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.