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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo took advantage of his day off today to get the ol’ garden cleaned up and ready to go for the new year (read: raze everything to stumps and clear out all the deadwood).  I’m sure Mr. Washington will understand, given that he was a man of the soil, too.

As I went out this morning, I heard Mrs. Robbo grumbling under her breath.  Mrs. R has never liked Robbo’s garden, occasionally suggesting we should sod it over or even install a tennis court.  Even though I vehemently protest against these ideas every time she floats them, I can’t say that I don’t understand her attitude:  In all the years we’ve lived at Port Swiller Manor, I’ve never yet worked it up to anything near what I want it to be.  At its best in high summah, with all the butterfly bushes in full bloom and the place covered with tiger swallowtails, a few monarchs, various bees, and the odd hummingbird, it has a definite sort of shabby, dryad loveliness.  The rest of the year?  Not so much.

Robbo’s Ideal

In fact, I know exactly what I want to do with the thing. I want to re-survey the central path and put a border of side-by-side bricks around it.  I want to pull out most of what’s in it right now and put in a series of raised beds, although I plan to leave butterfly bushes interspersed between them.  Then I want to build up the soil in each bed to specific levels of acidity or alkalinity to correspond with whatever flowers I decide to put in.  Then the whole thing has to be heavily critter-proofed. (The deer don’t come in the yard anymore because of the dog, but Mr. Bunny Foo-Foo sometimes does and the groundhogs are a real menace.)  This will involve a lot of fencing that I might even electrify. (Sistah does this to keep the foxes out of her chicken yard.)



Something Closer to Robbo’s Reality

All this, of course, will involve both time and money.  I don’t mind about the time so much, since I’d hire somebody to do the basics for me.  (One of the benefits of having reached my mid-50’s is not feeling I have to prove anything by trying to do it all myself.) The money, on the other hand?  Well, what with the kids still on our coattails for at least the next few years (even as I type this, Mrs. R is on the phone haggling with a dealer over a possible car for Youngest), it’s just too much of a stretch.  Just for laughs, a year or two ago I got an estimate on just some of the more basic first steps.  Even that I found to be unconscionable.

Ah, well.  I’m perfectly content to wait, even if Mrs. R isn’t.  In the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novel The Ionian Mission, the British Admiral commanding the blockade of Toulon, who is very old and sick, longs for nothing more than for the French to come out and fight before he dies or is sent home.  He refers to the waters between the inner and outer squadrons of the British Fleet as the “Sea of Hopes Deferred”.   I’m beginning to think of my garden as a “Hope Deferred”, too, but with any luck I won’t have to wait quite so long for its realization.

Incidentally, that “Ideal” photo comes from this site, which looks to have some pretty good ideas….

UPDATE:  You may be asking yourself, “Self? Why doesn’t Ol’ Robbo go for a gradual transformation….like, say, one new bed per season?”  Well, that idea has been slowly creeping into my braims, too.  There may well be much in it.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo would be fibbing if he said Spring was in the air in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor just yet, but I think it’s safe to say she’s certainly at least in the offing.

Yesterday, as the puppeh and I made our way through the woods on our walkies, I noticed that the indigenous briars are starting to sprout their first leaves.  And as I look out my library window, I see that the earliest-blooming of my maples is now showing red at its fingertips.

So yes, I think she’s definitely on her way.  Huzzay, huzzah! Fall is still Ol’ Robbo’s favorite season, but Spring comes in a very, very close second.

Of course, this means that after kicking his heals most of the past couple months and filling this space with assorted non-gardening nonsense, Ol’ Robbo suddenly has lots of things to do.  Specifically, now that late winter is  upon him, pre-season pruning becomes a priority.  The butterfly bushes in the garden need to be hacked back to their stumps; it’s now probably not too early to cut back the roses as well; and if I’m out with my clippers anyway, I probably should have a go at the wisteria too.  And, of course, I haven’t yet finished clearing out the debris from the fallen tree back of the fence.

Ayuh, nevah rains but it pours.

And speaking of late winter matters, now that the worst of the cold appears to be behind us (furtively touches wood), I am agog to see how some of my more delicate plantings fared.  I never got around to wrapping insolation around the boxwood in the urns on my patio, but they don’t seem to have suffered much.  (It got pretty damn cold here this year.  If they survived that, I’m not going to bother with the insulation going forward.)  As for the jasmine I put in last spring, it’s entirely too early to tell, but I think they’ll be okay.


