Lazy Gardener

I love gardens, but I don’t actually love gardening. My mother once saw me recoil in horror at the sight of a grub and said scornfully, “Hmph. What kind of a gardener are you?!” A theoretical kind of gardener is what I am. I don’t believe in watering or coddling my plants…that would require too much time in the steamy, scary outdoors. Twice I’ve had to go on a course of antibiotics for Lyme Disease after getting bitten by a tick during a weeding session. When I put in a plant, I give them a little pep talk, “You’ve got to be tough to make it around here. Let’s see what you can do.” And then they’re on their own.

When I first moved to the house we’re in now, I planted a New Dawn rose and a Clematis Jackmanii at the base of our deck. I sat back and waited and waited and waited some more. The New Dawn rose bush grew spectacularly – the lush green foliage was studded with the most evil thorns you could possibly imagine, but not a single rose grew for many years. I regretted ever planting it and the thought of having to battle the thorns to take it down filled me with dread. Peering into my yard as she ministered to her impeccably manicured all-white Vita Sackville-West inspired garden, my neighbor (who happens to be a Master Gardener) would tut.

“Those roses are never going to bloom unless you fertilize them,” she would call over to me.

Fertilize? When I don’t even water my plants? I don’t think so!

It doesn’t always work out so well, but this time, sloth wins the day:

Weekend Snapshots 21

Saturday

I put well over 100 miles on my chariot of fire in one day, ferrying the three kids to their soccer games all over town. I usually share the driving with my husband, but this weekend he was tied up with a conference he was running. With just one driver, the margins were razor thin. As soon as one game was done, I would have just enough time to get home to pick up the next kid. It was cold and rainy all day, so instead of standing around on the sidelines like I usually do, I ran errands. Some of the errands were important ones – like buying groceries and a new dishwasher. Others were less important, but so very satisfying.

Around this time last year, I discovered the joys of a store called Tractor Supply. I was lured into the store for the first time by a huge sign in the parking lot that was announcing “Chick Days.” My far more urbane siblings are rolling their eyes for sure as they read this. My husband is breaking out into a cold sweat as my agrarian fantasies once again rear their sweet, sweet, fuzzy little heads:

I didn’t bring home any chicks or ducklings. This time.

As soon as the last child’s soccer game was over, we raced back to the house so that he could get showered for his piano recital. We made it to the church just in time:

As we were waiting for the recital to begin, my daughter and I were admiring a spectacular floral arrangement that was on the altar. I was dying to go up and feel the flowers to see if they were real, but that would have been really uncouth and embarrassing. So I made my daughter do it. She took a photo too:

Obligatory-Post-Recital-Closed-Mouth-Portrait-Because-There’s-Enough-Reception-Food-Crammed-Into-Those-Cheeks-To-Feed-A-Small-Nation:

No-Way-Am-I-Cooking-Tonight-Post-Recital-Celebration-Dinner:

Sunday

I got to spend a few blissful hours getting my hands dirty in the garden:

 

My Spring Garden

Once upon a time, it was NOT rainy and gray…I’m glad I got these photos before the deluge began.

Last but not least, the birthday dogwood!

We’ve planted birthday trees for our two oldest children, and every year we try to take some photos with the kids next to their trees on or around their birthdays:

Confession: This is actually my son’s second birthday tree. The first birthday tree we planted didn’t survive when we moved to the house we’re in now, and tried to transplant it in our new yard. We somehow managed to kill my second son’s first birthday tree as well. In an attempt to avoid being serial tree murderers, we have not planted a tree for our youngest…

Crocus

Today the sun shone for the first time in days. Most of the snow has now melted and my beloved crocuses are pirouetting all over my yard. Oh joy! Thanks to Daylight Savings, there was just enough light when I got home from work today to take some photos.

The first thing I planted in the yard of our very first house was a variety of purple crocuses. For seven springs I loved watching them come up through the grass. I think I’m so fond of them, because of the way they intrepidly shoot up right through the snow to announce that spring is just around the corner. When we moved to our current house, I couldn’t bear to have a spring without them and so I planted them by the handful again, all over our new front yard. I know I’ll do the same when we move to our next house.

It takes a certain amount of faith to shove crocus corms into the earth in the autumn. There’s something quite miraculous about the fact that within these hard, brown kernels are hiding gorgeous silky flowers that bide their time all winter long, just waiting for spring to come sashaying up out of the mud.

In her poem The Crocus (1858), Harriet Beecher Stowe compares the miracle of the crocus with the miracle of the Resurrection:

Beneath the sunny autumn sky,
With gold leaves dropping 
We sought, my little friend and I,
The consecrated ground,

Where, calm beneath the holy cross,
O’ershadowed by sweet skies,
Sleeps tranquilly that youthful form,
Those blue unclouded eyes.

