Posts Tagged ‘garden notes’
I think this is my favorite photo of the hundreds (thousands? eek) I’ve taken since we moved to Portland. I posted it on Instagram with a riff on the much-beloved William Carlos Williams poem:
so much depends
a red garage
glazed with rain
beside the pink
And while I’ve appreciated “The Red Wheelbarrow” for many years, I feel like I get it in a deeper way now. There’s a feeling I get when I look at gray-blue clouds piled over a blue mountain, or sunlight shining through black tree branches, or the evening sky shot through with light and shadows—a feeling like Emily Starr’s flash, you know?
I started writing this post last week (thus the title) and didn’t have a chance to come back and finish until now. It’s Monday morning, early, kids still in bed, sky like mother-of-pearl. I’ve been awake since before dawn, dunno why. The enthusiastic birds outside my window, probably. I contemplated getting up and taking my walk early—I usually go in the evening, during golden hour if I can possibly manage it—but I opted to lie in bed and watch the walls turn from gray to blue. Got up around six and slipped out to the back yard to smile over our little garden like a proud mother. We have radishes coming up in the garden, and my first strawberry is very-nearly-almost ripe.
Anyone remember my big long strawberry-rhapsody post from a million years ago?
Eighteen dollars: less than four times the amount we paid for last night’s gone-in-a-flash berry feast. And now I get a steady stream of berries from June to September. Like the wantons they are, the plants have multiplied with abandon: we must have hundreds of individual strawberry plants now, each fertile and heavy with fruit in its season. I am a neglectful gardener (just ask my neighbors) and I do nothing to baby these plants. I ignore them. I don’t do chemicals and I can’t be bothered with fertilizer or compost. We have terrible soil: thick red Virginia clay that is not at all disposed to encourage root growth. The kids’ caterpillar farm (fennel and rue) springs up right from the middle of the strawberry bed. The strawberries don’t care. They thrive on adversity. They scoff at the miserable growing conditions; they sneer at the crabgrass; they launch themselves over the retaining wall and bloom in mid-air. They send exploratory runners into the lawn, and Scott mows right over them. For this callous treatment, they reward us with a riotous, bountiful harvest. You can’t beat us down, they proclaim. You only encourage us to flaunt our fertility. We will, we must, reproduce! We will fill the world! Let those fat, bland, expensive greenhouse-grown excuses for berries beware! We are sun-warmed and sweet. We will make you weep for joy.
There is no modesty in strawberries.
And there was no brevity in 2005 me, apparently. 😉 Oh for the days of big long text-heavy posts!
I lost my voice for a week, and with it my mojo. I’m better now but still tired and feeling (here at the end of the day) low in spirits, probably because I just caught up on the news. I’m not accustomed to this feeling and I don’t wear it well.
The morning was nice, though: warm sun after yet more rain (so much rain! it’s been years since I could say that!), and thyme seedlings feathering up near a volunteer pumpkin sprout. That self-sown arugula I found last month up and bolted on me, and now it’s flowering: starry white flowers, petals veined like insect wings, tangled with the yellow marguerites. I’m not complaining. I’m not sure I’ve ever grown a leafy edible that didn’t bolt. Some years back, I realized my favorite flowers of that summer were my gone-to-seed cilantro. The leaves had turned bitter but oh how lovely those small lacy blossoms all along the back fence. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain, I’ll plant a packet of cilantro seeds and let most of it run away with itself.
I was revisiting a favorite gardening book recently, Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts. For some reason I had it in my head that she was a garden writer (among whose number are some of my lifetime favorite writers, like Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White). But a rabbit trail enlightened me: Perenyi was actually a novelist and memoirist. Green Thoughts was her only garden book!
Her obituary in the New York Times describes her as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener,” which struck me as an epitaph worth having. Why, I’m a writer and an opinionated amateur gardener, I thought. Whether or not those opinions are delicious must be determined by each reader, I suppose. But the description made me laugh and I experienced one of those little mental kaleidoscope twists after which new patterns reveal themselves to you. Until now I’ve more or less rolled my eyes at my own gardening idiosyncracies: I seldom do anything by the book. I grow things in odd places and wrong seasons. I ignore what I ought to tend, and I fuss over what wants to be left alone. I’ve got lettuce and herbs and flowers all growing in the same big pot, because it sits on the front steps and I know I’m most likely to notice it wants watering, after this burst of weather is past and the baking days return.
