Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Green Mile - A Taste of Humanity

There is something about humanity, a wonderful story, even if based upon science fiction.

For some odd reason, over the last two weeks, I have watched The Green Mile three times with family and friends.

That may seem extreme, but the movie is an easy sell.

I have read Stephen King and most of us have seen many of his movies, most of which I thought to be best rated for late night drive-in showings. The Green Mile raised King to a new level in the film world.

The Green Mile displays all the aspects of man and living, mostly, the understanding and compassionate side of a bunch of guys who must deal with the death sentences of others and eventually carrying out the execution of those which they have become so familiar.

There is much more - a wonderful story of a sentenced man who has powers of healing - it's wonderful. This is the story, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who left us in 2012.

The level of screenwriting, set production, acting and the story line take this movie to a level rarely reached today.

If you don't tingle or find yourself crying at some point in this movie, you are numb, or perhaps, dead.

Michael Clark Duncan
I used to train Michael at Gold's Gym before he realized I was wasting his time. Give me credit. I mentioned such before he did. He was so damn nice.

No, I'm joking, but I wish I would have met Michael before he passed. What a smile - such a pleasant guy.

Let us never forget those jewels who bring us enjoyment and richness, in the slightest sense.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Feeling Lucky? Great, You Should!

Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)
I began working for this homeowner who has a wonderful two-story with plenty of vistas for a pond rear of the property. Of all the projects and plants I have dealt with on this property, none has been so dramatic or awe inspiring enough for which to write about. It was presented to me in pretty fair shape.

It's a beautiful sloping property of a variety of plants he chose and beds he designed. We are usually on the same page or we write a new one together.

Overall awareness, appreciation and attention to detail are the protocol during every visit - not arduous, but meticulous and rewarding.

I was working on three of the front beds last early-December and one of the tasks was to remove a group of these beauties - Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis). Actually, they are also referred to as False Shamrock as they are not actually shamrocks and although the foliage does resemble clover, they are not clovers either. They are in the Oxalidaceae family along with wood sorrels.

Enough of that - they are beautiful little plants with five petal flowers which contrast so well against the dark purple foliage. They do love to rest at night and not just the flowers, but the foliage will fold down like umbrellas in the darkness. But, don't worry. They'll get happy in the morning.

They are considered bulbs, but to me the bulb looks more like a corm - a moot point, perhaps. When a bulb has finished all it can do in producing one of these gorgeous lucky devils, it will borrow a little energy from what's above ground and produce another bulb/corm - new lucky little devil.

By its nature, they can be propagated by splitting and they are capable of reproducing on their own (monoecious) and will do so quite prolifically. So, you can install a trenched border to control them as they are not deep-rooted or easily control them by removing and transplanting or gifting. They can be used as borders (controlled) or groundcover, and are great in containers, indoor and out.

This customer has Purple Shamrock in another plant bed and he told me to feel free to take them with me. I planted four clusters under a very mature crepe myrtle in late December and they slightly bloomed not shortly after. They later went dormant and I covered them without worry when I was refreshing the pine straw around the myrtle. Last week when temperatures were higher, a cluster on the sunniest side emerged from the mulch.

They are dainty, but tough as nails. In fact, I have three buckets of more Purple Shamrock along a stone border in the back I haven't move or touched and they seem to be doing their own little happy thing. I'll plant them when I rework a bed back there.

It is true that deer and many other animals will eat most any plant if hungry enough, but Oxalis triangularis is high on the deer-resistant list.

Mature Size: Height 0.5 to 1.0'   Spread 1.0 to 2.0'
Sun: Partial to full; closer to a window if indoors in a north facing room
Soil: Well drained sand, loamy sand or loam with neutral to acidic pH
Water Needs: Average - allow to dry out between watering during growing season. Stop watering if the plant appears dormant.
Attracts: Butterflies

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Winter Plant Bed Makeover

Winter is the perfect season to makeover plant beds on your property, not simply a time to refresh the mulch because its content and surrounding trees and shrubs have dropped their foliage.

But, it is the season to give a plant bed and its inhabitants a fresh look when they are not displaying blooms or their most vibrant leaves and fullness. Also, this season gives you time to evaluate last year's growth and expand, redraw and establish new borders.

I maintain most of the shrubs and trees on this property; yet, I had no idea the bed had gotten to such a state of weediness and such lack of mulch.

I removed most of the weeds by hand and tool and as you may notice this involved removing most of the mulch. There are techniques for removing unwanted ground growth from mulch without disturbing as much mulch as possible, but this was not the opportunity.

This property is not new to me. I know this bed and its soil. It is well established and healthy, so I wasn't concerned about removing mulch where not need be. Where it wasn't necessary, I didn't, as the bed contains many years of decomposed mulch. The last time it was fertilized was, well, "I don't remember."

