Fast Away…

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

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We’ve been waiting for this. For snow. For cold. For a productive gray sky and clean north wind. For a sense of something normal, however fleeting.

It’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 and a half months since there was any appreciable moisture from above. October and November netted us a whopping .16″. That’s less than a quarter inch of precipitation in 61 days. Today’s snow might leave behind as much as the last two months’ total, and we’re glad for it.

Long term forecasts show the dry weather continuing. But for one dreamy Sunday, we have a little Winter.

As this old year passes, it’s time to consider what may be passing with it. Drought combined with rising water costs signal the passing of my original vision for the flat corner lot. So, before it has become a fully expressed garden, I will begin taking it in a new direction. With so many questions yet to ask,  Gardenhood goes on.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!
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Anticipation

Somewhere in my body, memory and the future meet. Especially in Spring.

An embryonic elephant’s ear, wizened and bloody green, surfaces from March soil, and I taste June’s rhubarb; smell it baking with cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins under a dome of pastry.

I’m shoveling composted cow manure to make new veggie beds. It’s just days past the Equinox, and my sixth straight of willful labor. So when the temperature pushes 80 degrees, and I start sweating, my numbed brain worries forward. I stagger through a July heat wave; stumbling for a nap on the sofa, a cold pack over my eyes.

I notice tight fisted buds tipping the branches of Korean Spice Viburnum, and I’m ready to drift to sleep on a warm May evening, perfume ghosting through an open window.

Apricot tree blows kisses down the alley inviting an all-girl chorus to hum through its branches. Since this tree only manages to fruit about one year in seven, it’s no wonder the blossoms open a perennial angst. I feel myself turning up my collar against a driving April sleet.

Instead of our normal wrestling match between winter and summer, we seem to be having a spring. We revel in it, and no one quite trusts it. Most years, the eager question in late March is, “Do you think we’ll have an early Spring?” This year, we’re asking each other, “Do you think it will snow in April?”

It’s anyone’s guess.

What’s to be done?

We observe; look for patterns; apply our wits. We plant Chionodoxa with early Itzim narcissus, and feel delight when they bloom together, disappointment when they don’t.

This odd spring, along with all the borrowed trouble and presaged pleasures, I have a different anticipation. Somewhere in my body, a memory lifts my arms as if there were strings on my elbows. I step into weather, plants, and soil as if joining a dance partner, and allow that partner to lead.

More

There is more daylight.

How is it that more daylight translates into needing more time?

There’s more to do. Not only in my own flat expanse of garden waking up and begging for the cut back of blanched winter brownery, but every garden I take care of is crying for the same. Some clients are calling, anxious to get things going. Others worry me with mysterious hesitance. The one I’ve worked with the longest just says, “Good. You’re here. Now, it’s really Spring.”

More to do translates into many more mores: More to schedule, more to keep track of, more to potentially space out, more activity than my body’s been used to, more need to plan meals, more income, more temptation to hurl by thought into an imagined future, more opportunity to stay present.

Every one of those mores translates into still more mores. More activity than my body’s been used to (specifically raking debris off the lawn) gave me the first muscle spasm in my lower back since seven years ago. This meant more visits to the massage therapist, angel of the strong hands. It continues to mean more stretching. Stand up from the work and use the rake to open my arms and chest. Get up earlier and stretch before the day.

It’s a runaway train, a crisis by ancient definition.

In the Foote garden, at last, more tips of spring bulbs poke through the mulch. While only one clutch of Cream Beauty crocus is in bloom, there are more open than last week, and the bees have miraculously found them. So has Willie. An amazing feat, considering how small and pale is that huddle of blossoms the color of newly hatched chicks.

Truth be told, the garden on the whole looks barren. Here, the heart cries for more: More spring bulbs, more dark and swelling twigs, more evergreens, more stuff. Oh, the heart is a gay and greedy thing. She’s heedless of the money such more requires. Nonetheless, I placate her with agreement. More would be lovely. All in time, more time.

In all the rush of more, I’m happy that on the day I tweaked my back, I discovered something less. The spring cleaning of 900+ square feet of parking median – which last year took many wheel barrows full and at least four days to empty of weeds, trash, and over growth – will be done in less than 4 hours.

This triumph lends balance to my thoughts of more: Sometimes progress is measured by less.

I remind myself with a deep breath: It’s only March, and the day after Willie’s 15th birthday. That’s 105 in people years. He didn’t rush to get here. Just woke up and stretched day by day.

Wrestling Season

A snowy morning in the not too distant future, I’ll answer the phone. A vintage tenor on the other end will sing: “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies…” That would be my dad, nearly 87. He’ll stop at the one phrase and chuckle. “I always say,” he always says, “the guy who wrote that song never lived in Colorado.”

Forget Spring. It’s wrestling season. Winter and Summer go to the mat. Usually a lengthy match, one takes the other down, there are many reversals, and Summer eventually wins, thank goodness.

