Posts Tagged ‘gardening
reclaimed pavers, pea gravel, stones collected from our travels as well as dug up from the garden beds themselves lining the edges to a height of 6″ +/- depending upon the size of the stones and the stamina of m. who laid them down, 20 varieties of succulents (okay, maybe 15, but still), yucca, birds of paradise, castor plants, several variety of bromeliads, honeysuckle (one yellow and white, the other pink and white), two azaleas (one pink, the other fuschia), red shower grass, broad leaf philodendron, ivy, ferns that grow like weeds, 13 rose bushes (pink, yellow, red, several bi-colored–mais oui–, white, salmon–5 are climbers, 2 are tea, and the rest are floribunda), bearded irises in yellow/white and purple and one variegated iris with purple blossoms, lion’s mane (orange) and lilies–day (yellow and orange ones), and night (white like moonlight), naked ladies (amaryllis belladonna), agapantha (plain and variegated), orange/yellow hibiscus, pink, red, white oleander, a stone bench overlooking the canyon (the edge of which is lined by towering pine trees of at least 3 varieties, the consequence of which is pine cones scattered throughout the garden), pink ivy geraniums along the v-ditch, a 12″ high by 10″ wide pine tree stump in the middle of the succulent garden, spider plant, a white privacy fence, numerous geckos, bees, ants, earthworms, butterflies (in season), opussums, coyotes, the occasional mountain lion, white tail deer, field mice, rabbits and homo sapiens, the sound of a water fountain, the rush of the wind coming up the canyon, rubber tires on the road bed, a car horn, morning, noon, afternoon, evening sunlight, moonlight (full, wax, wane), sodium vapor lights at night, the howl of coyotes, the barking of dogs, a conversation between swimmers at the poolhouse across the canyon carried to your ears on the wind, the sound of a spade pushed into the dirt, sweat on your brow, your sunglasses slipping down your nose, a finger pricked by a thorn, dirt under your fingernails, a sore back from bending, thighs straining from squatting and then standing, knees pebbled with gravel from kneeling and weeding, standing and leaning on the handle of the rake surveying your domain.
there was no doubt that i had to attack the back garden today. it’s a long narrow space, probably 60′ long by 15′ wide (the house sits on the edge of a coastal canyon) and i’d ignored it for much too long.
it was planted to take care of itself should we take a few weeks off from maintaining it and most everything is in pots (the ground is nothing but rock, good for stability in earthquake-prone southern California, miserable for a gardener. there’s sprinkler system for most of the plants, but i still drag out the kink-free (i love that!) hose every week and give the plants a good soaking, especially in the summer when it’s so dry.
so. when i’ve set a date with the garden i like to start early when the fog is just starting to pull back, it’s little wispy fingers slithering down this pine tree or a last little pull on the live oak we planted 6 years ago and which is finally starting to cast some shade. as i’m sure you know working in the garden, no matter what you plan to do, is composed of much up & down movement–your thighs get an amazing workout.
there is a weeping eucalyptus next to our house that hides our garden shed from our neighbors backyard — a natural fence, hey good neighbor! — and i had to drag the ladder down from the garage and trim the top of it so it didn’t act as an access point to our roof for a subset of mammals that make the canyon their home. there is nothing worse than being woken up by raccoons playing on your roof (trust me on this.)
a boundary faux split-rail fence keeps you, should be so inclined (not a joke), from tipping off over the edge and rolling down the hillside. years ago, when our dachshund, nicky, was still alive, we used to let him out the backdoor to do his thing and one day, he didn’t come back when called–i heard faint, faraway doggy whimper and when i finally figured out where it was coming from, i peered over the edge of the canyon edge and there he was, probably 50 or 60 feet from me, laying on his side on a ledge. m., by this time frantic (and in his morning robe and p.j.s) jumped the fence and butt-slid down the slope to the dog.
