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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One More Last Chance Pays Off

It's been a long time coming, but the cymbidium has bloomed at last. When it came in from the cold last month, along with dozens of other plants, this cymbidium had a long stem full of buds. Now, weeks later, those buds have opened. And, what an opening it turns out to be.

This is the plant's first time blooming for me, and like some other plants that made the mistake of languishing long without blooming (clivia, I'm talking about you), this orchid was almost out of here. To the compost.

But, each year, I gave it one more last chance.

It stayed around partly because of the way it came to me. A friend's father died several years ago, leaving her with an orchid greenhouse filled with cymbidiums. On a warm, sunny day, she invited several of us to a repotting party, offering us our choices of plants in return. I left with three fine cymbidiums. One after another, the three bloomed the following fall, winter and spring, demonstrating why this plant is known as the King of Orchids and why many consider the act of giving it to be a symbol of friendship and respect. Moreover, like some other orchids, the blooms last for months.

So, year after year, I did all the right stuff, including feeding a balanced fertilizer in spring and summer and leaving the cymbidiums outside until night temperatures dropped into the 30s. Year after year, I got nothing. Until now.

I began growing orchids about 15 years ago, having moderate success with phalaenopsis, dendrobium – and paphiopedilum, which reminds me of the plant in the movie, Little Shop of Horrors. Too, the powerfully fragrant oncidium 'Sharry Baby' worked well for me.

But this cymbidium is my greatest hit; its fragrance is magical, rich and sweet, more complex than 'Sharry Baby'.

I do not, however, know this cymbidium's name, despite searching books and the Internet. If anyone recognizes this orchid, please let me know; I want some more of this. Especially, as the other two I got at the repotting party show no signs of blooming again.

Nor does 'Sharry Baby', which had bloomed by this time of year for the last 15 years. Jeez, if it ain't one slacker, it's another. Do I have to threaten *everybody* with the compost pile?

And, so it goes in gardening's unpredictable world. I've learned not to fret the failures, but to enjoy successes where and when I find them. Hail to the King!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Latest Plant Hauler Is in the Garden

Gardening and stick shift cars always have been two of my great loves; if I were a rich man, I'd own as many vehicles as I could house. And, gardening, well, gardening is life.

The two have intersected repeatedly in my life. I must garden, and any machine I drive must haul plants and dirt and pots and such. No matter how elegant, or how small, my cars must get dirty sometime. That even included my 2004 Nissan 350Z, sold a couple of years ago.
The Z, Beautiful and Proud, But Not to Proud to Haul

A gardening vehicle is a hauler, yes, but it is so much more; it is an enabler, making it possible for me to feed my obsession any place, any time. I've often said that my cars cannot pass a nursery without turning in on their own. Too, my cars are buddies, sharing the labor, the pleasure, and the pain of making spaces naturally appealing. Together, we get wet, soaked with mud, heated in the sun, covered with snow and encrusted with ice when gardening calls.

It is only fitting that I give them names; they earn them. 

Going back to the 1980s, there was the fabulous 1986 Honda Prelude, light blue, angular, and an extraordinary hauler, name of Yoshi. That Prelude helped me build three gardens: one in the nation's capital and two in Georgia, including one at our cabin on the Blue Ridge.
Yoshi, Incredible Gardening Machine, Moving Plants From Atlanta to Cabin

While living in the Peach State in the 1990s, Lyn and I drove to a wedding in New Jersey – just so I could stop in Charles City, Virginia, on the way back and buy English boxwoods propagated at a historic plantation. Twenty of them, enough to fill the car with that fine boxwood fragrance. As I loaded the last few, it became clear that space would be tight, prompting Lyn to say she was glad I wasn't forced to choose between the boxwoods and her.

Space in the Prelude during that ride wasn't nearly as tight as when I bought three good-sized threadleaf Japanese maples for my Atlanta garden and stuffed them inside the little car.

And, many's the time Yoshi's rear bumper almost dragged the ground, pulled down by a load of stone or cement planters. He never complained during his 14 years of service.

