out of control. My butterfly bushes, also out of control, mingled with the limbs of the tree. It was more than I could handle.

     We walked the yard and I pointed to the two Crepe Myrtles. The one by the bathroom had limbs resting on my roof.

    “Let's trim them both, along with all these shrubs.” I pivoted in place, my outstretched arm pointed to all the overgrowth. I never said how I'd like them to look. I just left it to the professionals.

     Then I went inside to take a nap.

     The murder occurred while I was sleeping.

     The last two weeks driving down my street I noticed the Crepe Myrtles lining the sidewalks, on the county side, had been pruned back to tall, bald knobs.

    I'd be disgusted if the county did this to my yard. That was my thought every time I backed out my driveway to go somewhere. You couldn't miss how desolate the trees looked. The county had to cut back to protect the electric lines, but the view from the lovely planted yards to the stark tree stumps was shocking. Small branches are now popping up. A bad haircut that is starting to grow.
    I didn't need the county to muck up my yard. I paid to have it done.

    Now the worst example of all sits on my property. The focal point of a garden I wanted to salvage, now the biggest gardening embarrassment possible.

     Yesterday in the misting rain I went out to take a closer look at the Crepe Myrtle center stage. My hand ran up a sleek, bare, five foot tall, thick trunk. I talked to the tree like it was a child.

     "I'll take care of you. I promise I'll never let this happen again." I couldn't tell if it was tears or rain on my face.

     I bent and placed a kiss on the limb.

     Perhaps it heard me and will work harder to push out new growth. I know I will take care to be more cautious with my yard when letting others do the work.

     The Crepe Myrtle by the bathroom is not as badly cut, but I walked over to it and repeated myself.

     Then I came inside and Googled Crepe Myrtles and discovered the controversies about prunning them.

    Crepe Myrtle pruning is greatly debated in the south. With the concept of flowering on new wood, many end their growing season murdering their Crepe Myrtles. While the plant doesn’t actually die, an over zealous pruning job definitely murders the look of one. Gardening With Confidance blog.

   “Crepe murder.” I didn’t invent the term. I think it was coined by Byers Nursery, a big wholesale grower of crepe myrtles in Huntsville, Alabama. I just did what we Americans have always done so well — pass off other’s good ideas as your own.

    Crepe murder is bad for several reasons.

    1. It turns beautiful trees into ugly stumps.

    2. It prevents the formation of pretty, mottled bark on maturing trunks.

    3. A forest of skinny, whip-like shoots sprouts from the end of each ugly stump. These whips are too weak to hold up the flowers, so the branches often bend to the ground, like a drunk who’s about to lose his lunch.  From The Grumpy Gardener, Southern Living

    Be patient, I whisper. I will welcome two drunk looking trees into my yard, as long as they come back and bloom again.

     Right now I am debating about having a still drink myself. While we all got away with murder, the guilt is hanging over me as heavy as the branches were on my Crepe Myrtle.

     Lucky for me, my trees can't shout out, "Off with her head."

     While I didn't handle the saw, I cetainly decapitated them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cottage In My Mind: A Bee In My Bonnet

The Cottage In My Mind: A Bee In My Bonnet:    Dreaming of changing my old ranch house into the cottage in my mind is the subject of my newest blog. I am working on gardening issues now and would love some input! The link above will take you to that blog. Come say hello! Help me with gardening advice. What should I plant along my new picket fence that has mostly shade??? Thanks, Barbara

“Watch out!” I screamed at my handyman as the bees buzzed overhead. I have a morbid fear of being stung and I didn't want him to get zapped while working on my new picket fence.

“I see them.” He swatted at the air above his head with his old cap. “Geez. I hate bees!”

Nobody was stung, thank goodness. But I had a problem to address. While the fence in front of my house was near completion, the side corner that frames the driveway was buzzing with bees.

We stood there looking at the area he had to work on next.

“What do you think?” I looked at him, concerned, but somewhat disgusted there was a problem to solve.

“Don't know. I guess I could dig out the old fence, like I did on this side." He turned back to where he had all but completed my picket fence. "But there weren't bees there. Bees and I don't get along.”