Around the soft, green swelling mound
We scooped the earth away,
And buried deep the crocus-bulbs
Against a coming day.
“These roots are dry, and brown, and sere;
Why plant them here?” he said,
“To leave them, all the winter long,
So desolate and dead.”

“Dear child, within each sere dead form
There sleeps a living flower,
And angel-like it shall arise
In spring’s returning hour.”
Ah, deeper down cold, dark, and chill
We buried our heart’s flower,
But angel-like shall he arise
In spring’s immortal hour.

In blue and yellow from its grave
Springs up the crocus fair,
And God shall raise those bright blue eyes,
Those sunny waves of hair.
Not for a fading summer’s morn,
Not for a fleeting hour,
But for an endless age of bliss,
Shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

In The Year’s Awakening Thomas Hardy ponders the mystery of nature’s unerring ability to detect the shifting of seasons. The “vespering” bird and the crocus are the canny heralds of spring:

How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s appareling;
O vespering bird, how do you know, 
How do you know?

How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moment’s length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?

1910

Alfred Kreymborg describes the wonder of the changing of the seasons when “the first small crocus” banishes winter to the grave:

Crocus 

When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully – this dirge, to whom
does it belong – who treads the hidden loom?

When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies – 
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams – 

All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge – 
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?

The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn’t move a tortoise-foot before – 
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! –

And yet, so insignificant a hearse? –
who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements – shove winter down a grave? –
and then lead on again the universe?

1933

 Happy Weekend!

Signs of Spring

Friday morning the sun was shining and the snow was melting fast…We went from this:

To this, in just a couple of days:

On Sunday I spent a pleasant afternoon with the sun on my back as I strolled around the yard on my very first hunt for spring for the very first time this year…

It’s become a daily ritual that I look forward to around this time of the year…

…when the monochrome landscape suddenly transforms into a technicolor scene of riotous shape and gaudy color with new surprises springing up from the muddy earth every single day.

Every year it seems to me that I am witnessing an impossible miracle.

I was most excited about spotting this little friend, the greatest miracle of all:

I always consider the first sighting of the fish in our backyard pond as the true harbinger of spring. It always fills me with an unreasonable amount of joy!

That weekend when Grandma stabbed me and fed me poison

From a distance, this house looks like your typical, vintage 50s brick rancher…

It’s only when you get a little closer that you realize something’s not quite right…To the left of the door, you have your predictable mid-Atlantic suburban landscaping: some Knockout Roses, an Azalea, and a Rhododendron. To the right of the house, the foundation planting scheme is far more unconventional:

Sure, azaleas and rhododendrons are nice…but can you eat them?

All of these plants (to the right, and the many squeezed into both side yards and burgeoning in overflowing beds in the backyard) will eventually make their way to the dinner table in some form or other.

As you may have guessed, the denizens of this house are not your average suburbanites. At least one of them, my mother, is not content with her own idiosyncratic planting schemes. She takes it upon herself to deal with her neighbor’s shrubbery too.

“See how nice this looks now? It’s because I prune it every day,” she says serenely as she breaks off branches from her neighbor’s shrub and secretes them deep into the foliage.

“Ummm, Mom? Should you really be messing around with other people’s plants?” I venture to say, casting a nervous glance over my shoulder.

“Why not?” she snaps. “The branches are in my way when I go for my walk. It annoys me. It looks much better this way…Did you just take a picture of me? Naughty girl!”

My children love visiting my parents’ house, where they are pampered, petted and allowed to freely loll about the basement all day long, playing board games and binge-watching the History Channel and Animal Planet. They look forward to the feasts that magically arrive at regular intervals. It’s a brave new world for my children, whose most exotic meals usually come from the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s.

Knowing how much my children, especially my second son, look forward to eating white rice, my mother never fails to cook up a pot for them. She does this despite the fact that my sister has proclaimed that the poor nutritional value of white rice makes it the equivalent of poison. (Never mind the fact that my sister herself always plies them with ice cream sundaes and sacks full of candy when they visit).

“Here’s your poison!” my mother announced with a flourish as she set the bowl of rice before my children, when were were visiting a couple of weekends ago.

As always happens when we visit my parents, self-control went out the window. My rice-loving son, who usually picks at his food like a bird, couldn’t stop gorging himself with the stuff. My mother watched him eat with her hands clasped over her heart. She loves nothing better than to watch people gobble up her food with relish.

After lunch, the children disappeared into the basement again. When I called them back up so that we could leave for a planned outing, my son came up the stairs, pale-faced and clutching his belly.

“I think I ate too much,” he groaned.

My mother called him over to sit by her on the couch. She took his hands in hers and began doing acupressure.

“I know you won’t let me do acupuncture on you,” she sighed, “but I know it would make you feel better.”

