Thursday, November 20, 2008

The stowaway

My friends at Exotic Angel plants in Florida sent me three fine houseplants last week, which I gave away as door prizes at a garden talk here in Kansas City on Saturday. The Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans), which looks like a crazy green mop-top of Orphan Annie curls, was the star of the raffle; gardeners all over the auditorium were angling for cuttings.

A stowaway came with the plants: when I unpacked the Aeschynanthus in my basement  laundry room on Friday, a green tree frog hopped out of the box. He had been in there for two days, traveling by FedEx from Orlando (Zone 9) to Kansas City (Zone 5/6). I gathered the weary traveler up and put him in a pot in which I happen to be holding a peony root for transplantation, and watered him lightly. The laundry room is slightly heated, but it is a lot colder down there than a sub-tropical tree frog prefers. On Saturday afternoon, the frog had flattened itself down in some leaf litter in the pot, and didn’t look happy.

Right away Monday morning I called my friend Mary Roduner, the children’s gardener at Kansas City Community Gardens. Mary very generously offered to take care of my frog, and I put him in a paper bag with some autumn leaves and took him right over. Mary had a big terrarium ready for us, and the frog perked up quite a bit in the warmth of the community garden’s offices. He climbed the wall of the terrarium and leaped across onto my lambskin coat. I was considerably bucked up. Mary went to fetch a cricket.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale Skrubtudsen (The Toad, 1866), a little toad who lives in a deep well longs to discover the world. She catches a ride up in the well bucket one day, and travels far and wide. She explores a thicket of elderberries, sings with other frogs in a marsh, and has a conversation in a kitchen garden with an ill-tempered caterpillar.

The warty, dark green skrubtudse is a protected species in Denmark, and may not be killed or collected. A Danish conservation web site says exceptions may be made for teaching toads. I was pleased to be able to place my tree frog in a position as a pedagogue frog.

The end of a fairy tale – especially one of Andersen’s – is often bittersweet. Andersen’s Skrubtudse was eaten by a stork; my frog, which Mary identified as a squirrel tree frog (Hyla squirella), couldn’t stand all the shock and died that first night in his terrarium at the community gardens. In Andersen’s story, the adventurous toad’s spirit becomes a sparkling sunbeam. My frog got in a few sparkling green jumps here in Kansas City, and I’ll take that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Take me out to the ball game

I am an American League fan from way back, and I am rooting for the Tampa Bays in the World Series, but it is disconcerting to see the Rays take to the field on their very high-tech artificial turf, which entirely lacks the pleasing patterns crisply mown into the grass such as can be seen very clearly at the Philadelphia ballpark, even on my old TV. I like a nice checkerboard field, and you can’t get that with artificial turf. The Phillies play on a thick carpet of Kentucky Bluegrass from a turf farm over in New Jersey.

The Rays play on FieldTurf ( Cal Ripkin, Jr., himself endorses it as a “durable, grass-like surface that plays just like real grass,” and “takes true hops”, according to FieldTurf’s website. It is used in more than 300 baseball fields indoors and out, across the country. It is big on college campuses. The Minnesota Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays also play on FieldTurf.

FieldTurf is a very green alternative to real turf, only without the stripes. Naturally, FieldTurf does not need mowing or watering, and it does not require the application of fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides. The infill, which is the material in between the fabric blades of grass, is made with recycled tires.

In our garden, we play wiffleball on the real thing. We do not use fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides, either, and in fact we allow clover to spread where it will in the grass, which seems to keep at least some of the rabbits out of the flower beds. We let the violets take over in the shady spots. Occasionally, before a big game, we’ll indulge ourselves in some natty mowed pinstripes. Play ball.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fall arrives in the kitchen

Autumn looks like this in our house: Colchicum, fall crocus, sedum, and a few Aster divaricatus in a little Danish vase in crowded quarters on the kitchen table. Juice glasses and tiny jars of every description are pressed into service for fluttering Cyclamen and the last of the hybrid  Japanese anemones -- the snow-white 'Honorine Jobert'.