Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sonnet for a Lost Aster

You’re a plant I think I may know
though your name does not come to my mind.
Between bricks you have chosen to grow,
and your roots will be quite hard to find.

In my path you have fallen like others,
in its crevice you beautifully thrive.
Cranesbill and phox are your brothers--
how I hope I can keep you alive.

Show me your face, oh mystery flower,
tell me your likes and dislikes.
I as your keeper will use all my power
to save you from creatures on hikes.

You may be common, or you may be rare,
You may be my aster—if not, I’ll despair.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

David Austin roses. Need I say more? I'm sending you everything but the scent.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Most bloggers would have posted this photo before Mother's Day, or on Mother's Day. I didn't quite make it, but I still want you to see this shot of my daughter's front garden, a labor of love she has been working on over the four years she has owned her own home. Raising a garden is much like raising a child: it takes time and patience, not to mention a little capital investment and careful cultivation of interests and friends.

Year one was the garden's baby year, when my daughter cradled dreams of what it might eventually contain as she was busy settling into the house itself and feeling lucky just to get the lawn mowed on schedule.

Year two was the toddler year. She carefully removed sod along the sidewalk, envisioning a whole row of Annabelle and Endless Summer hydrangeas forming an exuberant entry to her cottage decor. That was the year she also had new front steps installed and the workmen managed to annihilate half of the hydrangeas, while the huge overhanging walnut tree dispatched many of the other perennials she was trying out. In midsummer, grapefruit-sized hail smashed the rest. Like all intrepid toddlers, the garden pulled itself back up and tried again.

The childhood, year three, was devoted to building strong bones--the installation of the arbor, the planting of clematises and roses, the brick edging of all the front beds, the excavation of the sagging sidewalk sections (for which she has good friends to thank) and the planting of tulips, as the garden vision grew. The back garden grew, too, and she even hosted a garden party.

Now, in year four, she sees the teenage phase of her garden, where she glimpses the maturing promise of the beautiful child she is raising. This year it sent her a lovely tulip greeting well before Mother's Day. Teenagers are like that--never on time. And so maybe I'm still a teenager at heart and that is why I didn't quite get this greeting out to you on time. But maybe it's just that every day is Mother's Day when one raises a garden. Or when one raises a child who raises a garden.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Ceremony

White petals perfume the path
of any bride
who might walk the soft green labyrinth
around the old magnolia tree.
Setting sun gilds
a thrush in throaty warble
and the rooster pheasant struts
his iridescent stuff,
ready for his vows.

Seated on this velvet pew,
I warm the still-cool earth
as confetti
drifts soundlessly to celebrate
this flowered-but-leafless marriage
of time and temperature
that defies natural laws
and some manmade.

Trumpet of cardinal,
flute of robin,
processional in perfect pitch--
I offer up my thankfulness
for the invitation to this ceremony
which arrived in its furry envelope
just days
after the last petals had fallen.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lungwort sounds like something you don't want to have ailing you. Pulmonaria sounds a little less ominous, and so this is one of the plants I like to call by its Latin name. I also call it the "Willie Sutton Plant." This particular variety--which does not even sport the heavily spotted leaves that make other varieties so appealing--apparently thinks I'm trying to imprison it in my garden, and it insists on busting out. It seeds itself down wherever it can, spreading its leaves into fuzzy hemispheres and looking quite lovely during the early summer, but then showing its dark side later in the year when it can look moldy and black. It is not a bank robber, as Willie Sutton was, but it is a habitat robber--and it is currently invading my woodland.

I have, however, put it on parole for now. It is among the earliest bloomers in the spring. Its hairy leaves are not bothered by any creature that I know of, and the detailing of its petals is quite lovely. It is not really a felon, I suppose. Just a misdemeanor. Maybe probation is all that's necessary? My job, as probation officer, is to stop crime before it takes root. Or at least dig out the roots. Time to snap on my badge--I mean, shovel.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Well, this, too, is spring. It can't all be pretty little wildflowers and soft-petalled hellebores. The truth is that in spring we must try to undo what we did the year before, or, in the case of these Hansen Hedge Roses, the years before: namely, not pruning. The hedge roses, I have learned, are supposed to be pruned like any other hedge, snipped into shape with pruning shears just after they bloom in June. I suspected that this was probably the right thing to do from the start, but I just never did it. The hedge row grew taller, and wider, shooting out onto the lawn and spreading over into the vegetable/annual garden, and because it was so vigorous and I was so busy, I just let it. Even after several years of this expansion, the hedge was still quite beautiful, although it was dying out at the bottom where sun could no longer reach the canes. Serious cleaning out was called for.