** A variation on “Hurry Up and Wait”, an alleged military expression that made it into the family lexicon in Ol’ Robbo’s misspent yoot.  The Old Gentleman was legendary for demanding pinpoint punctuality from everyone else and then being late himself.  I differ from the old boy in that while I, too, demand punctuality, I don’t lag myself but usually beat everyone else to whatever the deadline might be.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, Ol’ Robbo sometimes refills his bird feeders while still in his robe and jammies.  So what? I figure it might make the lady next door’s morning (or at least give her a good laugh).

This time of year my big feeder usually runs out some time mid-week, but since I don’t wish to bankrupt myself on seed, I refrain from refilling it until Saturday morning.  It always interests me to see how long it takes for the first bird to come back in once the feeder is reloaded.  The time seems to vary – anything from a couple minutes to an hour or two – but once the first bird makes its appearance, the mob inevitably shows up in very short order.

The one thing I do notice is that the first bird in is almost inevitably a chickadee.  I’ve heard tell that these birds are quite intelligent and even trainable.  I wonder if the local crew over the years has gained some sort of sense of when it’s time to all go round to Robbo’s place.

UPDATE:  By the bye, when Alexandra Occasional-Cortex’s New Green Gulag Deal reduces all us kulaks to a starvation-level existence, who’s going to feed all those birds then? Huh? Huh?


**Okay, it’s really a birdwatching post, but this is the middle of February, after all, and there isn’t really anything to be done in the yard.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo finds himself trying to decide this morning whether to start in on dealing with the tree that fell down this fall at the edge of the woods behind Port Swiller Manor.

It was the remains of an old maple of some height, and was pretty heavily covered in grapevine.  On the way down, it also took out the upper half of a tulip tree.  So there’s quite a bit of a mess.

The tree fell right across the creek that runs behind my back fence.  My idea is to trim away the clutter and leave the trunk as is.  Not only would it look picturesque, it would also be a handy bridge for the foxes and squirrels in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, Ol’ Robbo doesn’t possess a chainsaw, and the only tools I have for this job are a handsaw and clippers. So it will take a while to clear things up.

I’m not as young as I used to be, nor, in at least some things, as foolish, so I have no illusions about doing the whole biznay at once, but from the start have contemplated merely chipping away at it over time.  The question is when to begin.

Mrs. Robbo thinks I should wait for the spring, or at least for somewhat warmer weather than we’re currently enjoying.  “Think of your health!” she says.  “Always you’re over-doing it and look where it gets you!” she says. “Oi vey!” she says.

I appreciate her concern, but on the other hand I will have plenty of other outdoor tasks with which to occupy my leisure hours then, while at the moment I am more or less idling.

Well, it’s still early and the temperature is still below freezing.  I suppose I’ll have another cuppa kawfee and consider the question a bit further.  After all, since I can’t actually see the tree from my comfy chair, how do I even really know it’s actually fallen?

UPDATE:  Well, I went and put in a couple hours after all.  It turns out the tulip tree isn’t actually dead.  It hung on by a thread to the lower part of the trunk and green buds were already coming out on its twigs.  I’m just lopping everything back to the main branches.  Turns out the vines (that’s plural – a grape and something with red berries) aren’t dead yet either, because vines never die.

Of course, I also failed to mention the very salient point that if I wait until warm weather to tackle this job, Heaven alone knows what will be living in or under it by then – snakes, hornets, face-sized spiders.  I used to have to deal with scorpions in the woodpile back in Texas and I don’t care to repeat the experience here.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Evidently, Ol’ Robbo wrapped up his Storm of the Century of the Week post a tad prematurely yesterday, as Ma Nature decided to add another four or five inches of the white stuff last evening, giving us something like nine or ten inches altogether.

I will say that I prefer having to shovel four or five inches off the driveway twice to having to shovel the whole lot at once.  So as I was out at it once again this morning, I felt relieved that I had done a first pass yesterday rather than annoyed.

The secondary system also gave the plows another go at the Port Swiller Manor mailbox.  They had inexplicably missed it during the first bout, but when I came out this morning I found the thing in the ditch along with one of the crossbeams on which it sits.  A snowstorm somehow just isn’t really a snowstorm here without the mailbox getting hit (I believe they do this on purpose), but now the circle is complete.