It’s funny that while I have no qualms whatsoever about tweaking and adapting some educational resource to suit my own preferences, when I make the same kind of tweaks to proper garden methods I do so with a measure of chagrin, an internal acknowledgement that I’m ‘doing it all wrong but oh well.’ It’s possible, now I think of it, this inner critic (it isn’t a loud one) is the voice of our neighbor back in Virginia, who was positively tormented by my unconventional approach. He’d see me on our sloping lot across the street from his house, painstakingly grubbing out weeds that were absolutely going to rebound with vigor the following week, and he’d holler “helpful” recommendations of Round-Up across the road. “Can’t!” I’d yell back. “It’ll kill the milkweed!” That I planted milkweed on purpose made him sputter. We drove each other crazy, Tom and I, but only during the summer. I planted forsythia, redbuds, and dogwoods at the top of that slope, which means he had me to thank for his lovely spring view. Not to mention the enormous throng of monarch butterflies that mobbed my asters in the fall.
(That’s a big sprig of chicory behind the asters. I left a huge patch of it wild in our yard, intermingled with Russian thistle. Both are wonderful plants for a butterfly garden, but they aren’t exactly lookers. Not by conventional standards, at least. The chicory was glorious in the mornings, like a sheet of fallen sky, but by noon the flowers had closed up and all you had was a patch of scrub. This is why Tom found me trying as a neighbor. And let’s face it: if there is one place I have never belonged, it’s a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association.)
(Well, that and high school gym class.)
Anyway, I’ve decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” would be a fine thing.
Speaking of idiosyncratic gardeners, here’s another thing that made me smile this morning. I discovered that Rilla had added a little pot to our container garden under the front window. It’s the yellow pot in the photo below—full of weeds. The grass (which is mostly weeds; see above re: no Round-Up) has turned meadowy with all this rain. Rilla knew I was going to mow soon and (she explained) she was afraid all the “beautiful weeds” would be shorn. So she dug some up and gave them a safe new home.
Remember those pumpkins I said might be ripe in time for Christmas? More like Valentine’s Day. We gave most of them away to a neighbor (who thanked us with pumpkin bread, so we came out ahead) but kept a couple to perpetuate the cycle. We’ll ignore these and let Nature do her thing, and maybe we’ll have some seeds sprouting earlier in the season this time around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the jarring contrast of spring flowers and fall harvest.
Spotted two tiny caterpillars on the milkweed! Sadly, however, we also found a withered monarch chrysalis hanging on the fence with a pinprick hole in it. It looks like we’re raising caterpillars for something’s lunch. Not cool, Nature. Monarchs have enough to contend with these days.
November 25, 2014 @ 3:23 pm | Filed under: Gardening
Faded: the sunflowers. They’re drooping in sad-Charlie-Brown fashion all along the side wall. They amuse me.
In bloom: yellow daisies, masses of them. Pink geraniums, always. Orange zinnias, still going strong. Sweet alyssum and snapdragons, recently added. (The summer alyssum crop, grown from seed, carpeted a corner of the yard all summer, then went brown and weedy. We missed them and put in a few nursery plants to tide us over until the next batch of seeds comes up.) Bougainvillea, small but promising. Lavender, keeping the bees busy. Basil, because I forgot to pinch it off.
In fruit: Tomatoes! Hurrah! I moved them to the front yard this year and voila, they are producing abundantly.
But overshadowing all of these by a mile: the renegade pumpkins. Last year (Halloween 2013) we had one jack-o-lantern and two smaller uncarved pumpkins. These got left alone when we tossed the melting jack-o-lantern. (That’s what carved pumpkins do in Southern California. They dissolve on the stoop.)
The two little pumpkins became a quiet science experiment during the course of the year. One was partly under a bush and retained its integrity for months. The other, in full sun, decomposed rapidly. All of us enjoyed comparing their progress during our comings and goings from driveway to front door.
By July, the shaded pumpkin had joined its mate in the circle of life: its skin crisped and cracked like old, brittle paper. Seeds spilled out everywhere. Did I pay them any mind? I did not.
In August, we noticed sprouts. Not only at the site of the departed pumpkins, but also along the side wall near the sidewalk.