In early March, before the snow was gone, I started cutting back live canes and cutting out dead ones. In appreciation, the rose canes scratched and stabbed me with abandon. I managed about two hours per day on the project for four days--then walked away and left it all until the lawn was dry enough so that I could drive the truck out to pick up the rose brush. Now, four pickup loads later, the site is neat and manageable. Spring, always portrayed as tender new shoots and the joy of new life, really begins with destruction. It may not be pretty, but it's pretty important.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

From this on March 14....

...to this, on April 6.

The Lenten Rose missed Lent by only a couple of days, an amazing example of perseverance and a testament to our early spring, no doubt. In March, the leaves emerged from winter's leafy mulch sleepy but green, despite bird feeder litter and squirrels thrashing through in all directions. They woke up, stretched, and got right on task.

Most spring flowers are tiny compared to their summer cousins. Hellebores, however, hit six to eight inches with a two-inch bloom that instead of lifting its face to the sun like bloodroot, prefers to look down at the earth--even at those pesky sunflower seeds. I just couldn't get a picture up into the center of this one, though I tried and got sunflower seed hulls stuck to my elbows for my trouble. Not having succeeded, I will have to be satisfied with the sight of white and green amid the winter brown, with the new growth promising a long period of bloom to come, and with the large showy leaves that will grace the shade garden all summer.

So the Lenten Rose missed Lent by a few days--so what? If we had had a late Easter, it would have been right on schedule. I'm going to try to remember that when I neglect to bring in tender plants before the first frost: if we had a late frost, I would have been right on schedule. I'm cutting the Lenten Rose some slack--and while I'm at it, I'm cutting myself some slack, too. It's a good way to begin the gardening season. Or any season.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Autumn Dreams

The big yellow backhoe's teeth
a clump of concrete
that used to be her front stoop
as the driver cocked an ear.
"Save it," she shouted
into the November gale.
The man in the battered Carhart jacket
shook his head,
but did not drop her treasure
onto the dump truck
with the footings of the old house
and the pieces of its cement floor
tossed into the truck
like tiles in a Scrabble box.

She pointed.
The backhoe swung southward,
work-gloved hands pulling the levers
and settling her prize
onto the clay soil
like an egg into a carton.

She cringed.
"No...not there...
And turn it upside down, could you?"

The driver smiled,
charging by the minute, after all.
He leveled
the flat surface of her prize,
angled it just so.
Clank. Clank. Rrrrr.
She lusted after her own backhoe.

Autumn dreams conceived perfection
from this squared concrete confection.
Viewing platform or urn stand?
rock feature or fountain grand?
Spring brings the chance to lust anew--
if she only had a backhoe, her dreams would come true.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Barbie Doll of the Patio, Pretty in Pink and Green, Perennial-like Annual--that's the Abutilon hybrid "Kristen's Pink" Flowering Maple. It is not really a maple at all, but its leaves resemble maple leaves (loosely resemble maple leaves, to my eye.) If you like hibiscus but don't want to bother moving them in for the winter, then out again in the spring and possibly battling white spider mites in between, this annual's for you.

I bought this one for $2.69 in a 4" pot last spring on the recommendation of a friend who had also never had one but who thought it was so beautiful that we each had to have one. This purchase proved to be a fast grower and a lovely counterpoint to low-growing annuals I use in some of my deck planters. It burst with paper-like pink flowers nearly all summer long. Mine grew to more than two feet tall, although it was rated as a medium height (16" max.) plant. Given plenty of water, it was surprisingly heat tolerant despite its delicate demeanor.

Because I neglected to bring in any cuttings last fall, I'm going to have to look for another one this year. I suspect my friend will buy one, too. We will ooh and aah over our memories of this lovely little gem on the way to the greenhouse. We will both decide to buy at least two.

Kirsten's Pink: Purveyor of Prettiness. Papery but Persistently Blooming. Probably Impossible to Find This Spring.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

As the Ides of March approach, it is hard to believe I will ever again experience a summer garden. The outdoors is soggy, brown and altogether uninviting. This is the time of year when I wish I had written down all of the things I wanted to get done in this year's garden--but I didn't. Photos of last year's garden are worth at least a hundred words, however. For instance, in this one I am reminded that my lady's mantle (alchemilla mollis) has been taking over what used to be a row of roses and so I need to divide those plants and probably buy some new roses to fill in the row of what used to be hybrid tea roses. I will buy small shrub roses this time around, so as to keep a more constant color on this side of the border. The photo also reminds me that I lost a dark blue delphinium last year, since only a light blue and a medium blue remain, and so that, too, will need to be on my "to buy" list. The pergola is likely to need a new coat of stain this year, at least on top, because I was noticing some white flakes drifting down onto the pavers last summer.

