Monday, August 9, 2010
We walked from Buckingham Palace through Green Park (where we sat in deck chairs to watch streams of people passing by -- they charge for the deck chairs, but on a hot day in London, we happily paid the one pound five pence). Then we wound our way down along Bayswater Road, enjoying the vendors with their artwork and admiring the stately hotels on the other side of the street. At Hyde Park, we competed with groups of people who had come to the park for the triathlon being held that day. Every major throughway was roped off so that bicyclists and runners could make their way to the end of the race and the tents set up near the Serpentine. We sat at the Serpentine Restaurant for pizza and Cokes, watching Londoners in paddleboats on the lake before continuing our journey.
Little did we know how long our walk was, but by the time we reached Kensington Palace, we were ready for some cold drinks and rest. It was the perfect place to sit for a moment. Princess Diana's favorite place and her home while in London, Kensington is a smaller Palace, but no less stately than some of the others in England. The gardens are formal, Italian in design, yet they have whimsical elements brought in by Queen Victoria and enjoyed by Diana herself. When we were there, archways leading to the gardens, were alive with what appeared to be grapevines, and the gardens bloomed in hot pinks, reds, yellows, and deep purples.
Of all the parks in London, this appeared to be the most family-friendly, probably because of the playground area built to memorialize Diana in 2000. Because it was such a nice day, the area was full of happily-screaming kids climbing all over the pirate's ship and shimmying like eels over and around the other structures in what appeared to be the best public playground I've ever seen. (We were not with children, so didn't get to explore in detail.)
Today's poem celebrates English gardens:
English Garden by Bernard Shaw
My love for an English garden,
It knows no bounds.
I will never have to ask for pardon,
As I stroll these lovely grounds.
Many are the shrubs, bushes and flowers,
They fill my heart with joy.
Here I have spent many happy hours,
For most of the flowers are shy and very coy.
Hollyhocks abound in every colour and hue,
Great delight I find in every nook and cranny.
A few of the flowers are for me new.
Most of the names I was taught by my dear Granny.
I have wandered around gardens of all kinds,
In most parts of this wonderful Earth.
There is something in a garden that my soul binds,
Nature shares with me every new birth.
But in an English garden such as Kew.
Gardeners put on a wonderful show.
That refreshes me through and through,
As I am sure it will you if you take the trouble to go.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
It's been exceptionally hot here in North Carolina lately, hovering around 100 degrees for the past four or five days. Naturally, the garden suffers. Colorful flowers start to droop, normally robust green leaves fold into themselves, everything tries to protect itself from the normally friendly sun. We gardeners know that this is the time to help Mother Nature along a little and to provide some extra watering whenever possible. I've been making it a point of trying to water in the morning, but last night, after a stunningly stifling day, I went to the porch to gather my watering pot and placed it under the faucet to fill while I put supper in the oven. It's a big watering jug, so it takes several minutes for it to fill. I didn't pay any attention to it until it sounded like it was near capacity, then turned back from the stove to use both hands to take the jug out to the porch.
When I reached for it, I noticed one spot on the handle was a brighter green than the rest of the jug and with a start, realized I had brought a rather large tree frog into the house with the pot. He sat there, frozen into his spot, his fat little body anchored on the handle, even after I lifted the watering can to bring it outdoors.
All the way to the porch, I kept talking quietly (like the frog knew what I was saying), hoping he wouldn't hop off before I had gotten him outside. My cat -- old as the hills but still spry -- seemed to realize that we had a "visitor" and would have been quite happy to follow him around the house had he hopped off, and I really didn't want to have a chase on my hands.
Outside, the frog remained on top of the watering can, so I started watering the geraniums near my door, then the pots of pansies that line the stairs. Still, the frog sat on the handle. I now had the chance to study him more closely -- the racing stripe down each side of his squat body, the large suction cups on his three-toed feet, the way his sides swelled with each breath.
Still, he hung on.
By the time I got out to the mailbox to water the basket there, I noticed one of my neighbors taking a bike ride around the block with her little son, an adorable boy of five with light brown curls down to his shoulders and the most striking tiger-colored eyes. He's a precocious kid, and I knew he'd get a kick out of the frog, so I called him over.
