Anita Virgil

 

 

 

 

 

       GARDEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TACHIBANA AKEMI

(1812-68)

 

Tanka poet writing in the ‘Manyō’ style

 

 

What a delight it is

  When, of a morning,

 I get up and go out

             To find in full bloom a flower

                   That yesterday was not there.  1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                        1  The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse 

                                                      Copyright ©Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the house in the pine woods was bought, there was little here that could foretell what would become of the grounds around it over the next two decades. 

 

At the north side of the house were standard landscaper over-plantings of young hollies, junipers, too many low jagged cotoneasters tangled up with glossy-leaved periwinkle myrtle (aka Vinca minor), one clump of daylilies, one yew, and six baby azaleas crowded behind a limestone boulder by the porch.  In the front of the house in the narrow strip of lawn stood a silly-looking lollypop tree -- of what species I cared not.  It had to go immediately!   Years later, its replacement, a redbud tree.   Fully blooming and covered in bees the last week each April.

 

PHOTO 0982 redbud

 

amid the joys

of my spring garden

she whispers her sad news,

idly plucks a redbud blossom

from my hair

 

-- AV © 2009

 

 

Out front, a Japanese maple seemed to be growing out of a mysterious forty foot long green mound like a barrow at Stonehenge –  but this, a sprawl of junipers bending to the grass.   Pruning began there.   And gradually, emerging out of the litter, enormous limestone boulders.  My someday rock garden.

 

With two exceptions, no plantings but tall grass on the other three sides of the house.  A bank of red dirt leading to a gully to the east full of all kinds of building debris, barbeque debris, a veritable midden.  Adjacent to it and down slope, fronting the woods, a continuing expanse of barren depleted tropical soil that comprises the red Virginia clay.  To begin with, on the bank, in go blue pacifica plants. Soft low evergreens that hold slopes.

 

The entire south side of the house had a forsythia plunked in the middle.  The west side, one graceful unknown tree beside the garage -- and more hollies that bordered the driveway.

 

The house, like a black and white English half-timbered cottage,  is built in a clearing of dense woodlands.    Virginia pine with poison ivy rampant up their coarse trunks, elegant soaring tulip poplars called “ the Juno of trees” by Thomas Jefferson who also had a home nearby in Forest.   Dogwoods, red maples, red cedars, pin oaks, white oaks, black gums, hickory, chestnuts, nasty thorny vines called  “waitabits” and smaller-thorned green briars, wild roses, honeysuckle, sassafras.  Across the stream we didn’t know we had, an enormous black walnut. And ferns everywhere near the stream.  Here and there fronting the road, paw paws and mimosa. 

 

What will your garden be? my husband, raised on a farm as a child and a grower of vegetables, asks right away.

 

I have no idea! -- and this held true for a long time. 

 

But he wanted a little pond.  He wanted to build a bridge across the stream.  He wanted a raised-bed garden made of railroad ties for his vegetables.    And we set about to make all of this happen.  First came the railroad ties. Sturdy Virginians had to lay them out for us. 18’ X 18’ in 4’ wide strips to be filled with dirt.  That hole in the center would be great with roses . . . I mused. 

 

Then the extra ties were Skil-sawed in half to make four bridge foundation steps set in concrete.  To elevate the bridge well above the stream which can overflow its banks in torrential rains, he explained, as I hammered into the 20’ long frame he built each spaced two by four, watching the stream below me disappear from sight.  And then in a couple of months, I stained it black.   In all these years, it has never been disturbed by the rarely rushing waters.  Or even by a heavy fallen maple branch. Staunch.

 

 

by the stream

I nip a leafy branch

sweep leaf litter off

the little bridge

 

--  summer thunder 2004

 

 

 

Needs daffodils   -- and ferns. 

 

amid the weak shadows

of spring

the brightest green:

ready upright clumps

of daffodil leaves         

 

 --AV © 2009 

 

 PHOTO   1001  raised bed garden, apple tree, bridge in early spring    

 

Next, the pond digging.  Studying pond brochures for directions.  3-mil sheet of plastic liner set in over the dirt ledges for water plants.  A visit to the limestone quarry to select a ton and a half of shot-rock.   All dumped in the driveway.  $75.00.  And then the days of hauling, dragging rocks on plastic shower curtains over to the pond hole.

 

Needs a waterfall, he says.    He digs a small shallow hole above the big hole.  Two waterfalls would be better,  he says.  For the acoustics.    One more smaller hole up slope that fits right into the niche of the gully.   Two giant black garbage bags for those pools.  Plenty of leftover rocks hold them in place.

Needs a pump.  Need to lay electric cable underground from pond to porch outlet to run the tiny pump.

 

Connect the hose and fill them up.

Needs cattails, I say.  Needs a water lily.  Needs water iris, too.  Needs fish!  Needs ferns on the banks.

 

refreshing

my dug-up fern roots

cool water

 

                                       -- Roadrunner August 2005

 

 

 

Needs azaleas.  Needs a goddess.  And a bench.   Needs a formal pyramidal evergreen for lovers to hide behind and smooch. (I am thinking Ryoangi Gardens: always one of the fifteen rocks hidden from sight.)  Research leads me to an arborvitae.  Perfect.  

 

 

PHOTOS:  0945   pond goddess monkey  

               1016   pond with arborvitae & bench

 

Hate those daylilies. They hide that great pyramidal boulder. Move them closer to the driveway in the wood’s edge. Need a path for the shortcut to the mailbox.  Need another path along the ridge above the ponds.  Such a beautiful vantage point. So cool in summer.  And the sound of the waterfalls  is best heard there,  I point out.  Then mulch a  path through those woods.

 

 

PHOTO 1014   paths

 

Need a bench for the clearing. A place to sit and rest in the shade.    Need to make a little patio in front of it.  Scrounged some pond rocks.    Set them in the dirt.   And then there is that well head.  An ugly iron stanchion looking like a fireplug in the middle of nowhere.   I know!  Turn it into a birdbath.  Bought a concrete birdbath top.  Paint both parts gray so it looks like a lead birdbath.  Total cost: $8.00. Plus paint.   Twice when the well needed working on, the men lifted off the heavy birdbath bowl like it was a lid and got down to work hauling up 375 feet of flexible pipe.  Functional.  And aesthetically pleasing now to the confirmed-at-last Gardener.  

 

PHOTO 1198 bench

            1076 patio with birdbath

 

Need rhododendrons to enclose this bench garden.  For privacy.   (I finally begin to give them names as each slowly takes on an identity of its own for me.) 

And a Carolina spicebush for the fragrance.  And fern in a planter.  The moss comes on its own for there is watering now.  The birds watch.  And begin to use it.

 

 

 

 

            taking turns

       splashing sunlight

 robins in the water of spring

 

-- AV © 2009

 

 

The prehistoric club tree moss inches in from the woods towards the bench garden.   Yellow cowslips a neighbor brought me are dug in here and there.  For spring.  I add some purple crocus.  It becomes evident at last I am permanently infected with ideas for gardens.

 

That hollow would be lovely with a couple more rhododendrons.  And periwinkles to  carpet it . .  . Needs  a statue to reign over it all . . .

(It is now the blue hollow.) 

 

 

PHOTO  1021  little boy

 

A neighbor culling liriope brings me some.  I ring the little boy with it.  Then divide larger plants to edge the paths with it.  So hardy this.  They call it “monkey grass” locally.  I do not ask why.

 

I keep pulling periwinkle, strand by strand, from out of the original front patch, habitually plopping it at all the woods’ edges now it is free from the cotoneasters forever.   Yes, I can have that tiny emerald lawn now.  It could set off a cottage garden full of flowers, with an old iron fence for its border.  Black to match the house timbers.   Surely I can find one, my thoughts went spinning, for in the 19th century Lynchburg used to have an iron foundry and parts of the city itself look like New Orleans with all the ornate iron grillwork made here.

 

The naked house needed many shrubs.   On the east side of the porch a deutzia, replete by May with tiny white bell-like flowers.  Lacey as a bride.  Amazed to see poems about it in Japanese haiku. They call it ū. So many of our plants have their origins in the Far East.

 

PHOTO 1109 deutzia

 

I had this same shrub long ago in my other home in New Jersey.  Loved it then.  It grows a third larger here.  Then a magenta-red rhododendron and a viburnum which promises clusters of white blooms complete that display.  It now tops the porch roof by three feet!  Found in deep shade, beneath its boughs, it had sent out shoots.   Dug up a healthy cutting,  planted that across the driveway to balance out my late spring snow- white blooming trees and shrubs.   A few years and already  8’ tall and wide, half the size of the parent plant.  And in full bloom with the native dogwoods.  I can see it from my studio window.

 

PHOTO 0965 viburnum

 

I turn the corner of the porch to where a newer garden grows along the south

side of the porch.  Knockout roses:  red when they first open, they fade swiftly, magically, to stay hot pink. A yellow rose. Stella d’Oro lilies I see planted in front of all the gas stations around town.  Hardy.  That’s for me!  Lemon or deep yellow, short, perfect in among my roses.  And moonbeam coreopsis, pale lemon yellow with soft fuzzy foliage.  And yellow mums for their autumnal bloom.   I see it all in my head.  I who had no idea what my garden would be.

 

This little garden owes its existence to the deer with whom I’ve learned to share this place.   My first rose garden at the center of the raised beds, though a lovely idea, in fact served the deer many a meal. I move three into the rock garden out front and four to the south side of the porch close by. Concessions are made.  But not with my roses! Those new locations the deer consider out of bounds.  But five white azaleas by the driveway woods got eaten up, too.    I had to remove them.  Put in a second viburnum – the cutting from the big one.  They don’t bother it.  Even sleep beneath it.

 

Deer have their own regular paths through the property, and the raised beds with the roses was along one of them.  So they munched as they went along.  Canterbury bells, black-eyed Susans, columbines comprised their salad bar which they still keep cropped short to grass height.  I accept it as “lawn,” a backdrop. 

 

 

I give up on notions of any edible plants in that center.  Minimal care of the raised-bed garden is imperative as I am met with the terminal illness and long-term care of the other gardener.   I put a giant garlanded concrete planter in the center with a young slow-growing Alberta spruce in it, scatter cream-colored pebbles to cover all the dirt.  Zero maintenance, but a surprisingly beautiful tone it lends.  Especially in moonlight.

 

Next, at a jutting-out of the house where the ground floor bedroom window is, in a niche I plant a yellow jasmine (gelsemium) vine.  For fragrance I have never smelled,  but hear is wondrous.  In a couple of years, it is headed up the roof of the house with its blooms!  I smell nothing.  Its branch strands tangle in the gutters.  Another one of my mistakes.   Sadly, I chop it down.  But I salvage one piece with a good bit of root.  What to do with it?  How keep it under control?  An arbor.

 

PHOTO 0975 jasmine arbor

 

Now, after years of waiting,  it is over the top, the air as you stroll to the pond under the arbor in late spring, has an unbelievable soft sweetness.  Wafts over to the porch in the slightest breeze.  And it can do no harm growing thus, free-standing.  Another of those years-in-the-making “overnight success stories” that are gardening.  

 

 

PHOTO 0959 jasmine

 

the evening sun

drains the last gold

from the jasmine arbor

 

-- Roadrunner August 2005

 

 

There’s still a coral, latest-blooming azalea where the jasmine used to be, and then a Japanese holly and a tall narrow lilac tree on the other side of the window.  Then another huge-now Japanese holly resembling boxwood which I will not have close to the house for they reek like cat urine. 

 

PHOTO  0971 lilac

 

I am gardening now by scents and by textures, shapes.  But predominantly

by an overriding controlled color palette:

 

Early spring: yellows and blues a few purple accents

Mid-spring: Easter basket pastels in the rock garden

 

morning tulips

cupped in sunlight –

not a hint

of the coldness

at the heart of spring!

 

-- Landfall Anthology  MET 2007

 

 

Late spring: white, hot pink, yellow giving way to mauve and last, magenta red . 

May - June: rock garden and planters and cottage garden have their perennials augmented by annuals of what I call jolly crayon colors: purples reds yellows blues pinks whites.

 

I never know quite what will appeal each year in the garden centers and that is why every year my gardens are different. At this stage, mid to late spring is the busiest time of working with the garden. Earlier though, in March, lawn patching with new seed then straw.  When the morning temperatures stay above 40s, then comes hauling with a handcart and wheelbarrow the basement wintered-over plants: ferns and geraniums mostly. (This past year, I even wintered-over a purslane which is supposedly an annual.  It is flourishing and will flower come summer.)

 

My gardens are orchestrated with many variations on a theme – it is a huge living painting that has ever-changing happenings with the varied bloom times to the inevitable flourishing of some plants, the dying off of others as I work out their individual preferences and painfully come to learn that some things will not tolerate others:  across the new bridge, rhododendrons planted in the far woods beneath that great black walnut tree, mysteriously sickened and died.  No others I planted anywhere else did.  A local at the farm store told me, “It’s the walnut  poisoned them.”  I never knew there was a name for this condition until I read in the horticulturalist’s weekly column of May 6, 2009 it is “walnut wilt.” 

 

So, regardless of some general planting instructions on the provided labels, it often gets down to “location location location.”  Each mini-ecosystem has variations of light, of soil, temperature.    My basil, labeled Full Sun, kept dying in the sunny raised beds.  Ever empirical, I ignore its label, pot it, move it to a northeastern exposure by the porch door.  It flourishes.

 

 

Abrupt changes, natural disasters of wind or ice storms, can turn a shady area into a sunny one when trees fall.

 

cracking pines

fill the icy woods

with fragrance

 

--Canadian Writers Journal  Winter 1996

 

A change of garden must occur.  When two pines crashed that lightly shaded the pond bank’s azalea bed, the azaleas would be exposed to searing sun.  A young Japanese maple tree went in that following spring and all is well again.  Nothing can be assumed to be permanent. 

 

 

And there is the gardener’s ignorance and whimsy that plays a role.  First here, pained by the bare backside of the house, I thought: ivy.  An English cottage must have ivy !   In it went, little sprigs yanked from deep in the woods nearby and planted at both corners of the south side.  On the riding mower, our one faithful helper watches me planting.

 

     “You don’ wanna do that, Missus!”

     “Oh, “ say I, “but it will be so pretty, Hiawatha!    It’ll soften the look of the bare bricks.”

 

A few years later, I am sweating and chopping away endlessly at its roots with a hand-axe for it had climbed at least nine feet up and stuck mercilessly to the bricks, then over and under the cedar timbers of the upper house, heading for the roof and the Virginia blue sky.

 

The man on the riding mower, with me until he retired years later, pauses, just watches, turns the engine back on, drives back and forth across the lawn singing gospels to himself in his gloriously rich baritone.  It did  look pretty though,  I mumble and huff as I yank and hack.  I had also put some in the woods near the driveway and panicked.  Ripped what I could out of the forest floor there -- a far easier and cooler task than off the back of the house.  And then got another bright idea.  I left a couple of pieces next to two tall old scraggly pines with few live branches. Beside what was to become the bench garden.  As the ivy grew, I tied it to the trunks with wool.  To keep them only there.   At a guess, I would say those trees are gripped – are standing --  by dint of those ivy sprigs that have girdled their trunks like hawser ropes  and grown at least 75 feet.  English ivy was my worst mistake.  I use it judiciously now -- only in planters. 

 

 

Down slope, is the back of the house. The scene of the tale of the great  ivy caper.   That emerald arborvitae I put in by the pond is such a wonderful vertical architectural feature, I conclude as it gains a height of 30 feet.      Need other arborvitae at the back of the house.  Then comes the first back door of the house basement.   I finally light upon a dusty rose paint for I’ve seen and loved the outlandish jolly door colors of English houses and follow suit. 

