Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faggot fence

I have long wished to make a fence of bamboo faggots, and since our bamboo fence is showing signs of its age and lets in animals freely, I decided to tie bundles of bamboo twigs to it. What I didn't know when I started is how many twigs are actually required to make a worthwhile barrier. The answer is: several million. Indeed, planning a bamboo twig fence only seems worth it if you have a number of slaves at your disposal, which I don't.

Going to the bamboo groves and cutting the twigs is not itself unpleasant, but they often have leaves attached, and waiting for them to fall off is time-consuming. Baling six or seven twigs into a faggot with two bands of galvanized wire is also quite satisfying. However, attaching them to the fence would be easier with three arms instead of two, and there's a lot of "Gosh! Another millimetre and that twig would have stabbed me right in the eye" moments. The final effect is really quite attractive -- in Japanese we say "soboku" -- rustic and unsophisticated. But generally only achievable with slave labour.

Last year, two birds persistently ate the blueberries, and this year they've come back with their offspring. By planting this bristly fence in front of the blueberries, I'm hoping that the birds will find other gustatory options more tempting. However, it will be interesting to see what effect adjusting the microclimate in this way will have on the blueberries' health.

To dog, or not to dog

Today I got in considerable trouble for transporting rice husks and bamboo twigs in our car. Apparently they leave a residue which sticks to female clothing. It was suggested, with some ferocity, that I vacuum up the residue in all haste. When I went out compliantly with the vacuum cleaner, there was a little dog of the shiba variety standing on the corner.

I squatted down in the regulation 'Approach, Dog!' position, and the woolly little critter ambled up with a very matey look on its face -- up to within just out of reach. After a long period of negotiation, he came up to fingertip range, and started doing 'Paw! Paw!' For a dog, this is getting things in the wrong procedural order, because a bit of stroking definitely comes before 'Paw!', but it was extremely fetching behaviour for all its wrongness, or perhaps because of it.

Clearly, this was once somebody's pet, and obviously it could very quickly become somebody else's pet. I'm quite partial to dogs myself, although there are things about them that are inconvenient. I quickly canvassed opinion on the matter indoors. The missus (who is not partial to dogs in the least) said "We don't need a dog", and then relented saying, "You can keep the dog if you don't want to go back to England in the summer", while the young master noted that the said dog, who was often seen at his school, was renowned for being stupid.

A dog guarding the door looks surprisingly good

Actually, as soon as the dog came within inspection range, I couldn't help noticing that he had a largish tick embedded just under his ear. I hate to be regarded as calculating, but when Jack (as I came to think of him) was taking a familial interest in my vacuuming, I did wonder how much vets charge to remove ticks, and how much a month of dog food costs.

Jack makes himself at home, temporarily unfortunately

Country of the gods, innit

Not so long ago, the hapless ex-Prime Minister of Japan Mori Yoshiro declared "Japan is a country of gods with the Emperor at its center". He took a lot of stick for saying this. I don't think he was really right about the latter part, but as to the former, who can say the old duffer was far wrong?

If you look carefully, you can see some yellow and pink gods in this scene (Hint: they're hiding among the green gods.)

These ghastly scenes of witchcraft and superstition are to be found in the bamboo grove where I cut my culms. The one below is a well, while the one above is a..., is a... umm, I'll be damned if I know really.

If I had a productive well on my property, I think I'd want to celebrate it somehow too.

Botanical imperialism

My recent experiences with "Lady Banks' Rose" and "the Duke of Argyll's tea tree" got me thinking about the horrid parochiality of these names. I'm not especially keen on political correctness, but as a republican, I don't like to recognize the Nobs, especially when they're linked almost inextricably to the names of Asian plants. Until very recently, I didn't have a clear idea who "Lady Banks" was, but I felt it strange that a Chinese rose that I know of as 'mokkobara' (scented tree rose) should go by the Latin name of an 18th Century Englishwoman. Since the rose and the berry in my acquaintance have long Asian histories, it seems wrong that they should have British names, especially when these are codified as taxonomic names. Rather coincidentally I became aquainted with the Banks' in a book my parents sent me, The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. As someone who danced naked with Tahitians, Mrs Bank's husband Joseph was a thoroughly cosmopolitan man, and so one doesn't want to be too hard. But the Latin name of the mokkobara still rankles. I was very surprised though to find a footnote in The Age of Wonder that almost perfectly expressed my feelings on the matter.
The psychology of collecting, ordering and naming specimens could be seen as a form of mental colonising and empire-building. 'Taxonomy, after all, is a form of imperialism. During the nineteenth century, when British naval surveys were flooding London with specimens to be classified, inserting them in their proper niches in the Linnaean hierarchy, had undeniable political overtones. Take a bird or a lizard or a flower from Patagonia or the South Seas, perhaps one that had a local name for centuries, rechristen it with a Latin binomial, and presto! It had become a tiny British colony'. Anne Fadiman, 'Collecting Nature', in At Large and at Small.
My yellow and white Rosa banksiae are presently very small. Indeed the white one is almost invisibly small (did I actually pay for these two leaves and bit of stalk?).

White rose: Left drainpipe

Yellow rose: Right drainpipe

However, given a few years, they should look like this:

(Well, I hope it won't look like a really crap 5 min Photoshop job, but I think I saw a house in Bristol last time I was there with roses up it, and it looked cool and wonderful.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grow baby, grow!

Since saplings are priced to give you pause before buying them, I decided it was time to delve into the business of cuttings and propagation. My first thought was to try pulling a twig off each of these peach trees that grow by the road near our house.

One has light pink and the other has dark pink flowers, and they're just about ready to put on a fantastic display. They're also still covered in peach seeds and what must be old, decayed peach, so I assume they're productive, although whether or not the peaches taste good I don't know. Nor care, particularly. If they don't taste that good, I'm resolved to try making peach alcohol with them.

But a little digging on the Web suggested that peach cuttings don't root at all from cuttings, unless you use root hormone. The twig I stuck in a pot of compost without root powder still seems to be about to flower, but I bought some hormone anyway, as I have some other things I want to try too.

I took cuttings of blackberry, wolfberry, boxwood, and peach. The instructions that come with the root powder are rather alarming; Ensure you have no cuts on your hands (I always have cuts on my hands, I'm a gardener), wash your hands four times after using the powder and gargle four times. Jesus Christ, will I grow roots if I inhale some of this stuff?

The blackberry and wolfberry didn't respond well to being cut, and their leaves wilted almost immediately. However, I dipped them in the root powder, potted them up, and I'm hoping for the best. I also gargled a few times and hoped for the best, but I'm willing to bet few gardeners take this step. And when you wash your little ceramic hormone dipping pot and the powder goes off into the water supply who gets to gargle that?

Well, enough hormonal speculation. The almond I planted last year is in full blossom. It had better watch out, because I'll be pulling twigs off it as soon as it grows a few more. These are some of the biggest, most robust flowers I've ever seen on a little tree, and they evoke the frank amazement all our visitors. If it grows into a full-sized tree, it should present rather a dramatic sight.

I also recently planted a Rosa Banksiae at each south-facing corner of the house, one yellow and one white, and I'm hoping to train them up the brickwork by sticking hooks in the grouting. Failing that, they'll have to climb up the drainpipe like a burglar.

Here are the peaches in blossom.