True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

When I was a child I acted as a child.” 

Yes, indeed. On rainy days, when it was too bad outside to get into some devilment, we played a game called pick-up sticks. I don’t remember all the rules, but I think there was a round box full of different colored sticks. The whole lot was dumped out and the person who could pick up the most sticks before the opponents was the winner. Something like that. 

“When I became an old man I acted as a child.”

I am still picking up sticks, but this time outdoors. Maybe you are too. Anyhow, it is pick up sticks season. Old man winter has strewn them thither and yon during pounding rain and winter gales. They are particularly troublesome under sorry trees that are prone to break them off in such weather. 

You’ve heard me rail about my stinking sycamore that sullies up our place virtually 12 months of the year with outsized leaves, seed balls, and even some larger branches. There’s no telling how many sticks I have picked up in the last couple of months. Most of them were broken down into kindling for hearth fires. At least there was a little use for them. 

Then there are several bald cypresses on our lot. By and large they are fine trees, windfast and shapely. Their “leaves” are soft needles that disappear under a rotary mower in fall. They do, however, produce an abundance of sticks about the diameter of a pencil but up to 4 feet or so long. Again, they aren’t as troublesome as those of some trees, since they can be ground down under mower blades as well. 

Oaks are often described as “sturdy,” the adjective most often descriptive of nearly all oaks. Notice the “nearly” all. Some oaks can prove to be almost as troublesome as those others mentioned. Willow oaks are excellent shade trees but they produce so many branches that interior ones are often shaded out to the point of death. The result is, of course, dead sticks all over the place after they get too weak to hold on. 

Another, similar, troublesome oak is the pin oak. Highly praised and planted from sea to sea, pin oaks likewise produce an abundance of dead sticks from the interior of the trees, from about the 10th year forward. In their younger years, their lower branches also droop almost to the ground if not proffered corrective pruning.

We have a 45-year-old pin oak at our driveway that is some 50 feet or more tall. It drops, incessantly, sticks, small and large, the year round, but not as maliciously as the aforementioned sycamore. A few of the larger ones have dented the top of a car parked under it and birds, robins particularly, find the thick branches to furnish handy toilet facilities. We must make a trip to the car wash every week or so.  

If you have like troublesome trees, remember that a riding lawn tractor mower is capable of crushing up smaller sticks. Otherwise, it’s pick-up sticks again. 

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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — I love birds, and enjoy them around our place. Several bird feeders stay busy all year. However, there can be too much of a good thing.

We have been assaulted — the only adequate verb —  most all winter by tens of thousands of robins, starlings and grackles, not for the food, but for roosting sites in our evergreens. While they were at it, they stripped all the berries from numerous hollies. Their filthy droppings have covered the ground like whitewash, and parking our car outside is, of course, untenable.

There are at least 10,000 — 10,000 — that pour in around sunset and leave at sunrise. Roman candles and noisemakers have not helped in the least. In fact, there are more every day. (Four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie?)

 

 JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162. 

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