Sunday, September 25, 2005

Opportunity knocks, and I answer

Sometimes it truly amazes me, how what you see is determined by what you're looking for. When the s.o. brought home the Greensboro paper this week, there were two--two!--horticultural seminars advertised in it. Have they always been there, and we just haven't noticed?

One of them is on landscape design basics. It's at UGA, costs $20, and is in mid-October. I am seriously considering it. But the free seminar on deer-resistant plants that was this Saturday...well, that was a no-brainer.

The seminar was given by (and located at) Piccadilly Farm, a nursery that specializes in shade plants, hellebores, and conifers. Normally it would be a little bit out of my way. Picture it like this: If Athens is the center of the clock face, we live at the number 5 and the seminar was at the number 8. But it just so happened that my friend Julie (often seen commenting around these parts) was having a party Friday night. Julie lives between 8 and 9. Also, a friend in Athens was having a housewarming party Saturday afternoon, a few hours after the seminar. Obviously the smart thing to do was to stay overnight and make a weekend of it.

So that's what I did. And miraculously, with the aid of some excellent coffee, I managed to get out of bed early enough on Saturday to hit two yard sales on the way to Piccadilly Farm. At the first one I found a fishing net for the s.o. At the second, I bought two bags of okra, grown right there and picked Saturday morning. I think I might pickle it.

The seminar was a revelation. Any idiot can look up deer-resistant plants on the internet and get a bunch of genus and species names. But we got to see them and touch them and smell them. The proprietor of the farm told us about their growth habits and what kind of environment they preferred. I scribbled annotations on my handout as he talked.

But the most useful piece of information was this: The Georgia DNR buys truckloads and truckloads of a particular organic fertilizer called Milorganite Greens Grade (6-2-0 plus 4% iron), not because it's a great non-burning fertilizer (which it is), but because it drives deer away, apparently with fairly good reliability. The fertilizer is made from composted sludge from the Milwaukee, Wis., sewer system. The deer hate the smell, but humans don't notice it after the initial application. It should be applied as a top dressing, just a handful scattered here and there, every two or three weeks. It costs $9.50 per 50-lb. bag.

Wow, huh? I mean, I don't know how things are where you live, but this is potentially very big information for us. It's one more weapon (besides the fences we're planning and the little bars of deodorant soap hanging everywhere) in our deer-repelling arsenal. It could even mean that the s.o.'s dream of growing hostas in the front shade bed may live once more. It could mean life itself for my fruit trees and grapes, which will nevertheless spend their young years in big wire-fence cylinders.

Oh, and get this: At the end of the FREE seminar, they gave us FREE deer-resistant plants. How cool is that? I gave my flowering quince--not the fruiting kind, but the decorative kind--as a housewarming gift later that afternoon (I was kind of stressing out about where to put it, since I'm going to be planting so many fruit trees on our property). But the other, a smallish cylindrical cypress, has already found a home in the front yard. We'd been thinking about buying a conifer for that spot anyway.

Sometimes it really is true that the most important thing in life is showing up.

Between the seminar and the party, I went back to Julie's. We drank coffee on the deck and fed the turtles that live in the pond, and I almost teared up because they were so beautiful and funny and prehistoric-looking. There must have been at least eight or 10 of them clamoring for our stale pita bread and overripe banana. I am jealous that Julie and her fiancé get to start their day that way every day.

Then went junking before the afternoon party. Julie acquainted me with a small, out-of-the-way store I hadn't known existed. It's run by a few really friendly, smart, funny ladies who have an eye for cool old stuff. I came away with an antique potato ricer (fully as nice as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Victorian one), an old aluminum grease jar with a filter, and a Mason-jar chicken waterer (for the same price as the chicken catalog charges for it, sans shipping). The store is having a community yard sale on the third weekend in October, and I'm thinking maybe I should participate.

After the housewarming party (which was a blast) I stopped in at Café Cuba, my new favorite hangout in Athens. They have a super-authentic chef who cooks brilliant Cuban, Columbian, and Peruvian food. On weekends they have a special expanded menu that includes some of the more obscure and tripey dishes. I ordered a Peruvian dish called (I think--please correct me if you know better) Seco de Cabrito. It was an herby stew of fatty lamb breast, yuca, and brown beans, served with white rice and pickled red onions. It was stunning. The s.o. felt the same way about the leftovers when I brought them home.

Is it any wonder I'm so tired today? But what a fantastic weekend it has been already.