 

Needs a rose to droop over the doorway.  Yellow!   In goes a Graham Thomas rose, hale all these years and soon to bloom late spring through fall.  I don’t mind snipping part of its long thorny branches, rose-laden, always escaping the clothesline rope tied on a concrete nail that holds the bush loosely against the wall.   They bend low across the door, get in my face as I come and go, with tools for gardening.

 

The forsythia (actually two together), small when we came, was demanding too much maintenance planted as it was by the original owners between the heat pumps.  So enormous they grew, they constantly blocked the heat pump fans!   Had to be trimmed away from them regularly.  Up a six foot ladder I went, wielding an electric hedge trimmer! It was like grooming an elephant.  One year, it harbored a hidden bald-faced hornet’s nest.   I barely escaped them by dropping the trimmer and running for cover in the basement.  The hornets I could safely watch from the basement window.  They instantly turned their collective rage on the hedge trimmer ! 

 

 

That monster shrub finally was cut to the ground only a couple of years ago.

One of the few things I ever tried to kill -- and still it survived.  Its roots I discovered, trying to hack it out, were long, more than an inch in diameter, hard as an old pine branch!  Hopeless task.   Solution: lemonade out of lemons,  I keep it trimmed  as 2’ X 2’ X 3’ hedge.  Because the area it took up is open, another wee garden sprang up behind it.  Repeating the beauty of the pink and yellow roses at the porch garden, I planted two more Knockout roses, two yellow lilies, a mauve-pink clematis that surprised me the other day already showing its first two flowers on the first rung of its trellis,  fuschia-edged white gladiolas against the wall.  

 

PHOTO 1224  Knockout roses & yellow lilies

 

 

Beside the next back door is my mint patch – and a just-planted tomato.  The deer also eat any tomatoes in the raised beds as soon as they are ripe.   I watched my husband make elaborate preparations growing them in the basement from seed and setting them out every year -- and we rarely got more than a handful of tomatoes.  He persisted.  That was his garden. Zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas, string beans, banana peppers, chili peppers, green peppers made their way to the table.

 

rustling beneath

the leaf cover, I pluck

the bean cool

 

                    --Haiku, ed. Peter Washington,

                       Alfred A. Knopf Everyman’s Library 2003

 

 

And then, he died.   The raised beds are mine to deal with.   Or not.  

 

 

 

Last spring, now I am alone, I experimented and put one tomato plant in a huge flowerpot by the back door. . .  I plucked cherry tomatoes until fall.     All I dare put in those raised beds is what the deer won’t eat.  Chives, garlic chives, so far, cat mint and this morning, before the rain comes, maliciously and with glee, I put in four new red chili peppers.

 

   

 BITE ME !

 

 

 

is the sign I’d love to put next to them.  But I suspect I shall have chilis this year for my new experiments with Thai recipes. 

 

Next going westward, the other dusty rose basement door.  And a black garage door.  I flank it with the ubiquitous hardy crape myrtles of Virginia.  Pink “dwarf” ones (though they are 8 feet tall, exactly what I wanted for height) for summer blooming.  They soften the starkness of the brick basement of the house.

 

They are leafing out now as are all trees by April’s end.  “The Great Green Wall” as we always called our woods, returns, bestowing complete privacy.  No one to be seen.

 

                  

The great house:

                    gleaming clipped hedges . . .

                              no one about.

 

 

--A 2nd Flake 1974

 

 

Up the steep west side slope, beside the last tapering wall, I put in another coral azalea,  an arborvitae, a yew and a Japanese holly.  All the fallen trees – for woods never remain static – I use as a constant supply of edging logs all around. Totally natural looking and when they rot as things do rapidly in this humid climate, there are always more downed trees in the woods to use. My two good mowers will saw and move them for me.   The pileated woodpecker will occasionally tear one up with delight!  The woods echo with his zeal.

 

in deep shade

the pileated

pounds up my edging log

 

--A  Long Year  2002

 

Over time, I have come to know my herd of deer -- and compensate accordingly.  They are always here . . . coming up from the streambed to nibble the undergrowth,  resting on the south lawn, then rousing to wander the lawn grazing, or  

 

 

in the gloaming

        a doe

                      nuzzles my apple tree leaves

 

    --summer thunder 2004

 

 

Fawns dash this way and that as they wait for her to finish, then, remembering milk, go for her undersides. 

 

just when I think

I cannot stay here

without you, the deer

at twilight

with their fawns

                     -- Landfall Anthology 2007 MET

 

 

 

 

May begins.  So much of having a garden is about waiting. Waiting to see if what you plant takes hold.  As a novice, I did not always take care to loosen and cut the roots of some shrubs.  Root bound, they died.  I pulled them out easy as a cork from a bottle

with the tell-tale flowerpot shape still there!  Another lesson learned.    Waiting – years, sometimes, until a plant matures. Waiting to see if it remains healthy.  Treating it and waiting to see if it recovers.  Waiting for weather reports to know if one must water, or need not.  Plant yet, or not.   Waiting to see how things look where planted.  Or if they are the wrong size, shape or color or growth habit for the spot they are in.  I had to remove a big and cherished gorgeous Keria japonica grown from a cutting I brought from a dear friend in New Jersey.  I planted it long ago by the porch, around the corner from the viburnum.  But both shrubs became so big and wide, the graceful floppy Keria meshed with the rigid branches of the viburnum.  Reluctantly, I removed it.  Mistake number I-don’t-know-what!  But in its place, a Japanese holly I keep trimmed short, and room now for the little rose bed.

 

And then, in a piney woodland, waiting out the nasty “sulphur showers” of late April and into May.   Self-pollinating, the pines suddenly look like Victorian Christmas trees decked in tallow candles about 3”-4” tall.  This male part showers the swelling tan clusters close by and drifts on every breeze coating all in its path with yellow powder fine as talcum.  When they begin to appear around mid-April, you can watch them grow to their full extent in days.  The gardens, the pond, the porch and its plants,  every surface,  has a dull coating of pollen until the rains come and wash them  away.  They promise rain today.    The skies are clouded. The female cone clusters are fully swollen.

 

 

spring

I am alone

pollen everywhere

 

--Haiku Novine  March 2007

 

Rain at last. 

 

no sound to this

spring rain –

but the rocks darken

                                --One Potato Two Potato Etc 1991

 

 

And still it falls.  Two days of it.  My rain-washed dripping world is bright again.  Periwinkle leaves and all, shine green, washed clean. Pine “candles” no longer evident having done their work for this year.

 

Of garden tools, a poaching spade is my weapon of choice. I have come to love and use it for almost everything from bulb planting to tree holes to shrub holes to setting in the tiny annuals in the rock garden.  Long handled, resembling a regular shovel, the spade is only 6 inches wide.  (A regular shovel is too heavy for me to wield.)

My other constantly-used gardening aid comes from England: a yard-square piece of burlap bound in green leather with four sturdy looped handles.   It goes everywhere with me as I work.    All dirt gets shoveled on it whenever I dig holes. 

With the back of the poaching spade, I can smack the clay lumps flat on the tough burlap and with the edge of the spade chop them to fine dirt.  Then, gathering it by three of its handles, I pour the softened soil back around the new planting. The grass remains intact as it was when I began my messy task.  It is fine for carrying my weeding, twigs, trimmings, no weight to speak of.  I will take it to a nearby woods’ edge, let go of two or three handles and toss in the debris, shake out the burlap and back it goes to hang by one worn leather handle on a nail on the porch.   I cannot work without it.

 

The other item, less often used, is the hefty spading fork.  But I don’t use it to lift with.  It is invaluable to loosen the soil around ferns or shrubs to transplant them.  And I have learned to do this job after a good rain when the ground is not hard.    Shoving the angled spading fork in at intervals around the outer rim of a plant, then pressing down on its handle, it acts like a lever, prying the plant up, hardly disturbing its root system.  A tamping into the new location, a spraying with water to assure there are no air pockets.  Plants moved thus never know anything has happened to them!  They undergo no shock.  No wilt.

