May 26th, 2006

Hope–and spring–springs eternal

It’s spring–really spring this time, not just the spring the calendar declares on March 20th or 21st, which usually isn’t springlike at all here.

I write about my garden every now and then, as you may have noticed. But don’t conclude that I’m some sort of garden freak, or even a garden expert. I most assuredly am not.

In fact, growing up, I didn’t know much about gardening at all. Oh, we had a few plants in the yard–very few. The neighborhood boasted some flowers, mostly tulips and daffodils and some annuals like marigolds. I only knew the names of the first two; I was fairly garden illiterate. No one I knew had a perennial garden, and I didn’t even know the difference between annuals and perennials.

By the way, this might be as good a time as any to introduce my perennial joke (that is to say, my joke about perennials):

Q: What’s the definition of a perennial?

A: A plant that comes back every year, if it had lived.

Yet, quite a few years back, I had a family and a house and a yard and I decided I’d spruce it up a bit with a bit of gardening. I started with vegetables–in much of New England, when you say you have a garden, a vegetable garden is what you actually mean.

I knew nothing about growing vegetables or growing much of anything else, but I got a bunch of books out of the library and set forth. After a couple of years of this I learned the bitter truth of vegetable gardening in northern New England, at least as neophytes such as myself often experience it, and that is: you get a ton of green tomatoes, and I don’t like them (even though I bought a book of recipes for green tomatoes and gamely tried a few), and you can’t even give zucchini away.

So I switched to flowers, which I like better anyway. Books again; I learned the perennial/annual distinction (duh!) and ordered a bunch of plants from a mail order catalogue because in those days it was much harder to find interesting perennials at the local garden store.

I thereby learned the truth of the above joke. Much of what I planted didn’t return, and the portion that did was random. Speaking of random, when I decided to plant a bed of poppies, I ordered six plants that were supposed to be a paler version of the traditional ones–a beautiful peachy color instead of the usual flame red. They arrived, I planted, and when they flowered it turned out I’d been sent five peach ones and one red. They looked rather odd together, not at all what I’d planned. Not at all what I’d planned–remember that as your gardening mantra.

But in the end it turned out to be A Good Thing, because those peachy ones died after that first year, while the red one lived. Turns out that those specialty items tend to be far less hardy than the originals, which have stood the test of time and evolution (hmmm, there must be a message there). The red ones thrived for about fifteen years before they finally died after an especially wet and cold winter.

That particular garden never really got going, though. Perhaps something about the soil, the light, my tender loving care–who knows? But when I moved to my present home I took custody of a fairly well-established perennial garden, or set of gardens.

My home is actually quite modest, as is the yard. But my predecessor was a gardening fiend. There’s a sun garden in front, a semishade rock garden on the side, and a shade garden in back. When I was looking for a home I was so happy to find one that I didn’t think much about the gardens, but that first spring-summer in residence I realized I had a choice: let it all go to seed, as it were; or rise to the occasion.

I’ve tried to do the latter. I’ve moved things around, cleaned things up, planted new ones, replaced those that died out. And I have to say I think it looks pretty good, although I sometimes resent the chore I’ve taken on as a sort of inheritance. But I love looking at the garden, and I love the compliments I get–just don’t ask me too many gardening questions!

This is all a long-winded intro (long winded? moi?) to my central point, which is this: I love this particular time in the garden year. It’s been raining (as it often does in late spring), so things are lush and green, not dried out as they often get later on.

For this is the time of garden hope: everything will be wonderful this year, of course! I can tell. The weeds haven’t really taken hold yet. There are hardly any bugs in sight. Those repulsive Japanese beetles and voracious lily beetles that take over every year and force me to confront the toxic spray decision won’t come back this year, right? Right.

The first flowering plants are in delicate bloom:

After my dog of fifteen years died and I decided not to take on the pet responsibility right now, I got this one, who chases a metal butterfly in the rock garden. I don’t usually like cutesy little garden sculptures, but this one–well:


And then there are the irises. When I moved in, one of the pleasant surprises was a couple of irises of a very spectacular variety. I don’t know their name, but I did a search once and I think it’s “Witch of Endor.” At any rate, they look like this, only much much more beautiful (the color is much deeper and richer than it photographs):


Last spring those iris plants came up far more plentifully than in the past. I had two sections of them with about fifteen plants each. I was eagerly anticipating their beautiful bloom, so I waited. And waited. And it turns out that all I got was foliage–not a single flower.

No one could tell me exactly what had happened. So this year I watched that plentiful that foliage come up with more trepidation–would they, or wouldn’t they? And, sure enough, here they are, about to bloom. Although it’s clear that most of the plants still aren’t going to flower this year, but some clearly will:


I can’t wait.

You might say, “get a life.” But I think I have one, and flowers happen to have become part of it. A person could do worse than looking forward to the return of spring.

8 Responses to “Hope–and spring–springs eternal”

  1. Dr. Joe Says:

    Thank you for a cogent and logical explanation of your “conversion,” so to speak. I remain a liberal because … truly, for me, hope springs eternal.

    I read and listen to what the neocons have to say and surely am concerned about the Muslim extremists — I lived almost a decade in Saudi Arabia, and knew some, I believe — but I also see and fully understand seriously mean-spirited remarks by the current neocons in control of our country and am even beginning to doubt the full “meaning” of 9/11.

    Thank you for a GREAT blog!

    Joe

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Well it seems if I want those irises to really flower, I’m going to have to do some work. Thanks for the tips–I figured somebody here would know a solution.

  3. class-factotum Says:

    Gardening IS a life! My only frustration is that after five years in my house and three years of a lovely garden, I have yet to win my neighborhood’s Yard of the Month award.

    I’m convinced it’s fixed.

  4. Ymarsakar Says:

    Profitable, not funny.

  5. confusedforeigner Says:

    I’ll soon be back working with people who’ve cultivated and propagated crops for generations and now can’t sell their crops at market prices because of US & European agricultural subsidies.

    They will soon be forced to sow terminator gene containing seeds courtesy of Monsanto and will be paying this lovely US companyfor generations more.

    It’s a funny old world ain’t it?

  6. Senescent Wasp Says:

    A second to EOD Dan’s explosive advice. With perennials, especially iris, the Maidenform Strategy is always a good idea at the end of growing season.

    Maidenform= Lift and seperate

  7. slickdpdx Says:

    I like the metal doggie!

  8. EOD Dan Says:

    My Grandfather cultivated irises with a passion and I believe he even developed his own breed at one point. Having taken up the family passion for irises, I can tell you exactly what to do to get them all to flower next year. When the fall comes, you have to dig them up and spread them out. Give some away if necessary. Irises spread from the roots and the new plants will eventually choke themselves to the point where they don’t have the resources to flower. They will do so occasionally anyway, but you get a much better display if you thin them out every couple years.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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