Neither did the 1999 Jeep Cherokee named Joe nor the 2000 PT Cruiser (Al). They joined the family for a couple of years, carrying plants to our mountain place near the Georgia-Tennessee line.
Al, Loaded in Atlanta, Ready to Roll

Succeeding them was my first truck, a 2001 Toyota Tacoma (Hoshi Kawa), the pickup that hauled just about all of my current garden, here in Connecticut. There's nothing like a truck, and I'm glad I finally owned one.
Hoshi, Clean and Full. Sometimes He Looks Like This . . .
. . . And Sometimes He Looks Like That

In addition to being a fine work horse, the Tacoma made it possible for that silver Z to remain mostly a show horse named Zuma, making only occasional hauls when I found some irresistible plant during a road trip. Similarly, the truck made it possible for Lyn’s Prius (or Pius, as some say; we call her Verde) to live a relatively clean life compared with Prelude Yoshi, whose worn-out, dirt-stained carpet had to be replaced. (I passed that car on to a tuner-kid at 150,000 miles, still running like a fine clock.)
After 10 years, good ol’ Tacoma Hoshi, needed less for mass hauling because I've crammed an acre as full as I can, has been put out to pasture, traded for something smaller: a Kia Soul.

I bought him last week, happy to know manual transmissions can still be found. And, three days after he came home to join the Prius, along with myriad memories of gardening vehicles, he got his first job, starting light with three small indoor plants bought at a local nursery: two jasmines and a citrus-scented geranium. I gave him a name, too. SoulLee (inspired by movie superstar WALL-E).

If this sweet beginning is any indication, I’m in store for another beautiful relationship.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Noticed: Last Rose of the Year

It's not much to look at, this nondescript flower on a no-name bush I've been growing for almost 10 years. No matter how I photograph it, this rose will win no beauty contests. In profile:

Or, looking at its face straight-on:

It's a plain rose that grows on a plain bush, one that's tried to die cane by cane, much like Pieris japonica dies one branch at a time. Not willing to let the rose go, I've pruned it willy-nilly; to be sure, it's a bush only a rose daddy could love:

Nevertheless, this rose bursts with beautiful significance: It's the last rose of the year. I looked at all my rose bushes and saw nothing even close to a bud, not even on the beach rose. Or, on 'Playboy', though both have been more likely closers in my garden, not this rose with no name.

Yet, this beautiful duckling, beaten down by the October storm's wind and waterlogged snow, surprised me with a bud two days ago, then opened today as if it has all the time in the world to put on its solo performance.

It doesn't know it's the year's last rose and that it can be zapped on any given night. Then, for all I know, maybe it isn't, and maybe it won't be. In strange weather times like these, anything is possible.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back From the Snow of Autumn

It feels like a mighty long time. And, in the fast world of technology, my week without the Web is a long time. The Halloween-weekend snowstorm that hit Connecticut joined Irene of August in a one-two punch of the Northeast, leaving thousands still without power.

While I was offline, I did what so many of us did: I took pictures to remind me of the marvelous oddness of a half-foot of snow in October. Looking at the front garden, it might as well have been January, as snow began falling.
In the herb garden, at least one bird got caught in the storm before it could seek shelter. With its long stride, however, it easily made it to safety.
I've seen and shoveled a lot of snow, living in places like Cleveland and  East St. Louis, Illinois. Never, however, have I shoveled snow as heavy as this. Look what it did to my bamboo forest, revealing the house and garage next door.
Today, I took another picture. Neither the bamboo nor the field of grass has risen completely, but they've recovered enough to give me a view I prefer. Any day now, the bamboo will straighten up, stand tall and thick. Many of the grasses took serious beatdowns and might be down for the count.
Like any snowstorm, this one gave me some moments to remember. As I spent a lot of time looking out of windows, I captured a few of those moments. Here's one from the day before Halloween.
Today, looking through that same window, it's as if the snow never fell. Such is the magic of gardening and photography. A garden changes constantly; it's never the same from one moment to the next. Shifting light, falling leaves, breezes, winds all make a garden new from moment to moment. Those subtle changes may be impossible to capture, without time-lapse photography. But going from autumn to winter and back again? That's a snap.

P.S. Here's a link to a newspaper piece I wrote on these powerless times: