Archive for the ‘The Garden’ Category

On Gardening

When you pull weeds, it is a lot easier to see.

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Up the gentle green hill, mid-morning sun dapples through the leafy ring around this landscape. Pick up speed running down again, laughing, arms akimbo, making fluttering shadows in the sun.

What’s it all for?

Once many of us ran our own green slopes when young.  Half a century later, probably few of those young’uns do.  For me, time has collapsed, my future passed, and the timeless summer day comes again. If only for the exhilarating run past sun, shade, and flower on a peerless blue sky day.

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There are many type of gardens, most improve with age.  And sometimes age says more about the gardener than the garden.

For as long as I recall, my mother kept a fair-sized garden at the house where I grew up.  Only the second place she ever lived, her garden welcomed many varieties and the occasional native plant, long before native plants were popular in residential gardens.

It was not until my mother was into her 70’s that I learned she did not come to gardening on her own.  It was the chain-smoking, bottle-blonde older neighbor with an affinity for Yorkie dogs that introduced her to the hobby. The neighborhood was new then, mostly rancher homes with no landscaping save  for the barren hardscape of a construction zone.

Mother of two when she moved in, eventually two more children came along, and the garden began to take shape.  Phlox, lilies, ornamental shrubbery, scrub oak, columbine, and a host of perennials came and stayed for the duration. A few larger trees arrived over the years, an Austrian pine, Linden, Quaking aspen, Hawthorne, and Mountain Ash, several of which remain today.

My mother was reliably found in the garden, enriching the soil year after year with a cup or two of peat moss in each planting hole, dipped out of a colorfully painted tin cup that was old even when I was young.

The gardening styles of my mother and I are wholly different.  While my mother established and tended the mainstays of her garden for decades, I cultivate changeability, welcoming volunteers, being romanced by new introductions, stalking my garden with a trowel in one hand and unexpected entrant in the other, looking for the right spot–or sometimes any spot. Her garden was steady, mine forever shape-shifting.

My mother retired some time ago, her garden figuring prominently in each day after that.  She volunteered for years at the local botanical garden, and there is a bench there that bears her name. When I visited home, we walked and talked in the garden, discussing plants and their habits.  As any gardener knows, one of the secrets of a garden is its timelessness.  There is no before, or after, there is simply the face of the garden as it is now.

I visited again last August.  In her 90th year, my mother does not have a great deal of short term memory.  There had been talk of a move to assisted-living, as aging in place with assistance simply wasn’t enough anymore.

After I arrived, we chatted inside the house. I had the discomfiting feeling that my mother could not altogether place me. While I was used to reintroducing topics or people, this was something different.

As we spoke, I glanced out the picture window that takes in a terraced garden in the back of the house.  The garden, long home to a community of robust plantings, was three-quarters covered by an invasive grass, beautiful in the breeze, but entirely hiding the differentiated species that may yet be struggling there. Startled, I asked her about the grass.  She looked out unperturbed, saying only that it grew well there.

Though lovely, the grass is homogeneous, smothering wherever it grows, it has nothing to say and little to show.  A metaphor of the mind, the grass had overtaken the decades of detail of the life that tended it. The gardener is no longer in residence.

A few weeks later, my mother moved into a beautiful assisted living facility.  There are kind people, good meals, and interesting activities.  She adjusted well, with help, over time.  There is a sunny courtyard in which to walk and the garden that I thought she would miss does not come up in our telephone conversations.

COVID-19 is stalking the residents of assisted living and nursing facilities throughout this country.  Family visits curtailed, packages quarantined, employees tested for symptoms on each arrival. But like seeds of invasive grasses, the progenitors of COVID-19 are rarely seen, showing only after the virus has taken hold in a fragile human ecosystem. Like everyone around the world, we can only wait.

On my next visit, I will bring starts of some of the plants in her garden with me, and her garden will live on, far from its original setting. That is the way with gardens, even when the gardener goes home.

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Finally sitting in the garden.  Sun still high, but evening breezes push shadows along.  Monarch butterflies caper together as hummingbirds zip dutifully among nodding flowers.

I rarely sit in the garden in which I labor so intensely.  I am not sure why.  But I am tonight.  As I always hope, it is timeless.  Changed by the years and neglect, but rebounding more strongly than my mortal frame ever will.

There are two chairs in the front of my garden.

Two is civil.  My children once sat here with me, they are grown.  Long gone, the Confused Soul refused to sit here, afraid of dirtying his clothes.

