My Secret

(Note: I am working on a borrowed computer and can’t post photos temporarily. I soon will edit this with zinnia photos)

My neighbor J. is disappointed. Her zinnias didn’t come up. Everything else she planted did fine. She had admired my explosion of color for so long, this was her summer. She wanted those masses of blooms in front of her house, too.

We conferred all spring. Get seeds early at Target, or Safeway, I told her. Look for the giants, and the zinnias that look like dahlias, all spiky. Buy brilliant colors. Don’t be tempted by the swirls and the pastels. Go for the big ones, as big as plates.

Don’t plant too early. Northern Virginia is tricky. After a cold winter, a false heat will show up and with it the temptation to plant summer flowers. Don’t even think about it. Because after you get them in the ground, the cold will come swooping back. Maybe not a frost, but cold, dark and killing.

J. kept asking, “Is it time?” “Not yet,” I would say. “Be patient.”
And she was patient. She is a seasoned gardener and understands how to wait, which has been part of her recovery process after her husband was taken away too young by a devastating disease that struck a couple of years ago.

I think that’s part of the reason she wanted those zinnias. My flowers are a small stand of color that draws walkers from blocks away, stopping them in their tracks. Dreamy stares take over faces as memories slide into their minds. They tell me they are seeing grandmothers, aunts and fathers working in the flower beds. Vases of zinnias cut by mother in the childhood home. Neighborhoods unseen in decades. Streets that exist only in photographs now.

I don’t know what went wrong with J.’s zinnias. Years ago I did bring in some new soil to top off the existing bed. But it was just a few bags. J. gets full sun, as I do.
There is only one explanation, but it’s not something I easily talk about out in the real world.

My zinnias reveal something you wouldn’t know by looking at me. That patch represents my artistic side, also, the gentle rebel. The flowers pop from a sedate courtyard of traditional red brick townhomes softened by sedate shrubs, hostas, day lillies and small trees. The gardening committee doesn’t even approve, exactly, but the zinnias are popular so the members turn their heads.

I admit it, I talk to them. I can’t bear to thin the shoots, so I work long and hard finding places for every plant in other patches I manage to find and cobble together nearby. The house next door is a rental so I go to the tenants every year, hat in hand, asking if I can garden in their spaces.

If you are a seed, or a shoot, and your gardener can’t bear to lose one of you, wouldn’t you grow strong and beautiful too?

That’s my secret, I think, it’s love.

So before I leave the townhouse for good, for the new house, I plan to help J. again. I’ll dig up some of my zinnias, there are masses of them. I’ll dig holes in her flower bed and soak those with water and pop in the zinnias and fill them with good potting soil. I’ll have her join me.

We’ll tell the zinnias why we are doing this, talk to them about why they will grow well in their new space.

This will be my gift to J. A gift of love. I just know the zinnias will grow for her.

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Published in: on August 3, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Cloak Falls

I am a tight fist against the cold. Wrapped head to toe, resentfully, I pull inward, angry at the winter months.

Then today I saw it.

Driving down a street, tucked among scores of other sullens, I looked up. I was struck to aching stillness by the beauty. The trees. Trees soaring black and charcoal against a light blue wash of sky. The moment a painter tries to capture through a lifetime of canvas.

This was that moment, seen through eyes that had refused this silent gift for so long.

“My God,” I said, aloud, through the windshield. I had pulled over, to the side of the road. Such soaring, angular, giant beauty, reaching higher than any building. None of this in sight during my favorite time, summer, when leaves and color flesh out the stark branches, hiding the bones, the foundations of these mammoths of nature.

The winter gives us this. Time to really see what is underneath. It challenges us to bring forth our own strengths too, to think and be creative. To see.

Trees, shorn of their leaves, soaring toward the heavens. Holding unseen life trembling beneath cloaks of bark and soil, ready to burst forth again in only a short time.

Like us, their counterparts, in layer, after layer after layer. The mechanism unseen. But trembling, too, just beyond the membrane dividing us from what we can’t or simply refuse to see.

Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm  Comments (8)  
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Reap What You Sow

Remember the white Angel’s Trumpet stolen from my front yard? My favorite plant?

No, I did not find it. But something happened that makes me almost as happy.

This summer I made a very quick trip home to Alabama. A relative was ailing and the trip was so fast I barely remember being there. I’m there now, another dash home, this time for the holidays.

As I walked into my mother’s garage, I saw a very small plant in her garage. Green, little, not her usual lavish display. Readers of this blog will remember my mother ignores her gardening into fantastic health. Most of the time.

So I did not pay attention to this tiny plant. Then she said, “Remember the trumpets you left me? One of them died, but one of them is still going. It’s out there.”

I thought a minute. Could it be?

It could be. It is.

I had cut back the white Angel’s Trumpet on the advice of my farm market guru in Alabama. She is as crazy about these plants as I am. She grows them from “scratch.” She takes seed pods and cuttings and grows them in a greenhouse.

She sold a white to me for $7. I was taking an airplane back to Virginia. So she told me to cut it back hard and wrap it up in a plastic bag, then pack it in my suitcase. “Don’t worry, it won’t mind,” she said. I was skeptical. But she’s never steered me wrong.

I gave my mother the two biggest cuttings from the plant. I put them both in potting soil. And the survivor was growing in her garage.

I am writing on my sister’s computer. I can’t post a picture of the tiny little sprig I cut, with Mother’s permission of course. But I have one. A piece of white Angel’s Trumpet. It is carefully stowed away in a canning jar for the ride home to Northern Virginia.

It is not from the trumpet I lost a few months ago at the hands of some heartless thief. But still, it is a new old plant.

It replaces one I lost. It makes me feel better.

I have many faults. But I am quick to forgive, even when people don’t even want to be forgiven. And I am generous. And the fact that I so wanted Mother to experience these lavish tropical plants has repaid me in the best possible way. She wouldn’t have accepted the plants if I had bought them. “Too much responsibility,” she would have said. She doesn’t like to have to look after them, after all.

Not like me, not like me at all.

So now my lost white angel has been replaced. In my mind. And in my hands. And that’s all that counts.

Welcome back, my sweet angel.

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 3:11 am  Comments (3)  
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Feeling Lost Without the Garden

I’m feeling lost without my garden and zinnia and rose bouquets that filled my house for months. I’m dabbling in the kitchen to try to fill the void.

We are strictly in survival mode here. That means I am just doing my best to keep the plants in pots alive until April when I can start taking them back outdoors for a bit during the day. Maybe I can plant some cuttings in May. June is for the zinnia seeds.

Meanwhile, everything has been cut way back for the long, cold winter in Northern Virginia. My husband, the Iowan, thinks I am not normal for saying that. But for someone born in Texas and raised in Alabama, the winters are long and cold here. And they always will be (meaning I’ve been here for 30 years and I’m not going to change my mind).

My plants are squeezed into small spaces and corners with trays of gravel and water around hopefully to provide some humidity against the onslaught of the electric furnace heat. It’s cold here, in the 30s at night.

I’m blue about it. I’ve never done much indoor gardening in winter other than buy the occasional houseplant, which I don’t do much with. I promised myself to do something about that this year. But so far I’m resorting to my old tricks. I’m baking again and catching up with old friends. I have three book club sessions this weekend, one of them at my house.

Recently, I said sure when my husband asked me to bake cupcakes for someone who works with him. It was his birthday and my husband assumed I would use a mix and buy some frosting. He should know me better than that by now.

I decorated some with chocolate grated from a semi-sweet chocolate bar with a carrot scraper. I sprinkled others with French Dragees. That’s a smart way to market sprinkles to grownups. I also have some glowy powder, fairy dust I guess, in the small bottle.

I used a recipe from a restaurant called Eve’s in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The cake is light and airy, angel’s food-like, but the taste is buttery, like pound cake. Absolutely delicious. It wasn’t easy to make cupcakes out of this confection, but I managed. The frosting is made with cream and powdered sugar. Heavenly. Eve’s is famous for its birthday cakes.

