Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden- Invaders

The Invaders

Some of the plants that invaded while I was sick, were Northwest natives doing their thing.  Baby Douglas Firs sprang up everywhere and quickly grew into small trees.  They didn’t seem to know they shouldn’t do that within ten feet of the propane tank. 

The spindly Western Hemlocks in the border suddenly filled out and ate up all the sun.  They didn’t grow particularly tall.  They just got fat.  Who knew that sunshine could be so fattening?

Himalayan blackberries will invade no matter what we do.  It is the birds who bring them in.  Worse than the Himalayans were the local trailing blackberries.  They spread out across the gardens putting down new roots every three feet or so.  They make wonderful berries, but the birds seem to get all of them.  Of course both varieties of the blackberries are well equipped to draw first blood in any battle. 

The trailing blackberries are sneaky.  They have tiny thorns that hide under the skin and hurt for days.  They are just as sneaky when they invade.  They can be twenty feet long before they become visible.  Some people use them in bouquets.  I might do that for a large arrangement, but not for my farm stand.

My friends and family gave me a couple plants worse than the natural invaders.  The Lamium ‘White Nancy’ is a mixed blessing.  The flowers and variegated leaves are great in bouquets.  I’ve used thousands of them in the spring.  I don’t mind so much that the vines now cover the old compost pile.  I wonder if I will ever be able to remove this plant from the fuchsia bed and the rockery.  In a battle between the crab grass and the lamium, the lamium won.

Why did I take starts off of Mom’s wisteria?  The stuff travels.  While my pretty white wisteria was one of the casualties in my garden, the start from Mom’s yard is just as horribly invasive here as it was at Mom’s.  Fighting the wisteria has been one of the few chores that actually got done.  It was vital to keep the stuff from killing everything around it.  We mow it down where it comes up in the grass.  My husband cuts it back at the root when it attacks a tree.  I prune heavily for flowers when it blooms.  Word of warning:  Do not introduce older traveling cultivars of wisteria into your yard.  They will eat you, your garden and your house.  In a battle between Himalayan blackberries and Mom’s wisteria, the wisteria won.

I should mention the crab grass.  It came in with some horse manure.  In many places we treat it as lawn and just mow it, which is easy enough with the riding mower.  I’ve tried trenching around the flowerbeds to keep the crab grass out. The trenches fill in when it rains and the crab grass invades.  I am losing six to eight inches of topsoil as I dig out the crabgrass to rescue my flowerbeds.  The stuff is amazing.  It grows vigorously in the driveway, which is crushed rock and we drive on it!  Why do people who like mowing expansive lawns plant tender grasses?  Folks, plant crab grass.  It doesn’t mind drought, flooding, vinegar, flaming, mowing, and traffic. It grows in any soil including crushed rock and it never needs feeding.

We are starting to reclaim some of the yard from the invaders.  We are after all humans.  I called the land clearing people.  They came in a few days ago with their big, tree chomping machine that was able to rip the fat hemlocks out of the ground roots and all.  The baby firs were no match for the machinery.  Most importantly in the reclamation project, we cleaned up the fallen trees and limbs that had become a forest fire hazard.

The dogwoods now have enough sun to survive.  The rhododendrons can breathe.  The remaining fir and hemlocks will have enough sun to grow fat and healthy.  I plan to plant more dogwood, maple and birch to give my woods diversity and food for the birds and squirrels.  Um…the wildlife is another story about invaders.  I’ll write about that another day. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cancer Survivor's Garden


My business partner is encouraging me to compile a book of those things that survived, those that thrived and those that invaded during my three-year battle with cancer.  Interestingly, my roses are among the survived and thrived category.

The Neglected Garden:  Roses

I own a chemical-free cut flower business.  Roses are an important part of my business.  What happened to them when they were neglected for three years?  When I say neglected, I mean they were never sprayed or dusted with anything.  About once a year, they got a couple forks-full of litter from the duck yard tossed on them. Pruning occurred while I harvested the flowers.  I am exaggerating.  Not all of them got the duck manure.

My best secret for growing beautiful roses is to have the perfect conditions for roses.  My soil is neutral, sand and gravel with humus.  My roses seem to like this soil along with their once or twice a year side dressing with duck litter.  I have some English roses that grow near the exhaust from our gas fireplace.  They seemed to like the extra heat and carbon dioxide.