The remains of the old split rail fence were covered with plants and shrubs. It had once been a flower bed, but years of neglect turned it into a jungle. I wanted flowers again, framed by my new fence. The only thing I planned to save was the sweet pink rose that managed to thrive over the years.

“Wonder what kind of bees they are?” I thought about all my old Victorian paintings with their honeybees flying over roses and lilacs in baskets.

I watched as the bees seemed to play in the air and soar above our heads, only to disappear back into the thick shrubs. They hardly noticed us.

“I'll bet they are honeybees.”

I called the county extension services and was put in touch with their master gardener.

“Not time for honeybees, nor yellow jackets. You say there is a wood fence there? Probably carpenter bees. April is the month you start seeing them.”

“Do you know someone I can call to get rid of them?"

“You can buy spray to kill them. But that could also annoy them. They really aren't aggressive, unless provoked. Do you have a tennis racket? Try to chase them away with that.”

Her remark brought back a flood of memories! My husband used to keep his old tennis racket by the kitchen door. He'd take it outside to deal with the carpenter bees when he saw them at the back of the house. I tossed it away a few months ago in a house cleaning frenzy. My timing was off on that one. But I didn't really picture my handyman or myself down by the fence swinging a racket."

“Do you have someone I could call.” I repeated myself.

She gave me the name of a guy, a beekeeper, who might help. “Tell him you know you can spray, but wanted his help to do it. Most likely he'll say no.”

Not to be discouraged I called him.

“Don't want to take your money for something you can do yourself.” I had a good old country boy on the phone.

“I'm pretty sure they are carpenter bees, and I know I can spray, but I'm scared. And so is my handyman.”

“If he is a handyman, he's not afraid of bees. Ask him. Never met a handyman who couldn't handle a few carpenter bees, unless they are wasps or something else. But with that fence there, they most likely are carpenter bees. Can't take your money for that.”

Please take my money, I silently pleaded.

“I'd feel better if you could come and take a look. I'll pay for your time.”

“If you're that worried, I'll come in the morning. Want to be sure you know what you're talking about. Wouldn't want you to hit a wasp nest. But most likely them carpenter bees. Can't take your money for that.”

It rained liked the heavens opened up that night. By morning it was bright again. My handyman showed up, but the bees did not.

An old pickup truck pulled up into the driveway just as I was assessing the bee situation. A man in his late forties jumped out and walked over to introduce himself.

“Do you think the rain chased them away?” I looked again at the quiet bushes and worried they were gone for now, but would be back, and my beekeeper would be gone.

Then a bee flew out of the bushes and circled us.

“Yep. You got carpenter bees.” He bent over and pulled back some limbs to see the split rail fence. “You can see the holes.” He thumped on the fence and more bees appeared. “Won't hurt you. Unless of course you bother them.”

Wasn't that what he just did thumping on the fence? But the bees just flew about. One brushed against my hand and took back off. They did not appear to be concerned with us like I was with them.

“Your handyman ain't afraid of those carpenter bees.”

“Yeah, I think he is. Let's ask.”

I called him over. He eyed the bees circling.

“Think you can handle this?” I looked at my handyman. Someone had to get that fence out of there so we could cut down the shrubs and get my picket fence in. "He says you can work around the bees."

“I hate bees.” He gave me a crooked smile and went back to the other side of the drive.

“Something wrong with him?” The beekeeper shook his head. “Never met a...”

“Can you help?” I cut him off mid sentence.

“I'll pull that old fence out if you like.”

Before I could answer he jerked out the two posts and the two rails and tossed them by the trash can. Then he bent over and grabbed the longer rail and held it out to me.

“Yep. Look at them holes.” He took a stick and poked in one of them. “Got that bee.”

The holes could not have been more precise if they had been drilled.

“Wow. That's amazing. Are there more bees in there?”

My fear was gone. This was pretty awesome.

He held the rail close to his ear then handed it to me.


The rail buzzed with activity. I wondered how many bees were still in there.

“They'll be out when it warms up a bit.” He dropped the rail back by the trash.

I was thrilled. The fence was out. I could trim back the shrubs myself now.

“Can I pay you for your time?” He didn't have to drive far from his house to mine, but I did cut into his morning.

“A few bucks for gas would be fine. Can't take your money for anything else.”

