"On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ... "
Green aphids in an orange tree.
The thought was nice, to be sure. I had mentioned adding an orange tree to my hot, sunny window. But if the truth were known, my true love can't tell the difference between an aphid and a grasshopper.
Nevertheless, you'd think he'd have the sense to buy a bug-free plant! Aphids are such a pain to get rid of, and they do spread so fast in a warm house. So I guess I'll have to quarantine the tree, then spray with Neem oil.
On the second, third, and fourth days ...
UPS drove up and there was this major gift delivery: two turtle doves, followed by three calling birds and four French hens. Actually, I didn't know the exact species until I did some research. This took some work. The first two birds turned out to be common park pigeons, not turtle doves. I know because I looked them all up in my Fielding's Guide to North American Birds. Fielding calls them rock doves or park pigeons, but I like the name turtle dove better for gift birds.
But let me tell you, the next two birds took a little detective work. A call to the Audubon Society positively identified the French hens and the calling birds. All I had to do was dial 617-257-9506, ext. 7741, and a very nice lady just asked me for a description of the weird birds that had been delivered. And can you imagine? She had them identified in a minute! But there is still some question as to whether the French hen just might be a large grackle in winter plumage.
Five golden rings ...
One golden ring would have been lovely and quite sufficient, but five? That might be considered excessive. Gold rings are very nice, don't get me wrong, but maybe just a teensy bit frivolous for a lady whose hands are in dirt every day.
Six geese a laying ...
These came the next day, but I was positive I saw a dozen wild turkeys out there on the grass, not geese this year. So now I'll have turkeys lying about — and laying eggs come spring? And just where did you have in mind doing your laying? Not in my garden!
Geese might have been a better choice. I've heard they make wonderful weeders. But what will I do with them until spring? Might there be a "Goose Care Course" at Essex Aggie this winter?
Seven swans a-swimming?
There is really nowhere for them to swim at my place except the low area in the front yard, which sometimes floods in heavy rains. But I've always heard that swans are aggressive; maybe they'd make excellent watch swans, and maybe they'd chase the neighborhood's unleashed dogs and even the raccoons and groundhogs that run through the garden. Swans could be very useful. But could they live in harmony with the geese?
Eight maids-a-milking ...
Whoa! The fresh milk might be handy, as I'm always watching my calcium intake. But do they belong to a union? Rather than just milking, could the milkmaids be trained to work as gardeners? I have several projects I'd like to do this spring, and I could use eight temps to help. I could pay them in goose eggs.
Nine ladies dancing ...
Dancing? You're proposing that nine ladies dance in my garden? I think not! We sing, yes, but there is no laying or walking, let alone dancing, in the garden beds because it causes the soil to compact.
Ten lords-a-leaping ...
Yes! Leaping lords could be very useful and save me from getting up on a ladder. Can you prune and leap at the same time?
Eleven pipers piping ...
These gifts are improving. They've finally come to install the new garden irrigation system. Better late than never. It's a little late to do it this year, but I'll take a rain check for installation next spring.
Twelve drummers drumming ...
This must be some new kind of green bug control. You know, drum them out. We've tried everything else, and maybe noise would deter the bugs. But don't we have a noise ordinance here? I called City Hall to inquire, and they informed me that I also will need a wildlife certificate and a proof of occupancy for all these people, and a suitable barn or shelter for the wildlife as well.
So for next year, I've already asked my true love to give me a gift certificate.
Last-minute gifts for a gardener
Two more days until Christmas, and you still have a gift to give someone special. You can still do it!
Narcissus bulbs or hyacinth bulbs are always a good choice. Pot them in a freshly washed pot. Tie with a bow and give them with directions on how to bring some springtime into their homes. Or put a liner in a small basket and a plant in that. Whatever you choose, it will really be appreciated this winter, and it's far better than a fruitcake.
Make a book. Well, at least a small album of photos of favorite flowers from your garden; you'll be giving the gift of dreams. Or make a simple notebook as a garden journal for the coming year. Include a list of catalogs or websites for the receiver to browse. Mark sections for planting dates, seed and plant sources, and successes and failures for keeping track of the 2012 gardening year.
Completely out of time? Give the simplest and best gift of all: a promise note — a promise of your time. Good for a lawn cutting, a garden weeding or watering, houseplant care during a vacation — you name it! Just be sure to follow through on your promise. A promise of time is the most valuable gift you can give.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday's Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at email@example.com or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.