My English roses including Abraham Darby, Golden Celebration, Tradescant, English Sachet and Victorian spice thrived beautifully.  They continued to pump out dozens of beautiful flowers week after week all summer and into the winter. 

When my friend and I first thought about this article, I expressed my disappointment over the refusal of New Dawn from Heirloom to grow into the huge climber I thought I'd purchased.  I confess.  I falsely maligned this beautiful rose.  Shame on me.  On February 12 of this year, I found six beautiful roses on New Dawn.  They were absolutely perfect to fill out a couple Valentines bouquets.  Yes, we did have a freeze this winter.  We had about ten inches of snow followed by an ice-storm.  I cannot condemn a rose that gives me six roses for Valentine’s Day even if it didn’t climb.

I had one shrub rose that out-performed everything, Citrus Splash.  The poor thing was planted with enough sun ten years ago, but the trees have grown up around it.  It barely gets four hours of full sun.  Well…I live in the Puget Sound basin, full sun really means exposure to grey skies.  This rose is close to the duck yard.  Occasionally the ducks' dirty drinking water was emptied on it.  It is also planted over the septic drain field. (Don’t worry we don’t use chemicals inside either.)  While I was sick, we had orders for a number of weddings in red and yellow.  My dear rose would faithfully give us three to four dozen stems of large bright roses a week.

I had some tea roses.  Most of them have dwindled to one-stem wonders.  My floribundas had trouble holding their own against the weeds.  I find Tropicana and Spice Twice only when they send up their bright blooms every few weeks.  I can hardly condemn those who couldn’t stand up to the weeds.  I had some very invasive weeds coupled with some hemlocks and douglas firs that took the opportunity when my back was turned to hog all the sun when it did come out.  The invaders are another story.

Why did my roses continue to perform without care for three years?  Part of the reason may have been our unusually harsh winters that killed off some of the usual bugs.  Another reason may have been my use of bone meal and greensand when I planted them seven to ten years ago.  My roses probably don’t like heavy soil.  I try to select disease resistant varieties, but really I select first for heavy scent.  They are spread out all over my acre of gardens rather than grouped in a disease-spreading rose garden.  I can tell you why they didn’t get aphids.

One of my joys while I was sick, was my bird feeders.  I have one right outside my living room window, next to the English roses.  The antics of the birds as they came to the feeder entertained me for hours.  They would wait in the shrubs for a chance to get to the feeder.  One afternoon, I watched as the birds landed on the roses.  Some aphids had hatched.  The birds seemed to consider the aphids an appetizer.  They’d eat a few aphids then move on to the feeder.  The aphid supply did not last long.  As I watched the roses farther from the house, I discovered they were a regular feeding-stop for all my blessed birds. 

What does the future hold for my roses?  This year, I hope to actually prune out the dead wood.  I’ve managed to weed around two, so far.  I plan to put lime on some that were mulched with wood chips.  I think I will try to cover the naked roots of Happy Child, an Heirloom own-root rose.  If the poor roses are very lucky, I will side dress them with bone meal and greensand again.  I worry that our constant rain will leach all the nutrients out of the soil.  I am promising myself that they will get fed duck yard litter at least twice.  I may hire help to rescue Tropicana and Spice Twice from the briar patch.

(Am I going to share my secrets for getting English roses to hold up for a week in a vase?  I think not.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Money in Politics: Case Study

            In the early 90’s I was on the board of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Family Resource Institute (FAS*FRI).  We were a family driven organization dedicated to helping families find services for their loved ones affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.  Our mission statement included preventing this disability.  We had state funding though the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA).

            We worked closely with the University of Washington researchers, especially Sterling Clarren MD and Ann Streisguth PhD.  At the time these were the top researchers in the field. They are certainly people to be held in high regard for the excellence of their work. 

            I think it was Dr. Streisguth who first proposed signs in places where liquor is sold to warn women about the hazards of drinking while pregnant.  The governor called together a task force to work on the details of the signs.  Of course Drs. Clarren and Streisguth were at the table to present their research and educated opinion.  Our state Liquor Control Board had representatives at the table.  Three members of the FAS FRI board were present.  The Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse was present.  Curiously, representatives of the liquor industry were present.