Have I mentioned that we sometimes call my mother a witch? Let me assure you that we say this with love and admiration. There’s something about that woman that allows her to get away with the most outrageous things. There’s something about that woman that makes people lose their minds, and go along with whatever she suggests, no matter how scary or preposterous it sounds.

Clearly under her spell, my son whimpered meekly, “You can do it, I guess.”

She practically clapped her hands in glee. She found her pincushion, a crazy looking do-it-yourself project she made a million years ago by stuffing a small container with her own hair and then covering it with cloth to resemble a whimsical hat. She whipped out a threaded needle from the pincushion and began methodically wiping it down with alcohol.

“HEY!” my sister shrieked indignantly, “You didn’t bother to sterilize the needle with alcohol when you did it to me the other day! You just rubbed the needle through your hair!”

My mother pretended not to hear her, though it’s very possible that the neighbors several blocks away may have.

She wrapped a string tightly around my son’s thumb and pierced the skin at the base of the nail to draw out blood.

“See how the blood is almost black? That shows you had really bad indigestion. Now let’s do the other side.”

She repeated the trick on the other hand.

“Do you feel better?” I asked him.

“Well,” he replied, “My stomach doesn’t hurt at all anymore. But my fingers are killing me!”

Later he perked up enough to ask me, “Have you called Dad yet to tell him that Grandma stabbed me and fed me poison?”

City Kitty

The other day I was bragging to my coworker about my recent summer vacation to exotic Pittsburgh and glamorous Buffalo. For some reason she looked unimpressed.

“So do you have a fabulous summer vacation getaway planned?” I asked.

“I do! I’m going on a two week backpacking trip in Wyoming,” she announced gleefully.

“Ohhhh…wow!” I said, inwardly noting how her plans all of a sudden made schlepping around the mean streets of Pittsburgh and Buffalo in a zillion degree weather with a whole passel of kids seem all kinds of sexy and amazing.

“I hope you don’t get your period!” I blurted out loud. To cover for this gauche outburst, I explained to her that I’m not an outdoorsy kind of person…that I hate bugs and sweating and that I like cities and sidewalks and asphalt and air-conditioning and indoor plumbing.

“You’re an indoor cat!” she concluded.

By Reward (Photographer: Reward)

Indeed.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was little I would spend hours on my back in the grass, gazing up at the clouds. I loved digging in the dirt and exploring the woods near our house. It was only when I got a little older that I realized that my natural habitat is actually a bug-free, centrally air-conditioned interior.

Maybe the sad truth of the matter is that I always crave what I can’t have. When I lived in New York City I became obsessed with the idea of having a garden. I would check out towering stacks of gardening books from the public library and would look longingly at the flower porn. My hard-core fantasies revolved around pleached linden allées, garden follies, and pergolas. When we first moved to Charlottesville, it seemed like all my dreams were going to come true. I threw myself wholeheartedly into the project of gardening…despite the fact that instead of soil we have pure red clay studded with rocks…despite the fact that there are exactly two and a half days out of the year when it’s actually pleasant to be outdoors…despite the fact that I can’t stand bugs.

I have come to my senses once again. For me, “to thine own self be true” means retreating to the Great Indoors. These days I’ve just about given up on gardening, only venturing out when absolutely necessary. When I weeded for just one afternoon last month, I ended up having to be on a course of antibiotics for Lyme Disease for three weeks. I got off lightly. My son was seriously ill with Lyme Disease for months.

Enough is enough. It’s time to move out of the woods and get closer to civilization. I scheduled a meeting with a realtor. Before she came to assess our property, I thought I should try once again to tackle the thicket of weeds that has overtaken what was once my garden. Believe me, the motivation to move was the only possible thing that could lure me back out into the scary outdoors. The result of that one lousy half hour of weeding is that I now have weeping poison ivy pustules all over my body.

This weekend when my husband and I were swanning around the magnificent 1000 acre Trump Winery I jokingly said to him, “Just think of all the mowing you’d have to do if we lived here.”

“Oh no,” he gently corrected me, “You’d have your entire staff of minions to do your bidding. Yes, I can just see you now as the Lady of the Manor giving your orders. That’s really what you were born to do.”

I chose to pretend that for once in his life he wasn’t being sarcastic. See, it’s not that I don’t like the outdoors, really. It’s just that I don’t have the adequate staff to make it worth my while…

Last night I didn’t have the heart to awaken the butler, who usually takes the dogs out for their last pee of the day. I took them out myself, and as I clutched myself uneasily, batting away gnats and listening to the toads croaking and the crickets chirping, I was startled by what sounded like someone knocking on our door. It turns out, it was a new neighbor dropping by to introduce himself:

Yep. It’s definitely time for this city kitty to find some new digs.