His excitement spilled over, and though he reached out, he didn't touch the frog -- simply lowered his face so that his long lashes were almost close enough to touch the frog's body. The conversation began.
"Does he like leaves? Do you think if I give him some grass, he'll eat it? Where does he live? How high can he jump?"
We chattered for a while, and I shared my rather pitiful knowledge of what a tree frog does and what he eats. Mostly, we just laughed every time the little frog moved.
We shared a good ten minutes of "frog time." Then it was obvious the frog was done with us and wanted back to his natural habitat. We let him go. I went inside to get more water for the plants and told my husband of the adventure. Then I realized I had no photographic evidence, so I went outside to see if I could still find the frog, and there he was -- hiding in the lip of my garbage can, enjoying what little shade it offered. I took a photo with my phone and went inside, still smiling.
I love garden gifts!
The Frog by Hillaire Belloc
Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"
Or likewise "Ugly James,"
Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"
Or "Bill Bandy-knees":
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Merwin is one of those poets with whom I connect on many different levels. First of all, he grew up with those poets in the 1960s who wrote of freedom and activism; secondly, he is a Buddhist, thus I understand the weighted simplicity of his words; thirdly, he is committed to preserving the land beneath his feet, and since he lives in Hawaii, that land is exceptionally beautiful; and finally, I always thought he was one of the most romantically handsome of the poets who have written during the last thirty or so years. (Look at some of his earlier photographs!)
I think we have made a good choice in Merwin, though I don't believe he'll do as many personal appearances as other poets. He does have a distinctively American voice, unapologetic, multi-layered, full of angst about his family and the world around him. I look forward to seeing what he will create for this country.
And, of course, he has written about gardens:
What is a garden
All day working happily down near the stream bed
the light passing into the remote opalescence
it returns to as the year wakes toward winter
a season of rain in a year already rich
in rain with masked light emerging on all sides
in the new leaves of the palms quietly waving
time of mud and slipping and of overhearing
the water under the sloped ground going on whispering
as it travels time of rain thundering at night
and of rocks rolling and echoing in the torrent
and of looking up after noon through the high branches
to see fine rain drifting across the sunlight
over the valley that was abused and at last left
to fill with thickets of rampant aliens
bringing habits but no stories under the mango trees
already vast as clouds there I keep discovering
beneath the tangle the ancient shaping of water
to which the light of an hour comes back as to a secret
and there I planted young palms in places I had not pondered
until then I imagined their roots setting out in the dark
knowing without knowledge I kept trying to see them standing
in that bend of the valley in the light that would come
The wet bamboo clacking in the night rain
crying in the darkness whimpering softly
as the hollow columns touch and slide
along each other swaying with the empty
air these are sounds from before there were voices
gestures older than grief from before there was
pain as we know it the impossibly tall
stems are reaching out groping and waving
before longing as we think of it or loss
as we are acquainted with it or feelings
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Oh, and the back garden is doing okay. The geraniums are happy and creating a pink border around the edge, near the rocks I collected and placed there one by one last summer. And the Mums and Bachelor Buttons are pretty cheery, even though they're sparse. I wish the garden itself would fill in more, but none of the seeds I planted will grow. It's got to be that it's in partial shade and the soil stinks (even though I've amended it more than once).
Today's poetry selection is about a garden incident that's pretty bleak (like mine!).
Incident in a Rose Garden: Donald Justice
Sir, I encountered Death
Just now among our roses
Thin as a scythe he stood there.
I knew him by his pictures
He had on his black coat
Black gloves, and broad black hat.
I think he would have spoken,
Seeing his mouth stood open.
Big it was, with white teeth.
As soon as he beckoned, I ran.
I ran untill I found you.
Sir, I'm quitting my job.
I want to see my sons
Once more before I die.
I want to see California.
Sir, you must be that stranger
Who threatened my gardener.
This is my property, sir.
I welcome only friends here.
Sir, I knew your father.
And we were friends at the end.
As for your gardener,
I did not threaten him.
Old men mistake my gestures.
I only ment to ask him
To show me to his master.
I take it you are he?
Thursday, May 27, 2010
On the radio this morning, NPR had a story about Emily Dickinson, who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was better known in her lifetime for her gardening than for the poetry she wrote. Yet, she gardened every day in a simple white cotton dress with whatever poem she was working on tucked into one of her pockets. I imagine her watching for the first foxgloves to pop their heads from the ground, smiling at the white-faced daisies she loved, and pulling those errant weeds that disdainfully rose between hydrangeas and herbs.