i had to throw m. a rope so he, carrying poor little nicky (actually not so little, he was a standard and weighed in at about 35 lbs.), could work himself back up the canyon. nicky had a little scratch and m., of course, was muscle sore for days afterward. but it appears that i’ve lost my thread here, so, yes, the fog lifted and the sun started coming over the hill above us (we’re on the western face of the canyon) and the sweat started rolling into my eyes (that salt just the slightest irritant and i wiped my glove hand across my eyes to sweep it away), clipping, cutting, trimming, thinning, weeding, stand up, squat down (a moment of dizziness and i had to sit down on the ground so i wouldn’t fall down,uh, i really mean faint — damn blood pressure pills) clippers in hand, use them, lock them, put them in my back pocket while i pick up what i’ve cut back and toss it into the gravel path…do you really care at this point?
many years ago, m. & i were in paris and doing some gallery-hopping on the Left Bank and we fell into a smart looking gallery with a show of erik desmazière’s beautiful dry-point etchings. as happens, we fell in love with a little print titled le petit jardinière and made the decision then and there to add his work to our collection. a handsome, muscular, curly-haired young gardener in knee breeches and pouf-y shirt, is carrying a large pot with a blooming a protea. he’s facing the viewer and has a look of such seduction and innocence (but not) that you think to yourself that you would never get any gardening done if he was helping you.
which is what i thought of when i saw the little lizard in the above photo, he did a few push-ups and shot a quick look at me, blinked (was that a wink?) and disappeared into the plant next to the rock he’d been sunning himself on (an unavoidable sentence ending with preposition, but what is one to do?)
i will admit, in print, that i am not a fan of j.d. salinger’s work. that little red book of post-pubescent anxiety & revolt (the mao book of quotations for teenagers since 1951.) it seems sacrilegious, doesn’t it? & yes, of course i read it when i was a teenager, it may have been entertaining then (i liked their names, i remember that; esme, franny, zooey, holden, for god’s sake, they all sounded so connecticut & i guess that was aspirational, you know, to have a name that indicated you were of a class, one that was not yours.) but i can not tell you a thing about any of the books, not the essence or the ‘take-away’ feeling; i couldn’t even lay out a cliff notes version were i forced too (teenagers suffer, there are tears, there is revolt, there is hugging & maybe smoking on the sly, was there sex? i don’t know & it seems never cared enough to remember.)
there is much to be said for the solitary day spent gardening (in spite of the ache-y muscles the following day.) there are so many moments, vignettes, words of encouragement (& words of wonder & awe) that are like the little death (la petite mort for you francophiles); it may account for the melancholy that sloshes around your ankles, a broken pipe carrying flora dreams away, that sadness that that moment may not be repeated (or ever feel as sublime.)
i really like the traveler’s insurance tv commercial with the dog & the bone, you may watch it by clicking here. they’ve come out with a second one that i feel is also very good (& if i were in the market for insurance, i would definitely consider them, kudos to the advertising company that developed these commercials.) they’re terrific visceral advertising (& beautiful to boot.)
favorite color: i’ve always said green, but of course that was when i wasn’t saying red or blue or yellow (not to mention all of the million or so variations on those themes.) i loathe gender-specific responses & the pigeon-holing parents do to make sure their daughters love pink/purple & their boys do not. & don’t even get me started on all of the companies that insist that those are the colors little girls, but not little boys, should love, love, love (i reserve my deepest disrespect, disregard, disgust for their ignorance & promotion of what is right & what is wrong for little children, for criminy’s sake.)
when i first learned that i could make lavendar by mixing red, blue & white paint together (i believe i was 8 or 9 at the time) & it was in the basement playroom of my grandmother patrick’s house in springfield, illinois, i was, without hyperbole, ecstatic. the world turned lavender for me that day (no schadenfreude here, but my god, what a sign, & in retrospect if you’d been reading those kind of signs then, that one would have been a cold splash of water in your sleepy face.)
don’t you miss john denver? i know, i know what you’re thinking, “robert, you’ve gone too far now, i can’t support you on this, i just can’t, he’s too sweet a singer, too saccharine, just too too too.” but in his defense, & particularly if you ever grew up in the country, the wide open plains, or those majestic rocky mountains, or the hills & dales of any other landscape sparsely populated, grandly innocent, virgin & unspoiled (& even if you lived in a large metropolis & dreamed of those places,) then you know what i mean when i say his voice captured all of that, a clear brook, the sweet sound of the dinner bell, the fresh air. the innocence & the heartbreak, the love of life flowed so easily from his blond, blue-eyed-ness (those round wire-framed glasses say it all.)
