Doing a Slow Burn on a Hot Day

This post is a combination of a Rant and a What Would You Do question. Let me set the stage:

In late May, I ordered six Epimedium ‘Flame Thrower’ despite their $18/each price tag, because they will be a perfect fit for my new red-and-yellow color scheme for that bed: The current and/or future residents being Enkianthus cernuus ‘Rubens’ (red late-spring flowers, red autumn foliage), Enkianthus ‘Summer Hill’ (yellow-and-red late-spring flowers, red autumn foliage), Silene asterias (red late-spring flowers), daylily ‘Late Summer Breeze’ (yellow July flowers) and Spigelia marilandica ‘Little Redhead’ (red and yellow summer flowers.) The spring flowers of ‘Flame Thrower’ are a combination of red and pale yellow and should coincide with the yellow new growth of the conifer that’s also in the bed.

The six were planted around a conifer at the south end of the bed, in order to give them some shifting shade during the course of the day.

This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, with the ‘Flame Thrower’ plants circled in red. You can see that they are doing pretty well, and one of them even produced a spray of flowers ‘out of season’!

Yesterday evening (Friday, July 23rd) I decided to do some weeding in that bed. Imagine my consternation upon discovering that three of the six plants had seemingly disappeared!

The other three, on the north side of the conifer, (circled here in yellow)were fine. Upon close inspection, I discovered that the only thing remaining of the three on the south side was just barely one inch of basal stems.

My thoughts immediately jumped to Abigail, the ravenous neighborhood rabbit. But epimediums are supposed to be “rabbit resistant,” or at least not their favorite food. And why would she chow down on only those three and leave the others alone with nary a nibble? It seemed illogical, but it isn’t as if I was dealing with Mr. Spock here. So I strung together some inventive words and phrases that were not nearly G-rated and directed them into the ether at the absent Abigail. After all, what else could have munched the plants down so badly?? I would have to put some of my small dollar-store anti-rabbit cages around the remains of the ravaged three, and hope they survive despite having no remaining foliage AT ALL. When I stood up and stepped back, still muttering imprecations, I noticed something on the grass adjacent to the bed holding the slaughtered Flame Throwers.

It turned out to be an assortment of epimedium leaves, some intact, some in pieces, and some but not all with their wiry stems still attached. This made even less sense. Why hadn’t Abigail eaten the leaves on the spot, in the planting bed itself, after chewing them off? I looked again at the remaining stubble of the epimediums and saw that the tips on one of them were almost all the same height. No rabbit, however finicky, is THAT neat!

In fact, it looked….it looked…it looked almost like a string trimmer had cut those three plants down! Which would also have flung the decapitated growth just about exactly as far away as what was on the adjacent grass. I do not own a string trimmer, but….

This was Friday. The lawn cutting guys come every Thursday.

It became obvious that Abigail had been unjustly accused and I intend to apologize to her the next time she visits (unless she is eating any plant that I care about, rather than the weeds.)

Now I became even angrier at the lawn crew than I had been at the rabbit, because unlike Abigail, they have no reason to touch anything that is inside any planting bed. The only thing I can think of is that whoever was doing their usual mediocre job of string-trimming along the black aluminum edging that almost all the beds have, was monumentally careless when doing this one. And, clearly, also couldn’t care less about what he had done. Did he think I wouldn’t notice?!?? (More colorful language followed, directed differently than the first batch.)

So here is the What Would You Do part of this post. Given that none of this crew speak English and I speak no Spanish, and that my ONE past attempt at trying to tell them not to weed-whack where there was poison ivy was a total failure (got a nod and a “si, si” and then five minutes later I saw him weed-whacking those same poison ivy leaves all over the grass – which was precisely what I was trying to avoid), and the owner of the company speaks little English himself…. would you simply cage the damaged plants against future incompetence, hope they survive, and say nothing? Or would you send a note with your end-of-month payment for this month’s cuts, explaining that because they had cut down $54 worth of plants on July 22nd, you are not paying for that week’s cut?