Though she relished her privacy and alone time, she wrote about the people around her: her family, nieces/nephews, neighbors. Her poetry shows her true love, however -- her gardens. And though the poems she wrote might be of a child's death or a family moment, somehow she always managed to toss in a garden metaphor.
Here's one of my favorite Dickinson poems:
FROM cocoon forth a butterfly
As lady from her door
Emerged—a summer afternoon—
Without design, that I could trace, 5
Except to stray abroad
On miscellaneous enterprise
The clovers understood.
Her pretty parasol was seen
Contracting in a field 10
Where men made hay, then struggling hard
With an opposing cloud,
Where parties, phantom as herself,
To Nowhere seemed to go
In purposeless circumference, 15
As ’t were a tropic show.
And notwithstanding bee that worked,
And flower that zealous blew,
This audience of idleness
Disdained them, from the sky, 20
Till sundown crept, a steady tide,
And men that made the hay,
And afternoon, and butterfly,
Extinguished in its sea.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Mark Hewitt, a North Carolina based potter (we have GREAT potters in this state), has created some extremely large, beautifully fired pieces that combine the grace of symmetrical design with the unique salt glazes he can obtain in his firing process. Each one has small details (like touches of cobalt blue color in impressed squares) that draw you to examine them closer. But what is best about his work is that the arrangement of pots in a grassy outdoor setting creates a type of garden element that is both permanent and changing. With each shift of light, the glazes take on a varying shade and appear to shimmer like the tones of a mountain lake. I walked away wanting at least two of his pieces in my backyard woodland garden.
We have had a lot of rain lately, so both the back and front gardens are blooming and healthy. I'm hoping to go to a garden center this weekend with my daughter to find some plants that can deal with hot and dry weather since I think that's what we're heading towards, but for now, I leave you with this poem.
Once, when I wandered in the woods alone,
An old man tottered up to me and said,
“Come, friend, and see the grave that I have made
For Amaryllis.” There was in the tone
Of his complaint such quaver and such moan
That I took pity on him and obeyed,
And long stood looking where his hands had laid
An ancient woman, shrunk to skin and bone.
Far out beyond the forest I could hear
The calling of loud progress, and the bold
Incessant scream of commerce ringing clear;
But though the trumpets of the world were glad,
It made me lonely and it made me sad
To think that Amaryllis had grown old.
----Edwin Arlington Robinson
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Even though I wasn't in my own garden recently, I did spend some time at Rodin's Garden at the North Carolina Arts Museum yesterday. My art instructor and I were there for a meeting about advocating for the arts in our state, and every time I go to that museum something has changed, but this time there were major changes. The museum just opened several new buildings and showcased their collection of Rodin sculptures in a simple, Zen-like garden that opens off one of the large airy spaces inside the building. Set among groups of bamboo and surrounding a lotus pond, Rodin's sculptures stood in spaces quite apropos to their stunning power. One (I didn't get its title) moved me quite deeply: a wraithlike figure in a cloak with a face so powerfully eloquent, big empty eyes and pain etched deeply into the folds of his cheeks. I took several photos and have included them here since they speak far more distinctly than I can at this moment. (By the way, there was only one lotus flower in bloom, and it was perfectly positioned for this photograph.)
Today's poem is about a Rodin sculpture (forgive me for moving away from the garden theme for a moment) and written by Carl Sandburg.
THE WALKING MAN OF RODIN
LEGS hold a torso away from the earth.
And a regular high poem of legs is here.
Powers of bone and cord raise a belly and lungs
Out of ooze and over the loam where eyes look and ears hear
And arms have a chance to hammer and shoot and run motors.
You make us
Proud of our legs, old man.
And you left off the head here,
The skull found always crumbling neighbor of the ankles.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
I don't have any pieces from my grandmother in my garden because I wasn't gardening when she passed away, but I do have memories of her anyway. The gladioli that are sprouting in my side gardens are in memory of her. Every time they bloom, I think of the tall, pastel-colored glads that lined her driveway, and I laugh a little because my mother used to call them funeral flowers. Unlike my grandmother, who loved them, my mother despised them.
