Lingering

The warmth and colors of summer linger.

Summer's professional wardrobe.

Summer’s professional wardrobe. Fresh from the line. The clothes line, that is.

Kale salad. Inspired by Nancy W, who was inspired by Martha (THE Martha).

Kale salad with caramelized grapes and onions, walnuts, yams, and feta. Inspired by Nancy W, who was inspired by Martha (THE Martha).

The first tomato.

The first tomato. Indian Stripe. Perfection.

The last daylily.

The last daylily.

Labor Day weekend balloon festival.

Labor Day weekend balloon festival. Right over the gardenhood.

A mandala. Drawn by Nancy H. (One can never have too many Nancies in her life).

A mandala. Drawn by Nancy H. (One can never have too many Nancies in her life).

This drawing represents my spirit’s calling into a whole new realm of gardening. Assisting in the creation of sacred space. In lives. In landscapes. For Earth’s sake.

The lingering warmth and colors of summer calling me all the way home.

Reigning Scents

In the evening, neighbors with strollers and pups on leashes come round the flat corner lot drenched in perfume.

The honey locusts are blooming. Tiny, round, olive green flowers high in their lofty crowns so sweetly scented, I could swoon.

Closer to earth, the rugged iris have cheered onlookers for a couple of weeks. When I was a kid, one of my guilty pleasures was sticking a wet finger into Kool-Aid mixed with sugar and popping said finger back into my mouth. It’s a memory evoked by the scent of iris.

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Inside the chainlink fence, three varieties of tall, bearded iris share the throne: Iris varieagta with her golden swords and grapey perfume; “Pagan Goddess” peachy, prolific, and subtly scented; and an unnamed variety from Deb’s garden, streaked with rootbeer and smelling of vanilla.

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Even closer to the earth, a bouquet of cloven pinks flirts with the golden leaves of Cotinus. Sassy devils.

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While perched on the corner of the rock garden, the bluest penstemon reigns with a stately aura, wafting a soft tanginess somewhere between fresh mown hay and sorel. Hers I would wear dabbed behind ears and in the hollow of my elbows as I drift off to dreamland.

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There to dream of meeting someone as primitive, as sophisticated, and  as cleanly scented as a tree peony, but much less ephemeral.

Home Springs Eternal

 
It is spring, my decision, the earth
ferments like rising bread…
        Margaret Atwood

crocus 3 march 13

Look closely. Crocus blading up through last October’s leaves on the flat corner lot.

I hear the word everywhere. Tiny crinklings as remnants of snow collapse: spring. Silver piping from the scout robin: Spring. Moaning coos escaping the ring-necked doves anxious for young: SPRING. First crocus, crocus blooming, crocus across the street, the gardeners chime: spring.

I have mixed feelings about spring.

There, I’ve said it. A gardener. I have mixed feelings about spring.

I have the expected, the normal feelings. Air that is both fresh and warm, air that is scented by awakened soil, air with a blush of humdity: Breathing this kind of air kindles exuberance. This kind of air through my hair and on my cheeks stands me up taller.

The first glimpse of green, always looked-for and yet always a surprise, is like meeting a new friend, one who seems utterly familiar.

…and yet… and yet…

Like the warning chords from the sound track of Jaws, these very delights set off a cold stream of ambivalence, as well.

I’m not a gardener who pines through winter. Not anymore, anyway. I don’t pour over catalogs or wish it wouldn’t snow. And the main reason I go through photos from the summer before, is to organize them. There isn’t time to organize them in the summer. And therein lies the rub.

Summer yields so little time.

Unlike many friends working in schools, offices, and firms of many sorts where summer offers vacation days and relaxing weekends, my summers are heaped with work. Winter is spacious, cordial, a break in routine. I get to try new things, see more friends, play. In summer, while my friends are playing and enjoying their gardens, I’m working in other peoples’ gardens and barely have time for my own.

I make time for my own, of course. Such an odd phrase — making time — as if it could be whipped up out of things you find in the fridge. Really, time isn’t made, it’s borrowed, stolen, traded. Until the next thing you know, you haven’t cooked in three weeks, you’re completely out of clean clothes, you can’t remember the last time you called your mother, and you’re friends have given up. It’s 9 PM on a Saturday; you’re standing in the gloaming with a hose in your hand; you really need a shower, supper, and a glass of wine; and you look up to Heaven and say outloud, “Do I ever get to do anything but garden?” But the One Who is Usually Listening just chuckles.