last night when i was walking the dogs i tried to remember what i’d been reading in the new issue of the atlantic & couldn’t. oh, i did dig around in the dark cobwebby interiors & dusty corners where neurons & atoms & micro, micro synapses of information are doing whatever it is they do, but nothing. i even tried to not think about it, hoping by turning my mind to other things (anything) what i wanted to remember would float to the top of my consciousness & “ping,” just like that, what i wanted to retrieve would be at the forefront of the carousel (the lending library carousel, you know) & i would pluck it out & say, “ah, yes, that weighty matter.” but alas, it was not to be & until i laid my head on my three stacked pillows to read again before drifting off to sleep, & turned to the dog-eared page where i had left off, did i then know why i couldn’t remember: i had been reading about justin bieber.
<insert deep sigh here> it’s why sweets are so bad for you; all taste, no nutrition.
there is nothing, particularly in the southern california garden, that for me represents the advent of spring more than the sudden explosion of new rose leaves, fleshy, leathery and bloody, that cordovan red, as perfect as a piece of hand-dipped dark chocolate.
to be continued…
it was one of those exquisite spring days yesterday. i spent the morning working in the garden (clearing ivy, honeysuckle, thistles & other intrusive plants not intended in the garden’s original plan [at the least only peripherally] & rearranging pots, adding fertilizer) making sure i took lots of little breaks to admire my work (& to rest my aching back) all this work the downside to a year-long growing season & an extra rainy winter.
that afternoon, on a walk through our hillside neighborhood, i carefully composed several photographs utilizing the camera in a mobile phone with the thought that i would post them during the walk as an ‘in the moment’ record of my activity.
the atmosphere sparkled with sunlight, glinting & shimmering against the little shards of mirror-like moisture/smog/onshore ocean air that makes the light in southern california particularly attractive (to artists, photographers, writers.) i wanted to capture that sparkling light & hoped that its elusive quality would translate itself through the phone’s camera lens as if i had been able to capture the moment a conjurer makes his beautiful assistant disappear in a wisp of smoke (& mirror.)
with the sun as bright as it was, i ducked among the shade thrown by ficus trees along the sidewalk to check whether or not what i was seeing was what the camera was. i wasn’t sure that it was capturing the mosaic quality of the valley below or the pixelated light, the camera’s playback screen not as clear as my digital camera’s so i held back on the ‘in the moment’ aspect, but continued composing, pushing the o.k. button, ever hopeful.
interestingly, both gardening & walking have been solitary pursuits, & i have been left with my own thoughts & dreams & ruminations, only the thrum of the occasional car passing by in the canyon below or speeding up the hill–birdsong punctuating the script.
i faced the steep uphill walk, its vanishing point a shady goal from the relentless (but pleasantly familiar) sunlight, a warm, friendly arm around my shoulders. i thought of a drafting class that i took in 8th or 9th grade, taught by mr. ________, the crew-cut, button-down, chino-wearing ‘shop’ teacher who gently allowed me my incompetencies in wood/metal shop class (in case any of us were not cut out for further academic study, technical school instead) & encouraged & admired my drafting flourishes with kind words & high marks.
a young star pine (aka norfolk island pine) at the top of the hill drew me to its gallant handsomeness, branches bursting from its trunk in a joyous hallelujah of matter over mind (will we see more clearly after death?) a joyous evocation of the beauty of nature/the nature of beauty.
i heard the beating of my heart in counterpoint to the beating of a bird’s wings, the rush & rustle of the wind on the upbeat; the sun, even, harmonically shimmering, twinkling, tinkling.
i looped around the top of the hill through a more manicured community, each shrub, tree, lawn, pavement, shadow elegantly topiaried & espaliered; all bending nature to do man’s bidding; thinking that for now, we may believe we can see through the lens of this life, but darkly, darkly.