Thursday, November 02, 2006

Who's Wearing The Pants Now?

With the gardening season effectively over for the next 5 months in Zone 5 – barring an early spring for such bulbs as Galanthus (snowdrop), Eranthis (winter aconite), and Crocus – I’m going to talk about something almost completely different: Pants and where to get them.

I’ve been looking for flannel-lined khakis or blue jeans, because I don’t find separate long underwear very comfortable (it always seems a bit stuffy in the manhood department). We haven’t used our furnace yet, just a gas fireplace to warm the living-room some mornings (this economizing due to the prospect of paying heating bills on a 3,000 square foot Victorian with 10-foot ceilings). And somehow 60 F, if it's indoors, feels F'ing cold!

I went to the new Peebles in North Adams on opening day, and I suppose they do a pretty good job trying to provide every kind of garment, from men’s suits to little girls’ pajamas, in a modest space, but it’s just not possible. They have a Carhartt section for work clothes, but no lined pants; thankfully a salesperson did tell me that Tractor Supply Company, in Bennington VT or Pittsfield MA, would have a wider selection.

A subsequent visit to the mall in Lanesboro proved fruitless, so I went to Bennington yesterday, where TSC had all kinds of utility and casual clothes at great prices (like 100% flannel shirts for $12), including lined blue jeans for $45 (Carhartt) or $30 (TSC’s own C. E. Schmidt line, which I found especially comfortable and well-fitting), both of which appear to be pre-washed and very well made.

They’re not the very heaviest of pants, but they’re a lot warmer than unlined jeans or khakis. They have a checkered blue lining, which seems a lot more sensible to me than my old L.L Bean khakis with a checkered red lining, which I’m never sure whether to wash with the reds or with the neutral colors.

While there I noticed a couple of the women’s garments, which seemed a particularly outré example of Western kitsch, perhaps suitable for Halloween, but I wasn’t really paying attention to whether any of the women’s stuff would appeal to ex-yuppie women for their casual clothing (sorry wife, but I did have two pre-schoolers antsy to get to the Bennington McDonalds with the indoor playground).

In short, for any man looking for clothes for gardening or weekend wear, or for a casual work environment, I heartily recommend a trip to Tractor Supply Company (or

Note that I have no financial connection whatsoever to TSC or its agents, but if they wish to pay a bribe for my bringing my legions of fans to their doors... let's just say that "prices are low." I do not currently own their stock (Nasdaq symbol TSCO), but I may look into it one of these days as they seem to be a well-managed firm with more potential for growth (and reportedly better employee relations) than, say, Wal-Mart.

Monday, October 02, 2006

My New House

As my legions of fans are no doubt dying to learn, I have completed my move(s) and real estate transactions. I now live in the Berkshires (Adams, MA) about 10 miles each from the Vermont and New York lines, in a pink Victorian with a sloped half-acre lot. The Victorian is about one-and-a-half times as large as my Natick house, yet cost less than half as much as we got for Natick (even though its buyers struck an astute bargain). I can walk to a supermarket, restaurants and shops in the town center. Given that my new lot is basically in town, and is all in close visual proximity to an ornate Victorian, the style of gardening will be somewhat more formal (i.e., symmetrical) as well as more baroque and neat (rather than casual and woodsy).

I moved a dozen perennial divisions from Natick, and engaged in some “radical pruning” (including cutting down a magnificent 40-foot spruce which was crowding and shading what used to be a mostly sunny raised northwest-sloping bed). More recently I have accepted plants from family, moved some free “shrubs” (more like whips, of Euonymus alatus, and shovels-full of Vinca minor from my neighbor), and planted 100 bulbs. (My wife planted 100 more.) Here’s a photo of my family at our new house on May 21 (the first time we toured it). I think the pink rhododendrons are rather wasted in front of the pink house. The back slope (where I’ve done almost all of my work) is hidden behind the house. Many of the spring bulbs are naturalized in the grassy slope to the right of this image.

Settled and unpacked in a permanent (as much as anything can be predicted to be) place, I expect I will be back on the blogging more regularly (not that that is setting the hurdle high).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Your New House

First of all, this is a shameless plug for my house, which sits on one end of an aqueduct trail in Natick, Massachusetts, 1.3 miles from the Natick Community Organic Farm and the local elementary school. It just went on the market for $589,000, and there should be an Open House on Sunday May 7th.