 

Small pruners, too, are a must for pruning twigs and tough-stemmed flowers I cannot deadhead with thumb and fingers.  A 2-gallon plastic watering can saves me hauling hose great distances.  Good for filling the birdbath up the hill.  Or pouring on liquid fertilizer here and there.   And not to be forgotten,  the heavy-duty big-wheeled garden cart.  It even carried the wood frame for the 20’ bridge!   Cross-wise.

 

today, too,

raggedy fingers –

but, oh, my spring garden

 

--AV © 2009

 

 

Without them, no rock garden.  And that is the view that fills the front casement windows.  Since those boulders were set in a sort of three point flow, there is a  scalloped band of varied textures, tones and textures of green, and gradually moving into summer, cheery flowers mixed in.   The junipers rise above them framing them in their rapidly growing sprawl of prickly greenery.  So this could not be the usual rock garden as I first imagined.   Instead, my flowers are at the base of the rocks.   It is like the lace edge of a  19th century lady’s petticoat.  Ruffled.  Flowers tucked all along the rock faces and into the shady coves between them.  In time, I came to realize I could have shade-loving flowers there, as well as the usual sun plants inches away.   I’ve dug up a couple of ferns in recent years and put them in the shadiest place and front them each year with impatiens.

 

PHOTO  1520 tif.   impatiens fern hosta

 

This year, pink ones.  Last year, salmon. Other years white, whatever appealed.   Then I’ll purchase a couple of new geraniums to match and visually lead the eye to the sunny locations where they are.  Another shaded nook and another pink impatiens.  A staple of annuals is ageratum, its middle blue sets off the pinks and red flowers wonderfully.  Dusty miller sometimes, but I cut off its yellow flowers.  I only like its furry silver leaves.  

 

 

Perennials in the rockery include grape hyacinths which seem to appear automatically. From bird droppings?  But I’ve dug them out of the grass by the road and put them in the rock garden and they proliferate; three Mr. Lincoln roses, taller than I they grow and put out only a few but incredible deep red blooms.  Another rose ( pink) comes from that raised-bed rose heist. A few pale peonies and royal purple Siberian iris. White candytuft’s bloom near done, I found at the garden center this year a new long-lasting white for summer – dianthus.  They should come back next year.  Hostas lovingly planted decades ago, divided often to make more,  so pretty they looked in the shady woods down by the bridge with the daffodils, sadly proved to be more deer salad.   I noticed one day long ago, by chance, driving on my local rounds, hostas growing in sunshine.  (They are typically known to be a shade plant.)  Experiment.  Either deer fodder or in to face the rock garden sunlight. I dug one up and brought it up the hill to the rock garden.    Success.  Luxuriant.  Divided that one next year and the next until now there are five out of the one plant.  With their pure white-edged green leaves,  they create a handsome  companion to set off annuals, especially blue flowers.   But unexpectedly, last year, Somebody chomped them off.  I suspect not deer.   This year, I bought cheap wire hanging plant cages (without their moss-liners) and turned them upside-down over the hostas.  You can’t see them,  but if a deer or perchance a rabbit should take a bite, they will break a tooth – I hope!   We shall see . . .  

 

I’ve given up pretty much on having any more pink tulips.  Early on, they were wonderful -- 50  in  the rock garden come April.  Then fewer and fewer.   And this spring, two.  Deer are not the only marauders among the critters my gardens attract.  As I said, there are bunnies.  Maybe subterranean bulb sappers?    So, white fragrant multiple headed narcissus and five white daffodils with pink centers  went in this past fall.  Their first bloom this spring, wonderful, and the pink-centered ones, the longest lasting of the ‘daffodil family’ I’ve ever had!  I must add more this fall.   These white and pink daffies will keep me in Easter pastel mode for early spring.  Concessions . . .  and good surprises, too, along the way.

 

In London, I was taken by the effect of the color chartreuse with flowers, and on my return, I found that color in two little golden dwarf arborvitae on sale in a super market.  Ovoid in shape, they are a marvelous addition and have grown to look like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee guarding the center of the rock garden.   A guest once brought me a white iris and wild geraniums which have pale lavender-blue single flowers.  Incredible they look each year in mid-April when they surprise me of a morning peeking out beside the chartreuse evergreen.

 

Wild phlox, another with the same coloration, is in the rockery now.  A partial-shade plant, I had it in the bench garden for years between the two ugly pine trees.  They did nothing.  Leaves, fine, but not one flower did they produce year after year.    Switch tactics.  Get them out of there.  Couldn’t throw them away, so I stuck them here and there in the rock garden in the sun.  They love it.  Multiply.   They, too, present their pale blue flowers beside the other golden arborvitae.  Other staple perennials?   Coreopsis zagreb and moonbeam, liriope, and a few Stella d’Oro yellow lilies, two silvery blue-leaved artemesia I call a teddy bear for their petable plushy soft foliage, then some of the chewed-down Canterbury bells I salvaged from the raised beds long ago and they have taken up permanent residence in the rockery too.  Lovely tall bell-like blue-mauve blossoms down their stems just before summer.

 

PHOTO   1509 tif.  wild phlox and  artemesia

 

Around Easter in the supermarkets, are small cellophane gift-wrapped pots of sweetheart pink roses (long a favorite of mine used by florists in bouquets).  A friend brings me one and I decide once its blooms were done to put it in the garden.   All the sunny spots taken, I try it on the edge of the woods where there is not much sun.  Once you are a gardener, you cannot bear to throw out plants.  I never expected it to survive but felt I’d at least give it a chance.   It is three feet tall  every year since.  Another perennial.  Thus my rock garden has evolved, half hospital, half show biz.

 

PHOTO 1524 tif.    iris leaves impatiens wild geranium hosta

 

Conscious of time as we all must be, I plan to primarily put in perennials, a one-time expenditure which require little care for what I called my old lady garden.  I’m there now and reaping the benefits:  my earliest spring rockery was abloom -- on auto-pilot.  Just as were the woodland daffodils with their periwinkles and squill.  And now the daffies are done, ferns unfurl near the daffodils.  I need only gaze out the windows to see the whole panorama,  for in all directions the house windows look upon another garden.

 

On the kitchen counter, a packet of cosmos seeds waits.  It is time to plant them.

When the rain is done, I shall put them in harm’s way, in Never-Never Land, in the Raised-bed Garden !

 

For a dollar or so, I’m willing to gamble the deer will miss a few.  In any case, before any flowers are produced, I will steal a few young seedlings and plant them in the rockery.

 

 

 

 

 

Overcast, thunder and rain off and on for over a week, now.  Chilly too.  Most all the luxuriant blooms on shrubs days ago have fallen, petals strewn everywhere.  Blue periwinkle flowers long gone.  Dogwood petals cover the pond area.  Nearly denuded, the viburnums sit in a circle of their own soggy blossoms but the bowed deutzia is still white -- though looking like a tipsy bride.  The mauve rhododendrons at the bench garden open more flowers each day.  In all this rain-haze and gloom, somehow more beautiful.

 

PHOTO  1090 mauve rhodies

 

 

eerie the trees

the sky under distant

thunder . . .

sad things

more sad

 

-- AV © 2009

 

 

 

In this “moveable feast” that is a garden, there is always something else to wait for, something else happening.  If you look.  The white rhododendrons beside the pond, buried in the new shade and almost forgotten, buds huge and pink now.  The red one beside the porch is still  thinking things over.  My come-lately one of late spring. 

 

all winter

tiny rhododendron buds –

now, at last, swollen crimson

they open,

give me all I wish for

 

-- AV © 2009   

 

PHOTO 1097  red rhododendron

 

Wondering how my new tomato plant is doing, I open the basement screen door to peek for it is still raining.  The tomato has doubled in size in barely a week!  Just sucking up the rain.  The green wool I tied to the broom handle/tomato stake I hammered into the ground next to it, was only enough to hold the baby plant secure.  Now it thickens, leafs out, is taller and needs more ties.  Rags, said the carpenter as he set in that screen door before I had put my plant in the ground.   He used to grow rows of tomatoes for market and that is what they used.   So today, upstairs I go to search for material in a 19th century slope-topped pine box I keep ribbons and seam binding, lace edgings and small pieces of leftover fabrics from my sewing.  I find the two yards of green calico that has lain there for years. ( Never did get around to making that sundress. ) Rip! go two yard-long strips and then I cut them in half and have four ties ready as the tomato keeps growing.  Soon as there’s a let-up, I will tie the next part of the plant.