The main thing I notice in this photo, however, is the tall row of Hanson Hedge Roses in the background. Those. From 20 little seedling a few years back, I now have a true hedge, over six feet tall, which is glorious when it blooms in June in a mass of single, pink roses. Unfortunately, the bushes are getting leggy and not-so-pretty at the bottom. A severe haircut is in order. This will mean a smaller bloom this year, or perhaps no bloom at all, but it has to be done because the hedge is impossible to mow around, is infringing on the roses between itself and the pergola, and is getting unsightly. Into the soggy, brown and altogether inviting outdoors I must go--as soon as the rain stops--and begin my pruning. Dividing the lady's mantle later on will seem like a small task by comparison. Or maybe I will just conveniently forget that I ever looked at this picture and was reminded that it should be done. After all, a row of lacy yellow lady's mantle can be a lovely sight in the summer garden.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Winter is finally melting away, and unfortunately the Christmas lights are still hanging--what a winter it has been! Before it started, I spent a cold October afternoon making a large grapevine wreath to hang over the fireplace. Having cut more vines than I needed, I decided to wind the leftovers into a ball, which I thought to use as a small garden ornament this spring. As Christmas approached, it occurred to me that by encircling it with wire a couple of times I could hang it from a hook like a giant tree ornament. Better construction in October would have yielded a more cohesive ball shape, but this one, loose as it is, has withstood the rigors of this unforgettable winter. I'm way past ready for the Christmas lights to disappear, but I will miss seeing the grapevine ornament from my kitchen window. Soon, however, it will go to the garden where it will no doubt provide a home for some kind of unwanted creature. Hmmm--what a summer it will be!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I didn't know wasps were living high in the black cherry tree just east of the living room window until the leaves were gone and I saw their nest. Like wood ash pasted together into a wrinkled paper, like a bubble blown out of gray silk, like a small, dark balloon caught in the tree--there it was. I had visions of getting it down and bringing it indoors, an objet d'art for the winter, but it was too high. I watched all winter as gradually it began to break apart, small bits of it drifting down onto the snow like pieces of half-burned waste paper. I didn't see it crash. The papery outer layer landed about ten feet from the inner hive, pictured here in all of its wonderful complexity.

Why create such a complicated house when no honey is being stored? I think of this when I think about why people build such complicated houses--houses much bigger than the people who live in them actually need most of the time. Our houses are built for eventualities: for Christmas dinner, for a graduation party, for when the relatives come to stay. The rest of the time, we use only a fraction of our space. Wasps, too, build for eventuality--the eventual, yearly, need to preserve the queen so that she can hibernate and produce a few other queens to perpetuate the species. All of the worker bees perish. On the other hand, wasps use every millimeter in their houses, with every worker bee contributing to the continuance of the hive. Altruism or just genetics? Whatever the case, the hive returns to the earth just as our houses of wood return to the earth, except that ours probably make a louder crash.

The wasps in this fallen nest are dead and gone, the queen is off somewhere hibernating, but I still do not want to pick up this little architectural masterpiece, memories of summer stings being what they are. Since it is lying on the path behind my shade garden, I will have to pick it up and move it eventually--but I will probably use a shovel. I think of burying it, but then realize that if left alone somewhere it will probably provide valuable food for some other creature. Today, while the sun is warm and the snow is melting, I will carry it into the woods and set it down for the ages, however long the ages might be for wasps. Time is what we make of it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 1. First Day of Meteorological Spring. Is that just a gimmick for TV meteorologists? Something to give them another way to fill up air time? Perhaps, but hasn't March 1 always felt like it should be the first day of spring and hasn't March 20 or 21 always felt like an arbitrary date?

The first day of spring is the first day you have hope that the snow will actually melt sometime soon. It is the day you can drive somewhere with the confidence that the roads will be dry and summerlike and that you can be pretty confident they will be in the same condition for the trip home. It is the day that you see the first snow shrink back away from tree trunks and building foundations and you see green grass peeking out below. It is the day that you see the shrubs you planted last fall poking up through the icy snow crust. It is the first time your dog comes in with muddy feet rather than snowy feet (okay--this isn't such a desirable thing, but it's still a sign of spring...) It's the day you notice some yellow on the finches at your feeder. The day you see the leaves perk up on your rhododendrons. The day you notice buds on azaleas and lilacs, though they've been there all winter. The first day of spring comes when you feel the energy that springs from more sun, when you notice that there is still some daylight after you come home from work at night, or after dinner, and you just want to get out and go for a walk or do something outdoors because you want to seize that daylight--as if it might be taken away from you again. It is the day you go wild and unzip your coat.