The house’s details and photos can be found on or by town and price, or by MLS number 70376174

The house, at 160 Cottage Street, Natick, has 4 bedrooms and 1.5 baths, 1900 square feet and 1.37 acres. Part of the land is the aqueduct path itself. In advance of putting my house on the market we sold the town a hiking easement to ensure that the trail’s current but unofficial use will be able to continue (i.e., hiking, skiing and biking are good, but no horses due to erosion issues, and no motor vehicles except for aqueduct maintenance).

Anyone wanting to use the trail in either direction is welcome, despite the legal fiction No Trespassing sign still on my property (put up by the MWRA, not me, presumably to reduce their liability if someone gets injured on this very flat and easy trail).

It’s been great living here, in large part because of this trail, which gives my wife in particular the opportunity to bike the children down to the school playground and organic farm (basically a free zoo), and to meet the many neighbors who walk their dogs and bike and cross country ski here. The wild turkeys crossing the back yard are pretty cool too.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Jewel Box Garden

A Book For Avant-gardist Gardening Snobs

Author Thomas Hobbs is, at least in the persona he presents in this 2004 book, an avant-gardist gardening snob. He sees gardening as a fashion-driven art, where trendy plants are to be discarded as soon as they become too popular with the petit bourgeoisie, for whom his contempt is made clear on almost every page of text. Some of this stuff can't be spoofed, because it's impossible to be more catty than Hobbs here. (The following quotes will work better if you imagine them spoken by David Sidaris or a lisping Harvey Korman.)

Some gardeners will never learn the art of plant assemblage... As I drive by their predictable efforts, I often wonder, "Is Life Easier?"
Being a left-handed, Gemini breach-birth allows me to love tetraploid daylilies. It is who I am botanically.
Bowling balls are appropriate in Marcia Donahue's garden/gallery in Berkeley, California, because she did it first.
Hobbs is obsessed with rejection of the common and the clichéd, but most of his featured gardens also look alike, in part because they're almost all small shaded urban gardens in the coastal Northwest, but more notably because they eschew flowers in favor of foliage plants - mostly bright or spiky - with color from kitschy cast-offs and outré sculpture, including flesh-colored ceramic penises.

In my (hardly original) opinion, a big problem with most people's enjoyment of the arts today is that the field has already done what is pretty or handsome, and since its current practitioners are jaded by their predecessors' work and aspire to being original, they must often produce what most nonspecialists consider ugly. This is notably a problem with architecture and oil painting (and classical music) by about World War I, and haute couture since the Kennedy Administration. So far horticulture has largely escaped the curse of avant-gardist ugliness, but not in this book.

I wondered whether it was fair to Hobbs to say he has passed a step beyond "Shocking Beauty" (the title of his 1999 book) to where much of this book is ugly, but then I came to his penultimate page of prose:
I have noticed a switch in gardening, from "pretty" to what I call "the New Ugly." I find this fascinating and very, very attractive. In gardening, ugly has been redefined by brilliant plantsmen and -women who get absolutely no thrill from trying to make a pretty picture. By increasing the dosage of all that is weird and unexpected, these thrillseekers are creating powerful, unforgettable experiences.
Umh, no it hasn't! If we wanted "powerful, unforgettable experiences" of ugliness, we would just move into a junkyard next to an oil refinery! That said, if the book's title or dust-jacket reflected this decadent philosophy, I could rate it 4 stars and say that it was suitable for people who agree with Hobbs' pro-ugly position.

Perhaps oddly, Hobbs' Vancouver garden is larger, far more colorful and floriferous, and far more beautiful, than the preceding gardens. Hobbs doesn't fail to add a campy dramatic element, however, to his discovery of the Vancouver house:
I will never forget ringing the doorbell, expecting "Max," [from Sunset Boulevard] or at least Harvey Korman dressed as "Max," to open the door. Instead, a very short Alfred Hitchcock type greeted us, with a badly-wigged woman peering over his shoulder.
As you might have guessed, the text of this book is more about Hobbs' persona than about gardening. But it isn't until the very last page of prose that we learn exactly how, for Hobbs, the garden is therapy - about talking to plants, which most people can't do ("and it shows"!) - and about remembering gardeners who gave him plants and then died of AIDS. Life is a veil of tears, so maybe we should cut him some slack, even if we are not in love with ugliness.

(FYI, I have nothing against snobbery in gardening, and hope to increase my own. But a snobbery based on beauty (or erudition or even class) is one thing; a snobbery based on scarcity and ugliness, quite another).