 

          Up the hill pulling the wheeled garbage cans, I discover all shrubbery has put out a burst of new growth and the junipers edging the driveway need to be cut back. They scrape against the car.   Get the long-handled pruners and return, crunching down on the thick branches, kicking them under themselves until a drier day when I can collect them in my burlap carrier and dump them in the woods. . .  Everything drips.  And suddenly the air smells like – martinis?  Yesssssss.   Junipers, when wounded, smell like Gilby’s gin!  From their gray-green berries it is made.  My mouth waters.  I do love one icy Martini every decade or so  – and then I am good for nothing!  It’s been years since I’ve had one.   Gotta stop trimming junipers.

 

I also note the junipers have no bagworms.  Little brown narrow pine-cone-looking egg cases (clever disguise!) that attach themselves to the branches.  It is too early for them, but soon.   If not snipped off, when they hatch their hundreds of worms, they can attack and destroy an entire tree.  One arborvitae I planted out back—long before the crape myrtle went in to replace it -- was not on my “watch list.”  I was shocked one day to see it, grown to 8’, brown and shriveled and totally destroyed.   Bagworm cases hung all over it.   It had to be cut down, wrapped up and taken to the dump.  To throw it into the woods would spread the problem. 

 

Backtracking, I pass the place along the drive where honeysuckle will bloom in a few weeks.   I have taught my grandchildren how to lick the delicious drop of nectar off  the bottom end of the hair-like stigma pulling it ever so carefully up through the neck of the blossom.  My thoughts run to vines and those I’ve come to know here.  Like the ivy, the jasmine (and an earlier failed experiment with an orange trumpet vine which grew 30 feet to the roof before we removed it!).   One great well-behaved vine is mandevilla.  They bloom constantly until November.   Superb colors I have planted in the past: hot pink and last year, a  luxuriant Blackspot – cascades of smaller bright yellow flowers that have a half-inch velvety black dot at the center.  But they are quite pricey and last only a single season. 

 

I stick mainly with a one-time planting perennial for thrift’s sake.   So it is clematis (which comes in many colors), that has the edge on the lovely mandevillas as my kind of vine.  It blooms lavishly, year after year, needs little but a high trellis to attach itself to.  It grows so fast that before I knew it,  in its permanent home in the cottage garden,  its tendrils were groping the air, looking for a purchase on something, anything, for it has shot above its six foot trellis already!   I must twist some wire to connect the trellis to the iron bracket alongside it so the clematis, a royal purple Jackmanii,  won’t pull it over and can also attach itself to the bracket.  The wee Eastern narrow-nosed toad I found days ago snoozing comfortably on the inch-wide curve of it will have to seek other accommodations when Jackmanii takes over.  It has already flopped a strand or two and they promptly connected themselves to the low wrought iron fence.  Then, I unwind its delicate tendrils and stake it back against itself, weaving it in. Grabby little thing.  But harmless.  By winter, it gets cut back almost to the ground.  Its root core spreads nowhere else.   Come spring, it starts its rapid growth all over again.  But then there is the other kind of vine.

 

 

 

honeysuckle . . .

beneath its tumble of sweetness

deep

the vine-scars round

the tree it climbs

 

-- AV © 2009

 

What we nostalgically think of as wild honeysuckle is actually imported Japanese honeysuckle, brought to this country in 1806.  It has spread all over since then. (Similar to what happened with kudzu, imported in the early 20th century for roadcut  plantings. “The Vine That Ate the South,” they call it. )   I even saw honeysuckle plants for sale at the garden center the other day in little plastic pots.  Innocuous-seeming -- and I pushed my cart rapidly past, knowing what it does.   It is alternately called the strangler vine for it kills the young saplings it encircles.

 

PHOTO 0995  honeysuckle vine scars

 

There is always something else to be done.  You go outside to attend to one thing, and other gardening chores crop up before you.  In a rush to get it planted

because rain was beginning, I forgot to cut off the cellophane rim of a cardboard ready-to-plant pot of cilantro.  (This cardboard disintegrates leaving the roots free.)  Saw it had doubled its growth already and looked almost like a fern.  Decided to leave it in the clay flowerpot after all.   Clipped down into the wet dirt, the rim peeled off easily.   But when I looked up from that, soggy geranium blooms caught my eye and they had to be deadheaded.  All this rain turns their velvet-like flowers to mush.  Pinched some off into my hand --  and then saw how the other side of the junipers that frame this rock garden was covering up my sun-loving plants!  Pruning shears needed.  Burlap carrier needed.  And the vinca major which ramps if I don’t monitor it closely, had to be yanked out of the other flowers’ spaces it invaded.  So hidden under the greedy junipers, I didn’t even realize it was in bloom!

 

 Back to the porch.  Get the tools.  Back to the rock garden, begin that task.  By the time I am done, the sun is out and it is steamy, rivulets of rainwater sparkle in the low spot in the grass, and the burlap carrier has a load in it for tossing into the woods. I check the deep planter I pass on the way back down the brick path that leads to the porch.  I always put a brick in the bottom to elevate any big plastic pot of new flowers so they appear to be growing from the planter.  And they have good drainage.  I don’t bother filling the planter with dirt.  In frequent heavy rains the planters become waterlogged.  I lift out the flowers in their plastic pot, and sure enough, the planter has 6” of rainwater.  Dump it out.  Put the flowerpot back on the brick.  Continue to the porch for a breather . . . .

 

           And all I was going to do was pull off that plastic rim on the cilantro!   Happens like this all the time.  Turn on the screened porch fans, pull up the matchstick blinds now the rain seems done for a while.  Collapse in a chair to rest and admire the view on all three sides.  First thing I see, the red rhody -- inches away -- has a few dead twigs on it.  And the viburnum is poking two of its branches into the rhody.   As in all endeavors, there is an art in knowing when to quit.  This tweaking will just have to wait for another day. . .  A gentle breeze reinforces the wisdom of this decision, brings to me my favorite scent of all: damp earth.

 

in the damp spring evening

blackbirds

changing trees

 

-- A 2nd Flake 1974

 

 

 

 

 

The back aches, arm muscles ache from the cumulative effort, the excited rush driving me to set up the garden for the hot summer -- so I can lazily savor it.    Spring’s like being on a conveyor belt speeding up.  The rains ease off and sun returns this morning.   In that break,  I go to buy the last few annuals.     Crayon-color time. 

 

PHOTO 1512 tif.  Stella d’Oro lilies and impatiens

 

 Another 4-pack of ageratum, verbena – one fire-engine red, one purple, white petunias, yellow lantana, a yellow marguerite daisy,  4-pack of pink begonias.   Need a couple of extra flowerpots in the basement.

 

Some flowers I dig into the ground but some go in pots I can move around the garden wherever a spot of color is needed as some flowers quit their blooming and take a rest.  Reconnoitering where to put these new additions, the yellow rose by the back door – as predicted -- blocks my way.  Gingerly, I lift away the two branches with their plump buds.   Never mind potting or digging-in the new annuals.  First get the dirty strings I save to tie back the Graham Thomas.   Whimsically, I tie one branch with a bow.

 

PHOTO  1210 Graham Thomas rose at back door

 

 

          Plants distributed, the place really sings with color.  Including that

reluctant red rhody by the porch.  Taking its cue from the mauve ones, not to be outdone by such as they, it suddenly puts forth the largest mass of blooms ever.

 

          Steamy.   Too hot to plant now, but I know where things will go.