The chefs make a tiny one and tints it pink. They say even straight-laced businessmen are seen in the dining room at night, digging into the small, pink birthday cakes. The cupcakes I made weren’t pink, but everyone loved them.

I think all of us should be fussed over on our birthdays.

But my fussing is because I don’t have the garden. The baking is old news. I’m not really happy with this substitution. After all, I’ve been baking since I was a very little girl and would pull a chair up to the counter to stand on. I would pull down ingredients and make cookies and cakes and everything my siblings and I liked from Mother’s cookbooks.

We thought we were scamming her. She gave us free run of her kitchen and everything in it. If we needed ingredients, we got on bikes and rode down the country lanes to the general store and charged things to her account. That way we indulged our sweets habit with my baking using Mother’s ingredients and my labor. And we saved our allowances for other things. Meanwhile, I taught myself to be a decent cook and baker.

But the baking is not really scratching the itch I have now.

Because it’s not really feeding me down deep inside the way the garden did this past summer. Being surrounded by all that wild beauty, working in it, touching it, bringing the flowers inside, filled me with such light that it carried over into everything I did all summer. I miss that.

How do I replace that in the cold dark winter? I just don’t have any idea.

I’ll make it, I always do. I’m just wondering what other gardening fanatics in cold climates do in the winter. While waiting for, say, the lillies to come back.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 5:16 am  Comments (11)  
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The Tree Said Hello

myrtle1

I am drawn to a certain crepe myrtle just outside my back gate. I have always loved them and this one is particularly beautiful. My son recognized this at a very early age, too. He would run to this tree and stand in it, just stay there, quietly.

myrtle2son

I would sit on the bench nearby and wait for him until he was done communing. Even though this was not like him to do this. He was the kind of active boy who usually ran to the big pines out front and climbed, fast, before anyone could yell him into a stop.

I remember, because I had lots of trouble getting the pitch out of his clothes. Sometimes, of course, this was not possible and I had to “pitch” plenty of them.

myrtledclimb

So I wasn’t really surprised the other day when I walked by my myrtle and saw an accessory waving in the wind. It looked like something I would wear as a necklace. Or as an earring. It was a dried plant cap, attached to a gossamer thread from a spider web.

Earrings

It was really cute. I went outside at night with a flashlight to see if it was still there. It was. I knew it would photograph well in the night.

earring3

Look at the markings on this tree, behind my accessory.

lastcrepe

However, the bark on my myrtle not as dramatic as one out front, which is beloved by my friend and neighbor C. Which makes sense. You wouldn’t know it right away, but C. has more flair. She is a government bureaucrat, conservative dresser, initially very quiet.

But if you are out early on a weekend morning, you might see her coming out dressed in a formal riding habit. C. has a horse she keeps stabled in the country and goes riding with a friend. She is a lawyer married to an Irish chef she met overseas as a young woman. He fell madly in love with her and pursued her from afar, persuading her, finally, to marry him.

She loves my gardening and has very strong opinions about the plants. She says they remind her of earlier times when people decorated with large blocks of color via the flowers. She thinks the hostas and nursery flats of impatiens and pansies are boring. So there.

It makes sense that the crepe myrtle she has claimed as hers is one of quiet drama. Routinely, she dons gloves and collects her tools and carefully trims the suckers that try to grow from the base of the tree, which stands guard just outside her bedroom window. Her cats sit on the sill and watch the tree, too, which has vivid coloring.

myrtlecelias

There’s a new crepe myrtle out front now, to the side. I think the young tree is watching people, trying to see who resonates with this new plant life. I look forward to seeing who it chooses. I bet we’ll know by next summer.

new tree

It’s funny how nature leaves little gifts sometimes. Walk slowly. Open your eyes. See. Really see.

earring3

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 6:15 pm  Comments (7)  
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Stolen Angel

Stolen1

My favorite Angel’s Trumpet was taken from in front of my house last week. My big white. I couldn’t believe it.

