Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Best Man's Toast

I was Best Man in a wedding this past weekend. The groom is a pretty easy-going guy, and he is an excellent friend of long standing, so the only hard part of that for me was the giving of the Best Man’s toast. I have innately at least the average level of fear of public speaking, and I haven’t spoken to a significant audience since I was 13 years old.* I wanted a proper speech, not just a one-sentence toast, although the groom graciously allowed that the latter would be fine if I didn’t think I was up to writing and giving something longer.

The Best Man’s speech is a tricky genre in which to write. It has to be in part a roast of the groom and perhaps the bride, the beauty of the ceremony and the bride must be noted, and it also must contain a certain amount of schmaltz. Positive things must be said about love and marriage, but not children or “family,” which might lead to nosy questions. Everything must be in balance lest someone be offended or shocked. “Is he saying the bride’s an alcoholic and the groom a poon-hound?” is something I’ve found myself asking on more than one such occasion.**

Anyway, I got a lot of praise afterwards. Of course I can’t be sure it was not the kind of praise you give the retarded girl for her indecent dancing with her grandfather. (No, this example does not concern a guest at this wedding.)

My one regret is that I didn’t play down or hide from the groom my performance anxiety. Giving the groom fewer, not more things to worry about, is ultimately the job description of the best man.

So here goes, as I had it printed out before me.


Excuse me everyone, if I could have your attention for a moment, I’d like to say a few words.

I’m David Pittelli, and I have the honor of being Brad’s best man.

Looking around today at all these guests, I am thankful that the duties of best man no longer include fending off the bride’s relatives with swordplay.

Civilization has advanced from Anglo-Saxon times, and of course Kim would make a pretty formidable swordswoman herself if it came to that.

So now that I’ve delivered a groom and a ring to the ceremony, it is my final duty and honor to make a little speech suitable for mixed company.

First I would like to thank our hosts, Kim and her parents Ruth and Bill, and Brad and his parents Priscilla and C.C. What a lovely place they’ve chosen for a June wedding.

It's my job to compliment the beautiful bride and also to say something profound about Brad. The first part is easy. Kim, you look stunning, and Brad is a very lucky man.

Like most of us here I know one half of the wedding couple much more than the other.

In fact, I have known Brad for almost 30 years.

I’d like to help you all get to know Brad as I have.

But, on advice of council…

I’m going to have to invoke my rights under the Fifth Amendment on all of that.

Brad is getting married late enough in life that, no doubt, many have seen him as a life-long bachelor...

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Destiny is a fickle mistress, if I’m allowed to use that word tonight.

In Brad’s case, finding a bride was merely a matter of a company hiring both him and Miss Right… after he had driven a few biotech firms into the ground.

I have been married for a few years. And while getting married was the best thing I ever did, my wife and I do have our occasional disagreements.

To deal with them, Brad, sometimes you’ll need a firm hand.

And sometimes you’ll need a delicate touch.

While washing my wife’s delicates the other day, it occurred to me that Brad really is a very good friend. He helped me through many a romantic crisis in my single days. And if you’ve got a difficult construction project, Brad is always willing to lend a hand.

And he’s more fit than he looks.

Which is a good thing, because it’s murder getting an ambulance through Salem traffic.

I’d also like to say that Brad is the most level-headed man I know and, along with his generosity, another thing that stands out is his appreciation of quality. And today, Brad, you’ve found a lady of true quality in Kim. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be your best man today.

So finally, it is my considered pleasure to say let us drink to the everlasting love and happiness of Brad and Kim!


* A debate before a prep school of 300. One reason I recently taught that class “Rejuvenating Your Shrubbery” was because I wanted to build up some practice speaking to a little group. Well, I got one student! My legions of fans let me down. It’s a good thing I’m not a cult leader, or you’d all be getting the Kool-Aid… Actually, the class size of one meant I could instead hold it in the student’s garden; and I think that worked out quite well for her and was good practice of another sort for me.

** It is fairly easy to write one-liners which might be funny if you heard them second-hand or in a movie featuring an awful toast, but which would really upset people in a real wedding. (e.g., “…No, we won’t be making midnight trips to Tijuana anymore, but John, one thing won’t change… you’ll still be paying for sex!”) It seems to me that the tension created in the audience, when they think you’ve just said, or are about to say, something wildly inappropriate, either explicitly or as double entendre, but then just barely don’t, is the basis for a lot of the humor in this genre. And of course, fitting the details of personality, family and history is a good idea, if for no other reason than so people don’t think you just lifted your material from the internet.

Here are two outtakes – jokes which didn’t quite work for me (the first perhaps too hard to follow aurally; the latter might have worked if I were gay):

I looked up the meaning of Brad’s name and discovered that Bradford is a place name meaning “broad ford” – as in a river crossing – and that Brad just means ‘broad.’ I looked up the meaning of Kimberly and found it means ‘ruler’ or ‘royal fortress.’ Go figure. “Broad” and “ruler.” Now what could that mean?

