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Tag: garden woes

of walls and bridges…

before: when sunlight had a place to play

been thinking a lot about walls and bridges this week, because it seems the only thing to do about a wall is to try to build a bridge. something of a wall––a six-foot-three-inch, solid-cedar wall––was dropped into our little world this week. it’s a wall i’d known was coming. a wall i’d been warned was on the wishlist all of three years ago. that’s a lot of breath-holding, spring to fall to summer, again and again and again. but held it i did. savored every drop of sunlight shafting in. counted my blessings in dapplings and plashes of sunshine’s incandescence, delighted in the way the light danced upon the wicker and the shingled walls of the little room we call “the summer house.” stood there just soaking in the breeze.


it’s gone now.

and once i cried (the day i heard it’d been ordered, paid for, and soon to be arriving), once i dried those tears, i did what mightier folk than me have shown me what to do, and how to do it: how to build a bridge. starts with chin up, and turn the better cheek. if a wall was coming and i couldn’t stop it, i pretty much shrugged my shoulders and decided i’d take it like a grownup, take it with as open a heart as i could muster. and i’ve been mustering. all summer we’ve been gardening side by side, my next-door-neighbor friend and i. i dug up all the plants that wouldn’t grow in the dark at my house, and now they’re growing in the light at hers. on her side of the six-foot-three-inch fence.

since i’ve been at this digging thing for a few decades now, i’ve told her the few secrets and wise things i’ve learned the hard way. fact is, she’s smart as a whip and a whip-crack study, figures things out in a flash. and best of all she’s not afraid to get her hands muddy, or to spend a whole darn day on her hands and knees scrubbing. i’d say there’s grown genuine affection in our weeks of garden talk. we’ve sprouted something even a wall can’t eclipse.

and then this week the fence was no longer something i needed to picture in my head; it’s right outside, the whole long stretch of it. i wish it was a picket. i wish it let even a little dab of light through, but it doesn’t.

once the sun slides low, it gets dark out there. the light no longer plays.

so i got to work digging. dug myself a garden plot where before there’d been an isthmus of grassy lawn that stretched without end, it seemed. my old garden––along the western edge, a patch of peonies, an oak leaf hydrangea, some happy happy ferns––it’s pinched and stunted in mid-sentence it seems. things will need to be moved, and the few i moved already, to escape the metal posts being banged into the ground, they seem to have died in protest.

but i’ve a new garden now. one that will catch the morning sun. one i’ll delight in, once it starts to bloom. once the butterflies come in, and the birds nibble at the seed, and the bumblebees imbibe the succulence. and three years ago i bought myself a fantabulous bird house that will rise up on a bird-house post from somewhere in that garden, and it will be the pretty thing my eye is drawn to, the birds are drawn to. and i intend to come to love what i’ll pretend is my cloister garth. my place to soak in the sacred that animates this holy earth.

it’s not the only bridge i had to build this week, which got me to thinking hard about the ways i want to live my life. i will always always try to be the one to turn the other cheek. to search for the glowing heart of humanity –– or do i mean the sacred? the divinity? –– buried deep down inside, in the shadow of whatever hurts and scars have made it hard to see. i turned to thinking about the long line of blessed radicals, even the one whose name has been so deeply abused by so-called christians. i thought about the good samaritan. i thought about gandhi and martin luther king, jr. i thought about how, in the face of hurling hatreds, they listened only to the sound of love. how they always, always chose the bridge, and broke the walls.

what it really means to practice love is to do it when it’s hard. when things you dearly love are being taken away. when ones you love are sometimes even the ones doing the hurting. whatever are the million things that make it hard to muster, to offer, to model, to practice love.

we all need practice. it’s try and try and try again. stumble, skin your knees, and try again. the question is: will we try, or will we walk away, and leave a trail of hurt and hearts that only serve to harden?

and while i was thinking of all that, i stumbled on these words that fell right in line with all my thinking of walls and bridges…


we need a bridge and sometimes we are the
bridge. No one I know has escaped
troubled waters, rough seas and challenging,
scary days. There are times in our lives
when we could use a little help, and other
times when we are given the chance to be
that help for someone else. It really doesn’t
matter where you are right now. What
matters is that you remember we are
stronger together, and taking a hand is
just as important as offering one.