Last Friday, the warmest reading on my front porch was a scant 20 degrees. The skylid was closed, and the rim of mountains gone from view. Easy to think on such an afternoon that winter will go on, if not forever, for many more weeks, and the reveries, borne of relaxation, will have the time and nurturing necessary to take root in the bone, coming to fruition with the same grace and ease as color bleeding into pre-dawn. The light-footed old pooch and I ended our walk as we have for weeks, surveying the ground for the first tips of green anything.

Nothing.

Until today. In the driest, homeliest swath of parking median, tulip points. Is it universal? This quickening a gardener experiences when the looked for finally emerges. No matter how long it will be before the red chalices open on tube-like stems, there is a movement, not quite muscular, under the diaphragm.

This is when another peculiar internal wrestling match begins: a sweet fragranced excitement dogged by ambivalence. I want to linger in bed, holding back the inrush of list-making and must-do’s that will crowd into the spaciousness of the winter mind. Renewed activity is welcome: Engaging rakes and clippers, staining nails and cuticles despite gloves, folding down on the haunches. It’s anticipating the crowd in the mind and the utter lack of time for tending any other garden – the gardens of words, friendships, domestic life – that feels weighty.

Sunlight washes today’s foreground into a wan weed patch, dismissable in the massiveness of foothills and peak. Sunlight also warms and calls out myriad forms of necessary action: A year’s wages earned in 8 months, every leaf feeding the essence of the plant before falling away.

The time after next it snows, Dad will phone with this question: “Why aren’t you out gardening?” I’ll answer something crazy like, “Because I’m inside gardening.” He may or may not understand, which after 58 years no longer matters to me. It’s only the call, occupying a space in his thoughts that matters. And the coming firestorm of activity that makes me harder to reach. And the pauses brought about by winter’s reemergence that find me in. How many more wrestling matches do we have?

Later today the temperature will soar into the 60’s. In the moment, Willie, almost officially a 15-year-old terrier, sleeps beside me. Dad would say: “Gee. That makes him 105 in people years.” I promised Willie and myself a walk as soon as this draft is done. At the end of it, we’ll search the ground for what may have popped out this morning, and my mind will jump ahead to the staggering list. My mind will also stumble ahead to the spring in which neither Pop nor pooch will accompany me, except in heart and memory. The wrestling match between clinging to what has been and the future. Eventually Summer, with its riches, losses, and mystery will win.

First, Plant Dreams

I gave up competitive gardening.

That’s how I describe the continental drift in my attitude toward my garden. This has nothing to do with how hard I’m willing to work, nor how long. It has everything to do with how I want to feel. Here, at home, I want to cultivate calm, a sense of spaciousness in which to wonder and observe, an invitation to relax, a measure of delight, and an honest welcome. Yes, and I want to plant food. I might die doing all this, but I certainly don’t want to kill myself over it. You can appreciate the difference.

Before, when I was in the middle of making the previous garden, I wanted to create a landscape that set standards, that shouted “This is Colorado!” I wanted outrageous beauty, a stellar collection of unusual plants, wild success, and the admiration of others – especially those others who know a great garden. At times it seemed I would have died for this.

In 2007, a week before the Fourth and heading into what was bound to be the most brilliant lily season yet, that garden was shattered by hail. Already exhausted, my heart broke. I had to photograph the destruction, and then I couldn’t look at it for many days. Entering that grief, embracing the suchness of the garden in shambles, undid my mooring and set me on my current course. 

Now, having docked for whatever time I’m here, I want to fit in and still freely express myself. I feel no sense of contradiction, no restriction other than practical ones, well, like money.

So what’s my plan?

Everyone has asked me. The most honest answer: I don’t know. This is such a new approach in such a different venue, that I can’t know. But I can discover.

When I moved in, the long parking median on the south side of the lot had once been converted to a flower garden and had been let go. Alright, that’s too kind. It was derelict. I didn’t even know it was a garden at first. Comprised of just over 900 square feet, I figured it was garden enough for my first year. I would clean it up, divide the huge colonies of iris, throw in giveaways from other gardens, and cast a few seeds. Oh, and the empty planter wrapping the southeast corner of the house could be made into an elevated rock garden. Simple enough. As to the rest of the place: I’d buy an electric lawn mower.

About a year ago, I started deviating. Looking out the window of my studio, I could see a rectilinear theme with shrubs and peonies and no rocks nor junipers (though I love them) and everything in shades of red, coral, and creamy yellow. It persisted in getting my attention. So I smothered the front lawn.

In mid-summer, while mowing the back yard, I yearned for a table under the awning of the crab apple. Never mind the huge brush pile from all the dead limbs and weed trees I had cleared and tossed in the center of the yard. That would all be gone someday. As soon as I had a table, there would be meals and friends and wine. It would be just like back gardens in Switzerland, full of leisure and laughter and linens. I extolled this dream to my friends, who all had great suggestions. Then one dear heart, downsizing her patio furniture, made the dream come true. One shining night, under a full moon, we planted the dream of many shared and pleasant meals right under the crab.

No place to store it for winter, the table has stayed put. When I look out from the window over the kitchen sink, friends always surround it.