I know that whoever said that marriage and family can be work was not kidding. But to me, building a family is like planning and making a garden. The result and even the process are usually pleasant, even if you do get a little dirt under your fingernails. Now, ornamental gardening is my primary hobby. Perhaps to Brad marriage should be seen as an extended fishing trip. But then, ending up with a stinky fish would come to mind – so never mind all of that.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Plugs of Poop and Hosta

I have a large row of well-established Hostas, and had known since moving here last year that I would be dividing many of them this May. Except for a few times when I wanted to totally remove a perennial from an unsuitable place, I don’t think I have ever divided one in the classic fashion, by lifting it out of the ground, cutting it up, and putting the pieces back in amended ground. Instead, I have used a smaller shovel to cut individual portions off from the established perennial, like cutting pieces off a pie. This method also allows me (pretty much requires me, actually) to move the center of the perennial a few inches in whichever direction is less crowded.

I am always up for labor-saving techniques and experimentation, and I have considered using a bulb planter to do this work. But I hadn’t gotten around to it, or perhaps dared to do it, until I saw a “reader tip” in Garden Gate Magazine this spring, which said the technique worked for Hosta, albeit with the claim that it was most suitable for fall, not for spring divisions. The primary advantage of this technique is that the cylinders of plant fit neatly into holes cut in the ground with the same tool, meaning less time getting pieces to fit, moving loose soil around, and cleaning up. (On the other had, if the plants’ destination is hard, root-filled ground, you should probably do some digging there anyway to prepare the bed before drilling your planting hole.)

For plants in softer ground, the hand-held type of bulb planter works well. But for some of the plants the earth or roots were too hard, and I used a heavier, sharper, foot-pushed bulb tool designed for use in turf.

This plug-planting was fairly easy to do in early May, when the Hostas were just coming up. You carefully orient two or three buds into the bulb planter, then push or twist down as far as you can, until you get through the crown and root layer, and lift up a plug of Hosta roots, soil and sprout.

I moved the Hostas on 5/6/07, and this photo of one was taken on 6/9/07:

Naturally, the Hosta isn’t huge, but it is healthily established, the moving process was easy, and its removal subtracted hardly a whit from the parent plant. (My hand-held planter is 2.5 inches in diameter at the bottom cutting edge, and the foot-pushed planter is 2.25 inches.)

A related idea came to me a couple days ago. I had bought some Delphinium and Lupinus at the North Adams Garden Club plant sale on May 19. Rushing to put them in to suitable-looking empty spots in my raised bed, I did not notice until later that in some of those locations, the sandy soil lacking in humus drained and dried out very quickly. I didn’t want to be wedded to daily watering, and I didn’t want to traumatize the plants – or overtax myself! – by lifting them and working extensively on their beds, but I wanted to do something more extensive than just a top-dressing or mulch. So last week I brought around a container of composted cow manure, and used my bulb tool to remove plugs of low-organic soil, and replace them with plugs of manure. Since the plants had been in the ground less than a month, I was pretty confident I could skirt their roots by keeping a half inch beyond their original pot diameter, and that a few removed roots wouldn’t matter much. I put 3 or 4 plugs of poop around each plant, then watered. Here is a photo of a Delphinium with two holes of bad soil removed, and one already filled with manure:

Naturally, some top-dressing and mulch would also be a good followup. I don’t think I have to fear burning or otherwise harming the plants if they come in contact with pure manure (it is composted, and claims just 0.5/0.5/0.5 NPK percentages). One concern is whether worms or water flow will sufficiently mix the manure or its soluble nutrients with the adjacent soil.

There’s another experiment I will try some day, when I get a proper subject: a somewhat exhausted “donut-shaped” perennial that I have no particular need to propagate, and which has sufficient elbow room all around. Instead of dividing, I will just drill out the middle hole of weak old plant with one or more stabs with a bulb planter, and then fill the hole with composted manure. Treating the plant thus in situ should be easy and without risk of shocking the plant.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Orange Mockery

Having moved into a Victorian with some overgrown areas less than a year ago, I am still pleasantly surprised as formerly unknown or unnoticed plants have come into bloom. One side of my property is lined with a “hedge” – not a typical in-town sheared hedge of one or a few carefully chosen types of plant, but a hedge of the sort, composed of a mix of species, many of them sown by birds, that one would find along a small farm field. On Wednesday (6/6/07), fresh blooms led me to discover that much of this hedge consists of mock orange, or Philadelphus – overgrown, however, by more aggressive brambles and bush honeysuckle, and topped by dogwood trees (Cornus alternifolia).

Most Philadelphus grow up to about 10 feet tall and wide, but there are 4-foot cultivars. It does not generally get much respect for its appearance out of flower – it is rather like a smaller-caned lilac – and like the slightly earlier blooming lilac, its flowers are most prized for their scent. But I think they look pretty snappy. I wouldn’t have guessed that they are a good cut flower, but I had this spray in my house for two-and-a-half days before taking this photograph, and it has even opened additional buds since I picked it:

Philadelphus has a very pleasant scent, unfortunately not as strong with my bushes as with most of its many named cultivars. Naturally, a bigger vase with perhaps four such sprays would be more attractive and odiferous.

The fact that several of these bushes have survived and even flowered where they have is testimony to their adaptability and essential toughness. Mine did have black aphids on some young branch tips which were in more congested and shaded areas. Pruning out the affected tips and competing growth should open up the bush enough to reduce its suitability to the aphids.

Philadelphus are fairly vigorous cane-growers, reportedly easy to grow from cuttings throughout the summer. They can take hard pruning, and like Forsythia should have about a third of their older canes cut to the ground each year. This not having been done in over a decade, I have a lot of dead and/or crowded wood to remove, as you can see: