Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a range of other interests

in the constantly evolving

garden of life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From the Garden Bench . . .

 As I took a break from heavily pruning the wisteria in the front garden, I marveled at the elegant beauty that is the purple iris bloom, and I thought of Edith Henderson and Jimi Hendrix.

In her 1993 book, Home Landscape Companion, Henderson, a pioneer among women designers and a renowned landscape architect whose spare, powerful designs graced many a Southern garden, wrote: "If you want to have an unforgettable experience, choose and cut a stem of iris that has buds loosening up just a little. Put it in water and sit down beside it in a shady place or at late twilight."

If you watch it open, she said, "You will never forget hearing the outer petals make a rustling sound as they very carefully loosen and curve down," noting that the inner petals unfurl and straighten up, touch each other and with "a little sigh."

This "adventure with nature," this experience, she concluded, "will continue in every season . . . year after year, for a lifetime."

Jimi Hendrix, in his 1967 song, Are You Experienced?, assures that,

If you can just get your mind together
Uh-then come on across to me
We'll hold hands and then we'll watch the sunrise
From the bottom of the sea

But first, are you experienced?
Uh-have you ever been experienced-uh?
Well, I have 

Henderson and Hendrix cite two very different experiences: Hendrix's incomparably beautiful, raucous, acrobatic guitar, seemingly the antithesis of Henderson's whispering iris. But wait a minute; that is not to say they didn't each find and appreciate some profoundly satisfying adventure, some experience that we all seek when we stop and take the time to watch big moments unfold in the garden of life.

Monday, May 30, 2011

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Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a wide range of other interests

in the constantly changing

garden of life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Will Giving Up the Fight Save the Tree?

Today, in a disappointing first, I gave in to the voles: I moved a plant to save it.

When I went out for the morning paper, I noticed my prized franklinia listing at a 30-degree angle, about to fall out of the ground. I rushed over, noted the volemole holes close to the tree, the mushy soil tunneled  all around. Tugging slightly, I was getting little resistance. It was clear; the little tree, 3 feet tall, was hanging on by just a few root threads.

This was triage time, before I’d had my first coffee. I carefully eased the tree out of the ground, put it in a big bucket half full of potting soil, with a layer of wet sphagnum moss around the few remaining roots. Sphagnum, long known for its healing properties, could encourage roots to grow on this damaged tree. I put the bucketed tree in a lightly shaded area and hoped I had gotten to it in time. Amazing how fast rodents strike; yesterday, the tree looked fine, and no tunnels encircled it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Sound Garden Strikes a Chord

Gardens can appeal to all the senses, but the one that is perhaps the least talked about is the sense of hearing.

What a bountiful crop of natural sounds the garden grows, especially if you garden in a rural place, as I do. Usually, it’s possible to hear bees buzzing, birds singing and flapping their wings (pileated woodpecker sounds positively primeval), breezes whispering through leaves. Too, there is the rat-a-tat-tat of acorns (way too many, alas) falling to roof and ground.

To these I add a couple of chimes and a gong. They act as a kind of store-bought punctuation to nature, working in concert to create what I call the sound garden. I can close my eyes and focus just on the sounds, experiencing the garden in a way totally different from the way it feels when I walk through it while looking, smelling, touching and feeling.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Still Trying to Make My Mother's Wine

When I was a young boy, I took for granted that my mother made wine, rice wine. It was not until years later that I knew it resembled sake. My mother, however, did not know that word. So, she called her homebrew by the most exotic name she’d ever heard: tequila. And, so it was that her rice brew came to share a name with a south-of-the-border brew that has flattened many a drinker.

 My Latest Brew
And, since she made this drink for at least 40 years, she had earned the right to call it by any name she chose. Come to think of it, the name tequila may have been apt after all; Mother’s brew sure did pack a punch.

Mother, Dad (the word stepfather did not do justice to this good man, my mother’s second husband) and their friends enjoyed this drink immensely; it was the beverage of choice at house parties when we lived in Meridian, Mississippi, and later, after we moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. Family and close friends enjoyed watching the uninitiated toss tequila down like water (no sake cups for them) because it tasted so good, like a hard citrus ade – a little sweet, a little sour. It seemed so harmless.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lilacs, Magnolias and Regional Envy

Like life, gardening is filled with loves and temptations that you cannot have. You want to grow this, but your zone’s too cold. You want to grow that, but your zone’s too warm.