By October, we had vines. Big sprawling vines with huge leaves, trailing all across the lawn and beyond. We had to keep kicking them off the sidewalk back onto the grass lest they trip up passersby.
And now, two days before the final pumpkin holiday of the year, we have (at last count) a crop of six young pumpkins of modest size in various shades of green and yellow. Not orange. No, not quite orange yet.
I figure they’ll be ripe in time for Christmas.
As soon as spring is in the air Mr. Krippendorf and I begin an antiphonal chorus, like two frogs in neighboring ponds: What have you in bloom, I ask, and he answers from Ohio that there are hellebores in the woods, and crocuses and snowdrops and winter aconite. Then I tell him that in North Carolina the early daffodils are out but that the aconites are gone and the crocuses past their best..”
—Elizabeth Lawrence, The Little Bulbs
The photo is not of my garden; this lovely sight of a neighbor’s front yard left me breathless last April. I haven’t been down that street lately to see what may be in bloom, but the daisies and poppies are coming up in other yards around town. My own poppies are all leaf, not quite ready to set buds yet. But soon. And some of these small daisies have popped up quite unexpectedly in a large planter by my front steps, along with some adorable johnny-jumpups. Either they jumped up indeed, right into the pot, or it’s possible Rilla planted some seeds…she’s always finding an old half-full packet in a drawer somewhere (why do I only ever plant half the seeds in a packet?) and taking it upon herself to do a bit of Mary Lennoxing. Today it was freesia seeds, inherited from a friend, and some sweet peas and sweet william. I grow freesia from bulbs, not seed, so I’m eager to see if these come up. It’s turning wonderland out there, already…the lavender has gone supersized this year, the bees are quite drunk.
It’s the season when I have no choice, I must read gardening books. The Little Bulbs is mandatory at this time of year, when the freesia are tumbling everywhere. I could live on the scent of freesia. This bit to Miss Lawrence from her horticultural pen-pal, Mr. Krippendorf, one February day, made me laugh:
“I was surprised to hear of the paucity of bloom in your garden, as I once read a book by an Elizabeth Lawrence who listed quantities of plants that bloomed in February or even January in her garden (which she alleged was in Raleigh, North Carolina). We have quite a few snowdrops now, and some eranthis, in spite of the fact that the pool on the terrace freezes every night.” And later: “I have your letter dated Fourth Sunday in Lent but not mailed until Tuesday. You say you might as well have lived in Ohio this winter—that sounds almost scornful. Yesterday was a wonderful day, not too warm, and sunshine off and on. I have tens of thousands of winter aconites in the woods—bold groups repeating themselves into the distance, also the spring snowflakes, and Adonis amurensis.”
All this sudden color is the result of the few days of rain we had the other week, after a crispy, crackling, waterless winter. And I know so many of you in other parts of the U.S. have had a really dreadful time of it these past few months. I wouldn’t dare to ask Miss Lawrence’s question, above, but I’m starting to see hints on Facebook and Twitter of a crocus here, a narcissus there, and Mr. Krippendorf’s tens of thousands of winter aconites gave me courage.
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (ahhh, deep delight)
Grace for President
Here Comes Destructosaurus (coming out soon, quite funny, wonderful Jeremy Tankard art)
Finished Where Angels Fear to Tread. Forster is tearing me up, lately. I had to read Howards End because of the Susan Hill book, and it wrung me inside out, and Angels hung me out to dry. In a good way, you understand.
Overslept this morning, thanks to Daylight Savings Time (which I nonetheless adore) and to having stayed up past midnight, too wired from sending off a manuscript (yippee!) to sleep—or to read, for that matter. Fumbled at a crossword puzzle on my phone instead. Well, after talking at my poor exhausted husband for an hour.
So no early-morning reading for me today. And a whirl of a morning, catching up on the housework and garden work I’ve neglected these past weeks. It’s spring out there! Who knew! Loads and loads of freesia sweetening the air—almost knocked me over, the scent was so lovely and so unexpected. And the pink jasmine is blooming, and the lime tree and grapefruit (not as exciting as it sounds, those two—they don’t seem inclined to produce fruit, ever). Nasturtiums and sweet alyssum and loads and loads of lavender. I might have to live outside for a while. “I think your garden needs you, Mom,” said Rose only a little reproachfully. She’s right; the clover is overrunning everything, and let’s not even speak of the bermuda grass.