The roses I've grown for years are for my mother, who loved them even though she was painfully allergic to them. One of my favorite bushes, the Tropical Sunset, was a gift from one of my best friends, Ellyn. Though Ellyn is across the country in California, I share news of her rose bush every year, telling her when they are in bloom and sending photos of the most spectacular blossoms on the bush.
The peace/white roses and the red climber were gifts from my husband for Valentine's Day. He had always given me beautiful bouquets of roses (earning him the nickname "The Rose Guy") when we were first dating, and at one point, I said that the bouquets were incredibly expensive but that the roses I could grow in the ground would give me a constant bouquet. At that point, he stopped buying bouquets and started giving me bushes. Okay by me!
The cannas that are beginning to multiply in my back garden came from a work friend who had way too many of them last year. She shared a garbage bag full with me, and I spent a long weekend planting them throughout the back gardens. I expect there will be more and more every year, and I'll think of her when they come into bloom.
I have done my fair share of sharing, and my friend Lynn told me just recently that she loved the irises I gave her last year. They are blooming -- a rich purple -- across the street, and I love that they are there.
Now, the baskets . . . the pansies were drooping and though I kept some of them in there, I don't think they're long for this world. I've repacked the baskets with trailing verbena (purple -- my fav color) and hope that they're going to thrive since we're heading into the hot and humid part of the year. Summer in North Carolina!
Here's a poem about summer gardens:
by Carl Sandburg
Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.
An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion.
A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month;
to-night they are throwing you kisses.
An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a
cherry tree in his back yard.
The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking
white thoughts you rain down.
Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
That brilliant future memory spawned others from the past for me.
I remember my grandmother's hands fussing over the many pots of green "things" she kept in her dining room window on Baker Road in Everett, Massachusetts. It isn't her face I remember in this memory, but her hands. In other moments, it's her back as she bends down to pull a weed. She had a watering can with a thin long spout and would occasionally let me water the ferns and ivies that crowded the top of her dining room buffet. Later, I learned she had painted that water can herself, decorating it with a shaded rose, as she had done with many other things in her light-filled apartment. Her knowledge of color and shape grew from studying the gardens she kept and generated into the artistic touch she had when decorating her home. I often wonder, now that I have her sketches in my possession, whether she dreamt of being something other than a housekeeper and gardener.
Outside that dining room window, a thin swatch of garden grew along the driveway into the paved back yard. That swatch overflowed with daylilies, irises, daisies, foxgloves -- all the old cottage flowers that make a happy panoply of color against any house. The birds loved Nana's city gardens and populated the birdhouse she hung right outside the kitchen window. I sat there with my grandfather, eating graham crackers and milk, while he identified the birds who visited the window: "Those are cardinals. See how the female is a duller shade of red than the male? Look at him puffing his chest. And those little brown ones. See there? They're sparrows. The blue one making all the noise? Jays. I can't stand jays. That little one--see that one with the black face? That's a finch." We could watch them flutter inches away from our cereal bowls, and I found myself fascinated by the hummingbirds that occasionally found their way to the watering spout. They were rare and mystical, their purple wings glittering as they fluttered so quickly, they became a blur of shine. Those days defined summer for me and were the genesis of my life as a gardener.
Now, I know that the gardens don't sprout that way magically, as I once thought they did, but that they take a lot of work and planning. Designing that space is as much a work of art as creating a canvas. Choosing the colors, shapes, and textures determine the final product. And even then, the product might have to change -- and that change is not something the gardener often has a choice in making. Yet that change is necessary for the life of the garden. That, in itself, taught me volumes about the changes you make as a human being in order to adjust to what life thrusts in our way.
This brings me to the changes I must think about for my garden. The roses are not doing well, and I know it's because the garden has grown so much that they're having a tough time breathing. I must move them, but that project is a large one and needs major planning. I'm considering cutting another garden that will give an entrance to the side yard in the back of my house. I could put in another archway and frame it with the LadyBanks Roses on one side and the red rambler I have on the other. I could move the shrub roses to each side of that archway so they would be in the sun and have breathing room. The rose garden would give us some privacy in the backyard and take advantage of the fact that I haven't been able to successfully grow grass back there anyway. Maybe I could just mulch the whole back area up to the shady natural space and use it for the roses, give up on the grass . . .
