Casper’s recent home and garden show was a jump start for me to get excited about our yard. We’ve had cold, windy winter howling outside as seed catalogs arrived and members of Facebook’s Wyoming Garden Chat posted hopeful messages of better days. Though market endcaps sport tempting outdoor living mags, I await every issue of “Green Prints, the Weeder’s Digest.” Rather than a magazine of staged garden photos, how to grow this and that, and do-it-yourself projects I would never get done in a lifetime, this quarterly shares wonderful earthy articles and original artwork illustrations that touch my horticultural heartstrings. Each issue bursts with the spirit of gardening including cheeky humor, memories, mistakes, losses and gains, beauty and ruin, and the tender musings of regular people like me, which pretty much captures the drama of real-life gardening.
Last year we finally had our trees trimmed from past years’ damages and were pleasantly surprised that so much could be saved. In fact, after five ugly years, they should be looking tree-ish again. I certainly hope so! Now we endure a Charley Brown yard. Our biggest apple tree is totally lopsided. The lovely plum that survived intact before, lost a graceful and important branch last fall. A strange apricot tree keeps leaning and leaning southward as if it hates its neighbors and wants to get away. Tom is fed up with it and went so far as to say we should have never gotten it and he might just chop it down. The few apricots produced were only thumb-sized, but its vibrant fall colors are worth any nuisance.
We had only one lame sumac survive all the storms and I have to say I’m thankful for that. Yes, I know they spread like the plague and morph into forests if not kept in check, but I’m fighting to keep this one. They add an unexpected tropical flare to boring corners, and sprinkle the deepest autumn reds found in the Rockies. The added bonus is sumac tea. My friend who recently relocated from Maryland brought this to my attention last fall. We harvested dozens of pods and truly, the pink tea tastes like lemonade and is chock full of vitamin C and other nutrients.
As strange as our trees are now, the yard is also the recipient of Tom’s strange love of scrap iron. He can look over a scrap yard and see far beyond rusty chunks of metal. He has used vessel ends and plow discs to make an interesting multi-tiered planter. Some old smashed pipes ready to load on railroad cars were snagged and dragged home to see what could be grown in them. He is now collecting junk crusher cones for a yet unknown project.
Actually, our yard is becoming a sculpture garden. We still have a robot made of an old boat motor, a turtle from a round chunk of rusty steel, a large bee bobbing on a tall metal flower, a lobster of horseshoes, a pink flamingo made by friend Jim, and a junk metal sculpture made by Matt McIntosh, who worked for Tom when he was a college student. It’s like a cartoon character. When I told Matt I liked his sculpture of Tom, he looked at me questioningly. I queried that it was supposed to be Tom, right? He said he didn’t mean it to be, and yet it is. The 3-D caricature is Tom’s face, with signature mustache and rounded glasses, stick man arms and hands hold tools in action. The “Tom Guy” is a centerpiece in front of the otherwise boring white shed and my favorite, always bringing me smiles.
Tom is a master at fashioning attractive functionality. When our grapes overtook the pretty arbor he’d made, we needed something more for his ever growing vineyard. I found some long rolled tubing at the side of his shop and batted my eyes, asking if he could bring it home to make more grape supports between the yard and garden. The project lasted a few years, producing about eighty feet of overlapping arches in differing widths and heights. They are as striking with winter snow and frost as they are strong — holding up heavy grape vines, leaves and fruit in summer.
This year’s new addition is a particularly charming arbor Betsy and Tom collaborated on, again from the scrap pile. Do we place it in our corner vacant-lot garden for passersby to enjoy, or in back within view of our dining room table? Every year I’m more tempted to learn welding myself, as I watch others bring imaginations to life in steel. In the meantime, I plan to attend the Master Gardeners conference April 21 to absorb all the gardening advice they are willing to feed me. See you there – everyone is welcome!