I am not a confrontational person by nature, and I do realize that at $30 this company charges less than the average going rate of $45 for the cutting and string-trimming of edges on a ½-acre property (which, by the way, the two men complete in literally 15 minutes with a riding mower and string trimmer; I timed them one day, just out of idle curiosity.) And being a person who lives on a fixed income, that does help. Not that my paying more money to someone else would necessarily guarantee any better work, you understand: In 2012 at my previous ½-acre garden, the $40-a-week guy took it into his head to cut back a mature almost-6-ft-tall hydrangea by 50% as part of a $500 “fall cleanup.” I had never told him to do anything but clean up the leaves, and did take $50 off what I paid him afterwards because it had taken me almost four years to coax that hydrangea to the size it had attained before he slashed it. He wasn’t even apologetic!

Hopefully, those three totally decapitated ‘Flame Thrower’ might manage to put out a few leaves in the next month or so, at least enough to help them survive whatever winter we end up getting. But then again they might not; I contacted the selling nursery, Edelweiss Perennials, with photos and the owner gives them only a 50/50 shot at surviving the winter if no new growth occurs. Obviously it would be a bit late to bring up the subject of three July-murdered plants to the lawn cutting guy next April if I end up having to spend another $60+ then to replace the three. Even if they do survive they have been deprived of two years worth of top growth. So… what would you do (if anything) about how they ended up that way?

UPDATE, on August 19th:

I opted for sending my July-cuts payment on August 1st with the $30 cut-fee for that date deducted, along with a letter and photos politely explaining why. My check was cashed yesterday with no response from the owner. However….there may have been a ‘response’ of sorts, I suppose, during the August 5th cut because I discovered this the next day:

This is the same corner of the bed where the weed-whacked epimediums are; you can see the edge of one of the protective cages near the top of the photo. The tire track is sharp and clear.  The plant just to the right of them is a Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ which I’d moved there a few days before, from another location in which it has been unhappy and languishing for the past four months.( I am singularly non-impressed with this plant and honestly at this point have adopted a “survive or die” attitude toward them. They are supposed to be vigorous but the wimpy plants that Joy Creek sent definitely are not.) I had not noticed tire tracks in this bed before my complaint about the slaughtered epimediums. Maybe their attitude now is “If we can’t weed whack that edge, we’ll just mow over it” ???

Later that day I also noticed mower tire tracks through this curbside bed, in two locations here circled in red. It was not the first time I had seen them do this during the several years that they have been cutting for me, but it is the most recent:

Now, I realize that there are no plants in this bed yet except the weeping cherry whose trunk you see, and two small shrubs just past the edge of this photo but….. am I being totally unreasonable to expect that a mower should not be driven through any planting bed at all, whether there are plants in it or not?? Not that having plants in the bed seem to make any difference to this crew, because I’ve found tire tracks cutting across the edges of beds that are planted up.  And it may well explain why some areas of my aluminum edging end up being at ground level while other parts of the same bed are anywhere from 1” to 3” above same.

That said…in the case of this curbside bed, I admit that the shape of the outer edge is totally ridiculous with that “wedge” of grass and is not riding-mower-friendly. I did not create that silly bed shape; it – along with many other ill-advised garden decisions such as the Chameleon Plant and the tiger lilies, both of which I am still evicting pop-ups after 3 years of eradication – was inherited from the prior owners. And I do fully intend to get rid of that grass and bring the planting bed all the way out to the curb. The only reasons I have not done that yet is because (a) I won’t be edging this bed until after the driveway (which it abuts along one side) is replaced, hopefully this autumn; (b) there are dozens of other garden jobs of much higher priority and greater urgency than this (such as weeding), and (c) my back and knees can only take barely an hour’s work at one time, anymore. I suppose now I should break out the herbicide and at least kill all that grass which will then look horribly ugly until I can manage to dig the dead remains out, but MAYBE that would keep them from MOWING it and then driving through the *&$#@!# bed??!?