 

spring afternoon . . .

even while I doze, things green

flowers open

 

--Roadrunner 2005

 

 

          The air heavy at sundown.   Four deer on the lawn.  Three lying down ruminating, big ears flicking this way and that.  One, the sentinel, remains upright.   Occasionally it bends its neck to nibble grass.  The light grows ominous.  Severe thunderstorms imminent.  Possible hail.”  There is little to be done but listen and wait, as the deer.   

 

 Always things change and what you dream of doing, what you diligently work for, is left to random occurrences, to the exigencies of reality.  Of the many warnings broadcast for this area, one year this did  happen and the flourishing vegetable garden was decimated.  All else, too, riddled as if by machine gun fire.  Another year, on a 6th of June, the planter by the front door was banked with a foot-high mound of hail. By afternoon, temperatures were in the 80s. . . .

 

I awake to sunshine.  World still intact. 

 

         

 

 

Nothing in a garden can be taken for granted.  Though infinitely welcome and a boon to the water table from which my well draws, this much rain is moving to the stage of too much of a good thing.  I saw as I pruned the forsythia nearby that my jolly tomato had begun to droop.  Puzzling.  Its location is ideal.  Its soil is what it likes.  Sun is on it all day in good weather.   Maybe too much sun for a beginner plant?  Sometimes that is the case with new plants.   But a tomato?   The doctor hat goes on: maybe insects?  Root disease? And then on a hunch, I step on the straw I have placed around it as mulch to make certain it is tamped down sufficiently.  SQUOOSH . The soil beneath is saturated.  Too many downpours for nearly three weeks and not enough sunny moments to counteract it.  What to do? 

 

It has a tall mop handle tied to it. I could resort to making a tent out of an old shower curtain liner, something I’ve used several of to protect blooming plants like my azalea bed from sudden April frosts.    And then I remember my small beach umbrella.   More rain predicted to conclude what has been a perfect breezy dry spring day.  Set the umbrella deep into the mushy dirt beside the tomato.  Check the patient in the afternoon and see it is getting breezes and some late slanting sunshine on it.  Even better. 

 

 Morning  rain.   I peer out the window and with satisfaction see the top of a raindrop-covered umbrella.  I go downstairs and open the basement door to double-check the tomato.    Oh thank you, doctor!” its foliage tells me, all perked up. ( MD in this case stands for Mud Doctor.)  So these sun-loving plants in their various situations require different treatment in prolonged wet weather . . .   My bright idea of setting a flowerpot into a larger decorative one without a drainage hole  can backfire should I forget to empty the accumulated rainwater in the outer pot.

 

in dry earth

re-potted my sallow geranium

drowning from too much rain

that is

what I do

--AV © 2009

 

PHOTO  1502 tif. pink geranium

 

High up in the stately tulip poplar trees their tulip-shaped blooms are open and have begun to fall.   Chartreuse outside with pale yellow inner petals -- each one decorated with a feathery chevron of orange.     Way below them, two of the three pond frogs sit on the rock borders.  If I am feeding the birds on the lawn behind them, they continue to sit: this day one has a foreleg and chin atop the other, protectively.   They are quite small yet.  But if I approach to skim blossom litter off the surface of the pond

Rip!“ each squeaks and into the water they dive.  By summer, when they are more accustomed to my presence, I can put my hands into the water and they merely sit and watch, unperturbed, either from a pond edge rock or on the fern bank, on a lily pad or

 

  one toe on a tulip blossom

      &

baby frog floats into sunshine

 

-- Haiku Novine 2005 July

 

          Down at the raised bed with some Miracle-gro solution for the chili peppers, a sunbathing baby skink with its cobalt blue whiptail scoots into a split in the railroad tie.  Out front, with more blue juice for the newly planted annuals, past my ear is that unmistakable buzz-whirr and I pause to see a hummy taking quick sips at the feeder dangling from a redbud branch. 

 

Slowly through spring they return to visit and I cannot help but marvel at the lengths to which these teeny creatures go to call on me for a while.  Mexico? Costa Rica?  to Forest, Virginia -- to my garden,  to this particular feeder --  from late spring almost until October when they depart.

 

step by step

up the air

climbs the

hummingbird

with my heart

 

--Landfall Anthology MET 2007

 

Every few days I boil water and add granulated sugar in a 3 or 4 to 1 mix for them.  No need for red coloring, special mixes.  My feeder is a dark green tin lantern that looks like the old gaslights.    Wound in lily of the valley tin flowers and leaves, at each of its four sides is a feeding station with a round floret, deep pink edged and white-centered.    Suspended within the lantern, a long upsidedown bottle for sugar water.  The hummies come right to these tin flowers where they sip the sweet brew.    Their springtime return is related to the bloom time of the azaleas.  Reds are their favorite colors in flowers and that is where their favored natural food source is.  So it is the natural surrounds that first attract.

 

          This mild sunny day, I open the casement windows in the living room and on a breeze in floats the scent of purple heliotrope, the most delicate sweet imaginable!    It is purposefully placed right below in two big gray planters that flank a bench.  One has heliotrope with ivy, red impatiens, a sprig of sweet potato vine which has chartreuse-leaves, and in the center, a one-foot Hass avocado tree, grown from a pit I rooted in the basement  over the winter.  The other has heliotrope, ivy and red impatiens too, plus a starter sprig of rosemary. . . .

 

 

PHOTO 1533 tif.  heliotrope & rosemary

 

Long ago I set three rosemary plants out back by the south wall just to fill in behind the elephantine forsythia for an easy-access herb.  I could not believe how huge they grew.  Too big for the space – again!  So after a few years, I dug them out -- but caring for them gave me a poem:

 

 

after watering it

                    the rosemary’s pungence

becomes me

 

--summer thunder 2004,  Mann Library 2009

 

In England, I was surprised after my experience of it here, to see they use rosemary as a hedge.   And some is in the enclosed medieval Little Cloister Garden at the back of Westminster Abbey, “for remembrance.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are periods when the garden, like some lovely lady, has disheveled moments.  Is best left unobserved to make repairs.  Last night a great thunderstorm blew in.  The house for an hour after midnight blue-lit as though by strobe lights, bombarded by rolling thunder vibrating the very walls, rain pounding. 

 

          This morning, clear, clean.  Despite the violence in the night, no serious harm seems evident.  So I go to put in a couple more plants in the wet earth of the rock garden.   After rain is a good time for this.   And for pulling weeds – in this case, my vinca is making a move on the rock garden and I tore a load out before I dug a single hole.   The soil I dig is what it is: wet clay!   But the disturbance of my poaching spade did not harm a glistening earthworm that wiggled loose.  I am always glad to see one when I am planting.  It seems to augur all will be well.  In went the lavender, and in went its worm to work the soil.  In went a yellow lantana.  And it, too, had a worm.

 

At the pond, however, good news and bad:  big bronze frog has just arrived.  After heavy rains, uphill from the stream he hops to stay a while at the pond with the three small frogs.  He sits majestically on a rock staring into the pond.   My eyes follow his.  The gully-washer in the night has scoured a load of water out, iris spikes toppled over, lily leaves askew. White petunias beside the pond, limp wet handkerchiefs.  The pond level is down half a foot! Water muddy as café au lait.  It, too, is not its usual beautiful self.

 

Nor are the earliest flowering spring shrubs.  Their glorious display is drawing to an end.  Petals lose color, sog up or get brown, fall.  Some need trimming back.   The evergreens, luxuriating in all the rain, are badly in need of a trim, too.  So much wild new growth. 

 

And the garden shifts into another mode . . . Though most annuals are in for summer, adding their spots of color, they are still small but will really burgeon in June.  Roses, however, have just gone and done it!  All the hot pink Knockout roses are in full bloom, yellow tea roses also have popped beside the porch. 

 

PHOTO 1556 tif. Knockout roses and yellow tea rose

 

 

And at the back door Graham Thomas presents its first yellow roses. Even the pink sweetheart roses in the rock garden are in bloom.