After he left my handyman and I made a quick run to Home Depot for caps for the fence posts. We stopped for burgers and drove home to eat in the driveway.

“I can see bees down there.” He was looking in his rear view mirror.

Just at that moment, the garbage men pulled up in their huge truck. They loaded my trash and started to leave.

“Did they take the fence rails?” I didn't want to turn around and look.

“No....wait, they just backed up."

“Are they taking it?” I couldn't believe my good fortune.

I did a quick spin in my seat to see them load the fence remains, bees and all, into the back of the truck and drive off.

“I can't believe that. It's all gone!” Then we both started to laugh so hard I almost snorted up my diet coke.

Scratch one bee in my bonnet! I spent the next hour cutting back the overgrowth, except for my lovely old rose bush.

The rest of my fence goes in next week. (The post after this on The Cottage In My Mind shows my fence.)


After, but still needs clearing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Small Garden Inspirations - Vignettes From Pinterest

     Back on Pinterest this morning. My last post had a charming garden themed photo with wonderful rusty old metal green chairs and botanical prints. It sent me into a frenzy. I held back on purchasing old prints. My walls are already full.  But I love to get carried away in my mind!

     I adore small vignettes of garden items, herbs, and flowers. These photos (link here to see the entire page on Pinterest) have me excited. I may use the ideas for my home decorating, rather than getting me out to work the yard!  I love my garden themed rooms in the house.

    The morning sun is bright, the air smells of spring, and the day is full of possibilities. I think I will create something lovely for my home and garden!


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Botanical Prints Oh My

My morning coffee and a few minutes browsing Pinterest may have me on a new search for Botanical art and prints. I loved the wall display and the old rusty green chairs. Clean and more vintage modern for a gal who loves cottage style. But this works for me. Something new to look for when I hit my flea markets and thrift stores. Not an inch of wall space at my house with all my old oil paintings, but how much room could a few prints take up? Wanted to share this with you and preserve the photo for later for me! From this link on Pinterest.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Beginning To Look A Lot Like Spring

A bit of Jasmine circles my Lady of Lilburn vintage statue (so named because she stood in front of my shop in Old Town Lilburn when it was open. She came home with me when I closed the shop!)

With the sun bright in the sky on Sunday, I decided to take a few photos of my yard. Spring is just around the corner and a few buds are peeking out to remind me of that. The amount of overgrown weeds is also a harsh reminder I need to get busy if I want my yard under control. I like to decorate my yard, more than work in it. This year I hope to do both.

At almost human height, she is quite a vixen in my back yard.

My old rusty garden chairs sit behind a farm fence. Just a hint of blue paint left on them.

I love the handle on my old blue shovel.

The shovel has not been used in a year and is overgrown with ivy. I like the statement it makes and probably won't use it this year either.

I uncovered my pink cart last week after trimming back all the rose branches. Fond memories go with this cart. I purchased it when I worked in the gift shop at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens a few years back. Spray painted it pink, like my favorite pink roses.

This life-size vintage iron angel is in memory of my friend Anne, who was my late husband's cousin.

A sweet garden shed that holds all my old furniture that needs to go to my antique booth.

I love old concrete garden items

An old wood wagon waits for pots of herbs.

The dogs left their mark running through this bed. 'Ouch' cried the little bloom.

One of of too many dog graves in the garden. Foxy, Jake, and Boy Dog each have their own memory statue.

I love my yard for so many reasons, none which have to do with gardening! It is a safe haven for my six dogs. They can romp and play in their private setting. They don't bother the neighbors and the neighbors don't mind so many dogs. The garden is full of memories of my old life and promise of things to come. This year we'll see how much planting I do. I'll confess my sins here on my blog as the weeks move forward!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Quote From May Sarton

Found this quote on Pinterest. I'd forgotten about May Sarton, although when I was younger I read all her journals on life and solitude. I mentioned her in my own book. A quick stop by Pinterest brought back many memories of an author, memorist, and poet who enchanted me many years ago.

May Sarton (May 3, 1912-July 16, 1995) left an impressive legacy of over fifty books, including novels, poetry, memoirs and journals. Her appeal lay in her ability to "sacramentalize the ordinary" by probing everyday subjects such as flowers, gardens, animals, changing sunlight and personal relationships in order to find deeper, universal truths. She examined such themes as the need for solitude, the role of the muse in the act of poetic creativity, and the role of the female artist in society.