To move or not to move. The poem I've chosen for today reflects the difficulties of gardening decisions, and the ever-changing color map of the garden and of life itself.
this is the garden: colours come and go
by ee cummings
this is the garden: colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night's outer wing
strong silent greens serenely lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden: pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms,and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.
This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
Friday, May 7, 2010
When I watered the geraniums and zinnias that are waiting to be planted in my back garden last night, they had drooped over the edges of their containers. They need to be in the ground, but the ground is cracked, and I'm worried that there isn't enough moisture for them to take hold in the garden. I was hoping that we'd get rain last night so the ground would be a little less parched. No such luck.
In spite of the rain, the Tropical Sunset roses that are blooming in my front garden are fiery and painterly this morning. The roses start out a deep orange when they're still tight, but as they open, their colors change to a lighter orange streaked with golden yellow, then to peach, and when they are finally open, the peach has lightened even more and the yellow become a little pale, just as sunsets do when they're fading. The blooms are so perfectly painted with streaks of color that it seems some fine other-worldly brush has deemed them to be more artistic than any other creation. This is the reason I love roses so much.
And for today's poem, Edna St. Vincent Millay's voice seems appropriate.
Sonnets 06: No Rose That In A Garden Ever Grew by Edna St. Vincent Millay
No rose that in a garden ever grew,
In Homer's or in Omar's or in mine,
Though buried under centuries of fine
Dead dust of roses, shut from sun and dew
Forever, and forever lost from view,
But must again in fragrance rich as wine
The grey aisles of the air incarnadine
When the old summers surge into a new.
Thus when I swear, "I love with all my heart,"
'Tis with the heart of Lilith that I swear,
'Tis with the love of Lesbia and Lucrece;
And thus as well my love must lose some part
Of what it is, had Helen been less fair,
Or perished young, or stayed at home in Greece.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
This is one of the heartbreaks of growing roses.
Perhaps if I pulled all the bushes out and created a more open-air type of rose garden, it would take care of some of my issues, but I really like the climbers, and obviously, they have to have somewhere to climb. I'm going to visit Witherspoon Rose Culture, a nursery that handles nothing but roses and is a wealth of information, as soon as I can, but in the meantime, I think I'm going to have to cut them all back, which breaks my heart.
The other frustration I'm having lately is dealing with my backyard gardens. I worked on rebuilding the soil last year so that I could start a "cottage garden" on the sunny edge of my natural area. I've planted some bulbs, put in more than thirty packages of seeds (another ten packages this past weekend), and have nursed it along, but it's drier than the moon out there and just as cracked. I'm going to have to put in just plants/flowers that will deal with dry shade.
If there's anyone out there who could offer advice, I'm open to suggestions!
Today's poems is not about the frustrations with roses, but rather about why we grow them to begin with . . .
Roses by George Eliot
You love the roses - so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!
Friday, April 30, 2010
And once I get into town where the college is located, I pass one of my favorite gardens.
Every once in a while when the weather is warm, the woman who owns the garden is outside weeding or watering her plants. I've longed to stop and ask her if I can look at the back gardens that I get only brief glimpses of as I glide by (I always slow down when I'm passing her house), but I don't want to scare her. I come by very early in the morning, and I know that sometimes when I see her, she's not yet out of her bathrobe. Someday, I'll stop and we'll talk gardening.
Her bearded irises are in bloom, lining the driveway with their dark purple heads glistening with the morning dew. Against the driveway side of the little house, deep purple clematis vines snake up white latticework. The clematis are fat and healthy, and I'm jealous of them because no matter how hard I try, I cannot grow them (I "settle" with my climbing roses). In the backyard, I can see more irises and splatches of other colors, but that little glimpse just sweetens my appetite for more.
Here's one of Rita Dove's poems, appropriately titled to fit this blog . . .
The Secret Garden by Rita Dove
I was ill, lying on my bed of old papers,
when you came with white rabbits in your arms;
and the doves scattered upwards, flying to mothers,
and the snails sighed under their baggage of stone . . .
Now your tongue grows like celery between us:
Because of our love-cries, cabbage darkens in its nest;
the cauliflower thinks of her pale, plump children
and turns greenish-white in a light like the ocean’s.