The other chair may remain empty, but that is okay too.  Between the past, present, future, and all that lives in this garden and passes through it, there is plenty of company to go around.

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Montgolfier is full these days.  Named for its resemblance in full leaf to a globe aérostatique-style hot air balloon, the tree rises considerably above this two-story house.  When I first met it, it was a broken four foot stick in the ground that provoked thoughts of quick firewood rather than any future grandeur. Tending and time have lent it vigor, an almost impenetrable green depth, and an easy, safe haven for the generations of birds who have called it home.

Off the back deck, a garden flag bedecked with painted zinnia flowers flutters ever so gently in a slight evening breeze. A new garden spinner with young colors spins quietly as the sun sets.

I spent time in the garden today, not a lot, but some.  Nudged out of the front garden – which needs a lot of work – by a neighbor’s seeming mid-life moment.  How do I know?  Male, mid-fifties, overloud tunes overwhelming the driveway and street, predominantly boozy guitar chords and licks of Nugent’s “Stranglehold” are a dead giveaway.

Up the street, same thing on a nightly basis with a different play list. Easy to gauge mood there.  Creedence on the upswing, Pink Floyd on the down. No judgment, just annoyance that these moments must be attended by the rest of the neighborhood, children, couples, dogs, grandparents, trees, and breeze, when a moderate volume would be fine for personal use.

Summer solstice has passed. The sun and the trees are as full as they are going to be. Today hummingbirds, a monarch butterfly, and even a monarch caterpillar graced the garden built here to provide them succor.

As the sun sets, the midlife woes have quieted along with the lawn equipment and power tools of home-improvement projects.  At past the height of the season the rain has been kind.  Green oasis of lawns encircle houses when hot, dry weather usually crisps things up by now.

The night songs of the tree frogs are giving away more quickly to the crickets.  A waxing moon is brilliant against a deep blue sky. The birds are slowing down now and soon, when the solar orb drops fully below the horizon, the bats will wing by to start their day.  In the distance the distinct chirp of a cardinal calls loudly of the coming nighttime.

The fireflies have not begun their twilight shows yet this year.  When they do, I’ll let you know.

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Winter Garden

A blanket lies over the garden, crusty white.

What remains standing, in glorious decline, is known as the winter garden. But I know better.

Beneath the snow, in the ground, microbe and mulch, root and rot, the crowns of spring sleep.

Protected from upheaval, they shelter. Gathering, to push forth when light lingers longer.

Real strength rests below, embroidered with the deceit of decay above.  Winter garden.

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Rooms with a view…


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Checking the tomato patch this morning, the darkened Monarch chrysalis was unchanged.

By noon, the same report.

By late afternoon, only an empty husk of a once bejeweled green chrysalis remained.

In the garden, astride a Verbena bonariensis, was a brilliant Monarch butterfly slowly fanning its wings.

By early evening, it was gone.

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Nights are cool, leaves are changing, autumn arrives this evening.

After a hard spring, it was a good summer.  With a focus on soil health,  the garden thrilled as never before.

Flowers blossomed, vegetables and children grew.  As a Monarch butterfly Waystation, our garden enjoyed the summer-long company of Monarchs and a bumper crop of their caterpillars.

Still gathering tomatoes, I unloaded another basket in my kitchen just now.  To my surprise, I found a darkening Monarch chrysalis attached to the side of a fully ripe tomato.  I carefully replaced the tomato in the garden.  Along the siding of the house, I spotted another chrysalis.  With luck, both butterflies will emerge soon to begin their southward migration.

Years ago, a late-blooming Monarch butterfly named Longshot was unable to take to the skies by the time it emerged. Here is hoping these two make it.

Flowers, butterflies and humans – they all have a better chance of emergence when the conditions are right.

I will keep you posted.

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You say tomato…

Summer’s end signals the presence of ripe tomatoes in my overgrown garden.  Different types, heirlooms grown from seed, vines slide slowly to the ground under the weight.

Fall feeling day, hummingbirds pay me no mind as I move my garden hod through the vines, picking up large tomatoes, many blemished, fine by me.

Blanched, peeled and processed, there is a fine tomato soup in the future, especially when I push past some friendly weeds to find the basil planted earlier this summer.

Early evening, sun in the west window, kitchen is aglow.  Cleaning up, a solid field of tomato seeds and membrane covers the bottom of my white porcelain sink.  Bright red, and red orange, floating with dun seeds,  a moment of extraordinary color that took a summer to grow.  So common, so rare.

Hard to know what we are here for, if not to notice moments such as these.

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