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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When I See Cleome, I Think of You

The cleome reminds me of Alabama, of long stretches of green hill and field and wood. But it also brings to mind a tall, skinny boy and a stunning, unexpected romantic gesture.

The spiky flower that comes back year after year looks like the Wild Honeysuckle that grew in the woods behind my childhood home in north Alabama. My father tried to transplant a bush or two into the yard, but they never grew outside those woods.

I loved the flowers that cascaded from the Rhododendron canescens. The blush blooms and spiky stamens set the woods on fire. I’ve never tried to grow them here in northern Virginia because I can’t imagine they would survive. So instead I scattered seeds one year from some cleome I’d brought up from Alabama. They’re not the same, but they’re close.

And every year, when I see that first spiky pink bloom, it takes me back.

I remember the knock on the front door. My father opened it. He looked outside and no one was there. He went out on the porch. I followed. Then he said, “Well, there goes that boy, running off into the woods. He left you something.”

My father pointed to the porch step and a huge stack of Wild Honeysuckle, my favorite flower. Which that boy knew. That boy and I had exchanged taunts for ages, never saying a nice word to each other that I had recalled.

I was a young teenager holding onto my tomboyish ways. I was mad about the flowers. At first. I think I charged into the house, slammed the door. Then I went back and got the blooms, put them in water. I remember being puzzled. Why did he do that?

I never asked him about the flowers. He never mentioned them. We stopped taunting each other. Then, he moved away.

I forgot about the flowers, about the boy, for a while. But obviously they were a gesture that said so much more than the boy was capable of saying.

Something along the lines of: I care. I always have, that’s why I bug you. I have to leave now. I’m sad about that. I know you love these flowers. I hope you will remember me.

And I do. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, know this: Every single summer when I see the cleome, I think of you.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gardening, and Life, Unforced

I failed, again. The orchids died during the winter. I just can’t grow them.

Maybe impatience, watching too carefully and an improper setting too close to heating vents doomed the orchids. But that’s okay. Because I’m through with the needless trying, in gardening and other aspects of life.

I’m no longer envious when I see others in the flow, doing something so easily. Well, maybe a little. But I don’t need to try to duplicate the ease of others now.

Because I have my own zone. My garden, for instance, is distinct, unique to me. The blooms fit my personality. Like the old-fashioned, predictable zinnia, which in my garden is anything but.

Aunt Re had her African violets, which were perfect, not a spot on them. In fact, you had to stare a moment to make sure they were real.

She was a sweet woman, a worrier. The violets must have liked being made over. She kept them in a room with a big sliding glass door covered by drapes she would pull open and closed throughout the day, carefully calibrating the light just so.

She never had the children she wanted, and lavishly loved her nieces and nephews, making us feel special. We all responded in kind. Most of us, to this day, when asked about our favorite relative, will answer, “Aunt Re.”

Then, there’s the baking. For years, I’ve made a little southern butter cookie called brown-eyed Susans. They have a chocolate splash on top with a sliver of almond. I’ve given out the recipe, but no one makes it the way I do. That and pecan bar squares, which a friend in Tennessee told me how to make and people often request it now.

Once, a woman I knew who was an excellent cook insisted I was giving out those recipes with altered ingredients on purpose, so others would fail. Which was ridiculous. I’m happy to share and even offered to hold a “baking class” to try to find out what these cooks were doing to make the cookies hard.

With all baking, for instance, I follow the specified time broadly, but I watch and check too. Sometimes the items just need to come out of the oven sooner and that can’t be predicted.

I know when something is done by looking at it, touching it, sometimes. Plants are the same way, the ones I grow just feel right to me, they look right. So the orchids are the last ones in my wasted effort category.

Like relationships with the people we care for, I don’t force them or try too hard now. There are so many beautiful blooms out there, so much love. And I am safe in the knowledge that somehow, like these surprising Hymenocallis bulbs, they will find me.

