Poetry and Gardening

Musings from the days of a creative writer/gardener with a true appreciation for nature, meditation, and poetry.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Ride: Misty Horses and Secret Gardens

On my way to work every morning, I listen to NPR and just put the car on cruise control (I have WAY too many tickets!).  I pass ponds resplendent with a gaggle of geese and swans, pastures where horses graze and make perfect silhouettes against the mist, clean green meadows and rolling hills. This morning, the combination of warm ground and cool air created a low-hanging mist that floated over the geese and ducks and hovered around the edges of the pond where the horses graze. It was so ethereal that I stopped to take a picture to capture the moment.

 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

Spring: Climbing Roses and New Robin's Nest

Every day something new is born in my garden.  This morning as I left, I had to take a few pictures of the climbing roses on my front porch.  It's the first time they've bloomed since I planted them four years ago.  They're deep red and at least four small blossoms to the end of each shoot.  Now that I know they don't like to be cut back, maybe I'll get blooms every year.  Between the roses and irises, I have lots of color out front now, but the greatest surprise was in the backyard.  A robin flew from under the LadyBanks roses over my archway, so I poked around and realized the reason she was there:  a nestful of newly born babies.  Yup, spring is here!

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 --

Ah Aristocracy!

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

Texas: Blue Bonnets and Roses that climb trees

This weekend, my husband and I traveled to East Texas to visit family members he hadn't known existed.  It was the first time I'd visited his home town of Carthage, and though he's prepared me ahead of time, I could not have imagined how much the trip would have affected both of us.

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

Spring Rain: May Flowers

Before I left for work this morning, I went out onto the porch to check to see if the hanging baskets needed watering, and it was sprinkling softly:  that fine light mist that the flowers love.  If they could have spoken, my pansies would have simply sighed . . . ahhhhh.  They lifted their maroon and pink heads out of their baskets, their faces open and welcoming, more live than I've seen them in the past couple of weeks.  "We needed this!" they were crying.  Instead of watering them with tap water, I moved the Gerbera Daisy, the pots of pansies, and the hosta that I need to repot and placed them all in rows on the stairs where they could get a thirst-quencher.

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

Christopher Marlowe

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

Plowing: Turning over a new field

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

The first one: Blake on Spring

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.