When I trim these plants and the mulch is fresh I use a collection tarp in front of and beside the plants, leaving the less noticeable cuttings to fall behind the plants, to decompose.

I've pruned that barren japanese maple (one of over 15 on the property) a myriad of times and hope to for many, many years.

Shaping this bed is a joy and it's not the first time I've done so. Beds should be a pallet which suit the size and shape of its content and one which accents the surroundings - natural and man-made.

The new (re-established) border, which was done manually, serves two purposes, actually three. It provides more definition, delineation, from its next door neighbor - in this case, a wonderful lawn. Secondly, it helps retain the mulch. It also helps make edging the border easier over time, particularly when alongside centipede, Bermuda or St. Augustine.

As for applying pine straw; it should be pulled in small amounts from the bale section, lightly tossed, recognizing and thinning out any clumping sections - not thrown in large sections, or clumps. It should look as if it has fallen in a dense forest.

Wandering your property, stepping back and giving some thought, may pay greatly.

Beyond this, it may take a little grit and a some hand-and-knee work, and then, voila - something you appreciate, something simple, something you enjoy.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ploetry - Sun Flower

I first saw her many years ago.

She was in a field not far from mine; yet in the same field in which I played, on occasion.

Glowing from the first glimpse, so difficult to ignore.

She glistened on her own and reflected all light near her.

I've walked trough those fields so often, only to miss her.

But when, on those odd occasions, when we are forced by nature to brush our lives against one another, I am the glowing one as she shines and calms all my precautions.

Her gorgeous petals show, she opens up and so does the world around her.

The sun shines, as does she.

Rarely a part of my life, yet never missed, but often dreamt of.

Mother Nature never had such a Daughter.

This flower thrives with or without the sun.

This, she was given.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Ingbretsen

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Salad and The Dressing

We had a spaghetti dinner the other night for a friend's birthday (yours truly was chef, except for the killer cake), but I had never made The Salad before.

My mother has, many, many times. I always left that alone to her as I have a few I like to make.

I don't know when The Salad, became The Salad, but I do know where the recipe came from - from a friend of the family, Ros.

This salad is wonderful on its own, but it usually ends up alongside  hardy dishes such spaghetti, chicken piccata with angel hair pasta or grilled meats.

And it is best topped with The Dressing, which will do great justice to virtually any other cold vegetable and/or fruit salad. And, it is amazingly simple.

I am not going to get all wrapped up in providing proportions. You probably are familiar with the ingredients or you can taste them as you go - probably a good idea, regardless. There's no magic here, except for the taste.

Simply adjust the amounts based on your or your guest's preferences and wing it.


The Salad 
  • Green and Red Leaf Lettuce - Torn if need be, but not chopped or sliced. Or, a light, not-too-crispy lettuce such as bibb, butter, baby arugula (mustard family, but not as bitter), etc. To me, an all-spinach base doesn't work well. I like to use more than one lettuce.
  • Red (purple) Cabbage - Chopped - about 1 inch by 1 inch)
  • Scallions or Red (stronger), White or Yellow Onions - Chopped - not too large, not too small -  figure it out. Or, chopped field onions. I like to use the stem/stalk and the leaves, equally.
  • Canned Mandarin Oranges with Juice - Drain well.
  • Slivered Almonds (not sliced - are too thin) - Lightly toast on a thin baking sheet or pan at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Do not preheat the oven - easily done in a toaster oven. Add to salad just before serving or allow guests to do so. Remainder can be used for topping other dishes such as ice cream or breakfast cereals, or whatever.
  • The Dressing (see below) - Do not dress ahead of time. Or, allow guests to dress after serving.

The Dressing - Simple, but amazingly delicious
  • Equal parts Canola Oil and Seasoned Rice Vinegar - That's it! Shake well to blend each time before pouring.

Again, enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Plant Bed Re-work - Phase One

Phase One - After
Phase One - After
This customer contacted me with several concerns.

We chatted and walked his property. There were some interesting plants, beds and many concerns.

Some foundation plants were harmed by someone who cleaned the roof, but that's for another time.

As usual, I wanted to find that one priority area of the customer's for which to begin. It (the before photo), the bed to re-work, was installed by another party over a year ago.

This is just phase one, so please bear with me.

If this had been a well-established bed prior, I probably wouldn't have recommended a soil test. I'm glad I did. Firstly, when we went to take soil samples, we were digging through roughly three to four inches of compost to get to the top soil - not good.

Phase One - Before
Phase One - Before
Secondly, the soil test results revealed the soil was too alkaline (pH 7.9) by several points - not common in this area.

I wouldn't have been so concerned specifically with this bed had the test results for nearby soil not been acidic (common in this area) by a great difference.

Most plants do well in acidic soil (pH 5.5 to 7.0). Something had been introduced to this bed to increase the pH - most likely, this large amount of compost.