I have no idea how to “train” them how to stop driving over my bed edgings though. (Isn’t that what string trimmers were invented for? Areas that are too small to use a mower on without damage?)  I dearly wish I could find more of the solid cast-iron hose guides that I bought six of, about 20 years ago. Nobody makes them anymore, sadly, and I don’t have enough of them to protect all of my beds from careless mowing. Putting one of those on short ends of every island bed, just inside the aluminum edging, might help. But again….. I shouldn’t have to ! ☹

SECOND UPDATE:

The offending lawn service was fired on September 10th, after I discovered a newly planted clump of dwarf Siberian iris sliced off at the base by a string trimmer. To add insult to injury, it was the center clump in a group of a dozen that I’d placed along the forefront of my dwarf conifer bed – but again, a good eight to ten inches behind the bed’s edging.

I really was trying to put up with this service for another 8 weeks and ‘run out the clock’ on the season while lining up someone else for next year, but finding this just made me go totally incandescent. I had even killed the grass near the front yard bed so that they wouldn’t need to navigate around it, but they drove through it last week anyhow…lengthwise, no less! There were even more tire ruts than before.

Ironically, I couldn’t even call the owner to cancel because any attempt to leave a message on his voicemail failed; it simply said “memory full” in a tinny electronic voice and disconnected. So I resorted to the postal service and sent a Dear John (or more accurately, Dear Jose) letter with a check in payment for the two cuts they did this month. A new lawn service will start next week and will cost me considerably more ($48.89 per week instead of $30, because they charge sales tax) but there comes a time when enough is enough. At least I know there are no communication problems with the new people, because this is the same company that has installed the edging and border clear-outs in the past. Guess I’ll just have to economize somewhere else!

  7 comments for “Doing a Slow Burn on a Hot Day

  1. Lisa
    July 24, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    Send him the images – it’s obvious what happened.

  2. July 24, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    Sorry to hear about losing some of the plants, and the rest being cut down. Ugh!

  3. Adine
    July 25, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    Adding to Lisa’s note: put the Spanish word “Si” and “No” to the correct picture and make them big. They understand those two words. Make sure you show the pictures to the boss and each man with a smile on your face and niceness in your voice..

    • July 26, 2021 at 2:52 pm

      I never see the owner except for a quick stop-by sometime in April to ask me whether I want to keep using them for the upcoming season (May through October.) He doesn’t call or email, and a bill is left in my mailbox by the crew when they do the last cut of each month, so I can send a check in the mail payable to the owner directly. It usually takes at least 2 weeks for him to cash my check and as far as responding to voicemails, forget it. A few years ago I left a message asking if I could get his estimate for doing a fall cleanup and never got a response. My best bet is to just print the pictures in a letter along with the check I will send them next week. A couple of times in 2019 they did not cut the lawn at all because there were some workmens trucks in my driveway and rather than asking that the trucks be moved so they could cut the backyard, they just didn’t cut my yard at all. So I explained in a note with the next check why I wasn’t paying for those no-cut days that they had invoiced me for. The crew obviously didn’t even tell him they had skipped my yard. Like the line in ‘Cool Hand Luke’, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate; some men you just can’t reach”, LOL

  4. July 26, 2021 at 11:29 am

    NOOOOOO!!!

  5. July 26, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    Definitely contact the company and explain the problem. That’s really annoying, but the only way to fix the situation is to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And maybe give Abigail some extras leaves to nibble on.

    • July 26, 2021 at 3:03 pm

      Oh, Abigail has my entire property to nibble on, and the neighboring yards as well! Wild (Eastern cottontail) rabbits have an average home territory of about 1.5 acres, depending on whether it’s a male or female (I don’t even know if Abigail is a female; she just looks like one to me, lol) but it can be anywhere from 1/2 acre to 40 acres depending on what kind of area it is. In my suburban neighborhood the lot sizes range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 acres and so I’m sure she has “claimed” my half acre plus at least one of my neighbor’s lots as well. Not sure if my next door neighbor’s 22 hens on their 1+ acre are a deterrent to her or not. I see her foraging in my yard at various times of the day, not just in the evening. I don’t mind as long as she sticks to eating the smorgasbord of weeds that are in the grass areas and planting beds, but I was mightily irked when I found she had eaten the new growth on two young shrubs last year. That’s why I have so much Plant Protective Equipment around things like that, but I can’t cage everything *sigh*

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