Read more about May Sarton by clicking here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Death By Roses

Day one, daylight savings time. For a gal who has put off working in the garden for three years the knowledge that this was the beginning of daylight savings was like an alarm clock blaring in my brain. Everything I have not done in three years I decided to tackle today. Well, not everything. But more than I'd done in months, years.

I am blessed with a private back yard that has several well established beds. I do nothing and things bloom. Not the same things every year, since the stronger plants take over the weaker ones. I also have a variety of small trees in my big beds that were not there last time I really took a look. The larger trees put off seeds, pods, whatever trees do, and baby trees were birthed. Trees that now will need to be dug out if I hope to have flowers again. But wait, my butterfly bushes, six feet tall will bloom. Never mind.

My huge deck with the lattice inserts blocks the offensive part of the yard, the untamed, unruly, ungodly mess that used to be full of daffodils and lilies. My containers that line the brick patio and deck await lavender, rosemary, and other small herbs. There is hope for me with some garden chores.

I used to spend hours in my yard, years ago. Things have changed, and six dogs romping in the yard bring their own pleasure. Flowers are not as important as the dogs being able to run through the remains of the grass and bask in the warm sun on my deck.

My concern for my dogs may have prompted my garden endeavors today. I could not go down the deck steps into my yard without being grabbed by large, leafy, green limbs of another unknown border plant, out of control by the back of the house. A lone, almost dead rose bush, reached out from the backside of the house, down my the entrance to my basement. Brown, thorny, limbs, like an octopus reaching out in all directions. I knew those two areas would be my target today.

I felt well equipped. I'd just purchased used vintage clippers from an antique shop. Rusty with charm, I was curious to see if they were sharp enough to cut the spindly limbs. They were. Like a mad woman in my pj bottoms and sweater top, I clipped and pulled, breaking some branches by hand, superwoman at best, nut case at least, until the back side of my house looked respectable. I came away unscathed. My new garden gloves with their heavy palms seemed perfect to gather the limbs and drop them in the back fenced area that I use for mulch. Ok. I don't use it for mulch. It is just easier to toss everything over the back fence where it can't been seen, then to haul it down my long driveway, to be picked up by the garbage men tomorrow.

The sun was hot. Two of my dogs followed every step I made, Chloe, the seven pound Chi, and Bertha, the wildebeest. The other dogs saw I was at work, and went back to sleep on the sunroom sofa. I joined them for thirty minutes, since all the activity had me at heart attack level. My face was beet red.

My second wind hit me an hour later. I grabbed my gloves and headed straight to the back bed. My prize rose bush was out of control. It nailed me with its long arms as I passed it earlier to dump the other clippings over the fence. Three years and it had reached out to cover the entire area. It roamed over my six foot, vintage, metal angel in the middle of the bed, and covered an even larger pink iron cart. Tendrils wove in and out of the angel and cart, so long I could not tell where each began and ended. I knew it was not safe to walk by the bedI had already gotten nailed. Thorns eight feet high stood two feet past the flower bed. Soon my lawn man would be back to take care of my weeds, mow them down until, squashed, the green color gave the illusion of grass. I didn't want one of those dangerous thorny arms to nab him as he rode by on his mower. Then there were the dogs. I worried they would try to run into the bed and be trapped in a maze of thorns.

For over an hour I carefully clipped, tugged, pulled, and cleaned out the overgrowth. Thorns tore holes in my cotton PJ bottoms, snagged my white fleece vest, and ripped at my legs and arms. They pierced my gloves and drew a spot of blood. Time after time, I got caught and had to twirl to unhook myself from the rose monster. I succeeded with my chore. By twilight my bush was tamed. The last injury came as I lifted the piles of thorny limbs to dump over the fence.

I don't know if this is the season to prune roses. I never know what to do when in my garden. It was time to take control and that is what I did today. There is enough of my rose bush left with life so I will be curious to see if it blooms. It was no more shocked by my attack then I was by its attack on me! I am still alive, I assume it is too. We will meet again later this spring to see who fared the best.

Today I felt like I had death by roses. Tonight I am treating myself to death by chocolate.