UPDATE:  Well, they’re calling this one “Snurlough” just in case you keep track of these things.  Went for a walk with the dog a little while ago and it looks like we wound up with something not too far short of a foot total.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Looks like three to six inches of winter is on its way to Port Swiller Manor tonight and tomorrow.  We can haz panix now?  Ol’ Robbo is all set to break up the furniture for firewood and skin the cats for food if needs be.  OR we might just get the opportunity to finally get some use out of the incredibly expensive generator we put in last spring which has sat idle ever since (other than its weekly 5 minute exercise on Saturday afternoons).

Actually, up to half a foot is, in Ol’ Robbo’s opinion, a perfect amount of snowfall.  It’s more than enough to look lovely, but it’s also not so much that I have to kill myself digging out. (AND it won’t stop Eldest from heading back to college Monday morning.  It’s been lovely having her home, of course, but she really needs to get back into the campus environment.)

And then there’s the dog.  How is it that a dog can absolutely detest being out in the rain yet absolutely lurves bounding about in the snow?  (Ours isn’t the only one like this, I know.)

I notice that VDOT isn’t taking any chances with this one, not after it failed to treat the streets before the last storm we got in November, leaving them as slick as if smeared with Vaseline.  The anti-ice stuff was already down on our road yesterday morning.

Nonetheless, I expect everything will come to a screeching halt for the next 48 hours or so, including a softball camp Youngest was supposed to start tomorrow over to one of the local universities.  (She’s decided to go out for the JV team this spring, and since she hasn’t played since little league she wants to brush up on her skills.)  I confess that I actually won’t mind this too much, since taking her (the camp lasts for the next three Sundays) means having to go to early Mass and missing my cherished Extraordinary Form.

Speaking of screeching halts, a week or two back I was praising AccuWeather for being what the Weather Channel used to be before it went politickally correct.  Alas, as I was watching last evening, AW ran a filler about how, what with the gubmint shutdown and all, non-inspected foods are starting to invade the grocery shelves, the Hubble Telescope is about to fall out of the sky, and cats and dogs are living together, all because Orange Man Bad.  Sigh….You just can’t get away from this nonsense, can you?

UPDATE:  For those of you keeping score at home, Ol’ Robbo glanced out the window just now and noticed that he’s up to five pairs of cardinals hanging about his feeder (in addition to the various other birds).  I picked up an extra bag of seed yesterday in anticipation that traffic will be pretty heavy over the next few days.

UPDATE DEUX:  Make that seven pairs.  Extraordinary.  I don’t recall ever seeing such a high concentration of cardinals here.  Why, I could practically elect a new Pope! (Hey, a fellah can dream….)

SUNDAY APRES-SNOW UPDATE:  Yes, about six inches altogether, with enough moisture in it that I kept having to bang the accumulated slush off the shovel as I cleared the drive.  Perfectly respectable for these parts and, as I say, quite pretty.  And yes, dog has been frolicking duly on and off today.  UPDATE TO UPDATE:  Whoa, not so fast there, monkey-boy!  It’s coming down heavily again after I thought it was all over and done.  Add another three inches at least to that total and yes, I’m going to have to shovel again, dammit.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Please be advised that this blog has been deemed an essential service by the Fed’ral Gubmint and will remain open during the current shutdown.

Thank you.

Ol’ Robbo was out yesterday afternoon dealing with the latest crop of fallen leaves.  We have a single large oak out front.  Unlike the maples, which throw their entire compliment in a relatively short time, this oak drops its leaves only gradually and can take as long as five or six weeks to get done.  This is annoying not only because it looks sloppy, but also because said leaves are large and perfect for clogging field drains.

Speaking of which, as I was treading gently across the lawn, I simply could not believe how completely saturated with rain it was.  When a freakish little monsoon hit later in the afternoon, the water simply and literally rolled right down the hill.  Made me think of the Mud March.

Not much else to tell except for the fact that as I sit here I can see among other denizens four separate pairs of cardinals hanging around the feeder.  Is that a sufficient quorum to elect a new Pope?

UPDATE: Of tangential relationship, Self and the Elder Gels decorated the Christmas Tree this afternoon while pom-poming along to “The Nutcracker”.  Good times.