This was a cutting I had pulled from the first angel I had ever managed to grow. I planted the mother plant in the ground and got only one bloom. Still, I was thrilled. I heavily mulched it, all winter, but it died anyway. Middle Atlantic winters are brutal on plants like this. Too many freezes.

This past summer, I lost track of the slips I had kept the previous winter and rooted. I thought all the pots were pink. Then one big pot turned into a beautiful white. I even wrote a blog post about it. It was gorgeous and I was so happy to have a piece of the old white angel with me still.

Stolen3-nighttrumpet

Then, as the cold descended, I cut all the angels back in their pots, the two whites and the three pinks. I was letting them have some final time outdoors before bringing them in for the very long winter. They won’t be able to go out again until at least May. So three angels were in the fenced back yard, two out front.

And then there was only one out front. The pink. I kept looking and looking. Surely I was mistaken. It just couldn’t be. But it was. The white angel was gone. I’m down to only one white, the one I brought as a slip up from Alabama this summer.

I admit it, at first I was simply outraged. Quietly so, I’m not much of a surface rager. It takes some doing for me to really blow my top. Still, I was mad. How dare “they.”

Then, I decided to view the theft in a way that allowed me to come to peace with it. The trumpet had been cut way back, it was no longer blooming or even leafed out in green. It was basically a pot of sticks. This essentially is what it looked like (this is one of the pinks, but you get my drift):

Stolen2-cutback

So, I had to imagine the scenario this way: The thief knew what he-she was getting. The stealer had seen the blooms outside my home and couldn’t stand it any longer. Seeing two pots outside, shorn of their blooms and most leaves, just sitting there, well, it was all over but the crying (for me). Gone. Taken to another home to be nurtured and cared for and coaxed into reblooming indoors in a few months.

Even my husband said, “You’re known for your plants. I’m not the least bit surprised.”

So, I quickly brought the remaining angels inside. I’m not sure what this means for next year’s outdoor blooming season. I’ll deal with it when it comes. They need the full sun to bloom and that’s the only space I have for that.

Although, the truth is, we’ve been talking about moving. My husband has talked about it for years and I’ve resisted. He brought it up again Saturday, this is something he really wants. And what I didn’t say is that losing the angel made me really think about it this time. We wouldn’t move that far. We would stay in the area because my son likes his school and we need to be here for several more years.

And then there was the home for sale I was drawn to just the other day, the one quite near my son’s school. It is not much bigger than the one we are in now. But it is off the road and private and as I said to my husband, “Look at that, straight out of storybook.” He agreed. The notice said the home had a lovely, private backyard adjoining a wooded park area. Woods! I grew up in a house with a woods out back.

I thought when we drove past that house, “This is the perfect home.”

In some strange way was that angel a sign? Angel on the move? I’m not the angel of course, not even close. But still. We’ll see.

For the time being, I decided to focus on other things. On the fact everyone in my world is well. That the big white angel is no doubt fine and being loved by someone who needed him, knew his worth. That the teen boy was spending the weekend away playing a sport he loves, rooming with several of his many best friends (I can say without fear of being overly boastful that this boy has the very useful gift of friendship).

So, his parents went to an Octoberfest party postponed until November by rain. The husband bought beer for the host and I put together a small bit of bounty from my fall garden for the hostess.

bouquet

If you look closely you will see two tiny origami swans hidden in the bouquet. These exquisite paper gems were made by my favorite sushi chef, who gives them to me by the handsful when I drop by May Island to pick up food for my family and my favorite (vegetarian) dishes. I hid them in the flowers for the little boy of the party house to find after the party.

origami

The cool, crisp fall evening was a sigh of relief after long days and nights of rain. We ate brats from the grill, spätzle and German potato salads. We talked and laughed while children ran and shouted in the yard.

party

One little boy helpfully warned us shortly after arrival that “a dinosaur is outside the gate” and later told me “t-Rex is out there but he’s dead now.” There were marshmallows roasted on sticks over a fire. And fireworks. Well, sparklers.