paul boynton

what bridges are begging to be built in your world this week? (a question for quiet contemplation….no self-disclosure needed…)

so far i’ve built a path of limestone stepping stones in what’s now a skinny gangway between garage and fence, but it’ll some day have a picket gate, and i plan to line that stretch of fence with avian residences (aka bird houses) and i need to find wee plants that don’t mind growing in the dark. and today, since my page proofs still aren’t here, i’m headed to the nursery to pluck myself some bushes that will bloom in spring and blossom into berries when the autumn comes. and there’s a long list of perennials i’ve always wished i had a place for, and now i do. so my bridge promises delight even in its earliest iterations.

garden emergency! garden emergency!

it appears that after you’ve dwelled under the same roof as moi for, oh, a few weeks, or, heck, your whole lifetime, you get used to the regular punch of the panic alarm.

might be the smoke billowing up from the stove. might be a critter whimpering by the backdoor, come lookin’ for a spoonful of sugar, or a wrap in a blanket. might be me reading the news, tears rolling down my cheeks. or might be a phone call, one that sets me to frettin’ and gasping.

whatever it is, you learn to take it in holy stride. “oh, that’s mama,” they mutter, “ridin’ one of her heart-yankin’ roller coasters.”

so it was the other afternoon, or honestly, it was inching into the dinner hour.

that’s when i up and shot from my typing room, where i’d been tethered all day, tap-tapping away on the keys. never mind that tummies were growling, the kiddies pining away for a plain simple supper. a cold boiled potato, in fact, might have been all they wished for.

oh, well. chalk one up for the department of children and family services’ checklist: mama abandons her kids, chooses the trowel over the cook pot.

why, with nary a second thought (save for the swift pang of guilt as i jabbed toward the pantry, called out, “how ’bout a pretzel?”), i slipped into my pink rubber garden clogs and shot into the beds.

over my shoulder, i let out a whoop, my way of explaining: “garden emergency! garden emergency!”

the emergency, in case you are starting to wonder, was this: the nice weatherman was forecasting, in no wishy-washy words, one of those hell’s-on-its-way scenarios, in which temperatures would shoot to a shrieking 100-and-something by daybreak, and my latest adoptees from the big-box nursery would be dead in their pots if i did not get them safely into ol’ mother earth, who tends far better than i do to her sweet growing things.

sure enough, when i got to the site of impending doom, where three wee delphiniums sat gasping for water, itching to kick off their hard-plastic pots and let out their roots, i hollered back for assistance. “yo, can i have a pair of hands, please?”

on demand, as i started to dig my delphinium trenches, the tall muscular man-child trod out to quell the commotion.

with nary the skip of a beat, he cranked up the full-throttle mockery, one of his signature charades in which he slips into voice, into character, and makes out like a visiting thespian, or simply an unsuspecting body-snatcher who slithers into the form of my firstborn. this time, he made like he was the surgical assistant, and i was the mad doctor, hooked on plant-booster potions.

all i’d done was ask–all right, it was rather high-pitched and panicky–if he could please pass me the osmocote, those wee little pellets i shake into every plant trench i dig. mere fat yellow bits–think oversized dandruff–they somehow manage to supercharge the roots of the tender green darlings, give them the boost they need to get growing.

as that boy-man stood serving my rat-a-tat pleases and thank-yous, passing me vials of root-booster, taking hold of the trowel when i tossed it his way, he whooped it up big time, mimicking my heightened state of emergency. with the flip of some invisible switch, he’d slipped into a riff in which i was some sort of garden-y addict (all dolled-up in pink shoes and pruners), and osmocote was my hallucinogen of choice.

wasn’t long till we both nearly buckled (or at least i did; he’s pretty good at not breaking face), our knees shaking from laughter, me seeing certain and clear my pure, utter foolishness.

it’s a beautiful thing, the gift of a child who sees through to every last one of your foibles, and loves you anyway. makes you see your quirks and eccentricities as part of the formula that makes you the wall-banger you happen to be.