You try it anyway; you can’t help it. That’s when you know you’re suffering from Regional Envy.
A Sure Sign of Springtime in New England

It’s a hard condition, and I’ve had it many a time. Here in Connecticut, I want to grow nandina, mahonia, gardenia, oleander and Southern magnolia, that big-leafed beauty with creamy white blooms and lemony sweet fragrance; not the saucer magnolia whose pink blooms reliably get smushed to brown in late winter-early spring.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bar Code Gardening Is Here, But Not for Me

Well, it had to happen. Now, you can buy plants tagged with bar code instructions on light, soil, fertilizing and watering. The bar-coded plants are showing up at Home Depot and Lowe's, and perhaps at other forward-looking retailers.

Accessing the information requires a smart-phone scanner, which leaves me out, as my un-smart cell has no scanner, only enough intelligence to let me talk, text, calculate, tell time, surf the Net, set alarms and perform a bunch of other functions I'll never use. 

 But, don't cry for me; the last thing I want is to take the mystery out of planting my next shrub or tree. After all my years of digging and pruning and watering and moving plants around for better light, I don't want technology, as much as I love it, thinking for me.

Besides, those old plastic tags always have had enough information for me to ignore or glance at before I go off and plant the way I've learned to do by experience; that is to say, trial and error.

As my father loved noting: "You learn more from your own mistakes and successes than you can learn from gardening magazines." If he were still with us, he'd add bar codes, I'm sure.

So, no smart tags for me; I treasure my right to succeed or fail without computer assistance. Knowledge is good, but mystery is sweeter.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bringing in Buds, Blooms, Branches – a Vow

Over and over, I tell myself there’s something bad wrong with working as hard as I do to create a good-looking garden and leaving all of it out there – not bringing enough of it in to be enjoyed in the house. And, over and over, I promise to do better, to bring more plant beauty inside on a regular basis, display something fresh from out there. Whether it’s a bud or a bloom or a branch.

Oh, I cut a few blooms in spring and summer, but too few to mention. Then, come autumn, I clip a little fiery foliage for the table. But, too often, flowers and foliage make it inside just on special occasions, not as everyday pleasures.

The late Maynard Jackson, who was mayor of Atlanta when I lived there in the 1990s, made sure that cut flowers were always in the house, a niceness that he and his wife Valerie enjoyed daily. When he told me that years ago, I told myself that if he, a non-gardener, took the trouble to buy flowers as often as he did, then surely I could keep my wife Lyn and me in a little something-something indoors by merely walking out the door and snip-snipping.

So, each year, I’d vow to do that. Then, I’d slack off. This time I’m sticking to the vow. And, I’m starting early. The other day, I clipped a sprig of azalea to go with pine candles. And, later I brought in two ferns unfolding, along with a small maple branch. As the year unfolds, my offerings will multiply.
A Little Piece of My Garden: Azalea, Pine With Candles

Like a garden itself, these pieces that come from the garden stand as unique representations of the garden and the gardener. Too, they amount to a time stamp on the garden’s appearance at a given time.
Japanese Maple 'Butterfly', Maidenhair, Cinnamon Ferns

Over the years, when I’ve visited gardens and homes, I’ve had the feeling that every gardener but me always kept indoor displays, while I’ve left most of my hard-earned beauty outdoors.

Carol Pruitt, a gardener friend in Preston, Connecticut, for example, is consistent about bringing some of her garden indoors for herself and husband George. Carol, who has studied Ikebana and photography, and who has taught art, puts her exceptional talents to good use in every season.

Her reasoning on creating indoor displays centers on their bringing nature and art together, and, similar to potted plants, greening and coloring up the indoors: “They enrich our time spent inside, as expressive interpretations of nature.”

To be sure, in places with long, hard winters and hot, stormy summers, a little bit of the outside can help dispel that cooped-up feeling.

I asked Carol to send me the exquisite images below. I will use them for inspiration.

Fresh From Carol's Garden, Iris With Hickory Branch

Japanese Maple 'Bloodgood', Daffodil, Dried Grass

White Bleeding Heart, Curving Over Quince Blossoms