(Audible sigh). Yes. I sometimes feel ambivalent about spring.

Last year, I taught myself a gesture. When I felt summer crowding me, I jabbed my elbows out from my sides with a grunt. Then, I’d have to laugh, it felt so good.

It is spring. My decision: Summer is properous and relaxing, home and garden springs of time.

After the Hail

In the land of Garrison Keillor, people are known to respond to nearly every cataclysm by saying, “It could be worse.”

Crazy, how that puts things in perspective.

And, on June 6 in the gardenhood, it turned out to be true. Wild as the storm was on and all around the flat corner lot, not so far away, it was far more dangerous. Torrents of rain filled the streets and swept the hail into drifts. This photo was published by a local television station, KRDO.

It’s hard to imagine any part of a garden surviving this.

Friends living just blocks away had everything — flowers, vegetables, tree fruits — destroyed. Over the next few days, I was fortunate to run into or hear from quite a few. I say fortunate because each one of these folks was carrying on, replanting, cleaning up, treating survivors for trauma. Gardeners are an intrepid and inspiring lot.

My own first steps of the journey into the aftermath gave me a big surprise. As I photographed the damage, the undamaged and the broken but valiant became more important, more fascinating. I had expected to feel grim and to summon my stoicism, but I went back indoors to make breakfast feeling a measure of delight. Most things would pull through. Lily buds remained at the tips of battered stems. The Meidiland rose never blinked. Hollyhocks leaves were shell-shocked, but they held tight to their buds. There will eventually be blossoms and perfume through the garden.

View from the front porch, the morning after the storm.

Three days before the storm, Crambe cordifolia and Walkers Low catmint had been subtly charming.

Nearly unrecognizable the day after.

More than half of three varieties of heirloom and native beans were reduced to stalks, but it was early enough for these short-season plants to reorder seed.

Potatoes were mashed.

The “Julia Child” tomato was reduced to a stalk and one leaf. “Oh, well,” rings her soprano voice, “These things happen. Carry on!”

Riddled hollyhocks held tight to their buds.

Most Oriental lily buds stayed put, though a few are well-dinged.

Fascinating leafy texture filled the bird bath.

Verbascum bombeciferum rivaling Scarlet O’Hara for post devastation defiant beauty.

Penstemon strictus and P. eatonii never blinked.

Echinacea quipped, “What storm?”

Moonshine yarrow was tipsy, but sparkling.

It was permissable, even wise, to let all the debris, the riddled leaves, the bent stems, stay as they were through Thursday and Friday while I worked, rested, and rallied for clean-up.

Saturday morning, before temperatures flirted with 90, I filled my mulching wheelbarrow to its 8 cubic foot capacity three times. This from my 1,000 square foot front garden, alone. And that didn’t get it pristinely clean. Not by a long shot.

The 8 cubic foot capacity wheelbarrow awaits its first load.

Bless the honey locust trees and whoever planted them in the parking median in front of the  house. Although their leaves rained on the garden, their high and airy crowns minimized the damage.

Reminded by an email from Larry Stebbins, I sprayed the remaining foliage with seaweed extract, and the healing has begun.

In ten days, Julia has grown two fine leaves.

The wonderful spuds have grown so much, I’ve started to hill them.

The garden is happy, breezy, and full of sun. So’s the gardener.

Hail

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Wave after wave of hail, ranging in size from peas to skull-busters, pummeled the neighborhood. Driven by stout upslope wind, sometimes the view to the back shed was obscured. The roar was deafening.

Couldn’t bring myself to assess the damage to the garden just yet. Thank goodness the summer is yet young.

Two and a half inches of rain on the city in just under two hours. Just southwest of the gardenhood, hail — some the size of baseballs — fell in such tremendous amounts, it had to be scooped from the road with front-end loaders. Wow.

Becoming

When I started Gardenhood, a little over fifteen months ago, I asked the question, “When does a patch of earth become a garden?”

Well, it’s May, the month of garden riots, the month of dawn to dusk labor for those of us nuts enough to have chosen gardening as a profession, the month when all the thinking space in my brain is taken up with what plants to get for which gardens and how to get all the annuals planted before June. So, I don’t feel capable of answering the question.

Even so, as the weeks of spring fold into those of summer, each time I go out and arrive back at the flat corner lot, I have a good feeling and recurring thought, “It’s starting to look like a gardener lives here.”