God love the all-purpose balm that is laughter. God love those with the gift of shoveling it deeply into each and every day.

once the hysteria cleared, though, and my babies were settled in their beds, the rich loamy covers pulled up over their roots, i couldn’t help but notice that i do, in fact, think of my garden as a blanket of bliss that covers my slice of the globe.

i have, in fact, come to tend to each sweet growing thing as if her life depends, to some feeble degree, on my care and attention. and when, for instance, a once-dying fern is up and moved and springs back to life, i can’t help but breathe deep the satisfaction of life finding a way to keep at it anyway.

i don’t mean, really, to abandon my hungry children. it’s just that i’ve come to think of all the trying-to-live things in my life as part of my big moppy crew. and every last one, i hold quite close to my heart.

somehow i doubt i’m the only one with quirks here at the table (and believe me, the ones up above are merely the start of it). do you have one or maybe even two? are there folks in your world who’ve taught you that those silly things you do, you insist on, are really a part of the whole equation, and, like the soft spots in an apple (where the bees bumped into the wee baby fruit) just add to the overall sweetness?

thirsty earth

all night, i listened for the rain. heard the rumblings of the far-off thunder, like growling from the woods. too far off, it musta been. for when i woke, leapt from under sheets, tore to the window, looked down, all i saw was dry. and more dry.

i realized, through the half-slept night, as i tossed and kept an ear to the window, waited for the rumble to turn to roar or crack or even simply the shushing of the rain itself, that it is not unlike, not at all, keeping one ear out for a baby in another room. or a child with fever, down the hall.

we don’t sleep so soundly when we worry about the blessed things whose watch we keep.

and these days, i am keeping watch on parched and thirsty earth. dusty soils, cracked and split and open wide, in hopes, perhaps, of direct infusion from on high.

i am, too, considering the roots, groping, feeling for the soft spots where the water trickles in. because i am out there with a hose, nearly every other morning, pouring sustenance and fluid into all my babies’ throats.

i hear the hydrangea feigning dizziness from lack of drink. i hear the moaning of the phlox. even black-eyed susans, those hardy sun-baked assemblies, are bending under strain, the weight of all the waiting just too much.

oh, i do my best, make like i’m a rain cloud. tut-tut, i cluck, as i wander here and there with snaking hose.

only i’ll never bring what heavens bring. i cannot make rain that’s rich in all the earth demands.

there is no substitute for rain. no wash of all the earth that quite revives what dwells here.

heck, the hose has no sweet perfume. you’ve never heard a little one exclaim, “hey, i smell the hose.” but you do hear that with rain. “smells like rain,” my grandma used to say. so, long ago, i, too, learned the smell of nearly-bursting, misting clouds.

and that heady scent, it’s not been inhaled in these parts for too long now. oh, it’s spit a bit, once or twice, but no real soaking, not enough to soothe what’s parched. heck, i can’t recall the last time i had need to spring my umbrella.

and that’s a sorry thing when one depends on sky to do its job. when one can only hope for a long slow sprinkling to get life back in order, to bathe the rows and rows that dare to bloom, to burst with cock-eyed promise, at the summer’s end.

all this paying attention to what falls upon my so-called crops and the shriveled leaves of trees is but one blessing of the muddy paws that come with my compulsion for the yardsy beds i laid this summer.

all the world becomes so simple when you start each day inspecting the stalks and stems and limp old leaves that got to where they are because you tucked them there.

it is the mantle of the gardener, to be the keeper, the shepherd, the custodian, of your plot of planet earth.

for the most part, the growing things depend on you–and cloud and sun and wind and soil–to tend to all their needs.

oh, yes, the fussy ones need fertilizers. and the spineless ones need stakes and twine and those twisty bits that come on loaves of bread, or bagels from the deli. and, every once in a while, there’s the random beetle that must be whisked away in swift short order.

but mostly, it boils down to basics, pure and simple and straight-up: light and water–in the form of rain or, in a pinch, straight from the hose.

and are those not among the shortlist, Nos. 1 and 3, perhaps, on the Great Creator’s chart of chores, back in the way, way beginning? on the first day, i do believe, dear God flicked the lightswitch; did he not? and then he waited only till day tres for the bit about the seas.

in a world where both essentials come so mindlessly, with the crank of the faucet, or the banging of our fist against the button on the wall–we sometimes lose track of just how breathtaking both are, in fact.

and that is why, besides the simple truth that i love to pluck and tuck a host of stems and nodding heads in bottles all around the house, i consider it religion to grow myself a garden.

it brings me back to what matters deeply on this spinning globe. it centers me amid the daily storms.

