This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, December 27, 2007

California Dreaming (As it Were)


I'M NOT REALLY DREAMING OF CALIFORNIA, or of any state with a Republican governor for that matter, but it's as apt a title of tonight's topic as I can think of, off the top of my head. For, just as the weather reaches its bleakest, and the holidays are over (I don't really count New Years Eve, never having been a big fan of it, and frankly getting more excited about, say, Arbor Day)a ray of sunshine bursts out from my mailbox-- and that would be the arrival of the first seed and flower catalog.

Yea! I've had many gardens in my life, and also had a landscaping business for some years. Two of the gardens that I made in the past, for myself, were long term, and each year they grew in beauty, as I added to them, and as nature did her thing of increasing bounty. Eventually I installed water gardens, small ponds with waterfalls, in both of them-- and it killed me when I had to leave first one, and then the other. I swore I would never make a garden for myself again unless I owned the place, and wouldn't have to leave it-- but then the flower catalogs would come, the latest issue of Garden Design would show up...and, well, you can guess the rest. A few potted plants on the porch, just one little row of sunflowers-- surely that wouldn't harm anyone!

Here on Main Street, where I've been for 8.5 years now (hard to believe)I started, as usual, in a very small way, with a tiny patch plot of tomatoes beside the front door, which is on the side of this old house. Soon the tomatoes were joined by pole peans, bush beans, summer squash, etc, and the garden began to look like a Stalinist Five Year Plan with its yearly expanison. Pots began to appear (notice how I phrase it as if this was a naturally-occuring phenomenon that I had nothing to do with) on the front steps and porch, and Morning Glories began twining up the porch railings. But I really had no place to grow perennials, among my favorite plants to grow. (For those who need a little refresher, annuals are plants that bloom all summer, then die with the first frost; perennials come up year after year (at least, they're supposed to!) and bloom for a shorter period of time.)

There is an old wall, about 18" high, running along the front of the property here, next to the sidewalk, which is next to Main Street itself; and for years I hated Main Street, the reckless drivers who treat it like the Indianapolis Speedway rather than the neighborhood it is-- and that abhorence only grew when Fionn was hit on Main Street and nearly killed two months after I first got him. Plus the sidwalk is a disaster of pits and upheavals and uneven pavement-- thanks, Mitt! (He balanced the budget by letting everything and everyone go to hell.)

But hate isn't a good thing; and eventually you know I thought about how I could make peace with Main Street, as it were. I decided I would put a perennial garden out there: perhaps the reckless drivers would slow down to take a longer look, perhaps they would be encouraged and nourished by this daily dose of something beautiful, and perhaps some of my neighbors would go and do likewise.

Young Scotty helped me dig up the front part of the front yard, maybe about three feet wide and fifty or sixty feet long-- I'm never very accurate with garden measurements, as I like to think a garden, once you make one, goes down to the center of the earth in one direction, and up to the stars in the other. We dug up the lawn, shook out the top soil, and let it sit for a bit. Then eventually I started planting. The old chestnut about perennials is, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap-- and this being the third year now coming into this season's garden, I'm looking for some leaping! But there's already been some wonderful results, as I kind of baby the soil and add this and that to it, including, this fall, some lovely manure (only another gardener could understand) from Diane Lincoln's horse farm out in Royalston-- I need more, as it turns out-- but fortunately there's plenty more, she assures me, where that came from--

Usually one buys perennials in plant form. But it's especially gratifying to start your own from seed, if you don't mind waiting for results. Each year now I go out in the fall, for example, and collect a few milkweed pods, as milkweed is a beautiful native flower that not only looks good, and smells delicious, but is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Monarch Butterfly, the female of which lays its eggs on milkweed plants and only on milkweed plants. The first year my raised-from-seed milkweeds were kind of spindly, though eventually they reached about eight to ten inches; last year they made it to about 2.5 feet; this year I am hoping they will flower for the first time. They're spreading too. Another native beauty whose pollen feeds butterflies and bees is Echinacea, i.e., Purple Coneflower. I tried a new variety two years ago, a white one called Fragrant Angel. It is absolutely beautiful (see pic)and is the perfect foil for the deep purple flowers of my Butterfly Bush. And, I don't know if I've ever had a garden that didn't include hemerocallis (daylily) 'Hyperion,' a variety developed sixty years ago but still the cream of the crop (IMHO)with its tall stature, lemon-yellow flowers, lemony fragrance, and long blooming period (about six weeks). Daylilies are virtually indestructable, thrive in almost any environment, and multiply readily-- what more could one ask? I also have some beautiful 'Stargazer' lilies out there (true lilies, like an Easter Lily) and I grow my own zinnias from seed, two varities actually, 'Envy,' a lovely chautreuse-green one (which goes great with deep purple) and a light violet one called 'Violet Queen,' which I sometimes misread as 'Violent Queen.' He-he.

Anyway-- the catalogs have started arriving, but one doesn't have to wait for that anymore, as most nurseries now are ON-LINE. Yea! And I've already spent more than I can afford-- in imaginary money, of course. It's only another two weeks before I start my Nicotiana plants (old-fashioned flowering tobacco, as it's also called), an amazingly fragrant plant that often tops out at 4-6 feet, the seed of which is like a grain of dust. I pulled in one of the tobacco plants from last summer's garden, and it has about a dozen seed pods on it, each one of which conatins about 50-100 seeds-- more than enough for my purposes. Amazing. It's all too wonderful-- can someone tell me how you can take this shrivelly, dried-up thing, toss it into dirt, and then later that summer you have a five-foot tower of flower and fragrance, adorned with bees and butterflies?

People on flowerless planets must think we are the happiest creatures imaginable, living with such beauty...

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