            I was terribly confused as to why the liquor industry needed to be at meetings to determine what kind of signs to use to warn of the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.  I understood why the researchers were present.  I understood why the liquor control board was present.  Since FAS FRI was a state funded prevention organization working with families, I understood that it was legitimate to include our board members.

            It took months for the signage to be approved.  First, the liquor industry refused to approve any signs larger than five by seven inches.  The Liquor Control Board agreed with them over the protests of the researchers, DASA personnel and the FAS*FRI board.

            Second, the liquor industry insisted on softer language than the research indicated.  This was a big fight.  Again the Liquor Control Board acquiesced to appease the liquor lobby. 

            Even the artwork was toned down to be less graphic than the researchers, our board, and DASA wanted.  We couldn’t even use an eye-catching border.  Graphics were subdued. 

            In the end we got our signs, but they didn’t represent the reality exposed by the research.  It was less than those of us who worked with the disability wanted.  It was less than DASA wanted.  

            The signage is vague. It is not particularly noticeable. It does not address the severity of the disability that it is supposed to prevent.  It was the maximum the liquor industry would allow. 

            I still see no reason why a particular industry even had a place at the table when a public health issue was discussed. It would be understandable if they were trying to take aggressive action to prevent this disability.  I am appalled that they were able to push their agenda of playing down the risks at every turn.  If this were an isolated incident in the battle against alcohol related birth defects, I would still be mystified.  We’ve lost too many battles.  I have to come to the conclusion that the money the liquor industry spends on elections in my state buys them a place at the table.  Actually, it seems to give them the majority vote at the table.


Friday, February 3, 2012

A Standard of Care

            My career in caregiving started as a foster parent.  I volunteered take into my home, and to work with a severely disturbed five year-old.  I was supposed to keep her six weeks and teach her to dress herself, feed herself, and use the toilet so it would be easier for her mother to care for her.  That was twenty-nine years ago.  Folks that woman is still under my care part-time.  She had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that caused permanent brain damage.

            While caring for our foster daughter, I became an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health issues.  I met many other parents caring for children who required twenty-four hour vigilance.  We worked together to help shape the state services into a model that would actually benefit the client.  We made some progress before budget cuts destroyed all our work. 

            Of course while I was working as an advocate for children and young adults, my mother was getting older.  My foster daughter was 20 when my mother became ill.  Now, I was busy caring for her and trying to patch together services for her.  She lived another ten years with a system of services that involved the whole family, her church, the public library, neighbors and some city and county support.

            Finally, after twenty-eight years of care giving, I encountered a standard of care that worked. Mom’s condition became terminal.  I had no idea what hospice was, but I asked for their services anyway.  Hospice sent out a nurse to evaluate our situation.  They sent out appropriate equipment.  Trained professionals came to give mom personal care.  We had knowledgeable professionals on call.  At least twice a week the respite worker came.  I could take a nap or go to the grocery store.  Sometimes she cleaned my kitchen.

            I cannot imagine how much easier my life would have been if that level of service would have been available to me as the foster parent of a disabled child.  I think of my friends whose health failed after years and years of watching a disabled child 24/7.  If my friends had the support they needed, would they still be able to work?  If my friends had the support they needed, would they be able to enjoy their retirement, doing the things they always dreamed of doing?

            I think of my friends who are caring for parents with dementia.  What a relief it would be if they could go to the store or take a nap or even take a shower without worrying about their loved one getting hurt or distressed while they are not paying attention. 

            Support for caregivers is possible.  We see how easily it is done with hospice.  We need the hospice level of support for our families caring for loved ones with dementia.  We need the hospice level of support for our families caring for loved ones with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and any of the many other conditions requiring constant vigilance on the part of the caregiver.

            The dream of appropriate support for caregivers is not impossible.  We have a working model to follow.  We need the decision makers to recognize that support for caregivers is necessary.  We need the decision makers to recognize that appropriate support is the most economical solution for the long term.  We need communities of people who are willing to support each other.  The big question remains, “How do we get there from here?”  I see the goal, but I don’t know how to get there.