And when a little cherub of a girl could not get her daddy to put the German music back on after popular consensus booted it from player, she did not miss a beat. She simply changed tactics. Not yet talking, the little pixie went straight to a new friend, my husband, led him to the table with the music, pointed to the CD and got her wish. Because he is a pushover for miniature charm.

J&Maxie
And then we had pie. The universal sadness balm.

wehadpie

Goodbye my angel. Godspeed, wherever you are.

goodbye white

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 6:09 am  Comments (14)  
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A Gardener Released

rosegarden

For years I was the timid gardener.

There were roses in the back yard when I moved into this house. But with each year the elm outside the back gate got bigger, shadowing the roses, which strained to produce fewer blooms.

So I planted tulips to take advantage of the spring sun. But the squirrels stole most of them. I sent my little son and his friend after them with water guns once, and a neighbor scolded them about being “mean.” Mean?

I did manage to get a few daffodils and bleeding hearts to stay in the ground and bloom. Also peony, white and red, which I love. But peony, like a first kiss, is so fleeting that it is gone before you can properly appreciate this bloom’s full sensuous nature.

peony

But when the elm is in full leaf, the sun is gone from the back yard, which has a tall privacy fence. I grew tired of having a small burst of color in the spring and then mainly hostas. I needed a tall riot of color, blankets of it. So I went to the front where I had a solid block of sun a good part of the day.

Here is what happened, from the beginning, in pictures.

start

I had lots of failures and things I didn’t care for, in particular. The Angel’s Trumpets I brought up from Alabama as seed and tiny shoots leafed and leafed and finally put out exactly one bloom. Still I was ecstatic. It gave me hope.

onewhite

startingout

I wanted the flowers to be strong, to not depend on chemicals. So I spent several years amending the soil, bringing in bags of top soil and peat and this and that to get a good mix that somehow felt light and airy and well, right. This year I added the pulp from the organic vegetable juicing I’ve taken up. I didn’t use poisons. There are enough of those in the world.

I have mainly planted seeds. Somehow, these have worked better for me. I discovered that the flowers and I needed to start the journey together, from the beginning. I watched them carefully. Just the plants and me.

tinyblues

redtrumpets

But I was still being timid. I was out front where the foot traffic was heavy. It was hard to lose myself there. People walked by and spoke and chatted and gave their opinions about my handiwork.

This is the Washington, D.C., area., just over the Potomac River bridge in Virginia. There are lots of people from other places here. But the Virginians love their old-fashioned, unchanging sameness. Red brick colonials. And the plantings following suit.

I changed that in our little corner of the world.

The cleome were the first of the wild things. My mother had lots of it in Alabama. So I brought back seed in pods to plant in front. It took off like wildfire. One friend, a psychologist from Boston, shuddered when he saw it. “WHAT is that thing? Straight out of Star Trek,” he insisted.

cleome

Mother had always grown zinnias too. I cut a bouquet while visiting and it cheered up the house so. The flowers lasted and lasted. That’s it, I said, zinnias too. The nurseries had the same variety, State Fair or something. Small, only a few colors. I wanted tall and vibrant. So I went for the seeds.

Bent Zinnia

There were times they didn’t do well, so I learned to bend over a young zinnia plant, cover it with soil and it would grow long along the ground and push up new shoots and blooms. The picture above is all from one plant!

I planted lillies. Each year they grew bolder, as I did.

lillygardenfirst

And dahlias. These low-to-the-ground but showy orange flame blooms are the favorite of some neighbors. And they just keep coming back every year, despite the cold Middle Atlantic winters that freeze them every winter.