and so, i wait for rain. i sit here typing with an open window, and an ear that strains to hear the pitter-patter.

so when it comes, the sacred holy water, i can leap outside, and watch my darlings guzzle down the very cocktail of the swollen summer clouds. the divine elixir, after all.

are you looking out the window, longing for the rains to come? it’s easy not to notice, so easy in this world of pavement, impervious to what is thrust upon it. but when your world is soft, and rooted in fields or beds or simply old cracked terra cotta pots, it all makes all the difference. and at summer’s almost-close, my ears are thirsty, oh so thirsty, for the shushing soothing sound of rain. a lullabye long overdue.

batten the hatches, blanket the garden

no, no, this is not about how to dry your laundry on the line, sans the line. this is not about casting your underthings and old rags upon the garden for the sake of saving turning on the dryer.

no, darn it, this is about fickle spring.

there you are merrily thinking the thaw is underway. all around the place, little things are pushing up, pushing through the crust. not so tentatively, but maybe a little shy, they peek their soft green tips. tenacious tips. they gaze around, they check to see if they’ve got goosebumps, or whether it’s safe to keep on coming.

they come. a tulip sprout here. virginia bluebells there. the poppies, even, send up their fountainhead of leaves that look as if they’ve been cut by giant pinking shears, all ziggy-zaggy around the edge.

and my april prize, my heirloom hyacinths. the antiques of my garden with roots dating back to 1870, the one they call, “the queen of the blues.” she is a soft, soft silvery blue, according to my friends at old house gardens, the ones who rescued her in the first place, and then, for a small price, bequeathed her to me. she’s been in my care and custody for years now. if heaven sold perfume, this might be the no. 2 seller (after the aphrodisiac, korean spice viburnum, which sends me to the moon, and which, if sold at neiman marcus would elbow ol’ dowdy chanel V right off the counter.)

but back to the laundry scattered in the beds.

it seems that just as all the pretty things were hours or maybe days from showing their true colors, someone somewhere decided to pull the switch, hit reverse, and suddenly out there it feels like winter.

the mercury on my truth-telling thermometer is silently sliding south, right now at 32, which, unless i’m losing marbles, i am certain i learned in first-grade science is the point at which fluid water turns to solid ice, a substance nowhere in the primer, “how to grow a flower.”

the weatherperson who lives in my computer tells me it’s getting colder still; and, as is, all living things outside feel as if it’s deep down in the early 20s.

that means, my growing things need coats.

sleeves for tulips can be a little difficult to construct. so i go for the loose look, the draped look. old sheets flung. terry towels as fabric domes to hold in what little heat there is.

did i mention that the winds were whipping through the night? great howling winds. winds that made you think you must have holes right through your floorboards and the winds were whistling west to east, taking shortcuts through the room where you were sleeping. or trying to sleep, at least.

yes, yes, it was a night, it remains a day, for ragtag april garden. i’ve had to do this right up through may: the annual tucking of the beds under bedclothes.

in the city, i lived next door to an equally towel-tossed gardener. our side-to-side gardens on these frosty mornings looked like christo, the fabric artist who has shrouded museums and mountains and even central park, had slipped through the ’hood and done his wrapper thing. on our tulip heads under towels.

these days i dwell in the land where one does not fling mismatched rags on the lawn. once again, i stand in danger of at least a phone call from the appearance review police.

excuse me, madame chair, they would begin, we do not support your nasty habit of littering the leafy shore with those babushkas in your beds. please remove them, or we will revoke your passport and send you shuffling back to the nitty-gritty city.

which is why i do my dirty work, my mission work, really, in the back, where, save for this blaring announcement, no one should notice that i am deep into doing what it takes to get my garden through the cold snap.

if it means secreting out the back door, in dark of night, bundle of slightly tattered sheets in arms, then i will risk my residence here on this north shore. i will, as i unfurl my cotton armaments on my shivering spring shoots, not be stopped.

do not, i tell you, get between a madwoman and the precious beds she must protect, come lawn police or subzero temps that would do in a lesser warrior.

anyone else lie awake fearing for their tender sprouts, as wicked winds whistle taunts all through the night? anyone else cast a quilt of tattered cloths upon the april beds, in hope that may the month will bring a riotous show of life triumphant over freezing cold? anyone else have any other warming tricks up their shivering gardener’s sleeves?