I was sick, fainting in the smell of teabags,
when you came with tomatoes, a good poetry.
I am being wooed. I am being conquered
by a cliff of limestone that leaves chalk on my breasts.
Rita Dove, “The Secret Garden” from Yellow House on the Corner (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989). Copyright ©1989 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Yellow House on the Corner (1989)
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
As always, a poem to associate with my subject. Today's choice is perfect: Emily Dickinson's "For Every Bird A Nest."
For every Bird a Nest --
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round --
Wherefore when boughs are free --
Households in every tree --
Pilgrim be found?
Perhaps a home too high --
The little Wren desires --
Perhaps of twig so fine --
Of twine e'en superfine,
Her pride aspires --
The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house --
Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?
Monday, April 26, 2010
The drive from Dallas--more than two hours--was rainy and misty, and the bluebonnets Lady Bird Johnson had arranged to have planted on the sides of most Texas roads many years ago were not quite in bloom. But all along the highway, some color shown through the rain to remind us that spring had hit Texas weeks earlier. Azaleas, just about over their blooming season; some Black-eyed Susans (early, I think!); and in the small town of Carthage: roses.
It amazes me that roses bloom just about everywhere, in every type of soil, and even in places where no other flower dare show its face. But there is one difference: the roses that bloom in the poorer parts of Carthage appear to hold on determinedly, even to the point of grabbing the nearest permanent structure and sticking in their thorny fingers to hang on to that structure long after human beings have abandoned it. We saw red-red roses against abandoned shacks, climbing along the ruins of cement stairs that led to nowhere, and one hardy climber rose into the skinny branches of a tree starved for water, spilling its blossoms where the leaves should have been, climbing so high that it seemed the rose had taken over for what the tree could no longer produce.
The town of Carthage has endured racism and poverty, yet their city square boasted an elaborate gazebo donated long ago by a book club. The square, embroidered with full-blossomed azaleas, is the brightest color in Carthage -- except for some houses on the other side of town that played host to rose gardens of a different hue.
Those "wealthier" rose gardens, squared and formal, had pink and yellow roses, white and peach colored ones, and shades of blue and purple that don't seem quite normal for roses. Yet though I consider myself a rose lover and ooh'd and aah'd over the richness of those formal gardens, it is that one hardy climber that took over a tree and bled its maroon blossoms high above the shack beside it that stands in my mind.
Today, I'm choosing a poem by Langston Hughes to pay homage to that rose and to the rains that brought us into Carthage.
"April Rain Song" by Langston Hughes
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
On the way out of the drive, the basket hanging on the mailbox called to me. It's still growing, still reaching for the peak as springtime flowers do, and I know it'll be a short time before I'll have to replace the pansies with something that can endure the hot North Carolina sun, so I took a picture of it for today's post.
All morning, the rain has been falling here on campus, creating dark black and mossy green trunks on the trees, defining them with a "weather pen" so they stand out against the new light green growth and the darker underbellies of the shrubs beyond them. The old oaks that grace our courtyard are stately and strong, home to hundreds of squirrels and robins (whose nests must be barren most of the time since the squirrels are robber barons of the gardening world).
Last night, when I walked through the courtyard to my car, one of the fat groundhogs who live in the field behind our buildings brazenly scuffled through the low, ground-covering that banks one of the curved areas near the science building. Several of us spotted him, tubby brown belly and perfectly oval head, standing almost straight up, sniffing the air as if deciding where supper might best be found. I sensed a little fear in the humans around me, because the groundhog stood almost three feet tall, but no fear from him at all. The moment reminded me of a poem by Christopher Marlowe. I have no idea why. But that's what I'll share with you today.
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
In the fields in my area of northern North Carolina, the plows are raking the fields and turning over the cold earth to the springtime sun, readying the dirt for planting. Some farmers use a simple north-to-south technique in plowing, while others go side-to-side/east-to-west, but the ones that are the most geometric start with a very short corner row and go perpendicular from there.
To me, plowing is a metaphor for new beginnings. Plows open the ground to new opportunities, new possibilities, and fresh hope. Just like humans who start new relationships or begin new careers or start taking classes with the goal of creating a new opportunity for themselves, the ground also has a future for which to prepare. With that fresh start also comes preparation for the possible disappointments: not enough rain, bad seeds, too much rain, deer/rabbits/other varmints who eat bright and green leaves/shoots, disease.