2nddahlia

I found my gardening sense of humor with the dahlias. Dahlias or zinnias, please stand up.

this dahlila

I have a fondness for the starburst hydrangea. I think because it isn’t the usual.

flowers 008

This year my something new was purple bells.

bells

But the star of the show is always the zinnia. I hate to thin them, so I keep taking over little plots of earth I find.

house

house2

sideview

They range from minis to California giants that grow as tall as me (5-5). Blocks of vibrant color, sometimes I feel like I am painting with plant life.

pinks

side too

This year I grew two new colors, white and a green called envy. New neighbors I had never seen before were coming around to see this one.

envy

And of course as much as I love the zinnias, for the joy they bring me, for the attention they get and for the bouquets they bring for months, the angel’s trumpets captured my heart. After playing coy for years, they burst forth. And bloomed and bloomed and bloomed.

whitetrumpet1016 013

pinktrumpets

So, is it any wonder that through my front door the following things have been on my walls for decades? These representatives of an inner life, pieces of art I selected for myself and which were selected for me.

flowerhouse

ellis

neworl

abstract

These paintings, some abstract, are of flowers and plants. Two are of places in the deep South where it is warm most of the year, where I yearn to be.

Proof that a not-so-timid flower gardener was inside all along. Waiting for the right conditions. To be born aloft by the completing elements of soil, sun, water and air. Finally, set free.

firstphotozinnias

Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 4:03 am  Comments (8)  
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The Elm Made Me Do It

Elm

(Special thanks to the writer of Secret Cottage Garden for showing me I was on the right track all along, even when I didn’t know it: Mary Delle
<a href="http://secretcottagegarden.blogspot.com/&quot; and of course someone who inspired me to write about it all, Ms. Moon, blessourhearts.blogspot.com)

I have fallen in love with the big elm just outside my back gate. I resented this tree for years. The wood giant drops seeds and dead leaves all over my patio. But my former dislike had roots in the tree’s glory, the full leaves that block the sun, keeping my back yard in shade during the summer.

Not to mention the times it has tried to strangle my holly and my dogwood tree.

Crowds holly

My old tea roses bloom lavishly in the spring, before the elm wakes up properly. Then I have to settle for a bloom or two here and there for bouquets.

roses

Between the shade and aggressive squirrels, I also can’t grow vegetables back there. No bright, splashy sun lovers. Only shade plants. So for years the back has been neglected.

But I ignored what this big elm was telling me with the big fat leaves and long arms that blocked the sun during prime growing season. Go to the front. Show yourself. Don’t hide in the back, behind the privacy fence. You have something and you don’t even know it.

So I did. I started cultivating the small plots in the front of the house, little squares of dirt that had been lying fallow, covered by mulch and defined by monkey grass. With her permission, I pulled out the dead lavender that a neighbor had planted on my side and hers. Dogs with careless owners had promptly killed these with daily markings.

The neighbor was thrilled that I was working on the plots, even though my style was undefined and hers was: English gardens, precision, careful cuts and frequent trims. She even owns a chain saw. But her work for the Secret Service meant she was away frequently and she had no time for gardening. She happily turned it all over to me.

At first I bought plants from the nursery. They were nice, but I was not satisfied. So I started buying seeds. Better. I was enjoying myself, experimenting, shaping the beds, putting my imprint on it all. Letting the garden grow on both sides into riotous shape and color. No English garden this!

That’s when neighbors started coming out of the woodwork. Yes, with the occasional disapproving glance. The architecture is prim and proper here, all red brick and white columns. The plantings run to hostas, evergreens, impatiens. In the fall the mums and pansies are broken out.

Except for my wild garden. And the yeas for this rare color riot far outnumber the nays. We need this, they say. It is different. It breaks the sameness and brightens our day.

ColorRiot

Pinks1023

Before the wild garden, I had been so timid. In that front plot, I had planted two miniature rose bushes from Trader Joe’s. They were nice. Sweet. Tiny. One still blooms, a reminder of my timid time.

And every year these roses are dwarfed by zinnias grown from seed, some old and some new. Angel’s Trumpets multiplying in height and number like wildfire now that I am not just talking to them, but listening to their needs. Starburst hydrangea. The flame orange dahlia, which survives every winter even though C., who designed the ghost lamp in my previous post, says “they don’t come back here, how do you do it?”