UPDATE DEUX: NOVA Curmudgeon’s comment prompted me to look up the meaning of “marcesent”.  Per Wiki:

Marcescence is the retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed.  Trees transfer water and sap from the roots to the leaves through their vascular cells, but in some trees as autumn begins, the veins carrying the sap slowly close until a layer of cells called the abscission layer completely closes off the vein allowing the tree to rid itself of the leaf. Leaf marcescence is most often seen on juvenile plants and may disappear as the tree matures. It also may not affect the entire tree; sometimes leaves persist only on scattered branches.  Marcescence is most obvious in deciduous trees that retain leaves through the winter. Several trees normally have marcescent leaves such as oak (Quercus),  beech (Fagus) and hornbeam (Carpinus), or marcescent stipules as in some but not all species of willows (Salix).  All oak trees may display foliage marcescence, even species that are known to fully drop leaves when the tree is mature. Marcescent leaves of pin oak (Quercus palustris) complete development of their abscission layer in the spring.   The base of the petiole remains alive over the winter. Many other trees may have marcescent leaves in seasons where an early freeze kills the leaves before the abscission layer develops or completes development. Diseases or pests can also kill leaves before they can develop an abscission layer.  Marcescent leaves may be retained indefinitely and do not break off until mechanical forces (wind for instance) cause the dry and brittle petioles to snap.

Makes sense.

All this talk of oaks leads Ol’ Robbo’s addled braims back to the South Texas of his misspent yoot.  There we had live oaks, which had small, rounded leaves and didn’t drop them in the fall or winter, but only when the new leaves came out.  I remember that the wood was heavy and long-burning, and that one didn’t put oak logs on the fire until it was firmly established.  (One started with juniper kindling and mesquite logs.)


Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Winter Solstice!

It is one of life’s little ironies that today of all days we’re enjoying a 24 hour heat wave here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor, with the high temperature briefly spiking up into the 60’s before dropping back tomorrow to the 40’s where it has been lurking for some time.  The porch door is open and the cats are quite happy to be able to wander in and out at leisure.

I suppose I should be shifting myself to work on some Christmas preparations, but the truth is that I’d rather just loll in the mildness today.

One of the things that I can grasp intellectually yet still feel somehow isn’t right intuitively is the way in which summer and winter set in after the respective solstices have been reached.  You’d think December 21 would be at the heart of the cold and June 21 at the heart of the heat, not their beginnings.

Maybe this is just my way of complaining to myself that we’ve still got January and February to get through, that by all accounts it’s going to be pretty bad this year, and that for once Ol’ Robbo is tired of winter before it’s even really got itself established.

Speaking of the weather, some while back Verizon chucked The Weather Channel from its cable lineup and instead installed AccuWeather.  This has made Ol’ Robbo very happy, as AccuWeather is what TWC used to be twenty years ago – Old School, straight up reporting and forecasting with no “special interest” programming, no sanctimonious hectoring, and no Jim “Mimbo” Cantore.  Making weather geekery fun again!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A steady rain here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor.  I believe I heard on the radio last evening that with this additional dump, 2018 becomes the wettest year on record in these parts.

I blame ManBearPig.

Anyhoo, other than filling up the bird-feeders (which Ol’ Robbo is not too proud to do in his robe and jammies), plus looking out every now and again to make sure leaves haven’t clogged up the field drain out front and flooded the driveway, I’ve got nothing today.

As it happens, Netflix sent me “Lawrence of Arabia” this week.  I’m considering tucking myself in under a blanket and watching it, although that’s really the sort of thing that’s best done when you have the house to yourself.  In the meantime, I’ll get back to rereading my Bruce Catton.  Right now, Grant is still hung up trying to figure out a way to get his army below Vicksburg.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Since I already lobbed a substantive religious rant at you two days ago, I’ll just remark here that this afternoon – already a week late – I finally put together my Advent table wreath.

The pines at the entrance to our neighborhood which I usually raid for materials got trimmed some time this past fall, so I decided not to cut more off them until they get shaggy again.  Instead, I used some evergreens out of the Port Swiller Manor yard itself, mostly holly and laurel (the hollies have lots of berries this year, no doubt because of all the rain we got).  It looks pretty decent, I suppose, but I doubt it’s going to last all that long since bigger, flatter leaves dry up a lot more quickly than pine needles.  Still, it’ll do until I can go buy a couple feet of roping.

The purple-bowed wreaths went up on the front door in a timely manner, at least.  We got them at Costco this year, by the bye.  Very nicely made and quite inexpensive.  I just hope they’ll make it until Twelfth Night.


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