Hymenocallis

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Story Time in the Garden

My garden will be different this year. I want it to be like a storybook. That’s because I’m clear, finally, about the “autobiography” aspect of gardening. And that means it is time for substantial editing.

Planning hasn’t been a priority until now. My garden has been the whimsical me with a dash of sentiment laced with a big dollop of the crowd-pleaser. I’ve also cared for some plants beyond their time, maybe, because they’ve always been here. The roses in the back, for instance.

The elm outside my back gate was a youngster when we moved here almost 17 years ago. But now it soars over everything, throwing shadows over everything much of the day. The roses don’t like that. The dogwood and my holly reach into the elm branches, not a love embrace. I’m always having to call on somebody to please trim the tree back.

But it is time for another pair of eyes to look over my garden spaces. Someone who won’t be sentimental. Someone who wasn’t the new mother who saw those roses in bloom for the first time after moving in during the harsh winter just before the baby was born. Who had been hounded by such postpartum depression that she boarded a plane with her 3-month-old during a snowstorm and flew home, to the sunshine, and never wanted to come back.

But her husband kept calling, asking her to come home. And he kept telling her about those roses.

And then, finally, I was standing at the back door and there they were.

I never expected such a profusion of reds and fuschias, which were followed by creams and yellows. When I first saw those roses, I could have sworn I heard music from somewhere, under the leaves and branches. But that was just the sound of my spirit, lifting finally, after being held down by months of despair.

This year, I don’t plan to spend so much emotional capital on trying to save plants that need to be moved, or need to move on. I’ll plant other roses if I need to, for June, my birth month flower. And I’ll plant seeds for the tall, wildly colored zinnias the neighbors expect from me now. And I won’t stop growing Angel’s Trumpets, they are an addiction now.

But I intend to be even more specific with my gardening writing and editing, so to speak. Because the garden is my story, the one I show to the world. And one thing I have wanted for a long time is the Camellia. At least one shrub, maybe two.

The Camellia is the Alabama state flower. Other than magnolias and honeysuckle, nothing reminds me more of Alabama. But this is not something I can just run out and buy on a whim. I need the kind that is cold hardy.

So this is the time to consult experts, people who run quality nurseries and landscaping services. This is their lifeblood, after all. Consider them matchmakers.

William L. Ackerman, retired from the U.S. Arboretum, said colder winter started damaging and even killing the spring-blooming Camellia Japonica and the C. sasanqua in the late 1970s.

C. oleifera, a white flowered species from northern China, fared better. So the Arboretum began a breeding program to develop cold-hardy plants. A substantial group exists at nurseries today, Ackerman said. Within that group, he said, there is “a specific cultivar best suited to every special location or situation a gardener may have.”

I am in that group. Looking for something specific, a Camellia love match. Something with a glossy green leaf, a splash of flower. Which takes me, in my mind’s eye, to the place in the photo posted at the top of this article — home.

.

Published in: on March 2, 2010 at 9:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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Friendships as Perennials

New Year’s Eve found us, uncharacteristically, plunging into the cold, icy night for a party in the urban wilds. I couldn’t believe he wanted to do this. And that I agreed. But the boy was out for the evening and maybe J. was feeling the chill of an empty nest a bit early. That’s just like him. Pre-emptive suffering via hyperactive behaviors.

But it’s good to get out, change long-established habits involving hibernating all winter, especially when the cold just keeps getting colder.

So, we found parking, got out of the car and braved the hoodlums making suggestive comments in front of the 7-11 (“How y’all doing,” I drawled, smiling, looking one right in the eye in a pathetic attempt at surprise tactics). We made it in through the gates and the security door, up the elevator and many other doors and into the hostess’s apartment.

Finally settled in, I looked around and realized that most of the women at the party were the soccer teammates of the hostess. Not work colleagues or other friends. Which represents a sea change from my generation in D.C., which is largely a transient city.

