Wednesday, May. 28, 2008
Dear Diary:

It takes a lot to make me cry. I'm talking real life things here, though. Show me a sentimental movie and I'm a blubbering mess. Those sappy telephone ads? Buy stock in Kleenex when they come out. I'll make you rich. But real life stuff, well, it's my nature to suck it up and move on.

Yesterday I had two good weeps. This morning I had another.

I went on walkabout around the property early yesterday morning. My hosta have been slow to wake up this year because we had a two week drought right when they needed moisture, followed by rain but unseasonably cool temperatures.

I've been waiting in special anticipation for my Blue Angels to open. They are massive blue hosta I planted parallel to the big rocks. Their smooth blue-green leaves look stunning against the gray of the rocks and the green of the woods behind that.

They finished unfurling yesterday. The moment I saw this hosta, I knew what was wrong, knew it, but held out hope that I was wrong.

I am simply furious.

I e-mailed the image to a hosta expert. He confirmed what I thought and said it was most definitely a virus. A virus.

Plant viruses are spread by contaminated sap. Since I used the same tools to divide and plant all my Blue Angels, each and every one of them had to be destroyed. Then my tools and boots had to be sterilized in bleach water, my clothes washed, and before showering I washed my hands with sterilizing wipes.

It gets worse. Because the disease is spread by sap, the very act of digging up the Blue Angels would damage the roots of the hostas next to them and potentially expose them to the sap of the infected Blue Angels. So just before I dug up the final row of Blue Angels, the ones next to some golden hostas, the spousal unit had to come ahead of me and dig out the entire row of golden hostas, being careful not to let his shovel come anywhere near the Blue Angels.

Not only did I have to bag and burn over 50 Blue Angels, I had to pitch another 75 or so perfectly healthy plants in the hopes that the disease stops there.

But does it?

I have no idea which hosta might have brought the virus on to the property. In some hosta Virus X can incubate for seven years with no sign of infection.

My cats Binky and Miss Banana spend all summer racing in and out of my hostas. They constantly bust leaves which makes it quite possible that they've distributed infected sap everywhere. The same can be true of me.

Five years ago I didn't know about hosta viruses. Five years ago I didn't know enough to sterilize my tools between uses to stop the spread of disease. I constantly divide and move hostas. When I weed them, I get sap from roots that are close to the surface on my tools. Five years ago I may have sown this hosta virus everywhere.

I get this huge, gut wrenching knot in my stomach just thinking about this. My gardens are my joy, the light of my life. The huge, dazzling swaths of hostas that make my heart sing may be ashes in a few years.

Excuse me while I just go and hyperventilate into a bag for oh, say, the rest of my life.

This morning when I went on walkabout, every slightly less than perfect hosta leaf made my stomach jump. Given our wonky weather and how that's affected the hosta, if stomach jumping ever becomes an Olympic event, I am a shoe-in for gold.

Stupidly, instead of basking in the raw happiness of watching beauty unfurl one leaf at a time, I find myself anxiously scanning for what is wrong. I know that in a few days I'll settle down, but right now it's just too raw.

I know how stupid I'm being here. Compared to what's happening in Burma and China, the loss of a few plants is piffle. Hey, even if I lost every single hosta on this property, if this is the biggest tragedy that happens to me then I am one insanely lucky woman.

Which doesn't mean I won't cry again if I find another infected plant. I will. The heart and the brain are two separate perspectives. I garden with my heart.

I think I'm going to have to consider buffer plantings. The experts tell you to never plant a mono culture, to have at least five different species in each flower bed. One outbreak of disease, or one serious run of pests and poof it's all gone. I'm thinking it's time to throw some other shade loving plants into the mix. Too bad I don't like many other shade loving plants.

Suck it up, Marn, suck it up.

As if my hostas weren't trial enough, my new lilies have also decided to yank my chain. Only about half of them have surfaced to date. Now I know that the combination of drought and cooler than normal temperatures have a lot to do with that. I also know that even half an inch difference in planting depth plays into it, too.

I know this.

Still, I fret and worry about them, too. I've stopped grumbling to the spousal unit about it because he rolls his eyes, tells me to relax and enjoy the beauty. He says the lilies will surface when they're ready, the line he has taken since the moment they were planted and I started fretting about their survival.

After one of my endless discourses on The Lily Situation, he even had the gall to roll his eyes and threaten to make my epitaph "Killed by garden angst." Killed by garden angst. Don't you just hate it when someone talks sense to you?

I am now reduced to grumbling to Binky and Miss Banana, who often accompany me on my garden walkabouts. Being cats, they are not particularly sympathetic listeners but at least I don't get any lip from them.

Ah the sweet paradox of my gardens. Creating them challenges me, relaxes me, and when all goes well they give me big slices of happiness with sprinkles on top. Maintaining them, defending them from weather, disease and pests not so much.

Years and years ago I worked for my brother-in-law's landscaping business, setting up and maintaining perennial gardens. An interior designer called us in and to give her a sense of my work I took her to see other gardens I had designed.

She was appalled to see that not everything would be in constant flower and that sometimes plants had stems that broke or leaves that weren't absolutely perfect. I told her that gardens are living things and you just have to expect tiny flaws, it's part of the deal.

She never called us back. The following year I heard through the grapevine that she had ordered hundreds of dollars worth of different silk flowers and made a "garden" with them.

I used to think that was hilariously stupid. Now I'm starting to wonder if she was on to something.

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 198.61 miles.

Going Nowhere Collaboration

Goal for 2008: 500 miles


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