 

PHOTO   1494 tif. pink sweetheart roses and yellow marguerites

 

 

Change.  The characters in this play drift in and out from scene to scene.  The sets alter, the costumes switch, the makeup runs a bit, the lighting never the same from one moment to the next, with the resultant mood changes.   What is merely attractive by ordinary daylight dazzles when the sun comes from behind a cloud. As though the house lights have gone up and the play begins.   But late afternoon sunlight bringing long shadows and jewel tones with it, or early morning sunlight scattered across the length of the dewy gardens -- these create the most magic for me.    By evening, just before this stage goes dark, the many greens in the woods become flat, and this matte finish assumes a beautiful solemnity of its own.   

 

not a shadow left

under the pines . . .

I bed begonias into darkness

 

--AV © 2009       

 

Not only can I have my garden as a feast for the eyes -- I can eat some of it, too!  Tonight I shall pass by the wet-again flowers and stop at the pot of cilantro, scissors in hand.  Some will go into my Nue pud tao jaiw  (Spicy beef with black bean sauce). In my new adventure into Thai recipes I note cilantro is the key herb used.   Previously, I had only used it for Mexican food.   A rib eye steak, onion, garlic, peanut oil, shiitake mushrooms [dried ones work fine: just soak in boiling water a few minutes to plump them up, then squeeze out] , soy sauce, black bean sauce, baby corn,  jaggery (a sweetener made of palm flower sugar – but a hint of brown sugar is its substitute) and chopped fresh cilantro!  All this over medium egg noodles garnished with my homegrown herb.

 

First I used cilantro in Tod man moo sai boo (probably because of the name).  Little crab and ground pork and red chili fritters seasoned with cilantro and, instead of scallions I didn’t have, I cut chives from the garden, avoiding their tough stems topped with pale purple flowers.  With it, a delicious sweet and sour dipping sauce with minced red onions and cucumbers. Then I made Stir-fried shrimp with garlic Gung ga tiem, also seasoned with a handful of cilantro and served with egg-fried jasmine rice with chives and cilantro. Green chicken curry Gang kaiw wan gai , yet another dish with lots of cilantro.  And the hotter red curry version.  With it iced tea and my fresh mint.

 

The first hot night:

chilling the tea,

slicing the lemons.

 

--A 2nd Flake 1974

 

All the flower gardens and shrubs have been primarily my domain.  So my food gardening energy is limited to a few specialty things these days.  I do plan to put nasturtium seeds in the raised beds.  Those, too, have peppery edible leaves and stems  and flowers, and I don’t remember the deer or other critters bothering them.

 

On a bank by the pond, small sweet woodruff among the ferns and vinca is almost ready.   Sprigs of its dainty white flowers atop lacy spiraling leaves go into iced white wine for the seasonal treat,  “May wine.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring moves rapidly toward summer.  It is time for the first pruning of the shrubs.  And the sweeping up after.  A shared task with my oldest grandson.  As he trims the holly hedge out from under branches heavy with buds of “the jingle-bell tree,”  we both pause to indulge in remembrance.  For the longest time, I could not identify this tree whose graceful spreading low limbs and copious spring bloom provided all the grandchildren the only climbing tree on the entire property:  nowhere could a little one get a toehold on tall pines or tulip poplars or full-grown red maples.  Even as babies, we would lift them into it and plunk them on a branch “Hold tight!” and watch their faces glow as they looked out over our heads to a different world where they reigned supreme.   

 

One time, the eldest had taken his favorite rope up into the tree, tied himself in, and then after a while of daydreaming, needed to answer a bodily function.  But he could not untie himself and called for help.  “Never mind the rope.  Just do it!” and his mother and I laughed as, utterly humiliated, he wet himself.  After he was freed, I hosed him and toweled him off and gave him dry clothes to wear.  Twenty-one now, he put down the electric hedge trimmer and hoisted himself into the tree once more. 

 

So it is the climbing tree of memories.  At last I learned it is a Japanese snowbell tree.  For the next week or so, the air surrounding the house and through every open window will be redolent with its intoxicating scent.

 

for a while, the sweetness

a thousand snowbells open

to the night air

 

--AV © 2009 

 

PHOTO 1228 Japanese snowbell tree

 

 

 

          Given all the major tragedies that fill the days of the world in which we live, I suppose it is somewhat preposterous to speak with great sadness of the loss of nine old goldfish in a small pond, but I do.

 

 Last fall I was startled – and quite excited -- to see an enormous gray and white bird fly low past the porch and land neatly beside the goldfish pond.

By sundown, when the first visit of this great blue heron was over I could find none of my fish.  My first thought, they are hiding.    In years past, the smaller green heron had paid a call.  Three days he was here standing on one of the large flat rocks that edge the pond.  And then he was gone.  Lily leaves were shredded showing where he’d tried to spear my goldfish.   Terrorized, they hid deep down in the muddied water, or amid the water iris stalks.  Within a day or so when the water cleared,  they resurfaced when I called to them.  So I assumed that was the case this time, too, though the water was not muddy.  But next day there was such a strange stillness, an emptiness and I had to accept that this time all my fish were gone.

 

I could not get over imagining what it must have been like as he struck over and over again and the fish, living together here for so many years with little to disturb their idyllic life, must have panicked under the repeated assault as they watched their own being taken into that huge beak. 

 

For several days, the bird returned, stood waiting motionless by the pond – watching for more.  And then, convinced that there were none,  lifted its gray-blue self with slow powerful strokes into the blue sky and was gone.

 

          So it was that this spring, as soon as the water temperature in the pond warmed up to 45 ̊  I determined I was  not going to let one dreadful occurrence thwart me.   I had to buy new fish.  Without them, this simply was not a pond.   I know well these creatures, too, may be taken from me one day.  But all life hovers the abyss. I am willing to trust in the likelihood that these new fish shall get to enjoy a fine life for however long it lasts.   This time, though, I would not as before select each one carefully for its beauty, its length of tail, its colors and patterns – shibunkins were among my lost ones.  At the pet store,  I bought the tiniest fish they had: 24 for $2.00 fully aware that by attrition or assault, I may lose quite a few, if not all.   I did not even

look at them as they were scooped into a plastic bag of water for the ride home.  

 

          Yesterday, for the first time this year, life in the fishpond was restored to normal.

The one inch baby fish had laid low in the deep end of the pond all spring.   I would talk to them occasionally and one brave one would make an appearance and wiggle about, but then submerge.  Obviously, they were not going to feed up at the surface.  So I trusted to their own instinct for survival.  As I skimmed the pond removing more tulip tree petals, one of my old-timer frogs was splayed out on the water, inches from my skimmer.  Utterly blasé.  Another of the old guard, sat on a rock and watched.  And when I got to the deeper end of the pond, I called to the fish in my usual way.  Up came the first from the murky water.  And since it was such a warm and lovely afternoon, I kept calling to them.  Gradually, several more appeared.  They had doubled in size already though what they were eating I could not imagine!  I could even make out distinguishing markings, some had red dots on white, others were just orange.  The more I talked to them, the friskier they became in the mid-depths swimming this way and that.  Got the fish flakes can and sprinkled a pinch on the water’s surface, called to them again, and sure enough they moved tentatively upwards into the sunlight to feed.  Next day, the same.  And the next. And every day since.

 

feeding the goldfish

the guest

feels welcome

 

--One Potato Two Potato Etc 1991

 

I shall care for them in years to come.  And, without apology, I declare myself already attached to these tiny creatures who bring me and others such delight.   They, too, will know sun and rain, clouds and fireflies and moonlight, and the silence beneath the ice come winter.  They will also know whatever passes for passion each spring among the water iris that sends them flopping and quivering about the pond as they create new life.

 

 

 

 

under a new moon

bedtime songs float up

from the pines

 

-- summer thunder 2004,  Mann Library2009

 

 

Probably what pleases me most about my various gardens in this woodland, is how they have become home to other than myself.  This new world I’ve slowly created has provided ideal habitat for so many creatures from the very ants who explore the new plants I have brought here.  Living amidst them has given me many of my poems.