Well, I started putting the pulp left over from my vegetable juicing into the soil this summer. But the dahlias were coming back before that. I do give the flowers a bit of Miracle Gro now and then, sprinkled on the ground, no mixing it in water or such carrying on for me. So, I just love them and they respond.

The elm was behind it, really. The elm pushed me to the sun, to the front. I had grown vegetables with my father as a child and again in a plot rented from the county and shared with a friend. But I had never tried my hand with flowers. It just finally seemed the thing to do.

At last, I listened to that small, still voice. And it was saying you are a gardener, you were born to this. You are not alone. We are with you.

Show your love.

beach 00008

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Comments (11)  
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Bringing It To The Surface

October

zinnia-fall

whitetrumpet-october

So why did my garden grow so wild and beautiful this year? There’s my notion that the plants embody the people growing them, working on the blooms, talking to them everyday. And I was in a good place this summer. The flowers reflected that.

I was writing, for one thing, for the first time in many years. Really writing, beginning the process of opening up, stretching, reaching for something. I’ve just started to let the light into spaces long silent and dark. I have a long way to go. But I pushed away the packed dirt and opened the trapdoor.

Another reason is I’ve been amending the soil in a different way. I’ve been drinking lots of fresh vegetable juice, especially this year. And I started putting the finely minced pulp into the garden.

I heard that suggestion listening to a gardening program on the radio one day. The expert said to take a spade and dig a hole, drop in the pulp and cover it with soil. I juice with organic produce so I especially felt good about amending my soil this way.

Another theory is related, but more whimsical. I’ve been juicing because I changed my diet to nearly all raw vegan late in the summer of 2008. Initially I went all raw, something I had played around with for years. This actually reflected, in a way, my summer style of eating as a child. My father grew a Garden of Eden of fruits and vegetables and I loved eating them raw, on the go. My mother rarely ordered me in for meals since I was mostly “too busy” running in the woods. I took food from branch, stem and vine and ate that. So switching to all raw felt like coming home.

After several months, I lost the weight that I gradually had gained over the years eating in ways that did not agree with me. So I added back in some non-raw food, supplements and a bit of fish. I also happily eat what I’m served when I am not at home. It’s too much trouble when traveling to try to strick to a raw regime. And it’s not right to decline food in the home of someone who has been kind enough to invite me over.

Besides, taking breaks from this style of eating has given me the willpower to stay with it. I enjoy the breaks, then am relieved to return to it, ultimately because of the way it makes me feel.

So, now for the whimsical part. What if filling up with fruits and vegetables, organic at that, has actually contributed to this feeling of lightness I’ve had all spring and summer. Not just the physical part, but something else. The light body I hear people talk about sometimes. The truth is I don’t really know what that means. It’s not just that I’ve the lost excess weight I never carried when I was younger. I literally have felt lighter, more buoyant, spiritually as well as physically. Hence, the light body.

Do the flowers feel it too? If I’m pouring green juices into my cells everyday, nourishing myself with unprocessed fruits and vegetables, literally existing on these, am I resonating with the flowers in a different way?

Consider this: Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society recently reported on a month-long study into the effects of the human voice on tomato plants. Recordings were made of volunteers reading to the plants. Controls plants were not exposed to recordings.

Researchers found that plants responded to being read to, that they grew more than the control plants. And that female voices had an edge over males in helping plants grow.

The study, and others like it, indicates plants aren’t just, well, concrete blocks. They are alive. They are responsive. And time after time, all summer long, people I know and those I don’t have stopped me as I worked in the garden and asked, “How do you do it?” And when I say, “Um, to start, I get zinnia seeds from Target,” they point to blooms the size of salad plates and are incredulous. “You grow these from SEEDS?”

And the Angel’s Trumpets, which I’ve not seen anyone else grow here. Surely somebody does. But they certainly are rare in the D.C. area. In fact, the neighborhood gardening aficionado came by the other day with the head of a gardening service and actually asked me whether one of the pinks, which was getting ready to bloom, was “an okra plant.”