Compost should be used during planting, worked into to soil (not roto-tilled except for something like a vegetable garden) or lightly layered - incorporated or not so predominant. Compost is not truly decomposed (will, eventually) when we buy it and it goes through large pH swings in the process. Slight changes are usually fine.

I do like the location, border and grade of the bed; however, this is a fairly shaded lot so plant selection and placement is key. To allow more sunlight and a wider selection of plants we raised the canopy of the tree and made some heading cuts on some of the other branches.

I'm not a big fan of dyed (mostly safe chemicals are used) mulches because I don't find these red and black colors in nature and mulches are mostly natural, or should appear so. However; I have seen some attractive beds using dyed mulches. To me, aesthetically, this has to do with the man-made and natural surroundings.

Phase One - After
Phase One - After

Black, double hammered (shredded, actually) hardwood mulch was in the existing bed. I have nothing against this type of mulch (it has its benefits), particularly in evergreen and/or herbaceous perennial beds with no nearby deciduous trees or shrubs. It is not so easy to clean leaf and needle debris from. Medium pine bark nuggets were chosen for the re-work.

Something was askew with the plant layout - some grouping and lines I couldn't understand:

  • Asiatic jasmine grouped, but too scattered/sparse. There were some in the rear of the bed as if they were specimen plants - gorgeous, but they aren't stand-alone specimens. Asiatic jasmine can be a wonderful ground cover bed when planted close enough to one another. There was also a cordyline plant in the midst of them. We grouped them closer together, provided no mulch to allow them to better root as they spread and installed metal edging on one side to keep the other mulch out and allow for easier edging in the future. Eventually, the asiatic jasmine will develop into a single dense bed, hugging and trailing the mailbox.
  • The monkey grass (Liriope muscata - non-spreading species) was lined up like little soldiers. This type of liriope does well along borders, so we moved them.
  • Where I expected to see some symmetry, I didn't. The cast iron (Aspidistra elatior) plants around the tree, seemed to be haphazardly placed. We rearranged these.
  • We also moved some daffodils from around the mailbox to a corner in the rear of the bed.
The remainder of the mulched area is intended to be the plant playground for the customer. There are already a few Coral Bell (Huchera) - all the same species and color, for some reason; one or two ferns and a Fatsia; and now, the Cordyline we transplanted.

The customer wants to add some color and some height in the coming weeks or months. A deep red or burgundy dwarf japanese maple was discussed. There are other options, perhaps some colorful perennials and/or some annuals, depending on the desire to replant each year, in the latter case.

I would like to show foliage and some blooms throughout most of the year. This will mean less maintenance, yet may not provide the more dynamic, yet shorter-lived blooms of some annuals - the customer's call. He seems prepared for dealing with colorful annuals, so the options have broadened. We'll support him, either way.   

All the existing plants can be transplanted easily to accommodate new plants and a new layout. Hopefully, the soil conditions will recover and the pH of the soil will approach neutral or slightly acidic over time, better accommodating the existing and new plants.

This coming summer will be the test, but next summer may best show, summarize and highlight the customer's and our efforts.

I will always love dealing with existing plants, shrubs and trees - pruning and the care of, but planning a plant bed and orchestrating its installation is terribly rewarding.

For me, it is still one step at a time and I usually have to await the full benefit of our efforts when installing new plant beds. But, we (us) can plan and try to influence Mother Nature all we want, but She still makes the rules.  

Monday, February 3, 2020

An Evening of Movies, Musicals and More! at Bethel United Methodist Church - The SANDLAPPER Singers

You are invited to an evening of Blockbusters and Broadway as the Sandlapper Singers present, Movies, Musicals and More!

This concert will features hits from old classics and new favorites, such as: The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Rocky, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, and More!

Join the Sandlapper Singers to relive memories from the stage and screen on Sunday, February 9, 5:00 p.m. at the Sanctuary of Bethel United Methodist Church - 4600 Daniel Drive, in Forest Acres.

A love offering will be accepted at intermission.

The Sandlapper Singers was founded in 1996 by its first artistic director, Dr. Lillian Quackenbush. At the time, Lillian was completing a doctorate in music at the University of South Carolina and looking to expanding her musical horizons as a choral conductor. With support from her husband and co-founder, Dave Quackenbush – along with a group of friends who agreed to help organize a board of directors and a cadre of gifted singers who entrusted their talents to Lillian – the Sandlapper Singers came to full bloom.

Now entering its 23rd season, the Sandlapper Singers is poised to reach even greater heights. Under the leadership of artistic director Dustin Ousley, the Sandlapper Singers is dedicated to presenting American choral music of the highest caliber and advancing the art of ensemble singing through performance, education, and outreach.

Join us. Together, we’ll celebrate the joy of American choral music, and pass it on for generations to come.

Parking is also available rear of the church campus off of Willingham Drive.