I think of my rose bushes and what they look like right now: dark green leaves etched in deep purple or maroon, buds on almost every branch, ready to pop into blossom within the week. I want to enjoy them, to see the tight pink tea roses and the bright (and humorously-named) miniature bushes, and the antique wine-colored rose that has the deepest and most sensual scent. But under those leaves hide a few yellow ones covered in the dreaded black spot. I know that the possibility of that disease spreading is something I can bank on, and that unless I get out into the garden every four or five days and clean it up, treat for the disease, and keep a vigilant eye, I will not be able to enjoy the beauties that the roses should produce. Same for the farmers currently plowing their fields.
As much as I am against smoking and wish that the rest of the world would be, as well, I have to admit that the tobacco fields currently being plowed are using the earth that would normally lie fallow, and those squat, wide-leafed plants will give me an additional green growth to watch sprout and spread throughout the summer months.
This poem, by poet Orval Lund, a retired English professor who lives in Minnesota, was originally published in a collection called Casting Lines: Poems, published by New River Press. It expresses that act of plowing in a way I think the tobacco farmers of this area of the country would understand.
"Plowing" by Orval Lund
Crawling steady at a slight slant,
smooth waves of sliced and shiny earth spiraling
behind, the engine droning, the floor-hum tickling
your feet, the big yellow Moline fenders
defining your cabin, you're much alone
on flat fields, not a tree in sight, seagulls,
a punctuation in the sky, hovering
for worms sliced and tossed atop.
At field's end, you jerk the frayed rope to raise
the plow. The shiny, scoured blades climb
out, the tractor takes its little step
up to sod, sighing from its upright pipe, and you turn
and steer your right wheel toward
the clean square trough, then jerk the cord to drop
the plow; the tractor grunts, hunkers
down, squares its shoulders, snorts and starts again.
Again, the engine's drone, the scrape
of stone on steel. You can feel
your back relax, the tingle in your feet, can smell
dark earth and remember a day
you prepared the field for growth,
the rolling sod streaming back and scouring
shares to a shine, the poetry
of straight black lines across a flat field.
Monday, April 19, 2010
This blog will be dedicated to my garden, as well as to poems about gardening (by both the classic poets, as well as by me).
I decided on the way to work this morning that the North Carolina early morning light really warms my trip. On the way to Roxboro, North Carolina from North Durham, I pass farms, tobacco fields, horse pastures, and rolling hills. Right now, azaleas are in bloom, and one particular house -- a small, vintage ranch home of no particular beauty -- boasted five large azalea bushes, each a different color, and each in full bloom: hot pink, orange, white, purple, and light pink. They looked spectacular from the road as I passed by, shining indiscretely, delicate yet robust, heavy with the early morning dew, and I thought how sad it was that they have little perfume for all their beauty.
I don't have any azaleas in the woody area behind my house. I keep reminding myself to plant some each year (I have lived in this home for four years), but the thought of digging around the numerous tree roots in the back yard deters me every time. If I could, I'd hire someone to plant at least twenty-four various colored azaleas under the pine and elm trees, but for now, I have to enjoy the azaleas I see along my twenty-plus mile ride to work every day.
Instead, I have Ladybanks Roses climbing over an archway at the bottom of the stairs leading to my deck. Their pale yellow mini roses are full and antique looking. They all appear to blossom simultaneously -- overnight, almost -- and hang like drunken Easter hats, spilling over the curves of the arch. They are early spring bloomers and often last a month or so, depending upon the weather. I was first introduced to this climber when we lived in Raleigh, and they grew up and over the gazebo on the second floor of my deck. I don't know how old they were, but I suspect they were almost nine years by the time we moved in. I went by that house the other day, and they were covering the deck like they did when we were there -- a completely sunshiny blanket of privacy that made that area of the deck perfect for a morning coffee and newspaper, even if still in my bathrobe.
For today, this poem is perfect:
"To Spring" by William Blake
O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!
The hills tell each other, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turned
Up to they bright pavilions: issue forth,
And let the holy feet visit our clime.
Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.
O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; our
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languished head,
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.