Because how do I explain the wild garden, really?

Well, I started to write after years and years, and I also talk to the plants. And I slip outside more than I should, sometimes at night too, just to be with them. And I feed them with finely minced organic vegetable pulp. From my juicer, which I started using because I started eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables again. Which is one of the reasons the garden is so beautiful, you know, in my opinion, because in a way it’s like I’m turning into a plant too and the flowers resonate with that, being raised by their own.

But I don’t say that. Because generally I’m not prone to admitting this sort of whimsy. Not in person, in public, not in the real. At least I wasn’t.

But here in the dirt, with the trapdoor pushed up and the sun beating down on my head, I’m going to cop to it.

And who knows what else I’ll bring to the surface, into the light. Next.zinnia-fall

Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Talking Up” A Great Surprise

New Angel

Have you ever “talked up” someone? Let’s say you’re on the phone with a friend, or out and about, and suddenly, almost inexplicably, the chat turns to a person you haven’t seen in ages. You put down the receiver, it rings, and it is that person. Or suddenly, the subject of the conversation appears in front of your very eyes.

You’re getting the chills, aren’t you? Because it has happened to you, I know it has, because it has happened to me, plenty of times.

And it happened to me yesterday. But I did not “talk up” a person. I talked up flowers. Not just any flowers. But my most mysterious, exotic, downright mystical flowers — the Angel’s Trumpets.

You will recall I said I had a balky pink and then another one, the white, and neither of them were blooming this summer. And that they had absolutely no plans to bloom. And that was okay. Because they, like people, had their own schedules. That they would be blooming when they got good and ready. Just as people bloom when it is time.

Then yesterday I found this:

Pink bloom pods

This is the pink that I thought would not bloom this year. The surprising thing is that there are very distinct bloom pods on this plant. I had no idea. This pink is going to bloom this fall!

Then, while watering, I found another surprise”

White bloom pods

My trumpets never bloom the first season. But the white, to the side here, I guess, didn’t want to be left out. This white was hiding behind a bigger pink.

But I am not done. I am saving the best for last.

This one, my fellow gardening lovers, is the biggest surprise of all. I found it today, before the fall rain began. I was stunned, aghast even, in the best possible way. I barely remember putting this one in and it has been growing, putting out pods the entire time, no fertilizer, little water, and no talking to, at least not directly. Here it is, peeking out from underneath a forest of zinnias and cleome:

Surprise Angel

This one was a clipping, really. I had plopped it in some water and the roots were overgrowing the jar and I had to do something with it. I can’t bear to not give my plants a chance, not when they’re trying for me. When the seed beds need thinning, I carefully carry each little sprout to a new place, overfilling every available space, hunting for soil that really isn’t mine. I’m the neighborhood rogue gardener. I can’t bear the throw any of it away.

So with guilt I planted this cutting in a place where I couldn’t imagine it would grow. And there it was today, blooming in an impossible place of bad soil and little light, just exactly the way some people thrive in the worst, most arid conditions. I had forgotten this cutting, I hadn’t even seen the pods.

But is this angel really and truly growing in bad conditions? Or is this just my bias talking here, looking at the soil conditions and the low light and the fact I was not babying it like the others.

I have an inkling about this new little trumpet.

This plant is flowering not just because I turned my back and ignored it, benignly, freeing it to follow a private timetable. But because these flowers are surrounded by so many other blooms. They are in full flower, or about to be, simply because so many others are, and they are joining the party. Joyously, riotously, they are throwing themselves into life in full. They just can’t help themselves. Like fosters like.

It’s like being in a room with someone laughing with a full belly laugh. Have you ever done that and tried not to smile or laugh, too? What would happen if we spent all or much of our time with people who were happy like that, for months and months. Like the flowers in my garden. Which are blooming, wildly, with no help from me, even as the dark and cold starts to close in around them.

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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