Tag Archives: Walnut

Sometimes Gardening Drives Me To Drinking


Which, of course, is one huge advantage of gardening. I spent much of today doing relatively hard labor in the back. Among other things, I:

  • Cut down the top of a dead tree in the woods. A tree that has mostly died was overhanging our backyard fence in what I considered a menacing manner, considering the number of grandchildren we have who often play back there. My wife suggested that I cut it down. Lacking a chain saw, I thought that this would be a big job. I was right, but between a limb saw, crosscut saw and hatchet, I was able to perch on a ladder and hack the top half of the tree away—enough so the remainder poses no imminent threat to backyard munchkins. How much do I love my grandchildren? If you know me, you know it’s a lot. I don’t do well on ladders. Standing atop a ladder and cutting away a portion of a dead tree had me daydreaming about why they often call such trees “widow makers.” And yet, I did it, and no widows were made, I’m happy to report.
  • Cut out various other dead portions of trees and bushes. The top half of the new cherry tree? Dead and gone. Most of one hibiscus bush? In the yardy cart. I left the one dead garden crab apple tree, just because I’m giving it all opportunity to come on back (I do like that tree and am sad at its passing). Still, the back gardens are cleaner and clearer now.
  • Sprayed for moles. Mole spray is a deterrent, caster oil doesn’t hurt moles, they just don’t like it. Anyway, I’m not one to try to kill all grubs in order to get rid of moles, for several reasons. I don’t like spreading a bunch of poison on a children’s play area for one. And the fact the moles eat mostly worms and not grubs anyway, for the other. In my experience, harmless mole repellent spray works fairly well anyway. That part of the job, by the way, was much harder than it sounds because it involved untangling my garden hose, a tricky, difficult job.
  • Mowed the lawn. Since the back has been very sparse in grass, I’ve only mowed twice there this year so far. Today, I mowed both front and back, and back is getting into the condition where I’ll mow more often for a while. The new grass is actually looking pretty good.
  • Rescued a bunch of trees. Oak, mulberry and walnut trees were dug from my planters and gardens and planted in the woods. The ash back there will die, so I’m busily and pointlessly attempting to reforest. Busily because I can and I like those trees and am trying to give them a chance. Pointlessly because almost every plant I put in the ground in the woods is doomed. That’s because the woods are a deer salad bar, and I’m merely providing deer snacks. I also moved some catalpa tree volunteers and some trumpet vine. We’ll see if any survive. Some will succumb to transplant shock, and those that do come back will, sadly, look mighty tasty to Bambi.

The day was perfect—a bit cloudy, but that’s OK for working outdoors, warm and pleasant but not hot, so I could wear blue jeans comfortably. Given the nature of what I was doing, I would have worn jeans even if it was hot—some jobs are just not meant for shorts—but luckily today was a day when jeans were quite comfortable.

I didn’t get it all done. I still need to mulch my trees and gardens, and do more weeding. Sadly, by the way, the new cobra lily appears to have been murdered by the tromping of a passing animal (and the only animals that are big enough to do that and have access to the garden are all human). Oh well. Maybe next year I’ll get some native American jack in the pulpit and try again.

Despite the tragedy of the walked upon flower, and the ongoing saga of what bushes and trees are still struggling to recover from the winter of 2014, I think it’s looking pretty darn nice back there. I’ll have to go to the new CR library as soon as I get my regular bike (the one with a basket) back from the shop, because I’ve got a nice spot for summer reading.

Tonight, however, I celebrated the end of the gardening day in a more immediate style.

Miller time? I don't think so.

Miller time? I don’t think so.

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Black Walnut–The Creeping Charlie of Trees


Walnut tree

Isn't it a cute baby tree? If not eaten by deer or murdered by arborialcidal spouses, it could grown into a lithesome beatiful tree. True, it would also bomb the world with obnoxios nuts, but it would still be a cutie pie.

OK, so there is deep dissension among the people over the nature of Creeping Charlie.  Some say it’s harmless mint, others that it’s the devil’s lawn killer.

Well, just to try to ignite the flames of passion again, what do you think of black walnut trees?  This native Iowa tree is one that I happen to like very much, and my wife passionately hates it.

Hate first.  The walnut has two strikes against it.  The main one, of course, is the nut of the walnut.  It comes in an outer coating that surrounds the shell, and that coating is loaded with potent brown dye.  As the nut ages on the ground, its coating cracks and becomes friable—so anyone picking up walnuts ends up with basically brown ink on their fingers.

If that person is a child or a man, that brown ink will inevitably contaminate and ruin clothes.

The walnut is also a bit smaller and heaver than a tennis ball. It’s not a coconut—it won’t, as far as I know, crack any skulls—but it has sufficient terminal velocity and mass to sting when it strikes.

Strike two against the walnut is that it secretes poison into the surrounding environment.  The poison won’t hurt humans, but kills some other plants—including popular human-planted plants such as tomatoes.  I’ve heard rhododendrons won’t grow near walnuts, either.  And I’ve seen some internet references to potential harm to horses from the plant-killing chemical.

Young walnut in sandbox before transplant to woods. Note dinosaurs. Poisoned by the walnut? Don't care, like the tree anyway.

So why do I like walnuts?  See the photo.  Granted, this is a very young walnut tree, but isn’t it cute?  Awwww.  Frankly, walnuts grow into huge trees that are almost as cute as the young saplings.  I think of walnuts as the ballerinas of the tree world—they are lithe and elegant, they don’t move but grow like they’re dancing. They have beautiful bark and shapely, outstretched limbs.

The leaves of a walnut are among the most attractive of Iowa trees.  They grow a nice shade of green and in a fern-like cluster.  The leaves do not look particularly good in fall, simply turning ugly brown, it’s true, but as growing green leaves they are perhaps only beaten in attractiveness by redbuds or catalpas.  I prefer walnut leaves even to the pretty giant tulip-shaped leaves that give the tulip tree its name.

And there is the nature of the shade of a walnut tree.  Unlike many trees, walnuts don’t seem to form a dense canopy.  They provide a decadently dappled sunshine—maybe because they poison competing plants and thus don’t have to crowd them out.

Whatever.  I like walnuts for their beauty 50 weeks of the year.  They are among the most shapely and interesting of Iowa trees in the winter when they have no leaves, and only increase in beauty and charm when they do have leaves.

Oaks are OK, but gnarly and a bit dwarfishly ugly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate an oak tree.  It suggests stability and strength and permanence.  But a walnut is just a bit more elegant.

So, it’s a hassle for two weeks of the year when you may get bombed by brown-ink grenades, but if you rake and wear gloves, cleaning up after a walnut is not so bad.

Still, I can understand my wife’s loathing of them. I’ve tried over the years, but have come to the conclusion that she will eventually murder any walnut tree I plant in our yard.

So I don’t.  We have an ash wood behind our fence that is doomed by the impending arrival of the borer anyway, so I simply move any walnut I find in my vain attempt to get oak, walnut and cottonwoods going to replace the ash trees.  Today, I dug up two walnuts (and an oak) from our sandbox—and put them in the woods, away from our fence.  Where, like virtually every other tree I plant back there, the young walnuts will quickly become salad for deer.

Sigh.  The deer and Audrey are in cahoots.

Asian lilly

Tag is in my bedroom and Audrey is asleep, but this is some sort of large Asian lilly that will bloom with big, sweet-smelling white and pink flowers. Nice. Theresa's students gave it to her and she let us have it.

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