How does this relate to gardening? I’ll get to that.

I am 20 years older than the women who were at this party. But we operate in a parallel universe. The hostess and I are/were both journalists in the nation’s capital. And back when I used to pick up my son at the soccer practice fields, I would notice young men and women gathering on the sidelines in uniform, with coolers, tying cleats, stretching, getting ready to play a game under the lights.

They were very patient and polite. Waiting to start a soccer game when the little boys left their practices, sometimes at 9 p.m. On a weeknight. With work looming the next day. Because they loved it so.

And this is how those young women at the New Year’s Eve party bonded, some of them on teams that played in D.C. for 10 years or so together. And they all ventured out into the deep, cold, icy night to attend a party given by one of their number. An adorable young woman who is moving in about two months, back to New York. Only a few of her work colleagues came. But her teammates showed up, in force.

I was so impressed.

These women nurtured their relationships through the love of their sports, the way I nurture my plants. They started playing sports early, as little girls. I actually came from a state where schools could not by law field teams for girls back then. They told us a girl playing basketball had died on the court (not that I believed that). “Don’t tell that,” J. said. “You’re dating us.” Like I care. I told it anyway.

So I relied on work friends when I moved to D.C., away from my family, from my oldest friend, J., who I met at five., away from K., who I met on my first day of college, at the University of Alabama. From the many friends I met just going about my life. I worked so much anyway, I had few opportunities to meet anyone else.

And I found out those friendships, although splashy and intense at the time, like annuals, are ephemeral for the most part. They go away. As do most of the friendships made through the children, through the kids’ schools.

That’s why I loved seeing these women at the party. Because people move here, work long hours, spend ridiculous amounts of time commuting, then flee back home. I’ve been here so long I’ve become loathe to introduce myself to newcomers, something that goes against my every southern fiber. But, I tell myself, they’ll be leaving soon. Don’t get involved, you’ll grow to love them and they’ll leave.

But the women at the party defied that. They bonded early and intensely on their soccer teams, their friendships like perennials in a garden. They nurture them and stay, growing and evolving, over the years.

Which teaches me a lesson: To treat people more like my garden. Kindness for all. More lasting attention for the perennials, of course. But warmth and care for the annuals, too. Because the human garden is worth my time and cultivation, again, too.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 3:18 am  Comments (2)  
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ellis

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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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Cold Weather Stop Gaps

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After losing my summer garden, I decided to turn to drink. Although not that kind of drink. The bottle of Campari in the picture is ancient. Actually, I had a friend I had not seen in a long time over for tea last weekend.

I made finger sandwiches, cream cheese cucumber and minced ham with pickle (yes, I cut off the crusts). And I baked pumpkin bread, my favorite, the kind with black walnuts and yogurt. The recipe calls for three loaves. If I’m going to that kind of trouble, why not make enough to freeze for later, is my attitude.

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I have lots of tea pots and many kinds of tea. My husband gave me this teapot, way back when.

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We sat and chatted about mutual friends, about the neighborhood and our children. About my attempts to go back to work fulltime. It was good to catch up.

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Of course I can’t just exist on friendship alone. A couple of days later I was down by the river, walking, on a glorious day. That’s when I finally felt happy again.

And although I shouldn’t have done it, I brought back a few bits and pieces of the river as keepsakes. To keep me from calling that suicide hot line. I firmly believe in leaving wild things in their natural habitat. But, well, the cold is settling in and I needed them. I won’t do it again.

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At first I thought “these are all scratchy” and then I realized they are pieces of shell that are fossilized. There were many of them.

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And finally this, my favorite part of the week. A few little pieces that I crafted into something all my own, to keep over the long, cold winter. To help keep me from descending too far down into that dark winter hole. The place where people who thrive in summer light and heat go when they end up in places where it is cold for the majority of the year.

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I absolutely love it.

I might make it after all.

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Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 2:40 am  Comments (4)  
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