But inside, there was Spenser. We’re reading it in excerpts, with plot summary between the passages—Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls is wonderful for this—if you, a 21st-century teenager, can forgive the condescending name. Today was great fun, as the girls kept spotting parallels to Narnia (Una happening upon the dancing fauns and satyrs, not to mention her devoted lion)—Rose or Beanie, which?, said “I think Lucy is supposed to be an Una, Mom.” And the description of St. George going forth unto the dragon’s darksome hole:
“And lookéd in: his glistering armour made
A little glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plain…
Most loathsome, filthy, foul, and full of vile disdain.”
I thought of Bilbo and Smaug, but Beanie thought of Eustace. They know a lot about Tolkien’s literary credentials and influences from our Beowulf studies, and now they know about Lewis’s too. You can’t help but see it, reading Spenser.
Oh, and we returned to our Poetry 180 journey, poem #8, “Numbers” by Mary Cornish.
Now, during all this poetry-reading, Rilla was perched in her usual spot at the kitchen table, drawing, and suddenly she flitted across to the shelves behind my rocking chair and started piling up books—mostly volumes from our Poetry for Young People collection, plus Child’s Garden of Verses. Later, I found this pile on my bed. She informed me gravely that she has decided to be a poet as well as an artist, “and I’m going to need to study everything about poetry. All the poems, and the poets’ lives, and everything.”
All the poems. Well, then. No time to lose. We began with Sandburg, at her request—his “Between Two Hills” is her favorite. And then a bit of Poe (we are incapable of saying his name without belting “Poe, Edgar Allen, American poet, born in eighteen hundred and nine…“). She liked the Raven but deemed it “too long” (I can’t disagree) and said she prefers poets like Emily Dickinson who “tell a whole story in a short little poem.” I can’t argue with that, either.
Our roses are blooming, and a big clump of daffodils is coming up right under one of the rosebushes. Tricksy plants, growing all the time. The freesia and rain lilies we planted are well up now (but weeks from blooming), and the nasturtium and cosmos seeds are coming in nicely. One plump grapefruit ripening on the tree. Just the one.
The neighborhood parrots visited the other day. They travel in a raucous swirl of green and chaos. I tried to get pictures, but they hid in the trees and then swirled up and away faster than I could focus. Which is a pretty apt metaphor for my life, these days. Bright, noisy, swirling past in a blur.
There’s a parrot there somewhere; can you see it? Blink and it’s gone.
The Lilies-of-the-Nile are being impish again. I was going to remark that as much as I adore their purple spheres of bloom, this bud stage is when I love them best—but I see I already said that, a year ago. I really am repeating myself; I see too that I posted an agapanthus bud exactly one year ago today. Impish they may be, but they are punctual little fellows!
April 1, 2012 @ 7:06 pm | Filed under: Gardening
We harvested most of the radishes. There is nothing, but nothing, like the sight of a three-year-old’s face alight in wonder at his first glimpse of those bright red globes. (But then the long taproots alarmed him and he flung his harvest into the dirt.)
Something is eating my baby lettuces. Peter Rabbit, probably, thinks Rilla, who has been enjoying the Potter stories with me. I always seem to pull them out this time of year.
We have exactly one lime on the little tree that has never produced in the five years we’ve had it. Much hope hangs upon this rather unimpressive specimen…
The heavy rains two weeks ago washed out most of our carrot seedlings. I need to replant and keep forgetting.
Bees are ecstatic in the salvia, tree mallow, and nasturtiums. There’s a single blossom on Rose’s yellow rosebush. It’s quite a stunner, as if the bush put everything it had into this one glorious flower. This is the bud that was crawling with aphids the other day. Rilla enlisted the aid of a ladybug and it must have lunched itself to the bursting point, because the blossom is unblemished.
I’m still waiting for the bees to find the borage we planted last week. I have my doubts about it; it’s an unusual white variety, and I wasn’t sure it would attract bees at all. White flowers are night flowers, the delight of moths. But Farmer Bill assured me it’s a bee charmer, and Farmer Bill knows his stuff. We’ll be patient.
Only one of my sunflowers came up! It’s taller than Huck now and working on a bud. I wonder what critters got the rest of the seeds?