 

 

PHOTO 1059 rhododendron blossom

 

 

I watch the crows come down morning and evening to sip from the birdbath-on- the-wellhead

 

 PHOTO  1050 tif.

 

 

or watch them use the railroad ties to walk upon as they review the raised beds for insects.  Doves, too, will plod along them.  Birds will hop up the single-file rock path alongside the pond to get to the upper pond to drink.  I watered a hanging geranium plant and out flew a startled a wren nesting in it. The little skinks are always to be found close by the house, living under the concrete planter of ivy or in the flowerbed at the back wall, or in crevices in the railroad ties. Lately, a large female appeared clinging to the inside of the new screen door! 

 

PHOTO 1217 skink

 

 Deer, of course, use much of the property, feed off the apple tree I planted, some of the plants and flowers – since by attrition I have come to understand their needs and they, mine.    I have found my little cat sleeping in the goddess’s ‘hat’ (really the bowl of the water fountain she was supposed to have been) or curled up beside the old iron monkey lantern that sits on a rock by the waterfall – as though they were best friends!  Her favorite vantage point from which she planned her daily adventures and  scoped out possible enemies,  was the column of gods and goddesses. 

 

PHOTO  0956 column

 

For absolute privacy, she would saunter up to the bench garden and climb onto the bench for a snooze.  Once, to my horror, she brought a baby bunny to that patio and then, tossing it into the air over and over again, turned it into a bunny pizza.

 

 

The goldfish and frogs make the pond.  No matter the natural beauty of it, they are what bring it to life.  On rare occasions, a garter snake or water snake will seek out a small frog or fish. I have pulled one of my fish out of a garter snake’s mouth!   Year after year, the dragonflies use the water iris and the ferns in their prolonged sunny day mating rituals.

 

dragonflies suddenly

she off the fern tip

he off the iris spear

they soar

sky-dancing again

 

-- AV © 2009 

 

 

 

 

A tiny concrete bench I call the elf bench -- no taller than a buttercup -- the jays will perch on and use as an anvil for cracking sunflower seeds.  Sometimes there is the delight of seeing a squirrel or a cardinal just sitting on it!  The squirrels drink at the pond edge or at the upper small pond after their dinner of seeds.  Blackbirds and robins will bathe in the shallow upper ponds or in the birdbath.  And of course the population of birds has vastly increased because I feed them year round.  Many a chickadee has been born in the birdhouse that hangs from the dogwood tree by the raised beds. 

 

PHOTO 1004  arborvitae at sundown

 

In evening sunlight I can tell where the wrens roost as I watch them disappear high up in the arborvitae tree.  A few wiggles and they settle in for the night.  Jays and cardinals always perch in the apple tree as they go back and forth to the bird feeder before their later bedtime.  It is like a grand hotel to them.  As is the viburnum by the porch which they use as a vantage point from which they observe their neighbors’ activities, as sanctuary when something alarms them,  and more usually, as their beak-wiping place in between snacks. Cardinals and chickadees will pick its tiny early flower buds.  All the birds eat its berries soon as they redden.  The Japanese maple, planted when the pines fell,  is also a way station to the birds feeding near the pond. As is the huge Leland cypress behind it.   Butterflies have spun their chrysalises amid the parsley or other vegetables in the raised bed garden.  I have found a cardinal nest in the jasmine arbor. Jays and cardinals also nest in the hollies by the house some years, and I could watch the baby birds grow and fledge.   Praying mantis come to the rock garden, and the endangered honey bees feasted here last month in great numbers on the tiny spring flowers of the holly hedge.   Southern bufo toads and box turtles are welcome guests. One toad came year after year to ‘live’ on the front porch under a box turtle shell I put in a shady spot there.   A full-grown turtle was in the rose bed at the back of the house yesterday.  Gone today. 

 

 

 

almost (down the path

in the pouring rain) alone

box turtle

 

--One Potato Two Potato Etc  1991 

  Haiku Moment  ed. Bruce Ross 1993

 

 The few paths I’ve made through the woods, I have watched birds, cats, dogs walk upon rather than wander through the woods alongside them.  A green snake lolled in the viburnum by the porch. One year, a newly awakened copperhead nestled down by the bridge in the daffodils.   All sorts of spiders, of course, regularly avail themselves of everything they can build a web upon connecting house to deutzia or rhododendron by the porch.  There, the golden orb spins its special web with its tell-tale zipper closing.  Funnels of the garden spiders tie together the shrubs and plants in the rock garden to catch their prey. 

 

         

 

 

 

More rain in the night this wet spring.  Over six inches have fallen this month!  Learning from the beach-umbrella-loving tomato plant which already has its first yellow blossoms, I have protected my cosmos seedlings from the heavy downpours.  Brought the wide bowl in which I planted them onto the porch.  They are four inches tall now.  They go back out into the sunshine today -- as long as it lasts. 

 

I put the coarse nasturtium seeds directly into the raised beds the other rainy day.  Tough, they will make it or they won’t.   I am not worried about them.   And sure enough, there were a couple of cosmos from a past year amid the chives and chili peppers, getting ready for summer’s bloom.  I celebrate those two re-seeded flowers.  And it gives me hope the new ones I shall put out there soon will survive the deer.   Four young ones were here last night, being very good, never touching anything but the apple tree leaves and under-leaves of trees at the edge of the woods and the grass.  Never approaching too close to the house.  I need only call to them Shoo!  and in an instant, they will high tail it out of here.   Otherwise, if I merely say in a sing-song,  “Hell-o, deer.   I see you,” they lift their heads, direct their ears to my voice and then continue about their business. 

 

I go out to deadhead the Mr. Lincoln rose which has dropped its petals only to discover as I worked my way down the garden nipping spent flowers, the other  Mr. Lincoln has produced two blooms.    It is beside the euonymous hedge and usually it grows five feet tall in order to capture sunshine for its blossoms.   Heretofore, it only produced its blooms above the hedge.   What a surprise to discover two gorgeous roses down low and  in the shade!   Every plant has its own secrets, its own timetables.  I’ve had this rose for many years and never did it bloom three feet up from the soil!

 

At the pond, where I remove the spent water iris bloom, thinking with resignation this was a poor year for iris, I find I have misjudged again:  a second bud appears.    Purple salvia spikes beside Tweedle Dee (the second golden arborvitae) have completed their first protracted bloom. I cut them back and now the Canterbury bells beside them jut forth, ready to blossom all down their stems.

 

PHOTO 1530 tif. salvia canterbury bells boulder golden arborvitae blue pacifica

 

Asian lilies too, have produced their buds. I remove the last wire cage off the hostas which have not been chewed at all.  In no time, the nasturtium seeds have sprouted.  The cosmos seedlings will go into the raised bed with them tomorrow.  And a new act follows the old.  I wait for the purple clematis in the cottage garden to burst forth.  It is covered in drooping buds.

 

 

 

at dawn

     feeding the birds

my robe’s edge wet with dew

 

--AV ©  2009  

 

Summer’s more idle days are not far off:  in my nightgown, watering the gardens early in the morning, deadheading and weeding  before the heat builds.  Filling the hummingbird feeder.   And, if I can remember,  pushing aside the parachuted spider strand that always runs between the two hollies that flank the brick walk as I go back and forth at my chores.  Then, indoors for a shower and clean clothes.   At last -- looking as though I’ve done nothing at all -- languor on the screened porch.  An iced tea or coffee and some homemade confection or other.  Good books to read.  The hum of the overhead fans.   Feeding the goldfish, the birds.   Simple suppers to the sound of the waterfalls and the dinner-time birds. 

 

PHOTO 1543 tif. view from the porch

 

My faithful mowers are here, rushing to finish before the next rain begins.  Sun gives way to clouds, a tiny sprinkle, then sunshine again and a smile on the mower’s face as he waves to me riding by and points up to the sun.  I nod and smile back with a thumb’s up, and pour Miracle-Gro on the mauve pink clematis out back.

 

PHOTO  1578 tif. cottage garden purple clematis

 

                                             

 

             End