The first day of spring is the day you get the gut-sensation that new life is not only possible, but is a force beyond your control and you realize it's fun to be out of control. It is a sense that you are part of something larger than you are--yet you are happy to be stirred into the brew. The first day of spring feels like the first day of happiness, like the last day of unhappiness--though you were probably quite happy in winter, too, at times. Just not all the time. Like at the end.

Even if the First Day of Meteorological Spring is a gimmick, bring it on. Just the thought of it warms the air time I am filling by chipping away ice in By-the-Calendar winter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The tragically browned and snow-drifted arbor of my February 11 blog is magically transformed into a happy burst of color here. Are we having an early spring in Minnesota? Hardly. This shot was taken last summer. The foreground greenery is a clematis paniculata, working up a head of steam for its September bloom. Like all other vines, it has no intention of climbing up the arbor as it should, but is determined to twist itself all around the gate. Because it is such a vigorous grower, it can do this in the space of a short week while I am not paying attention. I tell myself that I wanted it to grow on the gate, but I secure some of the vines to the arbor in order to make myself feel that I am in charge, which, of course, I am not.

The deep pink beauty on the other side of the arbor, variety unknown by me--it was one of those end-of-the-season-unmarked purchases--chose to spread out in the opposite direction, toward the day lilies and miniature roses, leaving that side of the gate free for opening and closing. So, do I open it and close it? Of course not, because then Flag, my spaniel, would have to go around through the flowers instead of staying on the path under the arbor.

An arbor with a gate--lovely idea, but practical? Not so much. Looking at pictures of the summer garden during the depths of winter--a lovely idea and eminently practical if one wishes to maintain one's cheery attitude. Besides, I'm getting up that head of steam needed to propel me into springtime gardening. Looking at summer pictures every day stokes the fire that melts the snow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Late Breakfast

Soft rime
tickles the pillow
that rests on earth's bed.

craft clean sheets
across the lawn, neatly spread.

Feathered frost
ruffles night's comforter,
day dawns in gingerbread.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rosemary and cacti--what an unlikely combination to the eyes of a Midwestern gardener. As one who has grown rosemary in a pot on the deck, who used it sparingly in my cooking so as not to damage the plant, and who tried unsuccessfully to winter it as a house plant, I was quickly taken in by the beauty of this small mountain of an herb on display in front of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, AZ, last week. While I've read that rosemary likes heat and good drainage, and that it has long, deep roots, I somehow never imagined it as a companion for cactus. I think of it as a friend of plants like basil, dill and chives--because that is how I usually grow it. Time to expand my thinking (and since planting outdoor pots is still three months away here in Zone 4, I have plenty of time to do this...) For now, I'm thinking that planting some cacti in my pots next spring would be great for keeping squirrels away. Better yet, by adding cacti I might end up with rosemary like a mountain instead of rosemary like a sprig. I'll settle for rosemary like a hill--even a knoll--because as I write this, I look out at the snow and I know I'm not in Phoenix anymore.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Into the cave
of winter
I steal,
the cobwebs of cold
hold me back
just inside the gaping mouth.

Under the crown
of snow's bright hope,
I take one careful step
and then another,
bending low
how far to go.

Then, summer's neat crochet
of brown-leaved lace
tickles my face,
wraps me in last year's shawl--
spring's promise arched
in the grotto's memory
of fall.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You build a birdhouse and they don't come. Stands Kevin Costner's logic on its head, yet that is just what has happened with this lovely little house. Built by my husband out of scrap lumber a few years back, it hangs near the bird feeders, in a nicely wooded area near the garden, but no one moves in, except possibly mice--and why shouldn't they? It's there for the taking. We have offered it to the world, and someone in the world has taken us at our word. But not birds.

Wrong sized hole? Wrong perch? Wrong type of tree? Wrong materials? We don't know. We only know that it seems anyone should be able to build a birdhouse out of anything, yet that is not true. Fortunately, a friend has given me a book on building birdhouses--fancy birdhouses, at that. Maybe that's where this one went wrong: no cupola, no front porch, no porcelain doorknob perch, no gable trim, no shingles. Then again, maybe it is just that the housing bubble hit avian real estate even before it hit our markets. Foreclosure looms for this house. Rehab is in sight. A fresh coat of paint and it will be good as new. We won't even have to fix the plumbing. Clean it and they will come. Birdhouse of Dreams.