green thoughts

February 21, 2017 @ 8:39 pm | Filed under: ,


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.


Apple, tree.

    Related Posts


12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    Oh how delightful. Last year Bella transplanted some of the wild violets from the back yard to the front garden bed. I think there was a similar impulse to save them from the lawnmower.

    We have a pretty scruffy looking garden, but it makes me happy to just throw seeds at it and see what happens. Some years it’s mostly sunflowers, some years it’s cosmos. It’ll never win any prizes, but the flowers make us happy and get us outdoors and gives all the kids experience with the joy of growing things. Bella loves to save seeds in little plastic bags so we can replant them in the spring. I’m the kind of gardener who gets excited in the spring and then by mid summer I fizzle and forget to water and everything dies. I’m not good at weeding or at consistency. I like to plant the kinds of hardy plants that don’t mind a lot of benign neglect and “masterful inactivity.” It was kind of freeing to realize I didn’t have to have a proper “garden” I could just go out and muck about in the soil and push seeds in and see what happens, if anything.

  2. Tabatha says:

    I have a cup of water with two coleus stems in it — they’re doing fine, but they have been there for so long (eight months?) that I can’t remember why I put them in there in the first place.
    This description was perfect: “I experienced one of those little mental kaleidoscope twists after which new patterns reveal themselves to you.”
    Glad you have your voice back!

  3. sarah says:

    Your old yard never looked better than when you lived there–for many reasons:) The girls and I walk over there from time to time, and I always think of the array of wildflowers (and weedflowers) that made such a striking and welcoming display to friends, both the walking and flying variety.

  4. Jennifer says:

    This was a delight to read.

  5. Penny says:

    …sigh… delicious and beyond, if you ask me….

    Glad you’re feeling better – yours is a voice that should not be silent!

    A bee and butterfly garden is my only outside project this summer. I’m totally focusing on that. I can only HOPE they feel as welcome at my house as they do at yours.


  6. Ellie says:

    Oh, I always enjoy your gardeny posts 🙂 Really glad to hear you’re feeling better, tho’ the low in spirits after reading the news sounds pretty normal, eh?!


  7. Susanne Barrett says:

    I’ve found that San Diego is a pretty forgiving place for gardening. I loved gardening when we lived in North Park. Our century-old Craftsman had enough Victorian to it that it was a stand-out on the block naturally, and the family who had own the home before us (from 1945-1991 when we bought it) had planted calla lilies beneath the porch railing. Oh, when they bloomed, honey, they BLOOMED.

    And, as I said, I found that I could pretty much ignore all of the gardening “rules,” and everything turned out beautifully…most of the time, anyway. I could never get Canterbury Bells to grow…which I loved for the name even more than the flowers themselves.

    I sowed wildflower seeds on either side of the front walk and ended up with a host of pincushions, cornflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, and other English garden-y things. As much as I wanted to try foxgloves, I had little ones back then and wasn’t going to chance it. Along the east-facing long side of the house I had hollyhocks (which my husband has always called “hockeypucks”) growing so high that they were curling under the eaves–and that’s with a significant stone foundation and then the house itself! They were close to fifteen feet! Amongst the “hockeypucks” I had six different kinds of lavender and rosemary and other herbs galore (plus sunflowers that grew almost as high as the “hockeypucks”!), and my husband put in a brick-lined rose garden for me along the backside of the fence separating the back and front yards. Gardening was definitely my “thing.”

    And the kids reveled in the “sour grass”; we’d let the lawn keep growing until we were losing toddlers in, and then they would gather up armloads of the beautiful bright yellow flowers, the very definition of “cheerfulness” (which never kept long, of course, but I had bouquets of them lining my kitchen counter), before the lawn mower heartlessly took ’em down. We’d settle down to watch MP & the Holy Grail to calm our nerves and get us laughing again.

    But up here in Pine Valley, I must choose what to plant carefully, with an eagle eye for frost-hardiness. We’ve had frosts as late as June 12th (our middle son’s birthday–which also killed our Pippin crop that year!) and as early as the end of September, so the delicate blooms I adored in the city either need more time than I can afford them between frosts or will wilt in our summer heat (sometimes above 110!). Fortunately, two of my favorite flowers, pansies and stocks, are quite frost-hardy, and rosemary abounds. Lavender is a bit touchy–no Spanish lavender here–but the French and English varieties do well. But with the arrival of my autoimmune challenges, I haven’t had the strength to garden much, plus, we now have half an acre vs. our little city plot, so the sheer size of it is daunting.

    This spring I do want to plant more. The daffodils (still blooming after the 15 years we’ve been here and who knows how much longer before that!) are sprouting, and the purple irises will follow. I’ve done tulips in the past, too. Now that middle son has worked landscaping, we’re going to sit down and plan out our spring plantings and see what we can rescue and what we’ll need to replace and what we can add. 😉

    And yes, there are a few “hockeypucks” lurking along the back fence, a true homecoming for me when we first moved in and still stubbornly self-sowing.

    I think this has turned into a blog post for my own blog. So thank you for the inspiration, Melissa! And I’m so glad that you’re joining Julie’s crew at Brave Writer!! 🙂 (I’m a fountain pen devotee, too.)

    Susanne 🙂

  8. selvi says:

    I vote for delicious too 🙂

  9. Kristi Jalics says:

    Round-up might kill you as well as the milkweed! I love Perenyi and her life was fascinating. My husband was Hungarian and I had more background to understand her memoirs.
    Gardening can help our problems with politics, too….At least, keep us sane in the meantime.

  10. selvi says:

    that father/cat song link is so lovely.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  11. selvi says:

    Thanks for sharing the poem from Six Strong Hands. We need the hope that stories like this give for the long road ahead. Here is another link that felt hopeful for me today: Race Amity, the other tradition

  12. Rachel W. says:

    Lovely words to read. Your weed with the heart shaped seed pods is Shepherd’s Purse. The seeds are a little peppery. My kids race to save them from the mower too, as like to snack on them. Anything vaguely edible growing outside is a delight. Somehow the plants foods I prepare inside do not have the same draw.