It was spring of 2010 that I began reclaiming the 900 square foot parking median from years of total neglect, and I smothered another 900 square feet of front lawn.

The median has come alive.

And inside the chain-link fence, much has changed.

Tree and herbaceous peonies have just gone to their first prom.

The smoke bush will soon be smokin’.

Nearly every day, there is something new to see.

And Edward the Handsome approves most of it. (To approve everything would be to deny his cathood).

I think, just maybe, this patch of earth is becoming a garden.

End of Summer

The scent of dryer sheets sneaks into the back yard. It’s how one recognizes a Sunday evening here on the flat corner lot, a stone’s throw from the landmark yellow apartments. I heave the electric mower across long grass, remembering pastures on Swiss slopes, complexly herbaceous. Remembering, too, the mixture of disappointment and amazement as I witnessed their scything, the flowers toppled, the perfumed barns, the milk in my coffee, faintly yellow, easily frothing, signaling my thighs to hike inclines. A fondness for Swiss pastures and the family of friends who wander them, sometimes with me puffing along, fosters a tolerance, even an affection, for overlong turf, dandelions, and the mix of broadleaf hooligans that comprise my lawn.

Only a month ago, lindens confounded mowing evening. It was Sunday, and yet, the heavy, sweet scent pressed no chemical burn up my snout. Then, there we were: stopping our bicycles under a towering, nearly conical tree. Leaves, heart-shaped and delicately fringed, open palms sheltering pale and drooping flowers. My henna-maned companion, Mucca, reaching her small, quick hand, plucking blossoms for tea. We were so young and on our way to swim in the Zurichsee.

No wonder I chose a neighborhood resplendent with mature European lindens. For ten days or so, during the heat-strain and non-stop work of July, I am 34 and on vacation, about to dive into the soul-cleansing mystery of cold, deep water. Uncomprehending the voices around me on the grassy bank, they are a cocoon of music. Surely, I will emerge transformed.

This evening, well past the midpoint of August, dryer sheets and freshly mowed lawn weave into the close up songs of crickets and the farther off drone of traffic. Threaded into this generous tapestry, the echo of voices. She was here. My henna-maned companion and her dearest friend, Maria, together on the mixed herbaceous lawn, swathing me in the music of their nearly incomprehensible dialect.

We took our meals together round the table under the crab out back. Friends came to share in the joy. Mucca’s quick hands were completely at home in my kitchen. Daily, Maria’s surgical precision, chopped chives from the garden. The chives from Deb, now long gone to New Zealand, were planted with the hope of being prepared for such a visit from so far away.

One might imagine that this small house would feel crowded with two more people, exotic and dynamic, filling the spaces, using the bathroom, overtaking the kitchen. But the house got bigger. Such, I suppose, is the expansive nature union.

Ambassadors of a parallel life, they carried a shuttle that wove together a hole in my being, something I hadn’t dreamed could happen. You see, I, too, have occupied their house. I know every window’s view, the song of each hinge, the tumble of the lock. The stairs can’t be ascended in secret. The bread keeps in a muslin cloche on a circular shelf in the corner cupboard. Before their visit, I wrote to Deb that I knew their house better than my own. The truth of this surprised me. And the result of their visit surprises me even more: I am deeply, happily, mysteriously at home.

These are women who know me from another world and time, when I sang and lived out loud. They still ask for sung blessings over food and lullabies. Mucca still listens with tears on her lined, tan cheeks.

Leaning on the doorjamb to the kitchen, I watched them prepare a dinner of salad and potatoes with quark. A favorite meal of Mucca’s because it’s simple, grounding, and homely, it’s one we’ve had so often in their house. How could I have known to ask them, “Cook for me like you do at home.” Should they ever come again, I will.

The chives, translated from Swiss German as “cutting leeks”, have completely regrown. Days are still hot, though the light has become more callow. The sky, a robust blue, fills frequently with towering clouds, and sometimes blesses us with rain. One night, during their visit, Mucca, Maria, and I sat on the front porch in the bent bamboo sofa with its aqua vinyl cushions and let ourselves be cooled and thrilled by a profound storm. When it passed, the crickets took up their chorus, and we were happy together, old comfortable friends, at peace.

Though the flowers I bought for their pleasure have gone to the compost heap, the house, my home, remains spacious, as though emerged, unfurled and dried in the sun.