February 11, 2014

S'no Fun Getting Rid of the White Stuff

This has been a bitterly cold winter though, until now, not especially snowy.  That appears to be changing.  We had eight inches of snow over the weekend, an inch yesterday morning, and there is a prediction for a 'major storm' for Thursday and Friday.  The problem for us is, what do you do when there's too much snow?

Planning for snow removal is part of
planning for a New England garden
This weather report is part of a garden blog because snow is a reality in New England and where to put snow is a continuing problem for any serious gardener in this region. Our particular issues are twofold: first, where the town puts the snow from the street and, second, where we put the snow from our driveway.

We are at the end of a cul-de-sac with a broad turning circle as part of our streetscape. The upside is that this gives us a very dramatic arc around which to design a garden. The downside is that the town plows have to put the snow from the other end of the street somewhere, and that ‘somewhere’ includes the buffer zone between our sidewalk and the street. And, because the town lays down chemicals to keep the street passable prior to plowing, the snow that ends up on that buffer zone (variously called an ‘easement’ or a ‘hell strip’) is laden with salts that render the strip inhospitable to grass.

This xeric bed - shown in its
summer glory - was under
several feet of chemical-
laden snow today
We’ve adapted the strip – some 960 square feet – into a xeric garden that is planted with perennials that tolerate the chemical soup. That garden planting scheme was detailed in this blog entry. There is already a two-foot-high mound of snow on part of that xeric garden and the Valentine's Day Storm could add several feet to that total.

The second issue is where we put the snow from our own driveway. We are set back 220 feet from the street on a meandering driveway and, at the head of the driveway, the asphalt widens out to 35 feet to feed a three-car garage, plus provide an additional backing-out area for cars. The home’s architect was apparently from some southern clime because the driveway dead-ends into the garage.  As such, there is no ‘simple’ place to put snow.  The problem grows geometrically with the depth of the snow and new snowfalls follow ones already on the ground.  There is already a four-foot-high wall of snow on one wall of the backing-out area.  After this storm, it may be double that height.

Removing 18 inches of snow - carefully
We’ve adapted the gardens along the driveway to this reality. (Double-click on the plot plan at the top of this post to get a more detailed view of the descriptions that follow.)  Along the main stretch of access, there is a grass strip roughly eight to ten feet wide, the sole purpose of which is to provide a landing spot for the snow from the driveway.  The driveway is never treated, so the snow simply provides moisture for the spring growing season.

This burlap skirt for
Thuja occidentalis was
added in November
The gardens in front of the house adjacent to the wide part of the driveway are, with a few exceptions, spring and summer perennials. A thuja occidentalis has a protective burlap skirt to deflect snow and we carefully direct our snowblower away from a now-seven-year-old oxydendrum that occupies the center of that bed. The perennials in the bed are already under a blanket of up to three feet of snow.  Absent a prolonged thaw, this area may not be bare until mid-March.

The wisteria bed was planned to
support heavy snow cover
in winter
Three years ago, we created a new garden at a critical area for snow removal. The "wisteria" garden, about which I wrote in 2010, is roughly 200 square feet and is anchored by six woody shrubs – three ilex and three miniature kalmia. The balance of the bed is spring- and summer-blooming perennials that can take heavy snow cover. After the blizzard, the depth of snow thrown in this area is up to five feet and is heavily compacted. We made every effort to direct snow around the tender kalmias. We cross our fingers each season and, so far, the kalmias have bounced back without damage.

The back of the turnaround area has long been planted with Kirengeshoma (Japanese wax bells) and Hakonechola macra ‘Aureola’ (Golden Japanese forest grass), with miscellaneous rhododendron behind them. These perennials die back to the ground in late September; the several feet of snow that cover the area all winter seems to make the plants thrive in the growing season.

February 1, 2014

February 1, 1974

The passage of time throws a haze over most of our adult lives.  Months blend into years that are smoothed into decades.  Can you say with any certainty what you did on your birthday in, say, 1997?  Unless it was the date of the birth of a child or some other such milestone, can you recall what you did on a specific date two or three decades ago?

With enough research I can approximate where I was and what I was doing during a given month of a year; I went somewhere on vacation or completed a project for work.  A newspaper headline might jog a memory.  For me, though, as for most people, our adult lives are a continuum; a blur.

I can, however, remember one day with perfect clarity.  That date is Friday, February 1, 1974.

I was working for a stagnant backwater of GE
For me, the year 1974 did not start off auspiciously.  I had been out of college nearly three years and I was spending my second winter in Schenectady, New York.  I had gone to work for General Electric in a management training program with the promise that, after a year in North Carolina, I would be transferred to an office in San Jose, California.  That promise was turning out to be hollow.  Moreover, I discovered that the branch of GE that was my employer was a stagnant backwater and that my skills were ones that the company valued only as an afterthought.

It was an era of bad music...
My goal upon graduation from college had been to get as far away from Florida – the only place I had ever known – as possible.  On that score, I had succeeded.  However, in the middle of yet another upstate New York winter, that plan was looking increasingly poorly thought out.  Mostly, though, the year was starting off poorly because I was alone.  Apart from a few friends at work, I had no one in my life.

... and long gas lines
On the morning of February 1, my attendance was required at what was called a ‘section meeting’ in Colonie, NY, where my office had recently moved.  There, the sixty or so of us who could not find an excuse to be somewhere else got to hear about the importance of filling out time sheets and filing weekly activity reports.  A subsection manager delivered a half-hour talk outlining an exciting (to him) new business opportunity.

Then, at about 8:30 a.m., a small group of people joined the meeting.  They were from an office in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, some 40 miles away.  I would not have noticed their arrival except that they were forced to sit in the front of the room (I was ensconced in the back row) and that one of their number was a strikingly attractive blonde. 

For the next several hours I did little but look at her (well, at the back of her head and shoulders) and wonder who she was.  The meeting broke up shortly after noon and she was one of the first people out of the room.  My heart sank.  Then, I found her sitting in the lobby.  She was waiting for her ride back to Pittsfield. 

Betty was late to the meeting because
she had been at a Bob Dylan concert
She said that her name was Betty Burgess and that she had been late because she had been at a Bob Dylan concert in New York the previous evening and had gotten back to Pittsfield with an empty gas tank (this was an era of odd/even gas rationing).  Her smile was radiant.  She was intelligent and funny; knowledgeable and quick.  I asked if she could excuse me for a minute, but that I would be right back.

I went back to my cubicle and pulled out my copy of the employee phone directory.  There she was.  And, in the grand, sexist tradition of GE and of the era, employee names bore one of three prefixes: ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Miss’.  Betty Burgess was a ‘Miss’.

Us, 40 years later
I was back in the lobby in seconds.  She was still there, though she was gathering her coat and briefcase for the trip back.  I gathered every ounce of courage I could muster and asked the dumbest question I had ever put to a member of the opposite sex in my life:  “Are you dateable?”

She paused for a moment and said ‘yes’.

Two years and two weeks later, we were married.  A few weeks after our wedding, we escaped from General Electric and began a new life together.

That’s what happened 40 years ago today. 

It was the luckiest day of my life.